An Affair of the Heart

An Affair of the Heart

Practice for Compassion

Luang Prabang, Laos

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Doors open and close a hundred times throughout the day. Such is life. Curious and receptive attention is needed to know when a door has opened inviting you into the kingdom of the heart, potential change and deep connection. May it be an encounter, words of wisdom slipped in between mundane conversation, or even a dream. Each, in its own way, may be that door, that message, that one that offers a fresh new perspective or a creative explosion of the heart. There may be no logic or reason but your deepest gut tells you that it is right.

The wheel of our propellered 36 seater, touched down August 8th, 2010 on the fertile ground of Luang Prabang, Laos, an off-the-map destination to most, but a hidden treasure for those that have visited. It all happened so quickly. With no more than 32 minutes and 6 seconds, we were instructed to select a destination to literally drop in and drop out, enabling us to avoid being fined for overextending our Thai visa. It was a random, if that exists, pin-the-tail on the map, split second, decision. This was the beginning of an instantaneous love affair of hearts to heart, souls to Soul that would inevitably change the course of my life forever.

As my feet touched the ground, I felt the warm balmy air envelop my skin. There was something, what, I can’t explain. It wasn’t the beauty of the Nam Khan wrapping itself around the peninsula and spilling into the Mekong, nor the smell of sweet sticky rice, or the warm welcome of smiles, it was something much deeper, much closer to the Soul.

Thirty-three monasteries sandwiched together in approximately 2.5 square kilometers might have something to do with it. Here, we see red, there, in Luang Prabang, they see orange, infinite orange, the colour of intuition, inspiration, Divine Love, heightened awareness, passion and fire. ‘’They’’ say, that if a particular place or thing is prayed or mediated upon day in and day out that place or thing becomes sacred. This is what was felt the moment I stepped foot on this faraway land of Luang Prabang.

 

It is just 6am when we returned to our modest guesthouse along the Nam River. Carrying empty bowls that were once filled with benevolent offerings that were humbly slipped into the urns of an endless silent thread of burnt orange robes, my heart felt open and love poured in. The sun had just begun its ascent above the lush emerald hillsides as we made our way down a narrow alley à la queue leu-leu squished between a monastery and a strand of closely woven makeshift homes. Except for an occasional footstep, silence permeated the air. As I followed the steps in front of me, I wiped the remaining sleep from the corners of my eyes. For no apparent reason except for an inaudible whisper of intuition and that of the open door of destiny, my eyes gazed to the left and locked with those of one Buddhist monk among many. Time seemed to stand still, suspended like the full moon in the blackness of the night’s canvas. A large white brick wall separated us. Neither spoke, neither moved for what seemed like an eternity but I knew a door had just opened so I consciously stepped inside.

Through one simple encounter on a very given day, a life- changing door cracked opened for only a brief moment on a sunny afternoon and began a chain of events never to be forgotten. The call of my heart manifested louder than any obstacle and naturally things fell wonderfully into place. This encounter became the beginning of an endearing transformational relationship between a searching yogini and a peaceful Buddhist monk. We spoke for hours, mostly question and response, politely taking turns and making the most of this auspicious encounter.

As all things must come to an end, this brief moment in Luang Prabang had its time numbered as well. Little did I know my Soul yearned for more, so much more that unexplainable sobs showered me at the airport as we boarded our plane back to Bangkok. Little did I know, the universe was magically weaving its web and had epic plans in the making. This pilgrimage would be one of many. Less than 6 months later, I found myself kneeling at the back of that same monastery amongst 16 monks robbed in orange. Chants in Pali of devotion moved me to unchartered dimensions. Thirteen days meditating day in and day out. Visions and epiphanies came flying at me as my heart cracked wide open and my mind grew softer and softer. Transformation was abounding.

This place has a way with me. Eight trips in total, 156 days to be exact, all in less than 4 years. My heart and Soul are always there and Luang Prabang and its people are infinitely present at the core of my heart. From just a random encounter in a far away land I have learned more about my true self, the meaning of love in it’s purest form and the epic-ness of mankind and of Life, than any book, class or teachings could ever offer.

