Saturday, July 31, 2010

the doctor said

Recently a friend injured his knee badly and the doctor said the only way to “make it as good as new” was surgery. Deep down, he is not ok with the idea of going under full anesthesia and having all the sensitive nerves and connective tissues in his knee touched by surgical equipment, but he is anyway trying to get a date for surgery because the doctor said so.

Another friend was told by her doctor to drink two glasses of cow's milk every day because her bones are brittle and has a risk for osteoporosis. She hates the taste and feels like throwing up every time but still drinks it religiously because the doctor said so. She didn't even ask if there are alternative ways to get calcium and now suffers every day.

It's amazing how we can surrender our health and well being into the hands of a person who barely knows us beyond out weight, height, heart rate and symptoms. Once we tell our complaints to a doctor and s/he prescribes us something, we believe that everything will be magically fixed from that points onwards.

We are in an era where everyone's getting more and more control freak. Think about the way we order food; “I want the mushroom omelet, but no mushrooms and only 3 egg-whites please”???  More and more people in offices are saying that they would rather do all the work themselves because they find it difficult to trust their team members. We want to know exactly how the chef cooks our food and how it will be served. We need to feel in charge what people do and how exactly they do it. Yet when it comes to taking charge of our own health we don't even move a finger beyond dialing the doctor for an appointment – let the doctor or the prescription pill do the rest. We are completely desensitized to what our bodies and our inner wisdom tell us, yet we obey everything the doctor tells because s/he is supposed to be the expert. Worse is when masses of people follow the “one-size-fits-all” advice that is coming from the charismatic looking doctor who appears on the evening news. Go figure...

It's my body, my health. There are no spare parts and I can't really go and buy a newer model if  I screw this one up. Why not just take good care of it to start with? Then listen to what it says and make adjustments accordingly? Having lived with it all my life, I should have a pretty good idea when and how things happen to my body. What contribution would I expect from someone who just met me 10 minutes ago or who sees me only when I'm sick?

Most of us try to assume more responsibility in our work to manage a bigger budget, wider geography, increased number of subordinates... Why not start with taking a bigger responsibility of our body, health and happiness and see how that works for a change?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

been there done that

by Kevin Lyons

Haven't you been hearing that a lot lately? Thirty something, sophisticated and well-traveled people have been using this term more and more... Safari, pyramid-hopping, bungee jumping, scuba diving, mountain climbing, ashram living, fitness boot-camps you name it... I got curious and looked up for the dictionary definition, which is “To have experienced the topic under discussion, to the point of boredom or complacency”  I can't remember how many times I heard a conversation where someone is saying for example “I am planning to climb Kilimanjaro this summer” and the other person automatically responding “oh been there done that, I've actually been to all the mountains in Africa, and I will do Everest summit next year.” What a perfect way to kill the enthusiasm of the person who opened the subject! If you like, replace climbing with scuba, photography, cycling, that will give you just more examples of the “been there done that” bunch.

Doesn't it also show that  we live our lives like a big list of action points? Books like “1000 places you must see before you die, 100 things to do before you are 30” sell like hot cupcakes. We like to have a list to be checked off, an action plan to be fulfilled, something quantifiable that we can measure our “success” against. Often times, unfortunately the quality falls through the cracks.

In Bali, I met some backpackers who were visiting 10 different places in 3 different countries in 15 days , because this was their travel plan for 2010. Wow! I wonder what can I observe about the culture or absorb about the life in such a claustrophobic schedule? For sure I would be an expert of airport securities and duty free shops. The photos I put on facebook would be fabulous, and the “cities I've pinned” map on tripadvisor would look handsomely populated. Next time someone tells me that they are going to x country for their holidays, I can say “oh been there, awesome place” But have I really been there?

If, within 4 months I watch all the films listed on “100 movies you should see before you die” book, would I really become a film mogul? Would I be a happier person compared to anyone who never watched those movies?
More importantly, would I die as a more complete person?

