Leaping Into Life

Falling Never Felt So Good

Calling in Tech Support, Hackers Help Community Groups Combat Challenges for Homeless

Image

Hacktivation for the Homeless, Day 1:

Tonight, community organizations on the frontlines of assisting the homeless came to ask a diverse crowd, with mixed technological talents, to help them make an even bigger impact. These change-makers’ calls weren’t asking for money, but for technical support to help utilize volunteer resources and manage cumbersome data that are slowing them down.

At Glide Memorial Church, a safe haven in the Tenderloin that has delivered services to people living on the street for more than 50 years, Hacktivation participants heard from several folks who have called the streets home. It became clear that homelessness comes in every form and is often fueled by a lack of access to resources and community support.

Developer Marc Roth ended up living in his car after dreams of striking gold in Silicon Valley fell thru when his specific programming skills weren’t in demand. The road to a more stable and secure life took time, shared Marc, surrounded by his peers. Now the co-founder of Learning Shelter, Marc is leading the charge in offering the resources, support and trust to those that are unable to help themselves “at this time,” he stressed from the sanctuary’s stage.

Image

“If sidewalks could give a degree, I’d have a doctorate,” said Del Seymour, who glowed, as he spoke from the same podium where he’d watched Bill Clinton, Maya Angelou, and Oprah preach over the years. Battling addiction and life on the sidewalks of the Tenderloin, Del said his salvation came because people believed in him and credits the strength and love from the Glide community for why he is alive today.

With a deeper understanding of the people impacted by the problem of homelessness, the evening shifted to presentations from more than twelve community organizations serving thousands of San Franciscans through housing, food, medical care, skills training, arts programs and support for victims of domestic violence.

Whether it’s building a web or e-commerce site, creating a portal to connect 25,000 volunteers with service opportunities or developing a chat system to connect abused women to a support network, the need for technological know-how is a critical barrier for these groups to serve their constituencies better and accelerate social change.

Over the next two hours, participants mingled and spoke with the various organizations, and signed up to find a hack for their tech problem over the next weekend. Let the building begin!

Leave a comment »

Being Courageous in 2014

ImageAll I could hear was my heart pounding and the sound of branches cracking under my feet as I sprinted through a darkening forest. Something wasn’t right. Even though we’d clocked seven miles, the blue dot on my tracking app was only at the halfway point of the so-called moderate seven-mile hike.

With only an hour and a half of daylight left, we came to a split in the trail. Fear swept over me, panic set in, and my phone died. I felt more lost than I had ever been and it was terrifying.

This experience got me thinking about a question that has been on my mind. How do I deal with and confront fear? Do I freeze? Fight? Or take flight?

Fear is powerful. Our reaction to fear colors our experience — it’s as meaningful as we make it. Positive or negative or somewhere in between. What’s it going to be?

A few days before the hike, I declared that my theme for 2014 was to be courageous. It wasn’t until after the epic trek that I realized what that really meant in my life. The world can be big and daunting, whether you are alone in the woods or simply feeling uncertain in life, love, or work. What does it mean to be courageous – to lead from the heart– in the midst of so many unknowns?

Last year, I settled in San Francisco after 16 months of nomadic life in the developing world – a feat that many have called courageous. And yet when I reflect back on 2013, I realize that starting all over again has in many ways has proved to be even more challenging.

So in 2014, I am committed to facing my fears and accepting the intimidating or uncomfortable feelings that come with building a thriving business and joyful life. I am also committed to supporting others as they confront those weighty questions that hold them back from their own leaps into life.

What’s the leap you’re itching to make? Let’s do it together.  Send me a tweet or an email with your own story. I’d love to feature your story on Leaping Into Life. 

Leave a comment »

Finding a Mentor in Malibu and the Power of Pushing Upward

It had been a long few days and I wasn’t really in the mood for networking, but something inside said to go.

In Los Angeles to help promote International Mandela Day, I found myself on a windy rooftop in Malibu at Creative Visions, a fantastic non-profit that uses visual media and storytelling to spark social change.

