Ratna Ling Week 4: Peace Out

SN858181Our month-long trial period doesn’t end for another week, but it looks like the end is nigh here at Ratna Ling. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. I did all I was asked of, and more. I worked. I cleaned. I took classes. I even stood quietly and humbly while the rest of the community chanted three times a day.

What I didn’t do, and what I seem to be unable to do pretty much ever, is keep my big mouth shut. When people ask me how I’m doing, I have a nasty habit of telling the truth. When they ask me how I like working in an unheated factory when it’s windy and rainy out, I tell them. And when they ask me how I like the food, they get an honest answer. So it came as no great shock to me when they said I wasn’t a good fit here. I pretty much agreed with them.

I’m not a good fit here for many reasons. The top reason is my age. I turned forty a couple of days before arriving to Ratna Ling. I know age ain’t nothin’ but a number, but sometimes that number is staggering evidence of your wisdom and experience. If I have done my job well as a human being I have already learned a lot of the “lessons” the work here is supposed to teach me. For example, patience is not a lesson I need to learn. I taught preschool and kindergarten in three countries. I have applied for a Visa in the Czech Republic. I took a bus into Mexico in the middle of the night. I have patience. Most of the people here are in their early to mid twenties, so they still have a great many things to learn about the world. I get that, and I wish them luck in doing so, but man is it exhausting listening to people talk about weather and dorm rooms. Maybe the reason old people seem so grumpy all the time is because they are tired of hearing the same mundane stories again and again, year in, year out.

Next, as I have noted previously, the food here is awful. There is absolutely no seasoning in anything. If you are going to serve vegetarian food unseasoned, then I am going to want to punch you in the face. Period. I’ve worked in restaurants before, and I know a lot of professional chefs and cooks. I know good food, and this isn’t it. I now know for a fact that there is nothing worse than unseasoned, partially cooked black beans and tofu.

And lastly, I never fit in here. From the moment we arrived, both my boyfriend and I felt judged. Bringing two new people into a community takes sensitivity and nurturing. We got neither. Instead we were thrown into the deep end with little to no guidance. Instead of explaining the chanting (what they are saying, why they do it, who exactly are they chanting to) they just judged us for not doing it. Tell me why you light incense and candles and tell me why you leave flower offerings. And don’t wait three weeks to do it! Tell me right away so that I can begin understanding. Don’t let me fumble my way through my day. Instead, give me the tools I need to feel successful and confident.

SN858183Before coming here I understood that skepticism is an important aspect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is supposed to encourage and promote your skillz concerning analytic meditation. “One should test the Buddha’s words as one would the quality of gold.” A Buddhist may study with a lama for decades before finally accepting him as his own guru. Me, I only got about three weeks to make a decision. Doesn’t really seem like a fair shake if you ask me.

So I take only partial blame in our being shunned from Buddhist Camp. I have a big personality. Some people have a hard time with my honesty. I don’t pretend to be happy when I’m not, and I’m not laughing if your joke wasn’t funny. Maybe I lived in Prague too long or maybe I’m just Czech at heart, but I just don’t do small talk. And I think it’s worth mentioning that they asked my boyfriend to stick around, just not me. So I guess I shouldn’t feel bad. That is pretty low class. But I’m not apologizing. I don’t need to. I tried and it just didn’t work out.

And hell, who else can say they got kicked out of Buddhist Camp?


Ratna Ling Week 3: The Hunger Games

SN858122When I arrived here 2.5 weeks ago, almost everyone I met said the same thing to me: “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.” And to some extent it’s true. I’ve gotten used to working in the bindery, and I’ve gotten used to waking up at six every morning. I’ve gotten used to the excessive chanting, the classes, and the people. I’m pretty good with most of it. What I haven’t gotten used to is the food.

I’m not a vegetarian, but that isn’t the problem. I can deal with vegetarian food. The issue here is the quality of the food, and the amount of left-overs we are asked to eat. One shouldn’t heat and re-heat couscous over and over again. It makes it rubbery. I don’t like being served salad greens that are wilted, or slimy. A lot of what is served here I would return at a restaurant. I guess I should mention that my description of meals applies strictly to the food served to the volunteer staff. The guests here appear to get cooked meals every evening, and they share our lunches. They eat well. Us? Not so much.

