Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
We asked Dina Bernat-Kunin to share about her recent trip to gorgeous Ojai, California for a powerful and fun Women’s retreat.
The road to Ojai is very familiar to me. I call it freedom road. I usually avoid being the driver because I just hate driving. Being the passenger allows me to relish the relief I feel while traveling. But on this trip, I offered to drive a close friend to the Ruach Nashim women’s retreat up at Camp Ramah in Ojai, California. My friend, Andrea, was in no condition to drive as she was experiencing the trauma of having to move out of her house almost immediately after her home was flooded. How ironic for her that the theme of this retreat was water. As I thought about water, images of the spray from the Banyas waterfall flooded my mind. As a Healer and an Ima, I am always working on cleansing and clearing, both physically and internally.
I couldn’t wait anymore for my freedom! My anticipation built as I exited off of the 101 freeway to the 33. It would not be long from here. The flood of memories began. My husband and I have a history of coming up here for our getaways. Sometimes we’ve made it a family trip, but more often Ojai is our couple’s refuge. I felt my heart beat with more excitement as we passed the Blue Iguana Inn. A big exhale pours out of me with a sigh. I was waiting for that exhale all day. “We’re free! We’re free!” I yell. Andrea’s understanding smile is happy for me, even though she was still recovering from a hectic week. I took another long breath, releasing the “Aaahhhh” of relief. For some reason, I was happy to be driving. Huh, new experiences were already happening.
I did not grow up at this camp, but my kids have. They live for summer at Ramah. When they ride this road, they have a different flood of memories. Their Ojai freedom came from being a child in a place that they’ve always felt safe, independent and joyous. Don’t we all want that!
Andrea and Shawn had been encouraging me to come for quite a while. This women’s retreat has been going for 7 years. Family, finances, and work always presented obstacles to going. But a voice inside of me insisted on coming this year.
As I sat in the introduction circle of 75 women of various ages, I noticed how busy my head had been. My brain was still working, still prioritizing other things that were not at Ojai, and still a little unsure of what was to come. I didn’t want to experience this weekend with all that garbage talk in my head. I wanted to be here, to truly be present with the women in front of me. With determination and some trepidation, I stepped into the circle.
As the workshop progressed, we met each other through song, dance and Moving Torah. This was Andrea’s amazing creation as she brought a unique life to each word, to every song as the Torah moved through our bodies. All together, we mimicked, sculpted, and flowed with the feelings and meanings of our words. Like the waving of hands which welcomes in Shabbat, a spirit of joyous womanhood entered the collective body of the group. I loved the feeling of being fully immersed in the spirit and energy of women. What a gift. As my mental resistance melted, I allowed the current of Shabbat to carry me into an ongoing rush of amazing davening, incredible learning, and the joy of hanging out with great people. I was just soaking up each moment!
Prior to coming on the retreat, I had asked Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer, the Retreat Coordinator, if there was any opportunity for me to offer a learning session at the retreat. “Yes!” she responded with great enthusiasm, “Shabbat afternoon, for Spa Ramah, people offer different kinds of relaxing and nurturing sessions”, Shawn shared. I was so excited. It was a chance to share the work I had been developing in my private practice as a Healer called Deep Body Listening and Body Dialogue. At lunch, I told the group about the newly offered session, gushing with enthusiasm.
Then, panic struck! So many women came up to me saying, “I’m coming to your session!” I had assumed that everybody was going to take a Shabbat nap! It turned out that the idea of being gently guided to connect deeply with our bodies was very appealing. I had mentally prepared for maybe eight people showing up.
Twenty eight women poured into the workshop space! It was the first time that I would be presenting my new work to a group, and 28 women show up. To calm my pounding heart, I gave myself a pep talk. “Be open to having a new experience, Dina”.
Something clicked as I stood before this group feeling confidence and joy. I brought them to feeling our hearts, asking them to feel their chest in a more intentional way. Textures, colors¸ temperatures, shapes, and emotions arose in the women. So rarely do we, as women, get to focus our full attention on our own bodies. So often, we are caring for others. But today, it was our turn to feel the warmth of our own hearts. Using specific breathing techniques, I guided the group to bring this warmth to the bottoms of their feet as we touched upon each body part. “Do this slowly and thoughtfully so that each place in your body feels received”, I kept repeating. “Now, ask your body where you need attention the most. Just listen and receive whatever message your body has to give you. As the participants learned to listen more deeply to their bodies, I directed them in bringing their heart energy to each neglected spot. “Feel the gift of bringing that warmth to your OWN body.” Women shared how nurtured their body felt and they expressed gratitude for being able to attend to their body in this new way. The feeling of exhilaration washed over me and I felt so energized leading this incredible session.