That night, I met Andrea. We were introduced and immediately shared a kindred spirit. A feeling that we were mirrors of each other, except with a thirty year age difference. Andrea shined as she shared her story and listened to mine. After five minutes, I declared my love for her and she insisted that I read her new novel, Pushing Upward. We made plans to have lunch that coming Monday.

In LA, everyone says “let’s do lunch,” but saying and doing are two very different things.  So when I called on Sunday, I half-expected to leave a message never to be returned or make plans only to be cancelled at the last minute.

To make a long story short, we ended up spending five hours together at her home in Santa Monica, talking about the challenges of running our own businesses and throwing the I Ching (what’s this you ask? keep reading).

I Ching Inspiration

For more inspiration, check out Pushing Upward

My time with Andrea provided a much-needed boost in my belief in the path I’ve chosen, which has been hectic and challenging these past few months. We now speak weekly and she’s coming to San Francisco in September.

Well, I tore through Andrea’s novel Pushing Upward which dived deeper into the I Ching while using funny and candid snapshots from a period of her own life to illustrate the book’s takeaways. I’ve never written one before, but here is my review of Pushing Upward which I highly recommend.

Take a Step Forward in Your Life, Read Pushing Upward!

Inspiring and insightful, Pushing Upward seemed to come into my life as serendipitously as the elderly Emma responded to Sandra’s fateful ad in Andrea Adler’s tale of transformation.

Sandra’s entertaining story isn’t just for the young twenty-something looking for direction; it’s for anyone who has let doubt derail their dreams and is open to examining themselves, just as Sandra does on her journey.

The novel is a cautionary story of how we let our past hold us back, how we use excuses to prevent us from acting in the present and how to positively embrace what our future holds. Uncertainly is expected, the test is how we respond to it!

Incorporating the I Ching, an ancient Chinese divination system popular in the 70s, Pushing Upward introduces a tool that readers can use to better reflect on the big and small questions in our lives. After reading Andrea’s book, I bought the I Ching and its millennia-old wisdom is a helpful sounding board and guide.

For the people who give us strength and guidance, Andrea and the I Ching remind us to value them. And, more importantly, to be a source of strength and support for others – no matter how consumed we become in our own lives.

Pushing Upward is a lesson to be open and realize that “every encounter, every experience teaches us something.”  People come into our lives for a reason – to help, to test, and to teach.

Pushing Upward helped me to overcome my own uncertainty and reluctance to ask for help, and appreciate those that offer it. Andrea’s book and the I Ching taught me to “not allow daggers of doubt to puncture your heart” and that with patience and effort, success is what you make of it.

Learn more about Andrea, the I Ching and Pushing Upward at www.pushingupward.com. Follow her on Twitter @pushingupward or Facebook here.

NOTE: I have not received any compensation for this recommendation. It’s all from love!   Now share it : )

Leave a comment »

Swimming out of the Swamp, Sailing Into the Bay

It’s been a year and a half since I left the life that I knew in Washington to take a leap into a world that I had only dreamed of from my desk.

With the release of “This Town,” an inside the beltway book revealing all sorts of dirt on Washington’s political elite, I was recently asked a few questions by a reporter about why I left Washington, my motivation for leaving and what I’m doing now that I swam out of the swamp.

This is what I sent him.

I left the District in January 2012 after a decade of working overtime for the Democratic party, politicians and an international non-profit. The world was bigger than an office with five TVs blaring news of fiscal cliffs and Congressional stalemates. Every day felt like the movie Groundhog Day. It was time to hit the road across four continents and 11 developing countries alone and armed with a backpack.

Traveling was hard and humbling, enlightening and enlivening. I didn’t read Politico’s The Playbook anymore. The drama of the 2012 election cycle and beltway gossip faded from my day-to-day. I read the Game of Thrones and the Hunger Games series (yes, all of them). I built websites for guesthouses in exchange for free room and board. I went on safari, learned Spanish, visited development projects in the field, bummed around on beaches and wrote about all of it in my own voice for once – and not as a spokesperson.