We’ve spent money buying food the past two Sundays, something that we will be unable to maintain as we are not making any money here. We bought some cans of soup and chili, and even a few cans of Spaghetti-O’s for those nights when we just can’t handle left-overs again. Canned soup is a luxury for me now. While a handful of folks here share our disdain for the cuisine, the majority don’t seem to mind at all. That “majority of folks” are in their early twenties, and thus happy they don’t have to worry about grocery shopping or cooking. Food quality doesn’t come in to the equation. I happen to enjoy grocery shopping and cooking. But I’m also at least ten years older than most of the people here, and I like food. I like eating.

Can we do six months here with the food being less than we had hoped?

SN858167Of course we can. But that isn’t the right question. The right question is: Do we want to do six months with lack-luster vegetarian food? That is a harder question to answer. Both my boyfriend and I are enjoying much of what Ratna Ling has to offer. I like that I get to see dozens and dozens of birds take flight as I walk past multiple times a day. I like that the deer seem to follow me everywhere, and take lunch outside of my cabin. The scenery here can’t be beat, and we are just a hop, skip and a jump away from the coast. We’ve met some really interesting people here, and even made a few friends.

I know that any new situation is going to seem daunting and strange at first, and I’m keeping an open mind. I’m rolling with the punches. The food sucks. So what? I managed to live in Prague for seven years, and the food there is far from good. Like really far. Czech food is somewhere between bland and nothing special. And what they do to international cuisine should qualify as a hate crime against food. If I can manage there, I can manage here. But then again, I was making money and had easy access to grocery stores. I could cook what and when I wanted.

SN858161Between the shopping we did last weekend and the care package of snacks my mother sent, we should be alright for a few more weeks. But after that? I don’t know. I have to decide if I want to work my ass off every day and cross my fingers that we get something good that day, or if I want to just say … screw it.

At this point my feeling is that we’ll stick it out. I’m shamelessly campaigning for care packages from my FB friends, and I’m going to cook some stuff on my one day off – if I’m not too tired. We’ll see how it goes. So far, we’re having fun and working hard. One day we’ll look back and smile at the time we ate microwaved cans of Spaghetti-O’s while watching Top Chef in our cozy, little cabin in the woods.

Ratna Ling Week 2: Much Chanting

SN858105High in the hills of a remote stretch of the Sonoma County coast sits the world’s largest printing press for sacred Tibetan texts. I work there every day, six days a week. Each of those six days begins relatively the same. I wake up at six, take a quick shower, put on a pair of jeans and a few layers, then head to The Lodge for breakfast. The walk to The Lodge is about eight minutes. I make breakfast for myself from what is leftover/available in the kitchen. The pantry and walk-in are locked. I usually end up with yogurt and cereal. I have a cup of coffee and read my book before walking down to the big golden stupa/garden in front of The Bindery. This walk takes about eight minutes as well. At eight, we have a morning meeting (AKA chanting) for ten minutes or so, and a reading from a book covering the history of Ratna Ling and its founder, Tarthang Tulku. After the morning meeting we split off and go to our “jobs”. Mine is in the Bindery. Before we actually start working, we do more chanting. About twenty minutes worth. After that another reading, this time from Tarthang Tulku’s book, “Skillful Means”. After that we set to work.

Odiyan in the distance

Odiyan in the distance

I work in a 21,234 square foot factory housed on the grounds of Ratna Ling. About six or seven volunteers like myself work six days a week to print and collate more than 100,000 books a year. The texts are then shipped off to India and Nepal for distribution to monasteries and refugees from China’s brutal crackdown on Tibet. The books I am currently making will be in India this summer. That’s pretty cool. I’m happy to be someone who is helping. To a certain extent. Most of the volunteers here practice Tibetan Buddhism, and produce text as a mandate of their religion and their “teacher” (Rinpoche) Tarthang Tulku. He lives in a golden palace called Odiyan which sits across the valley from Ratna Ling. Okay, maybe it’s not a palace, but it’s close.

And therein lies my issue with being here. There is a Guru on a hill who dictates my days. I find this odd and just a little disturbing.

