A subconscious reminder (poem)

The answers lie outside
Beyond the body
Beyond the mind

In that wordless space
Removed from ego and sense of self

It’s hard to hear
Hard to listen
When not accustomed to the language of silence

There, in that place where time doesn’t exist
Exists the moment its been waiting for
The paradox with a hundred waiting arms
Waiting to rejoice in an ironic reunion
Just like before

This pain is self-indulgent
Oh sweet Samara

mandala

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Oh it hurts! Lessons from the yoga mat

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I’m 25 days into the Bikram 30 day challenge. My butt literally hurts – there’s a tightness in my glutes that I’ve never – not in all the years of running and cross-fit training – experienced before. My lower back aches from the constant flexing and I’ve lost about three inches from my waist. I walk with a constant level of discomfort but (what makes it all oh so worth it) a total sense of well-being. Here are my 7 realisations so far:

  1. BREATHING. IT’S PRETTY USEFUL: Pushing yourself to the limit in a sauna-like setting, at some point or another, will make you panic. Inevitably there’s a point where it gets so hot, it feels like a used sock has been stuffed in your mouth and you can’t breath through the hot stench. The only thing you can feel is your heart hammering through your chest and the same recurring thought “oh, god, I can’t breath! I need to get the fuck out of here before I pass out in a pool of my own sweat and faeces!” The moment those thoughts enter, it’s gameover. The anxiety kicks into overdrive and you walk out hyperventilating, despite the instructor yelling NOT to leave the room in the middle the session. (Scrawny sadist. Does she not see our plight?!)
    It’s unfortunate because the truth is, we can always catch our breath. Its just a battle to maintain control over our thoughts and actions – to force ourself to breath in and out through the nose instead of taking desperate gasps. Breathing through the nose stops us from going into fight or flight mode. We regain composure by exercising the one thing in the world we do have control over: our breath. By mastering our breath, we master our thoughts and ability to control our actions.
  2. GOOD LISTENERS ARE REWARDED WITH THE BEST LESSONS: Bikram is all about listening to the instructor and applying their words, moment by moment. When to breathe, when to hold, when to relax and how to adjust the body in just the right way to send a wave of blood pumping energy to the core, joints and muscles in unison. Then later that day when you’re home, you steal a glimpse of your protruding bicep in the mirror (with a shriek because it’s the first time you’ve ever seen the little fella) and you realise, “Awesome! That dude knew what he was talking about when he said to tug harder and pull from the hips!” and it all becomes oh-so worth it.
  3. THERE’S CLARITY IN PAIN: Bikram hurts. I mean it really hurts. There are certain postures where my limbs shake under the exertion… where my ligaments threaten to either buckle or snap completely.. but it’s right at that moment, that moment where I resist despite every part of me wanting to give up, that a wave of euphoria hits. Fighting through the exhaustion, I feel my full potential as a human being. I recognize in that wordless moment, the power that lies in perseverance. No jokidy joke.
  4. WE EAT WAY TOO MUCH: You can’t eat three hours before Bikram unless you want to be doubled over in cramps for the whole session, or worse, vomit right there in the middle of eagle pose as the cute instructor glances over in his tight Speedos. It’s bad enough everyone else is trimmer and fitter than you are, do you really wanna be that person doubled over? After Bikram you notice you’re so hyped up on endorphins you can’t eat for another few hours. So within those hours of the day of not eating, your body metabolises and re-hydrates. You don’t miss the food. Then, when actual hunger kicks in, you reward myself yourself with a big, nutritious meal (or a pizza and five Heinekens, but hey, who’s counting). You  hadn’t noticed you gave yourself re-generative mini-fast. Not eating never felt so good.
  5. EVERYTHING’S A CHOICE: Physical mastery is mental – not genetic or even by engineering. It’s about the choice within the present moment. When yoga gets hard and too much to bear, to the point  we collapse on the mat, it comes down to one thing – the choice of whether or not to be tired. It may seem like the most impossible choice in the world as we lay slumped and pathetic, head spinning with legs that might as well belong to someone else because they quit taking commands ten minutes ago. Nonetheless, it’s still a choice; a choice as to whether or not to be conquered by self-imposed limits. We are designed to endure. We just have to dig deep for that mind-body connection and tell our bodies with conviction “this feels fantastic! I am alive! I am full of energy and ready to rock and roll!” and pick ourselves back up with renewed energy. Or of course we can just say screw it and tell our inner cheerleader to shove her pom poms up her A**. The choice is there.
  6. SOMETIMES NOT THINKING IS THE BEST TYPE OF THINKING: I’m prone to overthinking. There’s a circus in my head and it’s very active. There are jugglers, jesters, acrobats and tigers.. (oh my!) If only my body was as flexible as the performers in my head. The beautiful thing about Bikram is that requires singular focus and is too exhausting to allow you think about the project you’re working on or that boy you’re fixated with. The poses knock it out of you. For an hour and a half of the day, the inner circus takes a break. And once the yoga session is over, everything seems more apparent. That problem you were obsessing about has suddenly been put into perspective. The clowns are calmer, but just as charming. The circus is able to perform, for the first time all day, without any tightrope accidents.
  7. YOU HAVE GOOD AND BAD DAYS, BUT THE LATTER DOESN’T MATTER SO LONG AS YOU’RE IN THE ARENA: And lord, did I have some bad days. Five times I went to Bikram hungover! I don’t think it needs further explanation about how nauseating and challenging that was. How it looked like my eyeballs were about to bleed rivers they were so bloodshot. About how the voices in my head were protesting the whole time, calling me all sorts of juvenile names, demanding why I had to drink all eight beers when I knew I was on the 30 day Bikram challenge. But you just have to tell those voices to fuck off. That you’re in the damned room and you’re giving it all you got even if you’re crying through the sweat. The good thing is, noone can see you bawling because you’re so heavily drenched with alcohol fueled perspiration that it looks like you’ve been wresting in a pool of baby oil. Like that wild college party you went to all those years ago, only way less sexy.

