The Best Places In the World

Breathing Underwater

Posted by Robin Sparks on February 26th, 2013 | Email this to friend

Written on Nusa Ceningan, a small island off the coast of Bali, Indonesia on February 13, 2013.

snorkeling at Manta Cove

Breathing Underwater at Manta Cove

When I was walking along the beach last night, an Indonesian man told me they needed one more person for a snorkel trip in the morning. They were going to see mantas he said, and to stop at other beautiful underwater spots while circling the islands of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida. Time of departure, 9am.

“Ooh, that’s early,” I said.

I had arrived the day before on Nusa Ceningan for a solo 2-week writing retreat.

“I’ll see how I feel in the morning,” I said.

And so when I awoke this morning I thought, “Robin you are here to write your book, so write.” Another voice, “But it’s only 3 hours out of the day, and you want to exercise anyway and you can write all afternoon and evening.” A third voice, “Let’s see how it flows.”

A few minutes later, the electricity went off in my bungalow. It was 8:30 am. I’ve noticed that the electricity “goes out” for a couple of hours in the morning and again in the afternoon. My cabin, which sits in direct sunlight on the beach all day, was quickly turning into a sauna. Oh what the heck, I’m going. I climbed out of bed, dressed, packed my bag and met the boat at the harbor.

Our first stop was Manta Cove where there is a cave where the sea water is breathed in and exhaled out. Into the cool cerulean soup I went. And drifted towards the cave.

In less than 5 minutes a large dark shadow appeared like a space ship, coming to within inches of me, and then gliding out of site.

Oh my God, I have seen a manta ray, and up close!

Before long there was another and then another. Darth Vader-like, the manta rays arrived with mouths agape. I floated quietly gazing into their eyes saying silently, “You are such a beautiful creature”. Each one (there must have been 8-10 in all!) would appear, look me in the eye, then swoop away, bank like a plane, and return. Flashes of light sparkled through the water from divers wielding cameras on the ocean floor. I flapped my arms slowly, gracefully, mirroring (thank you NLP training!) their movements, and I did not follow or approach them, but waited for them to come to me, and come they did. Again and again.

It was as if they knew that I was loving and appreciating them, and they were digging it.

They had wing spans at least 5 times the length of my body, triangular bodies, heads rounded, mouths open to display gills and hollowness inside. Underneath they had large evenly placed gills on a white torso. And a long tail from which I noted no stinger or threatening barb. We curved around each other, beings of light and love.

I wondered briefly if they were dangerous (vaguely remembering a recent story about an Australian travel adventurer who was stung by a ray directly in the heart) and then was glad I hadn’t asked before we left. Again and again they came and we practically greeted each other with a kiss.

AMAZING!!!

exploring the over and underwater world of Nusa Ceningan, Indonesia

Exploring the over and underwater world of Nusa Ceningan, Indonesia

In snorkeling, breath is the main event, loud, and present, like a metronome. I-Am-Here-Now-in-This-Moment breaths. What irony that I’d felt a tinge of disappointment this morning when I realized there would be no time for my breath practice – because here I am now breathing, deeply, rhythmically – underwater.

Hypnotic, soothing, effortless while all around is the beauty and wonder of the underwater world. What better way to go with the flow than snorkeling, where with the smallest effort you move like the fish with the fish?

I spent 3 weeks last month trying to push through a last minute visa to India so that I could attend a trauma release breath work class in Goa, India. One day while driving back from Danpasar after yet another failed attempt, the words “No more pushing the river” came, and I surrendered.

A few days ago, the trauma release breath work teacher I had hoped to train with emailed that he and his girlfriend, a tantra teacher and life coach, will be coming to Ubud in March and would like to trade a room in my home for personal training. Both tantra and trauma release are modalities I’ve wanted to incorporate into my breath work. Two teachers, coming to me, now that I am floating effortlessly.

I kept riding the current through February and ended up in Thailand where I met with old friends and new ones who re-invigorated me with their love. I interviewed Chiang Mai expatriates for the Thailand chapter in my book, and rode elephants bareback at an eco resort, which just happened to be perched over a flowing river. It was there where I met the owner Alexa, whose story will bring light to the chapter about Thailand’s expatriates – a chapter which had been leaning a bit too far to the dark side.

I will return to Alexa’s Chai Lai Orchid Eco Resort next year to offer trauma release breath work to the girls she donates her profits to – girls at risk for sex slavery. A greater purpose for my Clarity breathwork training last summer had appeared.

