India 2020: Part 2

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The solitude felt exhilarating at first. Five weeks alone, no work, no responsibilities. I couldn’t sleep until the early hours and stayed up reading The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. Not only had I had my synchronicity on the train, the book contains a lot of magic. Also, I got my period just after arriving, The veil is thin, I said to myself (re magic, emotions, intuition and so on.) I’m in one of the holiest places in the world. I’m reading a magic book. I thought about all kinds of spells or rituals I could do, then realised of course, all I need to do is write the book.

At night there was the usual noise of dogs, a cacophony of howling which began around midnight. Temple chanting and bells began in the very early morning, and during the daytime there were sometimes loudspeakers outside the temple which felt deafening. A few nights there was the sound of different people being sick, or coughing badly. Once there were monkeys crashing about up and down the stairs and outside the room late at night; I got up and checked that my door was locked properly.

There were lots of monkeys around in the late afternoon, looking for food. I saw Ganesh from the hotel standing outside with his phone held up and wondered what he was doing; he was playing trance music to get them away. There seemed to be a lot more monkeys and they seemed bolder, Ganesh said they seemed extra hungry. Once one grabbed my food off my plate and grabbed at my clothes.
At first the evenings were long and cold, sometimes I put on music and did yoga, exercises and a bit of dancing in my room to warm up.

The guesthouse rooftop was just the same but at first I wasn’t very sociable, feeling shy probably, and I kept myself to myself writing. There were a lot of people in a group, drinking and getting stoned and another man alone playing guitar. But later when I spoke the people were really nice, and one came over and gave everyone Oreos, and after that we used to chat regularly.

One day I was working on the Nepal chapter, and re reading my blog about meditation and about how we heard some of our favourite music coming through from the room next door, Nick Cave, put on by Harrison, a twenty one year old Australian. At the same moment, The Pixies Where is my mind, one of my favourite songs, was playing in the rooftop restaurant, the music belonged to and had been put on by Lochie, an Australian, days away from his twenty-first birthday.

Everyday, get up, wash, dress, go out for breakfast. A full on experience just going out to get breakfast. I could chicken out and just go to the rooftop but the coffee wasn’t as good and I needed to walk before sitting and writing. I retreated there afterwards though to write and use the WiFi, which didn’t work in the rooms.

I mainly used the same shop nearby the guesthouse. There was another in the main street where I regularly bought bananas (for cows and monkeys.) One day they saw I had bought tissues from somewhere else. ‘Where from, how much, we have those here!’ ‘Next time,’ I said, feeling chastised. The other man said, ‘It’s okay.’ I remembered to take a bag out after that, fierce loyalty seemed to be expected.

As well as Ganesh and the rest of team at the guesthouse, there was also Shiva in the market to talk to. The staff at Raju restaurant remembered me from last time, we had spent Diwali there, and told me that if I needed any help, I could come to them. Sonu at the juice bar gave me advice about what to do about gifts for a wedding I had been invited to.

On holiday days especially there were lots of Indian tourists, many were dressed in jeans, and wearing clothes that were more Westernised than mine. But in general Rajasthan is a traditional area and there were many people in traditional dress, the women in colourful sarees and beautiful scarves.

People often asked what I was doing there, it was good to say I’m writing a book, even though it did seem a little extravagant.

I felt conscious of behaving correctly, both etiquette and decorum wise and ethically. I liked it when people said, Good Karma, etc, when I fed the animals, but I can’t really claim to believe properly in Karma.
The idea is appealing, of course and I couldn’t help building a hope around giving my book a good chance by maybe creating some good luck, but just being in Pushkar with the Pushkar energy and writing the book each day felt like magic and fortune enough.

Feeding the pigeons or cows or monkeys or giving a person some money was immediately and intrinsically rewarding; it gave me a warm glow, whether or not anyone was watching or whether I really thought it did anything else as well.

And Pushkar Lake provided some magical moments. One day I bought food from the little stall by the steps (Ghats) down to the lake. I fed some cows. I fed the pigeons, who swoop up and down in great clouds. I felt the wind of them. I looked at the water. From the steps two women walked down to the lake. Over their sarees they wore the traditional scarf like a veil which covered their heads and flowed over them to the ground. One woman’s veil was peachy orange, the other one’s a deep reddish pink. The shapes made by the beautiful gauze like fabric, the colours against the backdrop of the stone Ghats and the blue grey lake, it was almost too beautiful.

Later Shiva told me that he fed the animals every day, including throwing tiny pieces of chapati into the lake for the fish. ‘If I don’t do it I feel something not right inside, something missing here,’ he said, holding his chest. He told me that the wind from the pigeons flying was good. I’d felt that.

I met the poor nomadic man who lived in the desert and sold homemade instruments and CDs of his music in the street. Jonathan from Israel had bought him a goat last time we were there. He told me the goat was doing well and was now pregnant. We walked along beside the lake together, picking up string from the previous day’s kite festival as it harms birds and animals, he told me that earlier he’d picked out string from the lake using a long stick.

At the garden of a small temple near the lake I saw what looked like a monkey crèche in full swing, with baby monkeys swinging across the wires. Two trees nearby were often full of monkeys, including mothers with what looked like newborn babies.

I usually walked back the same way, and coming back to where I had started there was usually the sight of tens of pigeons sitting on a steep bank of steps as if they were at the theatre.

Opposite the steps on the other side of the street was a restaurant which served the best masala dosas in Pushkar. From the tables inside I could look out to the street and watch little birds raiding the fruit stalls and monkeys playing at the archway and steps of the Ghat. One day the restaurant was very busy and I had to sit right at the front. A very big cow came to the entrance, came right up the steps and nudged me for food. One of the staff came with a small dinner for the cow in a tin tray, made up properly with a neatly folded chapati on the top, and set it on the ground away from the entrance.

