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What’s Cool For School?

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This morning at the Newkind Festival, after a yoga class with a DJ dropping some electronic beats and a big bowl of vegan berry porridge and muesli, I wandered over to a panel discussion entitled “Teaching Peace.” The question raised to the experts on the panel was how we ought to create a school system that creates a generation of peaceful, caring children.

I come from a long line of educators. My mother was an elementary school principal, and my father was a high school economics teacher before becoming a copywriter. My grandfather was a principal, and my grandmother was a teacher, too. Education is important in my family, and I was lucky to be raised by parents who read to me and encouraged me in school. I attended a good private school, even though clearly the rest of my classmates were much richer than I was. It was cool to be smart in my school, and I had the opportunity to be lead in plays, captain of my field hockey team and editor of the literary journal. I graduated with honors and went on to graduate Phi Beta Kappa from a good university, which I thank my other grandfather – an investment wiz – for buying IBM stock when I was a kid. That stock was cashed in for my education. I actually graduated university early and began a career in journalism, which had me learning new things almost every day.

It’s true that there is less and less play in schools today, which may explain why there are so many people who have trouble having fun. Did I mention I scrapped my elbow on a playground slide last week?

School was a success for me, but the take-home message of the panel discussion today was that school is a source of a lot of society’s problems. Kids aren’t encouraged to follow paths that interest them. Instead, they are forced to learn a lot of stuff they’ll never need “in the real world,” and many become institutionalized. Psychologist Robin Grille talked about how school made kids “resilient,” which was simply another way of saying it prepared kids for the drudgery of a workplace.

I have mixed feelings about this. The structure of the modern-day school system creates a foundation of a work ethic that is needed in the adult world. As a freelance writer and marketing consultant, I love the freedom that my job gives me. After 20 years, I can choose the clients I am interested in. But somedays, hey, I’d much rather take a walk in the woods. I’d rather kick back and play my ukulele. My years of school taught me that sometimes you have to do stuff you don’t really want to do. That’s just a fact of life in this modern economy.

But then, when I was sailing, I saw a bunch of kids from sailing families who were homeschooled. By the age of 5, they were not only driving the dinghy, they were taking apart the outboard motor. These kids were learning lessons that immediately applied to everyday life. Due to the close proximity of their parents/teachers, they’ll learn stuff like how to be financially stable and how to cook healthy food. Many kids today graduate and never learned these basic life lessons – and we wonder why so many flounder.

Just a moment-in-time of my life-long learning … Day 3 at the Newkind Festival in Tasmania

Socially, school can be extremely difficult, especially for children who are outside the norm. Schools that are overcrowded make it almost impossible for teachers to provide individualized attention that students need. All the compulsory testing of particular skills often forces teachers to skip over important lessons – and perhaps this is the heart of the matter. There are some things that are not taught in schools that need to be taught somewhere.

Children need to learn empathy and critical thinking. They need to be able to challenge authority in a constructive way. They need to learn the joys of positive debate and the ability to work collaboratively with those who are different than they are. They need to learn compassion.

Educator Melanie Lotfali was also on the panel. She talked about the importance of spiritual education for children. She told the audience about how she offers an exercise to children where she gives them a bowl of dirt and asks what it is. “It’s dirt,” they’ll say. Some smarty-pants will point out the sticks or the little pebbles. Then she’ll ask them to dig around in the dirt. She’d hidden gemstones at the bottom of the bowl, and the kids get excited to find them. 

“Those bowls of dirt are like people,” she tells them. “The gemstones are kindness and goodness. Sometimes, in people, it’s very difficult to find the gemstone, but it’s always there.”

I used to love reading Richard Scarry’s books when I was a kid, so I was pretty stoked to find this at a vegan takeaway in Castlemaine, Victoria

When children have meaningful spiritual education (and I’m certainly not talking about the weird brainwashing I got from Catholic classes as a kid), they learn to respect themselves and others. They understand their place in the world better. They build the capacity to investigate reality and cooperate with others. 

My mother, the retired principal, is now a spiritual advisor to adults. There are a lot of adults who are troubled – and that, I think, is an even bigger issue. Troubled parents raise children who are bullies, who don’t know how to care for another and who enter the adult world as mean-spirited, self-centered robots. Who could blame them? Their parents are the same. I believe the root of this problem – that so many people work jobs they hate, drink too much to “escape” their lives and live unhealth, TV-centered lives – is because of the multi-generational cycle of trauma in troubled families. 

I used to work for an after-school program, so I know how amazing, curious, kind and creative kids can be. I also know how troubled they can be. No child is ready to learn if they’re not eating enough nutritious food, if they witness or are a victim of domestic violence, if they live in a house with an alcoholic or drug addict, if their parents are too busy working a bunch of jobs to show that they care. Children need to feel special. They need to be cared for. They need positive adult role models.

Can teachers be those role models? Perhaps. But there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the classroom. In the age of the Internet, children can look up just about any information. But that doesn’t mean that certain historical topics and concepts should not be introduced. Just because babies are playing with iPads now doesn’t mean that children shouldn’t take math classes. Fundamental skills taught at an early age pave the way for success. Yes, lessons can be taught more creatively. But kids need to be guided down the path.

A keynote speaker on Thursday continued the thought-provoking, inspirational workshops. Excited for another day!

It’s a given that parents need to play a big role in the development of their children, but not every parent has the ability, the resources and the time to be a good parent. I imagine this is where the rest of the village comes in. Communities that foster families supporting one another can help bridge the gaps where school and parents fail. In Australia, there are active community centers in nearly every town. Ballerinas scurry down hallways that lead to art classes or other workshops. Perhaps this kind of resource, and the people who use these centers, can help create the peaceful, caring children who will grow into tomorrow’s enlightened world leaders.

A Vision for Us

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Environmental activist Pete Cuming made a dire prediction today at the second day of the Newkind Festival: “If we’re not careful, we’ll all get to where we are going.”

A beautiful full moon rose over the camping area at Newkind last night!

And with that, the gauntlet was thrown. Where exactly do we want to go? What is our future, together?

It’s been a while since I did some visioning for myself and for my world. I’ve certainly thought about what I do not want. 

But I also know that you need to have a goal in order to reach the goal. The first step to manifestation is to create a thought. Writing down the thought is next in creating something from nothing. Acting on that dream gets the progress in motion. And before you know it, after weeks or months or years of plugging away, working toward it, your dream becomes reality. 

As I sat in the audience today at this social justice conference and listen about plant-based eating, sustainable consumerism and competing priorities of environmental protection, I realized that I am among some inspiring people. Over lunch, I discussed whether there is a place in activism for anger when heart-based arguments are always more convincing than factoids. When I headed back to my teepee to add a couple layers against the Tasmanian wind, I found myself wrapped in conversation about the way New Zealand models healthy and authentic respect for its indigenous people. This festival is rich for aspiration.

Panel participants got cozy as a surprise chilly wind blew through when the sun hid behind the clouds.

