Blue Forest

Tonight I am all alone. My roommates are out for the night. There is no humming of the TV from downstairs or human voices traveling through heating ducts. Behind the closed doors I am reading, knitting and listening to music. It is late but I don’t care about the time. I feel so complete in my solitude I don’t want sleep to take that away from me.

I feel like I am 15 years old. Back in the days when my parents went out and left me alone in the house, I enjoyed the silence of the empty apartment and a sense of freedom that was somehow connected to the solitude.

I am back at that age again. Contained, content and accompanied by myself.

All that matters is knit and purl, good music and Orhan Pamuk’s latest book.

I am resting in the moment. In this moment the sense of time and space is lost. I could be 15 or 35, here or there. The fluctuations of my mind are suspended for a while.
Oh how happy I am that I decided not to go to Canada!

What does Canada have to do with this picture?  I sometimes hear this voice inside my mind. It says: C’mon, let’s go somewhere. I shrug. It insists: Let ‘s take the early morning train and go to Canada. We can spend the night in Vancouver and return tomorrow in the evening.
In the old days I always listened to this voice. The “voice”, was my charming guide. Now because I have enough experience to know, I can resist it a little more. What am I going to do in that new place? Most likely I will be lost in the streets of an unknown town and will search for a coffee shop to rest. I will want the coffee shop to suit my taste, not only in coffee but also in music and atmosphere. In my search I will get tired of walking and maybe even cold. Plus I will not want to go back to that cold ugly hostel room where I will be staying because of my college-student budget.

When I recount all these things to “the voice”, it becomes quiet for a day or two, if I am lucky. Then, like an addict, I start to feel that familiar craving. As if I had not described exactly what would happen if we went, or as if we hadn’t experienced the whole adventure before, “the voice” starts again: Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we take a trip to Canada this weekend?
“Let’s Go Somewhere Else, I can’t Take It Anymore”, demanded the voice!
This particular state of mind has been with me, ever since I can remember. When I was 8-9 years old and the voice would speak to me, I used to cycle all the way to the tip of the island where we spent our summer holidays. The tip, which was called the Tongue, was outside the limits of my “permitted zone” in the island. Therefore a short trip to the Tongue was enough to satisfy “the voice”.

Later, during my high school years, I started taking random public buses to unknown destinations after school.  That is how I discovered the poor and old neighborhoods of Istanbul, which were very different from the affluent parts of the city where I grew up. There I saw wooden buildings on the verge of collapse and the people living in them. I walked the narrow cobble stoned streets over which clean laundry was stretched from one house to the next. I watched the neighborhood kids coming back from their schools. I wondered about their lives. What went on in the old wooden houses? I imagined their stories.

When I had my first car, I drove all the way from my home to the Black Sea and the eastern villages of the Asian side.  Driving in solitude, I thought was freedom unlimited and it had an addictive quality. One Friday night I decided to drive to Antalya, a southern beach town 600 miles away. Before I reached the first third of the road – the voice was already silent and I realized that I needed to be back at school Monday morning so I drove back home!

One important and common aspect of these adventures is that I always needed to go on my own and secretly. Since I have no reasonable explanation of why I am going on this adventure, I preferred not to mention my plans to anyone. What if they wanted to join me?

As I grew older, trips extended to other countries. During the time when I lived in Thailand, I kept visiting remote villages in Laos. If you have ever been there, you
already know this: It is a true misery to get from one town to another in Laos. In a sticky hot bus you’re squeezed, between villagers, vegetables and livestock. If Laos sounded too hard, then I took the night train to Bangkok. Once during a summer holiday I returned to Istanbul. I found a cheap flight to London and sneaked out without notifying anyone. Another time in Portland, my cousin lent me her car for the weekend and I drove it to Seattle to spend the day! I have more stories but I think by now you get the picture!

So, you may ask, what happens when you arrive?

