Day #164 12.06.16

Day 2 and we did a lot more advanced navigation, this time using compasses, bearings, dog legs and all sorts. Handily, the fog came down when were at the top of one mountain so we actually had to navigate using compass bearings and pacing because we couldn’t see a thing. Luckily it also skipped off shortly after so pretty much all weekend we had glorious views and not much rain, a total bonus.

I really did have a great weekend, learnt loads and can’t wait to go and try and get lost in the wilderness somewhere now 😉

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Hell YES!

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Say Yes More. The tagline to a weekend spent in a field somewhere in Surrey with over a hundred strangers. Sounds a bit weird if you say it like that. But it wasn’t. It was pretty damn special. A weekend festival full of camping, adventure, positivity, hugs, inspirational speakers and unicorns. Led by Dave Cornthwaite, founder of Say Yes More and the Yes Tribe, a movement designed to encourage living the life you want, outside the usual confines of 9-5 life.

It’s the kind of event that if I just wrote down what went on, it wouldn’t do it justice. Or convey the energy and the effect it had on people. It was potentially life changing for a lot of people, me included. It was an event that everyone came away from buzzing, wired and high on life. Ready to face the world and anything that was out there. Imagine the highest high and triple it, stick a unicorn on top with a cherry on its horn. I didn’t take any photos (or even turn my phone on all weekend) because I wanted to fully throw myself into the experience. So there won’t be any pictures from me. But you can find plenty on social media if you just google.

There were speakers. Inspirational people. From professional adventurers to people who had decided to live life a bit differently, or been on an adventure. All normal people, just deciding to live a bit differently. So many amazing people. Not just the speakers, but everyone who went. I’ve never been surrounded with such a brilliant bunch of people. Everyone so super positive, friendly and encouraging. This is what really made it. Two days of intensely charged positive attitude. It’s intoxicating. Like the way there’s a cheer if anyone mentions quitting their job (YES! ESCAPE!). It’s the hugs you give to and receive from strangers like you’ve been friends for years. It’s the way I only met some people for 48 hours, but already my life feels richer with them now in it. Almost a bit too intoxicating though. SO MUCH AMAZING STUFF IN ONE GO. I got totally pissed on it. And like any high, there’s been a comedown. I got a Yestival hangover. Yesterday was a bit flat. Normal life seems a bit shit after that, even though I feel my life is pretty bloody sweet as. I felt like I needed to go sit in a dark quiet room by myself. Concentrating at work on Monday was HARD. How the fuck am I supposed to follow a weekend like that?

By creating a YES LIST. Not a bucket list. Or a fuck it list. A Yes List. Stuff I’m going to say Yes to. Mine is still a work in progress. I’ve spent the last 4 years without a list, but just doing anything and everything, and it’s worked pretty well so far. But, I know sometimes [read: lots of times] I get a bit lazy and procrastinate to SHIT. So, I’m going to take Dave’s advice and have a Yes List to give myself a kick up the arse when I need it. I’ve got loads of ideas, I just need to figure out what to start first. Going part time in 2 weeks time with my new job will help. Only working 4 days and having a 3 day weekend. YES. Fridays will become Fucking Do It Fridays. F-DIF. Helps to have a handy abbreviation I find; let’s brand this shit. Joke, I’ve got no idea about stuff like that. What I mean is I will write things down in a book under a heading of F-DIF. Step in the right direction, right?

What was pretty ace for me though is that I felt like I was a proper part of it. There were people just like me. On the same wavelength. This amazing group of people and I felt like I am one of them. Not stood on the sidelines, unable to join in because I’m not quite doing what everyone else is, or that I’m not part of the clique, or that I haven’t done a massive adventure. No, I could join in. And the nice thing is that I haven’t done a massive adventure, and aren’t doing half the things that other people are or haven’t got a crazy thing planned, but it’s not about that. It’s about mindset and ideas. The mindset of saying yes, regardless of what may happen. Of taking the leap, taking the risk. Saying yes or saying no to make more room to say yes. Being open to other ways of doing things, of looking at life differently and willing to explore, just for the sheer fucking hell of it.