After a year on the road, I returned to one of my favorite places from my travels: India. For a few months, I helped run the international media operation for an environmental non-profit at the largest spiritual gathering in the world, the Kumbh Mela. It was like working for a campaign again at a chaotic Indian pace, but infused with an Eastern influence of meditation and yoga.

I look back at Washington as a memorable chapter where I cut my teeth and grew thick skin. At times, it seemed like life was ripped out of a script from the West Wing. Riding in Black Hawk helicopters and casually chatting with the President backstage at an event. It was exciting and exhausting, but the problem with getting wrapped up in Washington’s game was that I lost sight of what brought me there ten years earlier.

I came to Washington at 18 because I wanted to be the White House Press Secretary and help make the world a better place. I worked for people and causes that I cared about and believed in. My reason for leaving was to get out of the bubble and experience the real world. To see how people were making a tangible difference outside of Washington, DC. I left mildly disillusioned and disappointed in government and media, but proud of a few accomplishments and grateful to work for some passionate public servants.

I’ve been in San Francisco since March, where I launched my own public relations firm that works with social good start ups and non-profits. While I may not be in politics anymore, the experience of engaging an audience and building influence translates from voters to consumers, congressional offices to companies.

There is an entrepreneurial spirit here that is action-oriented. An entire start up industry around social change, education, and development is emerging that rivals Washington in impact and access to investment. So while I look back at my time in D.C. favorably, the swamp was not meant for me so I sailed around the world and dropped anchor in the City on the Bay.

Pictures from the past to come! Posting from Seal Beach, in LA volunteering to promote International Mandela Day and the unveiling of a mural in his honor.

Did you take a leap into life or want to? If you’d like to be a Featured Leaper, please contact me. Let’s build a community together.

20130720-132746.jpg

4 Comments »

Part 4: 30 Things to Remember in My 30s

So I’m freshly 30 and I missed my self-imposed deadline, but let’s just move forward without any self-loathing. This is the second to last post in my series of 30 Things to Remember in My 30s featuring lessons for the mind, body, soul, work, life, and love. Please share your own in the comments section!

Mind – Meditate

I am a terrible meditator. I’ve gone to sessions where thoughts continue to bombard my mind and when I take sneak peak around, everyone seems to have reached bliss. What I needed to realize was that other’s ability to meditate didn’t matter and keep practicing.

The idea of meditation has been pontificated about so much that for many of us, it seems out of reach. For me, it’s hard to drown out the daily rigamarole with silence. There is so much noise, how do you mentally tune it out.

I’ve tried guided transcendental mediation with a repeating mantra a few times. It was always so hard to clear my mind of thoughts though I’d have passing moments of deep connection with my body and the universe.

Ironically, I found a website/ app for that called Calm.com. You select 2, 10, and 30 minute sessions of guided practice with your choice of natural sounds in the background. Perfect during a commute to work or when you need to tune out.

Meditators out there, please contribute any tips in comments.

Body – Get Outdoors

Nature is a beautiful and inspiring place. I’m so excited to adventure around the West Coast to get outdoors and experience the surf, sand, mountains and desert.

For me, being outdoors on a hike or bike ride isn’t just physical exercise, but provides a connection and appreciation for the physical world around us. After a hectic DC day, I would take a bike ride to release, recharge and take in a purplish pink sunset skirting along the Potomac River. It’s a space and place to be grateful and maybe a form of meditation for me as well.

Soul – Be A Tool (not that kind of tool!)

In India, Swamiji would always say that we are only tools or instruments in which the divine works through us. In the symphony of life, we each have our own talents and notes that we play and together make beautiful music, but those talents aren’t our own, they are given to us.

Sadhvi Bhagawati said that a microphone doesn’t boast about what a great speech it gave because the mike is simply the vessel through which the words were amplified. This lesson is really about ego. Ego distracts from the task at hand and disrupts the flow. I was very grateful to learn this lesson in India as it helped me recognize the value that everyone brings to the table and to respect that.

