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Happy 50 Years to The Sound of Music

Monday, 9 November, 2015

If you're over the age of 30, chances are you've not only heard of The Sound of Music, but likely grown up watching it with your family. While the birthplace of all it was in and around Salzburg Austria, oddly enough Austrians and Germans didn't grow up watching it nor did it create such a groundswell effect locally like it did in other countries.

In October, I was invited to Austria celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music, which was originally released in 1965, a pivotal year for so many cultural and historical events.

Truth be told, I figured the movie (and musical) was more of a phenomena in the U.S. given its picture perfect Hollywood movie style with Julie Andrews at the helm, however on the ground in Salzburg, I learned that it was a huge hit in places you'd least expect it to be, like Australia and China.

We watched The Sound of Music every year as a family for as long as I remember and no doubt, as a child, I watched it more than once some years.

As a little girl, who can't relate to the "You are Sixteen" scene? Here, Liesl and Rolf sing this "coming of age" song in the romantic Gazebo setting as she looks to him for guidance at the start of womanhood.

While some women may roll their eyes at a scene that depicts a teenage girl being so wooed by a boy that she is putting all hopes in the notion of him "taking care of her," suggesting that she can't figure it out on her own, there's an inherent and natural softness and innocence that is so beautifully portrayed in the scene and so many of us can resonate with it regardless of where we hail.

Perhaps reliving the scene as I did in Salzburg this year, holds the same romantic and tender memory as it did over 40 years ago because of the fact that traditional role models defined by sex are falling away. All we're left with when the definitions of who does what is gone is the purity of another human being you fall in love with, sitting across from you each day.

And, getting support from the other isn't an act of weakness, but an act of strength especially when polar opposite energies (masculine/feminine) play their part in the story we call life, even if its not quite the fairy tale life Hollywood is so known for projecting.

Below, I return to childhood in the original gazebo, which we visited at night -- one of the many original filming sites of The Sound of Music movie.

The lovely calling of romance and the innocence of childhood is so compelling in this scene, particularly given the context and that it happens on the heals of  Hitler and political turbulence during a volatile time for Austria.

"A bell is no bell 'til you ring it, A song is no song 'til you sing it, And love in your heart Wasn’t put there to stay - Love isn’t love 'Til you give it away."

You'll no doubt recognize the shot above as another memorable scene from the movie -- Schloss Leopoldskron and the façade facing the lake which represented the von Trapp residence.

It was in this majestic and historical building where they held the official press conference celebrating 50 years.

Speakers included four actors who played the von Trapp children -- Debbie Turner as Marta, Duane Chase who played Kurt, Heather Menzies played Louisa, Nicholas Hammond who played Friedrich, Johannes von Trapp, the youngest son of the von Trapp family in real life who lives in Vermont today, Governor Wilfried Haslauer, Mayor  Heinz Schaden and the head of Salzburg Tourism Bert Brugger.

They held court upstairs in the Schloss Leopoldskron Palace's library, which dates back to 1736 and its ever so encompassing architectural details only added to the historical impact the movie has had on the world. Inside, while broadcast media set up cameras to film the event, I couldn't help but to be drawn in by Kleber's stucco work on the ceilings which has been described as “the best example of rococo stucco the land can offer”. 

Below is a short video of Johannes von Trapp addressing attendees at the official press conference.

Johannes von Trapp, now 76, was incredibly charming as he sat at the helm in an Austrian uniform, recounting his memories and sharing tales of his own life, noting what was similar to the movie and what differed. For example, his family didn't really climb over the hills and trek across the border, but took a train and nor did Maria and the Colonel marry at St. Stephen's Cathedral in nearby Mondsee, which was where the famous church scene was shot towards the end of the film.

Afterwards, we hung out with the actors in front of the lake, the very same one with the gold statues we all remember so well from the von Trapp estate scenes.

Below, I'm gloriously positioned in between Johannes von Trapp and Nicholas Hammond, who continues to act and lives in the states. I did ask Nicholas to dance at the gala later a few times, but he politely turned me down, offering a stateside rain check, something that would no doubt be fun to take him up on someday.

With Heather Menzies at the Kulisse Salzburg (Festive Halls) cocktail reception gala, which preceded the grand finale event they held on Saturday October 17, 2015 in the Felsenreitschule.

With Nicholas Hammond at the Kulisse Salzburg terrace bar, which boasted incredible views of historical Salzburg beyond and below.

If all of this isn't nostalgic enough, group shots in front of the glorious Salzburg poster at the evening VIP reception was sure to give any attendee a melancholy moment or two.

Below, together with the other American journalists who flew in to cover the event. In total, there were 50 of us from 12 different countries.

While not a household name in the states, Uwe Kroger (below) is a known performer in Salzburg and plays Captain von Trapp in the most recent musical performance.

On-Stage Performance Brings Me Back in Time

This intoxicating gala brought me back in time, reliving all of those memorable Sound of Music moments I had as a child. Producer Carl Philip von Maldeghem and directors Andreas Gergen and Peter Ewaldt were behind the event, as was the Mozarteum Orchestra. The Mozarteum Orchestra provided the music, while soloists and the choir of the Landestheater stood alongside the original actors from the 1965 film.

Listen to Edelweiss from the main stage...

Climb Every Mountain

And now for my favorite, Do-Re-Mi (the lighting is terrible in the video, but the sound is captured well considering the size of the hall)

 

Together with Uwe Kroger, German-Serban singer Milica Jovanovic played Maria von Trapp which she has been doing since the 2012/2013 season.

At the end of the performance, original actors joined the stage, including Johannes von Trapp and his family (below). And, together, we sang. If I were to say participating and watching this extravaganza was moving, it would be a grave understatement. Bravo!

The Hills Are Alive: The Salzburgerland Road to Memory Lane

The tour of Sound of Music sites is definitely worth doing and Salzburg Panorama Tours are the most notable ones doing it.

