Category Archives: Off the Beaten Path

peace in the city

Tonight CC and I attended a member’s reception at The Rubin Museum of Art. The Rubin presents contemporary exhibits that “emphasize cross-cultural connections” with the art and ideas of the Himalayas and surrounding Asian cultures.

I was first introduced to the museum by Lulu when we attended a Mirror Meditation seminar last fall. The session included a silent walking meditation through one of the galleries followed by an immersive meditation using mirrors to reflect the inner self. The whole experience was calming and zen-like, one of the first times I’ve felt completely at peace in the city.

The museum architecture is perfectly attuned for sound. This evening there was sitar music playing at the bottom of the stairway rotunda and a life-size gong signaling time for the keynote presentation by executive director Patrick Sears.

We were invited to participate in the OM Lab, where individuals record an intonation of OM (A-U-M, phonetically) as part of the largest collective chant for The World Is Sound exhibit opening in June.

 

IMG_5734

The OM Lab, Rubin Museum of Art @Prez13

 

Chanting OM is one of the favorite parts of my yoga practice and I love the idea of contributing my voice in collaboration.

If you’re located in the metro New York area or plan to visit the area before May 8, 2017 you can, too. Details here.


Smiles & Springtime

I have an early morning meeting in lower Manhattan. I exit the subway to a city not quite awake.

My path takes me around the Oculus and 9/11 Memorial Pools. I pause to touch one of the engraved names, make a silent prayer in a morning meditation.

 

IMG_5621

World Financial District & 9/11 Memorial Pools, NYC @Prez13

 

Spring is in the air. Daffodil blooms where you least expect them. Skies are blue, the clouds an art form.

IMG_5622

Jersey City Skyline, view from 225 Liberty Street @prez13

 

I catch a whiff of rain.

The city is alive with new energy. And people are smiling, too. That’s always a good sign.


Yoga, Cats, and Meditation

Flashback March 2016

Pickup from Siem Reap by tuk-tuk. I meet Dianne from Malta, an ER doctor in Preston, UK. Upon arrival at the Angkor Zen Retreat Center, she reacts skittishly to the dog, insistent that Cambodian dogs are the worst.

First impressions are tricky, and despite being skeptical about my accommodations I forge ahead. And I am so glad I did: a four-day retreat turned into five. It truly was an arrival into paradise, one greeted by a litter of yogi cats.

Yoga three times a day, meditation daily. A vegetarian meal plan that includes breakfast, lunch, tea time, and dinner. The food is surprisingly amazing for this carnivore and has swayed me to start thinking about vegetarian first. If only I could get my hands on their cookbook (they make everything from memory /scratch).

House rules are strict about connectivity, the idea is to disconnect digitally and reconnect spiritually. With the exception of a woman from Dubai, everyone is down to earth and real. Your free time is at will and can be spent in the pool, in town or in the communal living space. There are hammocks and Papasan chairs, communal tables for long conversations and then the yoga shala where your transformation begins.

The yoga studio is an open air shala. Thatched roof with Tibetan meditation flags hanging from its center. Tufted floor pillows for meditation and communal yoga mats: use, clean, repeat. The shala is open on 3 sides, facing the surrounding landscape. There is a monastery down the road and oftentimes you can hear the prayer calls and chanting. In the far left corner, there is an altar paying homage to Buddha and Ganesha. This is especially peaceful during meditation and practice. Inevitably one of the yogi cats makes an entrance and stakes claim on a mat or a pillow. Practicing yogis learn to adapt and create harmony in its space.

There are two yogis in residence. Katia from Colombia, strength training Vinyasa. Tammy from California, specializing in Hatha, meditation and alternative yoga practices like Laughter, Partner, Sound, among others. The cooking crew is a mix of local Cambodians, including the owner and Joy a Canadian. Angkor Zen has both resident cats and dogs. Cats with their diamond-shaped heads, stub tails, and sleek bodies. Dog. Singular. A labrador puppy who loves bread.

Tammy introduces us to partner yoga on my first day. The practice strengthens your poses by aligning with another yogi, using each other for balance to mirror the asanas. Federica and I are paired. She is an Italian living in London and works for an environmental agency on climate change. She travels frequently throughout Southeast Asia and is about to buy her first home in the UK. It’s hard not to bond while doing partner yoga, you learn to lean in to support one another. The Italian connection doesn’t hurt either. Over dinner, we plan to head into Old Market Siem Reap for lunch the next day. Dianne decides to join as well. We arrive in Old Market, on the hunt for a coffee (they only serve tea at Angkor Zen) and after a stroll through the day market, Federica and Dianne have burgers (shh, don’t tell) on the brain and so we stop for lunch.