I find myself wondering, then, what I wish for: my vision for our Earth. Some of it came quickly.

  • Minimalism.It’s an end to consumerism, which is the heart of so many environmental and social problems. Minimalism also reduces the need for long, grueling work weeks for people who hate their jobs. It creates time to foster relationships. It offers opportunity to play. (Did I mention I fell off a playground slide last week? Got the scab to prove it!)
  • Care.A good Earth deserves children and elders who are cared for. We should have what we need to take care of ourselves in a holistic way. Our emotional, physical and spiritual needs must be met. Our mental health should be a priority. We need to feel cared for and loved, regardless of our family or our history. 
  • Love for Earth. I talked with a woman named Nina at dinner about a project she’s working on for Mission Lifeforce, a non-profit working to create international law banning “ecocide.” Imagine it: The destruction of the natural ecosystem is a crime. It should be a crime, and it is in my vision for the future. 
  • Whole, Plant-based Food.A world of people eating a vegetarian diet would mean fewer people starving with fewer resources being used. There’s no reason to eat meat. There really isn’t.
  • Living Wage. I’m talking about class equality. It’s high time for the end of the era of a completely grotesque distribution of wealth. People working in factories shouldn’t be making pennies when the CEO makes millions. In my vision, no one has to choose between going to the doctor when they are coughing up blood and eating or living under a roof.
  • Respect for All Living Beings.It’s 2019, for God’s sake. Enough of racism and sexism. Enough hating people because they don’t look like you or love the same kinds of people you do. No more destroying the lives of people for the short-term benefit of others. And my vision includes meaningful apologies for those people who have been done wrong, too.

I’m interested in hearing what you envision for us. It’s time.

Another activist, Claire Ogden, reminded me today that we are all leaders. We all have the ability to inspire others to progress. But there’s a reason why you might not feel like you are a leader. And here’s a likely reason: Fear. You may fear that you’re not good enough to lead.

We live in a scary time, no doubt. When you hear statistics like there are only 12 years left to properly address climate change before catastrophic repercussions begin, you should be afraid. But when you hear things like “Mexicans coming in caravans to infiltrate the border,” you should not be afraid. You should not be manipulated by anyone, including me.

Cool backdrops for inspiration!

But you should also not be afraid to say what your heart believes. Another speaker today, Dr. Farvardin Daliri, talked about the importance of compassion in life. I believe – and, honestly, I have to continually remind myself – that I have an endless well of compassion within me. When someone is short-sighted or cruel in their opinions, I have to remind myself of the old wisdom that “hurt people hurt people.” If someone is racist or simply eco-centric, I know (even if they do not) that they feel victimized and wronged. They haven’t connected with their power – but you should, even if you, too, have been wronged.

We’ve all be shut down. When I was in fourth grade, a group of my friends told me they weren’t going to be my friend anymore. For months, the girls who I used to hang out with wouldn’t talk to me. I cried a lot during that time. Eventually, my mom picked up on my hurt and called the lead mean girl’s mom. The next day, the girls decided to be my friends again. It was all water under the bridge.

It taught me a big, big lesson, and it likely isn’t what you think. I forgave the girls. And when the other girls in my class were more than happy to be my friends, I realized that everyone is a potential friend if you are open to them. I had enough room in my heart to let in everyone. Everyone can be an ally. I wasn’t a victim – those girls were just jealous because at summer camp, we performed in a lip sync competition and the judges honored the little drama queen in me as the “best lead singer.” I knew they wanted to feel special too. We all deserve to feel special.

Fast-forward 31 years, and I’m here to tell you: You are special. Those girls were special. Those other girls who were kind to me when the others weren’t, they were special. I’m special. We all have the value within us to be a leader. We all deserve to stand up and be heard.

So, what do you want to say? What is your vision?

With Different Eyes

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            On the first official day of the Newkind Festival, I found myself honoring different cultures – and not in a superficial way. It’s lovely that before so many presentations and events in Australia, people pay homage to the native First Peoples who are the original guardians of the land. Remember, said the festival’s founder today, you are just guests here.

Festival participants dancing in a welcoming on Aboriginal land. Note boy in tribal gear, left.

            Of course, I am a guest everywhere. As a full-time nomad, every country and every culture is foreign to me. It’s easy to see differences, especially during the Aboriginal opening ceremony where men wear traditional loincloths made of animal skin and cover their bodies in clay. But it’s also easy to see similarities with those around me: the man who is playing the ukulele, like I do. The ladies who are also writers. A friend I made at dinner who lives in a bus, just as I live in a tiny home on wheels. 

Differences can be a problem when you want to make positive change in the world. Depending on your experience and your learned point-of-view, you may not think some things are a problem at all. Consider, for example, the concept of white privilege. Some people I know don’t think it’s real. They tell me, hey, I had to work just as hard as the next guy. In fact, minorities have it easier because some companies have quotas and concepts of a “diverse workplace” that seems to make it more likely for others to get hired, even if they don’t seem as qualified. 

            Even if all that is true (which, it’s not … inherent racism that starts early in school and connects economically forces minorities to work harder to achieve the same results), there are certain things white people simply don’t have to think about. Legacy stress, for instance, is only a minority concern. That’s the scientifically proven fact that African-American babies, born to parents of the same socio-economic status and blessed with the same prenatal care, weigh less at birth than white babies in America. The stress that came from slavery days is passed down in the mother’s DNA from her great-great-grandmother. Some say, hey, America elected a black president. But the current president spent years trying to create a false reality that Obama was actually born in Africa and thus an illegitimate president. We all may detest Trump’s policies, low IQ and megalomaniacal, late-night Tweeting, but no one is claiming that he was born in Europe like his wife. 

“A Room With A View” … what is your viewpoint? What is your neighbor’s viewpoint — and what can you learn from each other?

            My point isn’t to prove that white privilege exists throughout the world. My point is that some people do not see it as a real problem because that’s the world they come from.  It’s why the Aboriginal people are still struggling for equality (read the Uluru Statement to learn more). Every set of eyes has a different set of experiences behind it. We all have a perspective. We all have a story. How married are you to yours? How much do you identify with your story? How willing are you to truly understand where others are coming from?

            Until you take time to see through the eyes of another, you won’t be able to work with them for the betterment of your community or your planet. Why would you want to reduce the amount of plastic you have in your life if you refuse to see beyond yourself? You have to want to care for your fellow and future humans–and animals on Earth, of course–to motivate yourself to do anything.

Homemade deodorant is awesome AND plastic-free!

            Today, I learned how to make homemade deodorant and toothpaste, so that I no longer have to buy plastic packaging. To make deodorant, mix three parts coconut oil, two parts arrowroot (or cornstarch or tapioca), and one part baking soda. To make toothpaste, mix one part baking soda with one part coconut oil. You may want to add a little lavender to your deodorant or some peppermint oil to your toothpaste. To make mouthwash, just keep two cups of water with a drop or two of tea tree oil and peppermint oil. 

