Saturday, February 11, 2012

that time I moved

I've moved around quite a bit.  An "I can't take this place anymore!" feeling accompanied most of these moves for different reasons.
When I moved from Istanbul to Athens it was a relief because I hated my manager at that time
When I moved from Athens back to Istanbul it was a relief because all my neighbors were getting robbed and I was scared to sleep at nights.
When I moved from Istanbul to Dubai it was a relief because I was finally away from the aggressive traffic and the crowd.
When I moved from Dubai to Asia it was a relief because I could no longer take the corporate life.

Brown Iguana, Image by DogMom Librarian
However, when I was moving from Bali to Istanbul two months ago I didn't have that feeling at all. I wasn't fed up with anything. In fact everything was as good as it could ever be.
I was staying in a small place with a Balinese family, a few meters away from a ravine. I was sleeping to the sound of the waterfall, waking up to watch iguanas sunbathing on coconut trees. I was enjoying the nature so much, most nights I was falling asleep out in the veranda.

I met the most amazing people in Bali, and had been very inspired by their stories. Ubud was the place that I discovered the wisdom of the "older", solo travelers. Mostly women. Coming from a place where people over 25 are considered as rather "expired", it was extremely refreshing to meet 60+ people who used their wisdom to do inner work and to bring improvements into the lives of others. With some people I've only shared a cup of tea, but those 20 minutes are still vivid in my memory. With some, I spent hours 5 days a week for many many months and felt that there's still so much to share. Teachers, neighbors, students, clients, friends, colleagues... Every contact, every relationship in Bali meant something and had huge impact on who I am today. I was always blessed with the right people around me.

It takes a bit of time to settle in somewhere and have a reputation in your work so that you would attract clients, right? Within 12 hours of landing to Bali, I had also landed on my first yoga teaching job. From that moment on, it just kept getting better and more. I was lucky to have a balance of paid and charity work. Especially with CranioSacral, I had a number of clients that I would probably expect after at least 4-5 years of experience. I was very busy and very happy about it.

So the weeks before I left Bali were golden. A peaceful life in nature, amazing friends, great work that enabled me to create difference in other people's lives. It was the first time that I was leaving a place at its peak, with a lot of good memories and confidence. Moving to Bali was a huge leap of faith and that was only one year ago. Everything was ambigious, but I knew I had to be there. Looking back, I feel that I was gifted with a happy life in Bali because I was able to trust and take that major step.

2 months ago, I even took a bigger leap of faith by moving to Istanbul. I lived here twice before and both times were very hard on me (to say the least). Yet deep down I feel that I have to be here again.
I am just curious if I will be able to continue trusting and what things will change in my life a year from today?

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

madonna and buddhism

This morning I woke up and browsed through the tweets of the previous night to see if anything interesting or important happened. A yoga journal tweeted about Madonna's Super Bowl show and how she is still amazing at the age of 53. I watched the video and there she was; once again in a very extravagant stage show. Songs were Madonna, but remixed. Her dance was Madonna but adapted. Her face was Madonna but obviously lifted. She was a chameleon and that was one of the main factors that kept her as the star for over 3 decades. 

Some people are stuck to a certain period of their lives. Careless college years, honeymoon months of a new relationship, or the peak years of the career. They fail to notice that with every passing moment, life changes. And that change requires adaptation. The minute we try to hang on the "good old days", we begin to suffer. We desire something that we don't have and we will never have again. The more we desire, the more time we spend fantasizing about that time. The more time we spend thinking what we had in the past, or how great it would be to have it again in the future the less we become aware of the present. Then maybe 25 years from now, we will look back in surprise and realize what made us such bitter and resentful old people...

Alternatively we can choose to go with the flow and live what present moment brings. Adapting to every new stage of life will always come with its own rewards. If Madonna was stuck in her "Material Girl" tunes and look, she would have disappeared as fast as Cyndi Lauper. If she stopped reinventing herself after Vogue, her name wouldn't be recited more often than Spice Girls. If she didn't take the bold risk of creating religious controversy (just after an album that sold 25 million), she wouldn't have been who she is right now. I see Madonna as a good example of Buddhism, at least in the way she works; continuously accepting that nothing is permanent and everything changes.

For those who might be interested in the three marks of existence in Buddhism and how change fits into that scheme, I created a little something:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

journey in Asia takes a 10,000 kilometer shift

This is an old story, it happened about three months ago. I was indecisive for a long time if I should write it or not. Finally convinced myself that it’s better write it late than never…

End of September, I visited the forest monastery again – this time for 12 days only (You can read about the previous visit here, here and here). Most mornings, I was giving CranioSacral sessions to the monks and in the afternoons teaching group yoga classes. In the evenings, the most senior monk in the monastery was giving me private meditation sessions. The rest of the days were long walks in the forest, reading or fruit-picking. Days were busy and very productive. Monks were getting a lot of benefit from the CranioSacral and the yoga sessions so we were all very happy.

