Ask and You Shall Receive

A  few days ago I walked up the hill to see Rabjam Rinpoche.  I had a few questions about how to proceed in my life.  I asked him to do a mo, or divination for me.  It turns out he refers all mo activity to one of his monks who is apparently the mo specialist.  So I am waiting for a phone call to know my future.

In the meantime, the phenomenal world has decided to inform me directly of the path to take.  Signs are everywhere, pointing me in the right direction.

I often look to the next bend in the road, and worry what will happen when I get there.  But rather than do this, I’ve started to realize that if I pay attention to the next 5 steps, then each bend in the road appears easily, as just another collection of 5 steps.

When I left Rabjam Rinpoche, that extraordinary being, I was filled with such an overwhelming feeling of goodness – there is no other word for it – I could not stop smiling for the rest of the day.  There is still residue, even a few days later.  I wonder if it is this experience itself – the experience of sharing a moment with someone of fathomless kindness and goodwill – that has opened things up and made life feel clear and manageable?


Nothing Happening

Nothing happens in Bhutan.  Even when you think something is happening, it isn’t.

Sure, it looks like stuff is happening.  Cows traipse in the middle of the road, eagles soar in tandem overhead, pine trees droop and drape and announce themselves with great dignity over vast expanses of hillside.  Large Indian army trucks honk their large indian horns. Dogs bark. (This in fact might be the only thing that really happens here.)


People convene.  A table of ministers trade speeches and laughs over beer in the evening.  Women go to market and tend the children, or they manage their businesses with elegance. Teenage boys roam in packs, doing whatever it is that teenage boys do.

But what “happens” here is not really it.  It’s not really what “it’s” about.  If you were to come here and expect to be entertained, forget it.  It’s gorgeous, perhaps that’s entertaining.  But all that does is to point to what really happens here, and that is inside.

Someone asked me recently what draws me back here, and I answered, “drala.”  I suppose the best way to translate “drala” is: blessings.  You could say it means benevolent spirits, good energy, magic.  Those forces are so profoundly at work here, it is hard to concentrate on anything else.  Just try complaining about anything…poor plumbing, inefficient design, barking dogs, (and believe me I try) then just notice, quietly, that there is no one pressing you to be anything other than exactly what you are, at this moment.  So you can complain, or you can just realize that it’s not going to change and in any case it doesn’t matter .  And so you can relax.  Let me tell you, this is a huge, delicious, refreshing treat.

As a result, mind settles so deeply here, it is incomparable to anywhere I have ever been in that regard.  It’s as if the guru’s blessings are so thick in the air that it is impossible to miss. Then the little inconveniences, the lack of convenience, and even the barking dogs, become mere ghosts or illusions.


A New Season in Paro

Back in Bhutan and things are exciting.  We have the UNDP “Sustaining Democracy in Asia” conference at the hotel, with high level representatives from all the Asian governments.

One of the first reminders of what I’ve missed during this summer away is completely altered sense of time here.  Another way of saying, nothing works as you think it will.  Communications are totally blocked today, transportation is an issue, the plumbing situation is temporarily suspended, and my breakfast was not cooked as promised.  What to do.  Add to this the steady stream of ministers and officials, the roaming armed security guards, the masses of protocol advisors, the fleet of shiny blue SUVs with drivers in attendance, the gate checks, the diplomats, cameramen, journalists, frantic servers and hotel staff, and what you have is an enormous chaotic mess.  Welcome back to Bhutan.

drukgyaldzong1In exchange, there is clear blue sky, fresh clean air, vast expanses of green trees, temples outlined on the tops of stark mountains, smiling faces in colorful dress and endless time.  There is plenty of time here.  Plenty of space….now settling into that space, getting back into the swing here….more news soon…

Goodbye Guruji

It seems strange to say it, but I didn’t realize how profound of an impact Pattabhi Jois had on my life.  Our personal connection was not that strong; I don’t think he ever knew my name. But for the past 17 years, his presence on this earth has impacted almost every aspect of my life.

Obviously, the daily practice. The friends I have made through yoga:  almost all my dear friends have come into my life through yoga. My extended family has learned about yoga now, through early morning family holiday practices in unlikely places:  the terrace of my grandmother’s Florida apartment, the dock on the St. Lawrence river in Thousand Island Park, New York,   the weight room in Steamboat Springs Health Club, living room floors, back yards, beaches throughout the world. I’ve changed through Ashtanga, matured if I dare say.

My livelihood is thanks to Guruji. Paris, Sri Lanka, Amsterdam, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Hong Kong, now Bhutan…I have been so lucky to be able to see the world, sharing what I love and surviving on it.  Thriving even.  What would I have done with my life, if not for his Ashtanga yoga?  Some of my family might have initially been more comfortable if I had chosen a more conservative career path, but surely I would be a less happy person.

