Tuesday, March 13, 2012

California winter days

Me in Santa Monica at Will Rogers State Park. Copyright Paige LaCombe Photography
Paige and I spent yesterday together, and we went to visit our friend Dana who lives in Topanga Canyon. First though we stopped by Intelligentsia, a coffee shop on Sunset Blvd. A random person took this one with my cell phone.
Next to Intelligentsia there is this graffiti mural wall that says I never hated anyone. We loved it. Next we stopped at a great foodie restaurant - True Food Restaurant - in Santa Monica where we met up with Dana! It was a beautiful day and we sat outside on the patio and took photos and Dana and I exchanged our respective turquoise necklaces because it was Monday, the "day of giving and receiving" according to the 7 Laws of Success by Deepak Choptra!This is a self-portrait of me and Paige at the beach in Santa Monica using Paige's awesome new Canon Mark 2! She is starting a photography business and is really excited about it! (Copyright (c) 2011 Paige LaCombe)This is a phone photo I took of the beach. We just sat and listened to the waves for a while. I meditated both with my eyes closed, and open watching the sparkles of the afternoon sun dance on the indigo waves. I had the most peaceful feeling that things were exactly right in the universe at this moment in time.
Next we went to Dana and Ron's house in Topanga Canyon for dinner. I love the meditation room Dana designed there - isn't it cool?
Dana's 13-year old daughter Rachel Riley played guitar and sang for us - wow! She is an incredibly talented young lady! Check out her Youtube channel - it even has original songs. I would say I thought it was even more powerful in person though! Dana made us an amazingly delish dinner, and we played "20 questions" and it was a lot of fun. Then we headed back home (to Eagle Rock)
Renata, Paige, Kim and me hanging out at Paige & Renata's place!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Journey into Healing Day 3

Copyright (c) 2012 Wendee Holtcamp

Another busy day at the Journey into Healing workshop, but tomorrow is the highlight for me - Byron Katie will be here in the evening! She is a true luminary and I want to do "the work" with her if I get the chance but my ego is going nutso - like I can't, I'll look stupid, I'll make a fool of myself, I'm scared... I don't know if I'll get the chance or not but I really would like to. She isn't associated with the Chopra Center per se, as far as I know, but is more like a speaker that is coming in presenting at the workshop. The Journey into Healing and the Seduction of Spirit are the Chopra Center's two signature workshops - this one focusing on health and overall well-being and the other more focused on meditation and spiritual well-being and healing.

When we did instruction on meditation over the past couple of days, they said that people often need less sleep. And I kid you not, I woke at 5:30am, 30 minutes before my alarm was set! We had 6:30am yoga so I got up and was rustling around and didn't want to wake my roommate so I dressed and went outside to sit and journal and drink hot tea. It was a lovely morning and the almost full moon was setting and it was chilly but slightly warmer than yesterday. Then it was yoga, followed by group meditation (sitting silently for 30 minutes, repeating the mantra you're given silently) and then a break and then more talks. We learned more about Ayurvedic health and medicine by Dr Suhas Kshirsagar, which was very interesting, a talk by Dr Sheila Patel on food as medicine, and we had an Ayurvedic cooking demo by Teresa Long. The lunch was vegan again and with a Latin flair - chile relleno, marinated tofu, rice, guacamole and salsa plus fresh greens and cilantro dressing. OMG so delicious! In Ayurveda, they serve the biggest meal at lunch with a lighter meal at dinner. I'm actually not on the dinner meal plan so my roomie and i have been eating at the restaurants at the resort on our own but they also serve some vegan/Ayurvedic options as well as "regular" options.

Deepak spoke again this morning also and this lecture was a bit more on the level. It was quite good. I will have to add some conference highlights and quotes when I get more time. In the afternoon we had another group meditation and then another yoga session There are three options - beginner, advanced and chair yoga. Now i would've gone to the advanced every time but this morn i was running late and accidentally followed y roommate into the beginner, and this afternoon we decided to try chair yoga just because I'd never heard of it and wanted to see what it was like. I thought maybe it would be moderate but no, it was really simple stretches on the chair, but good nonetheless. I'm excited about the regular advanced yoga tomorrow.

Well it's 11pm and I have to arise at 6am (unless of course i arise at 5:30am again!) so I'll catch up later. Tomorrow i may not blog because Paige is driving in and we are going to hang out here and maybe hit the hot tubs in the evening! Have a great day - and don't forget to meditate! I am really liking it!! It's amazingly peaceful and calming to sit in silence and still your mind.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Journey into Healing Day 2

The fountain at night - earth, fire, water, air, space. Copyright (c) 2012 Wendee Holtcamp

Today was so full I don't know where to begin. The workshop has been a lot more lecture than I expected, and less meditation, but that could be because I missed half of the afternoon group meditation because I ran back to my room. Tomorrow we have yoga at 6:30am, so I need to get to sleep soon.

