Taoist Tune-Up

Sawasdee khap from the Universal Tao Garden, home of the Inner Smile and observatory of the Microcosmic Orbit, where you can avail of free Wi-Fi access sipping garcinia tea in the dining pagoda while waiting to get your chi circulated, your blood ozonated, your arteries chelated, and your colon irrigated — all before lunch, and all for less than a ticket to a Britney Spears concert.

Tao GardenI heard the call and spontaneously left Chiang Mai this afternoon to transplant my retreat an hour northeast, to this most exquisitely green, beautiful, and eco-friendly healing center founded by world-renowned Taoist teacher Mantak Chia, and i’m already glad i did. I had some organic green papaya salad and downed a glass of mighty amalaki juice (visualize intense pucker), then slipped into the free nightly Tao yin yoga class and hit the mat just in time to hear the sweet and gentle Italian-accented instructor begin the class saying, “Close your eyes… now put your hands on your jade pillow…” An hour and a half later, i’m drenched in sweat, quivering from actual use of muscles other than those required for typing, and almost immortal… (OK, scratch that last one.)

Those of you who are aware of my history of kidney trouble will no doubt be pleased to know that my once-dour renal twins are now glowing with a warm sapphire light, like the sun just below the surface of the clear ocean off Koh Tao… and, yes, as advertised, they’re smiling at me. In fact, it’s a full-on lovefest in my grinning gut, with all my internal organs beaming at each other like one of those sweet gooey connecty moments in the foyer or the kitchen for which our beloved Earthville House in Oakland has earned a well-deserved reputation. Tomorrow morning, after chi kung in the mango grove, i’ll get my dark-field blood scan, my nutri-energetics analysis, and my bio-electrographic evaluation so we can find out what my organs are so happy about. Then, as a bonus, i get my brain synchronized! It’s about time, is all i can say.

Dropping Out, Dropping In

With each passing day, i feel another exponent more like the “me” i remember from more balanced days in the late ’90s — a person i more enjoy being. This is really the first time i’ve felt the spaciousness to make a real dent in unpacking the last four years of life, since returning to the States after living for seven life-changing years in India. There’s lots to notice in myself: what has changed since returning to the US, what’s the same, and what’s wanting to shift. Part of the intention for immersing myself in retreat on Asian soil is to bring myself full circle to reclaim some of the gems i found here years ago and gradually misplaced in the confusion of trying to situate myself as a person in my new home — both as an irreversibly global citizen trying to navigate the peculiar landscape of “American” cultural expectations (quite a few of which, believe it or not, i’d entirely forgotten, including some i must admit i wasn’t entirely pleased to remember) and, deeper down, as an inherently unlocatable spirit wanting to cooperate with the flow of a place and time without losing the universal signal in the local noise…

In my morning sit yesterday, i unearthed a time capsule i had buried for myself back in ’96, shortly before we opened KhanaNirvana — a text i had compiled from my own translations of the Tibetan texts i’d been studying. I had shared with one of my teachers there (Geshe Sonam Rinchen) that i had found it difficult to connect authentically with some parts of the texts and, after some questioning, it seemed to be a matter of translation, so i was inspired to retranslate my daily practice texts in a way more resonant for me. He affirmed that my own translation would be potentially more powerful as a tool for me, provided the translation was accurate enough not to introduce distortions of meaning into the text i would be using as a guidebook. So, i took care to go over all the points in question with him and other teachers to check my understanding of the material, and then began composing this personalized practice guide. I never “finished” it: once we launched KhanaNirvana, i scarcely set eyes on any text that wasn’t a menu, a project write-up, a syllabus, or a spreadsheet for the next five years or so.

Well, that old file is here on my laptop, and during my meditation i was inspired to open it up. [Bad in-joke for my vajra siblings: “short terma.” 😉 ]  I spent the next few hours in waves of different flavors of tears, sad to have forgotten so much, but profoundly grateful for the reminders.

Note to self: Always journal the epiphanies. You think in the moment that it’s so clear that you could never possibly forget, but then… Er, sorry, what was i saying?

In Thailand, Even Cities Are Getting Facelifts

To follow up on my last post about changes in Chiang Mai, a friendly local i talked with at one of the wats shed some light. He started by telling me that the much-loved King Bhumibol made his way up north in 2003, which right away gave me a sense of how the town might have been scrubbed clean. Anyone who stayed in Dharamshala long enough to see the Dalai Lama’s motorcade make an exit from the temple compound that serves as his exile home know the scene: the faithful (and the politically liable) go aggro for several days leading up to the moment his car pulls out of the gate and onto the public road, picking up weeks or months worth of litter and throwing up a fresh lick of paint here and there. Likewise, when one of the V.V.I.P. Indian ministers is about to pay a rare visit, well, suddenly someone in the Public Works Department “remembers” that they had been given a budget for road repair several years back but it somehow got spent on chai and laddoos, so they pool their paan (betel) money, run out and fire up the tar car to pave the road, and suddenly the state of transportation leaps forward from the 17th century to, well, the 1950s.

Chiang MaiIn a similar spirit, it seems, Chiang Mai cleaned itself up in anticipation of the King’s visit, but the King also made his own contributions. He and the Queen are both busy philanthropists, and apparently he put some love and largesse into spiffing up the town and boosting its local economy. Gotta love a ruler with at least some part of a heart. (Where can we get the US one o’ them?)

My Thai friend also identified one of the statues i’d been curious about — a sassy sentinel standing on one corner of the temple roof: “What in your country you call Cupid!” On a Theravada wat. Who knew?

Fortune smiling on Chiang Mai as it may be in general, the economy has been sagging again since the Tsunami, due in large part to a precipitous 60% drop in tourism, and i did find a few folks panhandling once i finally made a foray to the spendier part of town. Some of them were clearly pros, raking in far more in a typical day than your average wage earner. On the advice of local social workers, i usually give the pros only smiles. But i found one gentle, clear-eyed young man with no legs sitting on his own, propped up against a wall and, since i figured he probably can’t hold a job and the social stigma adds insult to injury, i reached into my pocket for him. We had a short, sweet moment of connection, but since i speak very little Thai (poot Thai mai dai!), i didn’t get to learn his story (which i normally try to do when there’s no language barrier). Food money and a loving smile… it feels so painful to want to do more, and to know the scale of the challenge is so daunting… but we can’t let that stop us from doing something.

I spend most of my time working for change in the form of projects that take a long time to materialize, so it feels important for me to find opportunities to give something with immediate benefit as well — both so my legless friend can eat and so i can keep at least one little finger in touch with the way the other ninety-something percent lives. Both needs are valid and valuable, but mine is a luxurious abstraction and his is a churning gut, and… can i even imagine what his life is like? In any case, it’s clear that, whether he really needs my support or not, i need my heart to stay open to feel and active to serve.


More news at 11, when my brain is synchronized (assuming i can still type…)


Thoughts? I'm listening…

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