A Foray into Reiki

reiki-definitionOver the years I have met tons of people randomly from all walks of life who all seem to be into reiki. I always thought it was interesting to hear about their experiences, and although I’m a skeptic, I wouldn’t want to discount their experience. So anyway, given the environment I was in (hippy heaven in Thailand) and the type of people I had been brushing shoulders with over the past weeks, the word ‘reiki’ went from being a whisper to a shout. And then one day I thought, ‘hey, I should try that!’

I looked up some masters in Bangkok online but of course, then I got sick and couldn’t really do anything. When I got back to Seoul, I completely forgot about it. Until a few days later when the light bulb turned on again. I found out about a guy who practices in Seoul from another expat’s blog and luckily he was able to accommodate me on short notice.

Kevin, the reiki master, is Australian and has been living in Korea for 14 years. I met him at his traditional Korean house in the old downtown area, an extremely charming location full of small cafes and boutiques under the shade of Bukhansan, the mountain that the city is built around.

Before our session, we talked for a while to establish some rapport since it was quite an intimate kind of healing. I found him to be sincere and affable and was interested in his life – how after a car accident at the age of 19 he was drawn to all kinds of spiritual and alternative healing practices which ultimately led him to spend years studying in India and other parts of Asia. The room we were in had a table of incense and other Indian trinkets. The massage table took pride of place in the centre. The walls, with their browning wallpaper were adorned with photos of his son, who soon enough came home from school and was greeted by a “How’re ya luv?”

When we were both relaxed and comfortable, it was time to start. I lay on my back on the table and Kevin first asked if it was OK to start with an ancient Korean technique he’d learned from an old Korean healer who lives in the countryside to free up the energy in my torso. He warned me it would hurt, and indeed it did. He kneaded a kind of coin into different energy channels and I didn’t feel anything except pain. I made him aware of how much it hurt, but I was good, I didn’t swear.

Then, we started the reiki. He explained that he will go into a meditative state and that his hands will get warm. He said that each person has a unique experience and reaction and told me to express anything I wanted to, whether it was laughter or tears. I said I would probably just fall asleep (I didn’t). He covered my eyes, put on some new agey music and began. I was surprised by how warm his hands were when he placed them on my stomach. I could feel the heat through my clothes. He stood above me and placed his hands on different parts of my body, including my head and feet. After a while, I started to feel a weird sensation, as if somebody had placed a very light blanket over me. Then, my arms and my legs felt heavy, as if I couldn’t move them. I didn’t have any of the powerful explosions and shooting of energy through my body that I had read about, but I definitely felt something. I lost track of time and was deeply relaxed. I guess he worked on me for about an hour and when he finished, he asked, ‘Are you alright, Kiddo?’ I felt kind of groggy, and heavy, a bit light headed and it took a lot of effort to sit up. He put a glass of water in my hands and told me to drink it, which made me feel a bit more normal.

Although there is nothing biomedically wrong with me, I had told him prior to our session that I felt like my energy was lower than it should be, considering that I eat pretty healthily, exercise, don’t drink much, don’t smoke, get enough sleep etc. When I felt normal again, he told me that he felt too much energy around my head and said that I must be prone to overthinking things. I didn’t disagree. He recommended I learn to mediate and do it everyday. I said I had been trying, but I hadn’t been consistent with doing it everyday.

Then, we talked for a while after. He told me how he had been able to cure an elderly woman from diabetes, and had restored hearing to a man who was deaf in one ear. He told me about working with the Dali Lama’s former doctor in India who used to diagnose people through first observing them, then analyzing their urine by smelling and sometimes, yes, even tasting it.

We hugged goodbye and as I walked the ten minutes to the subway station, I felt really tired, heavy, relaxed but had this kind of impulse to get home as soon as possible so I could lie on my bed in silence. The stimulation from the crowds and traffic was overwhelming. The subway ride home was tortuous. Once I was finally able to plop myself down on my bed, I had a huge sugar craving, and as the only food I had were crackers and apples, I went down to the convenience store in my building and bought a giant Snickers bar and devoured it in about three seconds. Then I tried to read and watch some TV. Although I was tired, it was hard to fall asleep and I spent a restless night of broken sleep coupled with bad dreams. Today I feel more like myself. Kevin told me to write in a journal for the next few weeks to see what emerges, or is released. I’m curious to see what unfolds, and I will try to take his advice onboard.

