Old memories.

I’m sitting here tonight wanting to write a post about the end of an era – the sale of my childhood home. I kind of know what I want to write, and how I want to start it, yet the rest of words aren’t there quite yet in my head. So I’ll have to save that one for another time.

Instead, I’m listening to the album 21 by Adele. I know most of the songs off by heart, because I listened to this CD (yep, back in the shiny disc days) over and over again in my car driving to and from work when I was going through my separation (that and Katy Perry, but I’m after chilled out music right now). I’m thinking whether the songs are tainted now with those memories. Because well let’s face it, it was a pretty shitty time for me back then. Came to the conclusion that no they’re not now, but it’s taken a while. 4 years to be exact. I look back on it now like it was someone else’s life. Feels like a whole different lifetime ago, and I was a different person, just ask anyone that knew me back then. I don’t tend to try to look back too much, I’m a bit of a live in the moment kinda gal. I hate planning too far in advance and just tend to go with the flow, maxing out life where I can. But my ‘previous life’ seems to pop up loads, I can’t bloody escape it. I remember going to Peru in 2012, meeting lots of new people and my recent divorce would pop up in conversation, and I remember wanting to escape it. Thinking that it was just because it was so new, and such a big thing in my life back then and one day I could almost pretend it never happened. But I can’t. Now I’ve realised it’s likely to always crop up, for one reason or another. Whether meeting new people or chatting to old friends. And that pisses me off a bit. However. It’s made me who I am now. I can’t complain. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be the person I am now without going through all that.

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Because you see, now I absolutely love the person who I am. I’m back to being me, true to myself and happy inside and out. In control of my life and my destiny. And having no idea what the future holds.

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This weekend just gone was a bit of a whirlwind tour of London, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. Loads of travelling and catching up with loads of mates and family. Squeezing in as many people as possible for a hello, cup of tea and good old chin wag. Reminiscing about old memories and catching up on life right now.

I have SO much to smile about right now it’s unreal. So many good things happening, so many awesome people in my life. So many exciting opportunities and possibilities there for the taking. Life is awesome.

Sorry, I have no idea on the point of this post, or the direction it’s taken.

I’m not sure what I’m trying to say, or whether anything is making any sense really. I’m very tired, I’ve not stopped for days and have driven so many hundreds of miles I don’t really know whether I’m coming or going. I guess mainly it’s that I’ve had a few days of revisiting old memories. It’s been great to see lots of lovely familiar faces. A visit to Lincoln always stirs up old memories, it always will. So much happened there.

But it’s also a reminder that everything changes – Note: Take That reference 😉 – and nothing stays still. As much as you might not want things to change, they will. It’s inevitable. No point in fighting it. Change is good. Change is exciting. But, it can also be scary. Frightening. Sad. A massive mixture of emotions. Just gotta roll with it. It’s how you deal with it that matters. All about how to think about stuff.

If you know anything about Buddhism, then a massive part of it is around impermanence. Worth reading up on if that’s your bag. I learnt about Buddhism, suffering, attachment, impermanence etc. when I did a 10 day silent retreat at a Buddhist meditation centre in India. Absolutely fascinating stuff, and helps with all kinds of shit in every day life for me. The point being that everything, and I mean everything, is not permanent. Is changing, every single second. Even that solid oak table. And if everything is changing, then nothing is permanent, and so how can you be attached to something that is changing all the time?

It’s all about how you look at things, and how you choose to react to them. What you let go, how to forgive and the difference between attachment and love.

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No standing still. Don’t stand still. Embrace change.

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Catch up.

I’ve been a bit slack at blogging lately, I’ve been a bit too busy. I’ve not written about Mcleodganj yet, my favourite place in India so far, or even Manali where I spent a week. So, with a day in Delhi to be spent in my nice air conditioned hotel room I’ll try and do a brief catch up.