Work – Be Patient

We all get frustrated or have bad days when we’re working with someone who asks a stupid question and you want to verbally rip their head off. I was on the receiving end of this when I first began working and it destroys your confidence.

Resolute in mentoring instead of being masochistic, I tried to approach these situations with teaching instead of temper. Tearing someone apart may make you feel good to blow off steam, but it breaks down the barriers of trust and communications.

Being in PR, I want people to come to me with the good, bad, ugly and even stupid. It’s more time and more patience, but you’re in the loop which is the most important aspect.

No one is perfect though, see an example of my impatience of yesteryear here. Mom, I’m sorry for the swear words.

Image

Life – Say YEP! Say Yes, Embrace Your Environment, and be Proactive!

Around 25, I felt stagnant with a wave of college friends leaving DC to travel abroad and settle in cities like San Francisco. I found myself so happy when visiting SF and always left a piece of my heart there. On one plane journey back, resolved to experience more in the place where I actually lived, I made three commitments: to say yes to everything, embrace DC and be proactive.

ImageChanging my mentality changed everything. My friend Lucy and I started meeting new people in DC’s art, culture and music scene and found ourselves out every night. So now, regardless of the place, I try to say yes, embrace my surroundings and be proactive because you never know the adventures awaiting you out there is this wild world.

Love – Love Yourself

A wise 30 year old with gray hair once told me that you gotta love yourself first and foremost. A famous swami in India said that you cannot give if you are not full yourself. It’s advice that fills many self help books and that is because it’s true.

At times, I’ve forgotten it in the self loathing throes of a break up or lost myself in a relationship with someone else.

This mantra runs through many of the other lessons that I’ve written about from following your passions to looking on the bright side of life and doing your best everyday. Hopefully by being mindful of all the lessons, I’ll remember that I’m in a relationship with myself first and foremost and “you gotta love yourself.”

What do you think about the list so far?

2 Comments »

Part 3: 30 Things to Remember in My 30s

Image

With three days to 30, it’s crunch time to bang out my 30 Things to Remember in My 30s series, but I tend to work better under pressure anyway.

So with that, here is the third of a five-part series to celebrate the past 30 years and list 30 lessons that I’ve learned – and, more importantly, need to keep learning for the next 30 plus years.

Each post will feature lessons for the mind, body, soul, work, life, and love. Please share your own in the comments section!

Mind: Be Calm

keep calm and carry on

While the old WW2 slogan, “Keep Calm and Carry On” has lost some panache plastered on wallets, notebooks, and everything else, the saying is spot on. When our minds are frantic, our reactions reflect that mental state.

During my time with Pujya Swamiji at the Kumbh Mela, he said that the most precious space is that time between your thoughts and action. It is in that space where you determine your reaction. If a thought is a seed, the space is when you water that seed with either hate or love before it sprouts into the world. Everyone has a short fuse sometimes, but just remember what you put into the world, you get back from it.

Body: Eat My Vegetables and Drink Water

Image

Growing up, every mother becomes a broken record saying eat your vegetables and, in our youth, we roll our eyes and think, “oh mom.” Well she’s right. While on the road this past year, I gained a whole new appreciation for vegetables. In some places like Africa, the primary meal is meat and starches and, in most, raw vegetables like a salad was just asking for stomach trouble. Now that I’m back, it will be great to get back into the kitchen to enjoy nature’s bounty and all the healthful benefits that come with it.

Adults are about 65% water and the more we drink, the cleaner our bodies become. I don’t drink enough water, but given this tip is in every health magazine, it must be a challenge for everyone else as well. A good tip, that I read from The Biggest Loser’s Bob Harper, was to drink a large glass of water before every meal which hydrates and takes the hungry edge off that causes us to overeat. Now there’s an initiative to get more H2O!

Soul: Be Helpful

Everyday, we’re bombarded with television ads asking for donations and beggars on the street asking for help. We can feel like problems are too big and we are to small to rectify them. But if everyone just did one act of kindness a day, imagine the impact and the domino effect with kindness being passed along to others.

