Cutting through…

Day 2 – Kathmandu and the meeting of the group

I wake at 5 am, feeling confident that I’ve kicked this jetlag/time change thing. It is drizzling outside and I see the symbolic prayer flags handing outside my window.

I wander down to breakfast and am fascinated by the dragon symbolism everywhere. I have a female dragon tattooed on my right wrist, symbolic for me from my Amazonian shamanic experiences, and increasingly present during other ceremonial experiences I have participated in. I am fascinated to learn that the dragon has a great deal of Tibetan Buddhism symbolism, and I look forward to learning more in my time here with Tibetan indigenous people.

For now, I revel in the fact that my hotel has illy coffee and a quiet place to sit outside in the mornings, and weather that is neither hot nor cold.

I finally meet the group and meet a number of likeminded adventurous spirits, and enjoy slowly getting to know them.

We spend the afternoon and evening together, along with our spiritual teachers (Tibetan Buddhist lama and two geshes) and our medical leaders.

We are gifted with sacred teachings and participate in Tibetan Buddhist prayer mantras. We spend the day learning about clinic work, and we dine in a beautiful outdoor space. We close the evening with a ceremony known as “Chud”. This means “to cut through the ego”. The ceremony involves our spiritual leaders chanting and playing instruments for approximately 20 minutes while we meditate. I turn to Wikipedia for more understanding and learn that

Chödpa, use a kangling or human thighbone trumpet, and a Chöd drum, a hand drum similar to but larger than the ḍamaru commonly used in Tibetan ritual.

 Chöd literally means “cutting through”. It cuts through hindrances and obscurations, sometimes called ‘demons’ or ‘gods’. Examples of demons are ignorance, anger and, in particular, the dualism of perceiving the self as inherently meaningful, contrary to the Buddhist doctrine of no-self.


 The goal is for this to assist us with “cutting” our ties to attachments that will interfere with our need to be present, with wisdom and compassion in our service work. During the meditation I find myself losing sight/feeling of my hands and my body and drifting away – but then always snapping back in at the sound of the instruments. Behind my eyes I also see roads of white that I am travelling on and they extend and stretch around a corner…

It’s been a good day. Namaste.


Nepal Bound – Day 1 – homesick already

September 11, 2016

First leg of my journey. Buffalo to Boston. What have I done? Am I really leaving my family for almost 3 weeks to go to the other side of the world? The last few days have been very painful. As I watched Charlie, my 11-year old cry on at least two occasions about me going, I can’t help but think that this is a big mistake. Why leave my family? I love every single moment with Charlie and now I’m throwing some of these moments away.

I really hope that this trip will be worth it.

I can rationalize that it means working towards a purpose – that helping the people of Humla will be a worthy goal. Right now however, I am so full of doubt. How will I help? Will I offer something? Anything? Or is it all just so self-serving? Time will tell.


Last night, I was so proud of Charlie as he won MVP for his baseball team. I wasn’t proud because he is a good baseball player, I was proud because he was following his passion

img_8370and doing what he loves, and along the way he is reaping some rewards. Hopefully he will see me in the same light…. someday.

Let’s hope a little Boston Bruins gear at my next stop will make it all worthwhile for Charlie in the end.

Till next time.



Spiders -1, Michelle – 0

Somehow I manage to sleep after killing a flying ant and accepting the 5 beetles that now live in my room with the spiders.


The next morning all is well, and I see no sign of bugs, and my bed is thankfully bug-free.


I meet some amazing women at breakfast and enjoy some services I’ve purchased from the hotel. My day gets away from me with yoga, a massage and a life-altering conversation with an English woman from Austria who has a magical life and a beauty like Audrey Hepburn. We talk until dinner and I say goodbye to her and the other ladies as they move into their retreat. It is now nightfall and I have to make my way up 200 stairs to my jungle home. Because I haven’t been back for hours, the space is dark and I am already nervous as I walk past the chicken coop in the darkness, up the flights of stairs to my casa.


I manage to get the door open and using my iphone flashlight can see that the two bathroom spiders now live on the wall above my bed. As I turn on the light, I see the kitchen spider is still present and I slowly approach the bathroom. I d
esperately need a shower. As I turn on the light I see 2 spiders on the wall and my heart begins to race. As I make my way out of the bathroom, I see a spider scurry across the floor. I throw 3 pillows at him and I realize that I am done. There is nowhere to walk without having to stare down a spider and I panic as I begin packing my luggage in the hopes that I am not packing a spider with IMG_6029me.

I head back into the jungle darkness to the front desk where I insist on another room. The front desk woman comes with me back to my room and even she is surprised with the number of spiders, but she tells me that the only room left is one even further in the jungle. I follow her up another 30 stairs or so into a tiny room nicknamed the “writer’s roost”. It is clean and appears to be bug free so I decide to stay. She leaves and I begin to settle in as I see a cockroach scurry across my bed. I am almost ready to scream but I escort it out of my room and move on. The room is clean and I decide to shower. As I turn on the shower, water squirts directly out the side over the wall and onto my bed. Guatemalan water pressure is apparently amazing in the jungle. I settle it down but can get nothing but ice cold water….no hot shower tonight.