Wallowing writer

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It takes a serious dose of self-inflicted wallowing to be a literary writer. To write, you have to dwell, inspect, analyze and maybe even obsess a little.

It is admittedly a little self-indulgent… all this introspection and reflection. We all do it to varying degrees, but for writers it’s a state of being – a state of sensitivity and receptivity.

The best writing comes from the highest highs (literally, like the Romantic movement’s Opium inspired gems) to the lowest lows, where the most beautiful poetry comes from gutwrenching depression (shout out to the king of gut-wrench, Edgar Allen Poe).

For me, perhaps due to a subtle (self-diagnosed) neurosis where I’m a tad shut off from day-to-day, a burst of emotion feels like a tide of clarity, declaring “this is how you feel, right here, right now, and there’s no avoiding it” and it feels so good… as good as melancholy can feel to a person. As mentioned in a previous blog, I’m pretty sure writers are masochists .

Wallowing acts as a muse. From a depth of emotion, we’re able to create our greatest masterpieces. The trick lies in learning how to ride it without it destroying us. It’s true that some of the worlds best artists – musical, visual, literary – destroy themselves in the creative process. Elizabeth Gilbert alludes in her Ted talk “Your elusive creative genius” that creativity and suffering are inherently linked and how creatives can learn to toe the line.

I’m addicted to that muse. I walk around in a general state of abstraction, so when I’m hit with an unmistakable emotion, it’s so welcomed. I’m not naturally decisive; I hover between worlds in a constant state of flux – the forever traveller, dreamer, the non-commiter. So when it hits. Man, I ride it for all I got. And right now, I got that feeling. Like deep deep within me.

I want to commit to this feeling. Feel it fully. To my finger tips, down my spine, till it hits my eyeballs as a well of tears. Oh to be human. And then to write. Feel it, then write.

Shop window muse

Glistening watches stare through the shop window
Folded In purposeful rows
Polished
Reflecting artificial light.
A hundred ticking hands
motion a reminder
Of moments that can never be recaptured.
Gone before its here
Here before its there.
A constant flux
Never waits for the wicked
Or best intentions.
Garbled static radio emits from behind the counter
Mirroring A deep seeded feeling
Of
Waves rolling
Misunderstood
In Unarticulated purpose.
Muses in the strangest of places

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Island prose

Monkey nuts dangle dry

out of season.

Bursting swollen seeds

like deflated balloons.

A wandering boy,

with a wandering eye

wonders what the foreign girl is doing

on a island

among hundreds of solitary islands

perched on a tree

alone

with the lapping waves and setting sun.

“Just answers” replies the breeze.

The world is run on good deeds

and a trust

that you can be

boat-less and stranded

in good faith,

in vulnerability;

defenseless and unprepared.