It is always the same thing! The first thing that happens is the voice which kept talking and filling my head with the dreams of freedom shuts up completely and is nowhere to be found. I start looking for a place to stay.  Once I settle in a small ugly room in a youth hostel or in some budget hotel, I go out. And then a HUGE emptiness slaps me in the face! That is when and every time I silently scream: “What the hell am I doing here?” Since the voice is not there anymore and the craving is gone, I find no answer, no explanation. The next thing that happens is that I want to go back home!
In the absence of the voice I am left alone with my restlessness that is guiding me nowhere. I feel exhausted and disappointed. Didn’t the voice promise me an exciting new reality at the end of the road? Wasn’t this new place supposed to satisfy my curiosity? What happened?
Now I realize at the core of all these little adventures is a feeling of anxiousness.  If only I could make my way into the unknown I would be free of this unsettling feeling.
What is this unsettling feeling about? Did I feel it when I went to the Tongue in the island at the age of 8? Did I feel it when I was roaming in those narrow streets of old Istanbul? It seemed that I was excited and joyful during the journey. Back then, the adventures were not my escape from an unsettling feeling but they were tools for exploring myself. Each trip was a journey inward.
Then something changed. I found myself in a restless state. The whole trip was filled with frustration, grasping and a need to achieve the ideal, which had been that calm sensation I remembered from the earliest adventures. Once the ideal was created by my mind, then, instead of being present with my experience, I started to compare everything to that. Childish wonder was replaced by the greed to arrive there. I stopped exploring the experience as it spontaneously happened and transformed. Could the restless sensation, which I hoped to liberate myself from, be connected to the end of my childlike curiosity? The adventures continued but the journey within was over.
Is this what it is to grow up and become dull towards life and its wonders?
I know I am still curious. I still want to learn. The unknown continues to fascinate me and I still believe there is freedom there. The human mind is made for exploring yet one does not have to go far to meet the unknown. Stepping out of everyday routines and into new places has something to do with freedom but it can easily turn into another manifestation of our achievement-oriented lives or even into a pattern of escapism. Such adventures will satisfy our hunger for knowledge and freedom only if they go hand in hand with an inward journey. The inner journey begins once we start to transform our habitual ways of feeling, thinking, and acting in that new place.
A part of me knew this from the very beginning. When I was little, my mom used to read me a bedtime story called The Blue Forest. The hero, named Bunny Nomad leaves his home behind and takes a long journey in search of the Blue Forest. Finally, after many adventures our hero finds his way to the Blue Forest. As he approaches his final destination he looks up and sees that the Blue Forest, was the forest that surrounded his village and also the beginning of his journey.

I remember saying not a word after my mom finished reading the story. When she left the room I cried silently under the covers. Was I crying because my young heart was disappointed with the ending or was it because I felt that my own destiny was designed in a similar way to Bunny Nomad’s?

Sitting here in the silence of my room instead of hanging out somewhere in Canada – I feel so peaceful and satisfied that I think that I have arrived at the Blue Forest after all.

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book Mavi Orman which will be published in February 2011. Special thanks to Kokia for editing and helping with the concepts.

Arrival of the Soul

Dear People of the Other Side,
2 weeks after the arrival, I am feeling balanced again. This has a lot do with the fact that I started teaching again. I think I am a workacholic. I don’t feel good when I am on vacation. (Well,  maybe, maybe not. Why come to conclusions about ourselves?) What I know for this phase in my life time is I love teaching and it is only when I am teaching I feel at home. 

After two weeks of sleeping in (until way past my wake-up time. blame it on the jetlag), last Monday I got up at my usual 5:30am.  By the time I arrived to the studio, the morning prayer from the mosque started. Five times a day we have ezan, the Arabic chanting from the loud speakers that invites people to pray. In the darkest time of the day, the only quiet time of this ever beating city, I started my practice. 

The studio I work in Istanbul (Cihangir Yoga) is on the 5th floor of a building by the sea. As my students walked in, I saw the sky changing from black to purple and then to deep pink. I watched the sky waking the sea up from its dark sleep and listened to the seagulls screaming in ecstasy to salute the sea.