Monday, July 26, 2010

1980 Ankara, 1985 Bydgoszcz, 2010 Dubai

I grew up in a time and place that it was very rude to boast about what we have and to emphasize our differences. It was the pre-eighties era, where consumerism hadn't yet hit Turkey. (Any of you grew up in Turkey remember the Yerli Malları Haftası?) Eighties onward, the foreign influence was strong and we fell in love with anything exported; be it cheese or cars. Showing off, which was once rude, lost importance and slowly became an object of just “tsk tsk”. Somehow towards the early nineties, it became very uncool not to own a pair of Levi's 501 and Timberland shoes. We thought those items gave us an identity, whereas in reality those 501's were stripping us from our unique identities. I must add that were not the most flattering cut for our wider thighs and smaller butts. Yet we were desperate to be a part of the clan that owned the American jeans and the shoes. We started to think that owning the stuff produced in another part of the world would give us their lifestyle.

Then I was lucky to spend a few weeks in Poland, while it was still considered as a part of the Iron Curtain countries. I was young, yet could still remember the effort my Polish peers showed in order to look different. Teenage sense of fashion coupled with communist resources didn't really result in  what one might now call “Vintage” items. I remember that at the end of my visit, I gave all my plastic earrings and fluorescent-colored accessories to my friends and they couldn't have been happier.

Now I am in Dubai. The strong and closed culture plus the influence of religion prohibits showing off. In its original form, this is a very considerate tradition to avoid showing off if you are rich and feeling embarrassed if you are poor. All men are supposed to wear the same starched and sparkling white dishdashas and the women should be wearing the black abayas. If you are a guy and you're supposed to wear a loose fit white dishdasha, there's very little left to express yourself with. Hence men around here invest insane amounts for their wristwatches, mobile phones and cars. They are the ultimate and most visible expressions of your status and how much you have. Women are luckier! in terms of being able to differentiate themselves. Shops have started selling custom-made Swarovski-studded heard scarves, ladies wear bright green Christian Louboutins under slightly-shorter-than-it-should-be abayas, I won't even mention the handbags and gold plated mobiles. What was one of the most striking stories for me was women calling artists to their homes to have a 100 $ make-up and then going to the mall covered in niqab (the face veil, which only leaves the eyes open).
photo from
photo from

I am not criticizing anyone, nor do I think this is hilarious unlike most foreigners here do. Quite the contrary, I find this very very heartbreaking. Covered head to toe and being allowed almost no contact with others, anyone would get desperate to attract attention to their individuality and uniqueness. I am not sure if all of the locals * around here buy very expensive cars, hand-made Italian bags or Tom Ford tailor-made disdashas just to show how rich they are. Maybe some do, but I am sure there's a good bunch who just want to express themselves – and those luxury items turn out to be only immediate means available. Imagine 81% of a city's population is composed of expatriates who have little or no knowledge of the local customs hence go around in loud groups, wear skimpy clothes and have no issues openly hitting on the opposite sex. Then in your own city, you are minority, being exposed to a very sudden flux of foreigners who tend to do everything differently and often against the culture. How much would it be possible to ignore the influence and to protect your customs? What else would you do to discover your identity?

I don't have an answer. A lot of factors seem to be intertwined; sense of identity, feeling unique, being able to “own”... And all hitting up in the last 20 years or so. I know quite a number of locals who feel stuck between the tradition and the contemporary, I can only hope that they find their own paths, whatever that may be

* Locals as I used above don't refer to Emiratis only, it's intended to refer to all GCC nationals (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Oman) 
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Saturday, July 24, 2010

present moment – part three

Talking about delay of gratification, made me think of religion. I am no expert on the subject but that won't stop me from blabbering about it.

 All organized religions describe a form of heaven and hell. If I obey by the rules of that religion without any questions (doubt is usually a sin!), I will end up in heaven. What's very convenient is that heaven will come just after I die, so I won't have to spend sometime in this world working on my fear of death – possibly the deepest and the biggest instinctual fear we all share. Some religions are pretty descriptive about the steps to follow between death and heaven, while others leave a little more room for imagination. And if I don't obey by the rules and become a sinner, I will burn in hell.

 I've never heard of anyone who's been dead, experienced heaven or hell and came back to tell about it. Experience aside, there's no evidence that it even exists. There's a possibility that all that scenario is the product of a smart and creative priest who knew the soft spots of the human beings an used them to keep us on track. Essentially almost all the sins described by religions are bad; I agree that we should not steal, lie, harm others, etc... I just don't understand why I have to obey them fearing “hell” after death, a place that no one has first hand experience of. 