In Boulder, before I met Guruji, I knew only his photo on the wall of the Yoga Workshop.  Stern-faced samastithi. Richard and Mary would share stories about the various ways that Guruji had lovingly tortured them.  I decided that I, too, needed torturing.  So I went to Mysore to meet him,  1997.

But Guruji never tortured me; he only showed me the loving part.  My second day in Laxmipuram (there were 12 of us) he said to me during backbending: now You Take your knees.  You take. Having never considered whether this was possible or not, I just did.  I took.  And when I came up, dizzy and exhilarated, he held me for a long time.  And this is how I mostly remember his adjustments:  just being held, like grandpa.  Lovingly.  Grandpasana.

In those days, conference meant going to his house at 5 to sit on the steps and see if he would come out to join us.  Amaji would come too and I remember mostly laughter. It was like the neighborhood kids getting together.

Years later, in Boulder while he was on tour, I got my first “bad lady!” and I cried.  He chastised me, “Why you crying?” and then held me an extra long time until I stopped.

Once again in Mysore, an older, softer and less agile Guruji in Calvin Klein shorts lay on me in paschimottasana.  To both of our surprise, he could not then get off.  We both laughed so hard he finally rolled off.

Laughter, tears

Evolving through the years

I’ve done my practice

And all has come.

But now you’re gone.

I will miss you Great Guru Grandpaji.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Kila Nunnery


A few of us girls hiked the gorgeous one hour up to the Kila Nunnery on Sunday.  Starting from the top of Cheli La (La means mountain pass) we climbed through thick old forest and bright blooming red rhododendron.  On all sides, in the distance, were snow covered mountain ranges.  Above is a snow packed 22,000 ft Jhomolhari, Bhutans most sacred peak.  Climbing it is forbidden, as it would displease the gods.


One of the nuns, 23 year old Tenzin, and her kitten, showed us the main shrine, just above at the top of the steps.  A lovely bright girl whose easy laugh and educated english made the whole scenario seem quite ordinary.  But in fact, this is a community of 40 women living in retreat huts built into a dizzying cliffside, a days walk from anywhere.  Choden, another nun, arrived at Kila 3 years ago after having run away from abusive parents.  She first ran to her uncle, who put her to work tending buffalos, but one day she was raped by 2 village men who then threw her in the river.  So she fled again and found her way to the nunnery.  She is now 16.


With Isabel, our sparkley spa manager at Uma Paro, and Jil, our rock star chef.

Expanding Views


I was looking out over the vast valley this chilly morning, the high peaks covered in fresh snow, and there was a moment of expansion.  Perspective, perhaps.  How easy it is to get caught in our own little world, to fixate on pain and discomfort.

Standing there staring into the immense space created by sky and mountain, its not only laughable but embarrassing that one would waste a precious instant complaining about an injustice, an unfulfilled desire, an unwanted intrusion.  How insignificant these phenomena seem in comparison to the utter stillness created by the forces of nature.  I decided to ally with the stillness, instead of the chatter.

And what occurred is that I realized this:  we are all doing this same thing.  We all have our own version of pain and woe, some more, some less.  So merging with the vastness, I sent some of that stillness to those in need.  To parents without jobs, to farmers without water, to women in Afghanistan, to children in Darfur, to patients in hospitals, to people everywhere with broken hearts.  My tight breath relaxed.

Yet from an even broader perspective, it occurs that this too is insignificant. Tomorrow, next year, in 100 years, will it matter?  What we take to be so important, if viewed from a larger perspective, is but a wrinkle in the fabric of time.  Events unfold in a timeframe, or return again and again, only to be consumed by the stillness, the vastness of space. We spend our lives fixating on particular aspects of phenomena that we either want or don’t want.  Caught up in the appearance of reality, we ignore the real, which is simply the spacious clear awareness of that appearance.  And immediately, once this awareness is recognized, there is peace.

Home Again

Paro Valley
Paro Valley

Wandering back to the house
Raindrops on fresh cherry blossoms
Green bamboo by the secret path
A wisp of past like smoke

Still winter here I forgot
A chill in the old red dragon room
Cold air on my bare painted toes
They welcome me with the news

Journeys to places I already knew
Long forgotten sorrows that never were
New life in the trees happily stupidly
Scurries scuttles and skitters

Winds bring blessings
From far up and out
A peace lay hazily
Over the blue river

Horizons have changed
High hills all around
Mind settles deeply
In a bright quiet bliss

Come home again
As rain scours earth
Rinsing away the dust of ages
To leave only a glow

Neyphug’s Monks

Over the past few weeks we have gone up to Neyphug Monastery to make offerings to the little monks:  shoes, hats, longjohns.  The 60 young monks are either orphaned, from abusive homes, or otherwise disadvantaged, and Neyphug Tulku has given them a home and education at the monastery.