On helping others, a buddhist monk once said that the right hand never hesitates to accompany the left hand in a task. Hands will naturally respond because they depend on each other to get through life. We are all hands that must work together to build a better world.

Work: Your Time is Valuable

At a full-time job, you will spend a third of your life working if not more. Make the most of it and don’t waste valuable time doing something that you hate. I’ve gone through periods of feeling uninspired, unappreciated, and frustrated. It may be something you address with work or maybe you need to leave that job and find a place that values you and your time. That’s all we have in life so why spend a third of it miserable behind a desk. This leads us to the next “thing”….

Life: Follow Your Passions

A few years after starting work in Washington, DC, the realization hit me that I had no hobbies except living and breathing legislation and political fist fights. That day at 23, I booked a solo trip to Costa Rica to learn how to surf and started to focus on following my passions of writing, traveling, and connecting with people.

Image

While it took ten years before I walked away from that world, the time invested in hobbies beyond work helped me find the courage to pursue what I love. I’ve met so many inspiring people whose passions are now their careers. And even if it’s not a career, passions provide us with an outlet to express ourselves and make the world more colorful. Pursue them.

Love: Don’t Settle

During one relationship in my twenties, I gained 20 pounds over the course of a year. Everyone tends to gain some weight and get comfortable in relationships. But when you settle down, the relationship can become stagnant and you with it!

Now, I haven’t been in a serious relationship in years, but I’m determined in any future ones to keep busy, stay off the couch, and discover new activities with that other person, as well as seek out personal adventures of my own.

The other way of settling is with a person who doesn’t deserve you. We all want love, but don’t sacrifice yourself simply to have someone to hold hands with.

You are awesome and deserve awesome. Don’t settle for less – in work, in love, or life.

Image

What do you think about the list so far? Stayed tuned for more things to remember in my 30s as March 23rd quickly approaches.

3 Comments »

30 Things to Remember in My 30s: Part 2

A friend in India once told me that your thirties are when you make happen what you prepared for in your twenties. 

So with that, here is the second of a five-part series to celebrate the past 30 years and list 30 lessons that I’ve learned – and, more importantly, need to keep learning for the next 30 plus years. 

Each post will feature lessons for the mind, body, soul, work, life, and love. Please share your own in the comments section as everyone has their own experiences to share! 

Mind: Always Stay on the Bright Side of Life

It’s easy to get bogged down sometimes and see the world through a darker depressing lens. When this happens, take a moment and turn that frown upside down. Whether you see the glass half-empty or half-full is all in your mind. You have the power to turn on the light in your life so don’t waste your time in the dark.

Image

Body: Get Enough Sleep

Just like milk does a body good, so does sleep. As a night owl, who is trying to be a morning person, I find it hard to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep every night.

Some of the reasons why sleeping will help me reach my goals are improved memory, more creativity, and reduced stress.  Studies show that sleep gives your mind time to process memories which also results in increased creativity. It also lowers your stress levels and helps control blood pressure.

Soul: If it’s Weighing You Down, Let it Go

Throughout our lives, we acquire a lot of stuff both physically and emotionally. Just like the annual spring purging of those t-shirts from college that you will never wear, it’s important to purge anything weighing you down spiritually because it will physically weigh you down.

Image

Whether it’s with a person or an event in your life, whatever happened is in the past so do what you need to do to make peace and move on… Preferably sooner than getting rid of those boot-cut pleather pants in your closet from high school (I owned a pair. There are pictures, but thankfully this was before digital.)

Work: Speak Up or Shut Up

If you have an issue at work than speak up about it or shut up about it. I realized that some of my time at work was spent speaking to others about problems instead of informing the big bosses. This allowed my frustrations to only build instead of addressing the issues and going from there. With that in mind, I’m learning to have those hard conversations or let it be, let it go, and shut up.

Life – Go With the Flow

On one of the main bathing days at the Kumbh Mela, the largest spiritual gathering in the world, I found myself walking with 36 million pilgrims to bathe in the intersection of India’s sacred rivers. On foot, the masses moved like flowing water. There were stumbles, but as long as you went with the flow, you got where you wanted to go.

