My Tattoo

Yes, I got a tattoo. Two actually.  I was warned repeatedly not to get one. Each time I would read anything about this island, it warned, don’t go home with a KPN tattoo  – be careful! (KPN=Koh Phangan) Yet, on my second day, I without warning ended up with two small ones – one on my back and one on my right thigh.

Now, the tattoo’s I’m talking about aren’t nice drawings of dragons or spiritually charged Japanese Kanji characters. The ones I have are described in guidebooks as the ones  that either result from your tender-skinned body image_thumb4sliding along a bitumen road at high speed with few clothes on, or from the inside of your leg touching too hot exhaust pipe of the moped. Or, as was my case, attempting to navigate a 30+ degree dirt road full of boulders and potholes… following a prospective landlord up the hill (who made it look easy), I decided I should try and before I knew it I was making a high-sided and jumping clear of my bike to save myself.  This meant landing square on my side, my phone jamming into my leg and a sharp rock meeting my back… It could have been much worse…My iPhone could have broken. Kidding, kind of.

That was the low point of the week. Its been all up hill from there (or downhill?). Deciding against renting the house up the dirt track of death, I eventually landed at a nice place called Bovy Beach Resort, a new place with a hippy vibe near my Yoga Halls and right on the beach (see the video below). There is a deserted island feel here, only with WiFi, warm water, fridge, AC and a nice women who is supposed to come clean for me once a week… so just a step up from a Robinson Caruso fantasy.

I’ve taken care of the essentials when arriving in a place like this for an extended stay:

1. Securing comfortable long-term accommodation

2. Moped Rental

3. Finding the vendors with cheap fruit and pad thai.

4. Finding the Expat who knows everything about everything and runs a nice café with her Thai husband with awesome fruit and vegetable shakes. 

And the one thing I haven’t found yet is a Thai masseuse (although I’m hot on the trail of one).

Wait – I thought this was supposed to be a spiritual trip? Yoga and meditation and profound states of Samadhi occurring daily under coconut trees?  We’re getting there. Yesterday I began a Vira Workshop led by Swami Vivekananda Saraswati, the directory of the Agama Yoga school. Here I will continue the curriculum I began in Rishikesh last year and participate in several meditation  retreats. I’ll expound on these in great detail soon enough. 

Anticipation: Where are You, Right Now?

I’m almost 20 hours into what will amount to a 24 hour journey from Bangkok to Koh Phangan. It will be a bus to a train to another train to a bus to a boat to a motorbike before this little jaunt comes to an end. Luckily I’m in no hurry. I’m enjoying my first views from a ferry of Thailand’s South: its blue water, lush greenery and limestone karsts. I find myself craving being settled. Its now Thursday and I left the U.S. on Sunday morning. I imagine it will likely be another day or two before I find the sweet little bungalow I’ll call home for the next couple of months.

Despite beginning this journey on Sunday, in reality my trip began two or three days earlier. I would find myself in situations completely immersed in a time and place far from the actual moment I was in. Upon closer observation of my mind, it was already away: planning, anticipating, moving towards Koh Phangan. Now this is of course was not necessary, but a byproduct of my seeking mind. I think it was especially clear for me this time because prior to last week, there was very little commotion and/or planning in my daily life, allowing me to remain more in immediacy. Over the past few months I’ve really began to appreciate the concept of bringing my life into practice as juxtaposed to bringing practice into my life. Bringing practice into one’s life is more clear, finding meditation or Yoga or another system that you resonate with. This is aligned with how we already do many things, simply take on something new into our already very busy lives! Personally, bringing ones life into practice is much more difficult. This is where one begins to align ones life to support their practice – easing distractions, maintaining better health, slowing down. This is Dogen’s “Take the backwards step, and turn the light around.”

Back to my original question: I wonder how much of my life has been spent in anticipation rather than immediacy? Immediacy is no easy task as discussed in one of my precious posts. Despite it clearly being a soteriological path, the mind often pursues outwardly into its own projection.  Where was I my entire life while consumed with work, hobbies, school, relationships, my body? Not in immediacy. And not to say that there is anything wrong with the above, only that if you approaching them as an escape, as a diversion from this right now, you have a longer-term problem on your hand, because in effect you are judging the projection of your mind as better than this moment. And a Buddhist or two would tell you this is a sure way to spin on the wheel of samsara indefinitely.

I see my island fast approaching. Time to go.

Our Pilgrim is on the Move

Two years ago I built this website for the purpose of documenting my travels abroad and here I am again, on the cusp of leaving home and seeking something unknown abroad. In one week, I depart for Koh Phangan, Thailand, where Agama Yoga awaits.

My initial pilgrimage sought to explore the world, to uncover hidden corners of the planet, to create new experiences and memories.  My trip in 2009 allowed me to exhaust a long-held myth I had about discovering some form of realization through the accumulation of experience.

Today I have a much different aspiration: Unwinding all of this experience, the false identification of self and my delusion about the actual nature of reality. I realized over time that my journey was much more an inward one than anything external or material. My search has narrowed significantly from the entire world, to the spiritual practices of Zen Buddhism, Tantra and Vajrayana. I’ve discovered that this unwinding process is best accomplished through a life not filled with experience, activities and commitments, rather through self-enquiry and meditation. As Yuan Wu so eloquently stated in my last post:

Sit upright and investigate reality. Within an independent awareness, you must constantly step back from conventions and perceptions and worldly entanglements. Look to the void and trace its outline. Take your head out of a bowl of glue!

If all one needs to do is sit upright and investigate reality, why am I traveling half-way around the globe?  Fair question that I will attempt to answer. Let me back up a bit. 

Almost one year ago, on May 16th 2010, I returned home from India, completing a year (mostly) abroad. The journey brought me back to the same place I began, yet things had shifted significantly within me. I vigorously began practicing Zen, both at a monastery in Crestone and at the Boulder Zen Center, developing strong relationships with the Sangha (group of practitioners), and the teachers. After spending a month in a rigorous monastic setting in the fall, I considered a longer-term stay, considered joining the annual 90-day practice period in the winter. Yet, worldly entanglements and my own fear of such a practice prevented me from moving forward. I was involved in a romantic relationship that has since dissolved, a relationship that I believe represented many of the aspects of worldliness that I refused to let go of.  Once again ignoring intuition, I was drawn towards societal ideas of what it means to live in this world, to relate to another person and basically all of the shoulds that are based on nothing but one’s own projections of society and ego.

Part of me wants to say that I’ve been idling the past 3 or 4 months, drifting in this sort of purposeless manner. This is true when examined from the lens of normal that society and we produce for ourselves. I have to step back and remind myself that this is all part of a greater process of renunciation for me, detaching from ideas of self and the world that do not benefit anyone, that only seek to perpetuate a process and mode of existence that perpetuates a world of suffering and discontent.  I meditate a lot, I sit upright and examine my experience. I am constantly trying to step back from worldly entanglements and perceptions.  I examine all the presumptions and ideas of how the world works, what is reality and why I am here.  I attempt to infuse intentions of compassion and wisdom into my body, speech and mind.  Despite on paper being a 31 year old unemployed guy from Boulder with nothing going for him, I feel this tremendous sense of change within, of a new world unfolding before me, filled with Possibility, Beauty and Love.

This still has nothing to do with answering my initial question of why go anywhere? My teacher has told me that practicing in a single stream provides the best results- why swim in another? My answer to this is that my exploration of Agama is, while primarily spiritual in nature, also an opportunity for me to pursue a vocation in the world that has meaning for me. I am considering a meditation teachers training in 2012.  My idea involves bringing meditation and self-enquiry to more people, via any channel possible: Yoga, Corporate Training, workshops, seminars, private consulting, blogging, etc.  It is very loose and evolving at this point, but there is a sense of momentum and purpose for me right now. My intention this summer is to explore the school, evaluate the teachers and the programs, to ensure this is the type of commitment I want to make in early 2012.  This summer I plan to take a number of courses, including Vira Training, Hridaya Meditation Retreat, Kashmiri Shaivism and Naturopathic and Yogic Healing, in addition to continuing my second and third month of studies in the Agama curriculum.

There you have it.  I have a one-way ticket to Thailand, a new Yoga mat and a big heart.