            In another workshop, I was reminded of the importance of caring for yourself if you feel overwhelmed with differences around you. Take some space. Hold your hand to your heart and deepen your breath with your eyes closed. Reconnect to your heart. Reconnect with your physical presence on the Earth, and remember how gently supported you are by the Earth. Give thanks. 

A full day tomorrow! Goodnight!

            I have a gratitude practice that I do every day, where I list all the things that I am thankful for that day. I have a lot to be grateful for at the Newkind Festival, as I gather experiences and skills that can help me facilitate change in the name of social and environmental justice in my world. I am grateful for all the similarities I share with others around me, and I’m wise enough to know that the differences can serve as stepping stones. I hope, even with those who are very different than I, we can walk the path together. 

“Extending Ourselves”

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I’ve done work from nearly all corners of the globe, but I can certainly say that I’ve never found myself writing while tucked inside a sleeping bag, wearing my boyfriend’s sweater and sheltered from the winds of Tasmania in a teepee.

My teepee home for the week at the Newkind Festival

And yet, here I am, having arrived just a few hours ago at Newkind Festival, a small yet sweeping social justice and environmental activism conference that offers a week’s worth of inspiring speakers, interactive workshops and behind-the-scenes conversation among likeminded people who care about making a difference in our troubled world today.

“You probably have no idea what is going to happen. You likely don’t know anyone on site, but you’ve shown up because you know that something has to happen in our society,” the event founder, Erfan Daliri, told the small group of volunteers and speakers who were on the beautiful Marion Bay property today. “We are extending ourselves at Newkind. That makes it challenging and also exciting.”

I did know someone on site: My friend Olga, who I came to love during the Ocean Yoga Festival in Amed, Bali last October, is the festival’s safety coordinator. Another dear friend, Jodie, a funny and passionate vegan activist I met at an ashram in December, arrives tomorrow. They both encouraged me to come here. It was life-changing, they both said. It was something I’d love, they both said.

Erfan talking to the volunteers the night before the festival begins. It’s a non-profit festival unlike any other one I’ve attended … and I’ve attended heaps (as they say here in Australia).

They didn’t even realize my history with activism. I’ve been doing my little part since I started thinking for myself. I was the president of a recycling club when I was in sixth grade. I became vegetarian when I was 15. I spend hours – full weeks, at times – doing community service projects when I was in middle and high school, helping poor people who couldn’t afford to fix their homes or delivering meals to elderly. At New York University, I spent a week every year volunteering at AIDS centers or homeless shelters. I was the president of the environmental and social justice club there, too. We organized protests to stop the destruction of old growth redwoods, strengthened the recycling program at the university, worked with the purchasing department to buy post-consumer waste paper for the copy machines and, along with the vegan group, pressured the dining hall to carry dairy-free milk. We supported the pop-up community garden movement that was threatened by the city administration at the time. I marched down Broadway to stop corporate media buyouts. I got a mic ripped from my hands in Washington Square Park when standing up for the rights of women. I was never scared to get involved.

Me in Washington Square Park, where I once got kicked off a stage for a surprise pro-feminist protest against Baywatch, the crap TV show that happened to be holding try-outs for objectifying women on Earth Day and allowed me to speak to the crowd as the president of the environmental club. NEVER MISS AN OPPORTUNITY!

I saw a bumper sticker today that read: DILLIGAF!?Underneath, it translated: “Does it look like I give a f**k?” Well, I GAF. I have always given AF.

When I graduated, however, things changed. I started working as an environmental reporter for a chain of newspapers. There’s a thing about journalists: They cannot get involved with activist causes for fear of ruining their objectivity. I did make a difference as a journalist, shining the light on serious water quality issues and other major concerns impacting the natural ecosystem of Florida. When a county engineering department was forced to remove the gravelly road bedding they put on the beach to protect the condos (to the detriment of the sea turtles trying to nest), I cried with joy at what my dogged reporting could accomplish. But after a while, I yearned to raise my hand and offer my own good ideas for progress.

When I finally left journalism, I worked for social movements that helped children and families. I secured grants and organized construction of a playground in a minority community that suffered from gang violence and childhood obesity epidemics. I organized a fundraiser among friends to buy a trombone for a boy whose family could not afford one. I helped pass a referendum that saved $9 million every year for good programs like prenatal care for mothers who couldn’t afford it, mental health programs for kids and school nurses. I created a project that placed 100 little libraries overflowing with books in my community. And all the while, I bought vegetables from local organic farmers, picked up litter in major sweeps of my neighborhood twice a year, voted in every single election and signed all the petitions on topics I cared about.

But as faithful readers of this blog force me to acknowledge, I’ve been resting on my laurels lately. Besides expressing outrage for the direction my country of origin is going, I have not been doing a lot of looking outward. I’ve been looking inward. I’ve been traveling, experiencing new cultures, learning about life and, most importantly, understanding and falling in love with myself. It’s been important work for me. But how am I helping?

This is where I am on the first day of this different kind of festival. This isn’t like the music festivals I wrote about in my book, “Operation Big Fun: A Fest Life Guide.” There will be some music, but it’s a drug-free and alcohol-free event. The program is packed with lectures on solar power, cultural awareness, ecofeminism and community engagement. It serves only vegan food, and you have to bring your own utensils and bowl (which I carry in my pack anyway). There are no trash bins because there is no waste. Over dinner, I had my first of, surely, many conversations about what we can do to make the world a better place.

It’s really hard to respect people who think it’s OK for a government to take children from their parents and then lose track of more than a thousand of these children, all because the parents tried desperately to offer a safer life with food.

Here’s one thing I need to do, starting today: Be more understanding. I have struggled to find respect for those, particularly in America, who support the rich politicians who talk about grabbing women “in the pussy,” who take away the rights of anyone who isn’t heterosexual, who support neo-Nazis and criticize anyone who is a minority and whose agendas are designed to make life worse for anyone who isn’t in the top 1 percent of the socio-economic national structure. I still struggle with that. A lot. I learned that a lot of people who I presumed were loving, compassionate humans actually had a lot of hate and prejudice in their hearts. These Trump supporters told me to “go to the toilet and find a snack,” called me illiterate and stupid, all because I had the nerve to speak out against hate. I cried, but then I gave up on a lot of people. 

Maybe that’s natural, but giving up on people is not going to make the world a better place.

“There is a huge amount of work needed to change our behavior. Let’s be sensitive of our differences,” Ella Rose Goninan, another organizer of the festival, told the small crowd tonight. “We need each other to change the world.”

The moon will be full tomorrow morning, and I’m excited to see it. I’m excited to be inspired this week to be a better version of myself. I’m excited to extend myself. I’m ready to make change.