Familiar Faces, Worn Out Places

On a day-to-day basis, my life in Seoul is really quite boring. I work. I go grocery shopping. I go to capoeira class. I spend time commuting on subways and buses. I do lunch with friends or co-workers occasionally. Sometimes I go salsa dancing for a little bit but usually go home early because I’m old. I spend too much time reading and thinking and trying to figure the world out from the safe confines of my tiny little apartment.

But sometimes fun and interesting things happen, which I guess is one of the advantages of living in a huge city far from home. Like this past weekend. I was able to meet up with some old friends I hadn’t seen for five years. They are living in Tokyo and somehow the stars aligned so that we were all in Seoul. We had all traveled together on Peace Boat, which is a unique and interesting bonding experience to share with other people, and although we don’t stay in touch much, we’ll always have that special connection.

Meri and Yuko

Meri and Yuko

My friends Meri and Yuko had been in Korea for a couple of weeks working at a peace summer program as they are still heavily involved in that world. We met for lunch one day which turned into four hours of sitting in the same restaurant catching up on all the people we know in common. It was so interesting to hear about everyone’s trajectories and how they had becoming more of themselves – like everything changes, but nothing changes. It’s true: ‘the future has an ancient heart.’

We then met up with a friend of theirs, a Korean documentary film maker who took us out to dinner in the backstreets of central Seoul frequented by locals who come for the cheap, traditional food and alcohol served in ramshackle dwellings that were haphazardly put together in the 70’s.

I thought I knew the city well, considering I had done a lot of work for the city’s tourism department and even had some work published by Lonely Planet. But the film maker, who luckily spoke English, took us down one street in the Jongno area surrounded by love motels and informed us of how it had become a popular area for gay men. And indeed, there were gay men everywhere, sitting outside drinking and eating, having a merry time. I was surprised because Korea is an extremely conservative and in many ways, backwards country, perhaps like the United States in the 1950’s, with a large stigma and taboo attached to homosexuality. I knew there was a bit of a scene in the foreigners’ ghetto with clubs, bathhouses and transvestites, and also in one of the popular university areas for women. It was cool to see that these men were not hiding but were out having a good time, and everyone was just letting them be.

We also stopped by a protest that was happening in the central city. My very politically aware NGO friends wanted to see how it had been organized as they are often organizing such events in Tokyo. It’s funny – things in Korea are so often badly organised, but they seem to have the protesting down. Of course, being the only blond white girl there, I stood out and soon enough, a lit candle had been thrust into my hand and a newspaper reporter with his camera and notebook was all up in my grill asking what I thought about the issue (the current president had been given leaked intelligence). I was deliberately vague. Freedom of speech is not what it is in the west and being seen at a protest, even though I was just there looking, is apparently a violation of my visa.

The next night, my friends went drinking in the artsy, student area of the city. We tried to co-ordiante so that we could meet up with our other friend from Tokyo, Sam, who was DJing at a club in the foreigners’ ghetto. Alas, our telecommunication devices let us down and I ended up going to see him alone. I hardly ever go out to bars and clubs. The music is always too loud and crap, they’re smokey, and let’s face it, full of young people. When I traveled with Sam years before, he used to tease me about being homebody wallflower, so I made a point of going out. I intended to only stay for a little bit to catch up with him, maybe dance a little then be home in bed before I turned into a pumpkin.

b1stranglingThe club was huge and glamorous and full of scantily-clad Korean girls. Sam and his friend, who was the headline act, had a little red velvet VIP booth where I joined them. I hardly ever drink, but they also had a $400 bottle of vodka. So I drank. When I was in my early 20’s, about 7,000 years ago, my part-time job when I was a student was working in a bar/club. I did it for several years. So a bunch of memories came flooding back. It was like getting on a bike again after many years of driving a car. Ahhh, I remember how this works! Still, I couldn’t fake being cool and right away, I let Sam’s friend, the famous hipster DJ, know that even though he’d been flown in from another country and was, judging by the hundreds of people lining up outside, very well known, I had absolutely no idea who he was. He laughed and then we talked for a while about his crazy life – he doesn’t actually live anywhere for more than four days at a time, usually in Tokyo or New York and his whole life is being flown around the world to play in clubs. Actually, it sounds like hell to me but he was enjoying livin’ la vida loca. Maybe a bit too much.