I had two free days in Bangkok between the monastery and Bali. So I wanted to visit the monk (let’s call him Phra) who arranged everything for me and thank him in person. Phra’s monastery is 1-hour south of Bangkok so I took the bus there. By the time I arrived, everyone was busy working with a senior monk who was visiting for the day (let’s call him Ajahn). I recognized him immediately because I saw few of his photos on the walls in other monsteries. As it’s the custom I was offered lunch and cold drinks as soon as I arrived. Seeing how busy Phra was, I wanted to keep my visit short. I thanked him for everything he’s done and organized for me.

As I was about to leave, Ajahn invited me closer to his desk and started asking questions. Ajahn didn't speak any English so Phra was translating for us. He asked how I liked the life in the monastery, what was I doing in Bali etc. Phra told him that I helped the monks via CranioSacral therapy and yoga. Ajahn closed his eyes for a moment,seemed to go really deep and then open his eyes to describe to me what CranioSacral therapy is. It was very interesting because not many people know it enough to describe it in their own words just by hearing it. It felt as if Ajahn was able to contact his inner wisdom and get all knowledge he needs from there. Then he asked me where I was from, I told him and again he closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, he told me that Turkey was a crowded country, with very little Buddhist presence and spirituality. Another accurate insight! I was reading a lot about how experienced Buddhist monks were very wise and insightful, but that was the first time that I had a personal experience of it.

At that time, I was contemplating if I should spend a few months in Istanbul to practice CranioSacral. I told this to Ajahn and his response was very surprising. He told me that I should not spend just a few months in Istanbul. Instead I should move there permanently! He said it was easy to live in forest monasteries and beautiful islands like Bali and help people there. He said that in forests life can get so comfortable and relaxed, that I can even forget my name. He added that the real challenge is to live in a city with extremes and try to accept them as they are; without trying to change, even without trying to make them better. Everything he said was so true, but not what I wanted to hear... I told him that I liked living in Bali, that Turkey was too aggressive and didn't have the spirituality of Asia. Looking directly into my eyes, Ajahn said "You are born in Turkey and you are going to die in Turkey!" That was a shock to me and looking at the expression on his face, also to Phra. Softening his tone a little, Ajahn added that no one is born randomly into countries. He said I've been around different countries long enough to absorb their wisdom and get a perspective. Yet it was time for me to move back and share whatever I've learned, in order to help people in my own country. He said that I cannot achieve anything by running away; anything I needed to face, anything that would challenge me to be better was "back home". It felt like a bombardment of ideas that I didn't want to hear because at a deeper level I knew that they were true. I sat there trying to absorb everything that I heard, while Phra and Ajahn were looking at me with the most compassionate eyes.

It was too much and too shocking to hear all that, at a time and place that I least expected. In the last 2 years most of  what I did, were the things I was afraid of.  Only a few more things were more scary than moving back to Istanbul  - I tried living in this city twice before and failed miserably both times. Feeling the support and the clarity of the monks, it felt like the best time to give it a third and a final try. 

That day, Ajahn spent 3 hours with me. Not only did he tell me that I should live and die in Turkey, he added how I should work. He almost gave me a business plan; he told me whom to work with, where to be located etc. I took out a pen and a notebook and he made me write down a detailed list of things I should do. It felt surreal, sitting in a monastery in Thailand, taking down notes on how I should live the rest of my life based on the words of a monk that I only met 3 hours ago. Things could have been lost in translation, he may not have been as wise as I perceived him. It was (and still is) the biggest leap of faith in my life but I took it. That evening as soon as I arrived back to Bangkok, I made arrangements for return tickets to Turkey.

Later I've learned that Ajahn was a very well-known monk. People from all over Thailand would go to his monastery to seek his advice and he would be very selective to share it. I was told that some of the business tycoons and even the Thai Secret Service would come to seek his advice before strategic decisions. And I happened to be visiting Phra's monastery on the day he was also visiting. He chose to spend 3 hours with me, changing my life with every word... Sometimes, some things seem a little more than coincidence, don't they?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

men diet - part 2

1.  Do not touch the camera for a while and never date  photographers again:
From day one, I know it was not the wisest thing to attribute the whole thing to photography or to photographers. But if I hadn't blamed photography, I would have to start pointing the finger at myself. I was really not in the mood to analyze myself or my patterns only to suffer more after two breakups. 

+ it was great that I didn't have to drag my heavy camera bag everywhere I went and enjoyed just what my eyes captured in that moment. 

- apparently photography (like anything else) needs constant practice. Not practicing brought my photos to the level of a facebook snapshot from your average tourist.
- especially in humid climates like the tropics, being in a closed camera bag creates fungus on the lenses. Not all service centers can clear fungus and even if they can, it costs a fortune. One of my lenses was saved, however 2 are in critical condition and will probably be unusable in a year or two. I can say that the fungus on the lenses hurt a lot more than the two breakups. With time, emotional wounds heal, but fungus just keeps growing.  

