August 23, 2013 Lipari, Sicily

‘Leaning Out’ Sicilian Style

I bought a new t-shirt last week.  People stop me and ask in Italian then English, “Where did you get your shirt?”  It says – La Bella Vita.  Three simple words that mean a lot. Regardless of where we live, what language we speak, we all desire the same things.  People are the same all over the world and we all want to live a beautiful life.

There is a reason I only brought one book with me and that it took me a month to read.  Instead of burying my face in books while I am alone in places, I look around, open up, and speak with people.  I ask them about their life and what makes them happy. Time and time again it is the simple things such as reading the paper, family, sunsets, nature, meeting friends at the beach, watching kids play from a kitchen window while drinking coffee. It is the simple things that bring people joy in life.

As I make my way across the seas of southern Europe, I am experiencing life and people from the Aegean to the Adriatic.  I find myself now in the Mediterranean, actually the Tyrrhenian Sea.  I am on the island of Lipari.  It is La Bella Vita.  A short ferry from Sicily, I am visiting my NYC friend Maurizio and his family and learning about the Sicilian/Liparian way of life.

It is simple and revolves around family, food, friends, the beautiful sea, lots of espresso and the best cannoli you ever ate.  Most important, life here is about Amore.  Love is everywhere.  It is in the people, the food, the cooking, the sun, the water, and even the gelato – served on a roll in a gelato sandwich.

Maurizio’s aunts cook with love. Each day is a lunch with an aunt who cooks my friend’s favorite things or dinner at his home with his family and sometimes a few neighbors.  If I did not know Italian then I would have thought my name is Mangi Mangi.  That is all they say to me, “Eat, Eat!”   Meals are prepared thoughtfully.  They select the ingredients with care and most come from their gardens.  Basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, zucchini flowers, lemons, figs, and on and on.  I continue to eat and drink vino and do not really have a choice.  My favorite snacks are arancini.  Risotto made into balls filled with cheese, ham, tomatoes, whatever, breaded and deep fried. I must stop eating these everyday as my stomach is turning into one, but good thing for stretchy pants.

We jump on the scooter and I pray to the Madonna statue on the corner to protect us as we zip around cars and buses at high speeds, up and down hills, Italian style.  I hold on and close my eyes. We pass other scooters and sometimes there are even three people on one, even kids with a parent.  It works.  Life in Lipari.  It’s the coffee bar in the morning, it’s lunch, it’s the beach, then a visit to his nephews at camp, the beach, dinner, nights out in Lipari.  We never go anywhere without stopping at least three times, since there is a ‘ciao’ to say to someone he knows.  This all revolves around the love that people have for each other.

The house.  It is a large house with several apartments and families.  There are gardens, dogs, cats, chickens, and my favorite friend, a pig.  The first day I arrived, I went to pick lemons and was startled by a snorting sound. The pig was coming towards me and I ran away.  To be honest, I have never really seen a pig outside of the county fair.  I am happy to learn it is a family pet and not for tomorrow’s dinner.   There is community, love, laughter, drama.  Maurizio’s father sees me each day, smiles, and asks (hand gestures included to enunciate), “Bongiorno, Tutto Posto?”  I reply, “Si, bene, bene.” It is all good.  We eat again.

One thing for sure is that there are clear female and male roles.  As a woman, I help with cooking, cleaning, dishes, hang laundry. I even walk into places after the men. I am offered an apron.  It is OK.  Being in this environment as well as spending time in Greece, I have reflected a lot on my time pushing and achieving in my career and also my relationships.  In the past, a few men have told me that I need to soften up.  Was told by a man who I had a date with that “women MBAs scare him.”  Again, I am thankful for who I am and all that I have, but listening to others and speaking with people, just makes me think.

So here I am ‘Leaning Out’ in Lipari. For those who do not know the book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Chief Operating Officer, wrote it.  By the way, she just bought a new $11 million home.  I did not read the book, since it came out at the time I was leaving Corporate America and really did not care.  I was more concerned with what bikini I would buy for the summer. From the Lean In website, the book examines “why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.” In the book she asks women to ‘sit at the table’ and to ‘lean in’ and to not submit to a male dominated corporate culture.  Over the years of my career, the fight was exhausting.  I no longer see a need to lean in to anything that stresses me out or does not bring at least a little bit of joy. In Lipari, I am just leaning in to the next bottle of wine or the next amazing meal or the next hot Italian man…..

OK, I am not trading in my Prada’s for an apron anytime soon, but there is something to say about the simplicity in life when roles are defined and women take care of the house and the children and men provide for the family.  I see here in Lipari that living close to other family members makes it easy to care for the kids.  It is not all simple in Lipari as I am sure there are money struggles, family issues, screaming kids, and some of the same challenges we have in the States. People do not earn a lot of money, don’t take luxury vacations, or buy fancy cars and jewelry.  What I observe is that even without these things there is still laughter. At least to me people do not seem stressed out nor are they running around from place to place.  It is 1am and in the piazza there are celebrations and the kids are still out enjoying the festivities with their parents.

