Tag: lessons learned (page 2 of 3)

Things The US Should Import

After almost two months here, I’ve identified a few things I think the US should adopt from Colombia and vice versa. Here’s the first part of the list—things that the US should import to improve life there. The reverse post follows and I wrote a second list a few weeks later.

From Colombia to the US

Ciclovia: I stumbled onto Ciclovia my first day in Bogotá and continue to be amazed by it. Through a chance encounter with a woman from the States, I learned about CicLAvia, Los Angeles’ version (note how they changed the name to put LA in the middle). But it is only a few times a year. In Bogotá, Ciclovia is every Sunday and bank holiday (of which there are a gazillion). The culture around Ciclovia is amazing, and the streets are packed with cyclists, roller bladers, and walkers, who usually are with family members, significant others, or friends.

Guanabana tree

I really wanted to pick this guanabana

Fresh JuiceColombians drink fresh juice all of the time. Restaurants regularly offer 5-10 types, many of which are fruits we don’t even have in the US. And the drinks are made from the juice of the fruit directly or fruit pulp. My favorite is guanabana, a fruit I first encountered during a vacation in Costa Rica a few years ago. Other greats are lulo (a citrus), maracuya (a passion fruit), and mora (a berry). One downside is that sugar, sometimes a lot of it, is added to the tarter and more acidic juices. Here are two other blog posts about the many fruits found in Colombia that are absent from, or rare in, the UK or US.

Pedestrian bridge

Pedestrian bridge

Pedestrian OverpassesSome TransMilenio stops are in the middle of multi-lane, high traffic volume streets. Pedestrian overpasses that include both ramps and steps provide access to the stations. These bridges also span busy intersections without TransMilenio stations. Because they are so common, people here use them—they don’t run across multi-lane highways. Many of them are architecturally interesting or beautiful, but because I would need to be in a helicopter to get a good photo.


We’re Not In Kansas Anymore


Imported = expensive

It took a month for me to have my first big, “Right, I’m not in the US anymore” moment.

My bathroom in my new apartment (more on that in a later post) is pitch black at night and if I get up in the middle of the night, I don’t like to turn on the overhead light because that makes me fully away. So, I went looking for a nightlight and finally found one at an upscale store in the nearby mall. At $14, it was on the expensive side and I wasn’t in love with it because it is on whenever it detects the room is dark—i.e., all night in my bathroom. But since this was the third store in which I’d looked for a nightlight, and people didn’t seem to know what I was looking for, I bought it.

(BTW, after a lot of long descriptions of what I was looking for and showing images on my phone, I discovered that the Spanish word in Colombia for it is “luz de noche”—nightlight.)

What I wanted

What I wanted

Then I found a simple one with an on/off switch for $2 at a small electronics/hardware store about 10 minutes away (and, it turns out, there are three of these stores on the nearby main road that I never noticed).

On Saturday, I went to return the expensive nightlight but in a different mall. I was told I had to go to the original store in order to get a refund. Annoying, but doable. However, when I did so on Monday, I was told that I can do only a merchandise exchange and only within eight days. No refunds. No store credit to spend later.

Apparently the return policy is printed on the back of the receipt, but when’s the last time anyone read one of those?

I was so frustrated at that moment that I said, out loud, “I really hate Colombia today.” Kind of wish I’d kept that to myself.

With a little bit of time, I recognized how absurd it was to assume that things like return policies would be the same here. The (inevitable) next time(s) I’m frustrated by things that are different, I will think of this and remind myself that really I need to adjust or drop my expectations.

End of the story: the store sells an odd combination of baby and kitchen items. I’m going to do an exchange for some items I can donate to my new kitchen. I will make sure to get great enjoyment out of using them.

Once Upon A Time, There Was A Tree

Yesterday morning, I got a Facebook message with a photo attached, “I think that’s your tree.”

First photo I got

First photo I got

It was hard to decipher what I was seeing. Then, it all came into focus.

“Why, yes, that is my very large, very grand old tree blocking the whole street and crushing a pickup truck,” I thought.