When people here ask me why I wanted to come, my answer isn’t the same as everyone elses. I’m not here because I want to become a Tibetan Buddhist. I’m here because I believe strongly in freedom of religion. I think it sucks that Buddhists in Tibet can’t read their own sacred text. Imagine what Catholics, Presbyterians, Jews, Mormons and Muslims would do if it were illegal to read the Bible, or Koran, or Book of Mormon. They’d freak out! And they’d be really happy that some nice folks in a free country literally donated years of their lives to make sure they could still read their Sacred Texts. It is your right to follow what ever crazy religion you choose, it is also your right to abstain from it altogether. And that’s why I’m here. I support their right to practice, chant, read, and be Buddhists. I guess I’m learning that Buddhism, at least this kind, just isn’t for me.



Tibetan Buddhism isn’t at all like the Zen Buddhism we westerners are familiar with. It’s not namaste and downward dog here. It’s chanting prayers to “Rinpoche” and Kum Nye yoga. Kum Nye yoga is a traditional Tibetan body practice that is part of the religion. It was first introduced in the US by Lama Tarthang Tulku (or, Rinpoche as he is known at Ratna Ling) and he has written five books on the subject. Many of the people I have met here came to Ratna Ling specifically to practice Kum Nye. It is a really, really slow-moving yoga. It is supposed to massage you on the inside. I know. It sounds really “hippy”, and I’m not going to lie, it totally is.

There are a few different parts of Tibetan Buddhism, and a few of them don’t sit well with me. I don’t believe in reincarnation, and therefore I don’t really believe in Karma. At least not the kind talked about in Tibetan Buddhism. I don’t believe that I had a past life, and if I did, I doubt it pulls any weight with this one. I also have trouble with the Guru devotion part. Many of the people here talk of Rinpoche like he is a literal god. Those tiny horses in the picture above? He wanted horses and the next week they were there. He calls the shots. Literally. He gave us Bindery folks a half day on Saturday. It was a big deal. It marks the first time in twenty years that he has given any time off to his, um, worker bees.

So I’m working my ass off in the name of freedom. I’m walking the walk. I believe in the human right to believe in, or not believe in whatever you want. I don’t really want to chant all the time, I find it as silly as the call and answer portion of the church services I grew up with. It’s a little creepy. But that’s my opinion and my right. I have a right to find most religions silly if I want. I have the right to pray to Buddha, Jesus, Guru Rinpoche, or a life-size cut out of Darth Vader. As long as you aren’t hurting anybody, then be as religious as you want. So saith me.

Praise Cheebus, amen.

Buddhism is Hard Work

SN858103I’m heading toward the end of my first week at Ratna Ling. It was touch and go there for a couple of days, but I think it might work out. Before I get into all the deep, mental shit I’ve been dealing with, let me explain a little about the place.

First off, it is beautiful up here. We are tucked away on something like 25 acres of land. We are surrounded by trees and all sorts of critters. It’s pretty rad. We (my boyfriend and I) have a nice little cabin all to ourselves, and it even has a fireplace. The staff cabins are a five-minute walk from the main lodge where we eat our meals, and about an eight minute walk for me to get to “work” each day.

The critters: So far I have seen quail, ducks, coots, squirrels, mini horses, deer, jack rabbits, peahens, eagles, and even a couple of cats.

I work in here

I work in here

My job: Ratna Ling has an on-site book bindery. I had no idea what that meant until I was thrust into working there. It’s no joke. I’d show you pictures, but they don’t allow photographs inside because we produce sacred texts. The books are made on-sight from beginning to end. There are huge machines that do everything: cut, collate, aerate, trim, ect. We hand stamp the cardboard covers and hand wrap them in traditional Tibetan style. It is a LOT of hard work. I cried a little.

We have various projects, but right now we are working on the 200+ volumes of a traditional Tibetan book. Non Western style. That means the book is long and rectangular and it is not bound. It is banded together. I know because I banded them together for 10 hours today. These are sacred texts, so there are certain things that must be done. For instance – if a page of text falls on the floor we must pick it up and touch it to our forehead. If a page rips in a machine it is not thrown out, we hand tape it together. We chant before and after work, (in Tibetan) and we are encouraged to stop and stretch.