Film locations include Mirabell Palace and Gardens, where Maria and the children dance and sing Do-Re-Mi, the Observation Terrace on the Monchsbert, where they sing a verse of Do-Re-Mi, Residenz Square where Maria sings "I have confidence in me," Summer Riding School (Festival Hall), where Captain von Trapp sings Edelweiss before fleeing to America and St. Peter's Cemetery where the family hides behind the tombstones.

Then there was Leopoldskron Palace which was used as the von Trapp villa as noted above, Frohnburg Palace, which is used as the garden gate, courtyard and facade of their villa, Untersberg, which is the opening and fleeing scene, Hellbrunn, which houses the original gazebo, Anif Palace, which can be seen in the opening scene, Hohenwerfen Castle, which is the backdrop for Do-Re-Mi, Mondsee and Mondsee Church (pictured below), where Maria runs to the convent and marries the captain, and Fuschl -- St. Gilgen -- St. Wolfgang, which are aerial shots you see at the beginning of the move.

Below, granddaughter of Maria and Captain Von Trapp, Elisabeth Von Trapp, joined our bus as we were ready to depart for the official Sound of Music tour to sing for us. Born and raised in Vermont, she has been singing since childhood and her voice has apparently enthralled audiences from European cathedrals to Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center.

Below, you can catch a glimpse of it live -- be prepared to have your heart melt...

We hit all the sites, including those out of town, such as the charming town of Mondsee, a 30 or so minute drive from Salzburg. Below is St. Stephen's Cathedral where the wedding scene of Captain and Maria took place in the movie as noted above.

New Sound of Music Trail in Werfen

We were fortunate enough to visit the new Sound of Music Trail in Werfen, a day before it officially opened on October 18, 2015. Here, you see the stunning shooting location where the picnic scene with Julie Andrews was filmed, teaching the children to sing.

This area on the outskirts of Werfen is known as the Gschwandtanger. The Sound of Music Trail is 1.4 kilometers long, with 12 information stations along the way, many of which are interactive.

What's astonishing about these locations are not just the outstanding views (we were lucky to have a clear day when we reached the top), but the fact that it has been viewed via this famous movie by over one billion people from around the world.

Here, you also have an opportunity to discover the beauty of Salzburgerland's mountains and alpine pastures. There were children on-site also, which made for incredible photos against such a picturesque backdrop. Quite simply put, it was magical!

AHHH yes Salzburg, glorious Salzburg, thanks for the nostalgic moments and for allowing the rare opportunity to celebrate with the actors and producers who created a musical explosion that changed so many people's lives.

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY SOUND OF MUSIC!!! 

Deepak Chopra & Rupert Spira on Motionless Consciousness

Thursday, 29 October, 2015

Deepak Chopra explores consciousness, human suffering and beyond in his on-stage talk at the SAND Conference this year.  As always, powerful.

His solo talk  explores consciousness, awareness and happiness. When we think of the word happiness, do we think of the word seeking? Or does true happiness come from no seeking at all -- it happens in the moment and when not labeled, it becomes pure joy.

Happiness is not at the end of seeking, its at the source of seeking. As the finite mind plunges, the consciousness mind shines.  Says Deepak, "the Human Universe is the only universe that is rooted in consciousness.” In other words, I am the universe. Science is consciousness. God is consciousness, we are consciousness.

He asserts that the Quantum Universe has led to too many mathematical guessing games, all leading to the uncertain universe."

Below, a video I took on-site, he also explores the "awakening of bacterial consciousness." He refers to studies they've done that attribute a purposeful consciousness life to healing around many conditions including leaky gut syndrome.

Other leading consciousness guru Rupert Spira (below) says, “the fulfillment of the longing is never at the #destiny of attention, its at the source of attention.  Once we have clearly seen that, the happiness lives in the origin of desire.Relationship is a natural essence of love not as a bargain of love which is an impossible state.”   Above, Rupert Spira who has a dialogue with Deepak (below for their dialogue via video coverage at the event). The below interview between ‪‎Rupert Spira‬ and ‎Deepak Chopra‬ requires you to think upside down (or not at all). I shot this at the ‪SAND Conference last weekend (see my full coverage of the event here) which had these two ‪‎consciousness‬ gurus on stage in a fireside chat. Deepak talks about human ‪suffering‬ and identifying with the false self (aka the ‪ego‬) and Rupert compares a ‪Mac‬ screen saver to deep sleep (yes really). In other words, consciousness doesn't go through any state; it's motionless.  Enjoy being turned upside down!

CES 2015 Wrap Up: From 3D Printing & Connected Devices to 4K TVs & Infrared Cameras

Monday, 12 January, 2015
There was no shortage of companies jumping on the "we must be connected to everything, or else.." trend that was central to most announcements coming out of this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week, an event that I've been going to for a couple of decades.

It was even the heart of Samsung's keynote address this year. At the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), the main building for CES's heftiest exhibitors, it was Samsung (not Apple) who stole the show with its ever so impressive 360 screens that circled around its booth, showing flashy and compelling videos of cars racing and more.

It was all about their 4K TVs, which are bendable, flat and curved although Samsung had plenty to offer in the mobile, audio and home automation space as well. Samsung JS9500 series is a new concept in UHD (4K technology), which they tout as eco-friendly. It uses nano-crystal technology and an intelligent SUHD re-mastering picture quality engine, which gives vast improvements in contrast, brightness, color reproduction, and detail.

People seemed to be raving about FLIR at my evening networking events, a new infrared camera that connects to smartphones at around a $250 price point. As crazy as this sounds, the camera can spot pets and animals in the dark, as well as detect cold air drafts and leaking pipes in walls. FLIR ONE translates thermal energy into dynamic color images for personal safety, home repairs, outdoor adventures, and even artistic expression.

The "all things connected world" seemed to proliferate the Sands Convention Center, located just off the strip a stone's throw from the Wynn Hotel, where I demoing and singing Kolibree's praises, the world's first connected electric toothbrush with truly interactive feedback, gamification and 3D motion sensors. The toothbrush tells you how you've brushed, where you've brushed and where you haven't.