Who would know if I died out here?

Not a soul. Not a soul.

My world just got smaller… My mum just joined facebook

My mum is sixty-five and can barely use a mobile phone.

I never thought this was possible. Never thought I’d have to worry about my mother having to read my status updates or blog posts about trekking though Malaysia with a guy I just met at a hostel. My worlds are colliding. Colliding in a way that doesn’t feel natural. I’m too transparent. I don’t have the luxury of a filter unless I get all ninja style on all of my privacy settings.

I’m now imagining scenes of my mother posting reprimands in disjointed English next to a drunken picture I’ve been tagged in (not really, I would have lost public respect long ago if I didn’t learn the art of untagging and deletion). Everything about this seems inappropriate. What a modern paradigm; a first world problem of a cyber identity crisis.

One of my older generation relatives new to FB posted a status to inform everyone of a recent death in the family. Something like “dearest Uncle Gilbert has passed, our prays and sympathy are with him. LOL”

She thought LOL meant ‘lots of love.’

Accidental sarcasm packaged up into three awkward letters. It was so versatile, rolling out gems like, “Haven’t seen you ages. Wouldn’t it be great if we could catch up, LOL” AND “You don’t look fat in the dress, LOL” AND “I really miss you, LOL”

I guess my point is, some things taken out of context are funny. Other times it’s embarrassing. And some times being on FB is a constant struggle to establish context for inappropriate jokes. Or maybe I should just delete family members and colleagues off my account. Or stop offending people with strong opinions. Or maybe grow some balls. Because sometimes, in order to be authentic to who you are, you have to accept you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Be real, be honest, be with integrity, be respectful, be with fucking gusto, be yourself. Mantra for the modern world.

Tips for the solo chick traveller

Six tips to be exact…

  • Assuming you intend to stay in a hostel (because who wants a hotel, they’re boring) check out the photos and reviews before you book. Many have limited amenities so make a point to book a hostel with a lounge or shared common room; it’s the best place to meet people. Otherwise you might be left chillin’ out in your temporary bedroom all alone. And that would be sad.
  • Join a small-scale event. Going to Malaysia for the Rock Your Eco Business event gave me a point of orientation. It allowed me to meet cool, like-minded individuals who by the end were offering me their sofa. Although I travelled by myself, I had a network to pull from so I didn’t ever feel alone (for instance, if coming to Singapore in Jan, join me at Entrepreneur Xfactor, as referenced in my last blog).
  • Trust your intuition. When travelling, meeting new people is part of the journey. You have to learn to trust people. Most people are not crazy or murderous. I meet the most incredible people on the road, more so than when I go about my daily life. Travelling can make you realise how open and accepting the world really is. That being said, I do pay heed to predators. But like most women, I have a built-in ‘creep radar’. If you get the feeling the body language or chemistry is wrong, trust your gut. Always follow your instinct – it’s the only thing that really guides you during solo travels.
  • Load up on your cultural sensitivities. Kind of a no brainer, right? But I’m gonna say it anyway because it includes everything from strange foods to household customs to cultural expectations. The main challenge for solo females wanting to roam the world is down to the occasional [insert: antiquated / traditional / (or even) / backwards / unreasonable] expectations of women. Most of it is harmless, but it’s something to be aware of. Recently I found myself being inadvertently cross examined for marriage (total awkward moment) because I dropped the proverbial ball and over stepped some cross-cultural boundary (I obviously sent the wrong signal to this poor chap). In my defense I don’t think there was anything I could have said or done to mitigate it, but it was an uncomfortable reminder that cultural misinterpretation happens. And it can be pretty sucky when it does. So. In conclusion, it’s always a good idea to read a few articles/blogs/trip adviser reviews about the area you plan to visit beforehand for a bit of context (as if you wouldn’t) and be on your merry way.
  • Female dorm rooms. I happened to hangout with couple of male travellers on my last trip, but a good way to make quick friends is to stay in a female dorm. Mixed dorms work too, but many solo females opt for single sex rooms, so it’s a good place to join forces.
  • Pack light. It should be obvious, but packing light is an art form. For a week in Malaysia I took an average to small size rucksack which included my towel, laptop, clothes and basic biodegradable toiletries. Remove packaging (and recycle) to make room. Only pack what’s essential. Minimize the shoes (I usually bring one pair of flip-flops, one pair of comfortable walking shoes). You’ll be surprised how little you need to survive and it makes it whole lot easier when you’re on the move. It also allows room for bringing back the odd souvenir.

