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I remember being in college and wondering why I should try to go vegetarian. Why were people vegetarian? At the time, I ate everything and I ate a lot of meat. I had grown up as an endurance athlete in the high mountains of Colorado and I felt the most important part of diet was getting outside and running up mountains. I loved the outdoors and even more so, I loved going uphill and the feeling I got at the top.
Meditation had already helped me a lot in life. It found me as kid when I explored the Korean style of martial arts "Soo Bahk Do." I remember we'd sit there and everybody would do weird breathing exercises and I would try to do that as well. Meditation followed me into my school years and became a tool that helped me find calm in the storm of life. However, I now realize I had only been touching the surface of possibilities of what meditation had to offer, and the continuation of that journey happened on a sunny day at Colorado University at Boulder. It was Valentine's Day and in college, this can be a day of regret if you are single, and that's what it was for me. It was right as I was sitting up in my college dorm room pondering the workings of female and male companionship that I received a call from my friend. It was an invite to a spiritual Valentine's Day party.
My Mom had been raised Roman Catholic and my Dad had no spirituality that he really followed. Our family had found comfort in the Episcopal Church in Aspen as it invited all religions and simply offered words of wisdom. Eventually, we'd stop going and would only go on Christmas or Easter. That had been my spiritual upbringing up until that point.
George said that we had to make something for the party and so I cruised over on my bike and made bracelets out of thread with him. Soon, we set off for the gathering. What followed was a lovely evening where a group meditation was led, and it was in this way that I was introduced to The Art Of Living Foundation. The party had a motivation, and that was to get members to attend their YES Plus course. It was a 200 dollar course and its purpose was to teach some deeper breathing techniques. I was a poor college student and 200 dollars was a price to be reckoned with. I contacted my mother and in the end, she recommended I do the course. Both George and I decided together, and so it was in this way that the big changes of my life would begin.
The course explored many different avenues of awareness. It went into the reasons why one should follow a plant based diet and also taught a breathing process known as the Sudarshan Kriya Kriya. We learned that it was a technique developed by the spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The class lasted about a week and then concluded with some assignments. We made a vow to practice a vegetarian diet for 60 days and to do the breathing practice for 60 days. The technique was powerful and it took extreme discipline to complete the 60 days of eating a plant based diet. I was happy when it was over and resumed my carnivorous habits. However, something had started to change. I started to think more about the food I ate. Graduation from college would soon come and with that, uncertainty.
I had four years of college under my belt and a marketing degree in hand and yet I had no idea what I would do next. The same desire to follow music still beckoned me forward. It just so happened that around this time my friend, John, had invited me out to Australia to play music.
I had met John in my hometown of Aspen. One of my parent's friends was aware that the both of us were playing music and looking for people to play with. What started out as a friendship soon led to me playing private parties on Aspen's ski mountains, and I found that I could relate to John on a musical level. With college ending and having gotten the invite from John to go to Australia, I felt that the year would be transformative, and it was.
My Dad handed me a book before I left. It was a book called "Black Swan." He said that the book basically explained how the author had found success by doing everything spontaneously. I decided to give it a go and Australia, in this way, became a very spontaneous adventure as well.
I arrived at the Sydney Airport on a cold day in March, which was a contrast to the warm mountain weather I had left behind in Colorado. After being sniffed by a dog for some foreign sandwich troubles, I soon boarded a train for New Castle. My phone rang as soon as I entered the town vicinity and John answered in an excited voice that we were going surfing. I looked out at the frothy white water and wondered what was on the agenda. John and the family drove out to pick me up and soon we were staring the white water in the face; to my relief, there were no surfboards on the car, although I was instructed to get into a wetsuit. He then explained the process.
What would happen is that we'd run out to the concrete pour over in front of us and then we'd hunker behind it and wait for the next big surge to come in. When it did, the water would pour over us and it was like we were surfing. I hung on for the ride. I do admit it was a great way to get over jet lag. There I was, heart pumping behind this big concrete wall, and then the wave came and poured over us and we hung on for our lives so as to not be swept away. It was exciting and a memorable introduction to Australia.
The weather soon warmed up and I settled into living with John's family. They had set shows up for me in New Castle and I loved playing for the flowing music community there. I was then able to tag along with them on a family trip and on one of the evenings we decided it would be neat to see if we could play at the local pizza place. It turned out to be a success. There was a couple there that loved the music and invited us out to play at their wine vineyard. John couldn't take the opportunity due to work engagements back home, but I saw it as a spontaneity card and took the leap. The trip continued and I explored some of the sites of the Blue Mountains then returned with them to New Castle, but then I jumped a train early in the morning to head out into the interior of Australia and to Canowindra.
The family welcomed me in with open arms and I was able to play a little music, but mostly I was able to learn about the family. It was in this way that I would learn about the JET Program or (Japanese Exchange Teaching) Program. I ended up leaving the wine vineyard and heading back to New Castle. I had some new plans stirring, and little did I know the year was just getting started.