test

Viewing entries tagged
From the Archives

From the Archives: The Tao of Steven Tyler

Comment

From the Archives: The Tao of Steven Tyler

Happy Flashback Friday! We're going back to the original travel stories and experiences that led to the creation of Serenflipity. 

Below is the story of a serendipitous celebrity encounter with Steven Tyler — what could have been a simple sighting turned into a moment filled with life changing advice. 

Enjoy!

Comment

From the Archives: The Best Travel Advice I've Ever Received

Comment

From the Archives: The Best Travel Advice I've Ever Received

Happy Flashback Friday! We're going back to the original travel stories and experiences that led to the creation of Serenflipity. 

Below is the story of the first flip she received from friend, Eric Gertler. He encouraged her to write to the ambassador of every country she visited — surprisingly, almost every office responded, and she ended up at the US Embassy in Bangkok, chatting with the Counselor of Economic Affairs, and gleaning some great advice in the process. 

Where are you traveling next, and to whom could you write?

Comment

From the Archives: Pay It Forward Friday

Comment

From the Archives: Pay It Forward Friday

Happy Flashback Friday! We go back to four years ago this week, when Cara met honeymooners, Theresa and Stephen through a flip challenge. As fate (or serendipity!) would have it, their paths continue to cross, and the couple interviewed Cara for their podcast Ownstream

Check out the original story that brought their paths together. Who can you pay it forward to today? 

Comment

From the Archives: What I Gained By Giving Things Away

Comment

From the Archives: What I Gained By Giving Things Away

Happy Flashback Friday! We're going back to the original travel stories and experiences that led to the creation of Serenflipity. 

Serenflipity started as Cara's personal project to get unstuck, back in 2013. She convinced 90 people to write 90 adventures for her to complete as she traveled solo through India and Southeast Asia; a friend wrote them into cards, and she flipped a card each day and wrote a blog. Friends and strangers started following along, and one challenged her to turn the project into a product.

Today, we're diving into what happens when you follow give away what you love... and how to spark cycles of generosity and connection. 

20130402-215859 2.jpg

Ikat & Non-Attachment 

 

Originally published on April 2, 2013

Cara Thomas

Today, I gave away what were supposed to become my new favorite pair of pants. Last week, we’d traveled through Kochi, home of fantastic fabrics and speedy tailors. I spied a gorgeous pink ikat print and rushed to bring the fabric and a pant model for the tailor to replicate. A few hours later, I picked up an ill fitting pair of pants. The next day, I returned to get them fitted more narrowly through the leg. I came back to find them fitted much too narrowly through the leg. We added buttons. We tried a different fabric. I looked like Aladdin meets Chicos. These custom-made pants were becoming quite the energy-zapper and were definitely not a positive indicator for a future career in fashion design.

After stitching, sewing, recutting and redirecting, I gave up and figured that maybe after carrying them for a few weeks, they’d magically morph into the pants of my dreams, and I’d be taking many a tourist photo in my chic new Indian custom-made pants (if only the pants or my body would change!)

Yesterday, on the way to the beach, I struck up a conversation on textiles, jewelry and design with Malwina, a chic Polish yogi who’s a costume and fashion designer. If these pants were to ever be wearable, she would definitely be the one to give them the sleek boho-chic life they deserved. My intention was sealed after this morning’s yoga session on non-attachment: I knew it was time to become non-attached to this pair of pants that, as much as I loved the idea of, weren’t working for me… And were adding weight to my backpack.

I figured that giving away my pink pants to her would result in that old-pat-on-the-back feeling and I’d walk away knowing that these pants I’d labored over would potentially have a good home. After the pant exchange and more conversation on fabrics, she invited me to join her at a local scarf-seller’s home where she was going to look at hand-made fabrics. I never say no to a local adventure, so off we went to Camille’s home to peruse her wares, which are intricately beaded, mirrored and stitched fabrics, resulting in incredible skirts and tops. Apparently, these are wedding dresses, and the one that she’s wearing (below) was made by her sisters and aunts for her own wedding years ago. Her husband has since passed away, so she wears it in his memory, and continues to design new dresses during the monsoon season as homage.

