Monday, 17 February 2014
Today, I am exceptionally happy. There is a very specific kind of joy that occurs when one wakes up in hostel. Especially when it is the rising sun that wakes you. Despite the fact that today it was a migraine, not the sun, that woke me, my delight with finally being on my way could not be dampened. The fantastic introduction to Newcastle that I had yesterday carried it’s energy into the early morning hours. What a joy it was to debrief with myself on yesterday’s adventures while on my walk to this marvelously vintage cafe. The salt air purified my lungs as I joined the other early risers at this fantastic find of a coffee shop.
This is a prime writing setting for me. Rustic wooden tables, plush leather couches and chairs, the menu detailed in colorful chalk, set in antique wood frames, a busy espresso machine chattering away, and a perfectly eclectic mix of The Drifters, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Ray Charles, and other geniuses coming through on the speakers. My favorite little accent of the place: an aged Bach composition inlaid within what looks like an old door (pictured above).
I take a moment to notice and be grateful for all of these things while I compose in my mind a summary of the latter half of yesterday…
I stepped off the train yesterday afternoon and found my hostel, just three blocks away, with incredible ease. The woman at reception was nothing but kind and inviting, and upon entering my room I met a bubbly American who - as I found out within minutes - is infatuated with Australia and doesn’t plan on ever returning to the States. She commented with relief that she was so glad to meet a “calm American” (it’s no wonder that she thought so, I couldn’t get a word in edge-wise). I welcomed the compliment, exchanged FB info with her and left for the beach. Within about 45 seconds I was at the water’s edge and began meandering in a southern direction. It was drizzling and I was cold in my denim shorts, but I zipped up my rain jacket and pushed on. Despite the cloud-cover, the water was still turquoise and gorgeous. I was enchanted.
Then I came across a sign that said “Bogey Hole”. I thought, “Well, that sounds gross.” Intrigued, I wandered over to the steel staircase that it pointed to and looked down. There was a large, natural cerulean blue swimming hole, nearly flush with sea level. Waves were crashing over the sides, spraying the two men who were braving the chilly waters. I went down to the edge and dipped my toes in. I debated… One of the two men asked me if I was going to get in. Well, I thought, I WAS wearing my swimsuit. Thinking, thinking… “YOLO!”
I climbed into the frigid liquid and am SO glad I did! I ended up befriending the two men (a Filipino and Colombian architecture students) while we stood at the edge of the Bogey Hole, grasping the rusted railing as the waves smashed against the walls sending a salty spray all over us. The dolphins that were jumping in the waves just a few hundred yards from us added to the magic of it all.
Just as we decided we couldn’t take any more of the cold, the sun came out. We got out and dried off and I ignored that little voice in my head that said, “Don’t get into a car with strangers.” Again, SO glad I did! They drove me around pretty much the entirety of Newcastle, we got pizza and beer at two different locations, both with excellent views. It was laid back and lovely. I ended the night at my hostel cozied up with a book, snuggled in my PJ’s, and no complaints.
Monday, February 17, 2014
I’m beginning to wonder if a love for traveling implies a certain degree of masochism. Between unreliable buses, being delayed by the love-confessions of fat, old Lebanese men, the platform you’ve alighted upon from your first train being a quarter of a mile from the platform you think you need for your second train, by the time you get to it, they announce on the intercom that your train is departing from a platform even deeper into the station - well, it’s a wonder we get anywhere at all. It’s even more of a wonder that when we arrive at our destination, we’re game to repeat the process all over again in a matter of days.
Especially when this process includes (more often than not) frantic searches for toilets with comically dissatisfying results. I believe the intercity trains in Australia were built before obesity was a diagnosis and when people had possessions so few in number that they required little more than a knapsack as their luggage. I consider myself a small individual, with a bag of a comparable size. Imagine, then, the size of the loo when you picture me and my pack squeezing between the door and the sink like a feral cat escaping between two fence posts. I felt like Harry Potter in his first experience with Floo Powder; collapsing into a dank environment, choking on the air and blinking in the darkness. It was all I could do to not bang my knees on the wall and smack my forehead on the sink as I desperately bent into a squat position to relieve my anxious bladder.