Throughout our lives, we observe countless examples how people are rewarded here and now when they do good deeds and how they get punished when they engage in actions that we call sins. People who have dedicated their lives to helping others and refrain from harming have an inner calm and satisfaction in their lives. Cheaters are rarely happy in any of their relationships and spend so much effort trying to cover their lies, that life can become unbearable. Greedy or gluttonous people are very unlikely to feel a moment of peace and contentment, spending a life trapped in an inner hell of dissatisfaction. These are oversimplified examples but I  think they give the idea. I can lead a happy life when I do moral things and mean no harm to anyone else. Although it may be in somewhat different forms, this can be experienced by anyone immediately, without waiting for some unknown time and place after death.

Why then do we keep craving for heaven and fearing hell while the life that we breathe, cry, laugh, learn, love in it passes with every minute? Shouldn't we try to make something good out of this one instead of blindly investing in the next one that we don't even know to exist?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

should I stay or should I go

I was very happy in Bali, I guess it was self-apparent by the fact that I intended to stay for 3 weeks and ended up spending over 7 months there. Every morning I woke up with a feeling of bliss. At the end of each yoga session I thanked to be in Bali, to be aware and to experience whatever was going on around me. For once, I was in touch with myself and I felt every bit of thing; be it pain, jealousy or joy. I found my little paradise, the place that I belonged. Yet sometime around March, it became clear that I had to go back to Dubai in June in order to take care of the stuff I left behind. That decision made me feel depressed for an entire week; I guess sense of responsibility doesn't really agree with me.

I was trying to convince myself that I acquired a lot of different approaches and skills in Asia, and being in Middle East would be the ultimate test of how much I had really internalized them. Would I be able to keep my cool in traffic, would I be able to maintain a spiritual approach when everything around me was so materialistic, would I be able to pass shopping and say “I don't really need this”. To some extent, I even felt a sense of mission; Dubai was where  I seriously started practicing yoga and felt the seeds of change sprout. If I could help just one more person in Dubai get in touch with his/her true self and feel liberated, I would feel as if I paid back and then return to Bali with a feeling of contentment. (No, I don't expect everyone to be liberated by means of jumping on the next plane to Asia and meditate all day like the statue of Buddha)

Here I am in Dubai for the last two weeks and things are really super difficult. Police fined me for driving an unregistered car and I cannot register my car without an employment visa. So I am pretty immobile. I try to get a job but apparently I forgot how slow things can be during summer in Dubai – nothing moves. My tourist visa is about to expire and I just figured that I can't renew it, so unless something miraculous happens I need to leave Dubai in 2 weeks and cannot re-enter for another month. Did I ever mention that life here is also ridiculously expensive?

Every day I try something new to ensure that I can stay here. Latest by the next day, I find out that option would not work. As dramatic as it sounds, I feel as if all walls are closing on me. After all the carelessness and freedom in Bali, no wonder life here makes me feel claustrophobic. Every day, I take sometime to convince myself that this is what I have to go through.

Artist Name: Hajime Namiki Title: Banyan Tree
I'm pretty sure that if Gottama the Buddha lived in 21st century, he wouldn't have bothered fasting for months under a banyan tree to feel misery and suffering. He would have probably chosen to live in a soulless metropolitan city to accelerate his enlightenment. Yet every day, a voice in me says “why bother, haven't you learned to love and to protect yourself? Give up struggling, know when to quit and just go back to Bali”. Every day turns out to be a constant repetition of internal dialogues such as;
- oh I feel so trapped in Dubai without a car, job and money, it's good training for my ego / Why do you suffocate yourself with such barriers when you can be in Bali smelling incense?
- I will try a corporate job once again, this time equipped with the patience from meditation and mental flexibility from yoga / Why do you keep banging your head against the wall, hoping that this time the wall might be softer?
- I want to help people but they are so out of touch with themselves I don't know what to do / Why bother and waste your energy in the world's most materialistic city when Bali is full of people who know what they seek?

Both voices are mine and both have valid points... I still have to decide after hearing them both. I wish there was one correct answer and if I really thought hard, I would have it figured out. I'm generally happy to sit back and let things flow in their own course so that I can avoid making any decisions. But this is a time that I need to decide; knowing that only I can make it and it'll be a big one.

Monday, July 19, 2010

may all beings be happy

This is how we end each Vipassana meditation session, we wish that all beings in this world would be free from misery and feel happy. It's called Metta meditation and it's integrated to Vipassana trainings. I've already had that training twice during the previous trainings. However in my third sitting in Thailand, I noticed that I have a strong blockage to say “may all beings be happy”.