It’s amazing how much I got back from giving something away. In return for gifting that pair of pants, I made an awesome new friend, got to experience a talented local woman’s craft and spend time in her home, and even got a little ankle bracelet as a thank you. “You get back what you give out,” Malwina, looking super chic in her pink ikat pants, told me as she tied on my new ankle bracelet.

So I’m attempting to move into non-attachment mode. Maybe it’s the detox, the local wares that I don’t have room for, or living on confined means. My backpack is becoming a bit like a life metaphor: by lugging around items that I don’t need, but am attached to for one reason or another, I block myself from acquiring new things and experiences. I don’t have capacity for anything new or different. I’m stuffed (literally) with my old ways. But for every thing I let go (physically, mentally, emotionally), I open up space for something new to fill that void… And today I’m reminded that it always comes back in great, unexpected ways.

Thanks to my mom for the great challenge to buy something and give it to someone else!

Comment

From The Archives: Getting Available for Adventure

Comment

From The Archives: Getting Available for Adventure

Happy Flashback Friday! We're going back to the original travel stories and experiences that led to the creation of Serenflipity. Today, we're heading back to Myanmar, and diving into what happens when you follow your heart's desire... and how to get available for adventure every day. 

Comment

Comment

Dude Looks Like A Lama: Getting A Mantra From An Unexpected Rockstar

Elizabeth Real challenged me to ask a stranger for a mantra, and what better stranger than an inspiring rock-n-roll hero.

In my hotel lobby, I saw a familiar face, long tousled hair and layers of distressed denim that only a famous rocker could wear as effortlessly as I wear my Lululemons. Unflanked by guards or an air of celebrity, he was perusing the shop windows, admiring sumptuous fabrics and sparkling gems just like any other well-heeled tourist. With my challenge in my wallet, I knew he would be the ideal person to ask. I back-and-forthed over whether to approach a lime-lighter clearly enjoying an off-stage moment, and how to acknowledge his celebrity, as I admired the showcases just a few feet away.

I overheard his familiar rasp, and figured he was put in my path for a reason.

“That’s a familiar voice!” I exclaimed, just as I might have to any other American thousands of miles from home. He smiled and turned and we began to chat about where each of us had lived.

“You lived in Aspen? Well, how’s your ass been?” He joked.

“Well it’s been great,” I responded with an exaggerated hip slap. “I’m on sabbatical for three months traveling the world.”

We chatted and laughed about travel and my three months off as we sauntered down the hall admiring jewelry, and picking up a few onlooking Americans in conversation.

“I have a strange request for you.” I summoned, after a deep breath. He looked at me, perhaps expecting an ask for an autograph or a large donation. “My friends are giving me challenges to do over my 90 days away, and today I have to ask a stranger for a mantra… Would you be up for giving me one?”

He smiled and crossed his arms in thought. “Wow, that’s a good challenge.” More pauses, an elbow to the wall and hand to the back of his head, and through his tousled hair. He paced and furrowed his brow.

“I’m sorry to ask you such a difficult question on your vacation,” I backtracked. “It’s completely fine if you can’t think of one.”

“No, no… This is good.” More pausing and thinking. “A mantra… Just one word?”

“Well, it can be a phrase, a word of advice, a flash of inspiration… Whatever comes to mind.” I was feeling like I had overstepped my bounds.

As he kept thinking and pacing, his friend assured me that I had indeed asked the right person. A few other hotel guests started to look on. More pauses. My brain quickly sidled up to gawk at the scene of one of the world’s most famous rockers pacing and thinking, and a trepidatious American fumbling and glancing around the marble hall: I can’t believe you asked this man for a mantra… And then, he had it.

The only way to get to the other shore is to lose sight of the one you’re on.

“This is amazing,” I beamed. “It’s perfect and so applicable to where I am right now.”