I have been fortunate enough to have decisions to study at university, have a career, move around, and to live an independent life where I can take care of myself.  Similar, independent, successful women who are mostly single, but also married surround me.  All of us have achieved a lot in our careers.  I am not convinced that ‘Leaning In’ completely is the right answer.  As women, nurturing and caring for others is part of our DNA.  When we lack this, then we lack meaning in something that is just wired inside of us.  I don’t have surveys, but I wonder who is happier?  Women with simple lives, defined roles or women with high-powered jobs single or married, nannies, and little time for kids and hobbies.  I do not have kids nor do I have the answers, but what I do know is that where I am now people are happy and there is love.  I’m ‘Leaning Out’.  It is simple and easy for me to do.  It is La Bella Vita.

la bella vita pamzia graciam and kids 2 time to feed the pigp and m on scooterm and his familysunset 2GELATO SANDWICH

August 10, 2013 Hvar Island, Croatia

Om, Shanti, Peace, Namaste, This Sucks

“How do you feel this morning?” she asked the class.  The first thing that came to my mind after five days of intense heat, hard yoga classes, no meat, only grains, was “I want eggs!”  The next day we had eggs.  They must have squeezed the chickens to lay eggs, as these were the first eggs I had all week.

I joined a weeklong yoga retreat and typical of my ‘new approach to life’ I did not research much, did not read the website, and pretty much just showed up.  I participated in many yoga retreats so of course had a base level of expectations.  Bad idea.  To avoid disappointments, the best approach is to not have any expectations.  The day before coming, I did complete the registration form.  It asked what I wanted to get out of the yoga week.  All I wrote was – open to anything.

That is exactly what I got.  Anything and everything and nothing in terms of staying cool as there was no air conditioning in my room.  If I wanted to sweat day and night then I would have gone to an ashram in India and stayed for free and not 145 euro a night.  All these euros also got me a bedroom in a shared house with a shared bathroom, drop offs to scheduled locations around the island that also included a bonus prize of ten hours in Hvar town with temperatures approaching 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), no wind and a million people.  We are told we are also here for Karma yoga – also known as – we have chores yoga. That means we have to help set the table, clean up our dishes, take the sheets from the bed before we leave, etc. Basically clean up your mess and be thankful for it.

This is the army.  I even paid to be scolded by the yoga general.  The website should have said:  Warning.  Groups are limited to one pot of tea per day so whoever pours it each morning must allocate one pot among all cups.  Geez, I got my head bit off the first day when I poured full cups of tea and ran out before all had some.  My bad.  My mantra is breathe, don’t complain, this sucks, breathe, be gracious for this experience, this sucks, breathe.

As a good yogi I try everyday to be positive and to send loving light to yoga teacher.  It is not working.  I wake up, go to the yoga mat, and get pissed off.  She says in a calm, sweet, voice “See smiling energy in the corner of your eyes.”  I cringe.  Yoga teacher’s rude communication style and delivery is impacting all of us.  Who are ‘all of us’?  There are five others in the group. Two genuine, lovely ladies from the UK are my housemates, a Dutch couple who are perfect for each other and give us single ladies hope for how a relationship should be, and a fun-loving, laughing woman from Amsterdam.

Like attracts like and our thoughts create our reality.  That which you really, really want you get.  And that which you really, really do not want you get.  That’s not fair and means when you draw your thoughts to something that you do not want then it will for sure happen. Confused?  Here is an example.  It is so hot in Croatia and I do not want to be hot at night and will not be happy if I show up at this yoga retreat and there is no air conditioning.  Those were my thoughts before arriving and that is what I got.  I should have directed my thoughts to the things I wanted and not to the things I did not want.  Complicated.  If you want to learn more just ‘google’ the law of attraction.  What I do know is that I keep meeting people who I really enjoy to be with.  Even though I am traveling alone, the people I connect with are really nice, funny, stimulating and have great energy.  So, here we are a group of great people all in the same boat.

The group bonds as we spend each day with each other, as we are kindly escorted from the house during the day.  After the second day, we begin to speak with each other about the retreat.  We learn that we are all experiencing the same feelings.  Things that happen are so comical that no one outside the retreat can really understand.  We decide to laugh and make the best of the situation.  I end up offering advice, calming wisdom, and inspiration.  My nurturing way kicks in and I am happy to help.  As each day progresses my mantras are loving and kind and I am less annoyed.  Hmm, something is happening, the yoga and meditations are working.

In the end, the retreat was not what I expected.  However, often what happens instead is even better.  I conclude that the six of us are here to learn a lesson.  Other people make an excellent mirror and often the people who annoy us the most, well, let’s be honest, the things that annoy us are the same things that we also do.

For me, I see a little bit of yoga teacher in me.  I bite my tongue each day and hold myself back from telling her off.  Very hard for me, but I did it.  Before biting back, one must look closely as what it is that annoys you.  Often these are the things that you do that annoy other people too.  When I was working and stressed out, I often rushed through the day, controlling the project, lived by strict plans and schedules, and at times my communication style and delivery were abrupt.  I was overwhelmed and unhappy in my job.  People felt offended just as I did this week.  The retreats are a lot of work for yoga teacher and she is stressed out.  So get a new job, work in a cooler climate, do something.