It seems like the 35 mph wind gusts in Washington, DC, were too much for my tired old tree. It decided it had had enough of standing in my yard, fighting off hurricanes, blizzards, derechos, polar vortexes, and all of the other weather phenomenon I’ve learned about in the past few years.

It was good practice for conjugating Spanish verbs into the past tense. When I met up with a classmate later in the day, I said, “I had a tree.” Instead of “I have a tree.”

I am so grateful to modern technology. My tenant and I were able to FaceTime so I could receive updates. The best was when we created a conference call—I was on FaceTime with him while he called the insurance company on the house phone (yes, I still have a landline and am glad of it). He and a neighbor sent photos.

View from porch

Tree’s blocking the street and alley

Since the tree was blocking the entire street and alley entrance, the city deemed it a hazard and called out a crew to remove it. They arrived a few hours later and finished the job in less than four hours.

Of course, they only needed to clear the street and sidewalk, so I still have the root ball and part of the trunk in my front yard. The same company has been caring for the tree for years and someone will be out this week to assess how to finish the job.

Then the landscapers will get to have fun figuring out what to do with all of the new space. As my neighbor with the green thumb said, “Now we can have full sun gardens.” (Yes, that also was exactly my first thought when I received the news.)

We knew the tree was not healthy and would need to come down eventually. We just didn’t expect it to happen in this manner and at this time. Lucky timing for my tenant.

Although, to be fair, it seems major house disasters happen only when I’m out of the country. Last year, I was in Albania when a pipe burst. The plumber told my friend, who was housesitting, “This is such an unusual place for a pipe to break—I rarely see this.” Lucky timing for my friend.

Only cosmetic damage

Only cosmetic damage

Amazingly, the damage was minimal. As you can see in the photos, the tree appeared to have crushed a pickup truck parked in front of my house. The initial assessment after the tree was removed is that the damage is cosmetic—the truck is running. The tree also took off the side-view mirror of a car parked across the street and damaged the front porch of a house across the street. My concrete stairs and landings are torn up, but luckily nothing happened to my neighbor’s adjoining stairs so my tenant can still get in and out of the house. We believe none of the water, sewer or gas pipes were impacted.

In addition to the new sun garden, I heard that this event had another silver lining: it brought many of the neighbors out of their houses and they took the time to socialize.

This post is mostly to publicly thank my tenant and neighbors for being so on top of everything. I am grateful for them. I am grateful for the minimal destruction. I am grateful for the city for quickly responding.

I also wrote this post to have an excuse to post a photo album from the day. There are cool time-lapse videos of the removal process there too.

Panorama view of the street

Panorama view of the street

Update: The tree was in the newspaper. Two trees felled on blustery Saturday in Washington area – The Washington Post

I Thought I Was So Clever

I thought I was so clever. After my experience riding TransMilenio to school last Wednesday left me both proud at my success at pushing my way onto the bus and weary at the thought of doing the same thing every day for the next few months, I decided to try the blue buses. These city buses are relatively new here so many Bogotanos don’t know how figure them out. Which means that they are relatively empty.

Another student clued me into the whole blue bus thing and it turns out Google Maps has all the needed info (once I learned how to input Bogotá addresses, that is—a story for another post). Turns out there are three different routes at the bus stop closest to my house, all of which stop two blocks from school. Score.

Blue Bus

Blue Bus

I successfully took a blue bus to school last Thursday and Friday mornings. I even took one Friday night to meet a friend for dinner. The door-to-door morning commute was about 45-50 minutes, as compared to 30 on TransMilenio. But the improved quality of life made the extra time so worth it.

Each time, I got a seat on the bus right when I boarded. The buses never got very crowded, so there was space around me. Finally, I could read on my phone or listen to my iPod without fear of being robbed. Oh podcasts, how I’ve missed you.

How quickly things can change. Today I got on the blue bus and took a seat. And then we went nowhere. No. Where. For a very, very, very long time.*

Turns out all of those warnings about the traffic were true. I just hadn’t had the pleasure of the experience yet. I have been living a charmed life that I didn’t even appreciate. Now I have lived through real Bogotá morning.