“Me too,” he smiled. “Me too.” Status and circumstance washed away, and we continued to chat as we walked down the hall, a small group of us connected by the desire to look to new shores. The type of shore we were each aiming for, fancy and famous or small and simple, seemed superfluous. Just knowing others, even the most celebrated, sought new shores and a little inspiration for the swim was a strong enough current to push me farther away from the fears of that familiar, footprinted sand I’ve treaded for so long.

Much of my travel has been about letting go of old ideas, whether my need to control and plan or my ability to turn a simple decision into a detailed drama. Over the past few months, I’ve had to let the current pull me farther from the plans I’ve pre-meditated and closer to the possibilities I can’t yet fathom. And what a laughably-perfect way to practice floating with the flow than to be presented with the need for a mantra and a superstar stranger.

I still hadn’t given nod to the fact that I knew how famous he was, and at this point in the conversation, it seemed odd to throw in how much I admired his work, how enthralled I was at age 9 by “Janie’s Got A Gun,” or to call him by name.

As we parted ways, we wished each other well on our respective shore-hopping journeys. I was reminded that lamas come in many forms and that we all can teach from our experiences. Anyone can be a lama, often unintentionally and sometimes just for a moment. You just have to ask.

Originally published on yestoexcess.com.

Comment

Comment

A Crazy Beautiful Lesson

It’s hard not to wear a blissed out grin all around Ubud. Of all of the places I’ve been, it’s the one where I feel the most connected and cocooned, yet inspired and introverted. It’s a town that stretches those who want to be stretched, ahead into the possibilities of new ways of living and back toward the depths of buried circumstances one may care to keep dusty. In the ark of my 24 hours (thank you, Kate Plumb!), I learned that a day of smiling takes a lot more than simply grinning at everything from rice paddies to happy babies.

It starts with those gaping grins, which are simply a vehicle to connect. Smiling has been a super-tool in my trusty solo-traveler tool belt, as it’s led me to new encounters and new people. However, it’s hard to stay on the surface of such a smile forever — the “how are you”s and “where are you from”s get weary after a while. My morning started with light smiles and instant depth (this is Ubud…) with three lovely ex-pat ladies, whom I would later meet for the afternoon. Gaping grins continued to dot my day, ever the energy booster during a dull moment, but a smile that I’ve often taken for granted slowly began to take its place.

It started in the home of a Mayan Astrologer, who began our session with dancer-like gestures to paint new dimensions of time, and an immediate break for a quick downward dog fix to soothe her back. My old snap smile, the one with the quickened pace and raised eyebrow, popped in as I sat nervously in half lotus anticipating the next few hours. As we talked about hidden talents, personal challenges and cycles of my life, my snap smile softened, but not into that familiar gaping grin. It moved lower and deeper, as I shared hopes and fears that melted into her predictions. She nodded with her hands over her heart, draping them out, over and around the air and sighed. With a deep, knowing smile.

My face softened and slowed (a relief to my sore, over-used cheeks), and I realized that I was smiling without moving a muscle. Just falling into the slowness and lightness I felt swirling through me. Our conversations moved deeper, to a point of that gripping softness that often precedes a tear. But it wasn’t a tear of extremes, like sadness or joy, just simple presence and purpose that settled into a wordless, toothless upturn.

Through my many temple visits, I’ve seen a lot of Buddhas and have wondered more than a few times why there aren’t more grinning, giggling statues for a teacher so happy and enlightened. But from settling into the deeper, more balanced, less ecstatic smile, I stumbled upon that smile that’s authentic connection. I felt that deep smile when I hugged a fifteen year old who shared with me what she was going through with her friends and family, and when I fell into deep relaxation during yoga nidra (also known as yogic napping… or my new favorite type of yoga!). I felt it as my unexpected companions and I giggled over a smorgasbord of raw desserts and social media mental-health pacts. (I have promised to only “like” ugly pictures if I Instagram before meditation.) I felt it as the brightness of a rising full moon drew me to the window in the middle of the night.

A day full of smiling doesn’t mean constant euphoria. It can be a happy, giggly high. A way to get out of yourself and into a conversation. Armor in an uncomfortable situation. Genuine compassion and care. Inner knowledge and understanding. Softness so guttural that it cracks perception and expectation.