We had a dentist on-site who is also an advisor to the company explaining why this is important and how knowing where you're not brushing well empowers you to brush better next time around. In the old world, you'd only get that feedback from your dentist once a year, a far cry from the world we live in today where nearly everything can be connected thanks to Bluetooth technology.

A bit like Fitbit for your teeth, who also had a massive presence on the show floor not far from we hung our hats for the week, Kolibree differs from other connected brushes on the market, thanks to its proprietary technology, in that it provides an interactive map telling you exactly where you've missed, as well as where you've over-brushed and under-brushed.

All that data can be kept private or shared with your dentist, which is the first time that the dental industry will have access to this kind of data, all of which can be incredibly useful for both dentists and users.

Kolibree has teamed up with Dentegra who also had a presence at CES this year -- the combined forces will offer incentives and discounts on dental care, as well as 25% off the Kolibree toothbrush through the new Dentegra Smile Club to be launched early this quarter.

While healthcare is an obvious win for the connected market (think measurement of your sugar levels in real time if you're diabetic, feedback on your sleeping patterns so you can rectify through diet, exercise and other things, heart monitoring and reminders to take drugs), there were a host of other connected devices trying to prove that they were truly useful too.

The truth is - some were and some were....well, not so much.

New connected devices on the market seem to come in all types and sizes -- from blingy necklaces that vibrate when your husband sends you a text and baby diapers that let you know when your kid has pooped to washing machines, interactive cameras and Raticator, a rodent detectors that notify you when it has caught a rodent -- yes really (see the rat trap, a rat trap that uses a wifi chip to alert you when it electrocutes the rat).

Although I didn't see it, I heard about a toaster that notifies you when the toast is up. Really? Could I not see or hear it pop up from inside my kitchen?

Connected devices can truly be useful but quite honestly, only when the connection is used to solve a problem we have or make our lives easier in ways that matter. I understand the value of connected watches within reason, but when I asked one vendor what the default was on the completely flat shiny silver faced watch, he told me it was how many steps I took and I'd only get the time after a second tap.

Huh? That's like telling me that my smartphone's default is digital games and a list of recommendations on restaurants before being able to make a call. I want a watch to first and foremost give me the time and my phone to first and foremost allow me to make calls.

When the watch becomes stylish and adorns me with a l'il luxury I might not have had otherwise, it gets a little more interesting however, at least for a woman. So far, all of these connected gadgets seem to be designed by men for men -- big, bulky, black, silver and red seems to be the order of the day.

The gold and sparkling diamonds of Burg's blingy smart watch drew me over to their booth. It works via a SIM card on an Android 4.4 operating system, and is activated. The price point for this stainless steel and Swarovski crystal device is between $500-600. They also offer a range of fun colored sportier watches that track your activities.

Swarovski also had their own presence on the show floor and while I'm not much of a bling girl, I loved the designs of their soon to be released smart watches, most of which come with accompanying narrow glittery bracelets.

Glitter, diamonds and also black, white and midnight blue. They were my favorites of the connected watches and jewelry and I can't wait to test them out when they hit the market.

Misfit is also working with Swarovski on a new line called Shine. The Shine Collection includes the Swarovski Shine Activity Tracking Crystal and accompanying accessories.

Additionally, I loved the latest watches from Guess at the show, touting rich colors and elegant design. You can get scrolling alerts across a Led screen or be alerted via a vibration and it uses voice commands to communicate with your cell phone.

The watch is water resistant, and comes in midnight blue (for men only -- a shame since it's my favorite one of all the options), brown and rose for men, white and black for women and white with a bit of bling. The watches use Martian technology, which I wrote about in mid-2014. The line, which supports both iPhone and Android, is slated for a September or October launch of this year and will retail for around $350.

One of my favorite companies making tracking watches is Withings -- they had me at "hello" last year when they showed off their Activite watch in a beautiful and elegant soft brown leather. We can't wait to test it out in the next few months.

This year, they were showcasing Activite Pop, a line of watches that is focused on the more adventurous. Pop comes in lots of fun colors and like their other watches, you have easy access to both the time and notification of your activity so you know where you stand throughout the day and can decide what your next move should be.

Also showing off fun jewelry was FashionTEQ. Their Zazzi bracelet offers an elegant and more discreet way for women to receive messages and reminders when you have your cell phone in your pocket or purse. Why would I even consider the geekier options designed by men for men when I could wear something that looked like this? I'd love to test it out in my daily life in the not too distant future.

Speaking of jewelry, the connected vendors weren't the only ones fed up with the fact that techy products don't cater to women enough. Meet GemPhones.

I fell in love with these elegant ear buds disguised as a functional but beautiful necklace you can wear around your neck. A dressier option is one that resembles pearls whereas the funkier hipper brown and black motif is a nice everyday option for the younger hipster and frankly, for a woman in her forties. I'm game and can't wait to test these out.

Another mobile accessory I discovered solves a real problem -- LOST ear buds. I don't know about you but I'm constantly misplacing them, leaving them in the wrong bag or getting them tangled when I need them most. Sound Pockets has come up with a way around that by creating a plastic pocket that attaches itself to the bottom of your cell phone case and they're available in lots of fun colors.

A perfect solution for the college student and for the forgetful and busy among us who need a handy way to keep track of them.

Also for the active enthusiast, meet the ever so cool Rocketskates. They had a massive booth in the center of the Sands, where you could watch demos of people using the skates or even try them out yourself, which I did of course.

Blissfully happy at the end of my try....they're a bit like a cross between a segway and rollerskates.

Below is a little video of my experience with them so you can get an idea of how they work.

3D printing was another hot trend at this year's show. In the Sands alone, it seemed like the aisles of vendors touting their latest 3D printing solutions was never going to end. At one point, I found it a little dizzying and frankly, confusing.

