The Bali Glow, The Bay Hustle, and The Feminine Mystique

I just landed back in California after spending two months in Bali, Indonesia. Before the Bali Glow fades back into the Bay Hustle… I want to share a collection of experiences, musings, and evolutions from my time in Bali…

Yet so much of what I would share is hard to put into words. Sometimes so subtle it’s not even speakable, still living inside the mystery, yet to emerge. As if we have to venture into the cave to even hear the music, and when we return, we only remember the resonance… in attempting to describe this mystery, there is a danger of sounding like a riddle, wrapped in a cliché, and whispered into a conch shell, echoing an ocean I’ve never swum in. The danger of bad poetry. The danger of North Dakota beatboxing. The danger of putting into words what would be better expressed in a throaty sigh or a caress or a laugh as I toss my head back, not knowing you’re there, but you just happen to catch a self-reflexive chortle as I find my way to the pool for a morning dip.

I should back up. I’m a comedian. (I was in Bali to lead a storytelling workshop and work on my TV pilot and do a little standup.) And I’m sort of a speed freak. As in, I’m habituated to going fast, staying up late, monkey mind multitasking. I leaned from the best. My country, my city, my family. We can do six things at a time; we can think, worry, strategize, solve, and plan with brilliant intellect. In many ways, it’s gotten me where I am today. But it just seems like it’s not going to take me too much further. I think it’s mostly cultural habit, but also, someone once told me I’ve been a man more often than I’ve been a woman in my past lives. If there is reincarnation, I think probably that’s true.

So I had been a number of times to India to do some deep spiritual dives. For the adventure of seeking out new peoples and meditating with them. To burn karma in the fires of Arunachala, to dissolve identity in the pyres on the ghats, to ride trains and buses and tuk tuks into the night and come out alive in the morning. There was always a moment in India where I got overwhelmed by the penetrating presence of, let’s say, Shiva, and I would just, well, find that there’s a lot more Kali in me than I knew. That’s another story all together.

So in the past few years, I’ve been exploring the feminine riddle. What is this thing so many of us women are pretending to be, with our hair extensions and our eyelash medication and our practiced high heel catwalk? What the watery f*** is it? What am I? I don’t know! I wonder if the feminine is about being the question of the mystery itself? The mystical watery womb, grounded in sensorial intuition. What better place to experience that than an island? This entire island is a celebration of the feminine, with its coconuts and its temples and even its weaving traffic.

In particular, Ubud is a magical place. On a planet focused daily on better faster stronger higher more, Ubud is an oasis of nourishment, swinging slower deeper earthier wider gentler lovelier than most other places I’ve been, honoring and welcoming all of my parts. As if it’s a vortex, rotated energetically just a few degrees from the rest of the world. From the 6 am raves at the new vegan joint, where you can order a drink called “cacao ceremony” to the liquid contact — a contact improv dance jam in a swimming pool (filled with water), to the myriad of massage possibilities from sunrise to sundown, Ubud is a like a viscous fluid that can enter through the membrane of your being to nourish your body and soul.

And this nourishment comes in the form of presence. Slooooowwwwwing doooooowwwwwnnnn is a radical act of rebellion in this era. Stretching out the moment. Stretching out the awareness. Stretching out our capacity for sensation. Slow food. Slow touch. Slow sex. Slow breath. Slow talk. Slow scooters even. Speeding DOWN to the pace of experience. Tapping in even more to wisdom of the body, waking up when the roosters crow at dawn. And in fact, slow is not unfunny. Some of the greatest pregnant pauses have yielded the biggest belly laughs I’ve seen.

Nourishment comes in many forms, and some of it comes in the wealth gap waltz we do as post-colonial digital nomads. Sociopolitically and economically it’s complicated, but I still find it valuable and beautiful that you can get an amazing massage, go to yoga, go to the spa, and drink fresh organic green juice all in one day (not that I did) for less than the price of a fancy meal in the US. In fact, things seem to be cheap enough here that I start to think, “I could totally afford to have a baby here. Maybe that’s what I’ll do.” But money is another story too.

I want to get back to the land, and its people. And what they make possible. I’m pretty sure I’ve got the history right here… When the Mughals invaded India, around a thousand years ago, the king of India and the royal court fled. They landed in Bali, and set up shop for several hundred years, spreading to this far-away land into a Hindu culture, which mixed with their local spirituality to create a heady mix of devotion and magic. It also set a precedent to pay artists to make art for a living, so they have a thousand years of professional musicians, dancers, fabric painters, basket weavers, wood carvers, kechak monkey chanters, and more. What’s not to love about that? And of course the yoga that’s so popular in Bali now wasn’t imported til recently, but I think it fits quite well with the Hindu influences from so long ago.