And as if that weren’t enough, 2 screenwriters and several writers have appeared in the past few weeks to support me with my book.

Life is coming to meet me where I am. Bringing me exactly what I need and much more now that I am still.

There is a popular meditation and way of being called “Following Life”. I like to think of what is happening to me now as “Life Following Me” when I stop pushing and directing it.

I love warm seawater

I love warm seawater

In the water I am transported to a primordial world where I once lived – Mother Earth’s underwater show of sacred geometry, repeated in shapes underwater as overwater and within and without in every living and non-living thing.

I’m sure I once lived in the sea as I am so at home and happy here. We all began, come to think of it, floating effortlessly, safely, in the wombs of our mothers complete with our own private snorkels, until our time to be born and breathe on our own arrived.

I think of my home of Ubud, Bali as a womb – warm, wet, and feminine – a bubble in which I have gestated, received nourishment, and grown. And I’ve been feeling vague contractions lately, a knowing that my time to emerge and to meet life in the light is nigh.

When I first attended a Transformational breath work session 3 years ago, I met the Divine within in such a cathartic way that the name “Transformational” was a an understatement. I was hooked. For God’s sake, it was here, inside all along. All I have to do is breathe deeply, evenly, for at least an hour to access it.

It’s occurred to me since I began breath meditation, that the things I have loved most throughout my entire life – riding a bicycle as a child, running through the woods with my dog, swimming, cross country skiing, ecstatic dancing, hiking in nature, connecting intimately with a lover, meditating, to name a few – all involve breathing deeply, evenly and consciously. Nourishing every cell in my body with oxygen, love, life force, the Divine. It was about the breath all along.

I have missed my Ubud community and our group breath sessions this past month – and I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

Breathing under water.

Taking a break from writing at Dream Beach, Nusa Lumbongan, Indonesia

Robin Sparks is a Level Four Clarity Breathwork Facilitator, available for private and group breathwork sessions. She’ll be leading a weeklong workshop at Kumara Sakti in October 2013 in Ubud, Bali called Breathe Life Into Your Book.
For details email Robin at Robin@RobinSparks.com

High Pea Allen Times Day

Posted by Robin Sparks on February 21st, 2013 | Email this to friend
Indonesian sunset

Indonesian sunset

I have come alone to an Indonesian island called Nusa Lumbongan for a writing retreat.

Why a solo writing retreat when I live on the bucolic island of Bali? Because in Ubud there is just so much life, friends and distraction, that I have to hide away at least once a year to focus on writing. I am most creative when still.

And so here I am on February 14, 2013 on an almost deserted island.

“High Pea Allen Times,” the waiter said placing a young coconut in front of me on my table just a few feet from the sea. “Excuse me, what did you say?” I asked. He said it again. “High Pea Allen Times.” What??? I thought. I didn’t want to ask him to repeat it a 3rd time. And then it came to me, “Ooooh, Happy Valentines?” I asked. “Yes,” he said with a sweet smile of connection.

The sand is ivory, the sea sapphire, and the air a heavy damp blanket.

All that is left to do is write.

Robin at Devil\’s Tear

Bangkok – So Bad It’s Good

Posted by Robin Sparks on March 4th, 2012 | Email this to friend

Ganesha and Central Shopping Center share real estate

I love gnarly shiny Bangkok with its jarring juxtapositions. Vendors selling anything and everything you didn’t know you needed (vibrator anyone?) for miles and miles along potholed smelly sidewalks, next to towering air conditioned shopping malls, the likes of Terminal 21 – a play on a 5 story airport, each floor representing a different country. The ease of speeding from one gristly or glittery part of the city to another on the Sky Train. Thais holding smoking incense sticks at their heads while bowing to temples with golden Buddhas in the shadows of mega skyscrapers.

Billboard in Bangkok as seen from a sky train station

I ate a hurried meal of naan and curry on the street of Bangkok’s little Arabia, and watching the people pass by in the streets was like being on the film set of Arabian Nights – not entirely surprising considering both the Pakistani and Dubai embassies are located nearby.

Bangkok reminds me of Bombay in “Shantaram”, the book I am currently reading. It is the biggest, most bustling, economically alive melting pot of a city I’ve seen in the world. It’s good, bad, beautiful and ugly all stirred together. And it works.

I am here to get my visa renewed. Easy enough to speed to the Indonesian Embassy across the steamy city on the highly efficient and cooled sky train. And it was no surprise when I arrived at 1PM – the hour advertised on the Indonesian Embassy website that they open – that someone had pasted a piece of paper with the number ’2′ over the ’1′. So to kill time, I thumbed through hundreds of pirated movies and music at the nearby Phuntip Plaza – a 4 story shopping mall entirely dedicated to all things digital.