Today was the first day of a new traffic pattern. Even though one of the major north/south routes, Carrera 11, is a divided boulevard, traffic on both sides of the median drove south. Only south. Until today. Now, the road is like any other two-way boulevard. One side goes north and the other south. But this means a lot of Bogotá traffic now has to cram into an even smaller space. Most Bogotanos who needed to know, knew this was happening. I didn’t.

There have been a few other traffic changes like this in the past year so I have to believe it is part of some grand plan. But my Spanish isn’t good enough yet to read up on what this plan is.

My clever solution didn’t last long. When all was said and done, my trip took 1:45 and I missed my first class (and I still don’t know how to say, “I missed class” in Spanish).

So, come tomorrow, I am returning to the TransMilenio madness. I’m going to work on finding my inner Zen to stay calm and balance out my inner Bogotana who pushes her way into the bus.

* But of course we had gone just far enough that I thought it did not make sense to go back to the house, change my shoes, and walk 3.3 miles to school. The fact that there are no bus transfers, I didn’t have any more money on my card, and you can’t load more money onto the card on the bus might have played into my thinking. As did the belief that somehow, just ahead, the traffic would break and we’d start moving at more than a snail’s pace.

All The Ways I Haven’t Died Yet in Bogotá

Laguna del Cacique Guatavita

After only four full days in Bogotá, you’d think this would be a short list. However, it is surprisingly long. This list does not include anything having to do with the drug cartels, paramilitaries, or national police. Generally speaking, Colombia is a safe place to be, and I will abide the warnings about places in the country I should avoid.

1. Exhaustion. My first four nights here, I fell into bed by 9.30. Part of this exhuastion was left over from barely sleeping my final night in DC because I had too much to do: packing up my things to make room for the renter’s clothes, seeing people, and actually packing for the trip.

Another part of this is because I went from living at 410 ft (125 m) above sea level to 8,660 ft (2,640 m). The high altitude takes some adjusting to. Then—because why not—I decided to climb another 1,500 meters up a steep path in order to look down on the Laguna del Cacique Guatavita. The views were beautiful, with Texas-big sky above and a patchwork valley below; here are more photos. It was worth it, even if my lungs and knees questioned this at the time.

The final part is because it’s mentally taxing to operate in a foreign language that I barely know. I took intensive Spanish classes for a month each in Guatemala and Ecuador—in 1998 and 1999. That was a little bit ago. Things I learned then are bubbling up to the surface and I use words that a week ago I probably didn’t remember that I know; I’m thankful every time that happens. But mostly I feel like a beginner and all this thinking turns out to add to the physical exhaustion.

2. Cars and motorcycles. I was warned about the traffic here, and it’s one of the chief comments and complaints from Bogotanos. But it isn’t the traffic per se that could have killed me, just the cars that make up the traffic. The representative from the school who met me the first morning explained: “Here, it is cars first, people a distant second.”

Stop signs are optional here (apparently many Colombians are surprised when they get tickets in the US for failing to stop). In some places, it’s actually better to dart across the street in the middle of the block than to cross at a corner. Better that is, unless a motorcycle is driving between the cars, and unless said street is a wide boulevard with…



3. Bicycles. Bogotanos love their bicycles. Every day, I cross a main boulevard where the median is a two-way bike lane with a small grassy area on each side. So just as I make it safely across two lanes of traffic, I have to look both ways to avoid being run down by a bicycle.

4. Random holes. My very first day, I took a nice walk along Calle 116, a wide boulevard. On Sundays, one side is completely closed to traffic as part of Ciclovia. Many people were relaxing on the grassy median, which also has some trees. I was eager for some shade so I ambled down the grass. (I know, it’s hard for people in many parts of the US right now to imagine it being too hot to walk in the sunshine—some day you’ll experience it again.) I hadn’t walked more than a block before I found myself sprawled on the ground. I’d tripped by walking into a hole I could barely see because it was so well hidden in the grass. Turns out there are a number of these, both well hidden and in plain sight, in all of these grassy boulevards, including the one I cross twice daily.