I ate at the falafel stall in the main street a few times. The meals were too big so I didn’t eat the chapatis and took them with me and gave them to cows. The second time the staff gave me a paper napkin to wrap them in. Walking away back towards the guesthouse I fed them to the first cow I saw and scrunched the napkin in my hand. I’m just too British to chuck rubbish on the floor, and the cow thought I was holding out on them and had more food. The cow was very big and wouldn’t leave me alone, determined to get the napkin which was scrunched in my hand. One of the stall holders told me, ‘Go inside,’ I went into the entrance to the temple, and they shooed the cow away with a stick. I’d tried to do a good deed and created a scene, but no one seemed to mind.

I managed to go to the Brahmin Temple without anyone speaking to me or offering to be my guide. Maybe it was because I arrived at the same time as a big group of European tourists and the guides all thought I was with them. I like to think it was because I was all prepared and strode through the crowds confidently. I’d asked Ganesh at the hotel what visitors need to do to be respectful, and arrived with flowers and sweets bought from a little stall, to hand to the Brahmin. There was a crowd of people and after waiting politely as people went in front of me eventually someone pushed me forwards. The Brahmin who was saying blessings, presumably, took people’s offerings, took some, handed some back, over and over as the people passed. His phone rang. I was surprised to see him pull out a smart phone and answer it and carry on with doing the offerings until I thought, This is India.

In the evenings many people go to the lake to watch the sunset. There were always lots of monkeys jossling around and getting ready to go to sleep. I watched baby monkeys swinging on wires outside guesthouses and thought, So that’s why the WiFi is often bad. Pigeons on the ledges of a tower flying off and on, fighting a little, sorting out where everyone was going to sleep. I met a few Indian families; lots of introductions and family photos.

Afterwards I sat at the top of the steps, near the big bell which Hindus ring as they come down towards the lake. The walls, faded colours with plaster peeling, were beautiful in the light. The monkeys were settling down to sleep. I watched a pale orange cat going about the eaves. It all looked and felt magical, and I welled up a little. A black and white dog, friendly with a smooth soft coat, came and put its nose under my arm and I stroked its head.

Thank you very much for reading!

More about Pushkar with photos: Pushkar blogs: Babasgorgeous looking cows, and fun monkeys. Pushkar draft chapter extracts start here

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About the author
I am forty nine years old, married to John Hill, we live on a narrowboat in rural Northamptonshire, UK.
In March 2018 after selling our house and giving away 95% of our possessions we embarked on a year of slow travel in India and South East Asia.
I’m writing a personal/spiritual/travel memoir of that year. This is my personal blog.
Thank you for visiting
Follow me on Instagram thisisrachelhill

 

My husband is a pirate?

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‘So apparently these are the top five types of men women fantasise about,’ my husband said. We were in a Travelodge in London, where we stayed the night after I flew in from India.

‘That list doesn’t make sense,’ I said, ‘It’s a mixture of fictional and real.’ It was like when it was reported on mainstream news about the discovery of a new animal that was like half cat, half teddy bear. I remember my cousin commenting on social media, ‘Half cat, half teddy bear, you can’t mix fictional and real animals together, WTF!’

My husband is used to me being particular about how words are used and so he looked up the source and played me the original clip. It was Jordan Peterson, explaining how it was fairly straightforward to know what men liked when it came to pornography as they tend to be more visual, whereas women tend to like stories.

Apparently there had been some kind of an audit of search terms used by women accessing porn and this had led to the The List.
‘Women, cover your faces, this is so embarrassing,’ JP said, ‘The top five types of male entities women fantasise about are:

1 Vampire
2 Werewolf
3 Billionaire
4 Surgeon
5 Pirate

An analysis of Internet searches, now it made sense why it was such a strange list… Maybe it was the jet lag but I thought it would be funny to analyse my husband against the five types and see how ‘typical’ I was.

1. Definitely he has some qualities of the vampire about him, his kind of timeless nature; when I first met him I had the strong feeling that he had a very intact personality and would be exactly the same were he a homeless person or a millionaire. Also he is an observer of the world, he doesn’t really get caught up in all the things people get caught up in.
2. No
3. No
4. No
5. When we met he was living on a boat complete with pirate flag, and had no intention of settling down with a woman again. And yes, I did act like a cliché from a Harlequin romance and pursue him. But aside from all that, from childhood he has always been fascinated by outlaws such as the Hells Angels, not the violence, but the idea of living outside of normal society. So because of all that I have to say that yes, dear reader, I married a pirate!

Postscript: I used to write women’s erotica, and my old creative writing teacher brought me in to teach his class for one session, ‘How to write sex.’ Most of them were too shy to attend, but those that did were given a glass of red wine and a cream cake and asked to describe the experience using all the senses. We read a beautiful sex scene from The Road Home, by Rose Tremain (possibly she is the best writer I know of, I also recommend Music and Silence. Her descriptions are unforgettable.)

Lastly, I gave them a passage from Frenchman’s Creek (about a pirate) by Daphne Du Maurier, where the Lady goes off with the pirate and into his cabin… The scene, full of sexual tension, ends when he leans over and removes her ruby earring. I asked the class to continue writing where Daphne Du Maurier had stopped. So I guess it’s always been pirates!

Photo: the actual pirate flag from my husband’s boat

Thank you very much for reading

About the author
I am forty nine years old, married to John Hill, we live on a narrowboat in rural Northamptonshire, UK.
In March 2018 after selling our house and giving away 95% of our possessions we embarked on a year of slow travel in India and South East Asia.
I’m writing a personal/spiritual/travel memoir of that year. This is my personal blog.
Thank you for visiting
Follow me on Instagram thisisrachelhill

India 2020: Part One

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I just spent five and a half weeks by myself in India. Depending on your perspective you may say, ‘No big deal,’ ‘How brave,’ or something in between. And that’s how I felt about it too. In the run up to the trip I got a bit anxious about the journey and about the whole trip. The news certainly didn’t help, and that’s probably what made my mum extra anxious about me going on my own. Anyway, I did it!