But so also the Balinese people spend a significant portion of their day — and their income — making temple offerings of flowers, incense, rice, candy… all with blessings, and too there’s singing, dancing, playing the gamelan in the temple. They have one holy day to bless the metal! The cars and motorbikes on that day are blessed with offerings too. There are festivals every week or two for their local temple or a god and of course there’s the day of silence on the new year — Nyepi — during which the entire island turns off the internet. All of this makes for a very alive, very intentional approach to life, that sets the stage for the harmony, simplicity, and joy, and *constant synchronicity* for awakening and growth, often intense, but almost always shepherded along with someone’s open arms to hold you through the pangs. A gentle path.

And as the stage is set, more players arrive. The yogis, the tantrikas, the nomads, the bliss bunnies, the empty nesters, and of course the tourists. But most importantly, the devas. Ubud’s feminine soul attracts a very particular kind of woman, who, once arrived, becomes even more so. She is deep, she is gorgeous, she is youthful, no matter what age she is. She radiates sensuality and joy. She feels everything, and she lets it move through her. She takes exquisite care of herself, inside and out. She is a mistress of self-care and self-love. She moves, she stretches, she breathes, she loves. And, on an off-day, she compares.

See, there are so many other brightly lit-from-within devas, and also so few dudes (they’re all surfing in Canggu) that it can sometimes feel a little top-heavy… a little… overflowing with one side of the polarity. It would be surprising if a gal didn’t once in a while start to wonder if there would be enough men to go around. But wait wait, back to that pleasure and abundance. It’s fine. It’s great. There’s so much to go around. I’m in my body. I’m enjoying. I’m overflowing. Wait, allow everything. Accept everything. Welcome everything. Let it wash over you. Don’t be an ad for a juicy woman, just enjoy your own juice. Come froth inside out, not the outside in. Hey, that’s a nice feather jacket. God she’s gorgeous. Is that Botox? Is she seriously that frigging happy and relaxed? I think I need one of those feather jackets. I mean, if it’s in flow. What’s your flow? God, I love that Aussie accent he’s got goin’ on there. Oh, hey, I’m on my way to Ecstatic, you want me to order you a wheatgrass? Ok, I digress…

The feminine. The full range of feminine, from the softness inside men, to the incisive power of Kali, the feminine — my feminine — unfurls most easily when I feel safe. And I can’t think of many places on earth I’ve felt safer as a woman. I know bad things can happen anywhere to anyone, but the visceral experience of not fearing the world and not fearing men and not being on guard, plus the heat which caused me to wear lighter, flowier clothes, dresses almost every day, gave me this sense of joy and freedom that is hard to put a price on. Priceless, but worth so much. And in some way, there was a shedding of the shame of having a body, having a female body, having a female body that experiences pleasure. That shame so pervasive in the US that we don’t even realize how deeply it’s embedded.

There’s another kind of freedom. Riding a scooter I have to pay full attention, because I don’t know what I’m doing. And I’m doing it on the left side of the road. I’m praying constantly in my life anyway, but especially when I get on the scooter and while I ride, I make prayers, I chant, I surround myself with protection, light, grounding. Which handle is for the gas? Which handle is for the break? You have to turn your turn signal off after you turn, because it doesn’t go off automatically. There are almost no traffic lights new good so you pretty much decide when it seems good to stop, go, turn etc. And the bike is pretty heavy. You don’t want a scooter to fall over or veer off of some aqueduct 20 feet below into the rice fields. Just staying on the thing and balanced and managing to make a turn is a feat I celebrate. A feat of freedom. People are riding with you, riding up from behind you, turning in front of you. But no one gets pissed if you do something wrong, or you’re slow, but you could still die. All of that is to say it’s an experience of paying full attention, especially when learning. Also, scooters don’t have radios. So you’re not listening to music or NPR. You’re just there. With the other humans, and the dogs, and the scooters, and the cars. I only ride with my helmet off once. And it’s glorious. Like unprotected sex. So bad, but so gooooooooood. I digress again.

So many moments nourished my soul there, and I have so many dear people and pets and plants to thank (like flowers and vegetables, I mean) for the ways I was nourished. I’m growing in my understanding of the feminine mystery (ha, the irony!)

And it would be an error to not acknowledge in particular, the sacred sisterhood of my dear friend Robyn, whose priestess-ing is ministered through pleasure and care, whose skills and powers, seen and unseen, of caring, grounding, standing in and for the feminine, while deeply cherishing the masculine, in her (sometimes) quiet way witnesses and celebrates eros, from the inside out (not the outside in), without whom my experience of Bali (and your experience of this missive) would not have been as lovely or real.

