April 13, 2014 Beauty, Chaos, and a Little Dirt

Sitting cross-legged on the floor at the Oasis Café waiting for a very exciting moment- a fried egg.  Flies are swarming in the sunshine.  As the sun rises over the Himalayas and light comes out so do the cows, the dogs, the horses, the monkeys, and the flies.  I arrived in Rishikesh, India one week ago and will be here for two months so I better get used to it.

Rishikesh is a holy and spiritual town for Hindus. It is here that yoga started more than 3,000 years ago.  You cannot find any meat and the last chicken coops at street-side markets are visible ½ mile before Rishikesh.  Eggs are possible, but only at a few westernized cafes.  Good thing Oasis Café is right around the corner as it is my place to go crazy and indulge in an egg or veggie burger with pan-fried rosemary potatoes. 

Country of Opposites, Yoga, and Cows

Incredible India, as the tourist campaign slogan goes, is a place of opposites.   Only in India can you embrace the beauty of hundreds of people chanting along the holy Ganges River, but just a few seconds earlier while walking down the street can you find yourself dodging cow shit and trash.  Only in India does the traffic chaos function like a well-oiled machine.  Streets are lined with scooters transporting entire families with small babies and of course no helmets, there are jammed pack tuk-tuks and trucks carrying produce with seating space on top for people.  There are busses with luggage on top and of course people too.  People on bicycles transport their daily goods to sell at the market and those with no bicycle push their vegetable carts.  Then there are the brave ones, school children included, who have faith to cross diagonally into oncoming traffic.  It’s a real life game of Frogger. 

Of course in the middle of all this are the cows that righteously lie down on the road.  As the cows are holy in India, everything maneuvers around them.  My temporary best friend now is not my dog, Ingrid, but a baby cow that hangs out at the corner shop on my street.  I have been told that feeding the cows is good karma. We can all use a little help, so each night she gets some of my dinner and gently eats from my hand.  I won’t be eating veal anytime soon and am very happy my last meal before leaving the States was a great cheeseburger at a Manhattan diner. It may have been my last.  Being with the cows everyday, I can see how gentle they are. They beg like dogs and go to people’s front doors and moo for food or a rub on the head.

My yoga teacher training program started this week.  My body aches from the four hours of yoga a day.  The heat exhausts and irritates me, as I am not used to it.  My room is basic; the water shuts on and off.  When I arrived I had to clean my room.  Laundry is done in a bucket.  The food at the school is sattvic, meaning, bare minimum.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner – it’s all the same to me.  Curry, dal (lentils), rice, curry, dal, rice, and you guessed it, the same again in the evening.  The same vegetables are served daily, since they only serve what is in season.  Makes sense and an opposite idea from the States where we can get tomatoes and anything we want in the middle of winter.  I wouldn’t change anything.  I learned more this week than I have in years and many of my questions have been magically answered. The teachers are amazing and although sitting in meditation at 5am is painful mentally and physically, there is a calmness that I feel and LOVE.

It Is What It Is

After my first day, I started to get the claws out and complained to myself and some other students about the things that inconvenienced me and how can this be so.  Then I thought, Pam, you are in India learning to become a yoga teacher.  You came here for the full spiritual experience.  You are living ashram-style and this is not a luxury hotel on a beautiful Greek Island.  Deal with it and move on.  I did. 

Now when I walk through the streets I accept the crowds of people and notice their colorful clothes, the heat is way better than the horrible winter, the noise also includes a loud speaker of Om that wakes me up in the morning, and the gifts from the cows and the flies…well this means that I can laugh each day as I walk together with cows on my way to class.  No where else in the world will this happen.  As with everything in life there is good and bad, pleasure and pain, sunshine and rain.  The key to a happy life is to find the balance and keep it in the center of the two. This is what yoga is about.  So to keep my balance in the center of cows and swarms of flies, I just hold my breath and walk fast.