Angkor Zen Gardens tranquility is the saltwater pool. Each day begins with vinyasa yoga followed by breakfast then Pranayama meditation. The Center has the added bonus of the best massage therapists ever. The top massage for my entire trip was my first Khmer massage (pure heaven) at Angkor Zen. There is a separate shala for spa treatments, located behind the dorms. Open air on 4-sides and covered in a canopy. Stepping stones lead to a bamboo bridge; lilies and orchids line the path. There are several meditation ponds on the grounds too, all of them filled with blooming lotus flowers.

I follow my massage with restorative yoga and twilight swimming. It’s nearly sunset and there’s a hammock with my name on it.

Over the course of those five days, I meet some remarkable women: Amber, mother to Herschel on a mommy adventure; Margarita, a Spaniard by way of Copenhagen now living in London; Nina, from Cologne on her own personal sojourn through Asia; along with Katia, Dianne, Federica, and Tammy. In that time over the course of dinner conversations, meditation, and yoga practice we connect on a deeper level. (And thanks to social media, we still keep in touch.)

It is on that last day before Amber leaves that we solidify our friendship over the mediation circle, learning how to let go. Tammy leads us in meditation, our first task is to find a natural offering in the nature around us. This is followed by a devotional and hugging meditation practice that involves an exercise on heart centering, followed by a walking meditation. Tammy’s wealth of knowledge for alternative yoga practices has been enriching and I’ve gained a greater appreciation for yogic meditation and its benefits.

Photo credit: (c) Andrea Preziotti


Siem Reap: Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm

 

bodhisattva

Bodhisattva/Buddha faces of Angkor Thom, Siem Reap (c) Andrea Preziotti

 

The road to Angkor Thom passes over a causeway lined with devas (gods) on the left and asuras (demigod/ demons) on the right. The gates lead to the last Imperial city, where Bayon temple –most noted for the smiling faces of Buddha–sits at its center. The bodhisattva statues should be one of the seven wonders of the world, the detailed and exacting efforts to create emotion and facial expressions through the placement of each stone a complex puzzle of shade and gradient are truly miraculous.

A quick walk through the Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper Kings both of which flank the Royal Square. After six hours of nonstop temple touring the only sign you need is the one pointing to the WC. I wish I had thought of a better way to signal my driver and guide. We had agreed to meet at the big tree on the crossroads but that proved way more difficult than anticipated at the high heat of the day, especially without cell connectivity. There must be a hundred tuk-tuk drivers under the boughs of the tree.

The last stop of the day: Ta Prohm, the forest covered royal temple monastery of Angkor. Two trees support the core of the structure, the silk cotton and strangler fig species both of which take root and work their way through the masonry. The site is maintained in ‘apparent neglect’ as an example of the natural state in which Angkor was discovered in the early 19th century.

 

taprohm

Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat Temple Complex (c) Andrea Preziotti

 

From a photo perspective, I’m not certain that any image capture can do it justice. The natural effects on the landscape are something to be seen in-person. And it is forever changing, as trees are affected by storms, as they flourish and then die.


Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Flashback March 2016

Day 3 begins at 4:45 am with a pickup from Sok Manea, a tuk-tuk driver referred by TripAdvisor and the web. We travel in the dusk to the Angkor Wat temples. The early morning air is crisp. The climate is duplicitous, I didn’t bring a shawl and should have. It’s cool in the morning, teeming with heat the rest of the day. I purchase a 7-day pass and two checkpoints later I am one of the swarming fireflies descending upon the temple grounds.

Imagine going to a SummerStage concert at Central Park, except you have to arrive in the dead of night to get the best seat. Everyone is moving in the same direction through the temple’s western gopura toward the terrace and moat, all to capture the iconic image of Angkor Wat reflected in the lotus flower pool. Hundreds of people are lining up with their handheld phones, tablets, and cameras positioned to click at the exact moment. One man brought a chair to position an expandable tripod so the image would be tourist free. Very few people were actually present in the moment.