I spoke to two Indian people on the plane who said they thought I was a writer, ‘Ah we thought so, when you said you stayed in one place for a long time!’ I was pleased. I watched two films on the plane. Diane, an interesting portrayal of older women and difficult aspects of motherhood, and Richard says goodbye: ‘You’re unusual, the world is dying for you. Don’t give into mediocrity like the rest.’ The prospect of death helps to realise the feeling of being alive…

Arriving at Delhi airport felt familiar, but even inside the airport the poor air quality, which we’d seen from the plane as a smog enveloping the high rise buildings, made people cough and made my eyes sting. There was a long queue at immigration and I got tired but I made sure I concentrated hard on what I needed to do, get my bag, change money. John had booked my place to stay, choosing a place with good reviews and popular with backpackers, and arranged for them to pick me up. It was very nice to step out and see a sign held up with my name on.

The driver was nice, we chatted about his family- he had five daughters- and he slowed down so I could get a good look at the monkeys which hang out near Parliament Gardens, and which I remember seeing on our first journey from the airport to Paharganj (Main Bazar), on arrival for me for the first time, in March 2018. My guesthouse was slightly off Main Bazar and down an alley, I was slightly disorientated, and the driver had to show me where the entrance was.

Walking in it looked a little shabby and there were lots of men standing around. I was shown up to my room which was three floors up. I shut the door behind me and wobbled for a moment, then reminded myself that John had thoroughly researched this place. I went back downstairs, they were able to sell me an Indian Sim there and set it up for me straight away, and I went out to complete the rest of my mission namely to buy a fast charger, I got one which had two USB ports which was great as often there’ll only be one point in a room. I got crisps, coca cola and nuts, just like usual (only it wasn’t hot like usual), and water, and shampoo, and managed to accumulate an impressive amount of change, always an ongoing mission in India.

I slept and then went out for dinner, I walked the length of Main Bazar and felt unable to decide on anywhere, went back to the guesthouse and the staff advised me where to eat, just around the corner. I felt comfortable in the restaurant and had tea and more tea, and again, as usual, things felt much better with a belly full of warm food. And I didn’t get sick, a first for staying in Paharganj.

In the morning I had to wake the staff to let me out, I walked down Main Bazar to the end where the train station is. It was early and dark, but there were quite a few people about, including tourists with wheely suitcases, and I didn’t feel unsafe. My driver from the airport had said to me, ‘Don’t be too friendly to people in Main Bazar.’ The hotel staff had said, ‘Don’t listen to anyone at the train station unless they are wearing a black hat and black jacket,’ i.e. the official station staff, because scammers can tell you your train is cancelled (and I suppose then try to sell you hotel rooms, drivers and so on.)

I got to the train station and was about to go to the counter to ask which platform when a man told me it was platform 2. I thought it won’t hurt to believe him, so I went in, and when I checked on the board, he was right. Then I couldn’t work out how to get to it as one stairway was closed, again a man told me the way, and it was correct. So again, although there are scammers, of course, there are also tons of people who are just helping you.

It was five am and dark. You have to get to the station an hour before in India. Because we’ve taken trains before I knew that there are letters and numbers on small displays on the platform which correspond with the carriages, so I waited in the correct area, later making sure by checking with a staff member on the platform. I waited near a family group and messaged John to let him know I was okay.

I was in chair class, in the middle, next to a man Indian born, raised in the UAE and living in the USA, we chatted a lot. On my other side was a British man, who it turned out was listening to exactly the same book I was reading, Haruki Murakami’s The Windup Bird Chronicle. I wondered if we had a message for each other or something, but in the end we ended up chatting and then getting a taxi together to Pushkar, where he was also staying.

The train stops at Ajmer, there was full on hassle re taxis and auto rickshaws, and no pre pay stand there. I hadn’t been able to arrange a pick up from the guesthouse, and potentially that was the most dangerous part of the journey, getting in to an un pre paid taxi, or at least the part I would have been most anxious about. So if that’s all that book synchronicity did, made sure I shared a taxi, felt safe and was safe, that was plenty enough. The taxi dropped me at the bottom of the guesthouse steps, I texted John to say I had arrived and went in to what felt like a home from home, I even had the same room we had in 2018!

Photos: Sunrise on New Year’s Day somewhere between Dubai and Delhi. Supplies and change in my room in Delhi.

Pushkar from previous trip with photos: Pushkar blogs: Babasgorgeous looking cows, and fun monkeys.  Pushkar draft chapter extracts start here

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About the author
I am forty nine years old, married to John Hill, we live on a narrowboat in rural Northamptonshire, UK.
In March 2018 after selling our house and giving away 95% of our possessions we embarked on a year of slow travel in South East Asia, mainly India.
I’m writing a personal/spiritual/travel memoir of that year. This is my personal blog.
Thank you for visiting
Follow me on Instagram thisisrachelhill

Throwback Thursday: The story so far

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A book should be an ice-axe to break the frozen sea within us

Franz Kafka   

For Book, you can substitute Love.  This is my story:

In 2009 I drove to work in the morning and watched the pink and gold sky split open.  Driving home in the evening I passed outrageously lit up lorries that looked like fun fair rides.  Somehow I managed to keep one foot in the visible and one foot in the invisible.  For the next six years, I followed the trail.  I always joke that it was like Eat Pray Love but without the travel.

I meditated and felt as if my skin was being bathed in soap and soft water.  I saw situations worked out from behind my closed eyelids.  I had the most amazing physical sensations.  I took up Yoga.  I had deep tissue massage and experienced profound physical and emotional release as she worked my knots out until her fingers got down to my bones.

I practiced Paganism and Wicca, I went for walks and stared at leaves, gathered foliage, wrote spells and held rituals every full moon for almost a year.  I was invited to a women and Islam open day.  I bought books and began praying five times a day.  For a few weeks my life was illuminated.

I chanted the Hare Krishna Mantra every morning for three months.  Things led on from each other.  I felt purified, and wanted to feel even better.  I had trouble with someone at work.  In meditation I said, I have no protection against this person.  The answer came: oh yes you do, you have this.