As I stood to pull - with difficulty - my leggings up my thighs, which were now covered with a sheen of sweat due to the uncanny temperature in this dungeon, I saw a sign on the sink. “Do NOT drink the water from the tap.” Well if I can’t drink it, then should I stick my hands in it, since those are the things I eat with? I looked at the wetness of the floor, considered why it might be as wet as it was, then thought about the fact that the clumsy hands who’s bad aim resulted in such dampness also had to touch the handle of the door in order to exit - most likely without washing first. One more glance at the sink and I decided: What’s the point? I wormed my way out of prison and stumbled into the open air with a gasp of relief.
Praise God for hand sanitizer.
One would think that all of the luggage-juggling, inconveniences, and unpleasant surprises would deter a person from even attempting such as feat as travel, but like I’ve said: masochism. Not any old masochist would get enjoyment out of these experiences. No, you must be an optimistic one; one with the ability to smile at potentially frustrating conundrums and say, “It’s all part of the adventure!”
Saturday, 15 February 2014
I mentioned the word “tapestry” in my previous post. This brought to mind something that my father wrote. Something that I believe, biased though I may be, is the one of the greatest descriptions of love and connection that I have ever read. He wrote this about my mother, his little hummingbird, and I want to share it with you:
“‘What are you doing?”, I asked. “Nothing. I’m just sitting here.” Just sitting there! When did she ever just sit there? A pile of laundry just sits there. You look at it, it occupies space, maybe pricks your conscience a bit, but it wields no more power over you than the damp wash rags buried deep within its musty mass. No, “just sitting here” is beyond the realm of possibility where she is concerned. Even in her deepest sleep she radiates an energy… a magnetic force that renders one incapable of merely observing her in passing. A casual, disinterested, glance in her direction is impossible. As she just sat there, I found myself a helpless victim of that immutable law. It is a law of nature, much like that of gravity. Except this law seems to have been written solely for her and me. I found myself playing the role of Sir Isaac Newton’s apple, inexorably drawn by an irresistible force.
As I helplessly yielded to this law, I began to notice that the force which drew me was not monolithic in nature. It was a tapestry. Each fibre of energy had its own color and texture. If unraveled from its weave, the fibre still stood, vibrant and beckoning. Calling for the observer’s eye, insisting on being absorbed.
I found I could shift my perspective within this magnetic tapestry. As I drew back, I would be struck by the full strength of the weave, each individual fibre bonding with its neighbor to produce that force against which I had no will. If I moved in close, I could focus on the individual fibres. From this perspective I was able to enjoy the uniqueness and beauty of each one, without being buffeted by the sheer power of the whole.
This discovery merely complicated my happy dilemma: Do I move in close and lull about in the individual fibres of energy, as they roll over me, or do I step back and exhilarate in the power of the force as it reaches toward me, all components woven together, drawing me to her, helpless in the irresistible grasp of its totality?
No, she is incapable of “just sitting here.” She is as powerless in controlling her irresistible force as I am in resisting it. She can no more save me from it than I can break free from its grasp.
And yet, if we could, I seriously doubt that we would.”
- Mike Lindemann
Thursday, 13 February 2014
The woman who has mastered the secret will not wait for ideal surroundings; she will not wait until next year, next decade, until she gets rich, until she can travel abroad … but she will make the most out of life today, where she is. Paradise is here or nowhere. You must take your joy with you or you will never find it.