Pushing Dirt

I have been watching people clean with Indian-style brooms. The men make and sell them and the women use them. Typical.  When people clean the areas around the storefronts, the lobby of the school, or even the area on the street where people often take a seat, they use these brooms.  It amazes me. They just push the dirt away from the small area.  I never saw anyone using a dust pan to pick up the dirt.  We all know what happens to the dirt.  Of course, it just blows back to the same spot and the people push it away again.

Pushing dirt away….hmm, made me think about my own life.  How often I did not want to deal with things that were too painful.  How often I denied that maybe my decisions were not the best ones for me.  How often I blamed others for my own emotional challenges.  I pushed lots of dirt away and it kept coming back.  I still push dirt, but it has been a lot less once I started to trust my intuition and listen to myself.  Only when I started to admit that I did not have all the answers was I able to learn and grow.

So my friends, think about this for a moment. 

Is there any ‘dirt’ in your life that you keep pushing away? 

Do you think you have all the right answers? 

Are there emotions or challenges that keep coming up in your life?  

If so, then take the time to confront the dirt and get a dust pan.  Sweep it up and throw it away.

 

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This Airplane Better Not Crash

Another winter storm was on the way and the airline notified me that I could change my flight from Monday to Tuesday.  I thought about it, since it would give me more time in the city with my friends.  However, the snow did not come so I decided to leave as planned.  Plus my intuition was not saying yes or no to either day and when it comes to changing flights around, I prefer to stick with the original plan.

I boarded the plane, sat down, started to read, thought about exchanges I had with someone throughout the weekend.  I was annoyed, had opinions, and was certain he needed to know exactly how I felt.  The fiery side of me came out and I was intrigued to go back and forth with him via text messages.  Damn right.  Deep down, I knew it would have been better to take the high road, but the drama of the exchanges kept me engaged.  I do try to end interactions with others on a positive note, since you never know what can happen.   I did not do it this time.

The plane took off and I could see my favorite city and a snow-covered Central Park.  Then the first ‘boom’ came.  I said to the guy next to me, “What the hell was that?”  He did not know.  People started to take their faces out of books and newspapers and looked around.  The plane continued to climb and when the pilot accelerated again, a second and even louder explosion happened.

I thought to myself that I really don’t want to die today.  This airplane better not crash, since I have things to do in this world. Then I thought about my parents and turned on my cell phone to text them if the plane suddenly fell out of the sky.  I thought about my life and if I had any regrets.  I thought about if there were words that I still needed to say to someone.   Then I saw there was a People magazine in the seat pocket.  Great.  I can just read People magazine and see the latest on the Oscar dresses.  This lasted about ten seconds and fear came over me again.  I sat in this fear and remained present and somewhat calm.

The pilot came on and informed us, “The left engine failed, the airplane was coasting, and we have to go back to LaGuardia.”  In a calm voice he added, “It is OK to fly with one engine and there would be emergency vehicles on the runway, but we should not worry.”  What?  Not worry.  I felt the plane hanging in the air using its wings to glide.  I prefer engines instead of just the plane’s wings.  No one said anything.  I wonder what others thought about.

Soon after the announcement we circled Manhattan, flew the path that took the plane down the Hudson River and up the East River.  I told the guy next to me, “Look at this great view.”  White-faced, he agreed and tried to look out my window.  I took a snapshot of lower Manhattan and used my ‘tools’ to think positive.  To be honest, my list of regrets was not too long and if anything did happen, I can say that my life up to this point was pretty much how I wanted to live it.

We landed safely. We were ecstatic.  Jokes started.  I stood up, grabbed my bags and was thankful for this experience to see my life in a different way.  Now more than ever, I know what it means to live each day as if it is your last.  The captain thought they might service the plane, but there was no way I was getting back on it.  Now I am sitting and happily waiting ten hours for the next flight while planning regret #1- a trip to Mt Everest.  In case you are wondering, I did take the high road and reached out to him.