Photo: Murat Pazar
I don’t remember seeing any other city in the world that is more beautiful than Istanbul. I am not saying this because Istanbul is where I am from. Most of you know that I have a long list of complaints and reasons of why I don’t want to live here.  Yet still, as the day breaks over Bosphorus, I remembered such a  breath taking beauty this city was!
During the class hearing my voice in Turkish felt a bit strange at the beginning. My mind is still operating in English language. But while teaching something else took over and spoke all the words in Turkish for me. That was the strange part. Who is speaking as we teach?
The weather is like lemonade as we say in Turkish. Sunny, crispy, no winds, no down jackets.
Plus my soul finally arrived!
Now that I have my soul with me, it is time to enjoy the beauties!
I hope you are all doing great whereever you are. Know that you are missed!

Sleepless in Istanbul

3:50 am in the morning… sitting by my desk, far from sleep. My body and my mind are resisting to adjust the 10 time-zones I flew over. My phone and my laptop have already spotted their new location on earth and automatically changed their clock. My body could not. Neither could my mind.

In one of his books, William Gibson writes that it takes a week for the soul to travel and find the body when the body is taken to the other side of the world only in 24 hours. I wonder where is my soul now? Somewhere over Greenland? Maybe. I am sure it is not here in Istanbul yet!

Times of transition, always a hard one! This is the town I was born and grew up. Actually this is the apartment I spent my childhood. All I feel is my disconnection. All I want is to take the first flight back to Portland and have my morning coffee at Albina Press.

Well, that is not quite right. All I want now is actually to be able to sleep.

How strong the mind’s addiction to habit and routine that I can’t feel at home when I am at home. Oh well, I say to myself, this will pass too. I have people here. People I dearly love. My family, my friends, my students. Once I connect with them, I may feel at home again. First my soul must arrive!

We have a tendency to come to conclusions in times like this. Transition times, hard times. As I lay wide awake in my bed for the last 3 hours my mind kept telling me that the discomfort is a sign that we are not supposed to be here. “This should be last time” it tells me. “Make the decision right now” it insists. Such an insecure child the mind is! I don’t want to make a decision based on my discomfort. Those decisions are rarely accurate.

And oh, yes, I made it safe and sound. That is what matters at the end.
And the sleep of course.
It does matter a lot.
Anyway…sleepless in Istanbul, I wanted to reach out and say I miss you Portland.

Precious Balance of Perfection

Last Saturday we saw the movie Black Swan.

Natalie Portman is playing this ballerina in New York City ballet company whose life is completely consumed with dance. Although the movie was a disturbing psycho-drama and in many blood dripping scenes I had to close my eyes, I loved the dance scenes so much that I am ready to see it one more time.

As name of the movie gives us the hint, it is the ballet Swan Lake, the company is performing that season and our troubled young ballerina is chosen to play the Swan Queen. Both the White Swan Odette and her evil twin Black Swan Odile.

The story of Swan Lake, probably the most famous ballet music composed in the history, takes place in some Medieval central European setting where princes go to forest for hunting and where young girls dance by the moon and magicians put spells on young girls to turn into swans as soon as the sun rises.

The story is full of symbols- sociological, mythical and spiritual- which I have no intention to dwell on here. However the music  Mr. Tchaikovsky composed sometime in mid 19th century, is so magnificent -yet very simple compared to music composed by his contemporaries- that every time I listen to Swan Lake, I get teary eyed.

I don’t remember how old I was when my mother played the Swan Lake for me. It is highly possible she had played it as a background music while she told me its story before bed. Later, when I was old enough to operate our record player on my own, I kept on playing it over and over until both of my parents begged me to please stop it. Soon our only record got all scratched from my unsteady five year old hands operating the needle and I had to stop.

Knowing my fascination with the music,  my mother took me to watch Swan Lake when Istanbul Opera and Ballet company was performing it in early 1980’s. I had already known the story by heart. (I made my mother tell it to me numerous times). So when my favorite music started and my favorite story came alive through human movement, I was to ready to fall in love with ballet. And that is exactly what happened!