I am also in Bangkok for my yearly physical exam at one of the world’s most medically advanced and inexpensive (by US standards) hospitals. Kings and queens and just about everyone else with even a little bit of money or means in Asia come to Bumrungrad for medical care. Today in the waiting room I met a pilot from Ethiopia, a woman from Bangladesh, and an American couple living in China. I saw women wearing black burkas with only eye slits sitting next to women in flirty, silk lace-edged veils, and men with table cloths on their heads and white pillboxes, some wearing white flowing gowns (and these weren’t hospital gowns), and I have no idea who and where all these people come from. But come they do.

See the story I wrote on this hospital in 2003. (Scroll a ways down on this blog roll).

I stood next to an older guy outside the elevator in the hospital who when I asked for directions to Building A, sounded like he was from Iowa, and then I noticed his name tag said Chief Executive Officer, Bumrungrad Hospital. Dennis Brown showed me the short cut to get to the next building over for my next appointment.

Next time I come to Bangkok I’m going to check out the Chulalongkorn Hospital where they have a snake farm out back.

With Love from Bangkok,
Robin

International Healthcare in Bangkok


Bumrungrad Hospital


Remember when nurses in the U.S. used to wear these cute hats?


multi-lingual elevator buttons

Photos of Istanbul – December 2011

Posted by Robin Sparks on December 18th, 2011 | Email this to friend

After I moved to Istanbul in 2006, a Turk named Mehmet told me that one day the European Union would beg Turkey to join. That day may be soon. Turkey is booming in the midst of Europe’s current economic crisis, and Istanbul was recently named by the Financial Times as the #1 liveable city in the world.

In 2009, I moved to Bali. Three years later, I still consider Istanbul one of my “homes”. Last week I returned from a whirlwind business trip to Old Constantinople. Here are a few visual memories from my 10 days there.

Photos were shot with an iPhone 4.

Sunrise on the Bosphorus

A Turkish lamp shop on Yuksek Kaldirim Caddesi near Galata Tower

Balat neighborhood

Turkish teapot in my apartment

Balat

the making of manti in Balat

fresh squeezed juice for sale on Istiklal Cadessi

durum and fresh juice for sale on Istiklal Cadessi

alley off of Istiklal Cadessi

Trolley on Istiklal Cadessi, a 2 mile long pedestrian (mostly ) walkway in modern Istanbul

Istiklal Cadessi, the dining and entertainment center of Istanbul

Turkish sweets

Islamic gravestone at Cihangir Mosque

Olives and tea, quintessential Turkey

Lunar eclipse over the Bosphorus Bridge

The view of Sultanahmet from Terrace Three

Nostalgia sets in

Posted by Robin Sparks on May 23rd, 2009 | Email this to friend

Haven’t even left yet and already I miss her.

A few photos from the Island of the Gods, 2008-2009.

My front yard

My front yard

My pool, make that OUR pool, River Ayung

My pool, make that OUR pool, River Ayung

Balian Beach Ecstatic Dance Retreat

Balian Beach Ecstatic Dance Retreat; Photo by www.rolfandkarina.com

Yoga with Katy Appleton

Yoga with Katy Appleton

Balian Beach, Bali

Balian Beach, Bali

Robin at the beach

My foot at the beach

Balian Beach

more Balian Beach

Friends

Friends

Dead gecko in my refrigerator

Dead gecko in my refrigerator

More to come…
Yours truly, Robin

Photo by Marie B

Photo by Marie B

Hip Hop at the Bali Spirit Festival

Posted by Robin Sparks on May 2nd, 2009 | Email this to friend
Participants at the Bali Spirit Festival

Participants at the Bali Spirit Festival

I waited outside the Kafe Restaurant with a small group of people for the shuttle to the Bali Spirit Festival ground. One of those waiting was a quiet dark man wearing a bowler hat and bright Afro ethnic clothing. I asked him if he was going to the Holistic Hip Hop class. He smiled, nodded affirmatively, and said nothing.

We arrived at the festival and as it turns out, the man was Akim Funk Buddha himself,

Akim Funk Buddha

Akim Funk Buddha

Holistic Hip Hop

Holistic Hip Hop

a New York based performance artist and educator, who has performed at venues like Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Blue Note and was the instructor of the holistic hip hop workshop.

Akim Funk Buddha – gotta love that name.