Creating Healthy Habits: A Five-Point Plan

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Here we are, in February. How are you doing with your new year’s resolutions? I have to be honest: I did not set year-long goals for 2019. But a few months earlier, I did create a list of health goals that I had been working toward before the new year and now. Recently, my boyfriend had talked with me about his own interest in adopting many of the same health goals that I had. He wondered how I did it. 

Sometimes I take badass selfies of myself after a particularly good run to remind myself that I am, indeed, getting stronger. At least as badass as I can be wearing an OM cap.

Everyone has different goals in their lives. I always believe that it’s important to have goals, because otherwise you would never be able to reach them. You need to set yourself up for success in order to get there. The foundation of a goal is in the simple expression of it. I personally wanted to improve my health back in October, after a week #vanlife-ing around the wine region of Western Australia and when I moved to Amed, Bali to teach yoga and enjoy resort life. My goals were many: 1) Exercise daily until sweaty 2) Practice yoga everyday 3) Meditate every day 4) Take a nap everyday 5) Follow intermittent fasting protocol 6) No sweets 7) No alcohol 8) Take my vitamins, and 9) Floss daily. 

I am doing great. I started running again and got back into shape. I followed intermittent fasting, limiting my eating window to just eight hours or less a day. I practiced and taught lots of yoga, meditated daily, stayed sober and generally avoided sweets. Naps are awesome and feel wonderful. So is flossing, and I’m talking dentistry and not dance moves.

Today, I’m generally doing all of those things in between working, playing my ukulele and traveling. How does one integrate healthy habits into one’s life? Try these tips:

  1. Write down your goals. As I mentioned, the first thing to do is to make an executive decision to do what you want to do. It’s one thing to think about it. It’s another thing to write it down somewhere that you’ll see it again. You want to do what you say you’re going to do. It’s good character. Thus, you want to start working toward your goals if you write them down first. Goals are usually big-picture: lose weight, get out of debt, be a better partner. Once you have a big-picture goal, you then need to build on the foundation. What is the infrastructure to find success? It’s usually pretty obvious stuff, it’s just a matter of commitment. Lose weight? Eat healthy and exercise more. Get out of debt? Cut up credit cards, limit purchases and find another means of income. Be a better partner? Figure out what’s stopping you from loving fully by talking with a professional or with your loved one. Those steps are the new habits you need to foster. The habits are the infrastructure from which you create a new reality, one in which you’ve reached your goal. You can do it, but you have to work at it. 
News flash: Your entire life is your fault and your joy. Take responsibility to take the power back!
  • Hold yourself accountable. There are many ways to do this. I remember when my dear friend and roommate Kerrie wanted to stop smoking cigarettes. Man, that girl was smoking a pack of Marlboro Reds a day! But she was ready, and we created a plan where she would wean herself off the Reds, change over to Marlboro Lights and then start to wean herself off of those. We tracked her cigarettes using the white board we hung in the living room. Every day that she succeeded in only smoking her budgeted amount, I gave her a star. She asked for my help, and what I gave her was accountability. And it worked! That was – zoinks! – 20 years ago. When I wanted to get healthy last year, I signed up to work with an online health coach who checked in with me and called me out when I was being lazy or felt like I “wasn’t getting anywhere.” Today, I hold myself accountable with an app called “Productive.” I am able to check my new habits off the list everyday and track how many days I skip (sometimes an ice cream calls me, what can I say?). I recommend signing up to work with a professional. Maybe this is a mental health therapist or a physical trainer. Whoever it is, they should be offering positive peer pressure to improve. You’re paying them to help you, so you might as well do it.
  • Prioritize your time. We all have time in the day to do exactly what we want to do. That’s the cold, honest truth. If you say that you’re too busy for something, the reality is that you just don’t really want to do it. Now that it feels great to run up hills – seriously, today I felt like such a champ – I prioritize my morning run as something that I do right when I wake up. I know that if I try the same run in the mid-day, it’s going to be too hot and it won’t feel as good. But in the cool, morning air, it’s lovely to jog. So, I prioritize that over luxuriating over a cup of coffee … which I enjoy even more after my run and my morning meditation anyway. When I have early work calls, I may head down to the beach afterward and play in the ocean for a while or take a sunset walk. An hour and a half walk adds up to the mystical “10,000 steps” goal, but regardless I have to move my body. I like to exercise until sweaty. I want to do this. I make time for it.
I bought one for myself last year as a Valentine’s Day gift for myself, and this year my boyfriend bought one for me! (awww)
  • Feel the benefits. I didn’t drink alcohol for the month of October, and again, I did not drink alcohol for the month of January. And you know what? I felt great. I feel really good when I only eat a few hours a day; I eat whatever I want, just not whenever. I wouldn’t do that if it was a burden. I’m not interested in the drama behind change. I just want to change. By taking time to notice how you feel a couple weeks into the new habit, you should recognize if it’s working for you in a big-picture way. Another way of feeling the benefits is to engage in gratitude. I keep a daily tally of things in the day that I’m grateful for in my Gratitude Diary. I also write gratitude prompts for my friend Justin, who created a Gratitude 365 App. Whatever the method, this is worth integrating to find the success emanating from your new habits.
  • Keep it up. One foot in front of the next: That’s the only way to climb the mountain. If your goal is “lose five pounds,” it’s not happening tomorrow. You have to focus on the journey of it, the actual new habit that you are creating to reach your goal. If your goal is to “stop being so anxious,” you have to put energy into making calm, mindful decisions every day. You determine where your energy goes. You’re moving your energy in a way that will realize your goals if every day you do a little or a lot to make it happen. Consistency is key. It’s like tapas, one of the niyamas taught in the Yoga Sutras. Tapas is all about the fire that is stoked within the body and mind as you burn off your obstacles toward uniting with your highest self. But it’s like boiling water: You won’t get anywhere if you keeping turning the water on and off. That fire has to go for a little bit before the water boils. You’ve got to keep at it to see results. And if one day you lose your resolve, recommit to your goal and get back on that horse.
Being your best self is like having amethyst angel wings!

Creating new habits for ourselves isn’t easy, but it’s really the only way you’re going to get what you want in life. And what do you want, really? I doubt you’ll say that you want to plop in front of the television more, that you want to scroll endlessly through your social media and that you want to judge others and yourself more harshly. There are certain things that we can all benefit from, and frankly, that’s the idea. The better we feel, the better we act and the more we work to improve ourselves, the kinder we are to one another. Then, the more improved our community will be – and the more improved our region, our countries and our world. Thank you for joining me in this effort. I’m cheering for your success!

The Nimbin Clock

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Days are pretty simple here in the country. There’s no need to wear a watch. Time can be told like this:

First Light Early Birds

Every morning, we wake up and meditate. Actually, we wake up as the sun pops up over the mountain into my window. With those first rays of light, the crows and birds start singing. Sometimes the flocks of pink and grays, ibis, finches, magpies and kookaburras are so loud in the morning. They scream over one another. “It’s a new day now!” they holler. “Wake up!”

