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Quemeneven

After La Gree Suzanne, I headed for Quemeneven, a village north of Quimper, in West France, to do another workaway.

My host was Camilla is a young and accomplished lady. Her two kids, Chun and Artus, and her partner, Gildas, live with her.

She is a landscaper by trade. She has a company, paysagesvivants,  that specializes in installing pools that clean the house wastewater. The waste-water is ejected into these pools and through the use of sand, clay, and various plants, the water is cleaned and able to be recycled.

She also makes natural swimming pools using the same plants and collected rain water.

Her house is amazing. Camilla built it herself with natural elements like straw, wood, and a pulverized rock resembling concrete. The house has a green house, a large garden, an orchard, a bamboo forest, and a japanese garden. There are a variety of animals on the property including chickens, a sheep, and a new kitten. The house uses solar panels to create its electricity, rainwater, for all non-potable water uses, and my favorite, dry toilets. I LOVE dry toilets. I think the use of our standard toilets is such an irresponsible waste of water that introduces complexity for how we deal with our shit. Furthermore, it makes the individual understand the necessity of permaculture, closing the loop on how we make use of our waste in the self-sustaining loop.

There is an element of community about the house. The house was built with help from friends and other ´workaway´type people. There are often people in the house. While there, I met other members of her family, some airbnb-ers, family friends, and another workaway-type person, Sandra.

One weekend, Sandra took me to this magical hobbit housing commity, Kerterre, in a village by sea, to the south of here named, Plomeur. This place hosts workshops that show people how to make their own dome-houses using natural materials. It was a surreal weekend.

I also had a look around Quimper for a few hours.

These two weeks, I worked mostly in the garden. I worked a lot with bamboo, which I absolutely love. I was thinking about one of my favorite Ted talks about bamboo houses.

Themes of community and permaculture were highlighted in these past two weeks. While doing my workaway, I was interviewed by a newspaper reporter from Quimper on these subjects and how they relate to workaway.

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Check out a short clip on projections from our friends at the Awake Network:

 

La Gree Suzanne

After Paris, I did a workaway, in Brittany, (west france) on an old farm called La Gree Suzanne. The nearest village is a 15-minute bike ride down the road called Erce-en-Lamee.

First, I arrived in Rennes, the nearest city, where I awaited my host, Stephane. I had a look around a local park while waiting.

I also read the passage below from the book I’m currently reading, Crazy Wisdom.

The teaching of the non-existence of self and phenomena is a foundation in Buddhism. It has popped up again in my readings and was in the backdrop of my experience at La Gree Suzanne.

The property is serene. The view of the surrounding country is vast and open.

In the house is Stephane and Dominque, my workaway hosts, Eloan, Noa, and Mayleine, their visiting grandkids, David, a fellow workawayer (Swiss), and Cecile, a girl that is camping out in Stephane’s yard through a French website that allows for shorter communtes to work by connecting you with a host who you can stay with during the work week (gamping.fr). Later came Elynn, Eway, and Vivian, 3 fellow workawayers (Malaysian),  Leo and Lucy, 2 more grandkids, and Lily and Christine, Dominque’s sister and niece. It was a full house to say the least.

I am just amazed when I meet these maha-hosts like Stephane who embrace community living and live by this idea of the more people, the merrier. He is an accommodating, generous host and is full of knowledge concerning gardening and DIY projects around the house, as well as life wisdom.

One of the first things he told me in the car ride home, in response to my question about what projects he had lined up, was something along the lines of, “The primary objective is to live together in peace.” In all my interactions with him, I could always see that, the function of the work, always took a back seat to the interaction and communication that took place before and during the work. Such an inspiring example of goodwill and patience.

Sometimes, Stephane would show animated films on projector from directors like Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki. I love animations like this, where the story plot has a good message behind it and there is space built into the story to simply observe the climate of the plot.

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One day, Cecile and I took a bike ride to Erce-en-Lamee.

The food has been amazing! Dominque is an amazing cook. I love that the French end their meals with bread and cheese.

Many of my days were spent working in the garden.

The sunsets are late, so we get light until around 10pm. On a few occasions, we’ve had campfires and I’ve been able to do a few fire shows. On one special occasion, we burned loads of juniper. Juniper is used in Tibetan Buddhist ceremonies and special occasions to call down “Drala”, auspicious uplifted elemental energy that rides down from above on juniper’s smoke. I found the occasion of having juniper as primary burning fuel at one of the fires to be incredibly fortuitous.