 There are two people in my life who had hurt me deeply. I've spent considerable time working on why I made myself vulnerable to these  people and what was the lesson I needed to learn out of my encounters with them. (I believe that no person in our lives is random, everyone is around either to remind us, teach us or to learn form us.) I thought I've already released a lot and let go of my pain. I knew the scars would always be there not to constantly remind me of what happened, but more to act like blue ribbons I received for passing with the highest marks. Moreover, I always perceived myself as a very kind and forgiving person who would never hold grudge against others. Yet there I was sitting, unable to say “may all beings be happy” with a knot in my throat and tears in my eyes. Those two people kept appearing in my mind and I realized in shock how I wasn't really ready to wish good things for them. Whatever happened has happened ages ago and currently I am a very happy person. So I don't know if it was a bigger shock to realize that they still hurt me or that I discovered a vindictive bitch in me.  Well as much as I didn't like it, it was there and apparent to me for the first time.

I wish that was the only discovery I had on the subject. Coming back, I had a lot of catching up to do with friends and this of course involved a bit of gossiping too. I came to know that one of those people whom I couldn't wish well was actually going through a very miserable period in his life. Ohhh, that was the moment in which the bitch in me felt so relieved. That relief was immediately followed by a deep feeling of sympathy. Only after coming to know that he was not happy, I could feel for him, wishing him to be truly happy and be relieved from his pain. What the hell did that mean? Was I trying to put an unconscious cap on the happiness of other people? May all beings be happy as long as they are not happier than me? Or may all beings be happy only after I wish them to be happy? Or people who hurt me are allowed to be happy only after suffering for a certain period of time? I still don't even have a clue, none of these create a buzz in my gut, so there's a possibility that it comes form a more deep-rooted or evil place than I could see. I don't like this, I now find it very hard to say “hey, this is who I am so let's celebrate the evil in me and hug her every morning to make up for the time lost that I wasn't aware of her existence”. Blah

Saturday, July 17, 2010

present moment – part two

Things that I've always taken for granted and never questioned recently started to have a totally different perspective because I began to discover “staying here and now”.

I was sitting with some friends in a cafe today where the subject eventually came to how much longer each of us wanted to stay in Dubai. One of the girls said she's actually had enough but she would still like to stay a few more years to secure a bit more money for her retirement. Retirement? Considering how young she is, that would be at least 30 years from today. Who can predict where any of us will be in such a time frame? Considering how fast life is changing, I wouldn't be surprised if the concept of retirement would be completely outdated in a few decades. Or if the Mayan prophecy is right, billions of us need to worry about being wept off from the earth sometime in 2012 anyway.  I can't imagine waking up in a city that I don't like anymore, going to a job that I am bored of and then coming back home to calculate my retirement savings. When I was studying psychology, we were always taught “delay of gratification” is a sign of healthy emotional development in kids. Simply what it suggests is that if you ask a child if he wants half apple now or one whole apple tomorrow and the child chooses to have one apple tomorrow, he is considered to be more emotionally mature than the child who wants half the apple now... What's wrong with wanting half an apple in the moment that I want to eat it as compared to keeping my mind busy all day with when I would be able to receive my apple is a mystery to me. To a psychologist though, I am sure this is a crystal clear indication that I am stuck somewhere around the age of 2.

A lot of people are unhappy with where they are, what they do and whom they are married to. They dream of the day when they will be able to relocate to a village by the Mediterranean, their kids will grow so that they can divorce their partner, or that they will be able to open that tiny cafe and bake cakes all day. They dream while the reality is happening here and now...

Come to think of it, how different am I? Sitting in Dubai, I am trying hard to get a corporate job that I don't want and will surely hate, yet trying to convince myself that it will provide me the money that would enable me to go back to Bali. I have a thousand fantastic justifications why this is the right thing for me now but deep inside even I don't buy my own crap. I may end up having some money, but I know that I will lose much more.

I wonder how much money is enough to buy my freedom and to feel secure?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

right here right now

“Stay in the present moment!” I must have heard this hundreds of times during my yoga classes but it never made much sense to me. Far from making sense,  it sounded Chinese. I have always been proud of my turbo-speed, multitasking, ability to switch between thoughts in a split second. What exactly the yoga teacher meant by saying “stay in the present moment” was a complete mystery.