Image

This message has been hammered into me this past year by the universe. As a recovering Type A personality and an avid planner, I have to find a way to balance being prepared and being in the present. The path is already there, you just have to walk and follow the signs along the way.

Love – Be Honest

Be honest with your partner and be honest with yourself about your relationships. Connect with how you feel and let it guide you  This is really a lesson that I need to learn as my smile is my shield. While I’m truthful, I don’t talk about my feelings because once words are out there, you can’t take them back. Regardless, I need to put more out there and writing this is a step forward.

Image

What do you think about the list so far? Stayed tuned for more things to remember in my 30s as March 23rd quickly approaches.

1 Comment »

Part 1: 30 Things to Remember in My Thirties

Image

In a few short weeks, I’ll be turning 30. This milestone is marked in many folks’ lives with a marriage, mortgage, or a new addition like a pet or a baby. For me, it signals a new chapter set in a new city.

Being on the move this past year, a home base is something that I’m looking forward to in San Francisco. To deepen my ties to a community and build a business doing what I believe in is an exciting way for me to start my thirties. A friend in India once told me that your thirties are when you make happen what you prepared for in your twenties.

So with that, here is the first of a five-part series to celebrate the past 30 years and list 30 lessons that I’ve learned – and, more importantly, need to keep learning for the next 30 plus years. Each post will feature lessons for the mind, body, soul, work, life, and love. Please share your own in the comments section as everyone has their own experiences and lessons to share!

Mind: Read for Fun

When I was eight, I belonged to four different “Book of the Month” clubs. From the Baby-sitter’s Club to the Boxcar Children series, I would hide under my sheets with a flashlight devouring page after page, book after book. In my twenties, as reading emails and everything else consumed my days, reading for pleasure became a passing joy instead of a permanent pleasure.

On the road, I read more this last year than in the past ten years.  Reading opens your mind, sparks the imagination and makes the world more colorful. Keep it up (Kim)!

Body: Get Up and Move

A couple of years ago, I broke my elbow and had a full cast on my arm. Not moving it for two weeks, my right arm was stuck at a 90 degree angle for three months after. While a dramatic example, this is what happens to your body when you’re stuck either on your couch or desk for too long.  Take time out of your day to get up and move.

This is a big one for me because I love my couch after a long day and, somedays, it seems like there isn’t even five minutes to take a break from the computer screen. But, I realized during this past trip to India that making time to move is just as important physically as it is mentally – to clear your mind and create a space to enjoy the present moment.

Soul: Be grateful

It’s easy to let first-world problems overshadow how we view our day-to-day lives. When you start to get frustrated with the little hurdles like a traffic jam or your cell phone constantly dropping calls (T-Mobile!), take a deep breath and realize how lucky you are to have these commodities in the first place.

Take a moment and be grateful for the world around you. Take a moment and notice someone’s laughter, the loving exchange between a mother and child, or a random act of kindness that is humanity at it’s best. Too often these gifts go unnoticed.

Have a moment? Watch Louie Schwartzberg’s speech on Nature, Beauty, and Gratitude at TEDxSF that shows how happiness is truly connected to one’s gratitude for all around us.

Work: Remember your values

Everyone has to juggle the constant struggle of balancing work and life, but if you are grounded by your values, work can’t strip your sense of self. In some professional situations, we find ourselves overwhelmed, overworked and lose sight of why.

A decade ago, I worked in politics because I thought that was how I could help make the world a better place. While my work contributed to making a difference, days spent in political combat distracted from what Washington really needed – a truce, a sense of teamwork not divided by party, and a purpose to promote America’s best interests.

For me, I had to leave to pursue the values that I need in my work and life. My renewed career will focus on bringing people together from all political paths and walks of life to help others.

Image

Life: Do Your Best Everyday 

Ripped from The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz, remember to always do your best! The important lesson is that everyday your best will change, just like the weather or your weight.

Don’t punish yourself or feel guilty about what you didn’t do today, focus on what you’ll do differently tomorrow and know that today, you did what you could.