At the end I can say that I am thankful in so many ways for this week.  There is beauty in everything, lessons to be learned, and life to live.  Now for the moment you have all been waiting for…drum roll…Welcome to the Hvar Island Late Night Show staring yoga teacher.  The list of the top lessons learned and to my dear friends who shared the week with me, you know which ones are for you.

6.  Simplify your life. Remove the clutter to open your mind and space to receive clarity.  It is a process and takes time so focus and prioritize the things that you want to happen. It takes a thought to get it rolling, but action to create the momentum to move you to where you want to be.  Don’t forget, we have to allow room for the universe to act too.

5.  New love is waiting to be created each day.  Regardless of what happened in the past, today is the day to begin again.  Rekindle your love with your partner, yourself, your friends, your family, or send loving thoughts to the soulmate you haven’t met yet.  It is never too late.

4.  Cut the cord from people who suck your energy or who add no value to your life. Be strong and create a shield to protect yourself from other people’s negative energy.  Most important, these people who suck your energy also have the power to project their insecurity onto you.  Don’t absorb it, don’t let their bad feelings accumulate inside of you, and learn one of the most powerful tools – Don’t take things personally.

3.  Stand up for yourself, move off the ‘yoga mat’ if that is not where you want to be.  If you don’t want to do something, say no.  Often we say yes too much and end up sacrificing ourselves for others, even when the others don’t appreciate it.   Learning to say no in a kind way is one of the most freeing and liberating things to do in life.

2.  Laughter is the best medicine.  Approaching difficulties in life with a child-like perspective helps people move on from the pain.  If you have the gift to laugh and make others laugh even though you have suffered in the past, then you have been blessed by ‘someone special’ and can always help others in their quest to move on from painful experiences.

1.  Abundance exists for everyone.  Have faith that the universe, divine, god, or whatever you believe in is working in your favor.  Like attracts like.  Feel yourself as bliss, joy, love, light and that is what you will get back.  Abandon old habits of negative thinking and drawing conclusions based on fear and negativity.  This will stop you from getting what you want and need.  Direct your thoughts to what you want and deeply believe that there is unlimited abundance accessible at all times.

And just in case you are in a situation while meditating by a church at night with a cemetery nearby, please be sure to have your flashlight, running sneakers for a fast escape, and say out loud – Only that which is of the light may enter.  Everyone else, get OUT and that includes bad ghosts.

July 31, 2013 Karlovac, Croatia

Searching High and Low for Ignac

By magic and choice, I am in Karlovac.  Karlovac is both a city in central Europe and central to my life.   This is the town where my great grandfather, Ignac Lilek, came from.  I wanted to come here and to Ludbreg to learn more about my family.

I have about 15 people here helping me think of ways to find information on the Lilek family.  Everywhere I go, I stop, sit down, tell people why I am here and they all point me to some church, priest, city hall, or archives. I attempt to find each place only to arrive when they are closed.  I phoned Mr. Miro who is very old and ‘knows everything’.  He told me about a Draco Lilek born in 1933.  Draco or maybe a relation to Dracula.  Anyway, he was not home today.

The people I meet always ask me, “What are you looking for?  Was suchen Sie?”  Good thing I know German, since that seems to be the only language people speak here, besides Croatian.  What am I looking for?  I have been getting annoyed when they ask me that, since I can say, well, I am looking for the town where my great-grandfather lived or I can say, I am looking for his house.  But am I really?  I came here searching for information about my family history, but deep down, I am really searching for more answers about me.

Magic has more to do with the rental car.  There were not any cars left in Dubrovnik. As I walked to the laundromat one morning, I saw a Hertz sign.  Stopped in only to be told, no cars.  As I was frantically searching on kayak.com and using my logical brain to find a solution, a man walks in to rent a car to a family.  Marko asks me if I need a car and I told him how I wanted to drive north to do some research on my family and that I needed to return the car to Split. We make a deal and he asks me to meet him at the Biker Café the next morning.  Sure.  Hours later I am driving north, through Bosnia, in an old Fiat Punto.

The whole rental car situation is a great example of letting go of control.  Just sometimes kayak.com does not have the solution and we have to rely on letting things work out.  Was it just perfect timing that I ran into Marko?  Maybe.  Either way, part of my journey is to see what happens when I let go of control and the plan and so far things have worked out quite nicely.  By the way, the name of his rental company was Pema.  Means lotus flower and is a Buddhist name.

Back to Karlovac.  I learned that there was a Lilek family name registered at the church in Zavrsje.   It is near the town of Netretic, which I saw on a sign on my morning run and it was only 7 km or about 4 miles away.  I decided to rent a bike from the hotel and ride to Netretic and find the city hall and the church and finally get my answers.

I was wrong.  First of all, the hills here are killing my legs.  After walking up and down at least 500 steps a day in Dubrovnik, my leg muscles are done.  Anyway, I peddle and have a map.  I can do it.  We have turning points in life and sometimes a turning point can be a right or left turn. One is the correct way, the easy path. The other, well, not wrong, just a bit longer and wild.  Seems to be the theme of my life now.  I turn left.