Have you ever thought about what you would do differently if tomorrow were your last day?

Are there things in life waiting for you that you always wanted to do?

Don’t wait for a terrifying plane experience to take action to do the things you want to do or to say I love you or I am sorry to someone.

LIVE YOUR LIFE NOW.  This is all we have.

lower manhattan

January 14, 2014 Courage to Throw Spaghetti

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”  Maya Angelou

 

Acceptance

I left my apartment at 9:45 to make it to Lisa’s 10:45 yoga class in Hell’s Kitchen.  Plenty of time.  Not today.  2,3 not running so I take a ‘packed like sardines’ 4 train to Grand Central, run to the Time’s Square shuttle, jump off the shuttle and TRY to run to class. I cannot move.  There is a people jam. I begin deep breathing exercises and have a ‘what the hell am I doing’ moment.  How ironic, I am completely stressed on the way to yoga.  At this point I stopped pushing my way through a maze of people and realized that I will never find peace in NYC.  Since moving here three years ago I have been determined to master the ‘city of indulging’ by balancing it with yoga, running, swimming, and eating well.  

Why do we always try to fit a square peg in a round hole?  Why do we force things instead of just accepting something as it is?  For me, NYC is the most unbalanced and tempting place to live so the easiest thing is to surrender and accept.  I surrendered on the corner of 42nd and 9th Ave, missed the class, and instead went to a diner for bacon, eggs, and home fries.

This is about acceptance.  Happiness comes when one accepts the reality of a situation for what it is, accepts a person for who they are, and most important is to accept yourself for who you are.  Since leaving corporate, I’ve been lucky to have time to hang out with myself.  Being alone with yourself forces you to discover a lot about what you want in life.  For some people, this might sound like a horror movie as they prefer to be busy to avoid reality.  I did it for so many years until it exploded in my face. 

 

Reality

My reality of living in NYC came to life after I returned from Greece.  The population density of the Greek island is 62 people per square mile and Manhattan Island is 70,000 people per square mile. More people live on my block than the entire Greek island!  It is no wonder that I had anxiety and sleepless nights again upon returning.  When I got back, I searched for sunsets, Greek food, sunshine, swimming.  Impossible.  I started to hate NYC. How can this be, when I was so much in love? 

My relationship with NYC is tumultuous.  There is both pleasure and pain. She (I like to call NYC a she) is like a bad love affair. Once she’s in your heart you can never forget her and it is hard to leave her. Your memories of time with her are some of the best and worse times in your life. You experience so much in a short amount of time that you feel you’ve lived ten years in only three years. Within 24 hours, you can experience complete bliss and complete pain.  My Italian friend always says that some days he loves her in the morning and hates her in the afternoon.  I am sure any New Yorker can relate.  It is the NYC experience.

Some friends were shocked when I told them that the city might not be the best place for me to live.  They responded, but “You are so New York.”, “You used to like it.”, ‘”How can you possibly live someplace with no delivery service?”  These things do not matter and do not contribute to my happiness.  Deep down, I am not New York, I am Pam.  When I got back, companies called for interviews and I got sick just thinking I would sit in an office again.  I felt I was watching a movie from the outside looking in.  People were running around, frantic, stressed, rushing to get the spot on the train that placed them closer to their exit staircase.  I sat back and observed and knew that I did not want to be part of this rat race again.  The main activities are working, shopping, eating, and drinking. I used to live that life.  Believe me, NYC is the best city in the world, but I have learned to accept that I changed and with courage must move forward.  Momentum means acting on what I need at this point in my life.