I’m feeling a strange combination of comfortable and stir-crazy. I quite honestly don’t have the emotional energy to dissect that statement. It is what it is. And as such, that is, as it is something which IS, then it is something which one can draw lessons from. Every aspect of a situation, whether positive, negative, or even neutral, can contribute to the rich tapestry that makes up one’s experiences. Every nuance of a circumstance provides subject matter for the person doing the experiencing to reflect upon. I suppose this is a relative statement, because for it to be true it requires the person to be - at least to a small degree - introspective. Something that I would know nothing about. Ha…
I have no profound conclusion to this thought process, other than perhaps a gentle challenge to my readers: Wherever you are right now in your life, I encourage you to enter into the headspace of mindfulness at various moments of your daily routine. In other words, consciously consider the information that each of your five senses is receiving at any given moment. I promise you that you will begin to notice things that were previously overlooked. Hopefully the result will be a surprising amount of enjoyment in simplicity.
Wednesday, 5 February 2014
I have been very fortunate - very blessed - to have had the opportunity to stay with my family in a beautifully grand home where I am not in want for a single comfort. It has provided me the opportunity to save some money at the beginning of my trip, and has given me an altogether incredibly consistent routine. I go to bed at nearly the same time every day, and likewise rise around the same time every morning, always getting at least 8 hours of sleep. Sometimes ten. I only have to pay for my transportation - sometimes - and for my lunches. Also - sometimes. There is always someone who knows my whereabouts, what my plans are for the day, how I enjoyed my day at the end of it, and how I slept. I’ve watched many movies and not one time by myself. I have had an amazing amount of time to focus on taking care of my body via exercise and yoga, and have had time left over for writing and socializing with new-found friends. I wake up in a room to myself to a sunny view of Botany Bay every day, and go to sleep listening to the wind in trees and the bats that live in them. (Yes, bats. They’re everywhere! They love figs.) For all of these things, I am incredibly grateful.
I’m ready to be in a place where I’m unsure of my surroundings, where perhaps the shower isn’t always hot, where I have to clean my clothes in the same place I clean my body, where I am an exciting, new stranger to everyone. I want to live out of my backpack for awhile, wearing the same five outfits week in and week out. I want to run out of shampoo and have to borrow someone else’s. I want to be unsure of where my next meal is coming from. I want to go to bed with dirty, tired feet that have traveled far and made amazing discoveries along the way. And I want this bed to be a bunk bed, sharing a room with other bunk beds; bunk beds that are full of other exciting, new strangers with dirty, tired feet. People with stories to tell, who’s stories make me feel like a novice traveller. People who are only sure of the importance of love and life experience, and are unsure of everything else, even their next step. It is these people whom I feel I belong with… They are people without belonging. People who are free of that desirous attachment that anchors so many of us in one place. People who, by letting go, have found that which they want to hold onto the most; that which they want to live for.
This is just what I want for my travels. For when I return to Portland… I want to have a varied schedule. One that is consistently unpredictable and keeps me on my toes. One where I have to be crafty to get my yoga sessions in. I want to work dayshift, so at least my sleep borders on normal… At this point I am eager for a lil studio apartment all to myself. A place of rest where I am surrounded by art and books and color and light. I desire nothing in excess; I long for simplicity. So much of what we need in life is not tangible, and those things that are, are fairly straightforward. Food, water, shelter - a warm place to lay your head. These are rights and also privileges, and anything else is an added blessing. With these basic things, and my loved ones close by, I cannot think of a single, extra thing that I would be in need of.
Monday, 3 February 2014
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
After a slow, relaxing morning, complete with tea, yoga, and the Five Tibetan Rites, I ventured off to Newtown to spend the whole day by myself. At first I found myself rushing, as if I had an appointment I might miss. Then I realized: I have the whole day… Nowhere to be, no one to cater to - just me, myself and I on an exploratory adventure. I slowed my pace and started to do things that I might do with a kindred spirit as a travel buddy. I hummed a tune from a musical, pointed out funny store names, and mentioned how glad I was that I’d chosen to wear my sneakers. I slowed my footsteps even further as I walked under a canopy of green. I noticed, with a small giggle, an overwhelming scent of eucalyptus and menthol. I breathed the earthy, herbal scent deep into my lungs and said under my breath, “How wonderful… Thank you!”