As I settle into sleep, earning at least 4 new mosquito bites, I am desperately missing home…

Almost Alone…In Paradise

Villa Sumaya, Guatemala – May 2016

I feel so sad. Alone.

What’s that about?

Here I am in this amazing jungle paradise in Guatemala. I’ve taken to spending 3 days alone following my volunteer work in the city. En route I’ve met a group of amazing women who are staying at my resort so as to participate in a particular retreat. When I arrive at the resort, I realize I am the only person who is not participating in the retreat and this leaves me with a different kind of isolation, one that I wasn’t looking for. I came here to retreat, do some writing and experience some quiet and peacefulness, and this is definitely available to me. However I was excluded from this little community of like-minded women, and it is leaving me with this feeling of being rejected, left out, and truly alone.

I sip red wine and try to write with the sounds of the waves and the jungle in the background, sounds that people would dream or, or purchase on itunes, and the rain begins to tap on the tin roof. Every hour or so I hear this large explosion, which I thought was a sound made to keep the animals away, but may in fact be the sound of the active volcano nearby.

I’ve arrived at this hotel- right in the middle of the welcome wagon for the retreat visitors and I have only 3 days to stay in this resort, as opposed to their seven. I’m eager to get to my room, after a 1-hour ride to the airport, followed by a 3 hour shuttle to a lakefront town and a 20 minute boat ride to my hotel. As I receive hugs and introductions from all the guests from around the world, I am having to tell them that I am not with their group, but rather on my own, which is isolating…. Then I approach the front desk and they seem to have given my room away. Great. Now WTF. I’m alone, excluded and I have no room to sleep in. I see the kind Guatemalan man scrambling and on the phone and he tells me he is able to provide me with a better room, and he will give me two choices on rooms. We begin the uphill climb to room number one, a small room with a great balcony and a view of the ocean, but with two loud women directly next door. We leave that room and we begin an uphill trek to another room.


When we get to the top of about 75 stairs I see this immense building surrounded by windows and a wraparound balcony. He tells me this is the one, and I was not able to maintain my cool composure, and I giggled like a little girl. This room was massive – three beds, kitchen, personal hammock overlooking the jungle and the lake, volcanoes in the distance, chickens nearby and the jungle sounds of isolation abound.


My veranda overlooking lake and jungle

I am equally thrilled and equally overwhelmed that this whole space is actually mine. I text my excitement to several friends and settle in, and then, I see it. There it is. A great big Guatemalan spider just hanging out on my wall. Then, I see another one. Two spiders. Two. Not one. Two. Big. Guatemalan. Jungle. F+*ing spiders. Ugh. WTF to do now? I tell my lovely cleaning lady and she generously tells me the Spanish translation for spider, and she walks away.

So it turns out, I’m not alone. I’m living in the presidential suite with two mother**ing large Guatemalan jungle spiders.


Climbing Pacaya Volcano

Where there’s lots of burning…but that’s just my thighs

pacaya volcano


Pacaya Volcano is a Guatemalan experience that I’d like to say you don’t want to miss, however some of y’all just might not be ready for this. Fortunately the Guatemalans are very aware of this possibility as well and they prepare accordingly.

We begin this day with a windy nauseous-inducing bus ride up the mountain (reminiscent of a white-knuckle experience riding a city bus in the mountains of northern India). Upon arrival, kids were there to try to sell us bamboo walking sticks, which none of us bought but probably could’ve used. After some guide-planning, we are off on the start of the hike.

There is no 5 minute warm up (like my favourite running app recommends) and we begin a very steep climb up rocks and jungle terrain. Behind us follows three men with horses in case we would prefer to take a horse. By the top of the first hill, less than 5 minutes in, we have our first cowboy, and the rest of the group continues by foot. Within 30 minutes, several people were nauseous, one eventually threw up, and all three horses had found themselves some passengers.DSC_0067

Eventually the jungle clears and the fog/mist/smoke surrounds us and we face this (seemingly) last climb to a lookout. It is a climb up black dirt lava that is so loose, our feet sink in and we do a zombie walk to the top. The experience at the top is quite surreal as we are surrounded by grey with little to be seen, and it feels as if we might be on another planet.


Our guides tell us that next we will see the lava where we will roast the marshmallows (a cute Guatemalan joke). They warn us that it is steep but it will be the last of the steep. We are all in.


The trek down was extreme as we could see nothing but grey fog, and there was a slight rain cooling our faces. We carefully placed one foot in front of the other to make our way down a 200 foot (?) mountain that ended in a sea of dry black lava. The view was unlike any I have ever seen and immediately and strangely it reminded me of the elephant graveyard in the Lion King. As the selfies began, I was awestruck by this natural wonder, and I thought that this was the most amazing sight, until the guides told us it was time to see the area where the lava is still hot and smoking. We climbed over and through lava trails and as I turned the last corner, I encountered our funny Guatemalan guide with his gold tooth standing in front of the lava hills holding a bag of marshmallows and some roasting sticks. Sure enough, we roasted marshmallows in the crevices of the lava where heat still lived. Combined with the smell, it was like being in an outdoor, wood-burning sauna. Without a doubt, it was one of the coolest things I have done in my life thus far.



Go. Stay. Find. Be Curious.