Choir Practice

Perhaps it’s nicer to think of the bird song rather than a spat of yelling. This is why we call it choir practice. Indeed, it’s like everyone is trying to hit that note over one another, holding their one ear and singing, “Me me me me meeeee!” and clear their throats. Is that from a movie? I don’t know how choirs work. It’s been a whopping 31 years since I’ve sung in a chorus, unless you count everyone singing along at a Grateful Dead show. 

The Nimbin Rocks are culturally and spiritually significant to the Aboriginal People.

Coolness

There’s a crazy heat spell at the moment in New South Wales, but in the mornings, before the sun really starts to bake everything, it’s surprisingly cool. We’ll lace up our shoes and hit the road. We live on top of a hill, and it’s about a mile and a half into town on a fairly flat road that overlooks cow pasture and, in the distance, Nimbin Rocks. You’ll pass the free community swimming pool and the community center where I once printed out a document I needed for 60 cents AUS. You pass a whole string of graffiti: Someone spray-painted red and pink hearts all over town. Once you head past the skatepark, public toilets and a mandala that someone painted in the road with the word, “Nowmaste,” you’re in town. Men who are smoking joints and discussing what they’ve read in the newspaper say hello as you pass, and tourists are having breakfast from the bakery. We do a lap and head back, trudging up the hill and back to our primo spot in the mountains.

The bad-ass love-makers of Nimbin are my kind of people.

Coffee Charge

Back home, I make a cup of coffee – when Aaron’s here, it’s his pleasure – and cool down while getting into the day. We follow intermittent fasting, with six hour or less eating window, so no brekky for us yet. If it’s super-sweaty, we’ll wash off before settling into our work. I like to work either in the tiny home or our friend’s porch, which both have the gorgeous vista with only a spattering of homes in sight. We’ll take time to break fast and continue on, depending on what tasks we’ve set for ourselves. I use my Gratitude Diary to track my activities of the day.

Splash O’Clock

Like I mentioned, there’s a heat wave going on in New South Wales at the present time. (By the way, this is what scientists were talking about when there’s massive snow storms in the other hemisphere and temperatures so high that roads are actually melting here. You know, just in case you actually don’t know that climate change is a real thing that is happening. I’ve been running into seriously delusional people on social media lately, so don’t take that aside personally. I know YOU’RE not really like that.) Anyway, we’ll hit up that pool at some point in the afternoon. I love swimming laps!

Siesta and Supper

Back home and cool, we’ll finish up work – or maybe take a siesta in the hammock – until we realize it’s time for dinner. We’ll make some yummy vegetarian delicacy, perhaps to some relaxing music, and whoever didn’t cook does the dishes. Even though we have a working sink in the tiny home, I like to do the dishes out on the patio. It’s so quiet and peaceful.

Our beautiful backyard in Nimbin at my favorite time of day

Golden Hour

Around this time, the sun starts to set and the show begins. The first act is Golden Hour, one of my favorite times of the day. This is when the light of the sun hits the Earth at such an angle that everything shines a yellow tint. For us, this means that a forest of green turns golden and comes alive with vitality. It’s called Golden Hour, but it doesn’t really last that long. 

Red Moment

That’s because right on its heels is Red Moment, something that I’ve only experienced in Australia. It’s really interesting. Things definitely turn from gold to red as the sun gets a little lower. This is as dusk approaches. It’s equally lovely.

Mosquito Minute

However, it’s the beginning of the end. This is when the mozzies come out in full force. You have to think ahead here. Those dishes better be done. You better get up out of the hammock and back inside – anywhere! – and tightly zip up the screen before Mozzy Minute because you really only recognize the change when you get bitten. As the sun sets, you may hear some strange and dark flapping in the sky. Those are the huge bats that live in Australia. Mosquito Minute is their favorite time of day. When the full moon rises over the mountains and the bats fly off to the horizon, it’s a pretty picture. 

The Orchestra Performs

When you live in a tiny home, you don’t watch TV. I haven’t watched television in years – I don’t think I’ve even owned one in at least a decade (My friend Megan gave me the last one, an old wooden paneled box that I would watch a DVD on occasionally. Now even that seems crazy.). Instead, you get ready for the real show. All the light effects, all the choir practice at the beginning of the day, is the set up for the real orchestral performance, which takes place once the sun is fully set. Insects, frogs, birds, kangaroos, cows, horses, roosters and who knows what other creatures sing at full volume, trying to drown out the others. Sometimes a neighbor will play some old-timey, romantic and dreamy music from a radio that sounds far away. It’s the song of life. We put on the solar lights, do a little more work on our personal projects or read. 

Final Meditation

There are a few good habits we knock out at this time. We take vitamins and supplements, including CBD hemp oil, which is really wonderful if you haven’t tried it yet. We brush our teeth and floss, drink a little extra water and tidy up. Once everything is settled, we settle ourselves in to our meditation seats, where we sit for another 15 minutes. 

Sleepy Time

At the end, we may share our experiences before cuddling up for bed. We’re never up very late, since we don’t have curtains and that sun’s going to rise again tomorrow. And then the phases of the Nimbin clock begin once more!

If It Were Easy, Everyone Would Do It

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My friend in the States yesterday congratulated me for living a dream, and it was a good reminder that indeed, what I’ve got going on these days is really cool and different.

Because, as my boyfriend and I build out a tiny home on wheels, it’s a struggle some days – the days when construction is waaaayyy over our inexperienced and unskilled heads. Those days are so frustrating, because we are reminded of our ignorance. There’s so much to learn in the world, and the only way to do it is to experience as much as possible.

Fun Gus gets a lot of smiles and thumbs up when we’re on the road. Once, an old hippie with a leaf on his nose for sunscreen said, “Lookin’ good, family!”

So, with that general motto, I took my new guy’s offer to travel around Australia with him in his tiny home on wheels. I had seen pictures and heard about “Fun Gus, the Magical Mushroom Bus,” from which Aaron based his business holding mushroom-growing workshops. It looked awesome, like a gypsy caravan. 

I had a few reasons for immediately saying yes, in no particular order: 1) My visa was up in Bali soon, and I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go next. 2) I’ve been looking at housesitting gigs throughout Australia, but as you likely know, it’s a big country. I couldn’t quite figure out where I really would fit in. Traveling around was a great option. 3) Of course, it didn’t exactly matter where I went, since I work remotely. 4) I figured, really, how different could it be from living on a sailboat? 5) Duh! I’m in love!

After an epic journey across the Nullarbor, Aaron and I flew to the Gold Coast, where I was introduced to Fun Gus. 

“I hope you’re not disappointed,” Aaron told me. “There’s a lot of work to do.”

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t shy from a challenge, so I had a big ole grin on my face when I first saw the tiny home on wheels. The construction itself is really a category of its own. We’re kind of #vanlife, but not really because Fun Gus is absolutely not a van. We’re also sort of #tinyhome, but we are completely mobile. 