I spoke with Sam for a while too, even though it was impossibly loud. We were never close, but we are both from New Zealand and share other things in common so there was enough to have a friendship. I was always a little bit in awe of him. Not because he’s tall, good looking, and very stylish (all the girls that know him refer to him as ‘Hot Sam’), but because he exudes kind of natural confidence and self-assuredness. He’s a natural leader and everything he does, he does with passion, enthusiasm and a positive attitude. It’s funny where people’s lives take them. He had done the same government teaching program I had done in Japan (in the same area although our paths never crossed), then Peace Boat. Afterwards, he went back to NZ and worked at Amnesty International. Then he went back on Peace Boat. Then became a staff member and for several years traveled the world promoting human rights. When he turned 30, he said he needed to make some money and was offered a job at a major fashion business as an international representative. So now he travels the world doing fashion stuff. It seems like such a switch. Indeed a nice life he has created – with a beautiful and doting girlfriend in Tokyo, a ‘real’ job and a passion for music that both take him around the world. He works long hours and has his music stuff happening on the weekend. I asked him when he gets time to sleep. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” he replied.

And so my night unfolds. Some drinking, some dancing, some talking and then at 3am I start to feel like I just really want to go home and sleep. Some very drunk, brazen and ‘up for anything’ Korean girls have invaded our booth and although both men are standoffish and not the kind of guys to take advantage of what is on offer, these girls desperately want to get their groupie on. I see this so often here and it really irks me. It is time to go home. Of course, the taxi driver gouges me by doubling the fare because he knows I have no other way of getting home. While I am glad  that in the spirit of carpe diem, I made the effort to go out, but every time I do, I’m reminded of why I don’t like to. Still, I was happy to see some familiar faces and reconnect with people from a past life.


I Take Refuge in The Sanctuary

sanctuarynightSo, what is life at the Sanctuary like, I hear you ask. Well, it is interesting. And relaxing. Sooooo relaxing. Its secluded island location means that there are no roads and therefore no traffic nearby. The only sounds are those of the waves lapping against the shore interspersed with the symphony of bugs and birds that are performing 24/7.

Those privileged souls who stay long-term are walking around in bare-feet, their tanned legs long and toned. Everybody seems to have two things I don’t: A MacBook Air and a tattoo (or five). They lounge around the tree-house like restaurant drinking wheatgrass. Naturally, my first instinct is to eavesdrop and figure out who’s who – where these people are from and what they do. I overhear conversations, many with Australian accents about ‘slinky swarmies’, about friends who have died of overdoses, about the energy channels, the perineum. I even heard one very beautiful woman say after checking her online businesses, “I have to figure out how I’m going to spend all my money!”

On the boat ride over, I met a woman from New York who is studying architecture in Oxford. She saved me from some creepy old guy who hit on me by suggesting we could share a bungalow. We hung out a lot over the next few days talking – she about the man who she moved to the U.K. for and who had recently broken up with her, about her life working for the summer in Malaysia, about the future. Me about my life in Korea, my life generally and the future, which didn’t seem to exist in that blissed-out place.

My new friend seemed to be very spiritual, and into Yoga, Buddhism, astrology, aromatherapy. I could get onboard with some of it, but her extensive knowledge of planets and moons was going too far for me. Still, I believe I am healthily curious and open-minded, so when she suggested we go to a workshop about EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), I said, ‘OK, I’ll tag along. I’m sure my hammock would be happy to have some time to itself.’

Including the teacher, there were five of us (a petite yet aggressive Russian woman, and of course, the creepy old guy). The teacher was a voluptuous woman, tanned and glowing, like there was a candle burning inside of her. She fit the new age hippie stereotype, dressed in bell bottoms, wearing a tiara and having a made up name (Nika One). I was polite and attentive as she spoke about what we would be doing. She had a sing-song voice and spoke beautiful, educated English with a hard-to-pick accent (I found out later it’s part Russian, part Nepalese, part American). Then we started the work of tapping meridian points and chanting phrases related to each of our issues.

statueI found it boring and repetitive. I had made up my mind that this was flaky psuedo-science and a waste of my time. I was trying to plot my exit as I was sure my hammock missed me. I wanted to drink chai tea in the tea temple and read a book. I was yawning and rolling my eyes (not at the same time). Then, the teacher started talking about the fallacies of the western scientific paradigm. And the matrix. I’m thinking, ‘Who are you to talk about science? Is that what they teach you at Rainbow School?’ I can’t wait for this to be over. Eventually, we stop tapping and chanting and it’s time for a meditation. I’m hot and thirsty by this point. And tired too. We lie down and she guides us through it with her soothing voice. Except that it turns out to be some kind of hypnosis as we all fall into a weird sleep-like state. I can’t recall most of what she said, but I wasn’t sleeping or dreaming either. She tells us this is good because it means our subconscious brain is listening.