Go for it! Don’t hold back; enjoy life and your freedom, fellow globe trotters!

Three reasons I support social entrepreneurship

  • Social entrepreneurship simply means using business to solve social issues. Years ago I decided to dedicate my life to ‘saving the world’ (what a fucking yuppie, hipster thing to say, but you know what I mean… Altruistic westerner awakinging, blah, blah, blah) and entrepreneurship is a grassroots way to address world issues. Business owners can actively choose to build social responsibility into their business model without sacrificing profit. Social entrepreneurship starts with a mission. From that mission business owners innovate sustainable and profitable solutions. We are in a new age where businesses should only exist if they serve a social purpose.
  • Entrepreneurship is a community driven model for building a sustainable future. Local business, local ideas, local solutions and local trade = less environmental impact, less power to corporations and (usually) fair trade practices.
  • Entrepreneurship empowers people. It allows people to be their own boss doing what they love with flexible hours (perfect for working mums) and doesn’t discriminate based on education. Anyone with good work ethic and a viable idea can make a living as an entrepreneur.

Social entrepreneurship is the future. I’m talking business with purpose; with a soul. I’m talking about breaking away from the jobs we hate to pursue our passions while doing something positive for the world.

These are some of the reasons I’m supporting Entrepreneur Xfactor Singapore (Jan 22nd), because it’s a zany event that proves business doesn’t have to be boring. Or full of robots. We need to ask ourselves, how do we want to live our life? The Entrepreneur Xfactor event is for those curious about creating a business with purpose http://xfactor2013sing.eventbrite.com/ (promo code ‘rocks’)

http://www.amandablum.com

Part 2) My not so solo travels

When I arrived in Malaysia I was determined to meet people, but knew it would be difficult fitting social activities around the long hours of the Rock Your Eco Business event. But as I found myself in bed tossing and turning each night (probably because my body refused to sleep knowing it was residing in lively downtown Kuala Lumpur) I decided to venture out. On Friday night, after walking a couple hundred meters and having cars blasting their horns and flashing their lights at me every other step and being grabbed by an old, scruffy looking man, I decided that maybe KL wasn’t a good place for a foreign girl to be wondering around alone at night. Annoying on multiple unjust levels.

I stood outside my hostel for a number of minutes, contemplating my options.  A queasy stench lingered in the air from the accumulated trash, exhaust fumes and smog. Every now and then I would see a large, well fed rat shimmy by, skirting three foot potholes. The hostel was located outside China town, a busy market place with vendors and lanterns on every corner.

I remained there until a man approached to ask about the bus system. We spoke of his life in Malaysia as an African expat and his interest in sports and fitness until I found myself agreeing to grab something to eat, at his expense, because I had ran out of local currency. I was mildly aware my family members would be panicked if they knew I was befriending strangers in an unfamiliar city, but I feel I know intuitively when someone is dangerous or ulterior. Perhaps one day my optimism will work to my detriment, but so far it’s served me well. So I went, ate pork fat (the result of ordering something in another language) and spoke about public perception of Africans and his love for his family. A pretty random way to spend an evening. Then I went back to the hostel, to my room without windows.

The following evening after day two Rock Your Business, I sat in the hostel’s bamboo lounge to check my emails. I found myself watching a young man from behind; his form caught my attention. It seemed graceful, almost Japanese-like; he was bent over the wooden breakfast bar, his leg out-stretched in a slide split against an adjacent desk. A bandana was tied around his head in a karate kid fashion.

Later this same boy (who turned out to be an American from Minnesota), bounced excitedly into the lounge to announce he found a kickass heavy metal band and would anyone like to go. How could I turn that down? I followed him out. We followed a road that opened suddenly into an artist corner with portraits and paintings flanking the dirty concrete street. And there, echoing through the narrow pathway, was a thrashing death metal band with youthful figures leaping and pouncing on each other in a chaotic circle, yelling undecipherable lyrics in a lethal mosh pit. Above their heads was a chalk board sign with the words ‘Doppler Bar’ with black marker pen drawings along the walls. Full of local Malay teenagers, angsty about something… or maybe nothing. Water bottles and soda cans were interspersed through the venue; there wasn’t a beer insight. It’s decidedly more hardcore to get punched in the face whilst sober than drunk.