For example, last night, I spent four hours on the couch napping while switching between HGTV’s Love It or List It and A&E’s Criminal Minds. I could have been more productive, but I needed that chill time and I don’t feel bad about it!

Love: Don’t get Caught Up in Someone Else’s Timeline

In relationships, timing is everything. Where you are in your life and where the other person sees themselves is important and cannot be ignored. Too often, if we really like someone, we get caught up in their timeline and not our own – trying to be on the same page when our hearts are not is like trying to jam a square peg in a round hole.

Time is the most precious thing that we have. Don’t waste it trying to change for someone or letting someone waste their precious time changing for you if it doesn’t feel right.

What do you think about the list so far? Stayed tuned for more things to remember in my 30s as March 23rd quickly approaches.

3 Comments »

Living and Learning the Lesson of the Kumbh Mela

Image

While most reports about the epic and enormous spiritual festival called the Kumbh Mela are done by helicopter journalists that come in for two days with a pre-determined set of hyped up stories of naked babas or if they’re lucky some sort of minor tragedy that they can use to dramatically mischaracterize an enormous gathering of spiritual people whom they don’t understand or identify with, I had the pleasure and pain of living and learning the lesson of the Kumbh for six weeks in Allahabad, India.

Looking back as I made the 30 hour haul back to the U.S., I realized how hard it was to camp on the silt of a river bank that in the summer is underwater and in the winter retains none of the heat from the day’s sun. The night’s cold is only combatted with blankets and clothing layers as heating doesn’t exist. And when rains come, so does the muddy rivers of water that make their way through your tent – and at one point my office – seeking to rejoin the river, to return to where all the drops become one.

Image

These elements are mixed with dust and the smoke of thousands of fires being stoked to boil the sweet chai tea and to keep the millions warm through the night. Within days, one develops the Kumbh cold, a deep cough accompanied by a constant runny nose. You are surrounded at all times by people – friends, strangers, spiritual guides, and some that wear each of those hats depending on the day and situation – and some wear no clothes at all. There is no privacy and the days of the week no longer exist – only main bathing days and the others in between. It’s hard, but it’s meant to be that way.

The story of the Kumbh Mela is one retold constantly, but what you have to realize is that being there, you’re living the lesson and learning from it. It’s said that the Kumbh came about from the churning of the sea by demons and gods alike for the nectar of immortality. But before that bliss was reached, many other things came up in the process including poison.

When the poison came up, there was despair because if it was left, the whole world would be contaminated but if it was consumed, the poison would be internalized and destroy whomever drank it. So Shiva, one of the trinity of powerful Hindu gods, took the poison and he drank it. But, he didn’t take it in, he held it in his throat and went to a temple in the foothills of the Himalayas where he meditated for the rest of his life to keep it there and keep the world safe.

Image

Well I can tell you that what Shiva did was quite a feat, because being at the Kumbh does churn up many things. And it’s a battle, not between demons and gods, but within yourself to identify how you deal with these emotions of frustration, anger, and exhaustion that come up from the challenges that present themselves.

For me, I realized that, despite walking away from work for a year in an attempt to find balance, I will constantly sacrifice myself, my health, and my happiness so I don’t let people down. I worked 16 hour days for 6 weeks which drove me to near physical and mental collapse.  I realized this and made the conscious decision to go MIA from time to time.

Crossing over

I would travel over the river by boat at sunset and mingle among the akharas of chillum-smoking nagas and sadhus where I found kinship in the music radiating from their tents, and kindness that was in the spirit of giving and learning. It was at these gatherings where my little group of hooligans found ourselves shepherded by saints and enveloped in their teachings.

Holy Hooligans

While I find incredible spiritual fulfillment in service and believe that doing my part to save the world and help others is the reason I’m on this earth, I won’t be whole if I don’t begin to carve time out for myself to ensure that I’m not draining myself.

Into the night

Everyone at the camp would always ask if I was eating and taking care of myself, but I failed to realize that carving time out of the day for me was just as important as a meal time or sleep because it’s that time when you recharge from within, when you reflect on all the things that have been churned up during the day and how you deal with them in a better way next time.