SN858098We also practice “essential speech” while at work. That means no idle chatter. It’s not a strict thing, but we don’t talk a lot at work. And you couldn’t anyway. It’s too loud. The machines are LOUD. I wear earplugs all day. Which means 8am – 6pm with an hour for lunch, and two, thirty minute breaks. And we work 6 days a week.

Food: Well, of course it’s vegetarian. That’s fine. But I have to be honest. I am a little more than disappointed in the food. Basically, we are on our own for breakfast. We raid the fridge for yogurt and fruit. SN858101Yes, there is coffee. Lunch is made for us by the kitchen staff and we get the food buffet style. And dinner is usually leftover lunch. And here is my problem. If you have a full-time cook and kitchen staff (I refuse to call him a Chef) then wouldn’t you expect them to cook? So far we have been offered a shit-ton of various salad, couscous, and tofu in different sauces. Seriously. None of that requires actual cooking. What do they do all day in the kitchen? I know how long it takes to prep a salad and that leaves them approximately 4.5 hours to come up with something better. Like… pasta!

These are what the books I'm making look like

These are what the books I’m making look like

People: There are a lot of different people living and working here. About thirty, I think. We are the newest people here, so it’s a little like the first week at a new school. There are a few people who act like the douche seniors on campus, but for the most part folks here have been really nice. Some of the other volunteers have been here for ten years or more. That’s a long time to be at a place like this. But once I started thinking about it, it made sense. Living here takes all of the guess work out of life. It takes all of the decisions out of life. There is no looking for work, or friends with a common interest. You don’t have to shop or worry about food. There is a schedule for every day, with exercise and meditation built in. One girl I met has been here three years and she’s only 24 years old. She hasn’t lived in the real world at all. And as hard as you work up here (and you work hard) this is not the real world. It’s a different world. A separate world.

So, that’s it for now. It’s 7:45 and I’m beat. It was a long day. It’s getting a little easier being here each day. Hopefully by the next post I’ll have attended some classes and I can give you all a little more information on Kum nye yoga and skillful means. That’s also part of what we do up here. But again, I’m too tired to write anymore.

Until next time…

Travel: Away We Go

SN858070I feel like I’ve been planning this move forever. It hasn’t been “forever” obviously, but when you are unhappy time seems to move like molasses. And neither my boyfriend or myself realized just how unhappy we were in Texas. We both stagnated there – not really wanting to be a part of the “drinking” culture or the “football” culture that runs rampant through the state.

As we drove out west, the world opened up for us. The food got better. The scenery got better. The beer and wine got better. WE got better. I never realized how important my surroundings are to me. When I am in a clean, beautiful room – I feel calm and happy. I can focus. When I am in an unpleasant environment – I feel trapped and slightly anxious all the time.

SN858068Ratna Ling begins a new chapter in my life. My hopes for these six months (and the rest of the year) are that I find joy in hard work and I adopt some fit, healthy habits to my life permanently. I will be living in the mountains, surrounded by nature and beauty. I’ll be doing yoga every morning (well, almost every morning) and learning meditation techniques in the evening. I’ll be eating a vegetarian diet for the first time in my life, and I’ll have time to take walks along the beautiful California Coast. I’m excited that we leave today. I’ve had an outstanding time visiting my old haunts here in The Bay, but it’s time to get down to the business at hand.

People often say to me, “I wish I could do what you do.” My response is always the same. “Why don’t you?” Don’t let anything stand in the way of your happiness. And, your happiness is your own responsibility. I don’t have a lot of money. Heck, I don’t have any money, but I don’t let that stop me from pursuing my goals and dreams. You shouldn’t either.

Excuses are for ordinary people. Be extraordinary.

Minimalist Living: The Path

two-cabins“If you get far enough away you’ll be on your way back home.” – Tom Waits

Sometimes you have to go away in order to come back. Accordingly, I am moving back to California. It’s been almost eight years since I lived in California. My honey and I will be living in a little cabin in Cazadero, California (about three hours outside SF) for six months. The pacific ocean will be just a short thirty minute walk from the center, and I can’t wait to get reacquainted. I guess it’ll be like an updated version of the whole Thoreau thing… with wifi.

To get what you want you must be willing to take action, and you must be willing to do the work.