As I rounded the bend, I saw that I had entered the hub of Newtown. Realizing that my throat was parched, I bought myself some coconut water and meandered into a huge, used bookstore. It was wonderful… I was pleased to find it smelled just like a used bookstore that you’d find anywhere else in the world! The same colorful spines, texture worn down from being held and opened and discovered by countless other humans. Stacked upright, with not so much as one extra page to fit between them; looking disorderly in their organization. Hardbacks with barely-visible titles contained yellow pages decorated with coffee stains, hanging on to their binding as if each page knew the importance of their presence as part of the whole.
I practiced exercising this newly discovered - or rather, newly appreciated - muscle of mine: intuition. Letting my eyes follow my mind, I snatched up books that caught my third eye and thumbed through their delicate insides, like a little girl who’s stumbled upon her mother’s jewelry box. Curious and happy, I learned tidbits of delightfully useless information. Such as, the first jam to ever be invented was quince jam. It was made by peeling the fruit, then boiling it in honey until it’s half its mass and the hard parts can be removed. Then it is finished with a sprinkling of ground pepper. I thought of all the apron-clad women who have used this recipe, serving it with tea and cakes as part of their afternoon tea… The most fascinating thing about used books, is that a book is not just a story. It is a story with a story.
Satisfied with my discovery, I continued my wandering, smiling at a cute young man on my way to a Thai restaurant that I spontaneously decided to eat at. Considering that one block earlier I’d seen another Thai restaurant with mains listed at $17.90, I just simply couldn’t turn down this one: my favorite curry listed at $7.90! With appetite satiated, I continued my journey with no plan in particular except to eventually get to the Bodhi Books & Gifts that’d I’d seen in passing last week. I’d followed the proverbial scent of the shop with my intuitive nose. Interestingly enough, I accidentally took a “wrong” turn (as wrong as one can be in a neutral situation), and ended up skirting around the block the shop was located on. In my detour, I found yet another lovely used bookstore, in which I bought a book by a poet I’d never heard of. I wondered about the credentials of said bookstore’s owner when he gave me a quizzical look upon my inquiry about R.W. Emerson. Apparently he’s never heard of him. Hmm.
My next discovery was a positively delightful experience. I stumbled into a stone and gem store and was found subsequently in a deluge of fascinating information pouring forth from the balding owner, in a show-&-tell format, complete with heavy London accent. At one point I was holding in my hand a 180 million year old fossil of the original chambered nautilus, fossilized in ammonite. He showed me gems that could supposedly heal me (smoky quartz) and stones that could literally kill me (arsenopyrite). I ended up spending more than I intended (I hadn’t intended to spend anything at all) and was more than happy to do so.
Finally, I made it to my Bodhi Books & Gifts. It smelled of sweet incense, and was being maintained by the kind of woman you’d expect to be working at a store full of books on meditation, Buddha and the Dalai Lama. The most intriguing bit of the shop was the children’s books corner. “Yoga & Meditation: For Children” & “Start Early with Practicing Mindfulness” and other such titles populated the shelves. I tucked away this genre of books in the back of my mind for later years. After some heavy deliberation (I’d already bought a book today - not practical for a traveller who also happens to be on a budget), I bought yet another book. A small one, however. It’s ironically titled, “Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice.” Ideal train reading, I decided.
Last stop in Newtown for today: Froyo. Nothing like a frozen yogurt fruit smoothie on a warm, sticky day. Especially if that frozen yogurt is coconut flavored and the fruit is mango and passionfruit. “Last purchase!” she tells herself… “What a marvelous day,” she continues. “Yes, quite splendid indeed,” herself replies back.