5. TransMilineo. Bogotá’s rapid bus transit system is impressive (but figuring out how to read the maps is confusing); it turns out it is the largest in the world. And I thought I might die the first morning I rode it. Ok, that’s a slight exaggeration. Slight. In the US, we just have a different conception of how much mass can fit into one space. I could not reach anything to hold onto, but I felt perfectly safe because we were so packed in that even when the bus stopped short, I hardly moved.

Trying to get the doors closed

Trying to close the TransMilenio doors (not my photo—I’ve been warned against showing electronics on TM)

The other morning, I let two buses pass because they were so crowded. But I did need to get to school, so when the third arrived, I dug deep, found my inner Bogotana, and pushed my way on. I was pretty proud of myself. The first sign that I’m adjusting to life here.




A Read Down Memory Lane

The bottom drawer of my nightstand has been the collection point for cards and letters I’ve received over the years and couldn’t bear to part with. In my memory, I go through the drawer every few years to see what I want to keep and tie the items into neat bundles with yarn grouped by year.

Piles of cards

Piles of cards

Memory is deceiving. I found items in the drawer from the late 90s. Either I haven’t done this at all since moving into my house in 2003, or I missed some in the process.

I spent many hours of the final days of 2014 reading through everything in the drawer. What a gift to take this walk down memory lane. Some of the finds were so good, I scanned them in order to share them with the original senders.

Some of the highlights:

Many cards from my grandmothers, both of whom passed away in 2010. Grandma Mother (that’s what we called her) in particular was a great letter writer. Mixed in with updates about life and who was coming to visit were expressions of emotion and pride in me and other members of the family. Really touching to reread.

Holiday card from 2011

Realizing how many cards and letters I have from a college friend. Not only do I have every one of her holiday cards, which are usually original works of art by her former or current husband (here’s the 2011 card), but also dozens of cards that came with newspaper clippings or other small gifts. I always think of her as one of the most thoughtful people I know, but seeing the hard evidence made me appreciate it again.

Being a little sad about the people I’m not in touch with anymore. One mailed me a Halloween care package while I spent a semester of law school in London. This won’t lead me to get back in touch with everyone, but certainly with a few.

Intern's thank you

Intern’s thank you

Remembering former interns. Each spring, summer, and fall semester I “hired” an intern to work on pro bono cases. Free labor for the department + academic credit and great, practical experience for the students = serving more clients, primarily those seeking disability benefits. Many of the interns wrote heartfelt thank you cards (much better than an email).

Trying to figure out who some of these people are. Among the unidentifiable: someone who sent me flowers at the office in 2003, someone who thanked me for staying at my house in 2005, and more than one birthday card from the late 1990s/early 2000s.

My New Year’s Resolution is to try and emulate my grandmother and college friend by sending more handwritten cards. But not ones with glitter. They make too much of a mess.

It’s All The Internet’s Fault

I finally figured out where my time is going: it is being sucked away by the interwebs.

I was starting to get concerned. People would ask, “What did you do today?” and I would have no answer. I could list only one or two different things I had undertaken that day.

Then I realized that it’s all the internet’s fault.wasting time

Now that I have more time on my hands, I have more time to spend online. Facebook and various newsletters make me aware of really interesting articles. Whereas in the past I might have read one or two, now I read many of them (and then click on and read some of the articles featured at the bottom/side of the one I read originally—you see how this quickly can get out of hand).

The internet also is to blame for my lack of motivation to travel over the past few weeks. I spent about 10 hours online planning my 48-hour trip to Shenandoah. That ratio seems off. But there was always one more website to check and one more review to read. Exhausting.

airplane_clipart_blue_and_white_circular_sticker__35756Thankfully a friend suggested that for my next trip, I set a budget and give myself a limited amount of time to book something. What a great way to resist the black hole of the web. I took the advice and soon am heading to Berlin. A borrowed guidebook includes a suggested 4-day itinerary, so that’s another gazillion hours of planning time saved. Total internet time prior to departure: about five hours.

