When spring arrives we can’t help but feel the shift in energy from sleepy, hibernating winter to awakening and buoyant spring. We too must awaken like spring and blossom. It’s time to come out of our shells and share our brilliance like the sun, bloom like flowers, and sing from our hearts like our feathered friends.
I observed in late winter how the bare trees seemed sublimely changed. From our vantage point near the ground, it appeared that nothing had changed, the trees were as stark as ever; but there was a difference. Due to the height of the limbs it was difficult to see, but I finally realized what I was observing were the buds that had sprouted on the bare limbs. It gave the trees a deeper dimension, more of a presence against the blue skies. They seemed more alive, vibrating.
Once the buds opened and began to show their colors, we knew that spring had truly arrived. In NY, our state tree, the bright, yellow forsythias seem to trumpet the arrival of spring. The enchanting pinks of cherry blossoms, the deep fuchsia of the red bud trees seem to be courting us; colors observed by our eyes, whispered sweetness to our soul. I love the color pink, and the soft pinks of my peonies had yet to bloom when I arrived home from Thailand. I was thrilled to be able to witness their soft, pinkness unfurling.
Spring is a time for us to start showing our true colors, of beauty, love, wonder and adventure. It’s a time to take care of our soul’s needs. Sign up for that class, take a road trip, see a therapist, join a support group, change the hair, baby the body or get that new lip color or hair cut. We know very well what we need to be our lovely best. And if we don’t quite know, this is the perfect time to take the steps that will lead to being more aware and thereby able to find and eventually manifest all that we can be.
Back in October when I asked my friend Patricia Patton if I could join her on an excursion to Thailand, I really knew very little about Thailand, except that I’ve always enjoyed Thai massage and Thai food. This was going to be my gift to me for my 60th! I had forgotten that the movie The King and I, was based on a true story and in many ways influenced the future of Siam aka Thailand. Nor did I realize that the food chain 7- Eleven was founded by a man from Thailand. Those stores permeate the country, with over eight thousand 7-Elevens in Thailand, and over three thousand of those are located in Bangkok.
And I had no idea the level of devotion to the teachings of the Buddha, the Buddha consciousness that is palpable throughout Thailand. Despite the fact that most of the population are poor, people appear at peace and happy. This may sound naive, but I do believe it’s the culture, tied in with the beliefs of the Buddha (regardless circumstances, happiness is available in every moment by controlling the mind) that makes for these easy going population. I’m not saying they’re happy to be poor, but the Thai people are just very pleasant to be around.
I cannot deny what it requires of me mentally and physically to take these exceedingly long flights to far away lands. The whole mind game to endure an 18 hour flight to Thailand was substantial. There are some folks who travel around the globe on a regular basis and think nothing of the travel time. Many of them tell me they just sleep through it. I find it quite grueling and resort to all kinds of techniques, like talking to myself and practicing breathing exercises, watching lots of movies and reading. Still, I feel like a kid constantly trying not to ask myself “How much longer? Are we there yet?” And I was so thankful for the compression socks my sister loaned me. At the last minute I couldn’t find mine. But won’t travel without them. What a life, legs, saver!!!
Typically, I was never one who could sleep on airplanes. But these days when I travel, I used my Spritzers and essential oil blends to calm and center myself. These Spritzers are my constant travel companions whether traveling locally in my car, on the subway or headed across the globe. Their botanical ingredients provide an easy access to natures healing powers.
It was incredibly hot when we arrived in Thailand. We later found out that we arrived at the beginning of the Thai summer season. Ours would be the last tour of the season due to the extreme heat. That first week the temperature ranged between 95-105 degrees. No wonder they have Night Markets, where mostly tourists shop at outdoor markets in the evenings when the temps have cooled down. One thing I did notice with all that heat, the little aches and pains I typically have were non-existent. Now that I’m back home to cold, damp temps, those little annoyances have returned….We also happen to be in Thailand during the Thai New Year, April 13th-15th. Since it’s so hot during the New Year season, that it is celebrated with water. And people literally douse each other with buckets of water, water guns, water hoses, it’s hilarious and fun.
In the big city of Bangkok, there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to how the city is laid out, if you can even call it that. It’s a mesh-mash of shanty type buildings thrown right in with 5 star hotels. Not my idea of beauty. Though there are many fabulous boutique hotels and other businesses that have all the bells and whistles. I found the city of Bangkok quite congested and unattractive along with the underlying smell of sewage; much like what I have experienced in Africa and the Caribbean. These facts did not subtract from the overall experience of Thailand, which was just incredible. For my taste, the countryside is far more appealing with rice farms and lots of greenery, palm trees, coconut trees and all kinds of huge plants abound. We traveled to five cities but they were all up north, nowhere near the amazing beaches of the south in cities like Phuket, the place that introduced most of the world to the word tsunami.