Onward

I know what works for me.  As tempting as it was to go back to corporate for the security and paycheck to live my NYC life, I decided to take the alternate road.  The bumpy path with a GPS that loses signals now and then and constantly says “recalculating”.  I decided that giving up some of life’s luxuries is better than sacrificing my beautiful life for a paycheck.  Given limited funds, I had to make a decision.  Within a few days of placing my Central Park apartment on craigslist, I found someone to take over my lease.  With no place to go, one day later some American friends that I met on the Greek island offered me a temporary furnished sublet.  It was so easy as if the universe handed this to me in a shiny box.  I moved my things, except two suitcases of winter and summer clothes, from the UWS in Manhattan to a Public Storage unit in the Bronx.  I am the official owner of a 10×10 storage unit and I am happy and free.  This allows me the time to focus on starting my own health, wellness, and travel business.  Why not have a job doing the things that I love most in life?  I don’t know what the business will look like, but I will create it.  I am enrolled in a year-long program at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to be a health and wellness coach.  I love the classes and love living a life true to me.  Will this be the end all be all?  Hell no.  But, I do know that I am in the right direction and now using my internal GPS, my intuition to guide me.

 

Throw Spaghetti

While growing up in Ohio, my best friend Lisa and I would throw spaghetti on the ceiling to see if it would stick.  We laughed for hours.  One day, my father came home early.  Lisa jumped on a chair to take down the spaghetti that stuck and she fell off the chair and sprained her ankle.  We got in double trouble.  Regardless, the next week, we still threw spaghetti.  We can learn from this.  We must have the courage to try out different things in life.  We will fail while trying, but that is OK.  Just throw spaghetti on the ceiling and see what sticks.  See what feels right.  I used to beat myself up for trying new things, moving, being restless, changing, not liking, searching.  Now I embrace my curiosity and am happy to say that this is who I am and thank god for storage units.  It might seem crazy to some people, but to me it is courageous.  I refuse to settle in something that is just average.  I hope others have the power to look for ways to LEARN, GROW, QUESTION, REALIZE, CHANGE, and MOVE ON.

I never again want to be stuck as this is the same as ‘dead man walking’.  I will only be ‘alive woman running’.  Life is about momentum and moving forward.  This means leaving people, places, and things behind.  It is OK.  You have to leave things that don’t work for you to leave space for new to enter into your life.  It is a new year.  What do you want to change?  It might take time and it will not always be easy, but all you need to do is put one foot in front of the other and start….trust me…baby steps are better than no steps.

October 9, 2013 Somewhere over the Atlantic

A Few Days to a Few Months to a Changed Life

I left the island.  My heart is heavy.  There will be a time to return again, but for now, I am on the ferry to Athens and heading away from the port.  I can see Folegandros getting smaller and can still see friends waving from the dock.  Lefty and I are standing on the upper deck and wave back.  I cannot see them anymore.  The wind is blowing, the sea is rough, it is no longer summer, and I have tears in my eyes.  There is something romantic and painful about departures.  I remember those movies where people board the train and wave the white handkerchief out the window.  Loved ones on the platform wave until the white disappears.  The island disappeared.

Throughout the summer, I visited many islands and cities and left most of them easily.  Lipari and Folegandros were different.  Each of these places, when I boarded the ferry to leave, I had that lump in my throat.  These moments mean something and are beautiful to experience.  In the end it does not matter how popular a place is, how many fancy restaurants there are, or how many shops there are.  These things become meaningless if you are there alone.  Everything is always, always about the people. This is why I stayed so long on the island.

The running joke is that I came for a few days and stayed for a few months.  Why?  Of course I stayed on the island so long for the never-ending beauty in my days – from seeing a few sunrises (if I managed to wake up early), many sunsets, blue waters, and endless dark skies full of stars.  But the main reason I stayed is because I shared my days and nights with Greek friends that I met.  Life is pretty basic here.  Folegandros has a village with a handful of restaurants and a few bars.  I could walk into Hora alone, see friends, and sit with someone. There are some shops, but mostly for tourist things and summer clothes. No cinemas, museums, mani pedi spas, sushi bars. Coming from NYC this is opposite, but yet, I was still happy.  Note- Pavlos actually caught a tuna and we made our own sushi.