I’m grateful for the session to be over so I can go about the rest of my day. Before we leave, the teacher passes around a pamphlet about other workshops she is giving, as well as a brief bio. Four words jump out at me: PhD. Neuroscience. Stanford. Neurosurgeon. It turns out, I have been in the presence of a freakin’ genius! My brain can’t quite process the impression I have made of this person versus the reality. We hug goodbye and I trot off to rehydrate and of course, to Google this incredible woman.

According to the blurb on her book, The Human Journey, which showcases her artwork and poems related to her experience, Nika One is:

A fellow traveler who has surrendered the ‘past life’ of a neuroscientist, a mathematician and surgeon after an intense transformation, a genuine Dark Night of the Soul. Everything I knew myself to be has shattered before my eyes as I have faced death through a severe illness. I watched in stunned paralysis as my life burned before my eyes, feeling unable to stop the fire….mesmerized, numb…. I have fought it. I have found the futility of the fight. I have surrendered, finally. From the great Clearing of Surrender has come my greatest gift and access to the Light.

I have read about these experiences in all kinds of spiritual literature. But I never thought they were real. I mean, how many people ever experience this? There was Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight which sounds similar, but I never met her in the flesh. Now I have met someone who has undergone this kind of conversion. Now it seems more real to me.

Incidentally, Nika spent a lot of time traveling around Asia after her conversion. She even did a stint teaching in Korea and has written about this online. I hope to republish some of her thoughts here because her observations of Korean society are so astute. It’s good to know that although she “unidentified” with her degrees, her professional identity, her incredible cognitive and intellectual capabilities remain intact.

So while the Sanctuary was a lovely experience from a vacation point of view, I think that my life has become more enriched from the people I met there. Which is probably always the case.





Then & Now

thailand1It was almost on a whim that I decided to go on vacation to Thailand – an ‘ahhhh fuck it, I need a holiday!’ moment. A ‘I need to get the hell outta of Korea for a bit’ moment. So I pulled out my credit card and a few weeks later, found myself lying on a quiet beach on an island, Koh Pha Ngan in the south of the country. Even the weeks leading up to the trip made the whole thing worth it. It gave me something to look forward to and something other than my usual monotonous day-to-day life to think about.

I had been to Thailand before. Six years ago I was there for almost a month. It was a great trip – the first such trip I had taken alone in Asia and it was a desperately needed time of healing as I came out of a horrible year – my first in Korea and one that I always try to erase from my memory.

That trip was one of those rare times when the stars seem to align and things become serendipitous. I arrived with no set plans and just traveled around alone. I felt happy and present for the first time in god knows how long. I made my way down to beautiful Ko Phi Phi island for a few days. One day, in between snorkeling and attending random muslim weddings, as I was escaping from the heat in my swanky hotel room with turbo air conditioning, I began to channel surf. A documentary on one of the national channels caught my eye. I became intrigued – it was about a German expat and his Thai wife who started an organisation (Baan Gerda), similar to an orphanage, for children and adults that have been abandoned and stigmatized because of being infected with HIV/AIDS. I was moved by what I saw, so in an uncharacteristic moment of boldness, I contacted the founder, Karl, and soon enough, I was at their beautiful house in a quiet suburb of Bangkok and then we were on the road in their SUV and drove for three hours deep into the rice fields of the Thai countryside. I spent two days and one night there just hanging out, playing with the children and talking with Karl who explained to me all the complexities of the situation of the children, of the community, of the government. It was an extremely interesting and eye-opening experience.

Also, while I was there, an Australian woman showed up with a representative from her Thai publishing house to also learn about the work that was being done there. Just a week before, I had been looking at her memoir in a bookstore near one of the big temples in central Bangkok, wondering about who this crazy woman was – who dedicates their life to working for free in the ‘Bangkok Hilton’, one of the world’s most notorious prisons? Who does that?! And here she was, in the flesh. We spoke for a while and of course, promptly upon my return to Bangkok, I bought and read her story which was crazy, involving a criminal husband, smuggling people out of Burma and nearly bleeding to death.

And then, after riding elephants and hanging out with a tribe in the jungle, I came back to civilization, checked my email and found out I had been given an amazing opportunity to travel around the world as a reporter for Peace Boat. Those were exciting times.

Alas, this is now and my trip to Thailand this time was so different. This time, I had more of an agenda – I just want to chill out and be healthy. And with that in mind, I went to The Sanctuary, a really laid back kind of yoga resort/spa/camping ground/hippie-hipster playground for people on a budget. It’s hard to describe, but I first stumbled upon it online two or three years ago and thought, ‘Wow, that looks interesting! I want to go there!’ but then promptly talked myself out of it because that sabotaging voice in my head, which gets more say than it should, told me that it was too hard to get to, too expensive, and that it was morally bankrupt because how could I justify going somewhere like that where people pay to fast and cleanse when there are so many starving people in the world?

