Renewal is a consistent theme in Southeast Asian culture. From store fronts to prayer beads to cultural dances, hope for renewal speaks loud and clear in this region. Take the Cambodian Khmer Apsara dance for example.
Thumbs and middle fingers pinched, wrists twisted outward and palms raised to the heavens. This mudra (hand gesture) represents blessing the new seed before planting and renewing the land. The dance ends with a single lotus flower placed in the hair of the Apsara Mera, the lead dancer, symbolizing purity of heart and renewal of spirit.
The lotus flower is thought to be free of impurities and a symbol of rebirth, thus, explaining its prevalence in a country still seeking both renewal and restoration. The muddy roots represent our messy lives and the lotus flower rising above the mud to bloom, clean and fragrant represents human's desire to break free of suffering and embrace a new future. The hope of a new future is evident in eyes of the Cambodian people who continue to deal with the fragmented pieces history left behind.
While many know Cambodia's devastating story, few have taken action to play a part in their next chapter. Dr. Beat Richner, "Beatocello" is one such character who has dedicated his life to renewal for Cambodia's children. Dr. Richner is a suisse pediatrician and cello player who weaves both his profession and creative habit of playing the cello together to serve Cambodian families.
In 1992, he moved from Switzerland to Cambodia to help rebuild and manage the Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital where he volunteered with the Red Cross just before the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge. He was forced to return home to avoid possible retaliation and death. Since his return to Cambodia, he and his team have provided free healthcare for millions of Cambodian children. He also holds cello concerts for tourists as fundraisers for the clinic. His clinic, or "creative habitat," now attracts lines and lines of moms and kids waiting for their "Beatocello" check up as shown on the YouTube video on the homepage of his website:
(Watch until the end...Astounding!!!)
Seeing Dr. Richner's vision of hope in the face of such adversity is truly touching and inspiring. Imagine how many people would miss his creative habit if he had not followed his intuition and returned to a war torn land to rebuild this children's hospital. Generations are being changed because he planted a seed of creativity creating a lotus effect of renewal.
What creative habit do you feel called to develop? What lotus effect will transpire as a result?
Now is the time to plant your seed, share your harvest, and renew the spirit within. Generations may follow!
Always keep your wits about you and learn how to function in an ever changing environment. This was one of my life lessons from diving as discussed in my previous post, although a recent experience tells me I still have a lot to learn.
While boarding a flight to Doha, Qatar, I felt a sense of unease. Given this was my first travel experience in the Middle East, I experienced my American lens in a new way. I found myself looking down in an effort to shield my face to somehow blend with the women around me wearing burqua head coverings. This experience was eye opening as I caught a shrouded glance from a woman across the way.
How can society widely accept one woman as "naked" as me yet expect head to toe coverage for another woman on the same plane? I felt a sense of both freedom and guilt as I took my seat.
While contemplating our cultural differences, a man quickly stowed his bag in the overhead compartment and sat down next to me. I felt my heartbeat quicken as he fidgeted to plug in his phone, put on his sunglasses, and began texting in Arabic while pulling nervously at his beard. In this moment, CNN media clips began infiltrating my mind and gripping me with fear.
Deep breath, I thought. "You are in his environment, his culture...you have no right to judge," I kept telling myself. As the flight prepared for take off, he continued to text and receive texts. Wasn't his phone supposed to be on airplane mode? I questioned suspiciously. My legs began to tremble as the plane lifted into flight.
Shortly after reaching altitude, he began to chant a prayer while moving his body in a subtle but noticeable forward sway. My heart dropped in my chest as I considered the "What if." I began watching videos of my son (who is staying with his grandma in Colorado while we are on this globetrotting adventure) and thought to myself, "How could I leave my son?" "How could I be such an irresponsible mother"
"How could I..."
Wait. Hold that thought. How could I think the worst of this stranger just because his cultural norms were different than mine? How could I...
It's amazing how strong fear is when paired with imagination. I felt lead to share this "strange behavior" with the flight attendant as my due diligence and was pleasantly and shamefully surprised to find the only strange behavior was my own. The flight attendant tactfully made me aware of muslim prayer practices and assured me this man was acting normal. I can only imagine what he thought of me, the ignorant American frightened for no rational reason.
Once I gained further understanding and composure, I sat down and found myself praying as well. In hindsight, we were one in the same, representing two different cultures praying side by side, living out our creative habit of prayer in unison. I am truly grateful for this learning experience and a creative habit that can unite what society seeks to divide.
