pleasure and paradox in paris

At the Musée d’Orsay, pressing my face close to a Monet painting, practically inhaling the brushstrokes, I felt a mixture of profound gratitude and nostalgia. The pale pinks, lavenders, and yellows were indescribably soothing. I wanted to merge with the work. Escape into it.

I was mesmerized by the art of Paris to a degree that surprised even me. I’d studied Art History many moons ago at university, but standing in front of certain works – I could easily touch them, were it not for the ever-present security – left me deeply affected.

Until that point, I’d felt somewhat ambivalent about my impromptu trip to Paris. Though I had the time off work, cash saved in the bank, and a great deal from Air France, I questioned my decision to travel to the City of Lights. Surely there were more responsible things to do with my money.

In my hotel room that first night, I tossed and turned as the jet lag (and in-flight wine, no doubt) sank in. Habitual thoughts about work, relationships, and family pounded in my head. Paris, I thought. Why am I here? What can I learn from you?

Pleasure. Presence. Enjoy life, she answered. Be in your body, not your head. You already know this…but I can help you. In fact, you need me to. That’s why you’re here.

You think you’ve lost your intuition, she continued, but you haven’t. Don’t focus on my image or the tourists or the incessant honking and police sirens, or the camouflaged men with machine guns standing on the corner. There is an essence of me that is much deeper than all these things. Be with it.

I didn't make it to the top, but I had to get the Eiffel shot!

I didn’t make it to the top, but I had to get the Eiffel shot!

I spent a week exploring various neighbourhoods in the city. I walked along the Champs-Élysées and the Seine. Apart from food (and chocolate presents!), my only purchase was a 4-day Museum Pass, which I’d picked up at Charles de Gaulle airport upon my arrival.

Viewing the paintings of Monet, Degas, Manet, Cassatt, Morisot, Seurat, and Renoir (and so many more), I felt deep nostalgia. Nostalgia for the time in my life when I initially studied these works. Nostalgia for historical periods of great art, music, and beauty. Most of all, nostalgia for an era where artists truly sat with their inspirations. Focused and present, devoting hours, days, even years to the execution of their visions.

What must it be like to have that kind of patience? It is hard to imagine. My attention span is much shorter than it used to be, a deterioration I blame on technology. All around me, people flitted about with iPhones, snapping photos and selfies. I tried to take some pics, but they never did the moment justice. And trying to capture that moment would just take me out of it.

Jardin des Tuileries - I couldn't resist including this

Jardin des Tuileries – I couldn’t resist

I wondered what these artists would think of this modern world. Would they be disturbed, fascinated, inspired? Life cannot be as it was in nineteenth-century Paris, of course. And even then, things probably weren’t as idyllic as the dreamy vistas suggest. Still, I long to sit in front of a landscape or sunset, or at a cafe, for hours, just absorbing my surroundings. Not thinking about work or emails or how I should be doing something.

Paris reminded me of India, in that it’s a paradox. The Divine Feminine presence, which surely exists and spoke to me that first night, was accompanied by a rough, almost aggressive energy throughout the city. It was an interesting, and often unsettling, experience.

But visiting Paris was very, very good for my soul. In recent months I’d been feeling some grief for so many lost years where I didn’t trust myself as my own authority, where I sold myself short. This last decade in particular – I don’t know where it went. Paris reminded me to be gentle with myself and look ahead. Not everything in life has to happen at once, and my process won’t look like anyone else’s. Nothing is lost. There is still time.

The art, the red wine, the Autumn sunshine, the walks along the Seine…that’s who I am. Sitting in front of a canvas and feeling where the colours take me…that’s who I am. Doing my best to heal resentments, forgive, and live in divine love…that’s who I am. Willing to learn, be humbled over and over again, and create grand adventures for myself…that’s who I am.

Thank you, Paris, for reminding me who I am.

 

gratitude: 5 things to share

IMG_1030

There are so many wonderful gems on the internet and I would never run out of blog posts if I were to write about all of them. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, it feels right to share just a few things I’m grateful for.

Blog: I have several WordPress faves but wanted to give a special shoutout to Linda at litebeing chronicles. Linda’s posts are deeply insightful, with a good measure of pop culture thrown in. There’s also astrology. 🙂 Linda’s been a big supporter of mine since early in my blogging days, and I’m very appreciative of her friendship, encouragement, and always thoughtful comments. Thank you Linda!

Just after writing this I found out Linda is in the hospital. We are sending you well wishes Linda.