There’s so much more I could share about… the writing time with Matthew, the stream of awakening men, the water temples of purification, the foot massages, the exquisite food, the amazing yoga clothes I bought, the temple parties, the smell of burning rice fields, the bathrooms with koi ponds, the mosquitos, the constant synchronicity, and also the shady underbelly of a paradise overrun with tourists and trash, and finally plenty of my own tsurus, which I won’t go into here…

And of course it was hard to come back to the states, but wherever you go, there you are, and it came time for there’s here to become here’s there again. And here I am, back in Oakland, landing, breathing, and feeling. And hopefully joking too, just to keep it interesting.

Lost Passport in Bali, Blow-By-Blow

I cry a few times at the airport checkout counter after learning, I absolutely can’t fly out of Indonesia without the passport. The woman says it’s ok, and soon I will be strong again soon. Ha.

It’s embarrassing to cry in public, but people are so polite here, no one indicates they even notice. My poor porter walking alongside me while I bawl, wheeling my bags… LET’S REWIND…

6:50 am Alarm goes off on my phone, playing Cat Stevens (Ready to Love, Yeah!). Shower and eat the rest of last night’s vegan tiramisu from Seeds of Life. Skype with my client on her big presentation for an hour.

8:21 am Luxuriate in my last moments of Bali’s rice expansive fields, listen to the coy make bubbles in the pond, and just enjoy life.

9:33 am Say da da (goodbye in Balinese) to ‘Yan and ‘Tut (our helper ladies) Emma (dog) and finish packing the pile of 4-way stretch braided yoga tops I bought.

10:10 am Gede, the driver (who has a crush on me) helps cart my giant suitcase downstairs and loads all my luggage into his car.

10:13 am Ride my scooter into town, with Gede following, buy those adorable Havainas I’ve been eyeing (flip flops), get a cheese quiche from Bali Buda, get more moolah at the ATM. (Awesome Tree of Money)

10:28 am Just as I’m riding up to the scooter rental place, the woman is riding off with three daughters on her bike. She spots me, turns around, and I’m able to return the scooter!

10:32 am My phone isn’t working, so I can’t contact and find Gede, my stuff, etc. Somehow manage to find him on the street.

11:09 am Finally communicate to Gede I need to find WiFi cafe on Hanuman so I can contact Oystein, the friend I’m meeting at the beach. Gede is video chatting and driving sloooooooooowly, shooting his camera at me – to show his video buddy who he’s with. Feel objectified (and a little flattered.)

12:43 pm Wade through traffic, finally arrive at Kuta beach, with about 30 minutes of actual beach time possible before turning back around to the airport. Gede insists on driving a 15-minute walk past my meeting point at the beach, walking to the beach with me, and taking pics of me in the bikini. I get 10 minutes with Oystein before he leaves for the airport. Drink half a Bintang sitting in the waves, walk back with Gede.

2:23 pm Freak out at how late we are for my 4:15 flight. I realize I don’t know where my passport is exactly. I climb in the back seat and tear my suitcase apart. My computer case too. No luck. I climb in the very back, sit on the floor of the trunk, and rip apart my big suitcase. Nada.

2:43 pm Arrive at DPS International.

2:44 pm Cry.

2:55 pm Ticketing sends me to EVA customer service on the second floor. No carts allowed on the elevator, and the escalator is broken, so we walk back and forth across the airport til we finally ditch the cart and make it downstairs.

EVA customer service says it’s $400 extra to fly out tomorrow, $200 to fly Saturday. They kindly offered me tissues and water when I cried again.

3:15 pm I text Robyn the news, and she is ON IT, searching for my passport at home, doing consulate research, and reminding me to breathe and seriously chill, “Guess Mama Bali doesn’t want you to leave yet!” Robyn turns the house upside down and doesn’t find the passport. I can just see it in my head – it’s in a thin black fanny pack.

I pull all my stuff out of my suitcase to look for the passport again. The zipper breaks more. I punch myself in the face trying to pull things out of the suitcase which were now stuck halfway in and halfway out.

3:40 pm EVA kindly calls the US Embassy which closes soon – turns out, if you want a replacement in Denpasar Bali it takes NINE DAYS to process!

Possible though, if I fly to Surabaya. (Where? Oh, Java. Where do I know that name? Oh, the terrorist bombings last week in Indonesia.) I can get it same day. (My next workshop starts in 4 days in Oakland, so I have to get back.)

3:49 pm I realize my porter has been sitting in the EVA office for half an hour while I cry and text Robyn, so I pay him and let him go.