These days I have little desire for material possessions, but I do have the desire to feel purposeful and successful. Success for me isn’t determined by money or status or possessions, but rather by happiness and growth. My first year back in the US had very little of either. I wasn’t miserable, but I wasn’t happy either. Living in Austin was pretty depressing. I don’t own a car, so I had a severe lack of personal freedom. I had a great job and met some nice people, but I felt like I had done it before. It was no different than living in L.A. – Austin was stagnant and it made me feel stagnant. I want to live and work in a place that makes me feel happy. I want to contribute to more than just the traffic. I want to create more and consume less. Doing that will take real work.

cazadero_vacation_map2014 will be an awesome year. The first six months I will be learning about Tibetan yoga and meditation. I will be taking classes in the mornings and evenings. The classes are focused on work, developing inner potential, and filling my life with satisfying accomplishments rather than material possessions.(Topics include time, awareness, concentration, and energy, working with resistance and resentment and more.) I can’t wait. I’ll be eating vegetarian meals six days a week, and working six days a week as well. I am excited to switch gears and start a new, healthier chapter of my life.

Whenever we fail to make a decision we fail to grow.

I made the decision to change my life again because I don’t want to look back and say, “Wow, I let a lot of amazing opportunities pass me by while I watched TV and worked for someone else.” I don’t want to just hear about fascinating people and places – I want to experience them first hand. I want to lead a life that is more focused and active than what I found in Texas. I want my body to be something more than something I look at in the mirror. I want to be strong inside and out. I want to use my mind and my body for creative and fun things like running and jumping, and painting and writing. I’m ready to jump in feet first yet again.

Travel: Road Trip! Road Trip!


winter grand canyon

It’s official. Our cross-country, five state, road trip/moving adventure starts in exactly TWENTY DAYS! That’s right, on the 29th of this month we pack up the car, and set out for California. I’ve been planning this trip for months – prepping, making lists, buying supplies, charting our route – but now that it is three weeks away, I’m slightly nervous. I’m excited, but nervous.

The reality of winter camping slapped me in the face this week when winter finally came to Texas. I’m not complaining mind you. I’ve been waiting for this since last winter, which lasted all of two weeks. I’m a fan of cold, chilly weather. I loved wintertime in Prague with all the snow, and the cold. I didn’t care for the fact that it got dark at 3:30 in the afternoon, but other than that, winter was a time of mulled wine and hibernation. It then dawned on me that much of my enjoyment of cold weather happens while I am wrapped in a blanket, in a cozy, heated flat. I’ve never intentionally camped out in the snow before. Unless waiting in line in the snow at 4am outside of the Czech Foreign Police counts as camping. Which it should.

WIGWAM-MOTEL--6Here’s the plan, the itinerary. We’ll be driving between 5-7 hours a day,and then camping overnight. We’ll be camping in Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and California, and we might be going through Vegas. We plan to spend New Year’s Eve camping under the stars at The Grand Canyon. Sounds romantic, right? It sounds a little less romantic when you realize that it will be around 18 degrees overnight. And there will probably be snow. I’m a total badass, but camping in a tent in the snow seems just a little crazy.

So I made reservations at a Hostel near the Grand Canyon. The idea is to keep the reservation and play it by ear. If it seems like we’ll end up as an episode of Dateline where they interview all of our friends and family about what kind of people we were before we froze to death, then we’ll stay at the hostel. I kind of also made reservations at The Wigwam Hotel on Route 66. I thought it might be fun to ring in the New Year in a teepee, and I have always wanted to stay there. I like having options that don’t include freezing.

Bixby Creek Bridge

Bixby Creek Bridge

The trip is designed for us to move and see some parts of the country we might have not seen before. I have a list of things we will be seeing along the way. Things like The UFO Museum, standing on the corner of Winslow Arizona, The Grand Canyon, San Simeon State Park, The world’s largest artichoke, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and much, much more. I’ve seen many of these sights before, but never as an adult. We both feel like we saw and did a lot while living in Europe, so we should do the same while we are here in the states. Who knows if we’ll stick around, so we better see the sights!