So the lesson of the Kumbh is really a lesson in life. Sometimes poison comes up and it’s down to you whether you take it in, put it out, or take a moment to deal with that venom so it doesn’t hurt you or others. And than you can take the time to see the joy that we can bring to each other in those wonderful moments that strung together are called life.

Enjoying the Moment

I’m currently in Los Angeles to produce an art show and tour for a talented Kenyan artist, Cyrus Kabiru, who is speaking at TED LA this week. Despite the craziness, I’m committed to doing ten sun salutations every day and taking time to do personal writing – because no one is going to carve out the time except for me. Maybe I did learn a few things at that crazy place called the Kumbh Mela after all : )

Namaste my friends.

C-STUNNER Invite Option 2

1 Comment »

My Introduction to the Kumbh Mela, The Largest Spiritual Gathering on Earth

Image

We began our journey to the main Kumbh Mela grounds at 2am, piled three on a motorbike that would take us only a few kilometers closer before our feet became the only transportation. It was one of the main bathing days when tens of millions of pilgrims come from hundreds and thousands of miles away to dip three times at the intersection of India’s most sacred rivers with the hope of achieving moksha, for one’s soul to be released from the cycle of reincarnation and transcend beyond the physical world after death.

The roads all around the Kumbh’s mega tent-city, which will host more than 100 million pilgrim throughout the two-month long festival, begin to be cordoned off to only foot traffic the night before as rivers of people come streaming in guided by miles of wooden fences. Imagine those lines at Disney World or Six Flags that you snake around for half an hour before boarding a much anticipated roller coaster, now put that in India with muddy dirt roads and millions of people. Image

Entering the grounds so early, there was a peacefulness to the surroundings like a calm before the storm. The yellow flood lights peered through an ever-present mist of dust and dirt stirred up by the shuffling of the oldest man taking one of his last bathes to the mother carrying her newborn baby for the first of many lifelong rituals here in India.

Our hope was to catch the running of the Naga Babas, naked and covered in ash, surging at the head of the masses to be the first to take the holy dip as they have for hundreds of years. But, like most things in India, if you hope and plan something, it’s probably not going to happen.

We arrived at Sector Four expecting the major akharas (different sects of holy men and women) to be preparing their chariots for the procession of saints and a flurry of activity, but it was quiet. Apparently, it would not be until the following bathing day on February 10th that they would march.

Image

Onward we walked toward the Sangam, which is the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers to witness the growing crowds and flowing of hundreds of thousands on the singular mission to be blessed in the waters.

Image

I watched every sector of society from saints to tattooed tribal women from the North that looked more Nepalese than Indian emerge dripping wet from the water having completed the task that brought them there.  My friend began to disrobe for a dip, but I stayed back – partially because I didn’t feel connected enough to appreciate the meaning of immersing myself in the water — but also because my spare pants had ripped right through the crotch area earlier and one must be modest in India (just another sign that the time wasn’t right).  Image

From the Sangam, we walked back to the Avahan Akhara where we found ourselves sitting with a Naga Baba, tending to his fire and chasing off onlookers, who stared too long, with his fire poker. We spent sunrise (Brahma Murat) with him which is considered the most auspicious time when god is on earth.

Babaji

Unlike the sightseers, we sat as he made chai in a dented tin pot over a fire tendered with the crudely chopped trunks of trees. As the milk came to a boil, he fed the pot and the fire with sugar to sweeten one of India’s more popular beverages. He again offered the fire a taste of chai before serving us in small plastic as fire is said to be the mouth of god and the great purifier.

IMG_1918

It finally hit me that I was at the Kumbh Mela, where the masses come together to commune with god and reach a deeper connection in themselves to the divine. And as the sun rose above the rivers of people flowing toward the river, we were blessed by ash and began the long walk home to begin another day of work for the Ganga.

Pontoon Bridges

Namaste my friends. Til next time.

IMG_1934

4 Comments »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,471 other followers

%d bloggers like this: