The Older I Get, The Less I Want

Just a very few of the things we brought back from Japan

Just a very few of the things we brought back from Japan. Our home looked like a museum of Japanese antiques.

When Brett retired from the navy in 1992, it was at the end of a three and a half year tour in Japan. He spent most of that tour deployed on an aircraft carrier; I spent most of those years shopping and accumulating stuff.

We had always lived fairly simply and had not acquired much because of the small weight allowance for moving our household goods, but at the beginning of our Japan tour our household goods allowance was upped by several thousand pounds. In the second year of our tour Brett received a promotion, and along with a nice pay raise he also received another increase in our household goods weight allowance. I, to put it mildly, went nuts.

Shopping became my primary form of recreation, a way to keep busy while Brett was gone and our son was busy with school and friends. I was teaching English conversation, making good money, and all I did was buy, buy, buy, especially antiques. We came home with 15 (yes, 15!) antique tansu (Japanese chests) of all types and sizes, loads of antique porcelain and other items that I convinced myself we had to have and couldn’t leave Japan without owning. I told myself these things were an investment. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a day that I wasn’t shopping somewhere for something. Looking back, it was obscene how much I shopped. The only good thing, if I can claim it, was that I paid cash for everything. We had no debt and actually had a decent savings account as well. And the shopping stopped when we arrived home in the U.S.

Our household goods were supposed to arrive back in the States about 4-5 weeks after we did in 1992. Four weeks arrived and no shipment. At five weeks we called to check on the status of our shipment and were told it could not be located, that it had been lost. Initially all I felt was panic, deep, deep panic that almost everything we owned was gone forever. But then something changed. As I began to think about having to start over, I also began to feel liberated, like an incredibly heavy weight had been lifted off my shoulders. As I moved through the near-empty rooms of the house we’d rented, I began to question why I had ever wanted all of those things. I felt deep, searing pain when I thought of the photo albums, the few items of our son’s I had kept from when he was a baby, the truly irreplaceable items that might be gone forever. But for everything else, I felt no attachment whatsoever.

I wanted our simple life back again.

Our household goods were eventually found, delivered, and squeezed into our small house, but they never held the same appeal for me they did when I bought them or when we lived in Japan. We spent the years after Brett’s retirement slowly divesting ourselves of most of our Japan things. Brett was unemployed for almost three years following his retirement, and the sale of several of those items saw us through some hard times, so maybe they were an investment after all. The sale of other items helped fund our adoptions, pay down our debt, and get us moved to Hawai’i. I haven’t missed even one of the things we sold, and never regretted that we let them go.

When we left Japan, our household goods weighed 12,500 pounds and filled five huge crates. Our shipment of goods to Kaua’i two years ago weighed just 4500 pounds, and barely filled half of a 20-foot shipping container. We live with much, much less now and manage quite nicely. The things we kept are functional, or like my bells or jubako, carry special memories that we’re still not ready to part with.

Shopping holds no thrill for me these days. The girls, of course, love shopping and love stuff, but even they have downsized. Brett, the former King of the Pack Rats, got bit by the downsizing bug, and made immense strides in reducing his hoard. He’s no longer in thrall to having or holding on to stuff.

Maybe it’s a function of aging, or just heredity. When I was young and stayed with my grandmother, she always let me go through her things and choose something to take home because she was “thinning things out.” She said she didn’t need so many things any more, even though she already lived very simply. My mother also divested herself of most of her possessions and downsized when she got older. She would rather have traveled than maintained or worried about a lot of stuff, which is where I’m at now as well.

Whatever the reason, it seems the older I get, the less I want as well.

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How to Travel Solo and Fall in Love With It

RIshikesh, India, Parmarth Ashram, www.bartnikowski.com

Rishikesh, India, Parmarth Ashram, http://www.bartnikowski.com

Myth: it costs a lot to travel.

Yes it does if you stay in $400 a night hotels like I used to do.

It was fun.

The truth is I love to travel solo.

I don’t have to wait for a friend to break up with her lover, leave their job, or save enough money to go with me.

When I want to go to Nepal, Colombia, or Sardinia I put on my Van sneakers and go!

I can sit in a fancy pants bar/restaurant like I am now and write. And enjoy a superb glass of red wine and be at ease and comfortable.

You never have to negotiate where to go based on money.

I was backpacking in the Himalayas solo in 2009 in Sikkim, India and realized I was spending less money per month than I received for renting out my apartment in Palo Alto, California.

I was spending less than $300 per month to stay in guesthouses eating home made Tibetan soup and momos, traveling by share jeep in the Himalayas, and having a blast.

I came home from that 10-month trip with money in the bank.

Advice.

Don’t go over your budget on lodging. Yes you can splash out for a few days. But you can also get budget accommodation and live it up at the upper crust lounge/restaurant like I am now.

Secret: you can often work/write in 5-star surroundings enjoying the incredible views and then go back to your Airbnb room, campsite, or rented home.

You’ll discover that having a set amount to spend on lodging will keep you kosher.

I often times suggest a lower price on a room when the price suggested is too high.

It’s called rich foreigner tax. Many countries, like India, have no set prices on their rooms, the price is whatever they can get.

So haggle wisely, you’re still most likely paying too much.

Freedom!

One of the best things I ever did was travel twice around the world with no itinerary buying one-way plane tickets along the way.

If I felt like staying in Bali another month I could, no discussion.

If I wanted to explore Burma for a month, I went.

First time I went round the world I spent $2900 on plane tickets, the 2nd time I spent $1800. No I didn’t buy a RTW ticket, it doesn’t give you freedom on your journey.

For example I decided to stay in Cambodia for 4 weeks when I couldn’t stomach the thought of leaving.

I was falling in love with Siem Reap, where Angkor Wat is located and so I stayed.

No heated arguments. I found an incredible local guesthouse: Rosie’s guesthouse. And another one, Ou Malay where the Cambodian owners and I had a love fest of laughing and daily camaraderie.

It was $7 a night, no wifi but so what?! We loved each other!

Cambodia, Ou Malay Guesthouse Siem Reap, www.bartnikowski.com

Cambodia, Ou Malay Guesthouse, Siem Reap, http://www.bartnikowski.com

You meet so many people!

When you’re solo, there’s no one to listen or talk to. You can be alone with your own thoughts and then Bam! you meet someone seriously interesting who lights up your world and you wonder how you ever would have met them if you were with someone.

This has happened to me more times than I can count. And I’m still in touch with many friends I met traveling from Spain, Korea, Australia, Nepal, India, Germany, and Argentina.

They shook up my world and invited me into a new portal of love and friendship. I never would have met them if I wasn’t solo.

Being solo you have to reach out. It can be intoxicating.

Traveling solo, I mention my thoughts to whoever is standing by, I don’t take offense if they don’t respond, I’m simply radiating aloha which means, I’m spreading good will and happiness which is what the Dalai Lama advises but I didn’t realize until living in Hawaii that this means Aloha.

Pay attention. You might meet your soulmate, best friend ever, or meditation master around the next corner.

Suddenly you’ll be in a new world that you had no idea even existed.

Burma, Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Yangon, www.bartnikowski.com

Burma, Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Yangon, http://www.bartnikowski.com

Safety.

Yes you can be safe but you have to trust your gut. Don’t negotiate with the red alert warnings your instincts tell you. Pay attention.

Your body knows before your mind. Listen.

And while you are at it: don’t tell people you’re traveling solo. Don’t advertise your solo status by flagrantly drinking and carousing. Really.

Do make friends with families and women. Volunteer with humanitarian foundations that are educating and changing lives. Don’t be afraid to talk to people and smile.

A smile is universal. Yes it works in every country. Try it. It works.

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Two Years

IMG_2228Two years ago yesterday Brett, our three daughters and I arrived on Kaua’i to start a new chapter in our lives.

Two years ago our daughters did hold back and let us know again and again how angry and miserable they felt about our move. They left behind everything they knew, including life-long friends, boyfriends – everything – to come live on an isolated little island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They were profoundly unhappy with us, but Brett and I did our best to reassure them. “Give it time,” we said, “and then see how you feel.” We explained over and over that it had been time for us to make our move.

Last week, at dinner, as we were talking about some topic I don’t remember now, WenYu said, “I hope some day I can raise my children in a place like Kaua’i.” She went on to say how much she has grown to love our little island, its calmness, beauty, and friendly people. She said that moving here had been the best thing that happened to her. She still greatly missed her Portland friends, but coming here pushed her out of her shell and challenged her to take chances both academically and socially that she would not have taken back in Portland. She said she didn’t think she would be going to Wellesley College if we had stayed in Portland.

YaYu has blossomed here as well. She has made many friends, is doing very well academically, and is also taking chances that she doubts she would have taken back in Portland. Brett and I believe the move was harder in many ways for her than for her sisters, but YaYu now says she too is thankful for the calm and beauty of Kaua’i, and is glad we moved here. She has relied heavily on WenYu these past two years for company and support, but says she is ready to step out from her sister’s shadow and spread her own wings.

Meiling has built a solid independent life for herself back in Oregon, and is doing better than either Brett or I ever expected or hoped for. She did not want to stay on Kaua’i, and it was with great sadness and misgiving that we let her return to the mainland. She has told us though that she doubts she would have become as strong and independent if we were still in Portland, where she could have (and would have) called us to “come fix it” if things were not going well. We talk and text with her frequently every week, and offer advice when it’s asked for, but are so very proud of our daughter these days and the independent path she has chosen.

It has been a good move for all of us. Brett and I are more relaxed and far less stressed than we were back on the mainland. We worry less, hustle less, and let things happen as they will. We’ve made friends here, and are recognized more frequently as kamaaina, residents versus tourists. I absolutely love being called “Auntie.” With a couple of exceptions, we moved just the right amount of stuff along with us, and every day we appreciate our simple life more and more. We’ve figured out where and how to shop here, to find the best bargains, and we focus more on need versus want. We still get to travel. To know that the girls are now happy too about our move to Kaua’i is just the icing on the cake for us. While there is still lots for us to learn about our new home, we have a wonderful life here, and we are content. Our son has sometimes hinted that he wished we had moved to Oahu because of the medical facilities there, but both Brett and I are so glad we decided to settle on peaceful and less congested Kaua’i. It’s a great fit for us.

I’ve read that two years in Hawai’i marks a turning point (believe it or not, most new residents don’t last a year). If you can make it here for that long, then it’s said you’ve truly adjusted to the island way of life and will most likely stay forever, or at least for a very long time.

I know we’ve crossed that threshold. Kaua’i is home, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

First Trip to India

Photo: Wolf Price

Photo: Wolf Price

I had no desire to visit India until my son asked me to go.

He was living in Nepal and ready for a fresh adventure after volunteering in Kathmandu.

I had missed out on Morocco when he asked me to go with him and a friend when we met in Spain (I had to go to Italy for the first time) so no way was I going to say no to India and a chance to let my son lead me to a brand new country.

So I jumped in with no prior knowledge of India except for seeing the movie Gandhi.

That first trip to India and Nepal changed my life, turned me upside down, and electrified my bone marrow. I was never the same again.

The photo of me above was shot right after rafting down the Ganges River in the winter; drenched with icy waves over our heads as we paddled to stay afloat.

Of course we had to volunteer for the front paddling positions in the boat which means you get the worst of the waves over your head and the rest of the passengers just get sprayed.

But I never felt so alive in my life.

My son pushed me to go.

I just wanted to read a book that day.

India blasted open my spirit, forcing me to leap way out of my comfort zone.

Photo: Bartnikowski, Dalai_Lama in India

Photo: Bartnikowski, Dalai Lama in India

I was cold in the Himalayas, I got deathly sick, but I also ate tasty delectable food, was immersed in a multitude of religions, saw the Dalai Lama teach at his home in Dharamsala, had my eye balls seared with women’s colorful clothing, met gurus, saints, and friendly elephants!

There is nothing India doesn’t have but order.

Amritsar, photo student from Miri Piri Academy, during the class I was teaching

Amritsar, India photo credit: student from Miri Piri Academy, during the class I was teaching

There aren’t any rules in India: you can have bonfires in the street with cows who want to get warm in the high ethers of the Himalayas.

People drive recklessly. Watch out crossing the street. You don’t want to get mowed down by a motorbike or attacked by a monkey.

Some monkeys are mean in India, one stole my new dress off the clothes line and I didn’t find it until 2 hours later in the dark with my flashlight.

I’ve since been to India 4 times solo. And as soon as I left that first time, I wanted to go back. I found myself in Bali which seemed awfully tame compared to jolt your eyes open India.

What made me buck up and get strong?

The fact that yes I’m deliciously free and can make all my own decisions.

This is a huge opportunity for possible risk but it was also a leap into the unknown, an adventure beckoning, a bewildering array of options, food I couldn’t identify and stumbling happily through a language I didn’t understand.

I tried to learn Hindi and the Nepali language.

“Sundar” means pretty in Nepal. And meeto-cha means this food is yummy. That’s all I learned and actually I didn’t need to know anymore on that first trip.

After traveling with my son for a month, we went solo on our own paths. And boy did my India adventure change.

Being solo is misunderstood in India.

Local people from India wonder why you’re not traveling with your in-laws, 7 children and two sets of grandparents. Really.

Many people want to help you in India, some are scammers, and some are saints. Both will approach you especially when you are solo.

Here is what I do now. I surround myself with a shield of white light and send out the message with my mind, you will not approach me unless I invite you.

It works.

Do you remember the Beatles White Album? Much of it was written in Rishikesh, where I shot the photo below.

The Beatles stayed at a now defunct ashram with Maharishi on the Ganges River while they learned meditation and wrote songs.

Rishikesh, India, Ganges River_Photo: Bartnikowski

Rishikesh, India, Ganges River_Photo: Bartnikowski

What I did was I was lay on the marble floor of this gorgeous “ghat.” (a river side temple, dock, or bathing spot)

The nightly puja was happening.

My tripod was only 6 inches high, one of those tiny jobs that don’t extend, but even though a policeman’s foot was inches from my head, I got this shot from a unique angle.

My body commanded me to capture it.

That’s the real secret of how I get the money shots. My body tells me to shoot and I listen.

So this was our happy hour of prayers, offerings, songs, and chanting.

Puja persuaded me to stop drinking wine when I hadn’t decided to give it up.

But Rishikesh is a holy town in the foothills of the Himalayas; you can’t get booze there.

I was not going to get on the boat, cross the Ganges, and go into town to purchase low grade wine or spirits.

I had spirits at the puja so instead of a cocktail I joined the young Hindu priests, the head swami, and countless tourists from India and worldwide.

Rishikesh_India_Ganges_River_Bartnikowski

Rishikesh_India_Ganges_River_Bartnikowski

I was in heaven.

Afterwards we would meet with Swami for a blessing (darshan) then I’d walk back to my room at the ashram, or go hook up with Skype, being careful not to step in the cow flops along the path.

Yes India has the internet. And this was in 2006.

But India is the mothership. All roads lead to her.

You don’t have to go to the Himalayas to turn your world upside down pineapple cake but it was just what I needed after living in Palo Alto, California, the epicenter of Silicon Valley for 29 years, not knowing that outside this comfortable bubble of technology, splendor, and genius, there was a world named India that whispered to me, Just Do It.

So I did and I thank my son for inspiring me to do it.

I took 3 months off from life in Palo Alto, turned down work, closed my apartment door, paid the rent which was significant, and set out for India, Nepal, and lastly, Bali.

If you ever hear the call to go to India, do it. Your life will never be the same.

Wolf, my son, and me.

Wolf, my son, and me.

Mary Bartnikowski is an author of 4 books, award-winning photographer in Palo Alto, Hawaii, and worldwide for 29 years.

She has led programs at Apple, Stanford, Intel, and globally.

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Change Your Life

Suddenly your gut says one thing and your mind says another.

What to do?

Looking back over the last 10 years of world travel I see that when I trusted my gut and didn’t over analyze a decision the path opened up before me and sometimes it was even lit with sunshine.

Thinking didn’t get me to the source of my own wisdom. It appeared as a tiny nudge in my gut, or a soft whisper in my heart.

One time a voice woke me up and told me Go Home! I was living in San Francisco, 35 years ago, and was wondering if I should go back to New York where I was born.

Clearly I got my answer and was startled by the dramatic way it came to me.

So I bought a one-way ticket and crossed the entire country by train, California to New York. It took 4 days but I knew it was the right thing.

I had connected to my own divine guidance.

You can’t look in a Lonely Planet guide book for it. You can’t ask someone else what to do.

No it wasn’t comfortable and it wasn’t easy but leaping out of your comfort zone isn’t pleasant. It can be messy going into the unknown.

But every time I’ve done it, my life opened up in a way I never would have predicted.

I used to try and meet up with my son Wolf, who has traveled in 50 countries, I’ve only been to 32, and it was difficult to pin him down to one country.

Then when I went on my first round the world no-itinerary global adventure, I couldn’t be pinned down either.

Learning how to let go of planning made me wake up.

And thats how I got to Hawaii. By trusting my gut, what I call waiting for my instructions from Grand Central God.

But you can call it anything you want.

You can test it out by asking your gut little things through out your day. Which way to drive to work, who do I need to get in touch with right now?

I love how when I trust it, I get to a place that I would not have envisioned being in.

The other part of it is to stay positive and focus on a remarkable result but without being attached to the outcome.

I’m still practicing that one.

But every day brings new opportunities to let go and see what your divine guidance says to do.

The more you listen to the layer of truth under your reasoning mind the sharper it gets.

Sooner or later you won’t be able to ignore it.

Recently I found a little cottage to rent here on Kauai and everything checked out but there was just one thing. My gut said no. I wanted my gut to say yes.

I have a strategy for hearing my guidance. When I go to bed, I present the issue or question and I know as soon as I open my eyes in the morning the answer will be there, shining on the inside of my eyelids, in my heart waiting to tell me.

The answer was no. And I immediately felt relieved.

This is all the evidence we need to trust our guts.

Trusting your gut changes your life.

Was there a time in your life when you didn’t listen to your thinking mind and went ahead and acted on your own inner guidance?

Do you want peace of mind, a room of one’s own, and a battery re-boot?

Learn Yoga and Photography on Kauai with me in a 3-Day Private Luxury Retreat. Relax and Recharge. Have the best rest of your life being lulled to sleep by ocean waves all night long. Learn More Here.

Why People over 65 Need Advanced Mathematics

We recently moved, about eight miles, from an older house that was being sold to a nearly new home that is MUCH closer to Kapa’a High School. In order to make the move easier on all of us, we paid the deposit and one month’s rent on the new place and gave 30 days notice on the old place. However, with four month’s rent in play, there was nothing left in the budget to pay movers, so we moved what we could daily in our compact car.

Still, beds and large, heavy furniture would remain at the old place for awhile, beds being the most crucial piece of the puzzle because until we had a place to sleep, we really couldn’t stay at the new place. We rented a 9′ van from Uhaul mid-month to accomplish that big task, and maybe, just maybe a second trip. So, mattresses and disassembled bed frames fit in both houses, and in the Uhaul van, but getting them out of the old place—out of the bedrooms, down the hall, then down the 15 steps (15 levels of Hell if you please)—would require some thought, followed by sweat.

Can I do this, by myself? Archimedes, and Pythagoras to the rescue!

A simple turn of the screw(s), and an inclined plane or two were all I needed, besides the sweat and muscle derived from preserving the trails. A year ago I would have told anyone who suggested that I was physically capable of doing a self-move that they were certifiable.

When I picked up the van on Saturday, I was still somewhat doubtful after having disassembled beds the night before. The van was a dream to drive, not too bad on fuel, and tough enough to get out of the way, quickly, and I was able to back it up square (more advanced math) to the bottom step. First to be loaded were the side rails from the wooden bed frames, followed by our Queen-size mattress, which was too heavy to lift. Taking advantage of its span of steps, it went down the impromptu inclined plane rather smoothly, and then went end over end near the bottom to slide up into the van. After that, I loaded the remaining frames, and wooden footboards and headboards, with single mattresses stuffed in between. One of the single mattresses was equipped with four handles; the other was not, so went down the inclined plane and end over into the van, last.

So far, so good. Inclined plane assumed greater meaning at the new place, certainly nothing to sneeze at.

steep driveway

Short, Steep Driveway

However, once I backed the van up to the top, I only had to move things a short distance across a CLEAN, dry double garage, and up four steps straight into the house rather than twisting and turning, and hanging large heavy things out over a narrow landing in order to get through the door.

clean and dry garage

Four Wide Steps

Over two subsequent trips I moved the deep freezer, storage chests, dining room table and chairs, lamps, bookcases, dishes, two sets of stainless steel storage shelves, and four very heavy porcelain hibachis, and two rattan chairs from the living room for the lanai at the new place.

All I managed after trucking it all into the house was getting the beds set up, and I don’t even recall what we did for dinner that night. After a shower and a good night’s sleep, I got up and returned the van on Sunday. Upon returning I still had a few more carloads of sundries to move, and some of the rough cleanup to go.

Ultimately, we went another day with the dining table top resting on the floor, but had no trouble getting the girls off to school on Monday. And I heard through the grapevine that they were impressed at how much a man of my advanced years accomplished in a little over 24 hours. Well, it’s easy when you know a little calculus.