So I spend a lot of time reading articles online. While I haven’t made much progress on the 60+ unread books I own, in the grand scheme, this use of my time may not be a bad thing. I’m just glad I now know what I’m doing all day.

Being Uncomfortable

change black white writingGrowth comes when one experiences something uncomfortable and lives to tell the tale. Or so I’ve been told.

Since leaving my job, I have been putting this theory to the test in a few ways.

Trapeze school. At first, it was way more than just uncomfortable; it was close to terrifying. The appropriately named blog post is here.

Chopping off my hair. Sometimes I think people don’t know what I look like, they only know what my hair looks like. Hidden in my basement are school portraits from the last time my hair was short—in middle school. They are hidden well for a reason.

Still, I figured that if ever there was a time to try a new hairstyle, it was now. And, as I’ve heard many a parent say when asked why they let their child do X with his/her hair, “It’s just hair. It will grow back.”Coco Chanel quote 2

Back in June I told Rebecca, my supremely skilled stylist at Parlour Salon, that come October, after my last day of work and all the family weddings, she could do whatever she wanted with my hair. Now it was October. As I sat in the chair, she asked, “Are you sure?” My answer was something like, “No, but do it anyway.” Then I tried not to watch the long curls drift to the floor as she cut off the majority my hair.

Verdict? I love it! It has been an adjustment to feel very little hair on the back of my head (hard to get a good photo, but the back is much shorter) and to use half as much of various hair products (bonus: they’ll last longer!). I now realize that I’m living the cliché about changing your hair to change your life. But hey, clichés often are born out of truth.

Eating alone in a nice restaurant. I rarely do this, and when I do, I usually sit at the bar and/or bring something to read. When I went to the other CIA, I spent a good part of the meal answering the Amuse cards to myself, so it only sort of counts. I decided when in Shenandoah to put myself to the test by just sitting with myself through a leisurely meal. bullseye active

I reserved a table at Zynodoa, which I expected to be excellent based on the reviews. And it was. I also expected it to be a bit of an odd experience. And it was.

I sat alone at my table for two, with a view of the whole restaurant and the back of the bar, so there was a lot to watch. As my server was very chatty, I didn’t go the whole meal without any conversation. I used this as an opportunity to “be in the moment” and focus on the flavor of the food. I tried not to think of all of the things I had to do. (And for those of you thinking, “What things to do? She’s not working!” keep reading for one part of the answer.)

Not sure I’ll rush to do it again, but I count it as successful. I learned that I can do it and be minimally (as opposed to significantly) uncomfortable.

chalkboard two circles

Saying, “No.” and “I don’t know.” Here’s the Q&A conversation I frequently engage in these days:

Friend: Do you have big trips planned?
Me: No.

Friend: When are you going to figure out your plans?
Me: I don’t know.

Friend: Do you know what you’re doing next?
Me: No.

Friend: When are you going back to work?
Me: I don’t know.

Often I feel an obligation to have amazing trips and crazy adventures to give something back to everyone who has said that they are living vicariously through me. The truth is, trips and adventures are not what I want to do right now.

Stuff and more stuff from the office

Stuff from the office I need to put somewhere

I bopped in and out of DC so much the first two months after I stopped working that I successfully avoided facing the fear of an empty calendar, being lonely, and regretting my decision. I also avoided unpacking the boxes I hauled home from my office. But avoidance can be taxing, and I’ve reached the tipping point.

Now, all I want is to finish the mundane house projects. I’m 90% done unpacking the boxes that moved from the dining room (where the photo was taken) to the study (aka “the room with the file cabinet and bookcases that I’ve never once studied anything in”). There are more boxes and rooms to go. Cleaning out closets and files is tedious, but eminently satisfying as well.

Once I feel like my house is in order, literally and figuratively, I’ll start making the next plans. Until then, I’m content with how I’m spending my time even if it isn’t amazing, crazy, or adventurous.