4:02 pm The helpful ladies at EVA tell me to go to the police station in the domestic terminal, and remind me it’s closing soon. I wheel my own luggage past the cars awkwardly along the road and found the police station, file the report. Commanding officer asks if I’m a teacher, because I enunciate well. I say yes, which I then have to put on the form as my occupation so I’m not lying. I use the men’s toilet because there are no women’s toilets in the police station.

4:34 pm I go to the SIM card phone store and find out the reason my phone stopped working this morning is because after 2 months you have to register the phone number with your *passport*. Ha! I keep asking and finally the Telkomsel guy tells me to buy a SIM card from the other phone company.

4:44 pm I buy a new SIM card and yay! My phone is working!! Called and emailed the US embassy. Robyn helps more.

4:55 pm I get a decaf iced latte at Starbucks with whipped cream, sit, and research the US embassy.

5:03 pm You need 5 passport photos (no glasses, white background), the police report, ID, several documents, and an appointment, to get a replacement. $145 US. Robyn wonders if they’re closed for Ramadan, and if I just book a flight to Surabaya show up on the doorsteps with no appointment, will I even get in?? It does seem risky. They’re already closed for the day. If I don’t get in tomorrow, they’re closed all weekend and I have to wait til Monday.

5:22 pm I find the number to call but it’s wrong, and after a lot of help from the guy who holds the door for people coming in and out of Starbucks I get a human. Human transfers me to the consulate. Yay! But it’s a dead line. I call again, and he says he’ll speak to the consulate and ask on my behalf, but then he hangs up on me. But he does tell me they’re open tomorrow! Yay!

5:25 pm Meanwhile the email I sent them goes through, and yay I have an appointment in the morning at the US Consulate!

5:26 pm I feel a creeping sense of schmaltzy, effusive patriotism rising in my fourth chakra.

5:55 pm I drag my giant luggage(s) with my new white hipster yogi hoodie hanging out (broken zipper) to the Garuda ticket counter and buy a ticket for a couple hours from now to Surabaya. God is great, and also Visa is pretty cool.

8 million guys keep asking if I need a taxi. Where are you going? To the airport! I say. Taxi? No, thank you! Unless you want to drive me 10 meters! They laugh.

6:11 pm I get to the luggage storage place. Yay! I don’t have to drag all the braided tribal yoga pants I bought to Java! It says ‘no live animals allowed’ in luggage storage. I say, I have 5 cats and 3 dogs I want to store overnight. It takes the guy a while, even though I’m over-enunciating. He finally gets it and laughs. A moment of joy! I sort through my luggage and pack even less in a smaller backpack, and I feel like George Carlin in his Stuff routine, keeping piles of shit all over the world. I store the laptop too.

6:22 pm I go into the airport. I have to get a boarding pass even though I just got a ticket at the counter. Robyn says take the laptop. The guy doesn’t let me walk back outside 20 feet away to go get the laptop, I have to go all the way around to exit. Taxi? Taxi? No taxi, only going to airport.

6:55 pm Go through security, pass perfumes at duty free stores, find the gate, chat with off-duty pilots from Italy and France about… Trump. I just need a little European contact. Board the plane. Lots of empty seats, but there’s a guy next to me. Boo. I move to be in my own row, but the airline guy says I can’t sit in that seat. I move to a different row and he doesn’t stop me. Yay!

7:35 pm The engine is strangely loud. Boo. Flight attendant says it’s normal. Yay! We get Ramadan snacks on board. Yay! It’s a dinner roll and a bottle of water. Boo.

I had booked a fancy hotel for my overnight layover in Taipei for tonight. Non-refundable. Boo. Robyn puts in a request for a refund – so sweet of her. Yay!

8:14 pm I land in Surabaya, and put on yoga pants under my dress and a sweatshirt to cover my bare skin after an hour at the beach. It’s different in Java.

8:21 pm The taxi driver smiles and laughs when I ask him if he knows the address of my hotel! Hahaha. I’m popping Rescue Remedy like it’s Valium.

8:49 pm A rainbow striped hat falls off a baby on a scooter. Another scooter driver rides alongside them, motioning to the head, but it fell away long ago. (Sidenote: a rainbow appeared at SFO when I flew to Bali.)

9:05 pm Book the hotel online while in the taxi. Arrive at Novotel. They sweep under our car for security. (Yay!) of course they want to see my passport… I catch the dessert train just before it pulls out of the station. I’m printing official documents for the US Consulate. Prayers from the mosque filter in through the glass doors of the hotel. They tell me here the photo place will probably open late because it’s Ramadan… The hotel staff here are all fasting during the day, and we joke about me getting up at 3 am to eat with them, before they have to start fasting at 4 am. I say we have this in the States too – it’s called intermittent fasting. Anyway, please let me have a long hot shower. I don’t want to conserve water tonight. I’m sorry. I do on all the other days.