What most amazed me was the devotion to the Buddha and his teachings. It’s in the air in the way that the people conduct themselves and interact with others. Imagine begin in a place where everyone who greets you brings their hands into prayer position and bows their head. This is everyone, from the children on up, the shop keepers, the concierge at the finest hotel restaurants, everyone greets you this way in Thailand. There’s something very sacred about that kind of interaction. It’s a cause for a mental pause, to really see the person you’re greeting and who is greeting you. People tend to be easy going and calm, gracious and patient, soft spoken and considerate. Drivers give each other the right of way, and there is no car horn blowing in Thailand. Drivers have the option to buy their cars with or without a horn, and most do not. Imagine that!
There are incredible images of the Buddha, everywhere. There are 14 million people in the city of Bangkok alone and our tour guide said that there are least 3 Buddha statues to every one person. Thailand is an ancient country with statues of the Buddha that date back 700 years. There are ancient temples and ruins to the Buddha that both local people and travelers pay homage to daily. They bring offerings of money, bouquets of fresh cut flowers, garlands of flowers, jewelry, incense, they burn candles, genuflect and pray. The monks are given food daily by the people as a way of honoring those who take very seriously the teachings of the Buddha. All this to say, I was happily in a kind of, Buddha heaven until that last day. The many innumerable temples of all varying sizes, ages, details, are too many to list here.
Another point that stood out in a major way is the love that the Thai people have for their deceased king; this is evident everywhere. Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, was the world’s longest-reigning monarch; he died on October 13th 2016, after 70 years as head of state. All over the city, the country, in the homes and businesses are huge photos, posters, and elaborate water resistant framed images of this king, the late Rama the 9th. Yet, he was hardly ever in the headlines. Why, because he was a great man, an upright leader who cared. Had he been a tyrant we would have heard much about him.
Seemingly he was a king of and for the people. Our guide told us of the many ways he regularly went into the proverbial trenches to support and empower the people, to be with them through natural disasters, to uplift the farmers, to teach the Cambodians other skills so that they gladly left the lucrative business of opium behind. His Highness passed last October, but if you were there now, you’d think he just died the other day as buildings, businesses and homes are draped in black and white mourning cloth. He loved his people and their love for him is still quite apparent.
Last but not least, this time around on Thailand, are of the beautiful indigenous people who live in the hills of Chiang Mai. There are 10 Hill Tribes and the one that is most well known are the Karen Long Neck Tribe. They are located up the hill from the elephant reserve in Chiang Mai. Unfortunately, these tribes are becoming like most indigenous people around the planet, scarce. Their numbers are declining as the elders pass on and the young people succumb to the influence of western civilization via satellite television and tourists. There are seemingly more people who live in the 75 brownstones on my block, than who reside in those 10 tribes, put together. There didn’t appear to be even 100 people in those hills.
I was heartbroken that this was not a part of our scheduled tour. And since our tour was so jammed packed, it was just a few of us who decided that on the last day in Thailand (when I was out of steam, time and money) we would get up early to make the journey to see the people of the Hill Tribes. They were the real deal, the ones with the ancient artistry, living the way of the ancient customs and traditions. This was for me the soul of Thailand. I would have gladly skipped spending one more day seeing yet three to five more temples and dozens more Buddha images to spend a whole day and even several days in the hills with the Hill Tribes.
These people of art and the land make their living selling their amazing artistry to tourist. I found myself feeling guilty for being there as a tourist, taking photos of them and with them. I felt like I needed to be doing more, giving more than just an exchange of money for their goods. I’m still grappling with this and wondering what more can I do? But needless to say, despite all the many Buddhist temples and incredible statues of the Buddha, this 45 minute visit to see the people in the hills, was the highlight of my trip to Thailand. If I ever make it back to Thailand, this is where I will be spending my time and money.
There’s so much more that we experienced and learned, like ride on the elephants (images of elephants are also quite prevalent in Thailand) learning how to cook Thai food, we learned how to make paper with botanical designs in the paper, and the list goes on and on. If you haven’t already visited, consider going to Thailand for a most unique and fortifying experience.
Today was a day of incredible markets and unusual experiences. In Thailand like in most markets, they are not just a place to purchase food, goods and pick up desirables. It’s a place to commune, connect, and perpetuate community. This is more than evident in the markets we visited today.