In all these roles, it’s an alchemist. Resentment breaks into a glint of gratitude. Skepticism melts into a modicum of compassion. Fear sprouts into the seeds of new friendships. So smile at your smiles… See what happens and what you discover from smiling for the entire day. Either way, it’s good for the soul and sagging jowls!

Originally published on yestoexcess.com

Comment

Comment

My Serenflipity Moment

My final 48 hours in India led me to see how these flips are greater than the sum of their daily missions: they’ve started to chisel away at how I think and act, slapped me right into the middle of India’s delicious and chaotic onslaught when I wanted to hover on the curb, and have even woven a giant, fate-like web to fall into.

Let’s rewind to last Tuesday, when I received a call from my friend Neet who happened to be in Delhi. “You should delay your trip to Bhutan and come to the Golden Temple in Amritsar with my family. I promise it will be an amazing experience.” As I wavered over what path to take, I remembered Zoe Settle’s and Dave Allan’s challenges to zig at zag and my resolution to kill that indecisive part of myself (a nod is due to Mike Rothman.) I scrolled through texts over the past few weeks from Samta (my chai victim and new friend, thanks to Becky Straw), encouraging a trip to visit her in Amritsar. All signs pointed to Punjab. Now it was time to just take the action, let go, and see what would happen.

The First Yes

On Friday morning, instead of landing in Paro, I arrived in Chandigarh, the capital of Punjab, and Neet’s hometown. I got to see the city through his eyes, including the Rock Garden, a labyrinth dreamed up from a local’s backyard into acres of winding paths and waterfalls, mosaic-like walls and villages of figures made from everything from broken bangles to ceramic from discarded sinks and toilets. Families, friends and scrambling boys explored every corner, and I began to imagine Neet and his friends hiding in a lost alley years ago, playing cards and eating samosas.

“It’s a lot like India and life in general,” we laughed. “You take the old things that don’t work, smash them, mash them together, and repurpose them into something beautiful.”

Day fell into dusk and the four of us were well into our five hour drive to Amritsar. Slowly, the broad highways and fields became dusty, bustling mazes, and trucks and cars were replaced by tuk tuks and clusters of locals snacking in the city’s savory streets. As we started to approach the temple, that nervous, awkward, you’re-not-a-member-of-this-holy-place feeling started to rumble. I quickly learned that Sikhism stems from the teachings of different religions and views all beings as equal, evident in its open temple doors and langar, whereby visitors from all castes and creeds can sit side by side on the dining hall floor and enjoy food prepared by the communal kitchen.

After washing our hands and feet, we descended down through the white entranceway and into an expansive marble courtyard, a frame to the holy pool, in the center of which floats the gleaming Golden Temple. Families laid together under the archways, friends huddled together in a low hum, and men cleansed and meditated in the waters. Singing of the day’s lesson was shared (and translated) over a giant screen and a loud speaker. Underneath, the reverent sounds of prayer and reading mixed with the soft paces of bare soles on polished marble. A calm but eager crowd spilled out over the bridge to the temple, waiting to get in after a long pilgrimage. I felt deeply grounded and lifted beyond myself at the seem time.

“This place is busy 24 hours a day,” I was told. “At any time, there are people sleeping, volunteering, praying, waiting. You’ll never not find a crowd.”

And find a crowd we did, as we went to the langar hall to break chapatti. The banging of tin began to intersperse the reverent din, and as we arrived, we melded into a line to receive a metal plate to bring into the hall. Plates in hand, it was time to wait until the prior shift finished, and the doors opened to the next round. With a slow scuffle and a few sharp pushes, we spilled into the empty hall, where rows of mats acted as tables and chairs. Men and women with baskets of chapattis, ladles of dal and rice pudding made the rounds, and hundreds of us sat, knee to knee and spoon to spoon, eating quietly under the fluorescent light and watch of the gurus. Slowly the crowd filtered out, and a cleaning zamboni (oh yes!) hurdled through each row, removing the residue from the prior crowd to get ready for the next. As we left, we dropped our plates into a vat and into a whole new process where rows of volunteers cleaned, soaped, re-soaped, scrubbed, banged and dried the plates back to new. Effortlessly feeding 80,000 people a day, this place could also be a Six Sigma devotee’s dream.