10:24 pm I ride back up to the 17th floor to fill out passport paperwork and plug in my phone. I open my computer case, which I’ve already searched six times today… and… (see the video below).

11:11 pm I head down from the 17th floor to give a donation for the “give a kid a tree” charity, in honor of the good fortune, and to share the good news with my new friends at the concierge desk.

Post script… had Robyn not told me to go (back) and get the laptop from luggage storage in Denpasar, I would still be heading to the consulate in the morning!

Remembering Robin Williams

Robin Williams on stageBy now, you have probably heard the sad news. Robin Williams died. When I heard, I felt numb. In fact, I still do. My first response when I heard about Robin was, “We need to take better care of our comedians.” But my second response was, “Comedians are canaries (in the coal mine). We need to take better care of our world.”

As a kid, I had this video tape of the first HBO Comic Relief telethon, which he was in. I would play this tape over and over and over. It was a 3-hour cavalcade of comics, fundraising for the homeless. Whoopi, Robin, and Billy were the hosts, and they did these great sketches in between standup sets. I was about seven years old at the time, so most of the jokes went over my head. But it sparked this thing in me, “You can be funny. And you can help people. Both at the same time. Like, for a job.”

We used to visit my grandma in California, and I heard that Robin lived near where we visited. One night, nine year old me had this dream I was meeting him. Little did I know I’d actually become a comedian one day.

At age ten, when Good Morning Vietnam came out, it was my favorite movie of all time. Of course, when Mannequin came out, that also became my favorite movie of all time. What do ya want? I was ten.

In the late 90’s when I actually started doing standup, Robin was working on a new show and would pop by surprise to do some stage time. So many of my fellow comedians saw him and interacted with him, but I would somehow always walk in half an hour after he left.

I did finally get to see him perform live at the Throckmorton theatre in Marin one night with a friend. We sat up real close, craning our necks up at Robin, laughing and smiling. Close enough we could almost feel the brush of his arm hair and the drip of sweat from his brow.And then one day a few years ago, I was driving in Sea Cliff, San Francisco, and my friend said that he lived near there. Suddenly, there he was, walking by. Suddenly, I found myself waving and smiling. Suddenly, he found himself waving and smiling. Suddenly, I saw that he realized he didn’t know me. Oh well.

The morning he died, I woke up feeling depressed. I was talking with a friend and realized I was feeling sad about the world. Sad about all the kinds of life on earth that have evolved over millions of years that are getting decimated by the destruction of the rainforests… I had a good cry about it. The depression I felt was like this stuck emotion that wanted to be seen and felt and spoken. And I did. And then I heard about Robin.

A man who lived his life FULL OUT, to the best of his ability. And it’s hitting us for so many reasons, but especially because somehow, “We feel like he was ours.”

Meeting Tim Ferriss circa 2006

Tim Ferriss 4-Hour WorkweekOne morning ten years ago I woke up at 4:30 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. I had the fire in me.

The week before I had done a shamanic medicine journey and my life was changing. But I didn’t know exactly how. The sun wasn’t up yet. Somehow, searching the internet, I found a recording from the SXSW festival with this guy talking about his totally ridiculously incredible life, created from scratch. He said all you need to do to create your own f-ing incredible lifestyle is just determine what you want to do, to be and to have. Here’s what I wrote I wanted ten years ago in 2006:

Do: perform standup, travel, have a family
Be: comedian/visionary/inspirationalist
Have: time, love, god, peace

This guy said that to have this kind of ridiculously amazing life, you have to focus solely on what are good at and amass resources to help you do the rest. All I wanted was to be an amazing comedian. But it felt like my jokes weren’t “good enough” to make that my life’s work. I struggled for years as a lone wolf in the standup world, isolating myself. Maybe I was shy. Maybe I was bitter because I wasn’t succeeding like I’d hoped. I knew most comedians spend all their time with other comedians, marinating in one anothers’ comedic juices (ah, yeah. yum.) and somehow that morning, it hit me that I didn’t have to be alone in my creative work; I could join forces with other funny people and make my jokes as “good” as I knew they could be. Suddenly something shifted. I don’t have to be alone.

And the shamanic medicine journey work tipped this realization into another realm entirely: that whether the jokes were “good enough” was a moot question all together. All they needed to be was true enough. Me enough. Real enough. The sun started to rise and I felt rich beyond belief. Nothing was in the way any more of me having my dream of becoming a powerful, and hilarious comedian whose humor lightened people’s dark parts.

Thanks to that guy, Tim Ferris, author of The Four Hour Work Week.