(bit of a crap pic, but it’s all I got)

After the spectacle my new companion and I headed to the Reggae bar. We ordered some drinks and people watched. Foreigners and women with short, tight dresses were dotted around. We puffed on shisha for a number of hours, talking about anthropology, nature and philosophy. We had a good laugh speculating about the state of things, then when the DJ queued Gangnum Style, we hit the dance floor. I continued to dance with locals and foreigners alike until 1.30am arrived and I remembered I had a business pitch to do in the morning.

Sunday was the final day of RYB event, and we all went out for drinks. After working so hard for the last three days it was nice to get to know each other over a few apple ciders.

I had initially planned to leave on the Monday, but as I had a new travel buddy, a meeting lined up with my new business partners, and drinks planned with the Green Man, I decided to remain in Malaysia for a couple more days.

Peter from Minnesota (who incidentally lived in Japan and speaks Japanese, which may explain the resemblance of his disposition) and I decided to go to an artist commune. It was an hour’s walk. Again, hung-over and dehydrated, I hiked the urban terrain. The sun was up high in the sky, draining me with every step; mocking me. Along the way we crossed Little India; colours, arches and (because it would be Deepwali the next day) flowers and fireworks were on display. It was another world and totally unexpected. I stood admiring the bright and confident Indian attire. I love the way it’s not afraid to be bold and beautiful, with intricate patterns, shimmering saris, ornate jewellery and henna decorated skin. Stumbling upon the scene Peter and I practically broke out in glee and resolved to spend day there because after hiking an hour in the sun, we found the artist retreat closed.

People in Malaysia are so splendidly friendly and open. Twice Peter and I were invited to visit people’s houses to eat for Deepwali within moments of meeting them. Men walked the streets holding hands, ironically as they checked out women. Everything felt communal and slow paced. When we stopped to ask a man on a motor scooter for directions at a traffic light, he remained at a complete halt, even when the lights were green, to patiently answer our question as if he had nowhere to go and he wasn’t in the middle of traffic. It’s as if there’s no stress or rush in Malaysia; a bit of a shock after living in London. I’m up-tight and impatient in comparison; I will make a point to learn from the Malay.

After an afternoon of wandering around and eating delicious food, we opted to check out Ayurvedic treatment. We quickly befriended the shop owners and decided on the sinus cleanse because we both had lingering colds, most likely induced by the smog. Peter disappeared into a room for 25 minutes while I read about chakras. When he reemerged it was as if he returned from a relaxing week in the Bahamas. His cheeks were flushed a healthy pink, his skin had a clear glow; he was floating cloud-like. “I feel amazing” was all he managed, and he sketched in the testimonial book to illustrate just how amazing he felt. By this point I was super excited and headed into the dark treatment room. I laid under a steamer to open my pores and nasal glands. Then my head was tilted back and a few tiny drops of oil were poured into my nose and the therapist begin to massage the sinus areas around my eyes, and then performed a number of odd movements – jerking my arm here, twisting my neck there. I became loosened. When the treatment was over, however, my eyes were streaming and my throat was clogged with phlegm. I was encouraged to cough it up. I repeatedly hacked – deep from the back of my throat – bringing up mucus and phlegm in the most unladylike fashion. I was assured this was a good thing, but when I exited to meet Peter, I could feel my eyes running and nose dripping with snot. Something in me dislodged. Where Peter was transcendent, I was a leaky mess. He just looked at me and laughed and I damned myself for getting the short end of the experience.

My time in Malaysia was a lively and immensely fulfilling trip which ended with my taking the train back to Singapore, through miles of rainforest. As I waited at the train station, a lady (who could easily have been a drag queen but for the sake of the retelling I’ll refer to her as a lady), struck up conversation in the food court. She developed a fascination, picking apart my features. “Your forehead”, she said, “is like Filipino; your cheekbones like Malay; your nose like Italiana, where you from?” She clapped when I told her and whenever someone she knew came over (which seemed like every other person) she would point at me and they would proceed to animatedly scrutinise my appearance. Part of travelling, I realised, is getting used to staring and pointing.

My new friend then said she would give me something very nice; something of value. Her eyes glazed over and she said “No one will hurt you, nothing will harm you. You have safe travels. See, I give you charm. You have safe travels.”

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