Book: Dancing in the Bamboo Forest. This was written by DJ at djahariahmitra.com. After DJ read some of my earlier posts about India and my inklings to begin yoga teacher training, she generously sent me a copy of her memoir documenting her travels and yoga experiences in India. I resonated deeply with so much of her inner and outer journey. It rekindled my desire to visit Mother India again, hopefully soon…

DJ’s book also inspired me to keep writing. So many of us want to write a book – let’s just do it! Who knows who our words will help. The purpose of creativity is to share.

Youtube: emergegrowprosper. I’ve been following Jenna Forrest’s teachings for about a year now and I’m so thankful for this channel. Jenna shares the (love) awakening process from the point of view of a highly sensitive empath. Her teachings are clear and profoundly healing in their depth and simplicity. For such cosmic and spiritual subject matter, she is very down-to-earth and practical. Jenna doesn’t advertise and she’s not on Facebook; her channel is growing primarily through the strength of her classes and messages.

[2018 update: I no longer follow Jenna’s channel as her message changed significantly in 2017. Read my post https://alohaleya.com/2017/06/24/technology-the-divine-search/ for more on that]

Documentary: The True Cost. Thanks to my friend AM for telling me about this one. This documentary explores the impact of the fashion industry on the environment and the human beings who produce the clothes. It is a game-changer in the way I shop, and the stores I visit. (Whenever a friend  tries to get me to go into H&M, I mention this documentary.) As an Indian woman, the film hit me especially hard as I saw how I’ve been playing into the suppression and violence of my Indian sisters across the globe.

Many of us are already aware of this issue – sweatshops aren’t exactly a secret – but for me it was a major wakeup call.

Website: What can I say, I love The Power Path! I’ve been trying to not overdo it with the spiritual articles and websites, but Jose and Lena Stevens’ moon updates, monthly forecasts, and monthly articles are always inspiring and insightful. They don’t sugarcoat the chaos of the paradigm shift we’re all experiencing (and co-creating), and their shamanic perspective and practical advice helps me navigate this grand adventure on planet earth.

Thank you, Internet! ❤

And of course, I’m grateful for the teachings of Kundalini Yoga. I’m currently immersed in the next module of my teacher training program, now in a different city, with all new people. It is a complete contrast to the intimate, cozy retreat setting I’d become accustomed to. But so far I’m enjoying the shift in perspective, and meeting some amazing yogis. The only constant is change…

goodbye city, hello island

Just two days after returning from London, I moved to a smaller city on an island a few hours away from my hometown. A day after that, I started work at a local university – the same university I attended fifteen years ago. The past couple of weeks have been a surreal trip back in time. I’m remembering places and streets I’d forgotten, and discovering new ones.

August was a complete whirlwind: wrapping up one job and starting another, packing up my old apartment, temporarily staying with friends in my new city, and of course the transformative journey in London. I’ve now found a place of my own to live in October…so I’m going to relax and enjoy the rest of September in a beautiful beachside property owned by a family friend, assimilating all that’s occurred.

morning sunrise

morning sunrise

This move happened very quickly. One day I had the thought of changing cities, and a week later I had a job offer and various places to stay. I had no time to ‘think things over’; all I knew was a screaming yes! from within.

I can’t say for certain why I’m here. Merely weeks before my UK trip, I’d moved into a new apartment in my hometown. For the first time in a very long time, I felt like I’d found somewhere I could breathe, relax, put down some roots – or at least hang some art on the walls! I’d finally found the sanctuary I’d long yearned for.

And yet, something wasn’t quite right.

I was done with the city. I was tired of the noise, stimulation, sirens, the daily grind. I told myself the outer noise was reflecting my inner noise. But I couldn’t get ahead of it to quiet it down.

I believe that wherever you go, there you are – no matter how far we travel, we can’t escape ourselves – but sometimes a change of scenery is exactly what’s needed for a reset. To cultivate new habits. To shake up the system and connect more easily with one’s inner truth.

Here, on the Island that’s my home for an unbeknownst period of time, things aren’t quite so convenient as in the big city. I haven’t had immediate access to all I ‘need’. (What?? You don’t have wifi here?!) It’s been an adjustment, and annoying at times, but I have to laugh. It’s exactly what I asked for.

my new commute

my new commute

I enjoy being in motion. Whether I’m on a long walk or a ferry, plane, or train, I love travelling to new places. It’s often where I feel most connected to Source – where I receive my insights and downloads. Being in new neighbourhoods, discovering new terrain, excites me.

Nevertheless, as I lay in bed last week, I doubted this very fast turn of events. Was I running away? Did I give up a good gig in my old city? Did I make the wrong decision? I woke up to a voice asking me: What would make this decision worth it? And I realized that wherever I am is the perfect place to be. Because, ultimately, I’m not looking for the ‘right’ job or city or house – even if I think I am.