Manali was beautiful, all green forest-covered mountains with turquoise rivers. It felt a bit like an alpine scene (although I’ve never been to the Alps, so no idea whether this is right or not) and there was a very hippy vibe going on. Not that I’m in any way hippy but it was very relaxed. I ended up staying there a week, and in a way it was a bit like a holiday. I didn’t do much apart from eat, sleep, read, went on a few walks, a couple of runs and just generally chilled out. I didn’t really speak to that many people because I was feeling a bit anti social and in need of a bit of down time after a hectic few weeks (Donna, I nearly wrote quiet time but that’s not what I would have meant ;)).

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Wow it seems so long ago now, and I’ve realised there’s not a lot to write about. There might have been at the time, but not so much now. I ate a lot of porridge and Mars Bars, and read a lot of books.

Mcleodganj was my favourite place in India. I stayed here for about 5 days after the Introduction to Buddhism course.  I’m not sure why it was my favourite place, it’s very similar to Manali in some ways, but it had a different vibe. I loved the Tibetan feel of the place (it’s home to the Dalai Lama and many Tibetan people, monks and nuns), and it’s not quite so hippy. It was a place of many fabulous places to eat and chill out – I used to go to Cafe Budan every morning for banana honey porridge and to use the wifi. They also made the BEST lemon curd tart ever. I could have stayed much longer. I wonder if it was because I saw lots of people I ‘knew’ there (from the course) afterwards, so it was a little bit like being at home. Maybe it was because I made a great couple of friends there (Vicki and Anne) and we spent a fab few days together hiking and eating lots. Maybe it was because I found somewhere to stay only cost me about £1.28 a night which, although it wasn’t the most luxurious of places, was a great little sociable place with a hot shower and clean toilet, or the fact I found a flat running route at last. Or, the large amount of places to eat momos (a Tibetan speciality dish of dumplings). Or, it was a place where I did a lot of things, learnt a lot and felt a bit productive. Whatever it was, I loved it there and have many fond memories, and I was surprised at how sad I felt to leave. If I had longer in India, I probably would have stayed longer, and perhaps done some volunteering, as there are lots of opportunities to help out with different things. The only nice thing about leaving and coming back to Delhi is that everything didn’t feel damp any more. You see, it’s monsoon season in India, and it rained a fair bit in Mcleod. Most days, at some point, the heavens opened. Never for prolonged periods of time but when it rained, boy did it rain, and there was always a lot of damp in the air, so nothing felt dry. So, getting into bed, putting on clothes; all damp. I just got used to it after a while. Didn’t really have any other choice. And put it this way, I’d still rather be there and damp than in Delhi and hot and sticky.

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SONY DSCOh, and I got my nose pierced here. Not sure why, just fancied it. I also bought an anklet and some baggy trousers. Maybe I am turning into a hippy after all, haha.

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An Introduction to Buddhism and meditation.

I’ve just spent 10 days in silence. Actual silence. No talking, no communicating with anyone. You might find this funny. Or wonder how I did it. You see, I like to talk. I like to chat. I like to ask questions. 10 days is a long time. A really long time. Nearly two weeks. Believe me, I thought all these things and I was a little bit scared about whether I was up to it. But hang on, let’s step back a bit. Because you’re probably wondering why and what for.

When I was in Manali a couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon the website for Tushita Meditation Centre, which advertises Introduction to Buddhism courses. It is just outside Mcleodganj, home to the exiled Tibetan government and Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet. I knew I was heading this way and it got me interested. I knew I had about two weeks left in India, and was looking at what to do with the time, the next course started in a few days and would fit right in with my dates. It would leave me enough extra time to explore Mcleodganj before heading back to Delhi.