That morning, I looked up his website, and ordered his book. I wanted to email him to thank him, but his website said, “I hate email. Call me instead. Here’s my phone number. I walked up the hill to Red Rock park in San Francisco as the orange sun started to hit the tops of the buildings and left this guy a message of utter gratitude and joy and invited him to tea if he was ever in San Francisco. I didn’t know where he lived. (I’m still embarrassed about the tea part… it was like my inner lesbian coming forth. Who drinks tea? I do. I drink tea.)

And then get this: Tim called me back a few hours later and invited me to his book release party at a club in North Beach that Friday night. We met, he bought me a drink. The only other person who showed up was another woman who seemed to be kind of annoyed with me, maybe because he had bought her a drink too? I had no idea what to say (other than THANK YOU) to this muscle-bound guy with the ridiculously amazing life. So I didn’t say much. Was he socially awkward? Was I boring? Was he? Who knows. After an hour I left.

And then a few months later Tim Ferriss’ book exploded into the stratosphere.

I feel so much gratitude for this meeting, for Tim, and for everyone who takes the lid off limits. Thank you, Tim, for opening my mind and my heart to utter abundance and good fortune. We’re not alone! And we’re rich! Do only what you love!

 

Adventures in Meditation…

ImgresI just drove back from a three-day Vipassana (insight) meditation course. And boy are my arms tired! Oh no, wrong punchline. Hmm. And boy are my observational faculties tired! Doesn't work quite as well. And boy am I sick of spinning my wheels! Ha. 

It was a short course. My first, at age 20, was 10 days, silent. You have to do the 10 days before you can do the 3 days, and when you complete it you realize why it's so frickin' long. It's because it takes 10 days to actually get a toe-hold in learning the practice. 

The first part of the practice is just observing the breath. It's crazy to realize how much you breathe–but it's even crazier to realize how much you think. We're sitting (read: meditating) for 6-10 hours a day (sometimes I was sleep-atating in my bed when I was supposed to be upright) and about every other breath I would catch myself thinking again. And about really dumb stuff.

Many of my thoughts centered around my Amazon sales rank for my eBook and schemes for how to raise it. I'd catch myself and reason the whole thing out. "Why am I thinking about this dumb thing? Again?" I'd remind myself that life is really short. Imagine myself in a car accident or frozen under a layer of ice (it was cold down in North Fork), and think, is that the way I want to spend the rest of my time alive on this precious beautiful earth with the birds and the sun and the moon? And then I'd remember a few more people I could invite to download my book. The mind is a tricky trickster.

By the third day, I was really getting in the grove. Even though you're not supposed to, I would talk to myself to keep coming back to the breath or the sensations. "Good," I would repeat over and over again. Or "Keep coming back," just to return my attention. That seemed to help. A song that was featured in my meditation: One of These Nights by the Eagles. Why? I was not turned on or anything. But now I'm listening to the actual lyrics and it seems pretty interesting. More appropriate for a shamanic medicine journey than a Vipassana sit. Or more acurately, the meaning and interpretation would just be a lot different depending on which thing you were up to.

Also, on Day Two, two wolves appeared as I was walking around the pond. Or were they coyotes? I turned the other way and walked as slowly-quickly as I could. One of them started to follow me. "Don't turn around. Don't seem afraid. He can smell your fear. Make noise to scare him away. No. Just ignore them." My heart started to pound. He was two feet behind me, panting. Panting. I finally arrived at the clearing. I was about to yell out, even though the retreat was silent. He darted in front of me, sniffing around for food or water. It was a stray dog. And clearly, this was animal medicine coming right up to me. A sign. A metaphor. Something meaningful. But I don't know for what.

Actually, I'm looking at pictures of wolves online now, and he really didn't look that different from a wolf. Well then. A very personable wolf. 

Green with Envy or Making Yourself Sick? (Let Go to be Well!)

A newswire article interviewed stress expert Lauren Miller about how jealousy can poison health.

If you know me, you know jealousy has always been my biggest "sin." Oh, God, it's a really juicy hook for me. I'm a 4 on the enneagram–and jealousy a big feature of 4's. (That and being incredibly charming and lovable.) But I read this article and realized it's really killing me in a way. She says it paralyzes productivity and kills creativity. It's true. What do we do about it?

So Miller says that recognizing your own value is the key to untangling ugly stress that stems from envy. She encourages people to list what they are grateful for in their daily lives. Returning to what is good about yourself and your life relieves stress.  As a cancer survivor, Miller believes reducing stress is essential to feeling better and staying well. Studies have linked stress to a stressful string of physical problems. One study demonstrated that elevated job stress leads to an increased risk of heart disease in women. 

I recently took a workshop called Ending Jealousy Permanently, and it really shifted my whole way of being in relation to those emotions and stories. Highly recommend it.