One of the greatest delights of being here has been to play with the kids. Its great to reconnect with play.

I leave here with a renewed perspective of what it means to be; enamored, grateful, and conceptually bewildered with the inner workings of reality… groundless.

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Paris

I did one more fire show the night before I left Montebelluna for Roberta’s parents and a friend.

The time here was really special. I feel like I was able to reconnect with some important intangible quality that was lost or forgotten. There’s a lot here I’ve yet to discover.  I feel like Italy, or this place rather, is like a second home. A homecoming of sorts.  I’m really grateful for Roberta and my friends here.

After Montebelluna, I headed to Paris. I stayed with Jeremy, my classmate from the Thai Massage class I took in Chiang Mai.

When I was in Rishikesh, India, I met a girl, Jennifer, who was headed to Paris shortly after our yoga class ended. I told her she should meet Jeremy because I thought the two of them would get along.

As I arrived in Paris, I headed to a bar to meet Jeremy. As we were catching up, I brought up Jennifer and wanted to know how their interaction had gone. I looked over across the street and saw a girl who resembled Jennifer walking this way. I starred a bit longer and realized it was Jennifer! I was totally disoriented.

What a coincidence that she was walking down the same street in Paris at this particular time! I found out shortly later that she had in fact hooked up with Jeremy and had come back to Paris to spend more time with him.

I was still suspended in disbelief to see these two together in this magical city. It was like something from a cheesy romance comedy.

I was/am glad to see them happy with each other.

Shortly after, we headed to Jeremy’s place for bread, cheese, and wine, then headed over to what Jeremy kept referring to as “the hospital”. It was this property that used to be a hospital that had been closed down and taken over by, I guess squatters, and now the place was filled with bars and art oddities of various sorts.

Not unlike my landing in Italy, I was hit on the head upon arrival with this bat of coincidence, disbelief, and magic. I had to take several moments to check back in with myself that all this was actually happening (again).

The next day, the three of us took a boat tour around Paris. I’ve been here before, but never saw the city by boat. It was really cool to see the art on the bridges that can only be properly seen/ appreciated by boat. There are a lot of bridges here.

I normally intensely dislike big cities, but I didn’t feel this way about Paris. You can see the freshness of the environmental progressiveness throughout the city. There are places to rent electrical cars by the roadside, like bikes. We saw a green energy convention by the river near the tourist attractions. There were informative displays at the subway stops (which are some of the cleanest I’ve ever seen) about climate change.

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I can’t tell you how relieving it was to see that these concerns I hold so close are being addressed and implemented on a large city scale, at least to some degree.

The city doesn’t feel nearly as claustrophobic as other big cities, as there seems to be space built into the city. It doesn’t feel like a chicken cage. There are several beautiful green areas spread throughout the city.

July 14 was French independence day. President Trump visited on that day. There were several military vehicles passing randomly throughout the city. I’m glad the various people I interacted with around that time didn’t break my balls about being American. It feels embarrassing to be from the US in place like this, but I felt like the people I interacted with could differentiate between the individual and the corrupt political system their country entertains.

A popular thing to do on July 14 is to go to a “fireman ball”. These are parties at the fire department that serve as fundraising events. After we went to a nearby bar. I met a local there who told my about the patriotism he felt for France. It was one of those funny moments of disbelief to hear someone talk like this.

Its lovely to be here.

 

 

 

Montebelluna

After India, I headed to Montebelluna in north Italy just outside Venice.

 

It was such a drastic change of scenery and culture. Everyone is well dressed. The lawns and the green spaces are manicured. There is no trash on the floor. People hold themselves with dignity. It was like stepping into a god realm in comparison with where I had just come from.

The first day upon arrival, I met my old friend Roberta who told me that her partner Fiorenzo, a shoe designer for US Polo, was lacking a male model for a show they had the following day and if I was interested in filling that vacancy. After dropping my things and showering up, I went to meet Fiorenzo at his work place and we talked about the arrangements for the following day. That night there was a lovely banquet for all the sales reps and the execs who had flown into town for the show.

 

I was feeling like I was in a dream, being where I was, with all this food in front of me, and in my delirium, had bread, cheese, and alcohol, as though my body had no intolerances.