This island is unique, as it seems to attract the same people. Of course, not everyone is the same, but most people I met are on the same journey.  We question life, what we are doing, what we are experiencing and if it is enough. We think.  Philosophers, poets, and good movies mean something.  This does not mean we sit around and discuss philosophy all day.  No way.  We have fun.  The Greeks know how to live.  My friend said the other day; “I either want to die making love to a woman, in the sea, or eating good food.”  This sums it up quite well.

We pick herbs and make sage tea, watch movies, cook together, eat at the picnic table under the tree, sing songs, drink wine and raki and laugh for hours.  Katerina teaches me how to cook Greek food and makes sure I know the difference between a ‘kitty pinch’ and a ‘Greek pinch’ when it comes to adding herbs, sea salt, and pepper.  Dimitris plays the guitar and leads the singing with his amazing voice and talent.  Songs are mostly about the sea, blowing wind, finding love, losing love, and leaving some island to go to another.  I have no clue what the words mean unless Spiros translates.  Regardless.  I feel the passion in their voices.

I learned that the island was a place for political exile in the 70s.  It still attracts those in ‘exile’ and we all agree.  Not running away, just running towards something else.  Some people I met are also looking to break out of the cage that we were in while living in larger cities, having jobs that were not fulfilling, losing a job in Athens as a result of the crisis, or having a passion that was only possible to live on vacation.  Often, situations in life back us into a cage. This kills our true essence of who we are.   We live in this cage based on loved one’s expectations, pressure from society, or maybe we are not exactly clear on what we want.  The door is locked.  We cannot get out. One day we find the courage to take the key and unlock the door and step out regardless of what other people think.  We are free. There is freedom on this island that I feel each day.  People are free spirits. We find each other here. We spend days together in the sea and nights together at the dinner table. We understand each other.

I smile when I think about how I ended up here for so long.  To be honest if someone would have told me one year ago that I would spend months on a relatively secluded Greek island, I would have laughed.  I can’t possibly do that.  I have to work, need the city life, and what would I do for so long on an island?  Well, now I know.  LIVE LIFE.  Maybe I needed to learn a bit how to chill out, relax, not take things so seriously, not plan my days, and not run around from morning until night.  Maybe I needed to sit on rocks, read a book, and welcome Zorba into my life.  In the book, the author (Nikos Kazantzakis) studied Buddhism, structured his life, did not live his life, lived from his head, and lived with worries and fear.  Zorba lived life to the fullest, from his heart, and said before he died, “Whatever I have done, I have no regrets.  I’ve done heaps and heaps of things in my life, but I still did not do enough.  Men like me ought to live a thousand years.”  After a few months on the island, I am living with more Zorba in my life.

Yoga continues to be a part of some days.  I joined a yoga retreat on the island in early September.  Even after my boot camp yoga retreat in Croatia, I decided to give it a try.  Refreshing.  Mara is a great yoga teacher, friend, and beautiful person.  The yoga was often quite challenging, but the energy in the class was supportive and calm.  Mara brought lightness.  A Greek style yoga retreat is about yoga, good company, and after class chit-chat with raki, wine, and cigarettes.  We had fun.  No sense in drinking tea all week after yoga class and then going back to drinking wine the first day after the retreat is over.

At 3am while singing songs at my birthday BBQ, Dinos inspired me to skip yoga the next day.  Made sense since the day before I stayed up late singing and just slept, sitting up, during the meditation.  Danai convinced me there is no need to tune any chakras.  I get it.  While trying to do yoga one day at the church, the loudest group of Greek people I ever heard came to the top.  They were from Crete.  I waited for silence so I could continue.  I was initially bothered, but these people were having fun.  The son sat next to me and asked, “Where are you from?”  I told him NYC.  He asked, “Oh, do you like Folegandros or NYC better?”  What a question.  It is exactly opposite and I like both.  When his Mom found out that I was from NYC, she said, “Oh, sex in the city. Is it a true story?”  We all laughed, I explained the dating life in the city, and that was the end of my yoga.