I'll just give the highlights... Deepak (Chopra, of course) spoke at 715 this evening, about the fundamental nature of reality - is there a physical and spiritual realm, or is everything manifest in the physical realm (the view of many scientists) or alternately (Deepak's view) is everything spiritual or manifest in a non-physical realm. It was a pretty deep talk, and he isn't a super animated speaker. He had some profound thoughts and the discourse reminded me of the philosophers of old, like Descartes, etc. And what he said made clear sense in an abstract, obscure way. And that's the "other hand" - that the stuff he was speaking about was somewhat obscure and more philosophy than 'practical matters'. I have never seen him speak or heard him on his radio show or read his books (other than the one on world peace) and I have no idea whether he's normally in a somewhat low spirit (low energy) or whether it is due to the very recent death of the co-founder of the Chopra Center, David Simon. Both are MDs, and they founded the center many years ago and worked side by side. Simon got cancer a couple years ago and just passed away in January. At any rate, I didn't come here for Deepak, per se, but for the overall experience, and that has been great. My favorite part of what Deepak shared was a guided meditation on the different types of awareness (awareness of the physical body, of the senses, of mental space itself, and of relationships). It got me into this state of bliss and peace. It was weird because at first I had a sense of irritation and stress, and then I started to feel bliss. It wasn't a long meditation, only like 15 minutes or less. Then I was very tired!

The rest of the day was filled with lectures. I was actually super excited in the morning by Dr. Valencia Porter who is an MD with a Master's in Public Health with a speciality in environmental health, which as you may know i've been writing a lot about lately. She is about my age, has two kids, and I loved her overview of mind-body connections. She has an impressive background.

The other highlight was Davidji - he talked about Ayurveda and the three "doshas" or constitutions, vata, pitta, and kapha. I won't get into the descriptions but I found it really intriguing and fun. The best part was his presentation - he's hilarious and a lot of fun to listen to. I had previously tried to figure out my "dosha" at a website and couldn't but his descriptions of the types were so funny and made it very clear. There is also a "quiz" you can take. Now I have no idea what kind of scientific basis there is for any of that part of Ayurveda, but I was surprised that there's a lot more to it than the typing/doshas. Ayurvedic medicine is from India and includes many modern practices too like surgery and other things, particularly nutrition and eating vegetarian and mostly veggies, whole grains and herbs and spices that are nutritive and healing - stuff that is certainly backed by science. Yoga/exercise is another leg of the stool. And the big thing is the connection between the mind and the body. That does not mean that it's "all in your head" or that you can heal every ailment by just meditation and yoga by any means. But I don't think there's any doubt that a lot of people in modern society could sure as hell gain a lot from doing yoga and meditation... and as Valencia showed from reviewing many studies, there's a wealth of data backing up the evidence behind the benefits of meditation in particular in everything from breast cancer to heart disease to diabetes.

The lunch was all vegetarian, mostly vegan, abundant and delicious! There was quinoa, and vegan eggplant "parmesan" and a big salad, and fresh fruit. Yum!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Journey into Healing Day 1

Hanging by the fountain of life! The Chopra Center, Carlsbad, CA. Copyright (c) 2012 Wendee Holtcamp

I am in Carlsbad, California on the so-Cal coast, 30 minutes north of San Diego and an hour and a half south of Los Angeles. I flew into L.A. yesterday morning (at an ungodly hour) for the first day of the Journey into Healing retreat at the Chopra Center. Let me just say, I could feel the anticipation, excitement, and a bit of nervousness bubbling up within me starting the day before. Mostly, I was and am just totally stoked about this. It has been a helluva month, with teenager issues, ex-husband issues, and just some generally painful losses and changes, and I needed to "get away" and I stumbled upon this from Byron Katie's website, because she will be here on Saturday of the 5-day workshop.

I flew into L.A. rather than San Diego because I would be visiting my friend Paige at the end of the experience. Wait, let me back up. I flew into L.A. for another reason. I actually "manifested" this experience! I know that may sound weird, and it's not something I normally talk about if you know me and my blog... but the reality is I'd contacted the Chopra Center to see whether they accommodated media requests, and I heard back positively from their marketing director. I was really excited, but then.... radio silence. A week or two passed and I followed up but nothing back. Finally it was just two weeks before, and I knew that airfares were about to get jacked up, so I said, I am going to go to this retreat, I just am. It's going to happen. So I bought the plane ticket to L.A. - if it didn't happen, I could visit Paige for a week. And what do you know? Two days later I heard back from the marketing peeps (she had been out sick) and it was all good. So I'll be blogging daily about the experience and perhaps will write an article at some point. I will be writing a white paper for them, as well, in exchange for comped registration.