I did an evening class in Buddhism.  Stepping out onto the top floor of the car park after class, the sky filled with birds, the breeze cool and warm at the same time.  Listening to The Stone Roses on the way home:  This is the one, this is the one she’s waited for, yes, I thought, yes, this is it.  But no sooner had I filled the house with Buddhas than I woke up one day and realised I had burned through that as well.  Or it had burned through me, whatever.

I read The Secret and practiced The Law of Attraction.  Not to get cheques in the post or to get parking spaces, but just because it made life easy and more beautiful.  Simple things like walking up to a crossing and it turns green just as I get there.  To the sublime:  Arriving home one night I pulled into the car park, and in the second before I turned into the parking space the headlights lit up the hedge in front of me and I saw a mouse on a branch.   A mouse on a branch!  Almost immediately, the thought came into my head:  I hope you enjoyed that, because it won’t happen again.  I thought straight back, yeah, I did enjoy it, and no, I don’t expect it to happen again, who would.  And I don’t need it to happen again, because I saw it the first time.

As well as experiencing anything and everything I was also searching for a spiritual or scientific explanation that made sense to me.  A unifying theory, if you like.  After about six years of searching it arrived in my mind fully realised in a dream:  We’re all green mist, we created these bodies because without bodies we can’t pick up a pen and write poetry or kiss each other.  But the kissing and the poetry are so distracting that we forgot that we’re green mist come down for a human experience…  but maybe that’s the point.  You can’t enjoy a party if you stand at the door with your coat on and maybe spiritual beings can’t enjoy a human experience on earth unless they fall in feet first and forget their previous incarnation….

I woke up on the massage table as if I had just arrived there and looked at this new person in the mirror:  hair everywhere, skin glowing, mind wiped clean of all previous concerns.  But you wake up again every moment, and in this moment I can’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather be than right here.

Thank you very much for reading

Throwback Thursday: Signs

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Those of us who are awake to the Universe but who have not adopted or been adopted by a particular faith have to be flexible, I believe, in where we get our support from.  The whole world is ours but we need to be discerning in order to read our own Bible from the world around us, as it presents itself, in each moment.  It’s like running your fingertips along a fence and on one in every thousand railings there is a message written in Braille that seems just for you.

Perhaps especially for women, with no religion that’s female led or totally okay for women other than Paganism or Wicca or some New Age stuff; and with the toxic nature of much of the news and advertising, we have to keep our ears pricked and eyes wide open for those helpful messages that still abound in listening to Radio 4 on the way to work or seeing adverts at bus stops or watching box sets at home.

I learned almost everything I needed from the streets, the rest I learned from films and books (Mozart in the Jungle  watched during a free trial of Amazon Prime over Christmas).

Starve your ego, feed your soul (sign outside Earlham road Norwich shop)

From the moment we’re born we’re seeking (advert on YouTube)

There is no time for regrets, it’s far better to see where you are now and work from there (my stars in a magazine at the hairdresser’s).

We all search in different ways (advert on YouTube).

Charlie Higson on R2 Chris Evans, he said, ‘If you write something that’s good, it will get published, there’s no magic trick or secret doorway.’  (okay, it was advice to kids who want to become writers, but I was listening to it at that moment, so I am taking it).

How do you know it was meant for you:  you were listening/looking at the time, no one ‘put it there for you’ you, I don’t believe, to quote Nick Cave, in an interventionist God, it’s all just us, learning to read our path out of all the billions of possibilities that exist within every second.

It’s about being open minded and flexible and the more you notice these things, the more of them appear, so it goes from every thousandth time to every other rail you touch seems to have a message for you….  and then it becomes about balancing keeping your feet on the ground and head in the clouds.

I am noticing that the answers to everything are all around me- sometimes people tell me things directly, sometimes they are chatting or advising each other and I hear.  Sometimes it is less immediately interesting to me and then when I review it I notice things for me.   This is why it is important not to do too much, not to expose yourself to too much stuff, to be discerning about who you spend time with and what you do and where you go, because, although the energies of the universe are unlimited, the hours in my day are not.

Driving on the dual carriageway, I see ‘DIE’ on the number plate of a lorry and wonder if I should move into the inside lane.  But maybe you just see what’s reflected, i.e., everything is there, but you notice what matches what you are feeling- the number plate matches my anxiety about driving.  Even the Earlham road shop sign (a blackboard with a different message on each day) that I like so much, why am I so keen on looking at it?  What do I want to it to tell me?  So maybe signs are just a reflection of what you feel- a visual interpretation of what you feel;  useful if you don’t know how you feel, but if you do, then perhaps it’s best to look inside not outside.

Thank you very much for reading

Here I go again

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I had originally planned to go back to India by myself; I was keen to have some alone time and time to work on my book and I thought it would be a good experience to be in India alone.  But then we just had a month apart, albeit I was on the boat in rural Northamptonshire not in India, but I had plenty of alone time and no longer felt the need to push myself to go off on a solo adventure.  So we decided John would come too.  But life happens and something has come up which means he needs to stay here.  So it looks like I am having a solo adventure after all!

I’m getting an airport pick up from the Delhi guesthouse, I’m staying in a backpacker place with a travel/info desk, we’ve booked my train out of Delhi already- a day time journey in chair class, and I’m going to spend all my time in Pushkar where we’ve been before and know people.

I’m going to do as much book editing as I can, and the rest of the time enjoy Pushkar.  The delights and wonders of Pushkar are many and include: monkeys everywhere, fantastic food*, markets, a small mountain to climb, many beautiful temples to visit, lovely cows to feed, a holy lake and Babas (holy men and possibly women) to talk with.  And nearby Rajasthan cities to visit possibly too. * masala dosas, sabje bhaji, dal, aloo jeera, rice, homemade brown bread with peanut butter, huge bowls of fresh fruit salad with soya milk, all kinds of smoothies, great coffee, there’s even a French bakery a walk out of town…

Photos by my husband Anthony John Hill: the view from our balcony onto Main Bazar Delhi; the view from the guesthouse rooftop restaurant in Pushkar; one of the dear cows of Pushkar with a little friend.