Life presents us with many opportunities to try new things. Sometimes we seek these opportunities, other times they seek us. Such was my recent encounter with diving.
Growing up in Colorado and living in the temperate San Diego climate has made me an outdoor enthusiast. Despite my love for nature and living 20 minutes from "Big Blue," diving has never been on my radar. I love running by the ocean, swimming in the ocean, and taking in the beautiful ocean sunsets, but diving...never had an interest.
Rewind about 7 months when diving first approached me in the form of a Groupon my husband purchased. "Guess whose going diving?" he asked me with glee? After 7 sleepless months, I was still trying to keep my head above water as a new mom, I figured he was joking.
He preceded to list off dates for our dive certification classes and began entering them in my phone. I stared at him in disbelief. Did he actually expect me to attend dive certification classes when I was drowning in exhaustion?
A few weeks later, I found myself in further disbelief as we sat in the back of a scuba shop listening to our instructor review buoyancy control while I rocked our son to sleep in his car seat. I'm pretty sure we are in the minority of people willing to 1) sign up for diving certification within the first year of parenthood and 2) bring our baby to class with us!
Our coursework transitioned to a full 8 hour day of enclosed pool diving (now I know what sardines feel like). This was followed by a "beach dive" (where you walk a quarter mile to the ocean in full dive gear (including tank) and brave the crashing waves upon entry. Mind you, visibility is not great in the freezing Southern California water and even in the clearest conditions, all you can see is some kelp and maybe a Garibaldi, if lucky. Sound like fun? I can assure you it was anything but!
In short, you must complete 4 open water dives before you are officially certified. I met every dive with resistance. After all, diving intruded on my life with no regard for my claustrophobia, fear of drowning, and overall lack of confidence breathing under water!
Ironically, when each dive day came, I found myself suiting up, ready to overcome my "fear mindset." One dive after the next, I began to feel more comfortable in my underwater skin. "Keep the end goal in mind," I kept telling myself thinking of the Southeast Asia trip my husband had planned.
Despite my initial trepidation, I am proud to say I now have my advanced diver certification and have swam alongside the sea turtles, tropical fish, sharks and sprawling rainbow coral in their creative habitat. While diving has been amazing (outside of my Southern California experience) the best part has been the transferable life lessons I have learned as a result. I plan to incorporate these life lessons as I move forward in the development of Creative Habitat.
1. Always have a partner for support (and to share the experience.).
2. Expect the best but be prepared for challenges.
3. Stay calm, take a deep breath, and be intentional about your next move.
4. Always keep your wits about you and learn how to function in an ever changing environment.
5. Get the best "gear" possible. Do not settle for less than the best.
6. Preserve energy! To maintain peak "buoyancy", do not carry extra weight, only what is necessary.
7. Sometimes you have to go with the flow.
8. Trust your intuition.
9. Keep your mask and vision clear!
10. Dive in with confidence, the adventure is worth it!
Next time life presents you with an opportunity to try something new or develop your creative gifts, I hope you will DIVE IN!
Jet lag worked in our favor earlier this week allowing my husband and I to join a sunrise Thai Chi session we would have otherwise slept through. The elderly but spry Thai Chi master greeted us with a subtle grin as we tiptoed to our places and assumed "White Crane" position ironically juxtaposed with the iconic metal cranes developing the skyline behind us.
Our fellow early risers swayed in unison to the harmony of the music as we embraced the chi together. Each movement gracefully flowed to the next while fear and stress dissolved at our fingertips making room for positive energy to enter our souls. For a brief moment, we experienced the yingyang balance in body and spirit.
While the class was a memorable experience, I was most stuck by the Thai Chi master's closing remark, "Take care of your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." I stopped to reflect on the weight of this statement.
As a woman, I am programmed to take care...take care of my husband, take care of my children, take care of my responsibilities...but do I take time to take care of my heart? What does this even look like? Was the Thai Chi master referring to taking care of the physical, emotional, or spiritual heart?
Perhaps all three...leading me to three further questions...
Is there a parallel between taking care of our hearts and carving out time and space to develop one's creative gifts?
Could our creative gifts be our heart's most authentic expression and wellspring of life?
Will developing creative habits allow us to live more balanced and authentic lives, thus helping us better care for our own hearts and the hearts of those we love?
I bow my head in reverent quietness realizing my heart already knows the answer.