While in no way yet mainstream, 3D printing, despite its hefty price point, is now a feasible possibility in today's world. Take a look at some of the objects these vendors were showing off in their booths -- from fashion and leather cell phone cases to sailboats, toys, dolls, objects and even food.

I had an incredible experience inside the massive 3D Systems booth (note that the funky leather smartphone cases above were made from one of their machines). Sense is a portable 3D scanner that can capture objects (including people) at 10 by 10 feet and its claim in addition to high quality scanning is that its price is much more reasonable than its competitive counterparts.

Below is a shot of me holding the captured image of "me" after they scanned me on the show floor.

The Sense is the only 3D scanner to deliver precise instant physical photography, so everyone can capture his or her scanable moments. Sense has flexible scan size and can capture everything from a picture-perfect cupcake to a full-body selfie, processing data in seconds for an instantly 3D printable file. Sense comes with an intuitive user interface with easy and automated zoom, track, focus, crop, enhance and share tools. Below is a video of my experience.

The 2015 CES Innovation Awards had its own section at the show, where they highlighted companies making cool and leading edge products.

Most of the products were displayed behind glass cabinets so you see but not touch and the range of solutions were vast.

In the Connected Home area, I discovered Edyn Garden who has a solar-powered Edyn smart garden system that takes the guess work out of gardening with their Wi-Fi enabled Edyn Garden Sensor.

The sensor monitors environmental conditions to make smart recommendations about what to plant and when to fertilize. This unique sensor works alongside the Edyn Water Valve and Edyn app to provide automatic watering options that deliver water when, and only when, plants need it, helping to conserve water and other precious resources.

The Fitness Section, where Activity Meets Tech, was bustling and this year, it seems as if there are now countless FitBit-like solutions that take fitness tracking and feedback to an entirely new level.

Lighting has been making a lot of new advances lately for both larger enterprises and new solutions consumers can use in their home -- from improving efficiency to controlling your room's colors and mood. Meet ilumi whose vibrant booth ambiance drew me over to learn more.

You simply download the free ilumi App from the App Store or Google Play, screw in your ilumi lightbulb and turn them on. You can control and customize each individual ilumi or groups of them - you can also program an ilumi light or set of lights to sync with certain music to affect a room's mood, make them change colors or diffuse them in some rooms and not others.

It is all done through a simple-to-use mobile dashboard, allowing you to take control of your home or office's lighting in just a few swipes or clicks. I think the idea is great, loved the team and can't wait to put them to the test - we hope to review them in the coming months ahead.

The Digital Health section was exploding with solutions that ranged from sugar tracking as mentioned above and activity trackers to tools to rest the mind. Muse has an interesting approach to settling your over active mind and had an experiential chair set up so you could put it to the test. And, so I did....

I sat inside a comfy chair while the brain sensing headband was place around my head with the goal at putting my mind at ease. As eerie as this sound, the headband essentially reads your brainwaves read while giving you simple activities and games to reduce stress, strengthen your brain and help you relax via its EEG sensors, all of which are constantly detecting and measuring your brain activity.

Below is a video someone from their team shot as I went through the process on-site.

I found CES this year to be more interesting than last although I wished I had time to really explore the LVCC in depth. I was living and breathing the Kolibree toothbrush and Dentegra's Smile Club for the week so amidst the buzz of home automation, fitness, 3D, cameras, audio devices and TV sets, it was rewarding to see Kolibree shine at CES for its second year in a row.

Last year, we only had a prototype to show and this year, Kolibree could demo two new mobile apps and talk about the compelling collaboration with Dentegra to help make dental care more affordable. Kolibree could also tout that its most advanced connected toothbrush will by shipping by the end of January. From gadget press and mom bloggers to Associated Press TV, NBC News, and even Sears Television, the team demoed to the world.

Kudos to Kolibree's team in Paris for getting the toothbrush ready for this very important show and for market and to the Dentegra team for coming up with an innovative way for uninsured consumers to receive affordable dental care through its Smile Club. Alas, with another CES behind us, it's now time to transform how Americans view dental care.

Photo credits: Top photo by Duke Chung from venitism.blogspot.com, Raticator from epestsupply.com, Flir One photo from their website, Samsung photo from Samsung website. Dentegra Smile Club mobile screen shot from the Dentegra Smile Club.com website and second ilumi photo of the mobile app from justelementary.com. Videos and all other photos courtesy of Renee Blodgett.

SAND 2014, The Nonduality Event That Bridges Science & Spirituality

Tuesday, 25 November, 2014

SAND is such a great name for a conference and no, it doesn't hold that acronym because it's a travel conference that focuses on adventure in the sand. SAND stands for and is about all things that encompass Science and Nonduality.

The mission of SAND is to forge a new paradigm in spirituality, one that is not dictated by religious dogma, but based on timeless wisdom traditions of the world, informed by cutting-edge science, and grounded in direct experience.

Brain

I first attended the event two years ago (see my blog post from 2012), when it was held in Marin, just north of San Francisco. While they have an annual event in Europe as well, the U.S.-based event is always held in California.

This year, they headed south and set up shop for their nearly week long event at the Hayes Mansion on Edenvale Avenue in San Jose California, a resort which was once a lavish private estate.

People across continents and from all walks of life started flowing in on October 22 for this annual gem of an event. It was an entirely different vibe this year and I'm not sure if it was due to its extravagant venue choice, the fact that the quality of the content was even better or that I'm a little further along on my spiritual journey. My guess is that it's a combination of all three.

Surrounded by lush, emerald green lawns, accented with gardens of vibrant, colorful flowers and guarded by towering palm trees, the 100-year old mansion was transformed into a spiritual wonderland inside and out. Outside was an experiential oasis, which included a sound therapy tent run by Danny Goldberg (below).

Here, you could lie down and go into a deep hypnotic relaxation through a series of vibrational sounds. The sounds and vibrations of singing bowls, gongs and chimes guide us into a deep meditation, passing through our body and opening blockages while allowing our minds to quiet.