I did not stop taking ballet classes until I left Turkey at the age of 25.  I changed schools, we moved from one apartment to the other, my friends changed, my parents divorced, I had my first period, I fell in love for the first time, I finished high school, started university, fell in love many more times… During all these years, every Tuedsay, Friday and Saturdays I went to Madame Lili’s ballet classes. I know now, Madame Lilie has been one of the major influences in my life.

When I started yoga, expressing oneself through the movement has become exploring oneself through body/mind/ breath. Yet only after watching the Black Swan, the pieces all came together.  Since ballet and yoga are so different from one another, it never occurred to me my childhood love for ballet has transformed itself to a passion for yoga in my life.

What I loved about ballet, more than anything was, its discipline. As oppose to many other children and teenagers, I loved it  that we all had to wear simple black leotards and white tights during our yearly exams. I loved it that most of us kept wearing the same outfit during the rest of the year to simplify the practice. It was in Mme Lilie’s classes I  learned to stay still and not to fidget out of one pose. Again it was there I learned to watch the movement carefully before trying it and observe its effect in my own body. It was there I learned how to focus my gaze, my energy and my mind in to one single channel.

It has been easy for me to transfer the sense of discipline to my yoga practice and later to my teaching. Staying still, concentration, paying attention to detail, these were easy and familiar things for me.

The hard part was -and still is-  the other side of the coin.

The part that requires Letting Go.

In the movie,  super charismatic French choreographer  (played by Vincent Cassel) kept saying one thing to our stuck-up perfectionist young ballerina over and over:

“Control is one part of perfection. The other part is letting go”

My teacher always guides us into a yoga practice that will eventually wake up what is dormant inside of us. I always think it is sprit he is talking about. For waking up the dormant sprit discipline and perseverance are necessary. But not enough. There has to be keen observation,  patience and finally letting go. We can move gracefully and very precisely. Without the component of letting go, sprit cannot express itself freely no matter how much effort has been put out.

Sage Patanjali, talks about the same thing in the first chapter of Yoga Sutras . Two core principles of yoga are abhyasa (practice) and vairagya (non-attachment).

Here is an explanation of these two principles:

Never give up!
Always let go!

Which side is heavier? Where are you losing the balance? The challenge is to balance the scale.
Because it is neither one or the other.
Perfection is in the precious balance of the two…
Take it easy!


Blogger’s Block

I have been living outside of Turkey for the last 8 years. More than half of that time, I have been living in the US. If we include earlier times that I have been abroad I can roughly calculate that almost for a quarter life time my primary everyday language has been English.  I teach my classes, I read my books, I talk to my partner and my friends in English. Some nights I dream in English. Nowadays I realize that I am even writing my to do list in English.

However…when it comes to writing blogs in English,  it looks like I have a permanent writer’s block.
That is how it has been so far. Now it is time to break it.

Oh, well, I wrote my 220 page long master’s thesis in English! C’mon!

Turkish novelist Elif Shafak -to whom words sometimes come in English and she writes novels with those words- mentions in one her TED talks, Turkish language is poetic and emotional and for her English is cerebral and mathematical. She finds joy in writing in both languages.

She also mentions for people like her, for whom English is the acquired language there is a continuos and perpetual frustration. I exactly know what she means by that. She says “There is always more to say, we want to crack more jokes but we end up saying less”. It is the gap between the mind and the tongue when you are speaking an acquired language. This gap is very intimidating yet it is very stimulating as she tells us. It is in this gap we think about what we really want to express. We create the same gap in our yoga practice when we deal with the habitual mental/emotional patterns.

I am a prolific blog writer in my native language. Words come to me and flow from me with no problem. Some say I know no other way of expressing myself other than poetic and emotional writing therefore I can only write in Turkish. (Some may go further to argue that I know no other way to live than poetic and emotional anyway.)

Whatever the pattern or the reason I am here to break it! And I am well aware what a unique relationship could be built through blogging between people who are geographically apart.

