This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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In silence

silentretreat-1Silence comes so easily. There is no need to read while eating. Everybody seems to prefer looking out into the jungle. I am lounging on the airy top floor of the main lodge, on a beanbag on the floor. There are couches and cushions and more beanbags, and an entire library of books to read. A handful of guests are digesting their dinner with me. Nobody makes a sound, except for the tokee that just woke up in the ceiling, and the rooster that seems to prefer sunset over sunrise in announcing his presence to the world. The first frogs just started their concert.

This is the real Bali, out here in the rice fields, by the jungle. Not in Ubud, in a fancy yoga gear shop, or in Canggu in a fine-dining restaurant. This is the experience I will seek when I come back (for a fourth time!). Beaches are gorgeous, but unfortunately always overdeveloped. Inland is where I find the real Bali, every time. With the frogs and the birds and the holy men chanting in their temple at every sunrise and sunset.
silentretreat-4(Near Batu Karu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)


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Into the flames

silentretreat-5Last night there was a New Moon ceremony: agnihotra. The entire silent retreat sat in a large circle around a ceremonial fire, thirty faces lit up by the warm glow of the flames. We chanted a verse of giving things up to the fire. Over and over again for probably an entire hour. I lost track of time as I stared into the bowl of flicking flames.

A local holy man lead us into the ceremony, asking us to approach the fire one by one, to kneel before it, and to offer it something we would like to let go of, and to watch it burn. As the group chanted, trying to overpower the rumble of the rain on the tent roof of our bale, I walked to the fire in the center, knelt, greeted it, and moving my hand from my heart into the fire offered it all the anxiety and doubt I was feeling: doubt that what I have now will stay, and anxiety that I will do something wrong.

I watched my offering, my feelings, burn in the hot, orange flames, and scooped some of the smoky air over my face. No calm or peace entered my heart right then, but I wanted to believe that if one acts as if something were true, it may turn out to be true after all, after a while.

It is nearly dark again now. The frogs are joining the choir in multitudes out in the rice paddies. The cicadas have woken up, too. The jungle must be such an exciting place at night. And I doubt animals in the jungle feel anxiety and doubt.
silentretreat-8(Near Batu Karu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)


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Off the beaten path

silentretreat-7The jungle is loud still at 5.30 am when the gong wakes me up for morning meditation. At 6 am the light changes to an otherworldly, soft purple and the animals of night leave their shift, one by one: an owl quietens, followed by the other night birds, and finally the cicadas. Just the next moment, a day bird picks up where its nocturnal colleagues left off: one loud, confident whistle, without a moment’s doubt that the sun will soon rise. The bird’s rival (or friend?) answers. And the day begins.

Down in the rice terraces a man has worked all day. He finished preparing the muddy soil this morning, evening it out with a big bamboo log. Then he spent all afternoon planting rice. He worked fast, sticking baby plants into a symmetrical grid. Afterwards he let the water run nearly empty through the irrigation channels. As long as there is rain on Bali, there will be rice. Unless the volcano erupts and all agriculture is lost for an entire season. It has happened before.

Here at the edge of the jungle, nestled between the rice fields, Nature rules. All we visitors can do is pack our belongings in a mouse and snake -safe box, put out our reading lamps into the sun, to be charged if the sun eventually does come out, and shoo out the bugs gotten lost into our rooms. silentretreat-3(Near Batu Karu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)


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Headstand

SPbotanicgarden-1While the earthquake has thrown my Bali holiday upside down, I have also worked on standing upside down. Even after 4 years of practice, falling backwards from a headstand is a real fear. My headstand requires the vicinity of a wall or an instructor. I rarely need them, but sometimes I do.

And so, what a revelation it was to be shown how I can stack up my bones differently, engage my core, and end up in a slight forward tilt with absolutely no possibility of falling backwards. My back is hollow, hence I have stacked my bones following its lines, creating a curve and a balance too near the backwards tipping point. By forcing my back to straighten up, never letting go of the core hold, and feeling I am upright even if I feel a slight lean forward, the headstand feels so much more secure.

We often take our ability to stand and walk for granted. And so it is a humbling experience to have to consciously learn to stand upright (only this time it is indeed upside down).

(Canggu, Bali; August 2018)


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Retreating

retreatFor just one day I checked out of my own life. I reconnected with the person living that life instead. Under the skin of the person who travels 2-3 days a week for work, and consciously has to carve out time for life beyond a job she loves, are ants running around. The trick is, one only discovers them when one stops for a moment.

So today I sat down on my zafu and said hello to the ants running across my chest, on the inside of my skin. As I practised my walking meditation in 20 cm snow underneath sleeping apple trees, I could feel the ants go to sleep, too.

While I consciously choose to live than just to exist, in this context and in our culture, truly “living” usually means being active. Sometimes it is good to just let the world pass through us and truly feel it. The good, the bad, and the antsy.

(Kirkkonummi, Finland; January 2018)


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Calm like a crab’s heart

watersedge.jpgSitting in the shade of coral rocks on the beach. A crab is cleaning out its dwelling in the sand, after the receding tide swept its front door shut. My dwelling is a simple bungalow with wood worms eating out my bed from the inside. Nature is (still) everywhere on Zanzibar.

I am trying to tell my mind to not be everywhere and to just be “here”. It is not easy, but yoga is helping. One of the core mantras of ashtanga yoga is “practise, and all is coming”, meaning that even if one is only instructed in asana (poses), the other 7 limbs of the practice will find their way into one’s life, too. This balance of spiritual vs. physical instruction is what I have been searching for in ashtanga practice since I started. I am too impatient, too demanding, too curious. Twice I thought I found it with an instructor, but both times I have been turned away by the ego of the teacher.

A yoga teacher acquaintance once told me that there are many people who seek for a personal guru for a long time, discarding one “candidate” after the other. I think he meant that many (including myself) hope to find a perfect person to follow, when such perfect persons do not exist. In the end, we all have within ourselves the key to the answers. Perfection is not a requirement for knowledge.

Before each practice here on Zanzibar we are asked to set an intention. The one I set myself every day is to calm my heart. I think the crab digging out its beach house has a calmer heart than I have.

(Nungwi, Zanzibar, Tanzania; August 2017)