Princess Lockeraroo, Akim’s DJ, spun James Browns’ “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing” and Akim was off, miming moves and motioning the students to imitate him. Soon, the lawn pavilion was filled with grooving hip hoppers of all ages – small children to senior citizens and all types- from hippies to suits from all over the world.

Hip Hop students (that's festival founder Megan on the left)

Hip Hop students (that's festival founder Megan on the left)

Any self-consciousness anyone may have felt initially, was quickly shelved as they learned moves like popping and waving. I’m pretty sure that there were more laughs logged per minute at the hip hop workshop than at the Laughter Yoga class.

Simultaneously, there was Kathak Dancing, Hatha Yoga, Prana Flow Yoga, Mark Whitwell’s “Practical Secrets of Intimacy & Love” yoga , a drumming and chanting circle, a Javanese Movement meditation, a Sacred Middle Eastern Traditions Music workshop, and a fire dancing class.

I found myself at the tarot card booth at the Dharma fair whereupon I learned that there are to be more challenges in my near future. OK, so bring it on (so I can get it over with). Everything happens fast here.

The headliner of the evening was Ganga Giri, a Didjeridu player from Australia who was joined by musicians from around the globe to pump out high-octave fusion.

Ganga Giri and friends at the Bali Spirit Festival

Ganga Giri and friends at the Bali Spirit Festival

The crowd pumped, jumped, leaped, and swayed for the next 3 hours. And when the lights went down, they moved to the Flava Lounge in Ubud, to continue to into the wee hours.

Suddenly it doesn’t matter that I missed the gypsy music festival in Istanbul this year. Because world music has come to Bali.

Bloggin’ from Bali
Robin Sparks
www.robinsparks.com

Reporting Live from the Bali Spirit Festival!

Posted by Robin Sparks on April 29th, 2009 | Email this to friend

Tri Hita Karana
3 Balinese words that symbolize the heart of the Bali Spirit Festival:
Harmony with God, Harmony in Community, Harmony with Nature

Masters of ceremony, Amsalan Doraisingam and Teresa Hererra, kick off the opening night ceremony

Masters of ceremony, Amsalan Doraisingam and Teresa Hererra, kick off the opening night ceremony

Ketut, owner of Tutmak Restaurant and Joe, local musician

Ketut, owner of Tutmak Restaurant and Joe, local musician

Charlie and Stacy from California

Charlie and Stacy from California

Food prepared "Balinese offering style" on biodegradeable platters
Today's Sun Salutations

Today's Sun Salutations

Renowned yogini, Katy Appleton, in this morning's kick off Yoga Mala

Renowned yogini, Katy Appleton, in this morning's kick off Yoga Mala

Yogi, Mark Whitwell gives hands on instruction to festival participant

Yogi, Mark Whitwell gives hands on instruction to festival participant

It’s official. The 2nd annual Bali Spirit Festival is under way!

www.balispiritfestival.com
A vibrant, uplifting and diverse festival of yoga, dance and music which awakens and nourishes each individual’s potential for positive change within our world.

Festival Vision
*We honour, respect and promote the power of the saccred arts of yoga, dance and music.
*We champion the collaborative power of the global creative community with Bali.
*We strive to strengthen the ecological health and harmonious vitality of Bali and the cultural vibrancy of Indonesia.

Opening night, Tuesday April 28, 2009 -

I park my Yamaha motorcycle with hundreds of others feeling like I’ve arrived at an outdoor rock concert in California. Except that this is different. This is Bali.

For one thing, most everyone I know on the island is here. Claude from France, Rama from Venezuela, Glenn from New York, Orly from Tel Aviv, Marie from Sweden, Charley and Stacey from California, Ketut from Ubud, Bill from Australia, Paula from Singapore, and more. Each of us arrived in Bali once upon a time on holiday – and stayed. Why? Because we are better here than we were at “home” – and a big thank you to the Balinese who so graciously share their island and spiritually-infused lifestyle with us.

Locals, young and old stand to one side, watching us curiously. The air is balmy, the dress, tropical casual: shorts, sleeveless shirts, tevas, and long flowing sexy Goddess.

Attendees meander among the stalls of the Dharma fair, checking out handcrafted jewelry, hand-tailored clothing, and organic food and drinks. Eventually we make our way to the main stage, where we spread out on the grass. (Over 1000 tickets have been sold). Stars sparkle overhead throwing palm trees into silouette, and bamboo mats are spread out on the lawn.