It helped me realise you don’t have to be a full time adventurer. Or do a crazy adventure. Or get sponsors. There are no comparisons. Just have the attitude and mindset and the rest will follow. Be aware there is a different way. Ignore the people that say it can’t be done. The people who say that you have to return to ‘real life’ eventually. Who says what real life is anyway?

I can’t mention all the speakers but I do feel I have to mention the Meek family. Parents and two kids who have been on a journey around the UK in a caravan for the last 18 months, and who are about to upgrade to a campervan and start touring around Europe. They sold their house, quit their jobs, took the girls out of school and went off on a family adventure, and aren’t about to stop any time soon. And I think that is bloody amazing. Anyone who thinks anything but what an amazing thing should meet this family. Meet the two girls who are a credit to their parents. Confident, adjusted, educated and well rounded. Speakers at the festival at ages 12 and 10. Fully grown adults would shit themselves at that, but not these girls. Are they missing out by not being at school? Meet them and decide for yourself. I’m a firm believer that education is so much more than sitting in a classroom for hours a day; the Meek family are a prime example of this. They call it ed-venture. Inspirational. I don’t have kids but if I did, well, I’d be a prime example to want to follow the Meek’s lead.

Oh, and Project Awesome. How can I not mention Project Awesome? A free fitness movement led by Danny Bent and Anna McNuff. Mainly in London but now expanding to Bristol and elsewhere. SO much fun, happiness and craziness is squeezed into these sessions and mega energy radiated out of every single person doing it. I only did a little taster session at the Festival but I know if I lived in London I’d be right there at 6:30am to start my day shouting, cheering, hugging, pledging affinity to unicorns and doing killer burpees. Absolutely fucking awesome.

I still don’t quite know what I’m here to do in life, I don’t know my purpose yet. But that’s OK, because I know I’m doing the right things to maybe eventually figure it out. Maybe I won’t ever figure it out, and maybe that’s the point. Who knows? I’ll just keep on plodding on, doing what feels right and trying new things. There were several open mic sessions to give everyone a chance to share anything they wanted. A story, a commitment, or just a comment or thanks. I didn’t, I didn’t really feel I had anything to share. I told some parts of my story to individual people, but not into a microphone. But, now I’ve thought about it, this is what I would have said “4 years ago I had an epiphany and left my job [CHEER], my home, my [now ex] husband and my cat to live life alone and head off round the world on an adventure to see what was out there. Since then I’ve said yes much more than no, and discovered things about the world and myself that I never would have dreamed of. I’ve brought adventure into my life and am not about to let that go. I’m now back in ‘real life’ but about to work part time instead of full time to give me more Yes time and carry on the adventures, big or small, and carry on trying to figure out what my purpose is.” [LOTS OF CHEERING AND SHOUTING AND WARM FUZZY FEELINGS]

That’s my story so far. Still so many pages to fill and hopefully many more adventures to come. South Africa at Christmas, that’s the next travel adventure. And next year has got a few things in the pipeline but I don’t like to plan too far ahead. Let’s see what the next few months bring first eh?

HUGE MASSIVE thank you therefore has to go out to Dave and his team who did an amazing job organising Yestival in just 8 weeks. It just shows what can be done with a bit of effort and the right attitude. I think it’s pretty certain that there will be a re-run in 2016. And in between there are Yes Tribe events popping up. Mainly in London but not exclusively. So if you like the sound of it (and come on, you have to admit, it sounds pretty fucking incredible right?), check it out, join the tribe and change your life, someone else’s life and the world.

And of course a massive thank you to every single person at Yestival. You’re all bloody ace.

Let’s go change the world.

 

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A love letter to Melbourne.

Dear Melbourne,

Thank you.