Shabbat came to a close, allowing us to participate in an evening of arts. There was something for everyone; writing, drama, Moving Torah, ceramics and silk painting. The rooms were just vibrating with an intense creative energy everywhere.
In return for the enormous gift of participating in this retreat I expressed my gratitude and enthusiasm by asking to be included in the planning and coordinating team for next year. To all those who will be at next year’s retreat, I can’t wait to see you next year on the road to Ojai!
Dina Bernat-Kunin, LCSW has a private practice in the Pico/Robertson section of LA. Her sessions offer Intuitive Exercises, Energy Healing, Talk Therapy, and Deep Body Listening and Body Dialogue. She can be reached through her website www.dinabernatkunin.com
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May 25, 2012 | 2:47 pm
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
Bella’s tale drew me in from the first line, “I’ve never seen so many bikes before.” While looking at the illustrations, I was thrown back to my time in Hanoi, trying to cross the street myself. I enjoyed listening as the family discussed their adventures together, from bargaining for shoes and exploring different Hanoi streets, to wandering a park with the option of phở for lunch or having custom-made clothes tailored in Hoi An. The reader clearly understands that these cultural experiences do not occur often in the USA.
My first grade students were entranced when I shared the book’s highlights with them. We looked at maps together, first a world map to find our location and to see how far Vietnam is from Los Angeles, and then we examined a map of South East Asia to compare Vietnam’s location to the first Bella tale in Singapore. The extended anecdotal information near the end of the book – including the recipe for pho - provided more interesting details about Vietnam.
I spoke with Stacey Zolt Hara and learned about her family’s journey from Chicago to Singapore and how next Bella will travel to South Africa to learn about animal preservation! My students cannot wait to hear more from Bella and now they have placed Vietnam on the top of their travel wish lists! They have really enjoyed their personal interaction with the author. Stacey was kind enough to write back to each of my student’s questions!
The next edition of the book would be well-served by a map, which would be a useful addition to this story. But recently, “Bella’s Chinese New Year,” the App with the first book in the series was released! If you aren’t sure how to pronounce a word in the book, you can touch the screen and hear how to pronounce it! Enjoy Bella in her two books and in her new online game! I cannot wait for Stacey to be back Stateside later this year so we can Skype with her in class. I know she has spoken with hundreds of students at assemblies in Singapore; her inspired storytelling will be welcome here in America.
Stacey has certainly inspired my students and even her own children. Her daughter told her after looking at the moon near Cape Town, “I just can’t wait until we can go visit the moon. That will be a fantastic trip.” The belief that nowhere is out of reach, and that a person can go everywhere and make connections around the globe is the 21st century, is a dream that I would like to inspire in my students. I am honored to use Stacey Zolt Hara’s books in my classroom. Her character Bella really engages in the new culture, meets its people, tastes the food, and shares her stories. As Stacey says, “Bella’s trips are a window to travel experience for others and they can now dream about it.” I hope you and your children enjoy the stories and help to create a plan that will fill your passport with stamps and your life with experiences.
May 17, 2012 | 12:12 pm
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
An annular solar eclipse can be seen this weekend on Sunday, May 20, 2012. CAUTION - Do not look directly at a solar eclipse without a proper filter! Annular eclipses can be dangerous to your eyes.
Because the solar eclipse will block out most of the sun, a spectacular “ring of fire” will be seen in the sky.
You must find a way to protect your eyes if you plan to watch either the annular solar eclipse on May 20-21, 2012 or the transit of Venus on June 5-6, 2012 – or both events. Many will use solar eclipse glasses from commercial manufacturers, and they are great. A home-rigged indirect viewing method can also be very effective and offers a way for groups to view. Whatever you do, never look at the sun directly without some filter in place to protect your eyes, during any part of either of these events.