Thank you very much for reading

About the author 

In March 2018 we sold up and left behind most of our possessions to go off travelling for a year, spending most of our time in India.  I wrote a blog and began writing a memoir of the year which I am currently editing.  My husband and I live on a narrowboat in rural Northamptonshire, UK.  Our days and lives are an interesting mix of the every day and the journey of self realisation.

 

Throwback Thursday: Everyday Gratitude

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I hardly EVER go in record shops but I was with a friend who collects vinyl so we went in one, and there in front of me was a Jesus and Mary Chain Psychocandy poster.  I thought it was an original old one, I didn’t realise it was advertising a 30 year anniversary tour.  If I’d said anything out loud the record shop man or my friend might have realised I was confused and put me right, but I didn’t.

Thirty years ago I was fifteen and so desperate to see them, I was at boarding school and not allowed out.  A boy in my year went, his dad made an excuse so he could go, I was so jealous.  They played for fifteen minutes with their backs to the audience and walked off but still, it had been one of life’s big regrets.

But luckily for me the universe gave me another chance.  A few weeks later a patient asked to go to a concert- this is a fairly unusual request- and I also fairly unusually offered to get involved and look up local gig programmes…  I looked up the UEA programme and there it was, Jesus and Mary Chain Psychocandy 30 year anniversary tour £25.

Oh, thank you, thank you, so much pleasure.  I went on my own to just soak it all up.  A sound bath; the lights red with gun like firing of individual white lights, a wall of dry ice lit white, almost all the stage eclipsed.  Seeing mosh pit kids, a girl with dark hair, her face lit up with happiness.  Images on the screen, a serious, sad looking girl (me, at fifteen, thirty years ago) and then at the end a pair of infrared heat image hands, (me now, healing hands).

I don’t want anything to come between me and this awareness.  The bar tender gives me free sparkling water, a man gives me a token for free car parking.  You don’t need to ask for help to make your path, you have created this life, and it is perfect. 

More Everyday Gratitude:

Swimming pool empty and friendly- two people talked to me.

Car park almost full, spaces looked a bit tight for me but then I find two spaces next to each other and what was more, one also had a space in front of it so I could drive straight through to be facing ready to go.

Two staff at the whole foods shop, astonishingly friendly, talking at length about their cats.

Driving home in the dark, I noticed the pretty pointy silhouette of a chapel; a beautifully illuminated pink neon No Vacancies sign, and a pretty yellow window lit up.

A meeting got postponed so I only have to do one report not two this week.

The secretaries next door offering me biscuits just as I was getting hungry at 4pm.

All falling into place ‘live life as though everything is rigged in your favour.’

Sitting on floor, stapling papers, staples ran out and I remembered I’d found a little chunk of staples the day before and put them by my computer just within arm’s reach.

A member of staff I don’t know being extra nice and friendly, like the staff in the whole foods shop.

Finding some extra pouches of cat food so I don’t need to go shopping today.

Home, stars, little walk.

My stepdaughter saying ‘let’s go home and have hot dogs* and watch Buffy on the sofa with blankets and one cat each, what more  could we want?’ *vegetarian ones

Someone at work introducing me:  ‘this woman is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and you can tell by looking at her that she is just like this at home too’.

Someone else saying that I have the happiest team in the hospital.

One of my staff bought me a posh houseplant ‘because you’d been having a hard time recently, I wanted to give you something happy.’

A moment shared with a member of staff on her last day.  ‘As you go up the ranks it can be, ‘Lonely’’, we both said at the same time.

After going to a friend’s party, John saying, that’s the most relaxed I’ve seen you in company, even making jokes!

An old friend asking, are you still writing and me saying yes, he said I’m glad and me asking, are you still drawing and him saying yes, but it’s just a hobby, I’ve accepted that and me saying me too (except I haven’t, not really).

Massage today, didn’t have the surface niggles, so went deeper.

I ‘woke up’ on the massage table, hair everywhere, enlivened, thinking, what if I just arrived here, what would I observe about myself?  I am hungry for good healthy food, I have a nice job, I am a healer in training, I am married, I have an adult son and two step children, I drive around a lot and go away with work no problem, I sleep well, I exist separately to my thoughts.

Postscript 12.11.19

It took a lot of work to get this happy.  I suppose that’s what all the self help books mean when they say you have to ‘do the work.’  If you’re on this path Please keep going: the rewards are worth it!

Thank you very much for reading!

 

Life update

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‘I feel proactive/I pull out weeds’

My husband and I have spent the last month apart; this worried a couple of people but there’s no problems, it was just for him to have a break, for me to have time alone to write and for us both to have the experience of being in the world without each other. It turns out, two weeks was plenty.

I did lots of driving both big trips and just around the local area (usually we default to him doing the driving). I mostly ate Covent Garden soup and Wicked sandwiches from the little Tesco on the way back from work. Always also in my basket were vegan staples avocados and bananas, plus satsumas, and bread for the swans.

I bought fuel, managed the fire and kept warm (it got cold right after he left, then warmed up, then got cold, now warm, will get cold tomorrow, this is the UK!) I emptied the toilet and filled the water tank.

I managed life on the boat fine. I did lots of writing/editing and I went to work usually just a couple of long shifts each week.

A couple in their sixties, experienced boaters who have been continuous cruisers for two and a half years including in London, live in the same place and have provided nice regular chats as well as the warm security blanket of them knowing I’m on my own and saying that if I need anything I can go to them.

People at work have suddenly become astonishingly friendly, as if I reached a kind of tipping point. One day I had to fight the urge to look behind me, convinced that a member of staff must be greeting someone else, she looked so pleased to see me. Another hugged me, ‘I wondered when you’d next be here.’

I had the odd lonely moment but this was almost always quickly followed by loud noises outside the boat heralding the arrival of two hungry swans.