First stop, the Maeklong Railway Market just outside of Bangkok proper in the Samut Sakhon Provence. There is no other market like this one in the world. The story goes that the market was originally on land that became too expensive for the merchants, so they decided to relocate to place that would be free, the railroad.
This market is set up on either side of the railroad tracks and when the train comes through (eight times a day) everyone has the clear the tracks and make room for the train. For shoppers this merely means moving out of the way. For the merchants this means, winding in their awnings, rolling back the carts that their wares are on (a foot or two) and then there are other items low enough to the ground that the train passes over them without harm. It’s a most unbelievable experience.
Once the train passes, awnings are rolled back out, crates with wares are rolled back into place and the shoppers are once again all a bustle. Everything you might need for creating a dish is there, vegetables of all sorts, as well as fruits, seasoning, fresh fish and seafood, meats of all kinds and young girls stringing the worship garland of marigold and jasmine that I purchased and wore around my neck.
The second stop was the Floating Market in Dameoen Saduek. We drove another half hour or so to arrive at the dock to take the long nose boat to the floating market. This is a canal that was dug by hand which is incredible to imagine considering the length of the canal. We were on a pretty fast moving boat for at least twenty minutes.
Two of the elements of both of these markets are the incredible heat and humidity and this is true despite the fact that we began our journey at 7:00 to avoid the height of the heat. Despite that the heat was quite intense a somewhat draining. Thank goodness for the air-conditioned tour bus. The other element consists of droves of people, locals shopping and tourist from all countless far away lands. The largest groups are tourists are from China.
Last stop wasn’t your usual market; it was small and was actually a cocoanut processing compound. At this stop we were taught how the cocoanuts grow, the many ways it’s processed for oil, to make sugar, syrup, soap, oil, milk, juice and of course we were able to purchase, fresh, young coconuts to drink. Most Thai food includes some element of the coconut. As a special treat for us, our wonderful tour guide, Nok, purchased some plantain bananas that were rolled in cocoanut shavings and deep-fried. It was very delicious.
At this stop we were also able to go inside of a traditional Thai home. Made of teak wood, these homes are on stilts to raise the house to avoid flood, to house the water catching device and because having the house high off the ground, makes for a cooler home.
Inside each home is a shrine to the Buddha, in varying degrees of elaborateness. There are also shrines outside of every home and business. Each home has two shrines, a shrine to the land elements (soil, air, water, plants, all botanicals) and a shrine to the ancestors. The ancestors have their own home outside the house because they are not allowed to live inside the home; they have their own home.
The land shrine is on a single pedestal and the ancestor shrine is typically on six legs. There are offering made to the shrine daily of acknowledgment and prayers, incense burned, food offered and worship garlands made of flowers like the one I purchased. I wore mine all day long and was just enchanted by the fragrant aroma of the marigold and jasmine. I can only imagine the ancestors loving this fragrance too. It’s jasmine that is the primary essence in the Anu Essentials Sea Scape Perfume, a fragrance that has easy access to my heart.
Also, this home, market had many animals, monkeys, birds, roosters, dogs and a cacophony of insects, which made for quite the sound system. We finally arrived back to the hotel and just as I was about to prepare for a nap, veteran globe trotter Kay called and asked me to go with her to an antique mall. That would take a whole other blog post if I could even find the words to describe one incredibly fabulous store with antiques that are just mind blogging. That’s another post for another day.
Finally there was a delicious dinner with my two veteran, globetrotting friends who planned this incredible trip, Kay and Patricia at the night market on the river front. Yes indeed, the market remains a hub for people to come together, to be together, to live and enjoy life.
I hadn’t really plan to go to St. Croix for my 60th birthday, but as fate would have it, I found myself on a flight headed there. My good buddy Edward Jones aka EC, was in town to photograph my 60th birthday photo shoot, and insisted that I go. EC, had lived in the Virgin Islands for a number of years and still has many friends there. He assured me that if I were to go, his friends would take good care of me. He then introduced me to his friend Robin via text.
I arrived in St. Croix and there was Robin excited about making my 60th all it could be. At first I was a bit disappointed because when I arrived it was overcast and raining and this had been going on all week with the prediction that it would continue. Robin reminded me that they capture rain for water. If a home runs out of rain water, then they’re forced to purchase water for bathing, flushing, cooking, for living and it’s not cheap. I was reminded of my first brush with this way of life from my days spent in Bermuda many moons ago. This reminder put the Weather Sister in check. Connecting with nature and her gifts, yes indeed, let’s Give Thanks for rain.