I knew nothing about Buddhism or meditation. I’m slightly ashamed to admit although I had heard of the Dalai Lama I didn’t really know who he was or what he did. I certainly knew nothing about the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the reasons he was in India. I felt very uneducated – how did I get to 32 without knowing about these things? And why? So, I took the plunge and signed up. A few days later I found myself with around 54 other people starting a 10 day course that would be a mix of teachings about Buddhism and meditation sessions, ending with a 2 day meditation retreat. In silence. They stress that a lot. It would be a challenge, but wasn’t that why I came travelling? To learn, to experience new things and give myself a kick up the arse?

I’ve been thinking about what to write in this blog post for a couple of days now. And I’m still no clearer. There’s so much but so little. It was a very personal thing, lots of self reflecting and looking inside, and I’m not sure how much I want to share. But, I want to let you guys know what it was like.

Before all the in-depth stuff, here’s some basics:

  • The centre is in the middle of the woods on the side of a mountain. It’s very peaceful, quiet and out of the way. Mum, I kept an eye out for any pygmy activity. You’ll be pleased to know there wasn’t any. Just monkeys. Lots of them, including teeny tiny baby ones. They provided a lot of entertainment.
  • There was lots of food. This was good. If anyone from Zambia is reading this, you’ll be pleased to know there was peanut butter. But, it was not peanut butter as we know it. No, I think this was proper, home made peanut butter, so not so sweet. In fact, not sweet at all. I mixed it with honey to make it sweeter. Unfortunately this made it look like baby sick or dog doo but I didn’t care, because, damn, it tasted gooood. I think I’m having withdrawals now.
  • I couldn’t run for 10 days. No real exercise, apart from walking up and down some steps a lot. There was a lot of sitting in a meditation position. I have never had pins and needles so many times.
  • There was the most amazing thunderstorm on the second night. I was too tired to stay awake for it all, but caught a glimpse of loads of lightening flashing through a forest. Incredible.
  • I didn’t miss technology. No really, I didn’t. Well, not until the very end at least.
  • We all had jobs to do each day to help keep the centre clean and tidy. Mine was cleaning the windows of the gompa (meditation hall). This was good; I didn’t envy the people who had to clean the toilets that 55 people used all day.

So firstly, the Silence. The big Silence. It is mentioned A.Lot on the website, and in the information and in the induction. And rightly so, it is a huge part of the course. It’s designed so you can get the most out of everything, have silence to focus and reflect on what you’re learning and your reactions and thoughts about it. How did I find it? Actually, easier than I thought. When everyone around you is also silent, it is easier. It was easier to not think about how long you had to be silent for though, as it just seemed so long, so I put that out of my mind. I didn’t break the silence, although other people did. Not majorly, just hushed whispers every now and then. But I’m surprised how much this unsettled me; I didn’t like it. It was really disruptive and it’s amazing how a mere whisper can seem like shouting when you’ve been in silence for a while. The only time it got to me was Day 9 at about lunchtime. It was nearly the end of the course, I was ready to talk to people and my brain had just about had enough of thinking. It had reflected all it could reflect, there was nothing but meditation sessions and long breaks and nothing to distract it. I had a bit of a moment where I was just desperate for a distraction; to stop me being aware of my own thoughts and inner monologue. But, it lasted about an hour and then went. But boy, was I pleased to start talking again the next day. I think I talked like a non-stop train as soon as we could. No, I don’t think, I know I did. Sorry to the guys at breakfast, I’m not sure they got a word in.