A wide range of ancient world traditions from Confucianism to the Pythagoreans’ claimed that sound could not only "tune the soul" but affect our cosmological & social worlds as well. I couldn't agree more - the experience was transformational.

Also outside was another relaxing technique in the form of a bed, a floating bed that is. The Floating Bed, a company started by John Huff, is mishmash of creativity, comfort and paradise. Says John, "not only is it great for a more relaxing and deeper sleep, but also useful for people with disabilities such as Autism, Autism Spectrum Disorder, PDD-NOS, Aspergers, Fragile X, ADD, ADHD and others.

Allowing the swinging bed to gently swing you back and forth while watching the world walk by, was a lovely way to spend a relaxing hour at the conference. I imagined where I could put such a contraption in my home and then remembered that I lived in a city. One can dream however, one can dream...

While the first time around, I tried to take in as many sessions as possible, this time I honored a more non-intentional flow. In other words, I didn't map out my agenda in advance nor did I make sure I had to attend every important talk by every renowned academic or yogi. I went with the flow and what my own bio-rhythm told me to do.

Using this approach, I met exactly who I was supposed to meet at the right time. By being as present as I could at every given moment despite the intellectual and spiritual eye and audio candy being thrown my way, the individuals I met, the experiences I had and the conversations that transpired along the way, were that much more powerful.

Being in your body as much as possible at an event like this is as important as digesting the data if not moreso, for it is through your body and spirit that you transform, not through your mind. From TransDance, yoga and meditation to art expression, RUMI poetry readings and Qigong with master Mingtong Gu, there were a number of ways you could experience mind/body immersion.

The community itself is what allows you to better process what you process during your SAND experience. Most of the people who attend could also be speakers, which is how profoundly interesting the attendees happen to be, alongside warm, authentic and soulful.

This is a community that spans religions or simply has none, however their core is central to the nonduality vision, which is to embrace a new integrative paradigm in which science and spirituality reenter into meaningful dialogue.

The idea is to authentically bridge an empirically responsible and non-dogmatic spirituality with a humanistic science willing to consider questions of context, perception, meaning and purpose. AND, that is precisely what happens at SAND....the melding of ideas across cultures and disciplines is discussed in hallways, in the bar, the experiential rooms, at the sessions, and over dinner.

In between the formal and structured content is quite frankly, is where the real magic happens at SAND. Below, co-founder Maurizio Benazzo talks about his own insights and inspiration for starting the event.

Imagine a conversation on healing the schism between science and spirituality while forging a new understanding of what it means to be human, with a professor of science, an emergency room doctor, a holistic healer, a film producer, a musician, a martial artist and a technology entrepreneur all within an hour.

Mind boggling is an understatement and within that boggling comes a little bit of chaos and confusion, all of which is designed to open you up to new possibilities and definitions of humanity as we currently  understand it.

The result is a profound mashing of ideas through both heart and mind, allowing you to leave not just refreshed and re-centered but able to tackle the world around you in a much more compassionate way while leaving ego behind at the door.

The more you tap into the world of consciousness and interconnectedness, the more you are able to celebrate the mystery of life and the love that emanates from it, a far cry from seeing the world and the players on its stage as cynical, which is easy to do given how unconnected people around us seem to be on a daily basis.

Those who are some of the best in the world in helping you tap into your highest levels of consciousness showed up at SAND for the week, including the likes of Rupert Spira who led some of the morning meditation sessions -- I loved his calmness and powerful presence.

Other session leaders, speakers and topics included Yasmin Bar-Dor on finding harmony in this moment, John Hagelin on entanglement, space-time wormholes and the brain, David Barash on biology and self as functions, Meriel Gold on the ground of being, John Prendergast on secrets of the heart, Richard Lang on seeing who you really are, Sally Kempton on Shakti and self awareness, Ellen Emmet on the awakening body and Gabor Mate on mind/body unity and the stress/disease connection -- this was a powerful talk btw.

There was also Adam Hall on the polarity paradox, Stanly Klein on quantum mechanics and the entanglement of life (this went deep, so artists and right brain thinkers beware), Scott Kiloby on addiction, Paul Smit on enlightenment for lazy people, Edward Frenkel on mathematics as hidden reality, Swami Beyondananda on inter-spiritual nature and conscious agents, Donald Hoffman on entangling conscious agents, Nick Day on how movies and storytelling can connect us across time and space and Lothar Schafer on quantum reality and the spiritual mind.

And this my friends, is nowhere near an exhaustive list of the talent and pure energy I discovered at SAND this year.

Some of my Top Highlights:

  • Judith Orloff who suggested that vulnerability is our deepest strength. She says, "being in fear makes you present." Check out radicalchoices.org.
  • Coleman Barks and his beautiful RUMI poetry readings (below and my slightly cut off video of him speaking here).

Attendees who asked and challenged questions like:

  • When you're practicing the passion of your life, you're not seeking, you're cultivating.
  • What if we were free enough to be whatever we happen to be at any moment?
  • What's key is being intimately honest and present with where you're and being okay with all of it regardless of what is going on.
The wonderfully inspiring graphics and art by designer Rico Martin - check out www.richimage.com.
 
 

Susanne Marie who suggests that Embodiment is never ending.  (in the peach sweater below) She says, "the wholeness realizes there's a process going on. Know that nothing can be lost in that process. Step back from the experience and realize you are the space that everything is arising from.

The space itself is the whole and within that wholeness, that's all there is." On fear, she says, "one of the ways to deal with fear is to break it down into sensation.

Everything you're feeling is part of your own wisdom -- your own wisdom, which is the purest kind. If we can get close to that fear, we'll suddenly notice an awareness of a piece of it that we define as fear and something else that we inherently already know.

That knowiness of what is allows us to step back from the fear while at the same time walking towards it. Once you walk towards it and rest with it, there's a reflective piece of it all that you just know. All experience is good. One piece of what I'm feeling is not any worse than another because it's all part of a greater force at work.