Information on how to view a solar eclipse safely from the Exploratorium: Remember never view the sun with the naked eye or with any optical device, such as binoculars or a telescope! Click here for instructions.
More from Lisa Niver Rajna at WeSaidGoTravel!
April 26, 2012 | 11:32 pm
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
I’ve decided to retire early. At the ripe age of 34, with only 2 days until my next birthday, I have defiantly reset the retirement age from 65 to 35. It feels good.
Though I have found some gray hairs recently, I don’t have nearly enough to qualify to live in Hawaiian Beaches on the coast of Big Island, Hawaii. Most of the people who are my neighbors are retired, just wanting an affordable way to live in Hawaii near the ocean. Each day, I wake up sipping Ka’u coffee after carefully grinding the beans and pressing the magical elixir in my french press. The whistle of my tea pot signals the beginning of this ritual which celebrates my slow mornings. No more rushing through the streets of NYC with a fast cup of Joe that I spill on the subway. Instead, I stare at the waves from my front lanai and whisper sweet nothings to my coffee.
So how did this happen? A 35 year old guy living the good life in Hawaii? No, I wasn’t one of the original founders of Facebook or Google. I didn’t sell some weird little company to them for an obscene amount of money. I have no trust fund. What happened is that I have built up a successful private practice as a Healer over the past 8 years. Many of my clients now work with me by phone or travel to Hawaii for a personal healing retreat. In short, I offer my clients a piece of what I have found in my own life.
By saying I’m retiring early, I don’t mean to make it sound as if I have stopped working all together. Nor do I think everybody stops working when they retire. I remember visiting a friend’s grandparents in Wisconsin a few years back. We stayed in a custom made, spacious house on several acres of forest and farmland. Vibrant and busy, the two retired school teachers watched the grand kids, tended to a ¼ acre vegetable garden, cleaned house, made lunch, and clipped trees that were part of a forestry stewardship program. I was winded just trying to keep up with these retirees.
While the grandpa drove me out in his all terrain vehicle to survey his land, I asked him, “How do you like retirement?” He shared, “I like it just fine. In fact, some days, I am busier than when I was working full time as a teacher and raising kids.” I laughed and asked him, “what good is being retired if you are still so busy?” He replied, “The difference is that I get to choose what I do each day. Nobody tells me what to do anymore. If I don’t feel like picking vegetables, then I don’t. That pure liberty is what retirement is all about for me.”
That conversation has floated through my mind often over the past few years. Who decided 65 was the magic year of retirement? Social Security? I wasn’t going to wait to be independently wealthy to live the life I have always dreamed of living. And I wasn’t waiting until I was 65 years either. So 8 years ago, I started my new career as a traveling Healer. People began inviting me to come to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Fe, and later, Hawaii, to come share the intuitive healing work that made me a trusted name among my clients. Armed with a massage table, psychic sight, soothing hands, and a sense of humor, I worked on doctors, lawyers, teachers, mothers, and celebrities. It too work, a lot of work. But it was fun. It was my heartfelt choice. My desire to travel met my passion for sharing the inspiring work of an uncanny form of self discovery. My life would never be the same.
7 Years ago, I quit my day job at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center as a Research Associate, forfeiting my plans to go to med school. At the time I was deathly afraid to tell my family that I was no longer going to be a doctor. After all, I was the pride of the family and they had high hopes for me. They got over it. Many of them still ask me “what do you for a living again?”
4 Years ago, I had to face my fears of leaving NY, an experience that felt like I was pulling myself off a spiderweb. My whole life was there. So many of my friends and family were there. NY comforted me because it brought the world to me. Even with so many cultures and new ideas at my fingertips, Something inside of me needed to go and meet the world in new ways. I still miss NY pizza. I’m still glad that I never moved back.
2 Years ago I moved to Oahu, which lead to an even slower pace of life on Big Island, Hawaii. I still travel to major cities to work with people and teach, but it’s at a much more liveable pace than my when I started the foundation of my practice in my 20′s. The mix of city stimulus when traveling with the slow nurture of nature suits me well. I like falling off the map when the job is done, only to get the itch to travel again.