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Having to be silent meant I was much more aware of the thoughts in my head. Now, I knew that my brain was often full of things, but, well, let’s just say there’s lots and lots in there. Although, I can definitely tell it’s slowed down now. It doesn’t feel so full or manic, not so much stuff to process or all whizzing round at the same time. No lists of things to do or things to remember. And I think this course has definitely helped with that. It’s slowed my mind down. Organised it a bit. I remember, back in Lincoln at various points over the last 18 months or so, there were many times where I just wanted, no needed, to stop. This overwhelming urge to stop my mind for a bit, just a minute, so I can think clearly, take everything out and sort it all out into some kind of order and put it back in. To look at everything, see the bigger picture and figure out how to do it all. But every time I tried to do it, I couldn’t. My thoughts were so jumbled, that even if I tried, I could never manage it. Other thoughts would take over and I’d just never manage to unscramble it, my concentration would never last and there was always something to distract me. The ultimate procrastinator. Which was frustrating. Never being able to achieve it. Until now. I’ve had that break. Now is that time, that peace and quiet. I feel like I’ve finally stopped and put some thoughts in order. Unjumbled my jumbled mind. And how lovely that feels. I’ve started to think about one thing, and one thing only, at a time. Focus on that one thing. And I know now, that I can put some things to rest. Let them go out of my head once and for all, because they’re organised and sorted now in the right place, with a sense of clarity. Tis’ wonderful.

Meditating was interesting. Actually, really hard work. For all those people who think meditating is relaxing and just closing your eyes, zoning out and going to sleep, think again. We did two types: Stablising and Analysing. Stabilising is where you focus on one thing (the breath) and try to remove any other thoughts out of your mind, and just be completely in the moment. Hmph. Easier said than done. They are always there, these thoughts. It’s really hard to stop them just popping in. And they are so random, mine were a huge mix of things from childhood memories, to people, to things I will be doing, to future plans, to things I remember from dreams and anything in between. Analysing meditation is where you analyse certain questions and topics, guided by the meditation leader. This is more interesting as your subconscious is there to help you figure things out and think of things in a different way. I liked this, it helped with putting a few things to bed for me, once and for all. There was one meditation session that we did where the group chanted a mantra. It was one of the most beautiful things I had heard, and very powerful. I’ll not forget that moment in a hurry.

After one session I felt so completely peaceful and content, it was just blissful. I can’t quite describe it well, but I felt just so, well, happy and calm. Almost a bit like being drugged, or in a trance. I can’t remember exactly what the content of the meditation was (I didn’t write that down), but it doesn’t really matter. What I noted down was that I felt so relaxed and content. Content with my life, with myself, in my choices and who I am. Happy and more understanding of me, and how I live my life and how I will find solutions. Like everything is starting to make sense, and is less chaotic and more ordered.

Starting out on my travels I knew I wanted to spend my time helping people. Not just while travelling, but afterwards, when I have to work. I know I want a job that’s worthwhile, that’s helping, that’s making a difference. This course has really helped reaffirm this. I knew it, but before it almost seemed like empty words. Not saying I wouldn’t, but just not with that 100% knowing with my heart. And that’s what I know now. I feel it. Helping other people is what makes me happy, simple as. It always has, this has just confirmed it.

Has this been a spiritual experience for me? Yes, but not in a religious way as such. It’s been an experience that I’ve felt in my heart and mind, and has left me feeling more content, richer, with a deeper understanding of me and my thoughts. I feel so lucky that I took this opportunity, and I reckon that it’s going to give me a great basis for the rest of my travels in the things that I do and the experiences that I seek and have. I feel I’ve got more of a purpose, I’m not just floating. I don’t just want to visit places and sights to take a picture, to say I’ve been there and move on. That seems terribly self-indulgent. I want to learn about places, speak to people, experience a place and life there. I’m aware of my actions and motivations, and the consequences. Oh, there’s still loads I don’t know, or haven’t figured out, but that’s the fun. That’s what I’ll be doing. I’ll just be a bit better equipped, and on the right path.

There’s a great quote from HH. The Dalai Lama – “Don’t try to use what you’ve learnt from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to become a better whatever-you-are”.

He also said that Buddhism is like training in altruism. I think this sums it up perfectly for me; I don’t want to become a Buddhist. But, through this course, I’ve learnt so much in so many ways, all of which will help me become a better person. One who can give back to other people. A kinder person, a more generous person. A person who will spend more time thinking of others. Because, the Buddhists are right, that is what makes someone truly happy.

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