When Flying Became Close To Terrifying (aka Trapeze School)

I lost my daredevil instincts decades ago. Before I was old enough to do it, I wanted to jump out of an airplane. Since becoming an adult, not so much.

The most physically daring thing I’ve done in years is zip lining and the other challenges at the Sandy Spring Adventure Park ropes course. (Readers in the DC area should go—it’s great fun.)

Then, a few weeks ago, we were trying to figure out a surprise for my friend’s 40th birthday that would be more fun than just drinks and dinner. Winning suggestion: a group lesson at the Trapeze School New York (but in DC—there wasn’t time for a trip to the Big Apple).

(Side note: as great as DC is, this winning suggestion also was the only suggestion since her actual birthday was on a Tuesday.)

Unlike many I’ve talked to since this experience, I have not always wanted to try flying on a trapeze. The Sex and the City episode in which Carrie goes to trapeze school didn’t inspire anything in me.

But, for my friends, I’ll do (almost) anything. So I found myself at TSNY, being briefed on how to jump off a very high, very small platform. And I was told I would enjoy it.

The climb up the ladder was close to terrifying. It’s a long way up, and the ladder shakes. A lot. I stepped one rung at a time, like a child might, and only looked up.

Letting go of the bar and holding onto the trapeze with both hands was close to terrifying. I felt safe with the staff person grasping my belt, but I also felt how the trapeze wanted to swing.

Jumping off was close to terrifying. I made him count me off twice. And I definitely closed my eyes the moment I jumped off. I also might have squealed. I am not sure because I don’t remember much of what happened as I was flying through the air.

Close to terrified

Close to terrified

But once I was standing on solid ground again, the surge of adrenalin and hindsight made the experience seem exhilarating. I was ready to go again.

The next pass was captured on video. I had not processed how to do the flip dismount and didn’t tuck. You can see that they lower me down so slowly and lightly. No bouncing up and down in the net for me.

My final pass was the best. I’m not sure if I kept my eyes open or not when I leapt. But once flying, I smiled, enjoyed it and tucked when instructed. Perfect ending. Even though there was time for one or two more passes, we left to start the drinking and dining part of the celebration.

Although I didn’t seek this out, and it wasn’t part of my, “I don’t have to go to work tomorrow so what should I do?” activities, it fully qualifies as a “do something new and different” experience. I might even go back again. It would be cool to do a catch and release move.

BTW, it turns out this was not a winning surprise for the birthday girl: she is afraid of heights. She climbed the ladder, stood on the platform, held the trapeze with her right hand and let go of the rail with her left hand for a few seconds. She then decided three things:

  1. that was enough—she’d faced a fear and didn’t need to do anything more,
  2. at 40 she doesn’t need to do anything she doesn’t feel like doing, and
  3. she doesn’t need to feel bad about it.

I’ll drink to that!


Full trapeze school photo album (from 10/14/2014):

Ommmmm. Seven Things I Learned At The Ashram

IMG_0521 - Version 2Last week, I spent four days at the Sivanandana Yoga Ranch Ashram in Woodbourne, NY, at the foot of the Catskills. I’ve never been on a yoga retreat and have been to only a handful of yoga classes in the past five years. Needless to say, I didn’t really know what to expect.

Short version:  It was great.

Longer version:

1.   Good vegetarian food is good. I was worried about being hungry. They only serve two meals a day—brunch and dinner—and they are all vegetarian. As a low-carb eater, I feared facing brunches of French toast and pancakes, and dinners of pasta in various forms, probably with a lot of eggplant (a vegetable with which I have a love/hate relationship).

My fear was wasted. The food was excellent, with rarely a carb or an eggplant in sight. Vegetables abounded and there was plenty of protein from beans and lentils. The dishes varied, with no repeats. I arrived on Mexican night and Thursday was Southern night. I would order almost everything served here in a restaurant (there was one pot of soup that didn’t make the cut for me and many others, but one miss in eight meals is a good track record). Good inspiration for my resolution to try new, healthy recipes.