A fine plan, if you are fit enough to ride Tour de France size hills.  After a few choice words, running into chickens, and pushing my bike, I carry on.  First stop is at a restaurant. I ask about where I am and where I need to go, since this clearly is not the right way.  Again, German saved me and I also got that same dreaded question when I told them about Ignac Lilek.  Was suchen Sie?  Agh, quit asking me.  I don’t know what I am looking for; I am just here looking for something.

The boyfriend of the one woman who speaks German comes over.  “Hi, how you doing?”, he asks.  Perfect English and here he lived in New Hampshire and just sold a house in Oregon.  We talked about his choice to come back to Croatia and leave the US.  He said, “We have to figure out where we are comfortable and not compare the two.  Comparing two places that will never be the same will only cause grief.”  He continues, “It does not matter if it is a $50,000 home or a $500,000 home, if you are not happy in it then who cares.”  He felt that a lot of Americans he met were focused on working and saving money for retirement and really did not have hobbies.  There were people his age that retired and did not really know what to do to enjoy life.  Maybe they had millions in the bank, but they missed out on living a life of pleasure by doing things they were passionate about each day.  I told him about my life now and my decision to re-evaluate what is important to me.

A few years ago I had no idea what I liked to do and had to work on figuring out what moved me.  It was not easy to slow down and sit in feelings and dig deep.  It  was easier just to work all the time and avoid such questions about how to enjoy life.  Sure, having wine and food with friends, this was joyful for me.  But what I wanted was to figure out who I was, what I liked to do with no one else deciding.  Only then does this mean that I am doing something that I deeply desire.  This is what brings moments of true bliss.

The group of four bought me a coffee and wrote down ideas for where to go next.  Meanwhile this one woman was getting very excited and loud and insisted I was in the wrong village and that I needed to go to the church in Zavrsje.  “That’s it!”, I said. “I know that my family name is registered at the church.”  They tell me how to go and to always follow the river.  All this time, there is a man sitting at the back table.

I leave and pray to the Mary statue on the side of the road to flatten all the hills that may come before me.  Maybe I should have tried St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, because Mary was of no help.

After the first hill, I lost sight of the river to my left and was lost again. Shit.  Oh, I see a very small yellow sign, Zavrsje.  And strange, the man sitting at the back table.  I also see him.   He tries to help me and points me in the right direction and asks if I want a ride.  My intuition says NO.  My legs say YES, but I am polite and speak German and decline the ride.  He said there is a big hill, but I told him I was fit enough to do it myself.

I proceed; he passes me in his car.  I barely make it to the top of the hill and after pedaling through two mean dogs, I get to the first church in Zavrsje.  And once again man at back table is standing there, pointing towards the church.  I don’t like this at all.  There are two men working at the city hall, but they confirm the church records are not there and I should try the higher church…higher meaning more uphill on my bike.  In pain, I pedal and push my bike to get to the highest church in the region.  Guess who is there waiting for me?  Correct, man at back table.

Man at back table is taking me around the church grounds and that includes the cemetery.  I am thinking worse case scenario and that I really do not want to die at the church where my great-grandfather was a member.  We are in the middle of nowhere, I am on a bike, this guy insists on showing me the way, and I have no clue who he is.  Something is off.  I get on my bike and ride down the hill and he passes me again in his car.  He knew I was trying to find Kolenovac to get back on track with the hotel map.  So, after ten minutes on my bike, there he is again.  Standing at the sign pointing to Kolenovac and he is waving hello to me and pointing left and showing me the way.  Maybe he was guiding me and it was harmless. Maybe he was the reincarnation of Ignac.  Maybe he was a serial killer.  I will never know, but my intuition said pedal fast.

I thought, great, finally getting back to the town that is on the hotel’s bike map.  Surely it is a larger town and I can get a taxi to take me back to the hotel.  After seeing back table man, I pedal so fast up the hill and am happy to see houses.  But there are only three houses.  God, I just need a cab.

The first house I see, I stop.  There is a woman working in the garden.  I put my bike down and said “Dobar Dan.”  She jumps, since I startled her.  I apologized and her puppy came running to me and jumped on me, kissed me, it was so nice.  I asked her for water so we went to her barn and I filled up my bottle.  She went to get her husband, since he, of course, spoke German.  His name is Dragutin.

Dragutin was really nice to me, they were both nice and I stayed for about 30 minutes and told them about Ignac, the church, the man at the back table and of course, Dragutin asked me, “Was suchen Sie?”  This time I had an answer.  My hotel, a taxi.  He said, “There are no taxis here.”  He was so kind to take me to the hotel and my intuition was right on.  He and his wife were very kind to me and when we got to the hotel, he told the woman at reception that he wanted to make sure I was safe.  I bought him a beer and we said goodbye.  I will unlock Karlovac’s secret. Maybe tomorrow. Or the next day. Or maybe never.