Thank you for a wonderful time. It’s gone far too quickly. There’s so much left unsaid, so much still to do. We’ve shared so much together; much laughter, wonder, amazement and so, so many good times. What a wonderful love affair; how can we possibly be apart now? 

You’ve introduced me to some wonderful people, people that I’m glad to be able to call new friends. You’ve given me so many different places and ways to indulge my passion for running and cycling. 

You’ve got a vibe. A good vibe. An arty, quirky, makes-me-glad-I’m-alive vibe. That’s good. I like that. You’re full of adventure, mystery and promise. You make people work for it, but the rewards are worth it. Especially those rooftop bars, hidden down graffiti art splattered laneways.

There’s more to you than meets the eye. You showed me the beach, the city and the countryside all within a day. You reminded me that variety is the spice of life, and it’s good to keep things a bit different, to keep things changing. 

You’re laid back, love the outdoors, sporty and friendly as well as cultured, educated and sophisticated. And a little bit different. My kind of place. And that is why I fell in love with you and will miss you terribly.

So farewell my love, until we meet again one day… 

Tara

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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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Time to leave.

It’s just about time to leave Zambia, which has been my home for the last 4 weeks. On Tuesday I fly back to Johannesburg where I stay for a night before flying onwards to Delhi (via Abu Dhabi) on Wednesday.

I’ve had a blast. Of course I have. 4 weeks. 1 month. It sounds like a long time but it’s not really. It’s gone so quick. It doesn’t seem like 5 minutes since I was arriving here in the back of a pick up with 7 other newbies, all excited for our adventure, not knowing what to expect. It’s been an incredible experience. Chocked full of laughter, lions, children, culture, sun, dust, African wildlife, beer, cold showers, chocolate, waterfalls and bungee jumping.

I’ve learnt a lot; about myself and other people. About Zambia and it’s animals, people and communities. I’m so pleased I did it. So pleased I had that epiphany in that meeting at work just before Christmas. That’s when I knew I had to do something. More specifically, it was then that I knew that part of that doing something was to come to Africa to do some volunteering. I have no regrets at all. None whatsoever. I have so many new memories now that I will treasure forever. I can’t write them all down but here’s just a small selection:

  • The great English vs American pronunciation debate. It never got boring.
  • Riding around in the back of a pick up to get to places. Sometimes stood up, sometimes sat down, sometimes sat on the edge, sun and wind blasting our faces. It reminded me of being little and my Dad’s red pick up that he used to have. Not sure whether I ever sat and rode around in the back though.
  • Andrew washing his hands with toilet cleaner after Firebreak. So funny, especially when we then spent the evening waiting to see if his hands would either a) start to peel b) go red c) burn or d) fall off. Luckily, they didn’t.
  • Nino (sp?) is boy in Spanish. It also means lady bits here in Zambia in one of their local languages.
  • Jamie falling off his chair while we were playing Pictionary. Loudest noise ever.
  • Emily’s inappropriate guesses in Pictionary and her slightly disturbing competitive streak.
  • Finding out what an Eiffel Tower is. No, not the structure in Paris. The rude version.
  • Hi-fiving more times than I can remember. I’m a big fan of high-fiving, I know some people hate it but I LOVE it, it’s so much fun. And over here, the kids love it too. In.My.Element.
  • Knowing that the sun will shine every day and it won’t rain. Ok, so it’s cold in the morning but the sun is already out and by mid-morning it gets hot. Consistent weather; still a novelty. Not sure what India will be like as it’s monsoon season when I’m there so I’m enjoying it while it lasts.
  • Nights out in Livingstone; many funny or interesting things happened the two times I went out. So good to let our hair down and have some fun and check out the local nightlife. Beer pong, dancing, prostitutes, sunglasses, shots, it was all there.
  • African dancing at culture day – I had so much fun doing this, I could have done it all afternoon. Dancing their traditional dances in the sun to the African drums was just magical. I loved it.
  • Bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge. It was my second jump (the first was Bloukrans Bridge in South AFrican in 2011) and although not as terrifying or high as that one, it still got the adrenalin pumping and was such a rush. Beautiful scenery, the sun was shining and we had beers afterwards. What a way to spend a Friday.
  • There’s a line on the Vic Falls bridge where Zambia ends and Zimbabwe begins (we already had to go through border control before that though) so technically I can say I’ve been to Zimbabwe too. Although over here it’s just called Zim. Getting with the local lingo.
  • Playing games with the kids at Kids Club. These were so much fun, the kids get really excited and I got to be a kid again for a bit. Kids are so carefree and we got to enjoy that too. Real adult life can sometimes get dull, boring, serious and sensible. Lets not forget to have fun, blast away the cobwebs and laugh LOTS. We can learn a lot from children, just as they can learn from us.
  • Seeing wildlife every day. And I mean every day. Whether it’s elephants, baboons, hippos, giraffes, impala, monkeys or birds, there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that I’ve not seen something. Not sure I’d ever get bored of it, although you do get used to seeing elephants just wander on by. Or baboons and monkeys running around. Never thought I’d be saying that.
  • Seeing the most beautiful sunrises, sunsets and stars in the night sky. African sunsets are well known, and there’s a reason for that. They’re just breathtaking. Everyone should see one, at least just once. You just can’t beat it. And the stars, out here, in the middle of the bush with no light pollution, are just amazing. We can see the Milky Way; it’s so clear. The stars shine so bright, and there’s shooting stars too. A couple of nights we just laid outside on the grass and watched the stars. Nothing else to do or see, no interruptions, just enjoying the stars. Sometimes the best things in life are free.
  • Sharing the running love; I ended up running with a couple of different people, getting them running. I hope this carries on throughout my travels.
  • Meeting and making new friends. I’ve met a lot of people out here, they’re a great bunch from all over the world; I’ve laughed lots and learnt loads. I hope we all keep in touch. And next year, when I get back home, we WILL have that UK reunion.

Part of my trip away is trying to figure out what I want to do work-wise. I don’t say career because I’ve never been particularly career minded, rather, I’ve just wanted to get jobs that I enjoy, that challenge me, and that I can do well in. I’m not particularly bothered about following a set path, or getting to the top (whatever the ‘top’ is). As long as I’m enjoying what I’m doing and it’s enabling me to live the life I want, rather than a life I have to, then I’m happy. I can say, after this trip, that there’s two jobs I can rule out. Teacher and firefighter. I’ve really enjoyed the teaching over here, it’s been a great challenge, rewarding and I’ve relished any minute of it. But, I couldn’t do it full time. It’s exhausting, frustrating and just not for me. But, it has reminded me how much I love training. I used to do a lot when I worked for the Police and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it. So, that’s a possibility.

And firefighter? It’s something I fleetingly thought about last year. But, after taking part in fire break where we were practically stood in the middle of a roaring fire trying to beat it out, while the thick smoke made it hard to breathe or see, I’ve ruled it out. Obviously it’s not the same at all, but now every time I smell smoke since that first week’s fire break I feel panicky. I really do think it’s scarred me a little bit, it was so horrific, and so that’s definitely one job I couldn’t do now.

Being here has opened my eyes up yet again to new cultures, communities and ways of life that are so different to mine. It’s made me appreciate the things and people I have, and reaffirmed my values and motivations in life. I’m not particularly interesting in things, I’m all about the experiences. I want to help people and make a difference. I know I can’t change the world but I hope I can make a little difference. I hope I have made a little difference while I’m here. I guess I’ll never know for sure but I gave it my best shot.

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When I was 16 I…

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When I was 16 I knew everything. When I was 18 I knew that the 16 year old me had been deluded and now I knew it all. At 21 I realised I was just getting a handle on life and at 30 I knew I would never really know it it all.

And I don’t. I don’t know it all and I never will. But I’ll keep learning and finding out. That’s what makes life so interesting.