 

sun palms

Angkor Wat Reflection – (c) Andrea Preziotti

 

There are no words that can properly express the feeling of entering Angkor Wat the first time. The temple is everything you can imagine and everything beyond what is imaginable. As you roam through its corridors and galleries, you can only feel the presence of the past, the spirit of its inhabitants, the greatness of this structure in its own time, and feel completely at peace. It helps of course if you are one of the first few to enter, as I was. The fewer people (aka tourists) around the better and more enriching your experience will be.

Wildlife in the complex includes dragonflies, sparrows and other small birds, cats, and monkeys. Gibbons and their offspring scale the temple walls and inhabit the surrounding trees. They are as tame as the squirrels back home but I would approach with care.

Walk through the temple from west to east and you find yourself in a peaceful garden sanctuary. It’s like walking into the pages of a fairy tale book.

 


Cambodia, A Sunset Tour

Flashback March 2016

Tonight I booked a sunset tour of Tonle Sap and the floating village of Chong Khneas with its houses, markets, villages & schools. I am solo, with a tour guide and driver. As we begin our journey, we stop to admire a landscape vista of lotus flowers, a deeply important flower in Buddhism and symbol of Southeast Asia. Next, a city built on stilts, where residents live in squalor surrounded by refuse and rubbish, glaringly visible in the dry season. Residents walk between the structures on the riverbed and build fires to burn the waste. Come wet season the area will be submerged in water, transport accessible by boats and baskets. Despite the lack of many comforts, i.e. running water and plumbing, connectivity and television access reign supreme. Satellite dishes are the highest visual point above the rooftops.

We drive onward to Tonle Sap Harbor and the floating villages. In the wet season, the lake is one of the largest freshwaters in Asia, swelling to an expansive 12,000 km. This is hard to imagine in the dry season, the water level is low and brown, resembling coffee milk. The brightly colored boats stand out a rainbow of red, blue, orange, and yellow against the shore. Tourist boats are everywhere. It makes me wonder how much of this experience is staged, how much of it is ‘real’. The color of the river deepens and is almost black the closer we get to the middle of the lake.

There are three floating village communities. Phom Kandal, is the larger floating village, home to ethnic Vietnamese displaced by both the Pol Pot regime and the Vietnam War. Chong Khneas is the smallest, inhabited by natural-born Cambodians. Motor boats and riggers are the main modes of transportation, and commerce thrives as villagers sell their wares and barter from the comfort of their barge. It functions as any city would making do with the resources at hand. There are a 2-story elementary school and a church nearby with a cluster of houseboats, anchored to bamboo reeds in the middle of the lake.

The lake feels like an ocean, the shoreline invisible to the naked eye. The stillness of the houses on the water’s edge brings back a childhood memory of launching newspaper sailboats on the rainfall streams running curbside to the gutter at the end of the street. A time when parked cars were few and streets were safe from unwieldy traffic.

The sun sets, its reflection shimmering on the water. The houseboats a silhouette against the blue-gray sky. The warm wind rustles nearby, boats come and go on the horizon. We stop for dinner at a homestay with a family of five: three adults, a young child, and a toddler. The youngest waddles over to the edge of the boat and instinctively knows when to stop.

The sun descends and melts into the sky revealing shades of purple, orange, and pink. The tour guide takes my picture, in every one my eyes are closed. The night is falling, the twilight witching hour has begun as the tour boats feverishly head back to the pier. It’s a frenzy as they jockey the shallow waters, waves water crashing against the sides. My boat hits a sandbar and we are landlocked amid the rubbish. I watch the water buffaloes graze the shore while the crew figures it out.


leave to live


LEAVE: “a period during which the usual routine of school or work is suspended” or “the approval by someone in authority for the doing of something”

LIVE: “having life”

This idea of ownership, of granting yourself permission to be the authority of your own life–is one of the hardest things to learn. From the Greatest Generation to Gen-X, we’ve been guided on how to live our lives through a series of life stage accomplishments and milestones. Most of the time that has involved a linear path from point A to point B to point C all the way on the journey toward death. (Morbid, right?)

Recently, those straight lines have shifted. They have become circuitous, even squiggly in nature. The rules, if they even existed have changed and the map to living a full life has expanded beyond your imagination. The freedom of choice can be exciting, scary, nerve-wracking and exhilarating…it allows us to do what we’re put on this earth to do, live. 

And that’s what it is all about: learning how to live a more enriched and fulfilling life, and in some cases that may involve learning to leave to live. I promise you that when you leave to live you take charge of your own existence and your destiny, and that’s definitely a goal to work towards.

Definitions for LEAVE and LIVE provided by Merriam-Webster.