The day I left, I sat in my normal breakfast place and looked out over the hills.  There was the church, right in front of my eyes.  I searched all over for this church and failed to see that it was in front of me the entire time.  The secret that I did unlock was that the answers to some of life’s biggest questions are right in front of us, or inside of us.  I already know who I am and don’t have to look for it.  We just need to sit still for a bit and go inside and we can find out anything we want.

croatian winehigh church zavrsjekarlovac countrysideZavrsje small churchwifemy ride back

July 24, 2013 Folegandros, Greece

Just Be

I have been all over the place – not only in terms of countries, but also in terms of my energy.  I cannot decide anything.  I don’t know how to handle this new freedom to go wherever I want.  Most people think, oh I would love to take time off from work and travel and do anything I want.  Well, when it happens it is overwhelming and a different story from when I daydreamed about it while sitting in a dark cubicle.  My decisions are mine alone and no one will be traveling with me once my friends leave.

The only book I brought is the Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.  I feel like Sabine when she discovers that she finally reached her ultimate goal.  Her burden and drama that came with this were not one of heaviness but of lightness.  Sometimes the lightness is too much to handle and it becomes unbearable. That is what I feel like.  The lightness of being free is too much.  I can do whatever I want to do. There are no limits.  I can sit in the wonder of some of the most beautiful places in the world, but I am not happy right now.

Maybe it is so hard, since I am trying to reprogram my logical, left brain that plans.  I want to use my intuition, follow my heart, decide, and then go.  Often the best things in life happen when we let go of control and the plan and just see where fate takes us.  I live for ‘spontaneous coincidences’ that happen in life and in the end all weave together to create something fabulous.

Let’s back up a few weeks and go to the villa in Umbria where I was with my friends.  The struggle inside still exists so I avoid it and opt to do nothing.  I cannot seem to use my logical brain or my intuition. But, I had to decide.  Italy was winding down and I had no plan.  Thursday came around, we leave in two days, and I still had no plan.  I changed my mind three times that week, first I was going to Greece, then not, then Croatia, then not, then sailing in Italy, then not.  I asked for a sign.  My sign came after too much white wine at the pool and I went inside and booked a ticket to join my friends in Greece.

After an early morning flight from Rome to Santorini then waiting in Santorini for seven hours, I finally arrive in Folegandros.  My bags are heavy, I already unpacked things in NYC before I left, sent a bag back to the States with my friend, and still I have too much stuff.  There was a saying that I saw while in Chamonix – Travel far, pack lite, and live long.  Damn toiletries.

I arrive at the port after being herded on and off the ferry like cattle.  I judge the island.  I don’t like it.  It is brown and there are no green trees.  Why do we make judgments so quickly?  It really limits how we interact with people and places.  Anyway, I check in, my friends tell me to meet in the third piazza for dinner.   As I walked through Chora that first night, I felt good.  The town has an interesting vibe.  Let’s see.

Sunsets are beyond what words can describe.  They are so spectacular that the evenings revolve around the sunset.  Drinking Campari and orange, my friends and I would watch the dazzle in the sky.  We would laugh and make scenes since we were often quite loud and just having fun.  The day came and my friends left.  As they said goodbye, their advice was, “If you get lonely, call us, if you get sad, leave.”  I feel both.  Sad and lonely, so now what do I do.

The sun still rises and sets and I have to figure this out on my own.  I feel out-of-place.  Everywhere around me are couples and families.  To change things around, I decide to leave the place where we always sat and instead watch from the hilltop.  I sit and take in the beauty, but am lonely again.  I make a promise to myself that by the time I leave Folegandros, I will sit alone and watch the sunset and be happy with the beauty, the silence, and my own company.  We need to be our own best friend and be comfortable with being alone.

Over the next days, I am still restless.  It is Tuesday and I plan to leave on Sunday and just stay five days.  I need something spiritual.  Yes, that is the answer to my problems of being restless.  I frantically search for flights to India and Bali and am looking for yoga retreats or something to force me to find spirituality or something like that.    Meanwhile there is a little voice telling me to be patient, be still, rest, relax.  I sleep so soundly and wake up at 11 am each day, twelve hours.  Hmmm.  Clearly I am very tired, my body is slowing down, and this island is magical is some way.  My mind races again.  Be patient.  My intuition – relax.  Pam’s voice – go to India, there you will find it.  Intuition – stay here, patience.  Pam’s voice – just get a drink.

Almost two weeks later and I am still on the island.  I cannot leave.  I met a wonderful woman on the boat tour and we became instant friends and she introduced me to her friends.  It changed everything.  I was so busy searching for spirituality and peace that I failed to see what was right in front of me.  Amazing waters, beautiful beaches, wonderful people, good food, a donkey, and a dog that looks just like Ingrid.  I call the dog Hobo Jack and just when I need him he appears.  Each time I see him, my heart skips a beat and I realize how much I miss Ingrid.  She sent that dog to this island to make me feel bad…there are not too many dogs here and the one is a shorthaired pointer.  Go figure.  While looking for a new spot to watch the sunset to better deal with my loneliness after my friends left, I walked down to Punta Square and guess who was there taking in the beauty?  Hobo Jack.  I pet him, he put his head on my leg, and together we watched the sunset.

