Phenomenal Woman

My best friend had her birthday yesterday. It made me think about the time when I first met her- we were four year old toddlers visiting our grandmothers in the countryside and hiding behind our mom`s dresses, because we were too shy. There wasn`t an immediate click– she was a bubbly, happy kid while I was supremely coy and sensitive. I remember after our first meeting I told her “I don`t think we`ll ever play again”.

Well, this is a great example of how first impressions can be totally wrong. Twenty something years later we have been through everything together- from all the childhood memories in our village that will forever be imprinted in me- those amazing nights when we slept outside and counted the starts, the unforgettable trips to the river and the long walks back to the village…And then all these letters that we exchanged in primary school in anticipation of seeing each other during the next holiday. Through all the firsts- crushes, kisses, heartbreaks, disappointments, victories- always being there for each other and looking forward to our next meeting.

Later on, our grandparents passed away and summers in the countryside were resumed. Then we started going to the seaside together. Sometimes to the mountains.  The spirit of spending time together was always kept alive.

And then I went abroad. And almost every time when I would fly back she would come and meet me at the airport. And ask me to stay over at her place. And I would always stay as much as I could. And it would always be the same. Because there are things in life that change and there are those other things that don`t – and friendships for life are one of them.

I remember the note that you wrote to me when I was really sick a few years ago- “My dearest friend, this note is purely symbolic and is meant to remind you that I`ll always be there for you”. That pretty much wraps up the relationship that we have and the amazing person that you are.

Apart from being my best friend, you are also a magnetic woman with very special energy.  So let this poem by Maya Angelou be a celebration of your charisma and allure and let this also be the beginning of the best part of your life. I love you!

 

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

 

 

 

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Enjoy the Silence

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Life goes in cycles. There are times when one should focus on doing and other times meant for just being – this is something that is often mentioned in spiritual literature. But how manageable is it to just “be”- submit to the silence and to simply do “nothing”? To most people the concept of spending ten days in silence sounds completely unimaginable. What am I actually going to do there? Won`t I be supremely bored? No dinner?! The exact same questions had been continuously crossing my mind. But strangely enough they did not seem that alarming when balanced against the memory of the distinctive peace and serenity that enveloped the people whom I met, and who had done Vipassana. Overall, the feelings that the thought evoked in me were a strange bitter-sweet mixture of panic and supreme curiosity.  That is how I knew I needed to give Vipassana a try.

 

Vipassana means “to see things as they really are”. It is a meditation technique that was popularized by Gautama Buddha 2,500 years ago. Since the time of Buddha, Vipassana has been handed down, to the present day, by an unbroken chain of teachers. One of them is Mr. S.N. Goenka who began teaching Vipassana in 1969. Since then he has taught tens of thousands of people of all races and all religions in both the East and West. He had also given numerous speeches on Vipassana at big forums such as the UN World Peace Summit. An interesting fact is that Vipassana is now recognized as an effective method for reforming prisoners. The meditation technique has been taught to prison inmates and staff in many parts of India as well as the United States, Britain, New Zealand, Taiwan and Nepal. There are permanent Vipassana centers in two Indian prisons.

 

Currently there are Vipassana centers all over the world. The Vipassana technique is not taught commercially, but instead is offered freely. There are no charges for the courses – not even to cover the cost of food and accommodation. All expenses are met by donations from people who, having completed a course and experienced the benefits of Vipassana, wish to give others the opportunity to experience the benefits of the meditation.

 

The practical aspects of the meditation are very straightforward: observe your breath for three days, and then observe your body for the next seven. By doing that you learn from firsthand experience how everything within and around us is impermanent and transitory in nature. As a consequence, you make first steps into developing a more calm, accepting and peaceful approach to life.

 

In terms of immediate changes that you observe- what happens after a long period of silence is that after all the noise is over (be prepared for a vast amount of mental noise in the beginning) and you greet and say bye to all the thoughts, emotions and body sensations that come and go like waves, you are left with a vast amount of peace and a feeling of connectedness with yourself. Not talking to people allows you to detach from the all the clatter, worries, hopes and constant distractions of the modern world and gives you the space to experience being yourself without thinking how others would perceive you. Realizing how uncontrollable our minds are, putting active effort in taming and seeing the results from your work (improved focus and concentration, better sleep and calmer mind) gives you a feeling of being on the right path in your spiritual adventure. One of those adventures that change your life and the way you see things.