I had the highs of spiritual insights (see below), and I maintained awareness and acceptance of the natural highs, lows and plateaus.

Writing

I’ve been editing/polishing aiming to get the book all to the same stage. When I get to a place where the chapter is more or less done (small tweaks may still be needed but I know what to do and one session on it would do it), I move on. I’m probably between a third and half the way through, maybe more. I hope to have this phase done by the end of February. Then another final polish until it is all as good as I can make it on my own.

I write almost every day, for about an hour or two. If I overdo it or try to rush it it doesn’t go so well, I get fatigued, and I lose confidence. I had one brief dip/anxiety; I forced myself to just do a bit. Half an hour later, I was okay. I could see what I was doing and had confidence that I could do it. I stopped then, grateful for that, and mindful that just half an hour was enough to give me back my hope.

One night, driving home, listening to some spiritual music sent to me by friends this month, I thought about explaining how it is to write a whole book, ‘You have to keep going. And you have to make it good.’ And then I got goosebumps. ‘Oh my God, that’s just like life….’

What I’ve been reading/watching

About people living on boats, funnily enough! I am interested in the people living in London and in particular the Continuous Cruisers. The lifestyle is explained here and this article outlines detailed tips and scary dangers. For Des, and anyone unfamiliar with the hitherto counter culture and now much more mainstream lifestyle choice of living on a narrowboat.

‘Things not to say’ from the BBC

Short films of people from different walks of life explaining the clichéd, irritating and insulting things people say to them.

Netflix: 

Before the first week was out, all of Shameless US Season 7 (I adore it, it’s based on the original Shameless set in the UK. The US seems so much tougher, I would love to hear what my American and Canadian readers make of Shameless US Season 7, no spoilers so no details) and the new season of Atypical about a teen with Autism and his family and friends. I love this so much. So then I just went onto, as planned, re watching BoJack Horseman from the beginning. Depression, fame, nihilism, existentialism, barely unremitting sadness. Don’t let the fact that it’s a cartoon fool you.

The superpowers which come with the onset of the menopause, from mumsnet. I’m always looking for the deeper meaning and spiritual context, here it is: ‘Am I having a mid life awakening or a personality transplant?’ ‘I feel like I just woke up from the matrix.’ Reading this I thought, as I often did when my regular monthly period would arrive, ‘Ah, that explains a lot….’

The space apart, the space together

I read a blog post by someone who married someone with a different language and from such a vastly different culture that there’s things the other person can’t ever know or understand, and that means the writer has a space that’s private. As someone who likes a lot of time alone, I totally understand and relate to that as a concept. However, my marriage is not like that. It’s really important to me to feel really understood. My husband and I spend a lot of time talking about all sorts of ideas, and together it feels as if we create a new space together to live in, outside of ourselves and in addition to what we’d have individually. Even in the early days, I had this sense. I used to visualise our new relationship as one of those air plants, growing in a thin glass bowl, suspended in the air between us, growing separately from the both of us, yet something we were both growing.

Anyway, we’ve missed each other, and neither of us currently want to go on separate adventures in the near future.

And in case you need more convincing about Bojack:

Thank you very much for reading

Throwback Thursday: Buddhism

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John (Anthony) started a course in Buddhism, bringing home information sheets to read which I fell on and read each week and we discussed them in preparation for the next week.  They advise don’t start with meditation, as most people do, me included, instead start with the theory and the ethics, then do the meditation, because then you have a framework.  I look back to how crazy I was when I first started meditating, and realise this makes sense.   So on John’s course they didn’t get onto meditation until later, but as they did, I started doing it too.  I switched from the Hare Krishna mantra to Buddhist meditation, one day Metta Bhavna and the other day mindfulness of breathing.

Breathing:

Focus on the breath not the breathing, as you follow it, it quietens and disappears, so you think, what am I following, and then, I’m not breathing, I’d better breathe, and then you are focussing on the act of breathing not on following the breath which you are doing consciously, so you are doing two things at once, actively breathing, and following the breath, which doesn’t work.  So you have to let go, and let the breath be as it is, sometimes big and fast and gasping, sometimes so faint you can hardly find it, and sometimes disappeared or stopped altogether, but you have to trust your body will take care of breathing when and as it needs to.

I started a different Buddhism course a bit later, each week we were given homework, such as The Four Winds (Loss and Gain, Pain and Pleasure, Praise and Blame, Fame and Obscurity):  We were told to pick a pair and focus on that for the week.  I focussed on Loss and Gain, or how I specifically in my life seek to avoid loss and sought to gain:  thinking about mine and other’s air time in conversations; wanting to be asked questions, wanting to ask questions but not asking them, also like praise and blame or fame and obscurity, at my mum’s seeing an old family friend, I wanted to say, look at me, look what I am, look what I’m into, but he just wanted to talk about old age, house prices, people I don’t know, and although he seemed pleased to see me, he was not interested in any of the things I was interested in, and even poured cold water on my plans, (I felt) and I came home in a bad mood.

But it did have a positive effect, the Buddhism course(s):

Before work, John and me had one of those hugs that are really close, well almost all of the hugs he gives me are like that, where he folds me in really tight, and I put my hand on the base of his neck, in between the shoulder blades, where it always feels hot for me, a healing point/love point, and it felt really good, the hug, and I said, ‘things are good’ and he said, ‘yeah, things are good.’

I went to see my son and as there was no parking at his we went straight to the park and had a walk in the only break in the weather.  I did an extra hour of healing at the mind body spirit fair and even though I’d got up early and been out for hours, I felt relaxed and unpressured.  I went home and made a complicated new vegan meal effortlessly with no stress.