3 hours ago, I saw a long time client in my new home office. So many clients have shared on the phone that they could hear the ocean in the background. She was the first one to experience the fresh cut tropical flowers and ocean waves in-person. New tones of teal, browns, and hardwoods created a fresh, soothing décor to the healing room. The new colors signaled a new chapter in my life. Before the session, my client walked by the ocean to clear her head. It helped her slow down enough to recognize the new chapter in her own life. It meant letting go of the old ways of worry and dread. It meant embracing that she was in a new place, a place worth celebrating. At the end of the session, her genuinely smiling face showed that she was ready for her dreams to come true. Sharing my wisdom and inspiration had helped her to find encouragement and renewed courage in her own choices. Helping her brought me immense joy. When you are living the life you truly want, that’s pure liberty. That’s early retirement. Join the movement.
An hour ago, I paid my bills online, then took a nap in the middle of the day. The early bird special is looking really good at the local Hawaiian eatery. I guess I really am retired after all. Hungry?
Please send your friend requests to G. Kamana Hunter FaceBook page http://www.facebook.com/people/G-Kamana-Hunter/669812856 and join me for a Hawaiian early bird dinner sometime.
More stories to read about travel, transformation and early retirement at WeSaidGoTravel!
April 25, 2012 | 4:17 pm
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
Hello friends and family,
I have arrived in Kandahar, after a long week in Kabul. The military base called KAF that I am on is huge, like a mini-city. There are approximately 35,000 people here. It is quite dusty and loud because of all the aircraft that come and go all day and throughout the night. I haven’t moved into my room yet, but I should in a few days. As for now I am staying in a barrack style housing, that I am sharing with one other guy. I have a couple of days of orientation, meeting people I will be working with, then I start my job.
I am on a Mobile Outreach Support Team which means I will be traveling around the province supporting and advising the District Support Teams (DSTs) with any projects they are implementing. The projects include working with the local Mayors, Governors, Ministry Officials and tribal elders to set up Rule of Law & Governance, helping to establish the justice and court system (maybe law school after this?), Health, Education, Infrastructure and Agriculture and Economic Development, helping farmers put value added on their products and getting them to market or for export. I am also integrating myself with the military, I admire their structure and discipline, I think it helps me. I work long hours, 7 days a week 10 hour days, except Fridays are a half day. I’ve already been told to start planning my first Regional Rest Break for the end of May, I am looking forward to it.
The base is also known as Camp Cupcake because of all amenities it has. There is an area to hangout at called the Boardwalk, it’s got TGI Fridays, KFC and other places to eat as well as other shops to buy just about anything you want. The Boardwalk is made of wood, raised and covered, it does feel like you’re at the beach, well almost. It circles a soccer field, beach volleyball courts and an outdoor hockey ring for the Canadians. This is a NATO base, so there are troops from many countries here. I hear every Saturday there is a bazaar where we can buy local goods and crafts. The base is dry, which my liver will appreciate, although I have had a couple of nonalcoholic beers at some of the restaurants.
More information and news at www.wesaidgotravel.com
April 18, 2012 | 9:59 am
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
I blame my wanderlust on my first love—my grandfather. He was the one that got me hooked on National Geographic by having a full magazine collection in his basement that I’d pour over every summer vacation, launching a full-blown childhood dream of becoming a travel writer. And then my parents clinched it by allowing me to tag along with them to Europe when I was an impressionable ten years old, and I’ve never been the same since…nor have I wanted to be.
For the next two decades after that first taste of international travel, I’d aimlessly create lists of countries that I just knew I’d visit as soon as I became a jet setting grown up. But I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that this list sadly gathered dust in my drawer as life’s realities—college, career, relationships—took first priority. Sure, there was that brief study-abroad stint in Buenos Aires, and the occasional tropical vacation. But when it came to becoming a bestselling travel writer, I filed that dream away on a shelf.
I did hold true to my roots though and studied non-fiction creative prose at Penn (class of ’04) and pursued a career in magazine journalism, and at one point I thought I was getting closer to my goal when I landed a job at a national travel magazine in New York. Score! Now I’d get my chance to sip cocktails with foreign correspondents and interview mysterious sources in exotic locales—not. As I reported from my desk about African safaris and the Great Pyramids of Giza without ever checking off either item from my bucket list, I felt empty inside, and worse…like a fraud.