The over spilling of my heart of gratitude and love sparked a dire need to humbly help where I could. So, I began where I could and with what I could, supporting one auspicious monk who dreamt of becoming a lawyer.

Profound relationships were forged through loving kindness and pure joy. From that one special monk who dreamt of studying law, 27 more orphaned teens chimed in as well as a year’s collect of overspill from the abundant wealth of Switzerland. A collection of schoolbooks, clothes, shoes, items of personal hygiene and bedding, totally one ton 200 kilos was sent and shared amongst 600 young orphaned children. Endless classes of yoga and mediation are taught for the Lao students, orphans and dear friends and family. But the most rewarding was what they offer me, love, deep love without attachment, inner joy, that ‘’bor pen nyang’’ attitude of no worries, everything will work out just fine, and endless smiles of the heart.

This past trip was unique and I even had a slight change of heart. I would be arriving empty handed, no money, no phones or computers, clothes, books or chocolate, just me at my rawest form. I had nothing to offer but my presence, and my love. I wondered, how would I be received, or even received at all? Making my way out into the balmy air from the newly constructed airport, my heart sank in humility. From all directions, by foot and bike, motorbike and tuk tuk, I was met at the airport by 14 friends/students/family with more love and hugs than anyone could possibly know what to do with, but cry in tears of deep heart connections of tender love.

 

Practice for Compassion was born out of love, a year to date from that first day I set foot on this life altering land. It is nothing more than a true grassroots, heartfelt, kind of makeshift foundation without a real foundation at all. I am in the field working my heart a lot and I LOVE it. I get by pretty well in pasa Lao (Lao language) and connect weekly, thanks to Face Book and email with my 98 friends and family from this tiny off- the –map-heart-exploding-sacred land. Community and love are at the root as well as passion and desire to follow the calling of my heart and my Soul.

I am forever grateful for all the abundant contributions from my family, friends, students, and anonymous donations that have helped these humble dream chasers manifest their dharma. Practice for Compassion has raised over $10’000 and helped 5 students attend university, 25 students through high school and extra-curricular classes, shipped 100 boxes (one ton 200 kilos) chalk full of golden goodness to a local orphanage, supplied 8 computers, 1500 toothbrushes to local villages and endless meals to those who want to share the goldenness of connection. Life is oh so sweet, especially in a place we can call home.

 

 

Jessica Magnin

Jessica@O2yoga.ch

O2Yoga Breathe Life

www.o2yoga.ch

Switzerland 

Blog https://jessicamagnin.wordpress.com/

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The Eye of the Beholder

The Eye of the Beholder, beauty in the Heart

Jessica Magnin

Returning home from one of my countless pilgrimagesImage to Laos, I am often asked about the tattered greyish white strings, others of yellow and orange that adorn my wrists. The story behind their origins is long and I will reserve their recount for another time and place. The curious and conditioned mind wonders why anyone would consciously choose to wear such worthless trinkets day in and day out whether dressed for yoga or for an evening party with heels.

It is obvious that these tattered strings lack the luster of gold, the virtue of diamonds and the finesse of a salt water pearls. In fact these strings, worn for exactly 48 consecutive days have been unintentionally dipped into my dinner plate, mixed with lotions and creams and even once caught fire while lighting candles for evening meditation. Despite their daily washings, their physical appearance has taken a severe wear hence their added attraction of bewilderment.

Just between you and me, I don’t see them as tattered strings of ragged greyness but cherishable gifts of the heart from those who wish me goodness, love, happiness, prosperity and health. Tangled together on my wrists, I reminisce and reconnect with each individual heart, feeling their tender act of generosity and heartfelt beauty.

There is a saying that dates back to the 3rd century BC, ‘’beauty is in the eye of the beholder. “ We don’t necessarily see things as they are but as we choose to see them. Beauty is a concept of the mind; an illusion rooted in our own personal life experiences and conditioned beliefs. Only through right thinking and awareness do we unveil the truth that we have the choice to see beauty in everything, including all beings and in all moments. We can hastily view life through the eye of judgment increasing our likes and repulsions or we can mindfully choose to see though the eye of the heart. The eye of the heart recognizes the beauty in a wrinkled face, in a wilted flower, and on rainy day because the eye of this beholder inherently knows that everything is a gift from the spark of life, even worthless tattered strings from Laos.