Fun Gus Day 1: Piles upon piles. No place to sit. No table. He had a one-burner camping stove and a mattress: bachelor pad central! Deep breaths, Suzanne. Nothing is permanent.

It’s a commercial tipper truck with a steel frame installed on the back. The previous owner documented his impressive work on his YouTube channel, Embrace the Chaos. He built the outside with hardwood planks and welded an extra-strong steel frame that fits nicely on the truck. I was super-impressed that Aaron decided to buy it when he saw it for sale on the side of the road. The original plan for the couple who owned it was to travel around the country giving naturopathic treatments and tarot card readings. But, before they could really take off, both of them got great gigs in town. So Fun Gus was just sitting there, waiting.

When Aaron pulled up to me outside the Gold Coast airport, after retrieving Fun Gus from the parking lot, I jumped in smiling. Aaron wasn’t: His associate who dropped off the vehicle for him had spilled some white lime powder all over the cab. It was a mess. The truck was super-dirty. (At 3.5 meters tall, it doesn’t fit in the stalls of car washes.) And the back, where we were supposed to live … well, it was an insulated warehouse with a metal ladder leading up to a mattress. I was still smiling. I like smiling. 

In my Gratitude Journal that day, I wrote that I was thankful for: “Fun Gus, it’s a big project but we’ll make it great in no time.” That was on November 27th. Five weeks later, we have to admit, we did a fantastic job. But it wasn’t easy. 

First, we had to do interior design work, trying to figure out how to build a home in the 1.9 x 5.4-meter (6.2 x 17.7 ft) warehouse. Luckily, Fun Gus has great bones. There is a loft over the cab that’s big enough for a comfy queen-sized mattress and storage. There are two opaque windows in the loft, and down in the main room (as it were), there is a lovely stain glass window. There is a back porch, where you enter via stairs through a quite handsome stain glass accordion door that the original owner salvaged from an old hippie bus that was rotting in a lot nearby his home.

The door has peacocks on it, and it made me remember in 2001 when I was a young newspaper reporter. I wrote so many stories about some old lady who wanted to kill the wild peacocks that Frances Langford, a Hollywood starlet had brought there when she retired nearby in 1945. My editor figured out that I wrote more consecutive front-page articles on peacocks than the newspaper had published on the first Gulf War. Plus, peacocks hang out near Krishna. I felt right at home!

Right at home. In the warehouse. The dirty warehouse. 

Keep in mind, Aaron teaches people how to grow mushrooms professionally. I’m a writer, marketing consultant, yoga teacher, energy worker and life coach. We don’t exactly know how to build houses, let alone tiny ones. He once worked a job installing floors. I did some jobs as a painter, and I interned at This Old House Magazine. (Part of the job was replying to emails addressed to Bob Vila, which was hilarious because I was a 19-year-old kid living in New York City at the time.)

We’re smiling because things went right today. Also, there is fresh spinach ready for eating in the kitchen.

And yet, in this time, we did electrical work, plumbing, carpentry, painting and staining, propane instillation, interior design and interior decoration. Oh, and Aaron bought a scooter that sits on a rack we installed (after we found a mechanic to remove the old ball hitch … we couldn’t do it all without a professional!). We had to learn the hard way a few times. Aaron banged his finger on a fast-closing ladder (nothing broken!). We butted heads. We apologized. We kept at it. 

Look at Gussy now! We have a full kitchen, table and chairs, a sweet bedroom and plans for a little bathroom (to be “self-contained”). Note the siracha sauce. That’s the stuff.

Fast-forward five weeks, and I am sitting at my computer at a table on a comfortable director’s style chair inside. There are stairs (Aaron scored big time by finding a small, stair-shaped bookcase in a random store – honestly, we were disagreeing over one of the million decisions we had to make during this project, and I went to a café to work). Those stairs lead up to a final big stair that we built. It’s a timber frame that holds a refrigerator and has a hinged top that hides a power center, where we can charge everything we could ever want with the benefit of two new solar panels charging away in the Aussie sunshine. In the loft, there are baskets to organize our clothing, fairy lights, a dreamcatcher, throw pillows and cute ceramic knobs on the patched screens. Next to the refrigerator, there is a kitchen backsplash with two spice racks and a three-burner stove that runs on a propane bottle that’s attached outside in a space next to the spare tire in between the cab and the living area.  

Next to the stove, there’s a spot where we can store plates and utensils without them breaking, underneath two storage shelves. Turn a little more, and you’re at the kitchen sink, which we installed today along with a modern-looking tap. I can reach everything in the kitchen because there is a step, which doubles as a storage area for the invertor and recycling, that we built. The walls are either painted or have a faux wood panel, which we edged in natural wood finishing pieces. 

Before we realized we didn’t know what we were doing. But we did it, eventually! Gotta give it up to L-brackets and hex screws.

Outside, the porch is reinforced, there’s a mosquito screen that lets us keep that lovely (and also reinforced) door open. The truck’s cab, too, is now a good-vibes space. We cleaned it numerous times to get the powder out, and I glued pieces of an off-white carpet over a weird, black glue spill on the dash. I Blue-Tacked on a small alter, which currently features a small Confucius, which I found in a thrift shop in Taiwan, a little laughing Buddha that a store owner gave me when buying the storage baskets, and a green frog doing yoga. Oh, and some dried flowers from the alter at the Krishna Village ashram and an admission band to the Woodford Folk Festival, two places we had fun while working on Fun Gus these last five weeks. I hung some shells and beads from the rear-view mirror, Tacked-on a speaker for tunes and added a few sticks of Nag Champa incense.

Fun Gus is all gussied up! But it’s true, it wasn’t easy. If it were easy, then everyone would be driving around and living in tiny homes on wheels. Right?

In the Name of God

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People do lots of things in the name of God. People kill each other, steal each other’s possessions and spit on each other. People also serve free food to those who are hungry, shake the hands of strangers and even, recently, go to a remote island filled with natives who dutifully kill anyone who approaches them.

So, perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising to me that so many people go into debt in the name of God. And what I’m talking about, of course, is Christmas.

Across the globe from my American hometown, here in Melbourne, Australia, I see a few Black

Tucked away in a box at a friend’s house, I admit that I kept the advent calendar that my grandmother made. At the end of the month, I wrap every ornament with the same bits of tissue paper I did when I was 5.

Friday ads and holiday decorations popping up. That’s to be expected, as almost everything about Australia seems to be nothing but a kinder and less … gun-ny (?) … version of America. Strip malls still line the roads. Thrift shops, known cheekily as op shops here, are all over. You can buy anything you want. Last night, I stayed at a hotel overlooking a shop that specialized in rugs. The electric neon sign repeatedly scrolled, “Range of Rugs! $$$$ Rugs! Rugs! Rugs!”

But without Thanksgiving, of course, Black Friday doesn’t have the same frenzied draw here. No one is talking about Cyber Monday. Today is “Small Business Saturday.” I see plenty of cute small businesses nearby, but looking around the café I’m at I can’t say anyone has that “I gotta spend my paycheck today” vibe.