Doing yoga and things that are good for the body, mind, and spirit are very important to me. I will always be this way, but now I can see that these things can be done, while still enjoying life and having fun.  When anything becomes too serious and strict, then the balance is lost.  I am an intense person so it is easy for me to throw myself into something and have that all or nothing attitude.  It is easy for me to socialize and to beat myself up the next day when I have a hangover or ate two souvlakis at 4am.  I used to also do this when I was working and if a meeting turned out badly or a deadline was missed. I would dwell on it.  Who cares.  Accept who you are, habits and all.  Of course, we cannot live recklessly and cause harm to our health and to others. But once in a while, take that walk on the wild side.   We all have the ‘devil inside’ and as Zorba said, “Boss, get some sense and just give your devil a name.”

I boarded the ferry a few days ago a different person than when I first walked off the ferry alone in early July.  I know people on the ferry and we are going back to Athens together.  My last night in Athens, about ten of us met, and I sat there and realized how fortunate I am.  I started my travels alone and met so many wonderful people along the way.  All have enriched my life forever.  The best thing about traveling alone is that one is more open to meeting other people.  All of these people taught me something that I would never have experienced if I stayed home.  We cannot travel all the time so the key is to learn to live life wherever you are and to be open to others around you.  There are those that just go through their days, don’t question much, and are ok with this.  Then there are people like me who want to grow, experience, and learn as much as possible.  What do you want?  Know it and go get it.

The water got cold.  It became time for me to leave and to return to NYC. Reality called me the other day and I did not hang up this time.  I am ready.  I climbed mountains, dove in beautiful seas, laughed, cried, and learned a lot about myself. Initially I never planned to go to Greece.  See what happens when we go with the flow. It always works out.  I followed my heart and have changed my life forever. I don’t know anything about the upcoming months besides that I need to get a job and figure out a way to free my summers so I can come back to Greece.  I was told to just “Let the time tell.”  I need to go back to see how I feel in the city and to organize a few things.  I need to go back to the city so that I can come back again to Greece. This ending of my ‘summer into early fall’ vacation is not really the end. It is actually now the beginning of something fabulous.  I am ready. Bring it on.

leaving the island ferryhoney balls and raki christos, dimitra, pam birthday D and S BBQ under the tree singing D FIX zorba book cooking class mushroom pie movie night Pam and Katerina hiking day fish in ovenfriends last night souvlaki

September 30, 2013 Ithaca

Went to a wedding this weekend on the island.  The father of the groom read this poem.  Not much to add, it says it all.  For years, I always said and live this – life is a journey, not a destination.  Make the journey worthwhile.

Where/What is your Ithaca?  

 

Ithaca

Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933), translated by Rae Dalven

 

When you start on your journey to Ithaca,

then pray that the road is long,

full of adventure, full of knowledge.

Do not fear the Lestrygonians

and the Cyclopes and the angry Poseidon.

You will never meet such as these on your path,

if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine

emotion touches your body and your spirit.

You will never meet the Lestrygonians,

the Cyclopes and the fierce Poseidon,

if you do not carry them within your soul,

if your soul does not raise them up before you.

 

Then pray that the road is long.

That the summer mornings are many,

that you will enter ports seen for the first time

with such pleasure, with such joy!

Stop at Phoenician markets,

and purchase fine merchandise,

mother-of-pearl and corals, amber and ebony,

and pleasurable perfumes of all kinds,

buy as many pleasurable perfumes as you can;

visit hosts of Egyptian cities,

to learn and learn from those who have knowledge.

 

Always keep Ithaca fixed in your mind.

To arrive there is your ultimate goal.

But do not hurry the voyage at all.

It is better to let it last for long years;

and even to anchor at the isle when you are old,

rich with all that you have gained on the way,

not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

 

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.

Without her you would never have taken the road.

But she has nothing more to give you.