That did it. I handed in my articles to my editor, pulled out my dusty list of countries back home, and started scheming about how I could take a year off to experience the same adventures that I only wrote about. I adopted a budget for the first time in my life, found a roommate, and scrimped and saved for more than a year until I stumbled across a simple but brilliant way to travel. It’s a form of voluntourism called work exchange, which trades the sweat of your brow—rather than the money from your pocketbook—for room and board with locals abroad. Wait…that meant that my trip suddenly got cheaper! So I immediately bought a one-way ticket to Sierra Leone via Morocco, gave notice at my travel magazine, let my adorable apartment go, and stuffed all my goods in storage. There was no turning back now.
Starting on January 1, 2011, I took my first step off a plane and into a solo round-the-world adventure that included 19 countries on six continents. My work exchange led me to teach HIV/AIDS orphans in Kenya, become a desert guide with the Bedouin tribe in Jordan, teach English to Tibetan Buddhist nuns in Nepal, mend fences on an aboriginal cattle station in Australia, shuck oysters on a black-pearl farm in French Polynesia, save baby sea turtles in Guatemala, teach music to Roma (gypsy) children in Romania, and herd a thousand sheep as a nomadic shepherd in Austria. Oh, and I can now finally say that I’ve been on an African safari and have also stood in the shadow of pyramids…
I returned to the States just a few months ago on January 1, 2012—exactly one year after I left—and I’ve been trying to find the right words to describe my last year to friends and loved ones. “Life changing” seems too anticlimactic. When I look up other superlatives in the thesaurus, I get more of the same. All I can say is that you need to throw caution to the wind and launch your own grand adventure to understand the inspiring journey that I experienced.
Oh, and what about my dream of becoming a bestselling travel writer? Well, now that I’m represented by a bona fide literary agent, I can say that my prospects are definitely looking up for the first time in my career.
March 27, 2012 | 3:51 pm
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
Change has been good to me. I have been evolving from having a fixed mindset to a more growth-based model, and from a heavy, single girl unsure of what to do next, to a sassy skinny married one who is a traveler, teacher, blogger, now appearing in a major women’s magazine!
Not only have I changed; now our blog has undergone a shift. We have joined our two web sites and left both Weebly and Blogger for the widely used WordPress. I hope you enjoy our new and improved site. Please send us your comments as we continue to finalize all the parts and pieces.
This transformation requires support. I must personally thank many of my friends, family members and mentors and would like to publicly recognize our website Advisory Council, including: Kit Herring of The Backpacker’s Handbook, Dave Thompson, Dave’s Travel Corner, and Dr. JessieVoigts and Ed Forteau from Wandering Educators. Also the technical wizard on our team, Ateeq Khan. Without them we would not be ready for this next step!
I also want to thank First for Women Magazine for including me in their story and the capable team that prepared me for my first Magazine photo shoot!
My First for Women Magazine Photo Shoot Team:
Photographers: Amy and Stuart
Stylist: Krystina Van Dyk (Banana Republic Gemma Wrap Dress, Laura Elizabeth Jewelry)
Hair : Stefanie Cuesta for Fiore Beauty
Make-up: Phoebe for Fiore Beauty
Hair Color: Mark LaRocco at the Beauty Collection
More links, photos and stories at http://www.wesaidgotravel.com/
March 12, 2012 | 9:51 am
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
Recently I was interviewed for L.E.A.N. Traveler about staying fit while traveling. I lost sixty pounds from when I first met George to when we got married!
Here is part of the L.E.A.N. Traveler interview:
What are your top three tips for staying lean while traveling?
My top three tips for staying lean while traveling are:
1. Don’t let yourself get too hungry. Take a snack or have a piece of fruit in the afternoon so you can say “NO!” to the breadbasket.
2. Walk everywhere you can. I personally lost weight while traveling in Asia for a year because we walked all the time.
3. Portion control: if you are traveling with someone, share a entrée since portion size in the USA has gone haywire and restaurants serve enormous quantities of food.
Look for photos to come in the March 26 glossy magazine: First for Women!
Our YouTube channel went over 10,000 views! Which of our 35 videos is your favorite? The most recent one Exploring Penghu Islands in Taiwan or Taipei with over 3300 views?
There is always more on our website: www.wesaidgotravel.com