Your greatest strength is your greatest obstacle

This past week I was a student again at a week-long yoga retreat.  It was lovely and we all learned a lot, but some of what I learned, is what I need not to do.

I was reminded of the old days when I used to go to many different yoga workshops.  What I so often heard was “PUSH PUSH” as the mantra with the muscles and the skeleton being the language.  And this is simply no longer what practice is about for me.  I have learned, finally, after years of ‘PUSH PUSHing’ through, to back off.

There is something about being in Bhutan that is driving this message home more clearly than ever before.  I don’t know if it is altitude or Guru Rinpoche in the air, or perhaps simply age catching up with me, but I notice that a little goes a long way now. I don’t need so much movement and activity to drop into the deep details.  Less is definitely becoming more, and more.  Practice seems to happen on its own, if I simply get out of my own way.


Some days, the idea of pushing and jumping around through the same sequences admonishing myself, or students, to pull stretch reach push repeat over and over seems quite ridiculous. Some days, it feels more important to slow down, to breathe and to listen.  This feels more like yoga to me:  a practice that reflects the impermanent nature of things.

Now I don’t claim to have attained an enlightened view of what yoga is.  But following the Neti Neti (not this, not that) paradigm, I am slowly narrowing it down.

I learned this week that we need to be sensitive to the current circumstances in our lives.  When just back from a long and demanding hike, we need restorative postures and deep breathing, inversions after being on the feet all day.  We don’t need more difficult legwork!  If we are hyperflexible, we don’t need to overdo hip openers.  We need to learn stability, strength and connection – the retracting movement of tying it all together.  Otherwise we simply exaggerate the stretching and spreading ourselves all over the mat and all over our lives.  This has taken me much too long to understand.  In the meantime, I have worked my hardest to accommodate every teacher who I have come across, trying to please them with how flexible I can be, ignoring my body’s pleas and cries to please back off and get a grip.  Literally.

So it was an interesting week.  I have learned that constantly pushing when there is a weak foundation is simply not helpful. Awareness and rest can be as powerful as work – we need balance.  And so rather than forging eagerly ahead to the next step, I am now sitting still, deepening the breath and strengthening the foundations, waiting for the next step to arise out of those depths.

Back Again in Paro

Drukgyal Dzong
Drukgyal Dzong

Well it seems I have more to do here…on the eve of my departure a sudden shift in the fabric of the universe created an invitation to return to teach here for another month, at another resort.

I never even made it to Bangkok. Two weeks of prostrating under the Bodhi Tree in Bodhgaya must have purified me enough to return to the peace and quiet and pure (if freezing) air of Bhutan.

An interesting place, Gaya.  Apart from the area just underneath the Bodhi Tree, which is easily one of my favorite places on Earth, Buddhagaya, as it is sometimes called, is easily NOT my favorite place, anywhere.  Dusty dirty crowded loud, there are not many places to rest peacefully here, except under The Tree, so here is where I spend my time.

Early mornings I would take a bicycle rickshaw from the Sikkim Guest House to the Mahabodhi temple, just next to the famous tree, and join Neyphug Tulku Rinpoche and a few friends for the morning session.  Wooden prostration boards crowd the lawn surrounding the temple where masses of people, mostly red-robed monks, practice purifying karma for the benefit of all sentient beings.  The first few days it was a bit quiet, so I was able to borrow a board, eventually I had to buy my own, which I will donate to the Bhutanese monastery there.  By the time I arrive most mornings it is already 6:30, well into the morning for most of the monks.

After a few hours of bowing to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, our small, impromptu and evolving group would gather for chapattis and omelettes and chai at a restaurant somewhere around the temple.  Beggar season is now, and they are everywhere.  Seems they travel throughout the year, finding the tourists or pilgrims wherever they happen to be at that time of the year.  They are ruthless in their pleading, using their legless, armless, pantless and dirty children as decoys.

After a long siesta and shower, the afternoon sessions generally begin around 3 or 4.  Sounds around the temple relay the time of day…early morning is silent, mid-morning Tibetan style puja with horns and cymbals and deep throated chanting, several times a day the Muslim call from the nearby mosque (and “Muslim Grave Yard”). Around 6 the inner shrine hosts various groups for evening chants:  these weeks it has mostly been the Thais.

After the evening session we again go to eat, usually at the cozy veg restaurant with the big booths at Mahayana guest house.  After prostrating all day, bedtime never seems soon enough, and it is a treat that I appreciate rarely elsewhere like I do here.  It also means I don’t have to breath nasty dust anymore for a few hours, as one tends to do all day long here.

So basically this is how I spent 2 and a half weeks, while waiting for a new Bhutanese visa.  Now that I am back again in the high cold hills, I will resume the mystical tale of the Paro valley and beyond…

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