First stop on our trek, a baobab tree. I was so amazed to see this ancient, West African specimen standing majestically on the island of St. Croix. Baobabs are one of the oldest forms of plant life on the planet. This one is a mere 250 years old. I hadn’t been near a baobab since being in Senegal some 30 years ago. So it was quite a treat to connect with this grand being again.
It wasn’t too long in Robin’s presence before I learned of her incredible project. Robin is in the throws of building a gorgeous house up on a hill. Let me say, they are hills and then there’s this hill over looking what I can only describe as God’s land. The view is just breathtaking! I was so inspired to see this insightful, brave woman take on being project manager for the house that she is having built; and she assured me that it’s quite a feat, time consuming, at times tedious and exhausting, but at the same time very rewarding. Robin had the foresight and insight to purchase this land 28 years ago for a fraction of what it’s worth today. To say I was inspired would be an understatement. I was deeply reminded of the long standing vision I have long had for my own life, to be surrounded by nature. Robin’s husband and three children support and inspire her quest to build this family compound on the land of her ancestors.
When it was time to eat, Robin and I got together to have a little nosh with another of Edward’s friends, a fiber and jewelry artist named, Kim Lyons. Then one of my neighbors, the famed Malene Barnett mentions to me on Instagram that she was just talking to Kim Lyons who told her she had met me that evening. This world is so small. Serendipity and more connections.
In the late 80s I became the client of manicurist Olivine Calvin, better known as Ollie. Ollie was a very talented nail artist who hailed from St. Croix and carried that cool, Caribbean vibe wherever she went. Loving, nurturing with an easy laugh, Ollie was loved by many. Never one to rush, if she was running behind and you were in a rush, Ollie would not change her pace. And when it was your turn, she gave you that same time and special attention she gave the person before you. Ollie later became a Loctician at Khamit Kinks, and her Loc clients fell in love with her. It’s nearly five years now since Ollie made her transition. But since I was going to her homeland, I had to meet up with her vivacious sister Millie. Millie is like the mayor of St. Croix, she knows everybody and everybody knows her. Exuberant, positive, always smiling and full of laughter, she is still celebrating her own birthday which was on March 5th, a Pisces. Millie turned 70 and is still as fabulous as ever, as she sashays in her high heels and her great smile. And I forgot to mention, the week prior had been Robin’s birthday. We were all in celebration mode.
Wouldn’t you know it, thought my first two days on St. Croix were overcast, on my birthday the sun shown brilliantly! I felt it was a sign of a bright future. I had decided though, come rain or come shine, on my birthday was going to the beach and getting in the ocean. At that point I was down with the clouds and rain, so the sun was like icing on the cake. Leave it to Robin to not take me to just any beach, we traveled to the gorgeous Sandy Point National Wildlife Reserve. That day Sandy Point was closing at 4:00 in the afternoon and would be closed for the next six months, for the turtle nesting season. This signaled sacred ground to me and I felt so blessed to be at this place on this special day. I recalled my visit to Tulum, Mexico, when one night on the beach we watched as a great turtle’s eggs hatched and the little hatchlings made their way to the ocean. Talking about the wonders of the world!!! Turtles also signify long life as they are able to live well past 100 years old barring predators and polluted environments.
The sweetest and wildest connection of them all was when Robin kept talking about her 28 years in Oakland and Richmond California. So I just blurted out, you wouldn’t happen to know my sister-in-law Fanta Lawrence? After I mentioned Fanta, all Robin kept saying, was “get the hell outta here.” LOL! Not only did she know Fanta, but Robin has another friend Amena. For years, these two friends of Robin’s, Fanta and Amena had been talking about their incredible granddaughter and Robin just realized a few months ago, that they had been talking about the same child, my great niece, Amenta. So it was such a delight for me to go visit my great niece whose been spending time in St. Croix with her dad and paternal grandmother.
In addition, I now have not one, not two, but three dear sister friends who have purchased property in St. Croix. Retired educators, they are having fun with life. One after the other they have put down stakes in the Virgin Islands and now I know why. I want to drink that Kool-aid too! I had planned to spend my whole time in St. Croix sequestered, at my sister’s beach side condo, contemplating this next leg of my journey. But the Universe had other plans. Robin gathered me from the airport and we had one amazing moment after another and it was until my last evening there that I spent time on the other end of the island at my sister’s condo. This property is beautifully landscaped with a pool, just before reaching the ocean’s water which is quite wild, with big crashing waves. Like Robin’s property, my friend’s properties double as vacation rentals.