2. Be in a men-diet for 11 months.
This was the wiser of my two decisions. Especially the first 4-5 months felt really good, like an extended summer break from boarding school. Around the 6th month, I started to regret my decision – 11 months felt ridiculously long. I'm sure this happened because I was in Istanbul around that time. And life in Istanbul is like in a Cosmo magazine – a lot of gossip and advice on men, relations, sex and not much more. So much obsession about men and relations had an impact on how I was feeling. During that time, I was almost sure that I would not be able to keep my promise and give up. Thankfully, it didn't happen. 

This was the time that I realized that temptation can take many different forms; chocolate, a good glass of wine, sleeping in someone's arms or desire for an earth-shattering orgasm. However different they appear to be, in reality they are reflections of the same craving. Craving for some different, heightened sensation than what I already have. And I noticed that if I can be aware of that craving but not act on it, it just melts away. With men, it invariably always took 3 days to melt. I see someone I like, I want to be witrh him like crazy and 3 days later I find myself completely alientated from that craving and from the guy...  Why 3 days I have no idea, but that was one of th most interesting discoveries of this whole process.    
Around 9th month, I realized that I got into the comfort zone too much and didn't really use the previous months for introspection or for changing my patterns.  I panicked a little, but I can't really force awareness, can I?

+ I felt very comfortable around men that I've just met or being introduced to. Subconsciously most of us tend to categorize members of the other sex as “potential dating material” or not as soon as we meet them. When that categorization if off the shelf, it's a whole different feeling.   
+ life became much easier and much simpler in so many ways. I was truly by myself in almost everything I did. No lengthy discussions, no undecisive moments where to have dinner, no misunderstandings, no fights, no jealousy, no long-term plans... Can you imagine that??? Instead a lot of spare time and energy to do things that I enjoy. This was probably the best aspect of the diet – so good that I cannot fully express it in words.  
+ I noticed that I don't really “need” a relationship. I am perfectly happy with myself and if I'm going to include someone in my life, he really needs to add a lot of value. That value is surely not money, not breakfast in bed or not someone to take care of me while I'm sick. It's something much deeper.  

- life became so much relaxed and simple that I'm not sure if I can get back to being with someone easily. The diet was supposed to last 11 months – it's been 17  months already and I now feel so much more comfortable in monasteries and around monks than anywhere else. More importantly, the monks feel very comfortable in my presence too. (A monk is never ever supposed to be alone with a woman, there has to be at least 2 more monks present and watching – but lately they've been trusting me so much, I work with monks one-to-one behind closed doors.
Feeling very easy in a monastery but cringing at the presence of a caring and interesting French man... This might be a good reference for a career as nun, but doesn't sound very promising for an average 37-year old, single woman.

So the diet brought awareness to my temptations, cravings and my fears. As boring as it sounds, it also made me more aware of “people”, rather than women, men, hot guys, handsome boys, dates etc. I feel much stronger because I can notice the temptations but I now know I have a choice of not acting on them. And when I don't act on them, I can see cravings for what they really are – just cravings that will pass away. 
Am I enlightened as to why I suffer in relationships? Not really. Still I can say that the “men diet” worked well; it brought answers to what I needed to know at this stage of my life, not to what I thought I have to know.    

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

men diet - part 1

Some recent events stirred up a lot in me and I started thinking about past relations.  I had been in a relationship for most of my adult life despite being very pro-single. Yet I very my much liked if my partner was at a distance, preferably as far as in another city of country. Too close and too predictable suffocated me. The idea of a husband was terrifying, because even the concepts like “always” or “forever” were too scary. I just couldn't imagine being with someone forever... Not because I'm polygamist or I cheat, but as soon as I know something or someone will be there forever, it loses its true meaning. In relationships, I always had my set of Fight Club rules and made them very clear. Rule number one: you do not propose to me, Rule number two: if you propose to me, you get dumped on the spot. A proposal, which brings tears of joy to the faces of many would suffocate me with fear and I'd run away like crazy.

Naturally being so rigid and so scared,  I broke many good boys and many bad boys broke me. Those who wanted a “normal” relationship with a caring and sharing person were hurt. Those who were even more terrified with the idea of a relationship than me, ended up hurting me.

In the recent years, I had two relationships that broke me a lot worse than the past ones . I was just getting familiar with the concept of commitment. Like a kid with a new science test kit, I was eager to play with it as soon as possible. Science kits, when played safely at home would probably teach a lot. I tried mine under unsafe conditions and it exploded in my face – twice. After the second breakup, I started to think where I went wrong; The guys were extremely different profiles, had completely different backgrounds and were even in different countries! Oh, the only thing common with them was both were photographers. I needed to find where I was going wrong in order to avoid repeating my mistakes. So to be on the very very safe side I took two decisions:
1. Do not touch the camera for a while and never date photographers again.
2. Start a “men-diet” for 11 months and use that time to figure out what goes wrong in my relationships. A men-diet meant no flirting, no dating, no physical intimacy in any way.

Why 11 months? No sensible reasons. There was a time in the past that I was single for 11 months (after a very long-term relation) and it seemed to clear the debris of the former relationship. So I thought if it worked in the past, it would work again.

All that was about than 18 months ago. Looking back, it was great in some ways and not so great in others.
to be continued...