Right outside my door is a path to the town church that is high on the hill.  I created my own ritual and my own spiritual space.  Each morning, I walk to the top of the hill and do yoga.  My mantra for the fifteen minutes walk up is – you are where you need to be, just be.  That becomes ingrained in me, and the restlessness of going somewhere else stops.  Along the path, there is a donkey that I say hello to each morning and sometimes feed.  There are also men along the path who are working and painting the already white walls even whiter.  I say good morning and the one man told me with a smile, “It is not good morning, it is kalimera.”  I smile and repeat it and each day we practice a few more words.  The donkey comes towards me each morning when I call him.  I created a ritual and found my peace high on top of the mountain overlooking the beautiful sea and the island.  I did not need to go to India.  Nothing can bring me peace, but myself.  It comes from the inside and the key to life is to find it wherever you are.  Even deep under the sea.

I am the luckiest girl in the world.  Climbing mountains and diving in magnificent seas.  There is beauty in both places and not only natural beauty, but also good-looking guides…again.  The gods are with me when it comes to my guides and diving buddies.  The dives offer magnificent walls, bright colors of orange and purple, schools of glistening fish, and intense, deep blue waters.  I feel the lightness again, it is bearable and I am full of light.  I am actually flying under the water.  My body feels free and I am thankful to enter this underwater world once again.  I feel comfortable and not afraid, since it has been quite some years since my last dive.  There is a peaceful feeling and a silence that one can only have under water.  There are no words to exchange, only signs with hands and eyes.  All you can hear are the deep inhales and exhales and the sound the regulator makes.  We swam into a cave, turned around, and looked out into where the sun was shining down and turning the water at least five shades of blue.  I stopped breathing.  The beauty of what I saw and the feelings were overwhelming and the moment took my breath away.  Kefi once again.

Weeks fly by.  The hotel where I am staying is great and I also become friends with the owner.  The souvlaki place knows me and when I walk in they make my chicken gyro with extra tzatziki.  When I walk by restaurants, the owners say hello.  I have friends.  We hang out.  Our conversations are quite meaningful and deep.  I like this about the Greek people who I met.  They are not afraid to open up and question things.  I learned to Greek dance, or somehow already knew how to do it.  I feel like I have been on this island in some past life or something.  Everything is familiar to me. Including the people I have met.  My friends gave me a Greek name.  Partali.  According to google it means someone who has been for long in the army and no more complies with orders.  My army was ‘corporate america’.  I like it.

However, logical brain kicks in and I had planned to go to Croatia, since that was on my list and I wanted to explore that part of my heritage.  I had also been pushing off this yoga retreat that I signed up to do on Hvar Island.  I struggle.  My heart says stay here all summer.  The explorer part of me wonders what else is out there.  On a whim, I buy a ticket to leave.  My one friend does not believe I am going and he asked what my heart was saying and I knew the answer, but left anyway.

My last sunset.  I wore my red dress, went to the normal bar, and sat at my normal table.  All around me were families and couples.  Just like everyday.  This time, I was glowing with pure happiness.  The waiter comes over and told me that I really looked beautiful and was shining from the inside.  I was so happy to hear that, since that is exactly how I felt.  I watched the sun go down, alone, and thanked the island for its magic.  Everything was perfect.

Why did I leave such a good thing?  I was so happy.  I would walk from Chora to my favorite beach and cry tears of joy.   I had Kefi everday.  It felt good to be on the island, since there was an energy that recharged my soul.  Had a social life, met wonderful people, knew the beaches, had my yoga, the donkey, and Hobo Jack.  The answers to why I left are somewhere deep inside and if I ever write a book, I will need a few chapters to explain.  I guess it is always good to leave on a high note and who knows where the summer takes me. The wind just might blow me back to Folegandros.

Watershora 2Donkey friend on morning walk upSunset on churchdancesunsets more hobo jackamazing

June 28, 2013 Aiguille du Midi

Desire Conquers Fear

Olivier texted this morning – “It is clear up at 3800 meters so I will meet you at 8am and we will go to the Aiguille du Midi and climb the ridge out of the ice cave.”  Shit.  A dilemma.  I was secretly hoping for bad weather and then we would just rock climb in the valley.  I could then blame the weather on not doing the ridge.  Even though I dreamed about doing the ridge out of the ice cave, since I first saw it in 2008.  Now was the time and I had to decide fast.  Fear told me NO.  Desire and a lot of adrenaline told me YES.  I tried to explain all this via text and asked Olivier to call me.  He called and told me it was my decision only.  I said, “Let’s go.”

He roped me tight and kept me close. Each step down and each step up, he guided me.  Sometimes we sang songs to distract and sometimes I used my mantras – ax, pole, step, step, ax, pole, step, step.  We had a rhythm.  He encouraged me and when I would start to panic I would ask him to talk to me.  He would.  At 3800 meters on a narrow path there is no room to become weak and lose focus.  This is when accidents happen.  Throughout the day Olivier continued to ask, “Ca va?”  Often I answered, a few times I did not.  He knew I was panicking.  Then he asked,  “Where was my smile?”   He touched my lips and made them move to be in a smile. We made it down the ridge and back up and guess what I felt?  Kefi.  True bliss, joy, happiness, my spirit was alive.