 

WATCH this 1 minute video.

 The Most POWERFUL Wisdom You Will Ever Hear  

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10200710418106491&set=vb.307551552600363&type=2&theater

(click above)

Alice Herz-Sommer is 109 year old Holocaust survivor and is STILL LIVING, in London. When she’s asked about the secret to feeling good.

 “Optimism,” she said, “and looking for the good. Life is beautiful. You have to be thankful that we are living. Wherever you look is beauty.”

Starfish

Tomorrow morning we will arrive in Switzerland. I am not quite sure what it has in store for us but whatever does present itself we will reply with” this is exactly what we wanted”.

It has been an amazing experience for all of us, too short to say that we accomplished even the smallest of feats but a seed has been planted, and maybe this is just the beginning. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for being part of our journey, supporting and encouraging us along the way.

Remember every little thing counts in thought, in act, in speech and in intention.

I love this story

Starfish by Loren Eisley

StarfishA young man was picking up objects off the beach and tossing them back into the sea. A second man approached him and saw that the objects were starfish.

” Why in the world are you throwing starfish into the water?”
”If the starfish remain on the beach when the tide goes out and the sun rises high in the sky, they will die.” repeated the young man.
” This is ridiculous. There are thousands of miles of beach and millions of starfish. You can’t really believe that what you are doing could possibly make a difference!”

The young man thoughtfully picked up another starfish, paused, and remarked as he tossed it out into the waves,

”It will make a difference to this one…”

Hokas Pokas

Jessica and Noa at the airportIf you are ever travelling to or from Koh Samui make sure you have ample time at the airport. It is one of the most beautiful on this planet. Actually, I almost missed our plane last December taking a few last photos of the bathroom and the gigantic shell-shaped lamp hanging from the centre of the main lounge. Philippe Stark design, ultra clean and it appears  that they add to the decor quite often. The new addition was river stones lining the walls framing 5 ultra contemporary smooth basins in porcelain white. The best of all is the sliding glass doors leading to the bathrooms unveiling a large rectangular fish tank housing brightly coloured fish swimming gracefully about elaborate coral structures. And not to be taken for granted, is the full bar of delicious exotic fruits, pastries and fruit juices, coffee and teas all free of charge.

A  blue azure pencil skirt showing off long lean legs, the envy of any short legged woman, and perfectly polished black high heels appeared inches before our feet. From the floor where we were squatting, our heads buried in travel books and magazines killing time (what a horrible notion!) before our 20h30 flight out of Koh Samui, our eyes scanned upwards to see a Bangkok Air hostess. Impeccably dressed, with her jet black silky hair pulled back into a tight ponytail, a clip board and walkie talkie in hand she asked us to rise and follow her. Apparently Bangkok air had found 3 extra seats for us on the 19h00 flight.  No watches banded our wrists, we glanced up at the huge globe- like clock suspended from a light pole on the outdoor strip. 18h45. With 15 minutes before take off, we followed the hostess trying to keep up as gracefully as possible. By 18h51 we presented our passports, slid down a long hallway, 18h55 we boarded the shuttle bus and miraculously at 19h02 we were making our ascent into the cloudy grey sky that would soon shower massive drops of rain onto the earth below. 20 minutes into the flight with Philippe sitting at the back tail of the plane and Noa by my side, the tiny seat belt sign lit up in blood red. Within minutes the 40 seater plane was taking turns bouncing here and there, nose dipping what felt like meters, trembling at its core. Some sat gripping onto the armrests, others sweating profusely with their eyes forcefully shut and others anxiously searching for comfort outside the tiny window-   city lights, a hilltop, some land just to feel secure and grounded.

We don’t really like to fly it is just part of the territory and not much we can do to avoid it if we want to experience faraway places. When I was a teenager I couldn’t wait to soar thousands of miles above the world where a certain freedom would come alive. It was a moment to meet others from different paths, feel weightless and transported and I enjoyed it so much that I applied to a few airlines and secured a position with American Airlines. But that all changed the day I met Philippe back in 1987 during travels to Mexico. A move to Switzerland, a few random incidents on cross Atlantic flights, a shaky bout on a ten-seater plane in Africa  and of course 9/11. Yoga helps and so does positive thinking. Unfortunately, Noa has inherited our fear of flying which compounds the situation. As the turbulence increased so did his panic. I had to be strong, I had to be there for him. Before taking off, I had grounded my feet into the thinly carpeted metal floor of the plane, my hands placed openly on my thighs, my eyes closed I concentrated on my breath then visualized a golden ball encompassing the body of the aircraft. This has become a ritual that has helped me maintain equanimity during tumultuous flights. I just kept the image of a golden oblong vessel of light protecting the plane that dances and dips within pockets of air. Whether this might sound like hokas pokas to you or you are a firm believer believe me  it works. At least I remained calm enough to be there for Noa and my relaxed state diffused his fear and he instantly joined me in visualizing the protecting golden bubble. We did land in Bangkok in the midst of a rain storm, the temperature had dramatically descended to a chilly 20° but we were grounded and relieved. A note to remember.  Always, with turbulence or not, graciously thank the forces above.

The purple football

I wake with a gnawing feeling, one that won’t go away with my early morning practice nor a dip in the tepid waters. We leave today. I dread the thought but decide to make every second count.

We do a last head count on Noa and discover some lingering friends and their white sticky eggs yet to be hatched. This could be a disaster with each egg yielding close to a 100 lice during a nights sleep. For precaution, we decide to resort to the magic potion prepared generously by Phan and Hoy, a mixture of some type of potent wild apricot leaf shredded and then mashed into a thick coconut paste. Thank God for the sweetness of fresh coconut which diluted the strong stench that is despised by most Thais. We emptied the smelly paste onto Noa’s head weaving it into each layer. Tears ran down his face, a few not so nice words and lots of thrashing about. He finished with a pea- green mass pasted onto his long bleached blond hair, a shower cap to hold it all into place and got lucky when we agreed to plop him down in front of a DVD (his second since we left CH) with a plate of fresh fruit and pancakes. The DVD and my moral support by physically joining him in the venture (psychological or real, I itched !)  made the two hours fly by and hopefully the lice too! Would hate to infect the entire plane and bring them home to CH! Our lives are full enough!

A foot scrub, a Thai massage for 7USD,  time with the staff, dunks in the pool, a last coconut shake, plunges in the ocean catching a wave or two, lounging on a teak chair finishing up our books and absorbing the large palette of odours that permeated the balmy air, the day passed quickly. Five o’clock came with a smiling visit from Orasa who had kindly prepared a spare room for us to shower and clean up.

Phi, Jess and Noa in ThailandGood thing we intuited the possible lengthiness of the good-byes and began the rounds 45 minutes before our organized taxi arrived. In retrospect, we needed every minute. Ady, Ching, Orasa, Oyi, Gai, Tip, Rang, Aoy, Aom, Mos, Wut and Chai showered us with ”khwap khun” bowing at our feet with their hands pressed tightly at their hearts which proceeded with tight bear hugs that squeezed all the air out of our lungs . (Luckily we are yogis and have the capacity to retain our breath!) Then came the unexpected gifts, a simple bath towel tweaked into the form of an elephant, a hand crafted flower made delicate silk and a purple American football with all of their names inscribed under ” We love you Noa, Philippe and Jessica. You are our family”  and then more hugs ending in a escort onto the street where they waved us farewell until they were tiny specks in the sand.  We felt like shinning stars without the annoying Paparazzi driving into the sunset.

The Indian tailor

From the secluded haven of Devaterra Cove, we said good-bye to our dear friends and headed due north weaving in and out of large irregular potholes and rubble along a winding road that wraps securely around the thick foliage of the island. Passing the port of Nathon, curving around Bang Po, positioned on the most northern tip, then making a rounded dogleg right descending south along the eastern shores to Lamai Beach. A 180° turn clockwise from where we had spend 10 relaxing days . The only visual obstacle that kept us from connecting the dots from east to west or north to south or any combination of any  given cardinal direction was the lush overgrown rolling hilltops that emerged from the waters like a resurrected Phoenix.

The seaThe main strip of Lamai Beach is lined with dozens of Thai restaurants, a handful of continental, hair and massage salons, lady-boys wearing stilettos by nightfall, and small portable stalls selling customized silk suits to knock-off Crocs, Prada handbags and Gucci sunglasses. The diversity is intoxicating and  becomes a playground of ”wanting” for most westerners satisfying one’s every desire. Bargaining for most anything is the ticket and can be applied comfortably for immediate gratification.

At the street corner,  just before the narrow alley leading to the jasmine Resort which dead-ends at the foot of a white sandy beach with clusters of lounge chairs and umbrellas , we unloaded our backpacks onto the curb. Before being able to complete our sentence of gratitude to Matthew who kindly gave us a lift, our attention was distracted by an thick eager yet familiar  Indian accent  coming from a smart looking young man in his early 30’s dressed in a fancy silk suit ‘Hey! Sa wat dee krap!”  You are back , it is so good to see you again! I remember you, Noa, from December! How long are you here? Maybe time enough to let me make you a customized silk suit or dress?” And from there the light hearted dialogue began exactly how it had numerous times back in December. ”What would we do with customized silk suit or dress where we live?  we asked. ”You can wear them to work”. We jokingly added ”But we teach yoga and live in sweats.” With a smile and certainty that he had found a  solution , our friend the Indian tailor continued ”Aaaahhh, very good indeed. I make you silk yoga sweats to teach!”   Ping ponging back and forth, finishing with a few good laughs and a squeeze of a hand we parted until next time which would be just a few short hours later.

It seems that Thai people never forget a face and once they like you you are part of ”the circle” which can be good, but at times, an overwhelming thing. We hadn’t even put foot onto the first step of the Jasmine Resort where we would be the guests of honour for the next 3 days when Osara and her beautiful fullness squeezed us as a foursome and then again individually until we had ridden ourselves of any excess gas from the cabbage that floated in our soup at lunch. Joy and excitement shined from her perfectly round face as she escorted us into the lobby where we were greeted  in an untraditional Thai manner (bear hugs) taking a total of 20 minutes for us to  finally  reach our room. Never, in any place in the world,  with  the exception of returning to Phoenix and being tackled by my parents have we been greeted with such enthusiasm and love. It is enough to boost one’s self esteem and expand one’s heart.

We like to eat, especially in Thailand – grilled fish with ginger or with hot peppers, green mango salad, green papaya salad, seafood salad, green, red and yellow curries -extra spicy, fried morning glory, fried rice with shrimp, fried noodles with vegetables, soups with lemon grass and coconut milkshakes… the list goes on and on. There are two wonderful things to be noted about eating Thai food. One, the meals are light on one’s wallet and second, surprisingly light on one’s belt.  So with little time ahead, we carefully and strategically arranged the days to come. With 3 meals a day, 2 1/2 days to go, we successfully calculated 7 meals in total and from there, with pertinent questions beginning with ”what, when and where” we planned our few days. After the ”what’s, when’s and where’s were confirmed, we  pencilled in the ”other stuff” into the ‘betweenness” leaving lots of empty pockets for the unexpected.

NoaIn the ”betweenness” we basked in the sun, munched on grilled sweet corn served on a stick,  read thought provoking books (two ‘musts’ Three Cups of Tea and The Gate), swam in the shallow depths of the sea and splashed in the pool, played catch on the beach and in the water, was massaged, practised on the tiny terrace overlooking the horizon and wandered aimlessly in and out of the shops and hidden alleys. Time fell into a cadence of endlessness where the days stretched well into the early evenings and the evenings well into the darkness of the night way passed Noa’s bedtime. We flowed with time as she presented herself, watched the sun set into nothingness, gazed into the blackness of a star painted sky and honoured the rise of the sun as it paved the way into a new day. Nothing seemed necessary, everything could wait.

So with endless time on our hands and delicious spicy food in our bellies, we wish you well.