35 years have gone by and there was never even a millisecond in my life without a background chatter in my mind. The background chatter would either be heavily criticizing the past; “i allowed him to take advantage of me / oh i should have just turned and walked away / if only i said yes then i would be ... now/ i wish i stayed ... Or it would be dreaming about the future “in my next job, i will be more assertive / when i travel to Asia i'll take a lot of photographs / i'll make sure that my next boyfriend will be more emotionally mature”... Millions and millions of thought particles either dwelling in the past or fantasizing wildly about the future. It was very tiring, every night when I went to bed I would be exhausted. Not because I did much or showed a lot of effort towards something. I was constantly lost among my thoughts and didn't have a way to stop them. Just as my legs would be tired if I ran all day, my mind was tired of a similar pace of thoughts rushing in and out.

At the age of 18, I tried Transcendental Meditation because someone told me that it gave him that millisecond window of “no thought”. There I was sitting in my lotus and constantly repeating “i'm still thinking, i'm still thinking, when will i have my moment of silence, oh the meditation time is almost over and i still didn't have my moment of silence... damn, maybe it'll come tomorrow”. Yeah, that was meditating a là Esin, and of course the extreme craving for a moment of stillness brought nothing but an even more chaotic and disappointing stream of thoughts.

About a year ago I went out with a friend; our plan was dinner followed by an opera. He would then continue the night at a club with his friends. He spent the entire time in dinner calling his friends to brag about getting the tickets to the opera, hence had no idea how much and how fast he ate. Then he fell asleep during the first part of the opera and then spent the second part sneakily texting to decide which club and what time. Poor guy enjoyed no part of the night, because he was constantly trying to make the perfect plan for the next hour. That observation was probably the first time I got a sense of what it meant to be staying in the present moment. Oh well, we don't always learn by positive examples do we? Sometimes an extremely negative experience in our faces would worth a million wise quotes.

That seed began to sprout very slowly. I don't know when and where exactly it happened, but about 6 months ago, I began to get a hazy sense of being present. I realized how much I missed the “now” when I was spending my time planning the good days to come.  I was in Asia, traveling, doing as much yoga as I wanted, meeting amazing people but my mind was stuck on when I'm going back and how much money I would have left by then. I had the time of my life, I was happy every single day, yet I was focused on something in the future that I didn't know when and how would happen... From that point onwards, slowly but very slowly I tried to let go. Whenever I caught myself planning for the future, I would say “i am blessed for being here, for experiencing whatever i am experiencing and for being aware of it”. It worked.

If I am really agitated, I would just close my eyes and focus on my breathing. There is nothing as “here and now” as an inhale and an exhale. It is always there, it is a constant flow yet each and every breath is unique. Sometimes I breathe very shallow, sometimes one nostril is blocked, sometimes an inhale is hot... Whatever it is, each breath is a gift and it is unique to the moment it happens. I cannot plan for the 5pm inhale, nor can I regret that an exhale last month didn't fully empty my lungs...

I am light years far from being a master of my mind, being constantly present. My mind is still like a dump site of all irrelevant thoughts, but what I am slowly learning is not to be stuck  with it. Even occasionally shifting my attention to only here and now, not dwelling in the past or the future is a major progress for me. What I've noticed is that on days when I can do that, I sleep so much better and feel rested with even a few hours of sleep. It's an interesting state of inner calm, that gives energy. It's definitely more difficult to do that in Dubai, where there are so many stimulants and barely time to close my eyes to feel blessed for being here, for experiencing whatever I am experiencing. I am hoping that it's only true that difficult things are more rewarding at the end.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

old city, new in old city

In one of my previous posts in January, I mentioned how much I enjoyed being in a city for the first time; opening my perception wide to soak in whatever that city can offer. However I just realized that being out of my turf for a while and then returning gave me a somewhat similar experience.

It was the first time that I was away from Istanbul for 9 months. Coming back, my perception of the city wasn't so much different probably because that's not a very long period for a rooted city like Istanbul to change. Yet I felt like a complete outsider. At the end of my first day, I had a headache because of all the second-hand smoke and political discussions that I was exposed to. All of us living around the Mediterranean have always loved discussing politics, I cannot remember how many spontaneous conversations I had with taxi drivers in Greece and Israel on the subject. But now, I wondered why people wanted to share their political views with someone whose knowledge was as outdated as the bronze age. I wasn't even interested but people didn't really mind my yawning and went on. It doesn't make slightest sense to me to spend all that time and energy on stuff that I cannot change. Especially the energy that goes into it; nobody seems to talk about politics without a strong sense of judgment, dislike and blaming.  And mind you, these are neither politicians nor party members, they are my friends who work in advertising, finance, arts etc

Coming to Dubai, politics seemed to lose it's #1 place into a general sense of complaint of heat, stupid jobs, incompetent bosses, bad driving, senseless regulations, just to give a few examples. It's sad to see that only a few people are fully satisfied with their lives here. I'm not saying that life in Dubai makes sense in all the ways. Quite the contrary, it can resemble to an episode of the twilight zone pretty often. Yet we choose to stay.

I've been thinking about this quite a lot because this was my culture shock. I probably wouldn't have noticed this if I wasn't out for so long. Human beings are supposed to strive towards better (and therefore happier) but it seems that we build a very suffocating fence of complaints and judgments around our happiness so it does not grow up to its full potential. Why?

One possible reason that came to my mind was that we need to be heard, we need to receive attention. Since we are babies, we get more attention when we cry or have a sad face because it's an alarm of things not going as they are supposed to. Everyone hovers around when we are sick. Maybe some of never outgrow the need for this type of attention even when we are grown. Maybe we never develop the skills to seek a healthy dose of attention by means other than complaining. Hence we keep our unhappy masks on; we complain with an acute need to be heard and to be paid attention. Imagine a  random night out with friends you haven't seen in a long time, does the group spend more time listening to the one who says “oh it's all good, things are going fine” or to the one who says “in the office I work with the stupidest bunch of people who make my life a living hell every day”.

Complaining is a way to attract attention so that missing/wrong things can get fixed.  Most of those chronic complainers however are happy with things being  wrong/missing. If you actually try to correct things for them, they will either find a way to be unhappy with the new situation or will shift their focus to the next wrong thing, because the source of discomfort is internal.

I've been thinking a lot about this in the last 3 weeks and this was the only possible answer that I could see. I would really appreciate some fresh insight if you would care to share. What do you think? Why do we focus on what we cannot change and why do we keep complaining on things that we can change but do nothing about it?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

masafi souq al juma (masafi friday market)

I had enough of sneakily driving around in the city after midnight everyday and decided to get a little bolder yesterday to visit the Masafi Friday Market.

Being Turkish, I am very used to getting almost everything by the roadside while driving between cities. A trip from Bodrum to Istanbul gets me the best olives in Gemlik, honey in Marmaris, freshest nuts near Izmir. Most are sold directly by growers, in the trunk of their car or on a stall by the shade of a tree. So coming to Dubai was shocking; because of the harsh climate there was no roadside culture. No stalls, no mom and pop eateries, no locally grown stuff on a car trunk, nothing at all. After two trips with no food (you can only get the packaged boring stuff from the gas stations) I learned my lesson and started picnic-packing whenever I was going outside of Dubai. Years ago on my way for a day trip to swim in the ocean in Fujeirah I came across a roadside market. It was a colorful surprise among the curvy mountain road, lined with nothing but the desert. There were stalls on both sides of the road, selling fresh fruits grown mostly in the UAE and Oman . It was heaven; the fruits weren't flown 5000km from wherever, they were ripe and I was able to taste them before buying, even bargain a little. Afterwards, I never got the chance to go there again.

Yesterday, I drove about 175km one-way to get there. First surprise was seeing a road sign saying “masafi friday market 500m”. A great indicator that the place became more known and popular. 500 meters later, there was no need for more indicators. The once small and unorganized stalls now had  parking  in front of them wider than the spots in the Mall of the Emirates. Of course there were more shops and they looked pretty uniform. I have no objections to receiving better service but the real shock came when I saw that most of the fruit sold was also flown in from Syria, Turkey and India.

After 4 hours of driving in 45+ degrees of heat and blinding sunlight reflecting from the desert, I ended up buying Indian bananas, mangoes and coconut, Syrian cherries, Lebanese grapes and some local fresh dates; all just marginally cheaper than the supermarket price. The punch line was when my camera decided to stop working as a protest to the heat after only shooting 10 frames. I was really expecting to linger around for quite a while to shoot photos but apparently the camera felt more like taking the friday off. Still, I was very satisfied to be outside the city, seeing long stretches of desert and buying fruit from the road.

Would I go again? Yes, but only on my way to Fujeirah and in a season that my camera would not suffer a sun stroke.

Friday, July 09, 2010

fear factor

The only thing that I really and constantly missed in Dubai was my car and I was looking forward to driving it. As shallow and as materialistic as it is, car is a major attachment that I am yet to learn letting go of. Oh well, every yogini should be allowed her bit of materialism be it shoes, car or make-up :)

So in my second night in Dubai, the only thing in my mind was to get back in the driver seat and ride. (I can't drive in broad daylight because the car registration expired and police would impound the car if they catch me on the road) I started driving a little after midnight; I was curious if I really missed my car or was it constantly in my mind all these months because there was absolutely no way for me to have that in Asia. It turns out that I was still really attached to it.

Sometime around 2am, trying to follow a sign to the Sheikh Zayed Road, I ended up in a dirt path leading to a big constuction site in the middle of nowhere. It seems that the constructions still pop up unplanned in Dubai and they don't even have time to remove the signs before they completely demolish the roads. While I was trying to figure out how to get on the highway, I saw a worker walking in my direction. My initial impulse was to reach for the buttons to make sure that the doors are locked and the windows are up all the way. I immediately sensed the fear arising; something I haven't felt in a long time. Then I realized that fear was just an automatic response, coming from a deep-rooted pattern. The pattern which suggests that I am different and therefore I have something to protect from others; I am better and those who are inferior want to take away what's better or more from me... It was a moment of very shameful awakening.

In reality, I had nothing to fear. If anything, that worker who was just minding his own business walking towards the construction had more than me. He was legal in the country, had a regular job, a salary check and a purpose he was walking towards. Whereas I had no money, no job, no right to drive the car (because my driving license was no longer valid) and the car I was driving wasn't even supposed to be on the road. Why then still the fear response?

Especially in a country as safe and as strict as the UAE, it is unheard that a worker would attack a woman at his work site. I was no longer “better” and I had nothing to protect, however the response associated with it was still there... Why was I still hanging onto a pattern that was no longer relevant to my situation?

Living in Bali, it's easier to feel that I am one with everyone else and we are all different reflections of the same thing, whatever that may be. The real test of change is to feel that sameness in a place like Dubai where there's an abyss between nationalities, ethnicities, income levels, sexes and expectation from life.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

third Vipassana

I left Bali at the end of May and gradually made my way to Dubai, arriving just yesterday. I had a 2-week stopover in Thailand, because I felt that another Vipassana was a must before leaving Asia.

It turned out to be a good decision, those 11-day long silent meditation sittings do amazing things for me. I believe that there are “mental membranes” between unconscious, subconscious and conscious minds. The more I externalize my attention, try to seek satisfaction in stuff and do not take time to settle my mind, the thicker the membranes get. Corporate work, drinking, trying to keep up with social expectations and trying to please others have been my major membrane thickeners. As a result I lose touch with the reality deep down and things get distorted in my mind. Vipassana drills huge holes to those membranes, and things start to flow freely towards the surface. I remember things, I see the reasons why things happened, I understand how my mind works. I get in touch with the relativity of truth, my truth... Sometimes it can get quite overwhelming to see myself as it is; that I am not always the ever so sweet and innocent Snow White, in fact I am very capable of injecting poison into an apple before offering it to a Snow White. It's easier to believe that I am a result of randomness or consequences of stuff that other people do. I am commitment-phobic to men because of my father, I could not complete my masters degree because the dean hated me and did not give me a make-up exam, I am now broke because my last company fired me in a horrible way, etc etc... All these may be true or they may be a result of my exaggerated imagination, it doesn't matter at all. What matters is how I respond to such situations. Vipassana makes me realize that giving the power to the others/situations and pretending to be the victim is actually very comforting and easy. It's scary to take charge of my life and accept that I'm responsible for every tiny bit that happens in it. It's like constantly trying to balance myself on a pilates ball; the minute I think I got it and try to release a little will be the moment that I fall flat on my face. If I want to stay on top, I cannot afford to let things go auto-pilot.

Then where and how does “letting go” come into this picture, I have no idea... How can I take full charge and then let things go in their universal flow is a total mystery to me. That seems to be another fine-balance on the ball that I haven't mastered yet. Tighten your muscles too much and you'll be tired too soon, let go of everything at once and you'll fall. Yep, it sounds perfect when I put it this way but I am yet to experience this perfection.