Browsing Category "Travel"
26 Jun
Posted in: Travel
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Slowing Coming Back

I’m back from my 3-week stay in Italy. Well, I’m not entirely back, because at lunch today I forgot for a minute that I don’t drink the kind of coffee that comes after a meal, in a mug, with desert, and is constantly being “warmed up.” I had to change my order, because I’d automatically said yes to the coffee….then remembered that it’s the I’m-in-Italy Jan that drinks coffee after a meal. Espresso, hot, with a full packet of sugar. It’s the I’m-in-America Jan that doesn’t touch the stuff. Unless it comes iced, in a tall glass, with LOTS of milk.

Little by little, the I’m-in-Italy Jan is fading away and the I’m-in-America Jan is taking shape. That’s a good thing, because after all, I am in America. But I can’t help feeling that it’s a bit of a loss.

This is the pain that comes from trying to hold on. It’s not necessary, I know. But it’s an old habit, with lots of momentum, so it’s hard to break.

But little by little….


(photo from my table at one of the cafes I recently frequented)


29 May
Posted in: Books, Travel
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Facendo Niente

(Doing Nothing)

As I mentioned here and here, I’ll be in Italy for the next 3 weeks (staying at Le Santucce in Castiglion Florentino), doing some writing, speaking some Italian, spending some time doing nothing with friends. I get back late on June 22, but probably won’t be ready to blog again for a couple of days, so check back again around June 26.

I leave tomorrow. So for today, I’m doing my pre-travel ritual, which includes browsing through my all-time favorite travel guide, Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino. I offer you this selection:

Cities & Eyes 2

It is the mood of the beholder which gives the city of Zemrude its form. If you go by whistling, your nose a-tilt behind the whistle, you will know it from below: window sills, flapping curtains, fountains. If you walk along hanging your head, your nails dug into the palms of your hands, your gaze will be held on the ground, in the gutters, the manhole covers, the fish scales, wastepaper. You cannot say that one aspect of the city is truer than the other, but you hear of the upper Zemrude chiefly from those who remember it, as they sink into the lower Zemrude, following every day the same stretches of street and finding again each morning the ill-humor of the day before, encrusted at the foot of the walls. For everyone, sooner or later, the day comes when we bring our gaze down along the drainpipes and we can no longer detach it from the cobblestones. The reverse is not impossible, but it is more rare: and so we continue walking through Zemrude’s streets with eyes now digging into the cellars, the foundations, the wells.

28 May
Posted in: Books, Travel, Writing
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A Writer is Someone Who Writes

I leave the day after tomorrow to participate in a series of writing groups (in Tuscany!), organized by my friend Cary Tennis. He leads these groups (and writes along with us) using the structure outlined by Pat Schneider in Writing Alone and with Others

The format is simple…we write in groups, we write from prompts….but it’s the mind-set that makes the process so powerful:

#1. Everyone has a strong, unique voice.

#2. Everyone is born with creative genius.

#3. Writing as an art form belongs to all people, regardless of economic class or educational level.

#4. The teaching of craft can be done without damage to a writer’s original voice or artistic self-esteem.

#5. A writer is someone who writes.

From there, the writer’s task is to experiment, observe, remember, imagine, practice and be patient. We do all this with the goal to sound more and more like ourself.




3 Apr
Posted in: Retreats, Travel
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Check Back on April 27

I leave tomorrow for two retreats at Spirit Rock: the first will be a silent retreat led by Bhikkhu Analayo, Phillip Moffitt and Shaila Catherine; the second will be more of a workshop retreat (half silent, half not), which begins my 2-year training as a Community Dharma Leader (CDL).

Ten years ago, Analayo wrote what is now considered the standard text on the satipatthana sutta (Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Realization, available as a FREE download here). More recently, he wrote a companion book, Perspectives on Satipatthana, which compares the Pail and Chinese versions of this sutta, and which is required reading for the upcoming retreat. (Sounds boring, I know, but it’s actually quite fascinating. At least to me.)

After that, I’ll have a day to spend with friends Tony and Maggie, who live  in San Francisco, and then back to Spirit Rock for the CDL workshop/retreat led by Eugene Cash, Larry Yang, Gina Sharp, and Pamela Weiss. There are two assigned texts for the CDL retreat: one is Analayo’s first Satipatthana book (which I love) and the other is Joanna Macey’s Coming Back to Life book (which I DON’T….and about which I’ve posted earlier.)

Anyway….I leave on April 4 and won’t get back until April 24. It will take me a while to get back into my “normal” routine, so don’t expect another post until Monday, April 27.

Hope you’ll check in with me then.