Never say never

Beach in CambodiaSo here we are and here is the present moment. It takes a bit of adjustment, of time to sort things out in ones head. Travelling to far away places that seem off the planet cause a mixture of intrigue, disgust, gratitude and havoc to ones priorities. Being away from what seems to be normal is like having an excerpt of ones life removed, caught in a stand still, suspended above time, place and comprehension. But than again , it is addicting and thought provoking. A question that haunts us and that has been contemplated over countless meals of traditional Khmer dishes is ”why and who is it to say where and when one is born?”  It could have been anyone of us that was born into a poverty stricken family that was  ”forced” to sell their daughter for a mere 300USD, or that was born to parents tortured and murdered during the Cambodian civil war or any war at that matter. ” Who makes the rules and what are they based on? Luck, Karma, who can tell?”

We arrived in Koh Samui late yesterday afternoon as the sun was slipping graciously beyond the horizon. It was difficult for me to leave Cambodia and again I found myself fighting to hold on to what we had experienced and the relationships we had formed. The tears fell but I know we will return. Attachment, one of the obstacles to happiness. It is a hard habit to break!

20 odd year ago we had fallen upon this tiny island by chance. It fell naturally into our plans during our 3 month adventure through South East Asia. I remember leaving Bangkok and its craziness in the early early hours, catching a very local local bus where everyone smoked DJs at that time, including us. The sweet smell of cloves had suddenly become nauseating and the desire to JUST arrive was over ridden by a VERY VERY strong need for frequent pit stops to breathe. I don’t recall exactly how many hours it took but it was something in the range of ”long”,  very long. Dropped off in Surat Thani, which resembled very little in those days, we caught  an open roof oversized cross between a canoe and a traditional fishing boat. We were few, the sun was scorching, I fell into a deep slumber waking only minutes before this virgin island called Koh Samui which means coconut island. I had never seen anything so pristine. The island was inhabited by a lush green foliage with turquoise waters that serpentines around fine white sandy  shores peppered with towering coconut trees . From afar, it seemed deserted except for a few fishing boats, staggering in the harbour, swaying gently to a relaxed cadence , a forewarning to what we would soon experience. We found an isolated bungalow inches away from the water. No luxury, no electricity no running water but total privacy and a serenity known only to those who dare to let it embrace them. In those days, Koh Samui was reachable via boat and that was it so it’s access was limited. There were miles of untouched virgin sand and at high tide crystal clear waters lapped the edges of the entrance to our bungalow.. Not much to do but relax and that is exactly what we did. It was perfect and therefore we promised NEVER to return.

Well, we all agree that promises aren’t made to be broken but ”never say never” according to some could jinx you. So with a bit of superstition and a lot of coincidence we’ve returned, not just once but 5 times in total!  No, Koh Samui no longer is that deserted faraway island which no one has heard of but it still has that ”something” that I am unable to articulate.

SunsetDoing nothing is debatable cause when you sit you are ”doing”, when you sleep and eat you are ”doing”, when you look into the eyes of a multicoloured sunset you might say that you are ”doing”. Well, if all this is considered ”doing”  I must admit that I like it, a lot!!! The day consisted of yoga solo and then possibly with the kids or a friend, playing with the kids on the beach, in the sea, in the pool, on the deck, in town, eating, eating , eating, swimming, chatting, dancing , laughing even a melt down or two or three and that was about it. That is our holiday in a nutshell or a coconut shell. Oh, we did manage to take the boat out one day for a snorkel and picnic on some off the coast island. The most monumental event was Noa’s( and possibly mine too) kind and thoughtful offer to transport head lice from Cambodia to Koh Samui for free. So a day (or 2 or more) was spent shampooing everyone’s hair, the 4 boys and the 6 adults, stripping the linens, boiling Noa’s clothes and Mylo too (the poor thing, there isn’t much left of him).

There are sunsets here that melt your heart. An alchemy of gold, of ruby, of tiger’s eye and amethyst,  with hints of amber that colour the sky as the golden ball dips into nothingness. As dusk falls graciously,  so does God’s hand as he fills his canvas splashing strokes here and there until the entire sky is transformed into something that is beyond expression.

I am content, immensely so. Cambodia secretly remains in my heart and on my skin,  it took me 3 days in to take shower.  In this moment of ”perfectness”, head lice and all we couldn’t have asked for more. So with extended gratitude for this perfect moment, we wish you well.