 

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not defrauded you.

With the great wisdom you have gained, with so much experience,

you must surely have understood by then what Ithaca means.

 

September 27, 2013 Folegandros, Greece (Part II)

When the Water Gets Cold or the Day After Tomorrow

Back up to July 24.  I left the island that day. It was a rash decision to satisfy my curiosity to see more of the world and other seas besides the beautiful Aegean.   The night before I left was a long one as I said goodbye to my friends.  Some did not say goodbye, since they knew I would be back. I smiled and said “Of course, I will see you later in August.” Deep down, I was not sure I would ever come back. Lately when I go places and the experience is beyond wonderful then I prefer to keep it that way.   Coming back to the same place, one expects the same, and often the second time around, one is disappointed.   This time I came back.

No expectations, just an open mind and an open heart. Everything changes.  Nothing is the same as it was one second ago.  We logically know that, but often we have expectations based on past experiences.  When we expect someone to do something, since he or she did it in the past, then we are often angry and upset when the person does not follow through.  When we attach to a person or an outcome we often set ourselves up for disappointment and we blame something or someone else for ‘making us feel bad’.  In the end it is up to us to change our perspective.  So, as I made my decision to return to Folegandros, I consciously told myself to not expect anything, there will be something else to see and learn, and it will be equally as fabulous as the first time; just in a different way.

I board the ferry from Santorini and the girl next to me has on a t-shirt that says – follow your heart.  Another one said – just live for everything you love.  Good thing for t-shirt wisdom. These are the reasons I am on this ferry again and returning to the island that has left a mark on my heart.  The ferry is different. There are fewer people. We are not being pushed on and off like cattle. I leave my suitcase outside, since I know it is easier to grab it when the boat arrives in the port.  I step off.  I breathe in the sea-air, the wind is gently blowing a warm breeze, and the energy feels good.  This stirs up inside of me a feeling of bliss.  I am happy. There is magic in the air.  Ask the locals or those that return year over year, they will tell you the same.  I immediately feel comfortable.

I meet my friends that night. They changed and are tired from a long season of working everyday.  It is also the end of August and there is a feeling in the air that vacations are over. Summer is slipping away.  I can feel it.  Here on the island people are starting to leave, going back to a life they don’t like in Athens. Then there are people like me who don’t have a date to go back.  We want to live the endless summer, but every so often, that ‘thing’ creeps into the mind.  Reality.  It is waiting for me, but let it wait.  I am still in Greece and the days and water are still warm.

My first day back, I walk up to the church as I did in July to do yoga.  The donkey is gone. Then men working on the path are gone.  Hobo Jack, the pointer that reminds me of Ingrid, is gone. The sunsets are different.  It sets in a different place and now I do not sit at the bar where I used to sit.  The water is warmer.  The wind is gentler.  Nature and locals have changed to prepare for fall.  Being in this beauty each day, I also am more connected to nature.  It is very clear that everything must change, there are no options.  I am OK with this.  One thing that is still the same, thank God, is that the Greek men are still gorgeous and still ‘real men’. You know, men who can build things with their hands, who can catch a fish, gut it, cook it for dinner and clean up the dishes.  These are my friends.

My new favorite hobby is spear fishing.  I don’t actually deep dive and catch the fish, but I snorkel on top and carry the extra spears and the fish the guys catch.  This position on the team offers the best view of the action.  Spiros asked, “We are going spear fishing do you want to come?”  As I say yes to everything these days, I answer, “Of course, sounds fun, what do I need to do?”  He told me, “Just watch.” “And we need to pick up my friend.”  Easy enough. We jump in his boat, pass a dolphin, and arrive at a Greek navy ship anchored in the middle of the Aegean.  Stratos is waiting.  The adventures continue.  Spiros maneuvers his boat beside a huge navy ship, Stratos hands me his gear, jumps in, and we leave.  The guys put on their suits.  Not boring Armani suits, but tight, camouflage wet suits.  James Bond style they attach a knife to the waste and carry the spear.