I was so sick the next 5 days. I still managed to make it to and model at the shoe show the next day. It was a long day.

The following days were transformative. I felt like my body was burning up from the inside. My stomach would spasm when I would lie down.

I also had the chance to digest the past 6 weeks spent in India and on a grander scheme, life. One day Roberta sits me down to have a talk. That was a strong wake up call. I won’t go into details, but it shook me in such a way that forced some deep issues to surface. I can’t tell you the value I got from it and so that in combination with the ending of my fiery sickness, I felt like a phoenix reborn from the ashes.

I celebrated my 35th birthday at her house with friends and was able to spin fire for the first time on my trip. That was fun.

 

 

During the 2 weeks spent in Montebelluna, I visited a lovely park called white springs and a neighboring city, Vicenza.

 

I enjoyed meeting Robert’s son, Tomaso, for the first time.

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Kushinagar

After Sarnath, I headed to Kushinagar, the place the buddha attained parinirvana after his death.

The town is small with a gate at the entrance.

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The parinirvana temple grounds were lovely and spacious.

Being inside the temple itself was powerful. I could feel a shift in energy immediately upon entering. It was like breaking out into a cold sweat while remaining dry. I felt an intensity in my cells, like they were near a cool flame. It was like the energy of being in a grandmother’s home, full of tender love, but also somewhat heavy and claustrophobic.

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I felt like I got a better understanding of sad joy. Its hard to describe, but it is as though both are existing at the same time, and its potent.

After Kushinagar, I took a 16 hour train ride to Dehli. This was the most hellish travel experience on my trip yet. The journey begins as usual at the end of a long crowded queue that bears the resemblance to the shape of a line. After getting my ticket and being told by the counter lady to go to platform 5, I was told by a few people on the platform that the train would be on platform 1 or 2 and it would come at 4pm or 5pm. On platform 1, another person, a train station employee, told me the train would be arrive at 12:30pm.

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This confusion prior to boarding trains in India is a typical pre-boarding procedure. When you buy a ticket in person, you are buying a standing space ticket in the “sleeping car”, the lowest class of ticket, and the only one available if you didn’t make a reservation. A man told me on the train that reservations should be made 2-4 months prior. I never boarded a train in India that wasn’t fully booked.

I boarded and put my things between train cars. The first several hours, were spent hanging out in this area shared with other people, but with room to walk between the cars and being ignored by the ticket inspector. Later in the evening, ticket inspectors changed. He approached, ask for my ticket, and with irritation told me I couldn’t stand there and pointed to go to the sleeper car.

At this point I wasn’t sure what all the different cars were, they all have sleeping compartments, so I stayed put as he walked off without letting me ask for clarification. He came back around sometime later, more irritated than before. I asked for clarification. He said to go down 2 cars and that there were no seats available. After he started tapping/hitting my back/butt with his clipboard to move now. I got my backpacks on, but I couldn’t get through the first doorway. He said to change cars the next time the train stopped.

When the train stopped. I went down as instructed. The entrance to the car was filled with people as was the next one down and the next. There was no room to squeeze in and the people would not make room or let me in. I hurried back to where I was before.

At that point, there were a group of policemen that were witnessing my interactions with ticket inspector. They were friendly. One advised me to offer him a bribe of 100-200 rupees for a seat.

The inspector came around again, and I explained the situation. He said to get off at the next stop and get the next train. He rejected my bribes.

There was no way I was taking the risk of not getting to Dehli on that train. The next stop was a prolonged one with many people getting out for food/water.

I used the opportunity to squeeze into a car some cars down. I managed to set my things down. The people around staring, with somewhat of an irritation, for making the quarters more crammed I imagine. I was by the toilets. The urine stench was thick but faded into the background after some time. There was lady next to me on the floor with her 3 sleeping kids, 2 being half naked. For the initial few hours, I had room only to stand and had to periodically shift positions for people to make their way to the toilet, most in bare feet.

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There were times I seriously considered getting off and waiting for the next train. There were no guarantees the next train wouldn’t hold the same situation. I held my spot. The intensity was glorious. My only option was to occupy my mind by practicing tonglen on those around.  Eventually there was space for me to kind of squat on my bag then squat on the floor. I was thankful to not have eaten after breakfast that day.

I eventually got to Dehli at 4am the next day, sleep-deprived, dirty, and disoriented. I was happy to get checked into my hotel.