To be honest, I'm not all that familiar with Deepak Chopra. I have only read one of his books, and it was on world peace. I came here primarily because of Byron Katie, and the indescribable draw I felt toward the need for healing. All I knew was it had experiences of yoga, meditation, lectures, and Ayurvedic medicine.

So I rented a car at LAX and headed down the coast. As I neared Carlsbad, I-5 goes right along the ocean and wow was it gorgeous! The sun was out, blue skies in every direction, and a brilliant emerald blue-green sea. I turned in at the resort and it's really gorgeous - white stucco and terra cotta tile roofs. I got into my room and my roommate had gotten in yesterday from Ireland, but she wasn't in the room. The room is really nice. A massive bathtub set in marble sets off the bathroom, and the room has a really nice view (not of the ocean - we are set in from the sea).

The first day is a half-day only for first timers. We have to complete a class in Primordial Sound Meditation that people who have been here before have already done. Registration didn't start until 1pm so I grabbed a veggie wrap at the marketplace store, and a tropical smoothie and sat in the sunshine. It felt so incredibly good. There's no humidity (unlike Houston) and it was just a quintessentially perfect sunny day. The morning in L.A. was freezing! And the temp dropped sharply at night, too But the daytime was so lovely. I sat by a fountain and ate my food and chilled until registration began.

I went in and sat towards the front, and of all the places in the world people could have and have come from, guess where the person I sat next to is from? Houston! No kidding. We had a nice chat and then the class began! To be honest, I have meditated now and then for a maximum of maybe 20 minutes. Usually when I do it, it's for about 10 minutes. I started a year or so ago saying ok I can handle ten minutes a day. I enjoyed the calming effects of it, when I did it. But I've never been trained in any technique or meditated in a group. I know that science has shown that meditation is beneficial for calming stress and improving health and wellbeing but that's about it. So I'm actually quite excited to do this more. We had a nearly two hour class on some of the benefits of meditation, and specifically Primordial Sound Meditation (taught by Amanda).

Essentially, the theory here is that the universe was putting out a sound at the time of your birth - this is based on some ancient Indian Vedic writings - and they have been turned into 108 different sounds - essentially Sanskrit words - that have no "meaning" per se (just like "ding" of a bell has no meaning). When you focus on that one sound in your meditation, it brings you back into harmony with your life purpose. Now it may sound a little cheesy, and I have no real idea about the vibrations of the universe and that kind of thing, but the point of having a sound to focus your thoughts on when it starts going all monkey-mind on you seems like a good one to me.

After the lecture, we got a time for our "ceremony" to get our individual mantras. In the mantra ceremony, I and one other woman went into a room that was dimly lit with a candle lit and a flower in a glass bowl on the table. We sat down in chairs, and the instructor talked to us about what to expect through the whole thing that lasted maybe 10 minutes. She first sang/chanted some words in Sanskrit (I'd really like to know what they mean!) and then she said our primordial sound several times, then asked us to join her in saying it aloud - first at normal pitch three times, then quieter, then at a whisper, and then silently in our mind. We then meditated with the sound for about five minutes. From now on, we won't say the sounds aloud or tell anyone what they are, not because it's some big secret thing, but because when you do, you start to associate with conversations and words and the point is to have a sound that isn't associated with anything so your mind can just focus on the sound.

I'm a pretty skeptical person about some of the "stuff" behind this but I have to share my experience. During the part during which we were saying the sound aloud and progressively quieter, I felt this spontaneous and uncontrollable desire to burst out laughing. And this wasn't out of skepticism or anything like that. It was a pure and spontaneous laughter and giggle that bubbled up in me, and to be honest I suppressed it because I didn't want to be disrespectful and make anyone think I was making fun of the process. It was actually a miraculous special sort of thing because I haven't had a lot of laughter lately... it has been a pretty tough ride the past few months. It made me happy. I liked my sound. And that's a good thing.

So I was born at 8:58pm in the Los Angeles area, and I got to thinking earlier about the symbolic meaning of that time - whether or not this means anything or not - but that is right at the time of dusk in summer, right when the sun has gone down and there may be just a hint of light. It is the time of metaphorical death, I think. The winter of the soul. I have been drawn to the concept of death lately, and because of this experience and that in our Group Meditation which took place at 6pm, where we were told to ask three questions - Who Am I? What do I want? What is my purpose? - I really have been thinking about the idea that perhaps one of my future life goals will be working with people close to death. I really am in a transitional part of my life, moving from being a mom and writer to figuring out what I'm going to do for the rest of my life after both kids leave. I have had (as the kids will attest) too many ideas to count. I have thought of opening a cafe with vegetarian food, running a "green" B&B, going to Africa for 6 months to travel, working with the poor and homeless, going to seminary...my mind is open.