2 Apr
Posted in: Books, Travel
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Travel & Desire

I’m getting ready to leave on Saturday for back-to-back retreats at Spirit Rock, which I will post more about tomorrow. In the mean time, I’m doing laundry, making lists and stocking up on raw almonds and Jolly Rancher candies (my emergency rations for airline travel). I’m also reading passages from Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino, which is one of my favorite pre-trip rituals. Here’s a sample:

Cities & Desire 2

At the end of three days, moving southward, you come upon Anastasia, a city with concentric canals watering it and kites flying over it. I should now list the wares that can profitably be bought here: agate, onyx, chrysoprase, and other varieties of chalcedony; I should praise the flesh of the golden pheasant cooked here over fires of seasoned cherry wood and sprinkled with much sweet marjoram; and tell of the women I have seen bathing in the pool of a garden and who sometimes–it is said–invite the stranger to disrobe with them and chase them in the water.

But with all this, I would not be telling you the city’s true essence; for while the description of Anastasia awakens desires one at a time only to force you to stifle them, when you are in the heart of Anastasia one morning your desires waken all at once and surround you. The city appears to you as a whole where no desire is lost and of which you are a part, and since it enjoys everything you do not enjoy, you can do nothing but inhabit this desire and be content.

Such is the power, sometimes called malignant, sometimes benign, that Anastasia, the treacherous city, possesses; if not for eight hours a day you work as a cutter of agate, onyx, chrysoprase, your labor which gives form to desire takes from desire its form, and you believe you are enjoying Anastasia wholly when you are only its slave.

9 Feb
Posted in: Retreats, Travel
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Postcards from Sacred Mountain (Dharmagiri)

I’m back from the month-long retreat at Dharmagiri in South Africa and (almost) over the jet-lag. (It’s a 16 1/2 hour flight just from Jo’burg to Atlanta!) I didn’t take a lot of photos — this wasn’t a sight-seeing trip like last year in Burma —  but I did at least “document” the retreat center.

This is the group of retreatants. That’s me, with the pink-streaked hair, standing behind teacher Kittisaro (short guy, wearing a hat). Thanissara, his wife and c0-teacher, is standing in the back (with glasses and dark hair).









This is the meditation hall, with breezeway leading to the kitchen/dining hall.








These are some of the cabins for retreatants. The center can house 12. My room (with private bath) is the second from the left.








This is my room.










This is the view from my window.










This is the main house, where Kittisaro and Thanissara live.










This is the Dharmagiri “office.”








This is a small meditation hut where I often sat (and behind which I watched a troop of several dozen baboons playing and fighting and strolling from one side of the mountain to the other!)


2 Jan
Posted in: Books, Travel
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The Next Journey

I leave tomorrow afternoon for a month-long retreat at Dharmagiri Hermitage in South Africa. I return on Wed, Feb 4, but it may take a while before I’m un-jetlagged and ready to post. So check back on Monday, Feb 9. I should have something posted by then.

In the mean time, I leave you with this quote from Listening to the Heart: A Contemplative Journey to Engaged Buddhism, by Kittisaro and Thanissara, who will be teaching the retreat.

Meditation is the cultivation of a steady mind….When the mind is gathered, collected, and unified, it naturally leads to wisdom, as it sees things realistically, the way they actually are….

Meditation matures us. It enables us to be more realistic and to work with the actualities of life, without being poisoned by the negatively that arises in the face of difficulty….

Ajahn Chah taught, “Do everything with a mind that lets go. Do not expect any praise or reward. If you let go a little, you experience a little peace. If you let go a lot, you experience a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will know complete peace and freedom. Your struggle with the world will have come to an end.”


(photo by Hannah Huffman, from Polaroid Notes, published by Chronicle Books)

18 Dec
Posted in: Travel
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Getting Ready to Go

Preparations are now seriously underway for my upcoming trip to South Africa where I’ll be spending the month of January on retreat with Kittisaro and Thanissara at their Dharmagiri Hermitage in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains in KwaZulu Natal. (!)

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

* I’ve got my plane tickets. (I fly from St. Louis to Atlanta then directly to Johannesburg, where I’ll spend two nights, then fly to Durban, where a bus will pick me up and take me to the Hermitage…which will take 3 hours.)

* I’ve reserved my hotel. I’ll be staying in a very nice Western-style hotel in the Rosebank neighborhood (recommended by the office manager at the Hermitage). It’s about 20 miles from the airport, so transportation will need to be arranged.

* I’ve emailed the hotel and they have arranged for a car to pick me up at the airport. (whew)

* I’ve made sure my passport is current and that there’s an empty page for the on-site VISA that, apparently, will be issued once I land at the Jo’burg airport.

* I’ve purchased traveler health insurance. (Recommended by the Hermitage)

* I’ve purchased TSA luggage locks. (Recommended by my travel-savey teacher and friend, Lila)

* I’ve purchased a universal plug adapter for my iPhone and iPad. The one I have is for Europe, but I checked, and it won’t work in S. Africa. (I don’t have to worry about a power converter because I’m not going to bring my hairdryer — I’ll be on retreat, and it’ll be hot there, and I won’t need be worried about fluffing up my hair!)