We’ll arrive in San Francisco just in time for my birthday. It feels like I’ve come full circle. I lived in Oakland/San Francisco before moving to Prague. I had my 30th birthday there, and now I’ll have my 40th there. It feels like the right time to come home again. I’ll get to see friends that I haven’t seen in almost ten years. I’ll get to introduce my fella to some of the coolest people I know, and I’ll get to sing karaoke at The Mint once more. It’ll be great. Just looking at pictures of The Bay Bridge gets me excited and happy.

I can’t wait to start this next adventure. Because this isn’t just a road trip, we are pulling up stakes and moving yet again. The plan is to spend six months volunteering at Ratna Ling Buddhist Center and then move to Seattle. We talked about all of the reasons Austin didn’t work out for us and looked for a city that had some things Austin was lacking. Things like walkability, good public transit, weather, green trees, gays and good coffee. I can’t wait. I seem to have made a habit of moving to cities I’ve never stepped foot in before. Should be fun.

The way I see it, life is just a big adventure waiting to happen. You can choose to participate or you can sit on the sidelines and watch. Thoreau once said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” And that’s what I’m trying to do. I wasted enough time working in an office doing silly, meaningless things like data entry, or answering the phone for someone who was far too important to do it them self. That’s not living, at least not to me. Do no harm, but take no shit. That’s my motto.

Zen Habits: How to Stick to Your Path When Nobody Gets It

photo: Alicia Brooks

photo: Alicia Brooks

If you had asked me at twenty-seven years old what my life plan is, I would have laughed at you. I didn’t have a plan. I knew what I was supposed to do. I knew what society, my friends and family expected of me, and I tried doing it. I got married. I got a job in an office. I made money. I was miserable, but I was doing what I was supposed to do. If you had told me that instead I’d divorce my husband and move to the Czech Republic, and spend the next seven years traveling the world and wind up at a Buddhist Center in Northern California, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.

But somewhere in the midst of living the life I thought I was supposed to live, I realized I wasn’t happy. Or rather I was forced to realize I wasn’t happy. Looking back I feel like I was too dumb or too scared to see I wasn’t living my life the way I wanted. I was living the life other people wanted to me to live. But, my relationships were failing, my career was less than fulfilling, I was miserable.

I was checking off all of the boxes (Job? Check! Married? Check!) but it didn’t make me happy. I realized what I wanted from life wasn’t what most people wanted. I wanted a life of adventure, freedom, love, and learning. Staying in one place for twenty years, working in an office every day was not what I wanted from life.

Of course, living a life of freedom and adventure, love and learning isn’t enough. I still needed and wanted an amazing partner, enough money for what I need, and to live in a place that fuels my creativity. And why the hell not? Why settle down in a life that doesn’t fit?

But explaining your life goals and dreams to family and friends isn’t always easy. Most people don’t understand. When you live your life in an unusual way – traveling, living abroad, volunteering, not having babies, starting your own business – it makes people uncomfortable. It’s just too risky for stable minded people. They don’t understand it. They fear it, and you. They might even be envious of you. And that’s okay. Just take it in stride.

The trick is to not let all of that fear and doubt rub off on you. The last thing you need is to start doubting yourself. So how do you keep living your life the way YOU want? Here are some tips to help you figure that out.