I only delved into the supply of protein bars I had smuggled in during my last afternoon. After a few bites, I realized that (1) I wasn’t really hungry, just thirsty, and was not sure what to do with three hours of free time, and (2) it didn’t taste that good, so I pitched it. The rest of the bars I brought with me returned to DC, where I’m sure they will taste good on another day.

2.   Practice does make perfect (or at least improvement). There were two yoga sessions a day, each lasting two hours. Although there was a different teacher each time, we spent 90% of each class practicing the same asanas (poses) in the same order. I had the chance to really learn what we were doing and see signs of improvement in technique and flexibility. During the penultimate class, my feet touched the floor in plow pose and I got my toes off the mat in crow pose. Never expected either of those to happen, even in the moments before they did.

I could do this

Plow: I could do this

I could do this too (for a mili-second)

Crow: I could do this too (for a millisecond)






3.   Meditating is HARD. Twice a day is satsang (translated as “a gathering of the wise” or “gathering together for the truth”), which is the gateway to inner peace. I was looking forward to inner peace. Satsang starts with 20-25 minutes of meditation. During this time, I was supposed to concentrate by:

a.  sitting cross-legged with my spine straight,

b.  remaining still,

c.  breathing rhythmically and relaxedly,

d.  repeating a mantra, and

e.  focusing on the point between my eyebrows or at my heart center.

Of these, I had a really hard time with a, b, c, d and e. Inevitably my left foot fell asleep, which would cause me to shift around and lose concentration. It all went downhill from there. I would start thinking random things and when I would try to return to a mantra, I often would end up singing parts of songs (but never a whole song) instead. I didn’t find much inner peace, but am going to keep working at it.

4.   Chanting in a small room full of people feels good. Literally.  I could feel the sounds and vibrations. The second part of satsang is chanting prayers and mantras. Most are call-and-repeat, so the fact that I don’t speak Sanskrit wasn’t a problem (also, there was a songbook and some songs in English). After a few sessions, I knew enough to sign along comfortably.

This part of satsang reminded me of song sessions at camp after dinner. The whole dining hall would be up clapping and singing and most nights, you could just feel the joy in the room. Using song to create that feeling of being part of something bigger, of participating in a community for a little while, is a technique found in many religions and spiritual practices. I totally understand why.

5.  It’s hard to have a bad day in beautiful surroundings. Just look at this photo and the ones below. Enough said.

Typical view from the grounds

Typical view from the grounds

6.  I enjoy helping others. Those who know me probably are saying, “Duh.” It was good to rediscover that I enjoy being helpful just because I can, as opposed to doing so because it is my job.

7. There are multiple paths of yoga. This ashram follows the teachings of Swami Vishnu-Devananda*. Instead of the Gideon Bible, every guest room has a copy of Meditation and Mantras, in which he describes the four paths—Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga.

I could get on board with Karma Yoga, selfless action (see #6 above). I appreciated Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion (see #4 above), but I’m not looking for a new religion.

I went to the ashram seeking Raja Yoga, although I didn’t to call it that at the time. Raja Yoga is about mental control, and includes asanas (see #2 above), meditation (see #3 above) and relaxation. I don’t expect my life ever will include Jnana Yoga, self-realization. I’m ok with that.


*The ashram I visited follows the teachings of Swami Sivananda, who sent his student, Swami Vishnu to the West to introduce yoga in 1957. Clearly he was successful since yoga mats now are ubiquitous. The Beatles are sometimes credited with popularizing yoga in the West. Guess who introduced it to them? Swami Vishnu-Devananda, when he met them in the Bahamas in 1965.


A few photos (10/7/2014-10/11/2014):




The afternoon I arrived

Sky the afternoon I arrived

Sunrise meditation walk

Sunrise meditation walk

Mist on the grounds

Mist on the grounds

Raspberry bushes right there

Raspberry bushes right there

View 20 mins away

View, taken 20 minutes after leaving



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