I’m looking to strengthen my relationship with spirit, with myself – to go within, to find the love within and without, to meditate, to practice yoga, to be more in nature and discover the peace that is my true nature. Those things aren’t necessarily contingent upon external circumstances. But I’m grateful for the Island air reverberating in my cells. And its gorgeous trees, water, and slower pace of life. The elements are supporting new habits and ways of being.

I’ve heard, and I sense, that September is a very potent month. What we do with all the delicious, available energy is up to us. I’m choosing to not squander it on fear.

meditating on bali

Bali has been on my mind for months. I find myself fantasizing about lush green landscapes, tropical flowers and fruits, Hindu deities everywhere, yoga classes galore. Sitting lotus-style in rice paddy fields, communing with the divine, a calm, serene expression on my face…

Lotus_yellow_flower

My reverie was somewhat disrupted a few days ago when my dear friend Alexandra, a gifted empath and psychic, randomly asked me: “Aleya, why do you hate meditation?” This question had come to her from my spirit guides, during one of our many powerful conversations on life, consciousness, and the Divine Feminine. Alexandra is tuned in like no other, and I laughed and laughed at my guides’ bluntness. Busted!

Do I hate meditation? I know it’s something I generally avoid doing. My monkey mind seems completely untameable and, living right in the city, I feel constantly on edge. Neighbour noise, sirens wailing, cars honking…I’m always waiting for the next sound. Tension feels normal to me.

All the more reason to meditate. I get that. It’s not about waiting for external conditions to be perfect, but finding the inner quiet in any situation.

Isn’t it funny how we shun what we most need? The thing that’s right in front of us, so simple and obvious? The thing that would change our life?

Bali represents peace, quiet, tranquility…a state I’m longing for within. I know I don’t need to travel across the globe to discover that state; I could catch a glimpse of it right where I am, spending even just five minutes a day in stillness. And, as I often remind myself, wherever you go, there you are. Bali may soothe my churning mind for a while, but it’s not a panacea.

That said…what’s stopping me from taking a month away and recharging my batteries in a completely different environment? I don’t have a family or 9-5 job depending on me. Okay, I don’t have any money either, but I could probably figure something out. Sublet my apartment. Get a couple more contract gigs so I can work remotely if needed. Sell a bunch of stuff I’m ready to get rid of.

Lotus_flowers

How do we distinguish running away from running towards? When are we escaping, and when are we being called to a new experience? Alexandra says it’s a both/and. We can be fully aware that we’re resisting our current circumstances (our experience of which is determined by our inner state), and create something new at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive. Wherever we are, self-awareness is key. Creating consciously, not through default programming and expired beliefs.

Bali also represents healing for me. I want to lay upon her earth and absorb her Divine Mother energy into every one of my cells. Recent health issues have served as a wakeup call for me, compelling me to examine how some of my darker beliefs may be playing out in my physical body. None of it is wrong. I’ve done this work before, but it’s being taken to a deeper level. The answers, I know, cannot be found solely on the material plane.

Which circles me back to meditation. Running towards myself. Whether or not I will be on Bali anytime soon remains to be seen. But I am feeling her. I am breathing her in.

neuroses of a north american diner

I recently found the following in my WordPress drafts folder; I wrote it during my first week in Italy last summer, but for some reason didn’t publish it.

With all the activity and transition of late, I’ve been really missing Italy…but reading this post makes me look forward to the day I will visit again. And I remember what I had promised myself back then: instead of focusing on the ‘negatives’ of my own city, I would bring home those aspects of Italy that I loved most.

Fortunately, I still know how to linger over a good glass of wine. 😉

breakfast of champions!

breakfast of champions!

[August 2013]

I’ve only been here a few days and already I can tell that dining solo in Italy is going to be one eye-opening experience. I knew this before I arrived; in fact it was one of the things I was most nervous about. Am I going to be the only single gal amongst tables full of amorous couples? How do I order food in Italy? How much do I tip? Do they even serve dinner at 6pm?

In Eat Pray Love, Liz Gilbert writes of a leisurely lunch during one of her many long walks in Rome: “I eat my lunch in a quiet trattoria here, and I linger over my food and wine for many hours because nobody in Trastevere [Rome] is ever going to stop you from lingering over your meal if that’s what you would like to do” (chapter 25).

I’m so glad I’m re-reading this book as I travel, as many of Liz’s insights resonate with my own experience. Back home, when I dine solo (or even with people), I’m usually aware that others might be waiting for my table. Though I’m a slow eater, I often feel I’m on a time limit. Lingering is generally not encouraged in North American establishments!