We know the concept of man’s need to hunt and chase. Well, this is hunting in its purest form.  I am thoroughly entertained.  The guys swim and keep their eyes open for fish. When they locate a cave or a rock that looks promising, the breathing begins. Deep inhales and exhales to prepare for the free dive.  Since the suits are so tight, you can see their lungs filling with air.  They take turns.  It is time and one man gives a push to the other’s fins.  Ever so gracefully, holding their breath, they dive to depths of 25 to 30 meters (90 feet), and slowly let out air.  Searching for a fish, they select the one they want, and the spear is released.  I close my eyes.  This continues for three hours. Every so often someone will ask, “Pamelaki, are you OK, are you bored?”  Bored?  They have no idea how much I enjoy this front row seat.  I tell them, “Well, I am a little cold, but I will be just fine.  Continue on.”   I smile.  Here I am in the most beautiful blue, clear waters of the Aegean watching men be men. Kefi once again.

As September winds down, I get the dreaded question from family and friends.  “When are you coming home?”  Now I simply respond, “When the water gets cold.”  Time does not really exist here.  We don’t know what day of the week it is or the date.  This phenomena can only happen once you do the same things each day or don’t have meetings to attend, or are not counting down days for the weekend.  When making appointments, my friend will just say to meet him tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or two days from tomorrow.  I don’t even wear a watch anymore.  I’ve changed since I left NYC in May.  A dear friend emailed last week and told me, “Your life has changed forever.”  I don’t know how I will feel when I return and will not think about it while I am still in Greece. I need the sea. I need nature. I need simplicity. My days here are the same, but I am never bored.  Thanks to Pavlos, I zip around on my donkey scooter as if I live here.

There is a rhythm here.  The beauty of the sea and conversations with my friends fills my soul.  It is enough.  I swim everyday.  As I breathe, my head turns to see the blue sky and white cliffs.  My head is then in the water and I see the turquoise sea and colorful fish.  Inhale and exhale.  Salt water is my friend.  I swim to rocks, climb them, and perch myself as if a mermaid.   I went to my favorite rock today.  I lie down and stare at the clear, blue water, green layers of rocks.  The rock has a small puddle and when the sun dries it, there is sea salt.  My cheek rests in it.  I wake up and lick the sea salt from my lips.  I am tired, but don’t want to close my eyes as I will miss the beauty that is in front of them.  My days are also filled with friends.  We swim, dive, cook together, sing songs under the tree, watch movies, have dinner in the village, and then we spend hours talking.  I read to them sections from my book that arrived from Athens last week – Zorba the Greek.  We laugh.  We are all a little bit like Zorba.

It will be hard to leave, but I know that I will be ready.  I am already feeling that it is time to head back to the States.  While on the island, I feel like I plugged myself in to some battery re-charge machine. The people, the sun, the sea, the moon, and the shooting stars- these all fill me with joy.  I will continue to ‘fill me up’ with whatever is floating around in the air until the boat leaves the port.  Then I will be sailing towards another adventure.

It will be like my night dive.  In the dark waters, there is an unknown that I had to jump into.  For a second, I was afraid of the ‘sharks’ below.  Once we went down, the light of the full moon guided us.  We had flashlights. Below the surface of the scary, dark waters, there was actually light from shimmering plankton, and believe it or not, not one shark. Once I leave Greece, I do not know what will happen. Sometimes we have to jump into those dark waters and know that below the surface it will be clear.  During the night dive, I was not afraid.  Given some time, the unknown of the dark waters became known.  Christos told me a few weeks ago – “fear is the last door before you feel free”  There is nothing to be afraid of.  Dark waters become light.  Everything I need to know is below the surface – the answers are within.

folegandros from afarvorenei beach 2spear fishing spear fishing two navy shipboat three zorba my rock my rock 2donkey scootersunet 2 sun set

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