Sometimes you can’t plan for the good that the Universe has in store for you, you just have to allow yourself to be guided. I was certainly in one of my favorite element for my 60th birthday, surrounded by nature and loving people. I was treated by a most gracious and generous host, the incredible Robin Barlow-Jones. And the connections were made of the stuff you can’t even make up, just simply magical. Yes indeed! Let me give Thanks for my years on this planet and for incredible connections.
Many Thanks to Robin for a wonderful 60th. Thank you to my dear sister Linda, for this such a memorable and generous birthday gift. Thank you EC for a long time friendship and for being the incredible connector.
Having a friend like EC is like the gift that keeps on giving. Thank you EC for being such a dear friend and for making my 60th a memory of a lifetime. From now on I’ll just refer to you as “The Connector”.
If you’re longing to connect with the sea, try our Sea Scape!
This past weekend I celebrated my 60 birthday by marking the date with a photo shoot. My father was a photographer for the navy; and as such I’ve been in front of the camera with a professional photographer starting in my youth.
Part of me was hesitant about this decision because when I mentioned it to key people in my life they seen to yawn at the idea. But I found certain images kept reappearing before me as if they wanted to be born. Finally, I called a long time friend, photographer Edward C. Jones, who I’ve known since our days at Howard University and asked if he was up for this venture. His was the first positive feedback. Even with that vote of confidence, I vacillated many times, I wanted to cancel, but eventually I went forward with this plan.
Part of my inspiration to do this shoot was to address “looking younger” than my age. What has been most important to me, is feeling vibrant and healthy. I have often felt humbled by these compliments and wanted to share that my looking younger and being healthy did not come from “good genes”. My so-called youthful appearance, I believe has come from a lifestyle of both discipline and sacrifice. What has been most surprising to me is that as I become older, being disciplined has not become easier. There is a part of me wants to rest on my laurels, but I know it doesn’t work like that. You use it or you loose it. I know that I’m only as good as my last meditation, my last yoga practice, my last act of compassion.
When in my 20s and 30s I was not out partying and drinking on weekends like many people are at that age. I was at home going to bed early, including on the weekends, after standing on my feet braiding hair for 8, 10, 12 hours a day. Instead of partying and drinking alcohol, I was consuming herbal infusions and fresh pressed juices, and in bed most nights by 10:00. And practicing yoga helped mitigate the occupational hazards of that sedentary work of standing and sitting on a high stool for hours on end. Yoga saved me.
I am still an early to sleep, early to rise kind of gal. I was also a vegan at that time and practicing yoga on a regular basis as well as doing aerobic workout regularly (mostly power walking and bicycling around Central Park when I lived in Harlem and Prospect Park when I moved to Brooklyn). In addition, I belonged to Ausar Auset an African religious organization that focused on yoga, meditation, a spiritually based lifestyle and many of the same spiritual concepts and practices that I am re-visiting through the teachings of the Buddha, via the teachings of Thích Nhât Hanh, I was also introduced to at Ausar Auset . Most of my close friends from that time are still my close friends today and they are all healthy, vibrant and on no medications; and many of them are five to seven years older than I am.
I sincerely believe my decision to live a healthy life style was greatly influenced by loosing my grandmother, who was my best friend, at the age of 8. My grandmother was just 48 years when she died of complications from type 2 diabetes and stroke. Diabetes “runs” in my family. But as we all have learned by now, that it’s really the diet and lifestyle that “runs” in the family and creates the conditions that lead to type 2 diabetes.
My grandmother amazed me as I watched her inject herself with insulin; she was a courageous hero in my eyes. And like most grandmothers of that era, she didn’t exercise. My Grandmother was a hairstylist who ended up with varicose veins, that later crippled her when she had a botched operation on them. Additionally, my mother has been very sickly all my life in and out of hospitals ever since I was a young child and the same is true to this day. I did not want to continue this legacy of illness in my family. But of course I did not realize this consciously as a child.
It has been an amazing journey to reach this age in my life, many years past my grandmother’s time on the planet. My inspiration for this photo shoot in addition to celebrating my 60th year, is to hopefully inspire others to take care good care of their selves and consider including the wonders and benefits of yoga into their lives to uplift both the inner and outer body as well as the mind and spirit. And to also say, “Here’s to you Grandma.” I feel she’s never left me, she ever at my side. Feel free to reach out to me for a yogic consultations and or private yoga classes. You can reach me at Anu@AnuEssentials.com