Disclaimer: the following statements are merely observation…
In Portland, if a female of decent appearance should frolic through a park (let’s say… Laurelhurst, for example) in her swimsuit in midsummer, where other individuals are doing likewise, it would not be altogether strange for her to receive (if you can call it that) one, two, or three remarks and/or “looks” (you know the kind I mean) from people of the opposite sex. This isn’t a revolutionary insight; it’s neither here nor there. It just is.
Now, said female may think nothing of this, except to be occasionally annoyed or even grossed out, until she goes to Australia, specifically Sydney. Imagine her surprise when, clad in similar attire (close to nothingness) she frolics on the beach chock-full of Aussies, particularly of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean descent, and she receives (if you can call it that) not one, not two, not three, but ZERO remarks and/or looks?
She would feel, I presume (because this is obviously hypothetical) a very brief, mild-in-intensity, moment of disappointment (I mean, she’s only human, right?), followed by a twinge of guilt at the discovery that she has such shallow expectations. She then likely reminds herself confidently that her value is not based in, nor gauged by, male attention. This reminder would, again presumably, lead to an exhilarating sense of freedom! She was invisible! How marvelous! She can frolic, walk, run, play, or trudge through the shallows with book in hand (probably the most likely option) without any interruptions or disturbances. She may, on occasion, glance up to be sure she’s not about to trip over a toddler half-buried in the sand, only to see a male in her age range looking at her. Oh wait, no, he’s looking through her. How splendid… When she relays this information to her cousin, she (likely) gives a matter-of-fact reply, “Sydneysiders keep to themselves.”
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
The adventure to the Blue Mountains was a much-needed, and not altogether unexpected, confirmation that this trip must be much more focused on the bounty of Nature rather than the chaos of the city. I will do my time in Sydney, yes, as well as in Melbourne; but escapes to the beach will be necessary. Not just for the saving of money, but for my sanity as well. Being surrounded by people who are connected only to a false sense of reality - their manmade superficial idea of home - can by grating, nearly painful, to the soul. Why do we run from the steel and glass and “plastic paradise” we’ve constructed into the woods or to the sea as a “vacation”? I believe the answer is simple: What our consciousness is perceiving as an “escape”, our subconsciousness is perceiving as home. We’ve got it backwards. It seems the the structure of the Great Metropolis, what with all of the bright neon lights and abundance of diversions, suggests a kind of theme park; an endless array of entertainment meant to be enjoyed from time to time. But instead of intermittent diversion excursions, we have created a society that leaves one in a constant state of distraction. This has inevitably raise our entertainment threshold so that we are motivated to create environments such as Las Vegas in order to satiate our lust for that which dazzles and impresses.
In this whole process, we are producing waste - massive amounts of it - that we discard with the ignorant belief that it doesn’t affect us. Or an apathetic attitude towards the affect that we know it has. In reality, we are poisoning the home whence we came. It is no different than spitting in the eye of the Mother that loving raised you. Or, even more graphically, putting arsenic in her tea.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Sitting cross-legged under a magnificent fig tree, in the Royal Botanical Gardens of Sydney, I held my japa mala between my fingers with tenderness, draped between my ankles. As I slid each little Bodhi seed towards the large tassel toting seed, I took a deep breath, straight to my core, and repeated in my mind, “We are One.”
I felt the wind rustle the fig leaves; I heard them sing as if to compete with the chirping birds who dashed from tree to tree, sunlight glinting off their feathers, chattering - likely about the scent that I, too, was inhaling. Earthy, herbal, minty, salty, sweet, warm air. The same air that made the ant cling to the blade of grass as it trembled. The same air that rustled the fig leaves above, casting dancing shadows on the ground.
And then, that beautiful, glorious thought: “I am a part of this moment.” I am sitting on the trembling grass, on the ground that’s been nourishing this tree for hundreds of years. Feeling, smelling, watching the effects of the wind.
I am not alone.