Local dignitaries welcome the crowd onstage. Ketut, a Balinese healer, reminds us that we are much more than our physical bodies – which he compares to wrappers discarded on the side of the road (which is by the way far less common here than it was even 1 year ago). I Made Gunarta, co-founder and producer of the concert along with wife Meghan Pappenheim, welcomes us first in English and then in Bahasa Indonesia.

Pooja Bhantangar shimmers and shakes to haunting Indian music.

Rocky Dawuni, his waist length dreads swaying in the tropical air, performs fusion Reggae, Afro Beat.

Nick Woolsey spins fire, flames tossed into the air, spun round, streaking the night.

Larisa Stow and The Shakti Tribe huddle in prayer on a darkened stage preparing for will be the last performance of opening night. Lights, action! Lusty goddesses chant in Sanskrit, whipping the crowd into a spiritual fervor. Sofia Thom, ecstatic dancer,undulates stage right like the tantrika she is.

We are here not only to enjoy the music and the dance and to catch up with friends, but as part of a collective effort to be better than we were – yesterday, 15 minutes ago. It is about spotlighting the divine in everyone and celebrating it. It is dedication to living a life that supports and nourishes ourselves, every living being, community, and the planet.

Party on!
Your humble blog Gloddess,
Robin Sparks
www.robinsparks.com

Day One at the Balispirit festival, April 29, 2009:

I cycle through an outdoor Bali Hai movie set of rice paddies as the sun rises. Uniformed Balinese children fill the streets walking to school. The warm sun licks my bare shoulders. I pull over to the side of the road next to a football field where boys and girls in bright yellow uniforms fill the field like happy bees. I hear the deep resonant chanting that I often hear wafting on night air usually near temples. Incredibly enough, the sound, I discover, is coming from the coach who stands peacefully at the side of the field, the children buzzing around him. He wears a white flower behind his ear.

Right there on the side of the road, I speak into my voice recorder: Bali is beautiful without trying. So beautiful it hurts! In a good way of course. (-:

I climb back onto my bike and arrive at the festival in time for 8AM sun salutations guided by globally renowned yogis, Mark Whitwell, Ravi Vempati, Katy Appleton, and Uma Inder.

Eckhardt Tolle says actual consciousness cannot be defined in words. That consciousness is the space beyond and around thought. Awareness. Presence. A way of being that is beneficial to one’s self, to others, and the planet – in every walking moment.

Consciousness surrounds us here: Organic whole food served on biodegradeable banana leaves. Toilets that compost. Recycling bins everywhere. Integration of the local culture with the foreign. Friends hugging. Love. Lots of it. And gratitude to spare.

I join journalists in the media tent to speak with yogis Katy Appleton, Eoin Flinn, and Mark Whitwell.

Eoin, surfer, author, yogi, and a self-proclaimed “blissoligist” from Vancouver, says his temple is the ocean and that his students are regular people, many of them formerly entrenched in a life of work, consumerism and television.

Katy Appleton, answers a Balinese journalist who asks why we need yoga, that yoga liberates us. Helps us to define what binds us so that we can let it go. “Yoga asanas help you turn the noise down so that you can settle into a full feeling of abundance”, she says.

Mark Whitwell proclaims that there is a yoga practice for every person, young or old, religious or not, regardless of physical location, environment, or politics. He points out that the Islamic world has more yogis than anywhere in the world. “After all,” he said, “Muslims perform full body prayers five times a day.”

Speaking of Muslims, Pujiastuti Sindhu, from Bandung (near Jakarta) represents Muslim yoga practioners this week on Bali, an island of hinduism in the world’s largest Islamic country. Puji has been in the forefront of recent yoga fatwa debates across Indonesia and Malaysia.

Yogini, Pujiastuti Sindhu

Yogini, Pujiastuti Sindhu

She discovered yoga in a second hand bookshop seven years ago whereupon she began to practice yoga and within 5 years was teaching it herself. “Yoga softens the heart, lets it open up – and only with an open heart can we receive the truth,” she says. In spite of recent government “laws” which discourage Muslims from meditation and chanting as part of their yoga practice, she says that there are many headscarf-wearing, Muslim yoga teachers in Indonesia. She believes that Indonesia is already loosening its anti-yoga rhetoric.

__________________________

So all you yogis, yoginis, dancers, musicians, wanna-be-in-Balians and already-in-Balians…that’s it for today. I am headed back to the festival to dance with the Goddess Tribe.

Your Bali Spirit Blog Gloddess,
Robin Sparks
www.robinsparks.com