Black Friday is even a more ludicrous concept in Taiwan, Indonesia, Korea, Thailand and Malaysia – the last five countries I lived in. While Taipei, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok are certainly modern cities – the Gangnam area of Seoul even has a famous song highlighting its excesses – there’s simply not the dramatic push by every member of society to prove your love for others by buying them things.

Or worse … prove your love of God by buying things. Because, of course, nothing says “I’m a good person and deserve to go to heaven” like by buying sparkling, plastic decorations to fill your home … only to pack it all up with relief in a big, plastic bin a month later and stuff it into the storage locker you rent because you have too many things for your mini-mansion.

Every year, like me, I’m sure, you shake your head as you watch the videos of people pushing their way into a big box store in a desperate attempt to get a discounted television. They’ll elbow each other out of the way to save a little money so that they can have the capacity to accumulate even more things in a sad attempt to feel better.

Because, that’s what we’re trying to do, right? We’re trying to feel better. We use a holiday that

You’ll shoot your eye out, kid! Desperate desires for things are worthy of laughter. Also, I recently read that Hugh Hefner had a lamp like the dad coveted in this movie.

was once about showing a love for God and – even if we don’t believe in God – we spend hundreds, sometimes thousands. We may be trying to feel good, but often the aftermath is a financial hangover that adds to the real one we get from all those fancy cocktail-filled parties.

I know for me, toward the end of my time participating in the holiday season, I’d be exhausted. I’d bake cookies for my neighbors. I’d hang pretty lights on my house. I’d buy and decorate a beautiful tree. I’d buy well thought-out presents for everyone I knew – every close family member, my love interest, my dear friends and usually the children of those dear friends as well. I’d purchase a few new dresses for all those parties. I’d get my nails done. I’d buy and then mail around 100 Christmas cards to loved ones living far away. I’d make treats and wrap them thoughtfully for all of my co-workers. I’d purchase extra bottles of wine to give as hostess gifts. I’d usually make special crafts that I would plan out months in advance. I’d never break the bank, because I was working three or four jobs at the time. But I’d spend.

But anyone who is my friend or my family member, I would hope, doesn’t feel like I love them less simply because I am no longer giving them gifts. I did have one friend who struggled with this. When I was selling my possessions so that I only own what I can carry (I did it this morning … that’s one way to cut down on the buying!), I asked a dear, dear friend if she would like to have a beautiful wooden instrument that she gifted me earlier. I thought it was a better option than selling it. She was very hurt. Over the years, I’ve tried to reach out to her – because I love and respect her – but in the end it seemed she truly equated our friendship with the gifts she gave me.

Throughout the year, I volunteer but the holidays I doubled-down. Every year I spent a few hours giving away toys to needy families with the local United Way.

I understand that one of the five love languages is gifting, and it’s true. I did feel special last month when my boyfriend gave me a cute coffee mug with a little princess kitty on it. But you know what? That mug already got sold when we sold the van we were living in. He didn’t even notice that I didn’t take it when I packed up my things. Because the mug is not our love. It is an expression of our love. Just like how he makes me coffee in the morning. That’s a different love language: service. That one is free.

You know where I’m going with this. “Yeah yeah yeah,” you’re already saying. “Stop buying things, start living.” It’s like a broken record with this blog, right!? But the reality is that buying things in the name of God is hypocrisy. The more you consume, the worse off the Earth is. Earth, you may recall, is God’s creation. And if you don’t believe in God, then what the hell are you doing participating in the Christmas buying season anyway?

To recap: Buying things is not a necessary way to prove your love for others. Buying things will not make you feel better. Buying things is not a way to celebrate the entire point of the holiday season. If you want to really celebrate this year, get creative. Give your time. Give hugs. Give love, please – in the name of God!

Nomad Life = Comfortable with Change

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In the last year, I’ve lived in 10 countries. And I mean really living – I don’t have a storage locker or a room somewhere “back home.” There’s no one waiting for me to return. My mail is in an unattended pile at a friend’s house. People ask where I’m from. The answer is always simply where I’ve slept the night before.

A year ago, the concept of living in a new country seemed overwhelming. As I was getting ready to move to Argentina last October, I remember going to the bookstore to pick up a Spanish workbook. As I leafed through the pages of verb conjugations in the anonymity of that quiet aisle, I broke down in tears. I didn’t feel ready, and yet I had that one-way plane ticket already booked and off I went.

I love hiking by myself! Here I am at the top of Elephant Mountain, overlooking Taipei on a bluebird day. When you hike by yourself, no one is waiting for you and you’re not waiting for anyone. There’s nothing to compare … you’re simply doing great.

Fast forward to this morning, when I was drinking coffee in an apartment in Taipei, Taiwan. I thought, you know, it would be fun to hop on the subway and try a supposedly delicious local dish I heard about called “stinky tofu” for lunch. So, I went. And I ate it. It was, yes, stinky, and it was, yes, delicious.

I’ve only been in Taiwan for less than two weeks, and yet I feel totally at home. With each country, it takes less and less time to get my bearings and figure out how everything works. How exactly did I get so comfortable with change, so easily throwing myself into completely unknown situations? After doing it now 10 times in a year, I credit a few key things:

  • I set myself up for success. In truth, I’m really not very good about researching a country or a city before I arrive. Compared to my serious attempt to master Spanish before arriving in Argentina, in Taiwan I did not know what language people even spoke. (Simplified Chinese, by the way, is the most common of many languages. I can say hello.) But before I arrive in any new country or city within a country, I always know where I am going to stay for at least the first few nights. I’ll check Hostel World for top-rated spots, or I’ll set up a housesitting gig. I’ll download Google maps (to use offline), so I can point myself in a direction. Next, I check out the transportation situation. I may need to rent a car or a scooter, buy a metro card or catch a bus. It’s sometimes ridiculously confusing – honestly, figuring out the bus in Korea involved a miracle – but it happens, every time. I hit the ATM for some local cash and away I go!
  • I am my own best friend. If you’re up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you know these basics (safety is a part of everything I just described, of course) must be taken care of before social belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization. The beautiful thing about the decisions I actively make everyday is that I can skip ahead to being my full self. I have plenty of people who love and care for me. Social media makes it easier than ever to stay in touch with those I care about. Sometimes I am super-busy with work, and all I can do is send a quick note. But I try to let people know I’m thinking of them, and I love it when people think of me as well. My family loves and supports me in a wonderful, hands-off manner that I’ve come to cherish. My boyfriend starts every day by telling me how much he values me. And I spend time giving energy to my own health: Every day, I exercise, try to eat right, limit my alcohol and sugar, practice yoga, meditate, take a nap and simply do things I want to do. So, I’m never lonely, and I’m never bored. If I want to wander around until I find that stinky tofu place, then I will. If I

    Dadaocheng Temple in Taiwan. Not worrying involves … you guessed it … faith in your highest self and God. The more you acknowledge and show gratitude for ways life works in your favor, the more it will.

    want to work nose-to-the-grindstone all day so that I can relax the next day, then I do. Everything I do, I do because I love myself.