So I am here to break the blogger’s block and keep the connection between myself and people whom I have already left or about to the leave on the other side of the world.

Your comments are always precious. Please let me know what you think about what I write or simply how you are doing!
Keep the connection!

Love to you all,

If you would like to listen to Elif Shafak’s talk on politics of fiction here is the link: (I really like her)

Me Blogging


Farewell to Şaşkın

When we first went to Sundance Camp, Cuma (pronounced Juma) was not even one year old. Born in the back streets of Istanbul with a short tail and having spent his short life on the fifth floor of an apartment building, like many of us, he felt like he had landed in paradise. During the ten days we stayed at the camp, he spent his time running around on the beach, laying on the grass, experimenting with the sea and getting to know the other animals who shared the campground. The dog, that once drove me crazy with his hyperactive behavior turned into a mild and balanced animal over the span of just ten days.

When we returned to our apartment in Istanbul, Cuma went to a corner of the living room. Taking the shape of a bagel he laid there with his back turned towards us until the next morning. Back then I thought he was resentful that I brought him back to the city. He wasn’t. Dogs don’t know how to resent. He was just sad. Next time we went to Sundace for vacation, Cuma didn’t come back to Istanbul with me. He stayed there. During the years I traveled across the world , with no land and no home to call my own, my dog planted his roots and became the legendary Cuma of Sundance Camp.

One summer night we were eating in the dining area of the camp. A young guy approached our table. He was pulling a puppy behind him. The leash, a loose string around its neck. He said to my friend who owned the place, “I was walking by the nearby village and the villagers said that the puppy belonged to the camp, so I brought her back”. We all laughed. The young guy, being just a visitor at the camp, naturally, didn’t get the joke. Sending the homeless puppies to Sundance Camp was a well known trick of the villagers.

We petted the little one and asked the owner, Suleyman, to please let her stay here. With one voice we all begged. “Don’t you see how cute she is… look how small she is… look how silly she is…”

Şaşkın (pronounced Shashkin), which is Turkish for silly, stayed. She made the camp her home the very next day. A couple of months later she and Cuma fell in love. She turned out to be the perfect mate for him. She remained at his side bearing him three generations of puppies. All of them with short tails. Even after she was neutered she maintained her onlyness for Cuma and sometimes got in life-threatening fights with his potential mistresses. Cuma has been loyal to her as well. He might have had affairs here and there but never appeared in public with any other female dog except Şaşkın!

Cuma and Şaşkın have been an item for more than seven years. They walked the visitors to the beach, they showed them the way to the ancient ruins through the forest path. If one of them felt a danger approaching, the other one would sense it immediately. They would bark and run in that direction together. In winter they slept side by side in front of the wood stove. In the spring they competed for a spot on my yoga mat while I practiced in the early morning.

Yesterday morning they found Şaşkın’s body right outside of the camp. The bullet in her side came from a shotgun which is used by the local villagers for hunting wild pigs. Some say they shot her to protect their goats.

Can the intention behind the bullet change the pain in my chest?

The cruelty that human beings are capable of producing is the source of my pain. Stepping into the camp’s territory with the intention of killing a dog that is not attacking anyone is nothing less than sadistic. How can it be that destruction satisfies human beings so much? What are we lacking inside that leads us to violence? As I think of the man shooting Şaşkın I feel the pain from all the violence waged against the weak and the innocent.

The pain of death is so sudden. It shocks us and catches us unprepared. On the inside and through my yoga practice I am searching for tools to cope with my pain. Ancient Yoga texts mention the workings of the universe as a cycle of creation, preservation and destruction which keeps us all going. There can be no creation without destruction and no destruction without creation. One part of me sees this eternal dance of the universe: Creation, preservation and destruction. The other part of me is scared, angry and helpless. Killing for the sake of feeling powerful is hard to accept. Since yesterday I can’t help my burning heart flowing through my tears and down my cheeks.

A few hours ago I called Sundace to ask how Cuma is doing. They said Cuma took the shape of a bagel and was laying in a corner of the restaurant with his back turned towards us.