 

In case you would like to give it a try, here are some practical tips that will help you make the best out of it:

 

  • The ten day program is very structured and is applied in the same way in all centers around the world. At first sight it seems tough, but don`t let that put you down. It`s true that you are silent and don`t talk to anyone in the course of the ten days, but there are always other people who are there as well, so there is a feeling of doing something in a community of people. The daily schedule is quite packed, so there are hardly any times when you simply hang out and do nothing, so don`t even worry about feeling bored.
  • There is only tea and light food for dinner, but as you are really not physically active during the day, you will not feel hungry, so there is no need to get freaked out by that.
  • You might want to get a yoga mat in case you want to do some light exercise, or sit outside.
  • Take earplugs and a sleeping mask with you. This will help you sleep better and the sleeping mask can be also valuable during meditations where you feel an urge to open your eyes.
  • Centers around the world are different in terms of set up/facilities, so it is highly recommended to give them a call in advance and gather more information of what you can expect/what to bring, etc.

 

I did the Vipassana in Dharamshala and I can give some specific tips regarding the center there:

 

  • Facilities in the center are pretty basic, so bring your own bed sheets and towels
  • Due to water scarcity washing your clothes in the center is not allowed, but there is an excellent laundry service at super reasonable prices so there is no need to bring a lot of clothes along.
  • Bring a torch, as it gets dark relatively early and the paths are not well lit.
  • Be careful of the many monkeys in the center- no need to be scared, but still acknowledge the fact that they are there and follow the rules related to that (don`t walk around with food, don`t tease them, etc.)
  • Bring warm clothes as the weather gets chilly in the evenings

 

More about Vipassana and how you can register for it can be found at: https://www.dhamma.org/

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30 Day Photo Diary: Day 9- A Story about the shy and the beautiful

I met her on a late afternoon during one of my walks around the lake. She was washing her clothes in the lake accompanied by her boyfriend/fiancée. There was something so gracious and pure about her that I couldn’t  stop taking pictures of her.

 

shy2

 

She was supremely shy at the beginning, but also curious in a child-like way and did not protest especially after we got the approval of her boyfriend.

 

shy3

 

At the end I showed her the pictures and she suddenly lit up- it was like she saw her pictures for the first time. I promised to print them out and give them to her the following year – I will soon be there again and hopefully will be able to find her 🙂

 

Shy1

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A Sprinkle of Rothschild Luxury in The Netherlands

For those of us used to the traditional Dutch sobriety and down-to-earth attitude this castle will come as a big surprise. It is probably one of the most luxurious private venues in the country, more richly decorated than the Rijks museum and Het Loo Palace (which belongs to the queen of The Netherlands)

 

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The young owner baron Etienne van Zuylen van Nijevelt van de Haar acquired the ruin of the castle by inheritance in the late 19th century and decided to engage in an enormous project and build a luxorious home for his wife- the French baroness Helene de Rothschild. Helene was a member of the extremely wealthy De Rothschild family, whose family fortune actually enabled him to build the castle in the extravagant manner that he envisioned.

 

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The place is all about comfort and extravagant spending- from the involvement of a famous Dutch Architect Pierre Cuypers (who was the architect of Rijks museum and who spent 20 years designing the castle), through the absolutely impressive interior (unfortunately taking pictures inside was not allowed, but I also really don`t want to spoil it for you guys) and ending with two interesting facts:  It had its own electricity generator in the 1900s and at that time the plants in the park were brought from outside, so could enjoy their 100 old trees right away.

For the last century it has remained a tradition for the Van Zuylen van Nijevelt van de Haar family to reside in the castle for one month a year, each September, and use it as a party house visited by celebrities all over the world (famous guests included Coco Chanel, Maria Callas, Gregory Peck, Roger Moore, Yves Saint Laurent, Joan Collins and Brigitte Bardot). In 2000, the family Van Zuylen van Nyevelt passed ownership of the castle and the gardens (45 ha) to the foundation Kasteel de Haar. However, the family retained the right to spend one month per year in the castle.

Despite of its extravagant splendor, what captured my attention the most were the magical gardens and their royal atmosphere. The deer, swans, the castle at sunset, all of it radiated a fairy-tail like atmosphere and the afternoon spend their felt like a getaway from the real world.

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The castle has enough to offer to keep you busy for the whole afternoon. I would recommend booking a guided tour (there are also ones in English that need to be booked in advance). It can be ideally combined with a lunch in the restaurant of the castle and a walk in the gardens.

 

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More for the castle can be found at http://www.kasteeldehaar.nl/english-version/

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