This morning, my ‘do not dawdle’ conditioning revealed itself. I was at my favourite cafe in Villasimius [Sardinia], having just finished my now-standard breakfast of a cornetto di chocolat and cappuccino. As I ordered some water, tables began to quickly fill around me. One man stood at the cafe entrance, looking for a free spot. I felt a mild sense of anxiety that I must hurry up and leave, as I was clearly finished.

Another man then asked if he could take one of my extra seats. He seemed extremely apologetic for interrupting me, which I thought was sweet. I then saw the first guy’s grandchildren (I presume) rush up to him, and they all walked away together. Turns out he had just been chilling, waiting for his famiglia.

It was then that I started to relax. Maybe no one was impatient and waiting. Maybe it didn’t even cross their minds to rush someone while they were still dining. Maybe the servers take a while in asking me what I want next, or bringing me my bill, because I’m supposed to savour every minute of the experience.

I’m not in ‘hurry-up’ culture anymore.

snacks in sardinia

snacks in sardinia

Later, at a bar having a glass of wine (or two) as I wait to catch a bus back to my villa, the server brings me dishes of peanuts, pretzels, courgettes, and yummy potato crisps. I look at all the food in front of me and again a mild neurosis arises: all this, for just me? I didn’t ask for it. Should I eat it all, or is that inelegant? If I don’t eat enough, is that rude?

Fortunately, it doesn’t take me long to realize that it doesn’t matter to them what I do with it.

I relax (again), put my book away, and stare off into space for a while. Because you know, that’s what they do here.

I love this place.

the burning loneliness

In Reveal, Meggan Watterson writes of her spiritual pilgrimage to France, where she discovered that, without a partner/lover travelling by her side, she was challenged to maintain her own self-worth: 

I found myself on a treacherous see-saw, vacillating between the extremes of feeling free and entirely independent – like Salma Hayek in the movie Frida, when she cuts her hair and becomes her own after her husband has betrayed her – to feeling totally alone and ineffectual, my life devoid of purpose and meaning.

While my experience was not so intense, I resonate with Watterson’s words.

misty fireball

There were times in Italy when I was just so cool with my aloneness. I loved being on the trains, listening to music and watching the landscape pass me by. These were some of my favourite moments. I loved doing whatever I wanted each day, even if it meant doing nothing. I loved getting up early and walking for hours with no real destination, which might have been harder with a travel partner. Sitting at a cafe and just observing my surroundings was a favourite pastime. This is when I often met people; in that open, receptive state, content in being one with everything around me.

But at times it was incredibly challenging to be alone. That is, it was lonely. As in, I’m in Italy and there’s all this beauty around me and yes, I’m grateful, but man, what is the point of it all, if there is no one around to share it with? I remember walking amongst the intense crowds in Venice and thinking, How can I possibly feel alone right now, with all these people here, all of us enjoying this beautiful place together? And while I felt that to some degree, I was also fooling myself. Venice was hard.

lonely venice

At times, I was so sick of my own company. Of entertaining myself, of thinking my own thoughts. I realized there’s a limit to how much of myself I can take.

I thought about those I love, my friends and family back home. I missed them. And, more profoundly, I felt how I shut them out when I am at home. Well, maybe that’s too harsh. Rather, I felt how I don’t really make the effort to spend more time with them, to show them how much I care. Why don’t I do more to maintain those loving, vital connections?  Do I expect/assume that others will do it?

One of my most challenging moments was in a restaurant in Sorrento, on the Amalfi Coast. As I sat down and ordered my meal, the room quickly began filling with people. Groups of people. Families, friends, couples. Maybe it was because I was towards the end of my trip, maybe because I’d made two strong (soul) connections a couple nights before…but I felt my aloneness intensely. Like I was in the middle of a 360, my solo status blatantly on display for all to see. Spotlighted.

I could feel my face and body burning with it; that no matter how cool I attempted to look, people could see right through me. Wondering why this girl was alone, here of all places. Maybe feeling sorry for me, embarrassed for me. I was practically hyperventilating with self-consciousness. Regardless of whether anyone even noticed me that night…I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

a new door

I realized in Italy that I need people. And that I want to need people. Be dependent on them.  Be softer and more vulnerable.

I think I have overrated my independence. I’m glad that I can be happy in my own company…but I can see now how I’ve gotten too comfortable with it. As more and more friends find partners and start families of their own, I see that years can go by in flash. I haven’t known for sure if I want marriage and/or children, but I recognize I could be on the trajectory of not allowing them at all. And that’s a big wake-up call.