But this time, I decided to, in the spirit of Nike, ‘Just do it.’ And it was lovely. Although, knowing what I know now, I wish I had stayed longer (everybody says that). But I got what I needed and I know that it was important to take that time for myself because I’m about to get bat-shit busy with a six day work week and trying to keep up with everything else – I’ve never been good at juggling more than a few balls, so hopefully I can keep a piece of the Sanctuary within me to have a sense of balance and equanimity.

Thank god for antibiotics!

Thank god for antibiotics!

Ironically, however, as soon as I got back to Bangkok where I had planned to spend a few says doing girly things (sightseeing, shopping, spa etc), I was struck down with food poisoning. The universe certainly has a sense of humour – I was so healthy and relaxed and then boom! A day later I am writhing around on the bathroom floor of my hotel room, sweating, shivering, vomiting, trying to endure the incessant stabbing pains in my stomach, having no clue how to get to a doctor or hospital. Luckily, after some frantic searching, I found a pharmacy with a pharmacist that spoke English and that sold antibiotics. I had three days in the city, two were spent trying not to die alone in a hotel room and on the third day, finally I was able to get out and about a little bit.

I always had fond memories of the metropolis – I thought it’s shabbiness was charming. I thrived on its chaos and crowds. I loved the contrasts of the old temples and houses next to the giant modern malls. Now, however, I think Bangkok is too big, too dirty, too hot and too ugly. I was surprised that for such a tourist mecca, how few people spoke English, and how rude some people could be. Actually, I would probably be that way too if I was constantly dealing with snotty, privileged, high 22 year old European backpackers who demanded a fifty percent discount on everything. But anyway, Thailand you rule, Bangkok you suck!

Rewind, Unwind

The past month haupintheairs flown by (almost literally, I have been on eight flights), yet at the same time, it feels like forever since I sat down at my desk to write. There have been ups and downs, good things and bad things, interesting things and mundane things that have happened in that time. Let’s go back a few weeks to when I was on Jeju Island.

I was trying to have a good time, enjoying my little group of ten sweet 10 year olds and their spontaneity, creativity and intelligence. Sometimes it was fun, most of the time it was exhausting. By night, there was time to relax and rejuvenate by using the incredible gym and pool facilities, or going for a walk in nature. And as always, thank God for the Kindle app which meant I could have any book I wanted at my fingertips. Alas, there was one piece of the whole experience that really irked me. Like really fucking pissed me off.

It is a fact of life of living in Korea, and I should be used to it by now, but maybe getting used to it is a kind of acceptance. And I am resisting the reality, coming up against it and trying to deny it. It is the large population of idiot white males who come here for the social life (read socially acceptable and sanctioned alcoholism) and the women (“the sea of pussy”) as one of them told me. I dislike them for many reasons, not least of which these unqualified, unprofessional imbeciles get paid more than me because they have a penis. I detest the chauvinistic, misogynistic, derogatory way they treat and talk about women. It’s appalling. And yet, nobody cares and there are no consequences. I guess it annoyed me more than usual because I was the minority (white female) trapped on both an island and a campus with them and therefore could not escape or avoid them.

At least it’s not as bad as the situation between foreign men and local women in Thailand. But still.

My time in Thailand will be for another post. For now, having been back in the country a few days, my focus is on forgetting those jerks as much as possible. And, mindful that when I returned from Cambodia months ago, I fell into a bottomless pit of depression (not for any good reason, maybe just a combination of transition, hormones, stress, unrealistic expectations, processing of experience, perspective etc), I am now slowly re-entering my life here. Although, because I wasn’t away for long, the transition will be much smoother. Still, I couldn’t face the world upon my return and so opted to spend three days lying in bed reading and catching up on random websites. In fact, I spent one entire day looking around this incredible site, Brain Pickings, which can best be described as book porn. Or, in the words of its creator, “Brain Pickings is a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why, bringing you things you didn’t know you were interested in — until you are.”

If I had more time, energy, willingness and technical know-how, my vision for this blog would be similar to Brain Pickings. A little sleuthing revealed that the founder of the site, the woman who creates most of the content from her apartment in Brooklyn, dedicates 100 hours a week to it, in addition to having another job. I’m like, ‘whaaat?!’ That’s crazy. I struggle to give two hours a week to my blog.

But anyway, you get the gist – it’s a really amazing creation. And it brought to my attention this gem from legendary Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl:

“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”