One night after my Buddhism class:

I stepped out of the double doors and into the open air of the top floor of the multi-storey car park.  I always park on the top floor, ostensibly for exercise, and while that is true, it’s also because it’s always got plenty of empty spaces and I get anxious about parking.  And at the end of an evening or an afternoon of shopping I like to look at the view, the big sky, the cathedrals, the whirling flocks of birds that always seem to be there.  My husband and son find my choice of parking annoying and always complain about the six flights of stairs or make us go up in the lift.  I do it for me though, for the view, to take away the parking anxiety, to test my fitness, or perhaps, just to give me this moment tonight:

It was cool and warm at the same time, the sky grey with clouds, still light at around 9.30pm.  I paused, leaning on the barriers, looking, and I just thought/felt:  This is it

Earlier, the teacher had said, ‘if you catch Buddhism… but you may not, you may leave this and go off onto something else’, my neighbour said, ‘Islam’, which was funny because I’d been through an Islam phase a few months back.  But I thought, please no…  I wanted to say, ‘Don’t let me be out there again’ (like that bit in When Harry met Sally when the couple say to each other, ‘please say I’ll never have to be out there (dating) again’);  but I am working on not talking as much and certainly not interrupting, so I didn’t.

I have tried things:  Islam, Paganism, various different New Age Practices, Hare Krishna, worship of a man, self abasement, therapy, all for three weeks or three months.  It’s over

In the car, I put some music on The Stone Roses:  This is the one, this is the one she’s waiting for.  Windows down, warm cool breeze, lights bright…

This turned out to be yet another one of those moments when I think, this is it, I’ve found it, this is the thing, this is what I believe in, that later slips away.  And yet, I don’t regard any of it as a waste of time.  And even though this was one of the strongest incidents in recent times, as the same Buddhist course later taught me, there is nothing to find.

There is nothing permanent, nothing lasts, nothing exists, only interactions.  We all just knock against each other but all our scaffolding stops us connecting properly.  Re finding yourself, your identity, personality, Buddhism says there is nothing to find= Scary.  We are not fixed, we can change= Comforting.  Suffering doesn’t last either.  We do have a ‘relative self’- it’s good to be predictable to children (and patients) etc but with others this can be limiting (e.g. how we behave in our family).  It’s hard to be your (new)self with family as they like to keep you the same.

The death of spiritual ignorance, is when you see things as they really are, e.g. work.  Things are both much better and much worse than you previously thought.

Meditate on our bodies being made of the same things as everything else

Our teacher, in meditation, became aware that a strand of hair, attractive on the head, becomes repulsive in a plate of food.  Same with toenails, she put all her nail clippings and hair onto her shrine and thought, is it ‘repulsive’ because it reminds us of death and decay?

The mind changes much more than the body; at least the body persists relatively the same week to week, year to year; whilst the mind changes all the time, likes and dislike change.  Tastes change with Buddhism (me and The News Quiz on Radio 4, I used to think it was funny, suddenly it just seemed mean).  People refine their tastes with Buddhism (or with anything that increases your awareness?)

Meditation:

Where is yourself?  Your self?  In front?  Above?  Colour?  Shape?  Can’t find it?  Because it isn’t anywhere; it doesn’t exist.

It is the clinging to the sense of self that causes all the suffering.

Get out of yourself. With more happiness and helping others.  A cause outside of themselves, a musician, artist, all else swept aside in the service of what is.   Really focussed; most people don’t do this and are dissipated.  What is it that we really want and go for it.  Hone in on (one) something.  Realise how we dissipate our energies.

See ways that we let life happen to us rather than directing life in a way that can be more fulfilling.    

Buddhism advocates doing creative things, artistic things, if you decide you can, e.g. live without much money etc.  Self expression is a generous  act.

Homework:

Contemplate impermance

‘The spiritual life is a continual process of purification and elimination of unskilful states.’

‘Our experience is much richer than we realise.  We are much better and much worse than we realise’  Deeper meditation helps to integrate this.

Buddhism helped, but I don’t know about the future…  don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater- this clear awareness is great, don’t mess it up with caffeine, drinking, etc, yoga is good, meditation is probably good. Everything I’ve done has been part of what got me here, but what got me right here was not meditating for a week or so, and going to bed early. I’m even wondering if helping others really is all that, maybe it could just be about yourself, and those around you…

Re working, re healing, re thinking up an alternative career:  when do I get to just enjoy life as it is, to do what I’m doing with both feet and not always be thinking I should be doing something else?

So right now, reading this, I feel wistful: I feel, I want to meditate, I want to do the Buddhism course, I want to get back into being spiritual again.  But what would that do?  What do I think that would do?  I could do a load of yoga and meditating, do more healing, whenever I do it it feels so good, I want to focus on that…  But what about the writing, not sure what is happening with that…

How do I get to a place where I can conceptualise what it is I am doing- every time I get to where I think ‘this is it’, it changes, so where is my vantage point?  There isn’t one, or there is, but it shifts from (and form) moment to moment.  Suggestion:  Pick one and write from that?  What is the vantage point that I want to select and choose to write from- with so much choice I can choose one- after Buddhism, when I am into Krishnamurti?  When I am just coming back from practical house selling and working mode?  When I am back to meditating?  When I am reflecting on all the things that have got me here?  All the spiritual processes, yoga, body work, healing, reading?

Why not just admit that there’s nowhere else you’d rather be than here:  waking up on the massage table and realising, I am the kind of person who has this in her diary, and this, and this, and does this, and does this, and does this, and laughs at this and cries at this, and cannot watch horror films and is scared of big ships and on and on and on and on… 

Paradoxes: 

  • Work going both really well and really badly, as always
  • Loving being married at the same time as longing for more time alone
  • Ceasing all seeking behaviour yet knowing this is just another ‘thing’ I’m doing on the (seeking) path
  • Happy with life as it is and thinking of new things to do and be

Everything is good, you are just making up things to worry about because you are scared of realising how good things are.

Thank you very much for reading

Throwback Thursday: Marriage

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Leonard Cohen:  You know that I love to live with you, but you make me forget so very much.  I forget to pray for the angels, and then the angels forget to pray for us.