 

 

 

 

Sarnath

After Bodh Gaya I headed to Sarnath.

Taken from Wikipedia:

Sarnath is a city located 13 kilometres north-east of Varanasi near the confluence of the Ganges and the Varuna rivers in Uttar Pradesh, India. Deer park in Sarnath is where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma, and where the Buddhist Sangha came into existence through the enlightenment of Kondanna. 

It was the site of the Buddha’s Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, which was his first teaching after attaining enlightenment, in which he taught the four noble truths and the teachings associated with it.

My motivation for going to Sarnath was to visit deer park. The park was peaceful. An interesting thing came up in my meditation at the park, I was bothered that there wasn’t an exact location to be at. There was no indication that “this was the spot the Buddha gave his first teachings.” Unlike Lumbini and Bodh Gaya which both had specific spots of significance, this was more spacious. I was left with a sense of grasping for some solid place in space and was left to rest in that groundless state.

My hotel manager offered to take me to a lassi shop down the road and showed me a nice park on the way back.

While in Sarnath, I headed over to have a look at neighboring city Varanasi. I headed over to have another lassi at a place that had come recommended to me by a fellow traveler in Bodh Gaya.

After, I went to the most unusual temple I’ve ever been to, Kashi Vishwanath. Its a sacred Hindu temple. Its domes are covered in gold. You have to make your way through a labyrinth of city alleys to get to it. There’s a security check, you have to remove your shoes, and you aren’t allowed to take anything inside. The happenings on the inside look like something from an Indian Jones movie. There are ritual rooms inside the temple where men, dressed only in white skirts, orange flowered necklaces, and body paint are crammed into. There are these stones on the floor that people make various offerings to, flowers, milk, curd, money, and other things, and touch the stone then touch their forehead.

After this, I headed to a nearby ghat, a cremation place by the Ganges river called Manikarmika ghat. This place is the definition of dismal. Again making my way through the city alley labyrinth, I emerged into a place by the Ganges that had heaps of large log piles, several large fires in a row, and people gathered in small groups by the river. There were famished, skittish puppies about. There were clouds of black smoke and a stench in the air I had already grown accustomed to. The air reeked with death. Its hard to say how long I hung around for. Time seemed to be suspended. I witnessed a few bodies being brought out by the riverside and cremated in the open air. Next to me, a puppy whose skeleton was easily visible, was eating what appeared to be a burnt stick on the ground.

I felt fortunate experiencing this atmosphere of death in its raw essence. I was happy to leave as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bodh Gaya

After Kathmandu, I took a 48 hour journey to Bodh Gaya back in India. The journey was long and involved changing transportation several times.

The periods of transportation between cities are characterized by cramped seating, lots of honking, aggressive driving, hot/ humid weather, and often unpaved roads.

I am met often with stares and approaches of all kinds, peddlers and others who just wanting to converse.

I am constantly bewildered with the atmosphere a native here grows up with. Its just heart breaking. It is a constant reminder to be grateful for what I’ve been given in life.

makeshift houses by the roadside

I was relieved to get checked into a hotel and get cleaned up.

Taken from Wikipedia:

Bodh Gaya is a religious site and place of pilgrimage associated with the Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Gaya district in the Indian state of Bihar. It is famous as it is the place where Gautama Buddha is said to have obtained Enlightenment (Pali: bodhi) under what became known as the Bodhi Tree.

For Buddhists, Bodh Gaya is the most important of the main four pilgrimage sites related to the life of Gautama Buddha, the other three being Kushinagar, Lumbini, and Sarnath. In 2002, Mahabodhi Temple, located in Bodh Gaya, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I spent most my time in Bodhgaya either at the Bodhi tree or in my room. It was a significant time of self-reflection. The atmosphere around the tree itself is somewhat unbelievable. Its just like a constant state of being stupefied. Sitting in front of it is like, “am I actually see this?”

It was low season, and so it was not hard to get near the tree to sit. Most the other people sitting around me were monks.

This event happened while some heavy family issues were surfacing back home. There was much material to sit with. I encountered a kind elderly lady at a restaurant just next to my hotel the night before I left. She had an unidentified accent, maybe French Canadian. We had a good exchange. It was so good to have the listening ear of a seasoned meditation practitioner, to be able to get some things off my chest, without it coming off as anything other than what it was. It was an opportunity to communicate my present situation, simple and yet often difficult to find.