I share this sacred ground with a group of Hindu monks, robed in gauzy orange, flapping in this breeze. In silent solitude nearer the water sits a business man - feet in the grass, shoes beside him; ironed pleats wasted as he rolls his pant legs to the knee. Noisy Arab-Aussie children also enjoy the fig, jumping over it’s massive, exposed roots. We are all - wind, fig, grass, ant, birds, monks, man, woman, child - in this together. The ironic beauty of this moment is that it is not limited to time nor space. I am just as connected to my loved ones back home as they sleep & dream, as I am to this sunny patch of Earth.
All of these thoughts and observations occurred within a matter of seconds. I looked down as I continued to slide the seeds, one by one, breath by breath, “We are One… We are One…” In doing so, I was struck with the thought that this japa mala represented the very thing I was pondering: individual seeds strung together into One strand; a continuous loop, connected by one, larger seed - the Divine.
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Yesterday, on my way back from walking along Botany Bay, I decided to take to the sand rather than the paved boardwalk. As I walked, I noticed bits of rubbish scattered amongst the shells, twigs and seaweed that decorate this particular beach. Disappointed by my own species, I decided to honor the Ocean by doing my part to clean up after the careless ones who had come before me.
It didn’t take long before I became overwhelmed by the work that needed to be done. At first glance there isn’t much that’s easily noted. When you really start to look, however, the amount of garbage that is left behind is staggering. I walked along, from rubbish bin to rubbish bin, depositing armfuls of waste. I reached a stretch of beach that was particularly discouraging. “This could be a full time job!” I thought to myself. All I had was little ol’ me, not even a bag to carry all the rubbish in. It simply could not be done. All the loads I’d carried had only scratched the surface of the problem. Even if I did this daily, the problem would not be solved. The root of the issue has to be severed. Unfortunately, it just so happens that the root issue is: humans. Humans and their self-imposed entitlement to selfishness. Although generally motivated by money, the threat to be fined up to $300 for littering hasn’t stopped them. So far I haven’t seen anyone around that would enforce such a law.
So, I gave up. Saddened by my own race and by my powerlessness to make a significant difference in caring for our earth, I trudged through the shallows of the Ocean’s tide. I spoke to Her. I told her I was sorry for the lack of respect and appreciation she has endured. I told her I wanted to make it better.
Then it struck me. What I was experiencing was a microcosm of a phenomenon that has occurred over and again in our history, on an individual level. We see something that disturbs us, some social justice issue that we want to change; want to make a difference in. We set out, ablaze with a fiery enthusiasm to change the world! It doesn’t take long before we are weighed down by the gravity of the situation, and the task before us is more than a little daunting. If we don’t have a whole team of people fighting for the same cause (and sometimes even if we do), we give up. “What can I ever truly do?” we ask ourselves. “Im just one person…”
My only answer is this: Do it anyways. Lead by example. In a world that feeds off of instant gratification, we must continue to patiently do the work of one, trusting that it will one day become the work of many. Together we can hope for a permanent, root-deep, systemic change in the future. What we must learn to accept is that we may not be around to see this transformation, but at least we can be at peace knowing that our demonstrative love for Creation and Creator was the impetus for lasting change.
I’ve caved. I’m starting a blog. I’d be lying if I said I had no reservations about this. My life story has been one of conquering one fear after another, and this is yet another fear to be subdued. Squashed, really. It’s been a dream of mine for sometime to have my words be heard, yet that same thought is the one that terrifies me…
I won’t get into the in’s and out’s of what scares me about this whole process, but I will lay down a few disclaimers. For some of you, some of the things I say and analogies I use won’t be familiar to you. (i.e. Mother = ocean/earth, and Father = sun). You may also see that I refer to myself by several different names (i.e. Willow & Luna). You may say, “What a hippy…” and you may be right.
While some of my posts may be abridged versions of journal entries, one thing is for certain: I will always be honest and transparent.
Without further ado… I have some things to post.