Full of curiosity, connection and some of the more flavorful dal I’ve had over my six weeks in India, it was time to retire for the night so that we could return in the morning to offer prayers and a donation for Neet’s birthday. It’s hard to describe (and I will save you from a feeble attempt), but going to the holiest of sites with a devoted family, and being the sole redhead (shrouded, of course) in a sea of bright turbans was deeply humbling and inspiring. I was welcomed not only into a culture, but into a faith. I learned about my own faith, and how easy it can be to sit on the sidelines and wave at it, versus walking whole-heatedly into the fray. I saw selflessness and other-centeredness in everything from the Narulas sharing their family experience to the dal-dolers and devotees constantly giving of themselves to the community. I felt woven into the fabric of a country, state and sacred site that were wholly foreign.

The Second Yes

I was contented that this would be the apex of my Amritsar experience. Unable to get on a flight or train that evening, and having waved off Neet and his parents, I planned a quiet night in at the hotel before my morning trip to Delhi. A handful of texts and phone calls later, I was to be picked up by Samta to attend a family function that evening. (If you recall, Samta and her family were the lovely folks that Blair and I met on a long-winded tour-boat, whom we engaged in a rollicking conversation thanks to a great challenge to talk to a stranger on a deeper level.) I was whisked into her nephew’s first birthday party, where I was a sight to be seen, a redhead in my “nice” kurta, which looked like house-wear compared to the gorgeous, embroidered and bedazzled saris and dresses that Samta’s sisters and cousins wore. I bumbled through my toddler-level Hindi, smiled and waved and ate snacks.

And then the music started. I was pulled into the dancing area and into the middle of the shimmying, dancing and singing. I couldn’t quite tell if the entire family was laughing at me or enjoying the spectacle of a foreigner attempting to imitate their flawless moves in my pre-teen-at-the-eighth-grade-dance style. But even as my Bhangra skills got worse, the veil of my self-consciousness lifted, revealing a spirited family that I began to feel deeply connected to, as we shook together, embraced and giggled.

A sharp jerk at my arm, and I was pulled off the dance floor by Samta’s mother with a serious and purposeful look. Perhaps I had inadvertently offended them? Perhaps my dancing was so appalling that it had to be stopped at once? She said nothing, but continued to pull me harder and closer to the buffet. “Food! Eat!” What relief… and what deliciousness.

As the night continued, we all continued to laugh and eat until our stomachs were heavy and our cheeks were sore. Words were translated and gestured, scoops of cake and kulcha were put into my fingers or into my mouth, and pictures and poses were snapped and shared. As I went to say goodbye to Samta’s mother, I vainly attempted a respectful gesture that Samta had taught me earlier. “No!” she cried, as her mother laughed and took my face in her hands. “That’s for the daughter in law. Not for family. She says that you are her daughter.”

To label what the Narulas and the Bhatias shared with me as “hospitality” or “generosity” would be the equivalent to calling the Taj Mahal “pretty” or “inspiring.” My foundational beliefs in family, faith and friendship deepened. I re-discovered that old feeling of being at home after six weeks of being anywhere but in a hometown. Faith has taken the lead over fear, and I will step into my next adventure and the unknown, trusting that there’s always a net to hurdle into.

The Infinite Yes

It would have been easier and less risky to just say “no” and continue with the program as planned. But I always would have wondered what would have happened if I’d said “yes,” and, looking back, I would not have had the chance to experience how one yes leads to another, and to a path that I suppose only the travel gods get to giggle about, gossip on, and decide.

So the point of this long-winded tale, I suppose, is to just say yes today whether it seems small or far-fetched, mindless or gut-nagging. Break your plans and chisel and repurpose them into something new. Or even better, give someone else the opportunity to say yes.

Originally posted at yestoexcess.com.

Comment