  1. Give people the tools to educate themselves. We spend a lot of our time explaining ourselves to people. We try to explain why we are moving to Europe, or why we have decided to change careers. We struggle to make people understand our POV, and explain (over and over) what we are after. Well, stop. It won’t work. You can talk ’til you’re blue in the face, but it won’t change anyones mind. The best idea is to give friends and family the tools to educate themselves. I have sent my friends and family as much information about Ratna Ling as I possibly can. That’s all I can do. It’s up to them to read it, and ask me questions. I can’t force them to accept my choices, but I can make it their responsibility to educate themselves about it. I can’t have a meaningful dialogue about my life choices with someone who can’t take the time to educate themselves about it.
  2. Find a community of like-minded people. It’s a lot easier to live your dream when you have a group of people around you who “get it”. Start limiting your time with people who don’t understand what you are doing.
  3. Commit to your lifestyle in thought and action. Start a routine that includes yoga and meditation. Make time for the things which are important to you. Whether it’s writing, painting, exercising, singing… make it a part of your daily practice. Making creativity and inner connection a part of your daily ritual will help you in making it a part of your life.
  4. Allow yourself the freedom to change, even if nobody else will. I’m not the same person I was at sixteen. I’m not even the same person I was at twenty-six. Thank goodness! I should hope that we all grow and change over time. I don’t have the same priorities I did in my twenties, and that’s okay with me. I’m GLAD that getting wasted and dancing the night away isn’t my main goal in life. It was fun while it lasted, but that ain’t me anymore. But, people are comfortable with the YOU they first met. It fits into their idea of who you are, and that fits into their life. When your life shifts and your priorities change, it forces other people to change their idea of you. That makes some people uncomfortable. Don’t let that stop you from growing and changing. If your friends and family are having trouble adjusting to your new lifestyle, job, or home – that’s a THEM problem. Not a YOU problem. You just go on being awesome.
  5. Stay strong. You know deep down inside that you are a badass. You know that you are doing what’s right for you. Seeking the approval of others is an uphill battle that you’ll eventually lose. Do the best you can, every day. Don’t beat yourself up when you don’t. The only persons happiness that you are responsible for is your own.

Ratna Ling Update: Acceptance!

ratna_ling_retreat_center_californiaIt’s on. My sweetie and I have (finally!) been accepted as volunteers at Ratna Ling center. I am so excited! I can’t wait get out of Texas, and back to the Bay Area. It’s been about eight or nine years since I’ve seen my friends there, so I am pretty eager. Leaving Austin will be the easiest move (emotionally) I have ever done. I’m more than ready for a change of scenery, weather, food, people… all of it. I’m just ready. I’ve met some nice people here and I had a great job, but that isn’t enough for me to want to stay. I need a little more in my life than a job. I need adventure.

Here is the plan. We leave Austin on the 30th and head back towards Houston. We’ll crash there through the holidays and then drive out to California in early January. I hope to celebrate my birthday with some of my favorite people, eat some good mexican food, and do a little karaoke before I become a vegetarian for six months. Once we get there we will have one month “probation period” where we see if we like it, and they see if we are a good fit. I foresee zero issues. I am a hard worker, I like a good challenge, and I am excited for an experience that will force me to learn something new.

The center is about three hours north of San Francisco, nestled in the Sonoma mountains. We’ve been told to be on the look out for deer, cows, rabbits and other various animals. There are trails to hike, and a beach within a four mile walk. The last time I had a four mile walk was when I unknowingly hopped on the wrong bus (Austin Texas, in its infinite wisdom, put two busses with the same number on the same route… and it picks up on the same side of the street at the same stop.) and had to walk 3.5 miles home. I saw condos, cars, people waiting for the next bus, and lots of fast food. Not a beach in sight.

bedroom_cabin2As beautiful as our new surroundings will be, this isn’t going to be a six month holiday. We will have work assignments – six days a week. “We have 3 projects on site at Ratna Ling. The book bindery, the retreat center and the publishing company. We encourage all participants to be open and willing to volunteer wherever the need is greatest.” Last I heard I was going to be put to work at the publishing company. Seems fitting. Here is what a daily schedule looks like:

6:00 – 7:00 am Kum Nye Tibetan yoga (optional) in the conference center

6:10 – 6:55 sitting meditation (optional) in the Meditation Hall

8:00 am Start of the work day – morning circle, announcements and chanting

8:15 – 10:00 am work practice holsteemanifesto

10:00– 10:30am break

10:30am – 12:30pm work practice

12:30- 1:30pm lunch

1:30 -3:30pm work practice

3:30 -4:00pm Break

4:00 – 5:45pm work practice

6:00 -7:00 pm Class 

So as you can see, this won’t be a spa holiday where I am doing yoga and taking pictures of deer in my spare time. This will be work and study. Two things I excel at. And I am ready to excel. This last year in Austin was a reminder of why I left America in the first place. It didn’t take long for me to get in a work routine and realize that I was in the same position I was when I left for Prague. I was doing ordinary work in an ordinary city. Again. The only way out of a cycle is to break out. And that’s what I’m doing. Because, I’m not an ordinary person. I am an extraordinary person who is on this planet to do extraordinary things. You get one chance at living and I for one don’t want to waste that chance on something as ordinary as a job. I want to live, travel, taste, adventure, learn, color, paint, write and enjoy my life – and make it as extraordinary as possible.