What’s in a Birthday? Notes on turning a thirty-something

Guess what? Today, I turn the ripe old age of 34! I was just starting to get the hang of 33. "The Jesus year."  

Now, it might be hard to believe… but I wasn't always the comedy rock goddess you see before you today. It's hard to admit that some things have been tough for me – except when I'm on stage… then I apparently love to admit it. But we all want to look good, myself included, and to be respected and to make a good impression. But by doing so, we essentially lie. And my job as a comedian has always been to tell the truth. So here it is.

Yes, I've spent a over decade performing comedy, but it was largely unpaid and for give minutes at a time. It was easy to sleep in until 10am every day. Working day jobs that I didn't really feel passionate about. Since I was little, I had always felt like there was something different, something wrong with me, some way I didn't fit in.

I struggled for many years with an eating disorder, with a love and relationship addiction. It was easier to fall in love with men who had some quality that I wanted to possess, rather than actually developing my own self. Continually disappointed that true love was not forthcoming, I'd eat myself into a fog. And it's hard to pursue your life's purpose and make a real living when you're suffering from a love hangover and a food coma. The emotional vicissitudes were so intense–nothing felt stable or lasting or fulfilling, and I never really managed to create the kind of sustainability or impact or sheer good quality work I longed for, and was afraid I could never have. 

Seven years ago, I hit bottom. Not human bottoms. Ok, I did hit human bottoms. But I also hit low points. And I went into recovery for these various addictions. I've now done volumes of spiritual and growth work, from learning swing dance to doing a series of shamanic medicine journeys, to 12-step recovery programs.

And the most amazing thing happened four years ago. I became ready to cut the crap, and get serious about my comedy career. But this time, I had to walk my own path. And I had to let go of all my ideas and concepts about what "real comedians" do… real comedians perform at dark and drunken comedy clubs where you can literally smell the bitterness and competition… "real comedians" aren't spiritual. "Real comedians" eat ramen and live with 6 roommates. Well, my path, it turned out, was to take what I had learned through 10 years of standup and years of acting classes, and start telling the stories of my life in my own way, injecting humor into the pain and healing with laughter. And, often, inspiring others to take themselves less seriously. 

Last Wednesday, I put on my show "Eat, Pray, Laugh!" at my friend Jim's house. It was one of the best shows I've ever done… and one of the most fun. At the end, they brought out a cake and sang happy birthday. What a gift. That night, I realized: I have worked my ass off to to find my own comedic voice, one that is truer to my spirit than ever. Wow, it's okay to be funny AND earnest AND vulnerable! And I found my true audience–not in comedy clubs, but in alternative venues, theaters, yoga studios, and the houses of friends. God, it feels good to speak the truth and make people laugh like this. It's taken over 20 years to figure out how to embody this kind of truth and humor on stage, but it was worth working for.

 And it's amazing to have it pay off. This past Saturday, I played my highest paying gig ever at the Iowa City Yoga Festival, plus all those expenses paid (!! – flight, hotel, etc.) and they brought my boyfriend out to teach a workshop as well. That, and winning awards like "Best Local Comedian", "Best of the Fringe" and "Best Storyteller" confirms that I actually have found my path, and I'm walking it. But what's most exciting is that I know that, even with all the years I've spent working at it, it's just the beginning.

I recently met Julia Butterfly Hill, who has a totally amazing life story and a powerful impact on the world, and she confirmed for me something I'd been thinking. That we don't have to stop being who we are. Those of us who are different, who don't fit in, we are gifted. We are can be sensitive, intense, frustrated, angry, sad, and we sometimes overflow with passion and desire. And we don't have to change who we are–we just have to learn how to focus our energy in the right place. 

This has become a passion of mine to now share with others. I've developed a new coaching technique that allows you to accurately tap into your higher self, your soul’s deepest source of wisdom. and show you how to integrate it into your life – powerfully, compassionately, & effortlessly. I'm currently calling it Higher Self Coaching – which is designed for people who are tired of going to others for answers, and who just want to be able to access the real answers they know are locked somewhere deep inside, and move forward with clarity certainty. Some of my specialties include life purpose, relationships, and recovery. 

 If you're interested learning how to focus your energy in the right place, to find your own path, your own voice, your own gifts, let's chat – we'll set up a "Get Your Own Answers! Session." Email me, or you can schedule a time online here

Finally… I have several projects in the works that I'm excited to share with you soon. For now, enjoy a little feel-good music, on the house. This is a song I recorded, and it's dedicated to you. 

No matter how well we do or don't know each other, you've been an important part of my path. Thank you for joining me on this journey, and I look forward to walking on the road of life with you. 