  • I don’t worry. Period! I make it an active, mindful practice to be low on anxiety. I didn’t check-in to my flight online. OH NO! Maybe I’ll get a bad seat. And yet, experience has shown that attendants frequently give me an emergency exit row. And if I do get the middle seat of the last row? I still get to where I’m going. OH NO! My ATM card expired. It’s actually OK. I can get it forwarded to me in Australia. And I follow intermittent fasting anyway. You don’t actually need to eat, it’s fine. OH NO! I don’t speak the language, I have no idea what I’m doing here, What if I get robbed? What if the next earthquake is bigger than the last? What if? What if? The reality is that bad things happen … and often they happen exactly when they are supposed to. My recent round of Bali belly food poisoning? Believe it or not, it was a blessing. Long story, but it’s true. Everything always works out.

When you’re so comfortable in your own life, all the outside influences and potential stressors stop becoming such a big deal. In fact, life becomes worry-free. The reason I broke down in the bookstore before Argentina? It was because I didn’t truly believe in myself. Well, with time, I proved myself capable. As a reward, I get to spend my days learning about different cultures, interacting with interesting people who have very different lives than mine. I get to try different foods and drinks, see landscapes that are unfamiliar and adapt the best I can to totally foreign ways of life. I get to discover how, in spite of all these differences, we’re really all the same.

It’s certainly not always easy – trust me! When the airline attendant told me that I couldn’t bring the 1.5L of water I just bought on to the second flight of a 12-hour red-eye from Bali to Taiwan, I almost cried. (I’ve actually cried a lot this year, because I love myself and value all my emotions.) But in line at that second security check, I didn’t cry. Instead, I unscrewed the lid, stepped out of line and downed the whole thing. As the massive amount of water sloshed in my belly, I thought about all the times I have been thirsty in my life. That’s the thing with being comfortable with change: It’s knowing that sometimes you’re thirsty, and sometimes you’re waterlogged. But you’re still living … and, hopefully, still smiling!

Yogini on the Scene – Day 7

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Yesterday’s pretty flat white enjoyed while working in between yoga

Drinking a kopi and overlooking the ocean in Amed this morning, I can’t help but smile at the amazing week I shared with so many new friends participating in and organizing the Ocean Yoga Festival. This week was filled with celebration of community, opportunities for a deeper understanding of myself, laughter and learning. I reaffirmed the importance of my daily yoga and meditation practice and was inspired by so many teachers and fellow students. I was able to share some of my knowledge, and I was able to donate and help raise money for local non-profits that are making a difference right here in my little town.

What more could I ask for?

My final day started off not with a bang but a whimper: If you’ve ever taken a myofascial release class, you know what I mean. The practice is connecting the body, breath and mind as you roll small, hard balls over your muscles for a self-created deep tissue massage. If done correctly, deep tissue massages are the opposite of relaxing, and the same is true for myofascial release. Trying to keep my face from grimacing, I put my body weight on these balls and found trigger points of stress in my calves, hips and shoulders. Like all kinds of yoga, both on and off the mat, that’s the point: Instead of shying away and ignoring the pain, yogis look it straight in the eye, in the present moment, detach and let it go. I cried an emotional and physical release not once, but twice during the class.

If you haven’t cried during a yoga practice, you haven’t gone deep enough.

SUP Yoga in Amed – It was so fun introducing people to a practice I love, which involves falling over with a big, loud splash.

And I have a similar saying for SUP Yoga: If you haven’t gotten wet, you haven’t given it your all. So, in the afternoon, after my students clipped their paddleboards to the buoy line and joined me in a strong flow, I was tickled to watch most of them fall in. I always fall into the water during class, but to be honest … I purposefully fall in to help nervous students laugh and relax.

It’s so easy to “mail it in” – both on the yoga mat and in life. I was reminded about that this week. You have to give it your all. You can’t hold back just because you’re scared of falling or failing. Just as I hope you want Suzanne in all my ridiculous glory, I want you to show up like that, too.

It’s the way I live my life. Ever since I was a kid, I was on stage, performing for my patient and loving family or, sometimes, an audience of stuffed animals. I learned to juggle, learned to tell a story. I learned to make friends and get people to laugh. Even when I live in towns like Villa 25 de Mayo in Argentina or Songdo, Korea, where I couldn’t speak the language, I learned enough so I could teach yoga and share what I know with others. I’m here, really, for you. Just as you are here for me.

Intro to Freediving course at Apneista, which I ducked in on before meeting a friend for a jackfruit wrap and coconut milkshake for lunch.

I’m not afraid to go deep, to be a clown or try something that might at first seem to be beyond my capabilities. Last night, during the closing ceremony’s ecstatic dance, I had fun throwing my body around to the beat, twirling and bending, reaching and stretching. I dance like no one is watching – and yet I know people are. People see when I cry. You see when I try, when I succeed and when I fail. I’m not afraid to share stories of heartbreak, of scooter accidents or crazy adventures of my life that may, at first, seem embarrassing.

When you try and learn, there’s no reason to be embarrassed. It’s all a process. Being vulnerable (whether it means crying during yoga or breathwork – here’s a nice tutorial for this –, showing everyone that your balance isn’t perfect by falling in the ocean or even, cough cough, sharing a blog post) makes you the perfectly imperfect human being that you are. Own it!

In today’s Instagram-model world, we are endless confronted with inspiration for perfection, but we’re rarely shown the value of our own vulnerability. People say, “Oh, I can’t do yoga because I can’t touch my toes.” And yet, those people have it the easiest … they can connect to their bodies in ways that ballerinas cannot. Ballerina hamstrings don’t scream hello! – and at its simplest, yoga is your mind hearing your body say hello and then replying with a sweet, welcoming breath.

Last night’s sunset behind Mt. Agung. What an epic end to the week!

If you do something that’s easy for you, there’s no growth. With no growth, there’s no change. When you challenge yourself, you expand. In those spaces you create within yourself, you are making room for your ability to do more. The question, then, is what you want to do with that newfound ability (I, for one, have a new four-part plan.) I encourage you to do something challenging. Do something you’re not sure you’ll succeed in.

You may just surprise yourself.

And again, what a wonderful surprise that a handful of people got together in this little beach town in Bali and decided to throw a free yoga festival. Hundreds of people arrived in town to take advantage of all the teachers sharing what they know and enjoy the beautiful, tucked away spaces that make this area so wonderful. Because the organizers weren’t afraid to fail, we raised millions of rupiah to help the community and the environment. As someone who came on board just a couple days before the start, I can proclaim that the festival was a huge success! It took a collective energy of everybody who taught or attended the classes and workshops – it took everyone showing up as their full selves – to make it so special.