My Life as the Hero’s Journey

myth_quest_model_heroes_journeyMost narratives, stories, books and films are based around the monomyth, or Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey”. A young, naive, nobody from an ordinary, boring world (think… Luke Skywalker) is called to an unknown world on a quest. He must slay a “dragon”, resist temptation, and eventually triumph over evil. He will then return home to bestow his wisdom on his buddies. It’s like Frodo or Harry Potter or Buffy or Batman. They are all the same myth. Every religion has its own version of it from Jesus to Buddha to Osiris to Moses, this myth is the basis for every story ever told. Even mine. Even yours.

I was watching the last Joel Fleischman episode of the best show ever, Northern Exposure. It’s called “The Quest”. As his final fling in the Alaskan Wilderness Joel (with Maggie) sets off to find the Jeweled City, somewhere beyond the Aleutian Islands. The episode is one part “Good-bye Dr. Fleishman” and one part “Hero Quest”. There are riddles to be solved, gatekeepers to be appeased and dragons (albeit metaphorically) to be battled on the journey. Joel’s life as Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, and Joel is self-aware, and smart enough to know it. He comments throughout the journey about the stages, calling Adam “gate-keeper”, for example. It got me thinking about my own life as the Hero’s Journey, and where I am in it.

epicThere are 17 stages in the monomyth. I am pretty sure that stage one was when I left America and moved to Prague. “The hero begins in a mundane situation of normality from which some information is received that acts as a call to head off into the unknown.” Yep. That pretty much describes my life just before I made the decision to move. I had to move out of my home in Oakland. I didn’t know what to do, or where to go. I didn’t want to move back to L.A. because… it’s L.A. I didn’t want to stay in the Bay Area because I hated my job and I wanted to be far away from pretty much everyone I knew. I saw an ad for a TEFL program, and the rest is history. In fact, looking back it is VERY clear that this was “The call”.

In one of my very early blog posts I wrote about what led me to move to Prague. I had read my horoscope and it was eerily accurate. It told me the choices I make will shape my future. It said it I was beginning a new phase in my life that would have consequences for years to come. At the time, I thought it was weird, or at least that’s what I wrote. But I know me, and inside I was sure this was a sign. I was supposed to do this. I had that feeling in my belly telling me “This is it. Either you go now or you will stay here forever. Don’t be one of those assholes who looks back at their life in regret. You are better than that“. I knew it then. My friend Heather knew it, she told me I was on a Yoda mission. I was to do great things. I had a quest. I was the hero and this was The Departure. (Which BTW was the last movie I saw in America before I moved overseas. Just sayin’)

My mission was clear – to unlearn what I had learned. I wrote that in July of 2006. And sitting here in my living-room in Texas, in 2013, I can see each stage of my journey very clearly. My quest is almost over.

My “departure” was my flight to Europe, alone. I landed in London and met my “Supernatural aid”, or in my case, a friend named Zach who gave me tools to help me on my journey. He gave me shelter, a map, and confidence. He let me know it would be ok. From there I crossed “the first threshold guardian” (Czech Customs Officers/Passport control) at midnight in October, 2006. I was thrust into “the belly of the whale”, or in my case a tiny, cramped room with a single window. I sat there alone, staring at the drain on the floor wondering how I had gotten there in the first place. I broke down and cried. I wept. But I didn’t let it break me. I got my head straight and took control of my situation. Who else was going to do it? I’m the hero.

That was the beginning. Looking back it is easy to see the temptress and the dragon. It is easy to solve the riddles with the power of hindsight. My “Road of Trials” was long and arduous. I mean, if you think Frodo had a difficult journey, then you have never ridden a bus into Mexico in the middle of the night. In a thunderstorm. But I can’t go into that right now. Those are stories for a different day.

In my heart I feel that this journey, my quest to unlearn what I had learned, is coming to a close. I will have come full circle when we roll into the Bay Area and I begin my six month stay as a volunteer at Ratna Ling. (Hopefully! Fingers still crossed!) Maybe it’s the final step in this journey. Or maybe not.

I can’t figure it all out today.