Sending blessings for a year filled with laughter and light!

Alicia

Laugh Away the Pain? It’s Evolutionary.

Once upon a time, Charlie Chaplin said, "Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain." Last week, The New York Times agreed. The reported on a recent study which found that,"laughing increased pain resistance." In this story, the science of modern times sides with the clown. The Oxford study also suggests that laughter has provided primates with an age-old evolutionary advantage.

Oxford evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar concluded that laughter triggers endorphins that allowed test subjects to resist pain longer. Test subjects watched a variety of video. Some subjects watched "The Simpsons," Eddie Izzard routines, and other comedy clips. Other participants watched  footage considered feel-good without being funny, like nature programs. Others  were subjected to boring- er- 'neutral' golf and pet training videos. All participants were monitored for laughter during the shows. The participants who laughed proved better able to withstand pain resistance tests adminstered after watching the videos. Another experiment, conducted live at an Oxford Imps improv show, supported the findings that laughter eases pain. 

The study reports that laughter, not just a general sense of well being, is key to the endorphin response and pain relief. Dr. Dunbar hypothesizes that laughter has been key to the social evolution of primates. Like singing, dancing, and other physical activities, shared laughter strengthens group bonds. A laugh today may play tonic to your pain, and shared giggling echoes age-old evolutionary rewards. I think may be time to rewatch Charlie Chaplin…

Dunbar's study was published in the proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences.

Laugh it up!

Alicia

Laugh and Eat Chocolate! It’s Good for Your Heart!

Chocolate Any fool knows that laughing and eating chocolate will make you feel good. Now scholars agree too! Let's sing it from the rooftops! (And support it with peer-reviewed science!) "EAT CHOCOLATE AND BE MERRY! Your heart will thank you!"

As explored in blogs past, laughing helps the heart. It reduces stress and increases healthy hormones in the same way exercise does. (Check out my blog entry 'How Many Chuckles = a Chinup?") Add to that happy science a recent study which discovered that habitual chocolate eaters showed a 37% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and 29% reduced risk of stroke.

It sounds too good to be true. No- this study was not sponsored by the Bay Area Hedonists Club. Scientists from the University of Cambridge announced the news at the European Society of Cardiology convention at the end of August. The respected British Medical Journal published the findings. Any google search yields pages of slavering support. It must be true! 

So, is "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" passé? Probably not. Researchers caution that there are plenty of unhealthy ingrediants in chocolate treats. Going hog wild with calorific chocolate pudding on a regular basis is more likely to damage your heart. However, 'plain' chocolate (the less added sugar the better) can be considered healthy. So relax, chuckle, and chew a little chocolate while savoring the concluding words of the University of Cambridge study:

"Based on observational evidence, levels of chocolate consumption seem to be associated with a substantial reduction in the risk of cardiometabolic disorders. Further experimental studies are required to confirm a potentially beneficial effect of chocolate consumption."

This fool may volunteer for the Cambridge crew's next experiment!

Of course, you all know by now that I'm on a refined-sugar-free diet, so I make most of my own chocolate, and I like to keep it all raw…  no cane sugar for me! I make it all with maple syrup or coconut palm sugar… I keep trying to make a stevia-sweetened chocolate… and keep failing..  But I digress…  

Ha ha ha! Hee hee hee! 

Alicia 

 

These be my sources, yo:

"Study: Laughter and Chocolate Can Boost Heart Health." Huffington Post. August 29, 2011.

"Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-anaylsis." British Medical Journal. August 29, 2011

Laughter Throwdown-The First Laughter Competition

A ring!  A roaring crowd! Two competitors!…But nary a punch thrown? What WAS this?

It was the first televised laughing competition!

During October 2010, Canal D broadcast an event of combative hilarity. In front of spectators and viewers at home, the laugh-off pit pairs of guffawers to spar. Awards were given to the longest and most contagious chuckler. The international community soon caught the giggles. Tokyo, California, the Czech Republic, and Austria (ach!) fell in with Ha Ha Ha! The competition moved swiftly from country to country. Who was behind it all? Canadian filmmaker Albert Nerenberg created the event, the broadcast, and a movie.

The brutality of sports like ultimate fighting dismayed Nerenburg.  Yet he was fascinated by how the nearness and eye contact at the beginning of a fight could take a completely different direction. His look into the impact of laughter had changed his life, and Nerenburg's thought inspired a dream. Canadian channel Canal D humored his proposal for a laughing competition. One silly scheme come to fruition, Nerenberg next hopes for an international laughter competition. 

This story was reported by the Toronto Sun, Wednesday July 27, 2010.

http://www.torontosun.com/2011/07/23/canadian-laughing-competitions-go-global