* I’ve checked into getting a short-term phone plan to cover service in S. Africa, but since I won’t be using the phone while I’m on retreat, and since it costs $30 and it only reduces the cost of calls from $2.00/minute to $1.00/per minute — I’ve decided it’s not worth it.

* I’ve called my credit card company, and my special international debit card bank account, to let them know when and where I’ll be traveling.

* I’ve Skyped my friend, Jill, who lives in Singapore and who travels regularly to S. Africa (where her husband is from) and she said I’d be able to find ATM machines I can use at the airports….and other places….so no need to bring a lot of cash.

* I’ve checked to make sure I don’t need any shots. And that I won’t need malaria pills.

* I’ve started making a list of travel meds. Which includes lots of Pepto-Bismol tablets, sunscreen and the antibiotics I didn’t use when I went to Burma last year.

* I’ve arranged for someone to stay at my house and I’ve made an “Important Stuff” folder for her, which includes a copy of my passport, my itinerary and information about how to get in touch with me at the Hermitage if there’s an emergency.

* I’ve started thinking about what clothes I’ll need to take: things that will be comfortable for a lot of sitting and walking; that I can do yoga in; that I can hand wash and will dry on a line; boots for walking on trails, socks, and slippers for in-between times;  a rain jacket and things that will layer because it’s summer there, but we’ll be in the mountains (6,000 ft), so it will get cool, even chilly, at night; P.J.s for both hot and cold weather; a robe, since there will surely be shared shower facilities; a shawl for the mediation room; a hat for the sun; etc.

Hmmm. That’s about it. But I’m sure there’ll be more.

Stay tuned.


1 Sep
Posted in: Books, Travel
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Coming Home

I leave Chapel Hill tomorrow morning for a 2-day drive back to St. Louis. If all goes well, I’ll be home late Wednesday night, but I probably won’t be ready to post right away. So check back again sometime after Friday, Sept 5.

In the mean time, I leave you with this list of “sayings, wise saws, and small stones from the Valley,” found in one of the new-to-me books I discovered at the Chapel Hill library: Aways Coming Home, by Ursula LeGuin. (published in 1985)

* Judgement is poverty. 

* When I’m afraid, I listen to the silence of the field mouse. When I’m fearless, I listen to the silence of the mousing cat.

* If you don’t teach machines and horses to do what you want in their way, they’ll teach you to do what they want in your way.

* To go again where you have gone: Increase. To go backwards: Danger. Better to come round.

* Owning is owning, having is hoarding.

* The great hunter: one arrow in his quiver, one thought in his head.

* “Like” and “different” are quickening words, brooding and hatching. “Better” and “worse” are eggsucking words, they leave only the shell.

* Cats may be green somewhere else, but the cats here don’t care.

* Nothing can make water better.


28 Aug
Posted in: Retreats, Travel
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First Burma, Now Africa!

I’m off the wait list and I’ve sent in my deposit, so it’s official: I’m going to Africa! In January I’ll be attending a month-long retreat led by Kittisaro and Thanissara at Dharmagiri Hermitage, a 3-hour bus ride from Durbin, South Africa (which is in the southeast part of the country, on the Indian Ocean coast).

There’s no VISA required, and no need for shots or malaria meds. And there’s a direct flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, so really, this is going to be a lot easier than the trip to Burma. Still pretty exotic, though!

The plan right now is to fly from St. Louis to Atlanta (an hour and a half flight), then onto Johannesburg (15 hours), then spend the night and a day getting un-jetlagged, then fly to Durbin (3 hours), then take the bus to Dharmagiri (3 hours). The retreat starts at 7pm on January 6 and ends at 7am on February 2.

In between, there will be 2 weeks of practice in the Theravada tradition followed by 2 weeks in Mahayana. The first part will be pretty much a regular Spirit Rock-type vipassana retreat, but the second part sounds quite different.

The website says the Mahayana practice will focus on the Bodhisattva Way through the cultivation of the Kuan Yin Dharmas. The Bodhisattva heart balances the “letting go” practices of Theravada with “picking up” a skillful and compassionate relationship to the world. The archetype of compassionate wisdom in Mahayana is the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Khan Yin), the “One Who Regards the Sounds of the World with Ease.”

The two dimension of Kuan Yin Dharma we will practice:
* The cultivation of a “field of blessings”  through the focus of mind using mantra, ceremony and the reality of profound inter-connectedness within the immanence of awareness.
* The “investigation of emptiness,” through the Chan practice of “turning the mind back” onto itself, which is also resonant with the non-dual approach of Zen, Vedanta and Self Inquiry.