After the ceremony, I individually went into the main room to meditate for 15 minutes, which we are told to do to help it get settled in. Then I went back to my room and there was my roommate! It was perfect because I had totally unplugged, turned my cell phone off with no email or text or phone service and I was so tempted to check my email on my phone earlier to see where I might run into her, but I told God, you know, I will run into her at the perfect time! And sure enough, I did. I kept my phone/email off all day and night - quite an accomplishment! Ok, I didn't really turn it off until the thing starts at 2pm but that is still a huge accomplishment for phone-addicted moi.

We then had a Group Meditation at 6pm, where we all sat in the main lecture room in chairs and meditated silently. After that I was starving! My roommate Suzi and I ate at the Bluefire Grill and I had lentils with lemongrass and basil. One of these nights I ann going to go hot tubbin! There are several on property and I love hot tubs! Well now it is 8am, and time to get started on our first full day. I'm excited to ask myself: Who am I? What do I want? What is my purpose?

Sunday, March 04, 2012

further wisdom

Aqueous Pool in Yellowstone National Park's Midway Geyser Basin ("Hell's Half Acre") Copyright (c) 2011 Wendee Holtcamp

When I wrote that last blog post, it felt like I had written a lot more notes/quotes than I found to share, and I was right. They were in another journal. And these are so good, I couldn't not share them. But first... my latest article is out in Environmental Health Perspectives. It's a second feature on how a neurotoxin produced by cyanobacteria ("blue-green algae") may cause or contribute to neurodegenerative disease, such as Lou Gehrig's and Alzheimer's. It is more science-heavy than the Miller-McCune feature (Did Tap Water Kill Lou Gehrig?) but really thorough!

The Emerging Science of BMAA: Do Cyanobacteria Contribute to Neurodegenerative Disease?

Back to the wisdom...

First from Saundra Dickinson at the women's retreat:

"Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past"
- Unknown

"How can you tell if you haven't forgiven yourself? You don't let yourself have what you really want, think what you really think, and love as you want to love. And you engage in self-defeating behaviors. A deeper acid test is this: Am I doing anything where I'm creating consequences that I'm ignoring?"
- Saundra Dickinson

From the Wayne Dyer and Byron Katie live lecture CD Making Your Thoughts Work for You.

"Thoroughly unprepared, we take the step into the afternoon of life. Worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and our ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie."
― C.G. Jung (I love love love this quote!)

"The only difference between a flower and a weed is a judgment." - Wayne Dyer

"What is a good man but a bad man's teacher? And what is a bad man but a good man's job?" - Lao Tzu

“Every tree and plant in the meadow seemed to be dancing, those which average eyes would see as fixed and still” - Rumi

And I just found this one while searching for the Rumi quote:
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” - Rumi

Peace to all.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

weekend wisdom

Daydream Island, Australia. Copyright (c) 2007 Wendee Holtcamp

After a Friday-Saturday women's retreat at my church, I went to visit my mom and stepdad in Dallas this past weekend and on the way I listened to three different books on CD. It was a really wonderful weekend, all around. I felt inspired by many things, including reconnecting with my college BFF Joe, spending some quality time with my mama, some serious retail therapy, and some inspiration from these books, as silly as that sounds. I thought I'd share my favorites!

"If you live in your heart, magic happens."

"That's where light really comes from. You go into the darkness."

"You have one job. Figure out how do I contribute love to the world?"

"A characteristic of survivors is always their sense of humor."

- Bernie Siegel

"Anger is the appropriate response to something that is so wrong, but don't let the anger and pain and loss you feel prevent you from forgiving."
- The Shack (William P Young)

"Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes - The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries."
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

"Difficulties meet us at every turn. They are the accompaniment of life. They result from combinations of character and individual idiosyncrasies. ... Out of pain grow the violets of patience and sweetness. The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome."
-Helen Keller

"I have never believed that my limitations were in any sense punishments or accidents. If I had held such a view, I could never have exerted the strength to overcome them."
-Helen Keller

But what I'm really excited about is that I will be attending the Journey into Healing Workshop at the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, California starting next weekend! I am so stoked. I discovered it after visiting Byron Katie's website. Katie is a total life inspiration to me. I saw her speak in Fort Worth with Daline a couple years back, and I've got her books and done "the work" on a lot of the issues surrounding my recent events. At any rate, she will only be at the Journey into Healing workshop on one of the 5 days, and the rest will be filled with meditation, yoga, lectures and Ayurvedic lunches and more. I will surely update you all more with photos and such. I hope to try to stay offline during the workshop, but will also see Paige in L.A. afterwards. So that's the latest, and I will get back at ya soon!