Fear is all of these aspects of emotion and none of it is separate from God. When you are truly there with that, fear is just a sensation, nothing more....and then you'll find that the fear dissipates." I loved her energy!!

 

Gary Weber, who talked about the necessity to upgrade our mental operating system. He says, "if we can change our thinking just how we did from flat earth to round earth, we stand a chance."

He described the challenges with our current problematic operating system and how to decrease your self-referential internal narrative, fears, and desires and function more clearly and effectively, operating in "now, now, now" from a place of peace, presence and stillness.  

See his video on this topic, which has much of the same content as his SAND presentation. I love his style and his ability to nail the most fundamental obstacles that get in our way through humor and direct candor. More info at www.happiness-beyond-thought.com.

The Importance of Breath. So often, we are running around and don't think about how we're breathing, how shallow it is and how often we actually hold our breath without even realizing it. I discovered SPIRE, which is currently in beta. Below, founder Neema Moraveji gives me a demo.

Spire monitors and analyzes your breathing patterns in real time to show when you are focused, tense, or frazzled. Stress triggers the brain's 'fight or flight' response, causing elevated heart rate, muscle tension, and shallow breathing. Your breath connects to your brain through the longest cranial nerve, the vagus, to influence your body, brain, and state of mind.

 Improving the way you breathe eases pressure on the heart and cultivates a 'rest and digest' response in the brain. Spire helps monitor this and gives you feedback in real time and over time so you can improve your breathing and therefore, your overall quality of your health and your life. Below is an interview I did with Neema. Have a listen.

Film - All About Nothing from directors Paul Smit and Robert van der Broek. I had an opportunity to speak to Robert briefly afterwards who came over from Holland for the event - I loved his energy, so be sure to watch out for the film in the U.S. More info on Robert's site at www.allesoverniets.nl.

Qigong with Master Mingtong Gu: in this very educational and yet completely in your body session, Mingtong Gu took us through the various meridian points of our bodies and as we went there, we focused, chanted and released, relaxing into our breath and into the presence moment.

Wisdom healing Qigong was credited as the most effective method of Qigong healing by the Chinese government in 1997. Its success lies in these six treasures, or golden keys as it is commonly referred to: Haola ("I AM"), Inner Smile ("I am LOVE"), Service ("I am Connected"), Trust ("I am Enough"), Chi Field ("I am a co-creator") and Practice ("I am NOW").

His teachings involve showing people how to get energy to flow more freely through movement, sound and mind visualization and meditation.

I also discovered another product, which isn't quite there yet for consumers given its $13K upward price tag, however could be a godsend for health practitioners and holistic healers. The brain child of Harry Massey and Peter Fraser, miHealth is a practical system for detecting the body's fields and correcting areas in the most need.

I tried this nifty device on site and sat with Todd Zimmerman from NES Health (the parent company) who walked me through the process, how it works and where it can be beneficial in both clinical and non-clinical worlds.

After placing my right hand on their non-invasive, clinically researched, handheld device, the miHealth system did the rest.

The combination of the connected device and powerful software produced a print-out of areas where I had blockages. This biofeedback allows practitioners to locate, unblock and release energy blockage in areas of the body. The idea is to see beyond symptoms and provide a more effective and targeted way to rejuvenate the body's energy by releasing energy blockages throughout.

From scientists, philosphers, physicists, spiritual healers, sufi and zen teachers, yogis, and anthropologists, to musicians, artists, film producers, academics and psychotherapists, the nondual conversation is a rich and rewarding one, for through all of it, there's a desire for oneness, something that if we were all to allow ourselves to go there, would be the most peaceful serene sensation we've ever known.

Through that level of personal transformation, we can transform people around us, including the planet. And, while on this path to a so called golden age for humanity, you'll found beauty, purpose and deeper understanding in the simplest of things.

Truly, the....simplest of things, the opposite of complexity, which is what we're getting hit with on a daily basis, one of the most dangerous ones being, digital information overload.

 Future_BrainTech2-300x225
 
The nonduality conversation is beyond what we think of as science today and beyond what we think of as spirituality today - it's where Eastern Mysticism meets Quantum Mechanics in a compassionate and very present way. 
It's about getting fear out of the way and incorporating more now into your life. It's about getting rid of the "what if's" and the suffering we create by worrying about the past and the future, rather than focusing on the preciousness of the moment.  
 
And, of course, while you're in that precious "now" moment, we need to be reminded to take things a little less seriously and add some humor to this thing we call life. On that note, it seems appropriate to introduce you to Master Puppetji who I wrote before.
 
His message is simple: “you take life too seriously. Enlighten up.” (see video)
 
NonDuality SAND Conference (9)
 
Once again, Maurizio and Zaya Benazzo did an outstanding job pulling off a stellar line up of speakers, films, sessions, experiences and attendees.
 
Remember that we are all on our own journey. It’s important to recognize this and move the needle forward one step at a time until we are free from the thought (and thoughts) that bind us from living a remarkable life every minute of the day.

More info can be found at http://www.scienceandnonduality.com.

Photo credits: All photo credits Renee Blodgett except for the SAND sign, which is from the SAND website/graphics by Rico Martin and Rich Image, top image unknown.

 

The blue science/head image also Unknown. Photo of Master Mingtong Gu from www.chicenter.com. Read We Blog the World's sections on spirituality and mind/body.

Also connect with me on Twitter and follow my latest tweets @weblogtheworld and @magicsaucemedia and photography on We Blog the World @Instagram and Pinterest.

On Japanese Quirks: Getting Over the Tokyo “Thing”

Monday, 24 November, 2014

I spent a few weeks in Tokyo, the well recognized global city most frequent travelers have been to more than once. For this well-traveled chica, it was my first trip, largely since I had been told for years how hard it is to get around as well as how expensive it is to get around.