Why was I hesitating to do the ridge?  What was I afraid of, besides heights and falling and dying?  Often the things we fear the most in life are the same things that we desire.  I created a story in my head about how terrifying the ridge looked when I saw it in 2008.  We are so good at creating stories and telling them to ourselves over and over.  We are the main stars in the story and enjoy the monologue.  Usually it is the case that the reality is completely different from the story that is bringing us down.  We have to recognize when we have a story and be sure to close the chapter fast and say The End!

To do this without dying, on the way to the station in the gondola, I said ‘The End’ to my story.  I told myself that I would look at the ridge again and decide.  We discussed at the bottom that if I got up there and did not want to do it then we would go back down.  Ha, I knew in my heart that would never have happened.  Wouldn’t you know?  The terrifying impression I had in my head was wrong.  The narrow path and steepness were not that bad.  Yikes.

Up and down the ridge, crossing the Mont Blanc glaciers, exhilarating.  It was not easy. Olivier took care about each step and I felt safe.  As we climbed back up the Midi ridge, and once we were on ‘safe’ ground and almost to ice cave, he put his arm around me and kissed my head, well, my helmet.  I knew it was going to be ok. We made it and I gave him the biggest hug.

While I was taking off my crampons and coming down from the sheer thrill of what I just did, three German people appeared.  They wanted to take pictures of me with the ice ax and crampons and I told them I spoke German too.  It was a great exchange and before they left the woman grabbed both of my hands, squeezed them tight, and said to me, “Es gibt Leute die das Leben leben und Leute die nur existieren. Man muss es leben.”  It means – There are people who live life and those who just exist in this life.  One must live it.  (Goethe).  I cried.  I found Olivier and we went down to the valley.

We had lunch. We said goodbye.  I kissed him on a cheek and we hugged. He kissed me on my cheek and we hugged again.  I will miss not seeing Olivier tomorrow. The memories are amazing and I know I can do anything I put my mind to. Focus on living in the present moment and for each step you take in life, trust that it is contributing to a bigger picture.  Don’t get caught worrying too much about the past or living only for the future.  All we have is now and it is a beautiful place to be.

The ridge out of the ice cave at Mont Blanc Free as a Bird My guide and me at top Pointes LachenalMatterhorn behindOlivier with ropes Ready to go down

June 27, 2013 Tete Blanche

Step by Step

3500 meters, blowing wind, feels like minus 20.  It is June and this is the first stop on Pam’s summer of discovery and fun.  Olivier is in front, ropes tied to each other in case a crevasse appears on the glacier and someone falls in.  This has been a dream of mine, or maybe to some sounds like a bad dream.  I made it to the top of Tete Blanche.  My first mountaineering experience and I feel great at 3500 meters.

By some standards, an easy one to climb, by my standards, well, let’s say challenging enough for now.  It is funny how things work out.  I went to the Compagnie des Guides in Chamonix to meet my guide the day before the trek.  I met Jacques.  He was a very nice, older gentleman.  Secretly, I was really hoping for a young, fit, good looking guy.  Jacques and I met, we talk about the hike, and it turns out, there was a mistake in the booking and Jacques cannot go with me on Wednesday as I had planned.  Within ten minutes, Olivier greets me.  Point taken, you get what you need and you don’t even have to try.  Olivier is hot.

We make a plan and he makes a list.  I went to Snell to rent and buy the items on the list.  I have one hour until I meet Olivier to begin our climb. List:  ice axe, crampons, harness, helmet, mountaineering boots, headlamp.  Shit, I do not know how to use any of these things.  I panic for a minute.  Fear sets it.  Fear leaves. Have some courage Pam, it will be fine.

We meet, he repacks my pack, gives me a smaller one and convinces me that I do not need a change of clothes or my toiletry bag.  There will be no shower and we will wear the same clothes.  We spend one night in Albert I refuge. I have never been so cold and slept with all my clothes on including the hat.  The refuge is a funny culture. Men and women sharing dorm style bunks, same bathrooms and sleeping right beside complete strangers. But, we are all here for the same reason, so we get along and body heat at this point from whomever is a good thing.  I should add, ladies, mountaineering is a male dominated sport.  The numbers of attractive, in shape, real men, on the trail made all the pain worth it.

The plan is to wake up at 4:30am to begin our ascent to Tete Blanche. We want to make sure we get up and back down before the snow melts to make it easier to use the crampons.  The air was thin.  There was silence.  All I could hear was my heart beating and it sure was pumping blood to keep me going.  The silence was beautiful.  Olivier led me, often he turned around and asked “Ca va?”  With his nice smile and beautiful French accent, regardless of my pain, I would smile and say “Ca va bien.” He laughed.