From the early days of Rachel and Anthony/ John:

It’s easy, (even for us! as I am fond of saying,) to become bogged down, stressed by the things that don’t matter (decorating, paperwork) and neglectful of the things that do (how we are, how we are together) and before too long a distance is created, one or other or both of us are dissatisfied and then, well, nothing really, we might have a rubbish go at sorting it out the first time and end tense and cranky, me getting defensive and going off to bed, and then the next morning, he leans his leg in, I lean mine, we talk, we make plans.  It’s not about what things we were or weren’t doing, it’s all part of it, it’s just about getting back on the path again.

He’d been feeling distance, we hadn’t been doing anything together.  I’d thought it was all hearth and home or having ‘gone beyond’ but you never ‘go beyond’; and looking back it had been a bit distant, I mean, I haven’t been feeling that happy either.  Then he goes into a charity shop in Dereham (Norfolk) of all places and finds a George Harrison book (I Me Mine) and in the introduction by Olivia his wife it sets out what their lives were like, and John said, That’s like you and me, well, without all the massive fame and wealth and so on.  And I should have been happy and I was, but I struggle to appreciate things in the moment sometimes, especially unexpected big stuff and especially when we haven’t yet made up from some tension or distance (but that was him making up or trying to make up from tension and distance) and I poured cold water on it, mentioning his (George Harrrison’s) affairs etc- there was no reason for that, but John was better than me and didn’t appear to notice or mind.

Last night, I forced us to sit and watch something, and he sat through two episodes of a box set the same way a cat does when you are forcing it to sit on your lap when it doesn’t really want to. 

He checked the oil in my car on Sunday even though we weren’t really speaking

I had this sense re the margarine left out and the toothpaste lid left off and I suddenly saw it as endearing- wow, how much I’d miss those things if they weren’t there, because they are a marker of him, his presence in my life, in the house.  If they were the same as you you wouldn’t notice them or their presence, this shows they are here…

Talking about the shortest day coming and saying after that it will get lighter again, and yet not wanting to wish life and another year away, one less year to live, but John said, if you are truly living in the moment then that doesn’t matter.

I thought about that later when we had a few cross words and I was sulking and he was angry and I laid in bed wondering what to say to elevate us above this situation and change it, at the same time as going over the evening, how we got there, who said and did what, etc, etc, analysing it…  but then I remembered, it is only the present moment, and do I want to spend it like this or do I want to change it?  And I realised, before I can change us or him I have to change myself, so I lay and just focussed on my breathing and slowly, slowly I felt myself calm and come back to calmness, felt love come in again, felt love go out to him, then finally I rolled over and put my arms around him and said I love you, I’m sorry.  I never normally apologise and like magic, it was all washed away and everything was as it was.

In meditation: warning for the future:  you had everything and you threw it all away; So do the opposite, really nurture all that I have, appreciate it, give it my attention.

I don’t want your thanks.  I just want your time and attention.

(When I was in meditation, thinking, I should pray, I should say thank you)

When I first got together with John, I had a student who had been to Japan, and she ran a calligraphy group, I did John’s name, it means ‘God has given’ in Japanese.  I had forgotten that.  God has given, why would He take away?

The problem with living together is that your moods don’t coincide:  I come home high after listening to Jeff Buckley track 10 of Grace over and over.  I walk in, he’s about to go to bed and also is very grumpy.

I guess that’s why people have date nights, so you both gear yourselves up to be happy and looking forward to seeing each other so both in a good mood at the same time rather than leaving that to chance, as well as you both being feeling like going out at the same time, which it seems is too much to hope for- both wanting to go out and both being in a good mood, all at the same time!

Still, I coped; my bubble might have been burst- from being in the car, feeling full of love and magic. But I wasn’t distraught.  And maybe the still space I had was useful- I stayed up a little, read some Elizabeth Gilbert stuff online.  Maybe it was for me to do that, a little bit of  stuff for me, or maybe it was just a reminder that my mood need not, must not, depend on his.

A few weeks later we went for a bracing January walk on the beach and we spoke a little about the day where we hadn’t spoken all day, he couldn’t remember what it was he’d been pissed off about, but it certainly wasn’t watching two episodes of Twin Peaks.  I had made up a whole schema around it and it wasn’t even true.  He said, Seriously, you don’t ever have to worry about days like those, about silly arguments, about moods.  Nothing you can ever do will stop me loving you.  You have nothing to worry about.

Nice evening paying cards with John.  Played several games, me totally relaxed, even winning some hands, and him seeming so pleased- ‘look at you, I’ve created a monster’, etc.  It’s the small things that count.  So I am so glad I learnt to play despite how hard it was for him/me.  (I have a real aversion to learning and playing games).  He said connecting with the person you are in a relationship with is a spiritual practice.  He appreciates:  dinner, sex, playing cards, watching films with him.

‘God has given’ what to do?  Answer:  all we have to do is love and allow ourselves to be loved.

Is the nature of a marriage all to do with your own energy field, it’s just you, reflected back at yourself?  And if you aren’t careful you can blame the other person for things- convenient- but if you look back honestly you realise those things have always been there, your own problems or ways of doing things that you don’t like, you might think getting married will sort them all out, but of course it can’t, you don’t realise any of this consciously though, and then when things or problems arise, as they would have done anyway, it’s easy to blame the other person, as you have conveniently forgotten how you/your life used to be before you met them.

I went for a walk to the church, John said, Say a prayer for me, for my soul.  I didn’t actually go to the church in the end, my legs took me along the footpath, past the big ivy covered trees that marked the start of my spiritual awakening.  I said a prayer anyway though:  I pray that John will be happy and free from worries and that I will be able to rise above the day to day worries and stresses that sometimes cloud things between us, and connect again to that force of love that brought us so spectacularly together in the first place.  Anyway, it worked:  he said this morning, ‘let’s have an early night, let’s go to bed before we are tired so we can talk’ (!) and sent me nice messages at work.  I like the way one of us always comes forward, or should I say back.  Like sometimes I think he’s moody and distant and sometimes I try to be loving and cuddly and sometimes I am distant and stressed and he is all compliments and cuddles and come ons.  But we get there, the two of us, thank God.

Thank you very much for reading