People also talked about the language barrier and truth be told, none of these stereotypes should scare a long time traveler and for some reason, between the stories and the radiation in the north, I put Japan on hold for awhile.

In just a few days, after nearly losing my cool getting lost five times in Shibuya's massive maze of a station, I fell in love with this renowned global Asian city.

First of all, a few surprises for the record. Formal But Genuine Friendliness: I was astonished how friendly people were despite the language barrier. Regardless of whether I was pointing to my map trying to get directions from a subway station to a restaurant or shop, or simply saying hello, I was greeted by a warm smile and a concerted effort to help even if they didn't speak any English at all.

One day as I flew forward in an effort to catch a fabulous shot in the north of Tokyo, I ended up face first on the ground, my camera lens thankfully was still in tact when I finally looked up. What wasn't in tact was my knee, which had lost a chunk of skin and was bleeding profusely. I tried to ignore this little incident because there were far too many photos to take and food to try, however a few women nearby came to my aid by pulling out band aids and antiseptic from their purses and offering them to me.

They wouldn't leave me alone until they were sure that my wound was covered and I was happily on my way. A similar thing happened in the airport on the way to Tokyo.

A Japanese woman sitting near me before we were due to board, noticed that I was shivering from JFK's overly active air conditioning system. She grabbed her shawl and wrapped it around my shoulders, which not only took me by surprise, but for a moment, I thought I was in a small village and not an international city airport.

The act brightened up my day and frankly, my long flight ahead. It's All In the Order & The Details: Japanese people really care about the details. From great design to clean lines, I found things in order nearly everywhere I went, from prestine hotel rooms to efficient sushi bars.

The shops were also well organized and I always felt like I was being "treated" after leaving a shop where I had purchased something, a bit like upscale shops in Paris make you feel after you've parted with your money. They also know how to present themselves....well.

Whether it's women and girls in beautifully presented komonos or men in white business shirts who still looked good while they were drinking in a bar hours after they left work, it was a joy to see given how sadly accustomed I've gotten to the logoed t-shirts and jeans look in Silicon Valley.

Hair Cuts & Styles: Clean cut, design and sharp angles are the order of the day. I found this to be true in both women and men. They're also not afraid of going wild with color, which I love!

Hair salons were literally everywhere and reasonably priced compared to American standards. I had the feeling that you'd get higher quality stylists for about 30% less than New York or San Francisco for average ones.

Heated Toilet Seats: I'd be remiss if I didn't give Japan's toilet seats its own category. Heated and overly technical toilet seats were literally everywhere. I found them in restaurants, hotel rooms, and even shops. It's not just that they're heated, but there are several modes you can choose from for a variety of things, including the power level of your flush. You can do a soft flush or a more powerful flush depending on what is needed. It's certainly efficient although I have to admit, I was confused on more than one occasion and just wished it could read my mind and take care of the flush for me.

Great Restaurant Ambiance Inside & Out: I loved the restaurant scene. Aside from the sushi bars which you could find throughout the city, there were other more classic places where you could combine a cooked meal experience with music. Take Kuriya Restaurant in Tokyo for example, which also offers jazz on selected evenings.

This restaurant is on a side alley in the trendy Omote-Sando area which is also very popular for shopping.

Not far from the Omote-Sando area (a ten minute walk away), I discovered this cute little Japanese restaurant with the following entrance. You feel more like you're going to enter a garden than a restaurant and the inside was equally as charming, with plants scattered throughout.

Remember that its a global city so despite the fact that there are boat loads of traditional Japanese restaurants, sushi and noodle bars, you can find many ethnic restaurants, more popular in some neighborhoods more than others.

Not far from the Yushimi subway stop in the north of Tokyo, I discovered Dela, a quaint little French restaurant that served up crock pots of cheese and onion soup and had a fairly extensive list of French wines, including a Bordeaux I was happy to sip slowly throughout the night.

Japanese but modern is Uotaru Restaurant on Kasuga Street in northern Tokyo.

Fun Side Streets & Alleyways: The world is but a maze in Tokyo where you can literally find an interesting side street or alleyway off a larger street in nearly every neighborhood. The following side street is near Asakusa - note the chaos, but also the culture and the color.

Below is taken near Shinjuku.

Quirky Bright Objects: Because of their love of all things electronics and entertainment, it shouldn't be a surprise to find nearly life size brightly colored statues and objects throughout the city. Of course, they're not everywhere, but in more populated areas, you'll spot things like this.  This was taken near Cat Street, a widely known shopping street where hipsters hang out.

The bright and the loud extends beyond objects onto city walls. The below shot was taken in another popular shopping area - Takeshita Street.

Martial Arts & Theater: It goes without saying of course, but Tokyo has its fair share of martial arts and decadent costuming. Theatre is also celebrated and there are options throughout the city where you can see classic performances.

 Color: I've mentioned color quite a few times, but it shows up in places you'd least expect it such as the choice of paint for a building that would have remained gray in another city. Because the Japanese love gardens, there always appears to be flowering plants peaking around every building.

The Tokyo Tower Et Hem The Japanese Eiffel Tower: The Tokyo Tower was obviously inspired by the Eiffel Tower. Despite being taller than the Eiffel Tower, Tokyo Tower only weighs about 4,000 tons, 3,300 tons less than the Eiffel Tower.

The below shot was taken while I was whizzing by in a car, so it doesn't look as grandiose as it looks in real time.

 Size Matters: While you might think that London's Picadilly Circus or New York's Times Square are massive and confusing, they are country sisters compared to Tokyo's Shinjuku and Shibuya's districts.

Overwhelming at first, you'll soon find yourself like a kid in a candy store, intrigued by the size and choice of colors throughout the city. Below is taken in the Shinjuku area.

Here is a video I shot walking through Shinjuku late at night.

 

Diversity in a Homogeneous Kind of Way: While on the surface, it appears that everyone looks like they're from Japan and its population even in Tokyo, is not as mixed as you'd expect, people are very individualized, expressing themselves in creative ways that make them stand out from the crowd, rather than blending into it.