One step at a time and I made it.  It became meditative and my mantras were step, step, ice ax, step.  Moments of panic happened whenever I would leave the present moment and when I would think – how the hell am I going to get down, what is ahead of me, how much longer? – stop it Pam.  I brought myself back to the here and now and the only thing I focused on was that one step needed to bring me closer to the peak.  Time and time again, it always proves right.  Don’t worry about the past or the future, live now.  This is the key to overcome obstacles in our life.

Item 1 on my bucket list: mountaineering- check.  No more climbing mountains related to an unfulfilling career or the need to achieve more in the work place.  The only mountains I will climb from now on are those that move my soul.  The real ones.  Find something to do where you can lose yourself.  It is a beautiful feeling.

Top of Tete Blanchestep by step 1DSC02392

May to June 2013 between NYC and Greece

It Started with a Whisper

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” –E.M. Forster

Life is about finding our Kefi and living it as much as we can.  Life is not about being happy everyday as we need to experience the low to feel the high.  Life is about discovering something inside of you that moves you to a place where words cannot describe, but the feelings can.  It is in this place that we experience true bliss.  It is in this place that we are living Kefi.

My life prior to May was not about living Kefi.  It was about achieving, climbing corporate ladders, making more money, getting more degrees, working long hours, thriving on stress, buying homes, saving for retirement, etc.  You get the picture.  I was doing everything right; the way society accepts and defines ‘how to live a successful life’.  I am very gracious for the abundance that 18 years of working brought me and the experience gained while working in top consulting firms, travelling the world, and engaging with some of the world’s largest corporations.  To some, this might sound like living the American Dream.  For me, it became a living nightmare as I dragged myself out of bed each morning to go into the office and sit in my dark cubicle.

I was not living my life; I was only existing in this life.  Actually, looking back, I really did not know how to live life, how to do nothing, how to have hobbies. I buried myself in work to avoid figuring out what made me happy.  I buried myself in work to avoid the reality that my marriage was not what I wanted.   After moving on from the marriage and when I finished my MBA, I sat in my backyard and realized I had no idea what I liked to do and what made me happy.  To avoid this dreadful feeling, I started to run again and searched for projects overseas. I was on my way to Afghanistan. The universe intervened.   Since I kept repeating the same things over and over, the lessons got harder and harder.   I was forced to sit alone with myself and begin the journey to transform my life and to create the life I wanted to live.  It was painful, but looking back, I would not change any of my life experiences.  They all weave together to create the amazing life that I am living.

I started to experience and feel ‘deep down’ truly blissful moments while away from work and on vacation.  I started to travel alone to remote places, met wonderful people along the way, sat in the park with Ingrid, did a lot of yoga, learned tango, opened up to the flow of life.  Time and time again, I experienced that when one slows down then situations are presented and we have what we need if we just listen and see the signs.   I went to Bali in October 2012 and that trip was the turning point.  The whispers inside my head to live the life I want became louder and louder.

While living and feeling Kefi everyday in Bali, I made a commitment to myself to only live a life of joy and to only accept into my life people and situations that appreciate me.  Sure, there are bad days and good days and I welcome all, but we are here to experience more joy than pain.  We can, as long as we let it in and remove from our lives negativity that is blocking us from living the life we want.

In Bali, I said, I will not be at PwC one year from now.   I felt strong and courageous and had a power in my soul like never before.  I resigned in my heart.  This led to events where I left my corporate life on May 1, 2013.  The day I walked out the door was Kefi for me.  I smiled and danced on the corner of 42nd Street and Madison Ave and welcomed my new life.

Dear life….where are you taking me next?  I am on a journey.  Destination unknown and I don’t need to know.  As long as I am on the path that feels right then my journey will be more worthwhile than the destination.  I know it will not always be easy, but I am prepared to welcome the experiences – good and bad.  My life is now about letting go of the control, letting go of the plan and just being open to people, places, and events.  I want to see what happens when I let go of the control.  I lived a structured life, used my logical left brain, did everything by the books and now I am free to do the exact opposite.  That is what I am doing now.

I am allowing myself to not plan and to travel to places where I have never been and to have an open mind.  I don’t make decisions as fast as I used to, I use my intuition to decide where to go next, book plans a few days before and try to do what feels right.  TRY…since I cannot rewire myself in a few months.  My logic kicks in all the time, I lose living in the present moment, I bring in past stories, I worry about what I will do when I get back to NYC, I worry I am spending too much money, I don’t always follow my heart and intuition and I end up back to square one- stressed, frantically running around.  I pull myself out of that frenzy and am back again on track.

“When the bird and the book disagree, always believe the bird.”   The bird is my heart and the book my logic.  Know your mind. Know your heart.  Know your courage.  My purpose now is to learn to always follow my heart.  If one lives with an open heart and follows it, then one can never go wrong. Following my heart fills me with joy and by doing things each day that make me laugh and bring joy, only then can I give that joy back to others.

The more we live our Kefi the more Kefi we attract into our lives.  My life is uncertain now, but I embrace the unknown and trust that if I create and live the life I want then all will be well.  I have no fear.  Since I left ‘corporate america’ and started my journey, I have felt so free.  I am free as a bird and I am able to see a happiness that I never really knew.   It is my Kefi.

divine-waters2.jpg