Now that I’m home, whether or not I invest more energy in creating/sustaining my relationships is totally up to me. It means questioning: what is truly liking my own company, and what is not being comfortable in – avoiding – the presence of others? Is there a fear of rejection in ‘putting myself out there’? Have my ‘introvert’ and ‘high sensitivity’ labels merely become (un)comfortable excuses to avoid deeper interactions? Does being ‘reserved’ make me feel somehow powerful, untouchable?

***

Or maybe it means not questioning any of it anymore. Maybe the whole point is that it is not so complicated at all. Love is not complicated. It’s the ego that wants to make everything an issue, a puzzle, a problem to be fixed.

I think the Italians would recommend that I stop thinking about it, and live.  Right.  Okay.

Grazie Mille, Italy.

Images courtesy of Vaughan Lewis.

six weeks off spirituality

About a week after I returned from my travels in Europe, a friend asked me whether I did any yoga in Italy. I shook my head and gave him a little smile. My response: “I didn’t want to be spiritual on this trip.”

It’s kind of humorous really: what does that even mean? Is spirituality a quality we can just turn on and off? Clearly, in this interaction with my friend, I was defining it in terms of my actions (or lack thereof). No, I didn’t do any yoga. I didn’t even think about it. I didn’t meditate or listen to Abraham-Hicks or do any of those other things I consider ‘spiritual activities’ at home. I drank wine and coffee and ate all the unhealthy things I avoid in my day-to-day life, and I partied until the wee hours with my favourite Italians of the trip, G and V, whom I met on the full harvest moon in Naples. (I just had to mention them here.)

In short, I didn’t restrict myself the way I usually do.

an awesome photo taken by Vaughan Lewis, a fellow traveller i met in Bologna.

an awesome photo taken by Vaughan Lewis, a fellow traveller i met in Bologna.

I’m reminded of one of the most challenging moments of my journey. I was in my tiny hotel room in Florence. Being so far away from my life back home, feeling so free to do whatever I wanted, feeling so overwhelmed by the adventure so far, and feeling so much wonder and gratitude and yes, frustration at times…everything seemed to come to a head. After a particularly unsetting experience that served as a personal wake-up call of sorts, that night I felt incredibly alone, powerless, and in fear.

I realized that for years – my whole life – I’ve been playing various roles, and most of them aren’t ‘me’. I hear the voices of religion, culture, family, friends, books, spiritual teachers…but where is mine in this cacophony? Would I even recognize it if I heard it? I’ve flown around much of the time, literally and figuratively, without a real grounding or knowing of who ‘I’ am…let alone being strong and confident in that knowing.

Not hearing my own voice has prevented me from having a really open and authentic relationship with God (Source, Universe, Love…I call it by many names). God has been ‘someone’ I’ve had to convince, impress, seek favour and approval and permission from. And that night, I felt the intense anger – and pain – surrounding that. I felt the heavy toll that pretending and judging (myself) has taken on me. I have not been living freely and authentically.

I see now that what subsequently took place was probably the most honest and real conversation with God that I’ve ever had. I thought I disliked Florence, but maybe the city’s deep beauty and religiosity and emotion and history stirred something completely unexpected within me that was just waiting for release.

another great shot by Vaughan.

another great shot by Vaughan.

I’m getting that my notions of spirituality have been limited, and limiting, for me. I’ve been applying the rules, doctrines, and opinions of others to how I perceive myself, and judging myself for falling short of those standards.

And now I ask: Why have I kept ‘spirituality’ and ‘pleasure’ in such distinct, mutually exclusive categories? Even though in theory I’ve believed they can be intertwined, I’ve never fully allowed it in my own life. There’s always been some sense of guilt or wrongness there. That is, until this trip, when I allowed myself to just be ‘Aleya’ the person and not the spirit. Enjoying doing everything she wanted to do, not obsessing about her higher self or past lives or karma or what-if’s or ‘what would they think’, etc.

To take a break from those intentionally spiritual acts I’ve been so accustomed to (either through practice or in telling myself I ‘should’ do more of them) was, somewhat ironically, what my spirit had been calling for. To bring me back to balance, to help me examine what truly works for me. It was a reset.

Will I get back into yoga and resume all those other activities that took a hiatus in Italy? Yes. But I think everything will feel lighter and more fun. Spirituality won’t be so serious. I’m intrigued that my life may take a direction where spirituality and pleasure are more meshed, in a way that is most meaningful and perfect for me.

***

I am giving myself permission to create my own relationship with God. One where we’re more equal partners. Perhaps even friends. Maybe that night in Florence was the game changer.

I hope to hang on to this feeling as long as possible. I like to think that on a deep, unshakeable level, it can never escape me.