I wondered if part of this wasn't because of the former generation's more traditional expectations and that the subsequent generations are wanting to set an example. There are several books out about this including The Lost Generation.

It's Not As Traditional As You Think: While there are plenty of traditional restaurants, cafes, bars and shops, in the hipper neighborhoods like Omote-Sando and Shibuya where hipsters crawl the streets till the wee hours of the morning, I discovered many more cosmopolitan cafes where you could as easily be in New York.

Funky Fashion: I LOVED the fashion in Tokyo even though a lot of it isn't necessarily a fit for my own personal style. Color exudes....everywhere. From shoes to komonos to more modern shirts and dresses.

White Gloves, Hats & Umbrellas Everywhere: Women take their skin seriously throughout Japan, not just Tokyo. Wherever you go, you'll find them wearing long white gloves to protect their arms from the sun.

Every woman seems to wear a hat, which means that the hat stores in this country are incredible. I bought three hats in Japan and didn't intend to buy any - love love love them.

The best hat store was one I discovered on the main drag at the Asakusa Market and yes, I did leave with one from his shop. Umbrellas are also incredibly popular and you'll find women carrying them everywhere for protection from the glaring sun.

Bikes Everywhere & None of Them are Locked: I kept expecting someone to show up from around the corner of a shop, someone who was dedicated to watching all of the unlocked bikes in the street that is. Everywhere I went, regardless of neighborhood, I found unlocked bikes everywhere. Apparently bicycle theft isn't a problem - how unusual for a global city but also refreshing. It reminded me of Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen.

Safety and...Unattended Children: Unlocked bikes throughout the city brings me to safety. The other shocking thing was how many children I kept running into who were unattended.

Even in boisterous places like Omote-Sando, I saw small kids in their school uniforms, walking alone. They'd have their cell phones with them, backpacks on their backs and confident in their stature as if they knew exactly where they were going and hadn't a care in the world.

Shibuya Madness: Shibuya is as mad as everyone says it is. Regardless of whether you're there by day or night, it's a massive maze that can be confusing even for those without the language barrier. That said, it's a fascinating place to get lost and there are some fascinating shops and restaurants in the streets surrounding the main square.

Even if you hate crowds, you must go there for the experience regardless. Despite how many cities I've been to around the world, this one had me in awe again and again, each and every time I went there, which was a few times before my cruise and a few times after I returned to Tokyo.

Prestine Gardens: Does every Japanese citizen grow up caring about gardens? It appears so since I found plants outside of nearly every apartment or home regardless of neighborhood and they were all manicured.

The below prestigious and well kept gardens at the 5 star Otani Hotel is another example of where it extends to public places as well, which are not public or private parks. I stayed at the Otani and absolutely loved it.

Incredible Service: Prestine gardens and great cafe for nature (and things) extends to the service the Japanese provide. While the 5 star Otani Hotel in Tokyo may have been over the top in graciousness and service, the Keio Plaza Hotel, where I stayed for the last couple of nights, is a four star hotel that makes American four stars look like two stars.

Below two employees help me with my luggage, grabbing it the moment I walked through the door. Later, BOTH of them escorted me up with my luggage, asking me if there's anything else they could help me with again...and again.

Below, like everywhere I went, I was greeted with the warmest of smiles at breakfast one morning.

Speaking of Breakfast: Breakfast buffets in Japanese hotels are incredible. I could never understand why Americans would opt for the hotel restaurant that had American and western choices, when you could get the display of delicious Japanese options that are on offer. Have a look.

Bottled Drinks and Cigarettes EVERYWHERE: At first, I found myself hoarding bottled water every time I left one destination for another, because of how hot it was in Tokyo over the summer.

I later learned that this was a useless exercise since there are bottled drink machines literally on every corner. The great thing about them is that they're inexpensive as well. For around $1 or $1.20 a pop, you can get bottled water, iced teas, juices and sodas in a nano-second every time you're thirsty. It was one of my favorite things about the city.

 The Electronics Thang: I'd be missing an important part of Tokyo culture if I didn't mention the electronics insanity of Tokyo.

There are a few neighborhoods that are worth exploring for electronics and one of them is in and around Shinjuku, which by the way, is a stone's throw from the Keio Plaza Hotel.

 The other one is the notable Akihabara Electronic City, which is home to the world's largest electronics and electronics consumer goods in the world. Offerings range from appliances to computers and everything in between.

City Boat Rides from North to South: Not everyone I spoke to knew about this which I found surprising, but you can catch boats and cruisers from north to south and south to north, which is a great way to see parts of Tokyo not easily accessible by train or foot.

Some of the views from my boat ride, which only lasts around 20-30 minutes each way.

Hipster Shopping & Movies in Roppongi: I discovered this neighborhood and shopping area by accident despite the fact that its a very well known urban hang out in the city, by both locals and tourists. Roppongi has a massive shopping center that is open late - below is the view of the ceiling and surrounding area as you come down the escalator.

Sense of Honor: Honor is a big part of Japanese culture, which is in Tokyo as well. People respect elders and there is a gentleness and polite formality to nearly every exchange you have. I even noticed it with taxi drivers, which I found astounding.

The service felt more like I'd find from a limo driver than a standard taxi driver. Americans and the rest of the world could learn a thing or two from Japan's generosity and hospitality.

 Random Festivals Without Warning: I love this about Tokyo and Japan in general. You'll find random festivals and parades when you least expect it. Below is the Shinjuku Eisa Festival, celebrated in part by a parade with dancers and drummers. It was incredible. I wrote a separate write up on the festival, so be sure to read it which includes a video of what I saw.

Did I leave anything out? What are some of the quirky and fun cultural things you experienced in Tokyo? Share below.

For more posts on Japan, see our Japan section and on Tokyo, visit our Tokyo Japan / top things to do in Tokyo section.

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Friday, 7 November, 2014

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