Day 150 – bite the cake!

It is my nephew’s fourth birthday so I know I am going to have to battle my desire for sugar today. I decide I need to try a meditation I got from a friend at the ashram in Rishikesh. She had heard I was collecting meditations so she gave me this one to try by Yogi Bhajan:

Beggar’s Meditation

Yogi Bhajan 5/15/73

‘Sit straight in easy pose. Make a cup with the hands by putting the right hand over the left. The fingers will cross each other. Put this open cup at the level of the heart centre. The eyes look only into this cup. Begin the pranayama by inhaling deeply through the nose. Exhale through the puckered mouth. The exhale is as if you spit the air into the palms, but it is a dry, long spitting motion of the air. Meditate on inhaling a particular desire and spit it into the cup with the breath through the mouth. Pick a single strong desire and focus only on that desire throughout the meditation. It will calm and fulfil this desire. Concentrate and imagine, “Whatever you need at this time, no matter how dirty or sublime that desire is.” Continue for 11 minutes.

‘There is a whole technology and science of self-hypnosis that can change the pattern of thought flow in a person. A desire is an energy pattern. Some desires stay with us a long time and are not just physiological needs. Whatever the desire is, it needs to manifest or transform on some level of your being. Until it does, it is maintained by a self-hypnosis pattern. This meditation works on the pranic energy in the aura and changes a particular area of the brain. The brain area is called the “conflict personality area”. It is located at the back of the head, 1/3 of the way up from the base of the skull and 2/3 of the way back down from the hairline. At this point, there is a place under the solar centres that can work out and manifest the desires. Yogi Bhajan said that there are blocks of desire in the personality, which are “itchy” and persistent and “they sit in the heart of the person. But if you put the hand in the heart, you will never find them. They are in the 1/3, 2/3 are of the brain.” The meditation is the technology to deal with desire. It is a trance-like meditation once you master it. It removes the block of too much desire so you can manifest yourself.’

So when I walk in the door of my brother’s house, my nephew shows me four fingers and says, “I’m not little anymore, I’m this many now!” I managed to survive the whole of yesterday without chocolate and I can feel the latent desires arise as I am drawn straight to the cake being covered in bright blue icing. I end up taking way too many photos of this amazing cake, but I am grateful I had so much for breakfast because I don’t actually feel like eating any… yet. While my brother sets up the impossible tricycle, my mum starts a game of pamba. Basically she just starts bashing people with balloons until we are all involved in this balloon brawl. It ends up being the only game that doesn’t involve food. We are Mexican, so obviously, there is a piñata, out of which lollies rain. I don’t even like lollies but I make the conscious decision to just have one, since it is a 4th birthday, so I pick the strawberries and cream. Finally, my brother sets up a string for the donut game. He ties donuts to the string and we have to eat as much as we can with our hands behind our backs. I pretend to have a go, not really wanting any but then the donut swings into my mouth and a crumb of glaze gets lodged on the edge of my tooth. Oh no, I can feel myself tumbling off the wagon. My pupils dilate and suddenly the string is taken away and I go running after it, practically kicking and screaming. My niece is trying the same tactic, but has already had enough sugar for the night and so she leaves he kitchen with her head hanging low. I would feel bad for her, but is better at that game so she ate half her donut anyway. I walk casually over to the box and eat half a glazed donut. At least it isn’t chocolate… but no, then a bite of chocolate covered donut ends up in my mouth just as my niece walks over like an avatar of divine authority and wags her finger at me, the other hand on her hip, “No, no no! Tia (aunty) is having a donut!” I slink away, wiping glazed sugar from my mouth. At cake time, we have this tradition where you bite the cake and be careful of my brother trying to push your face into it. My poor, sweet, innocent little nephew doesn’t know any better yet so he ends up with icing in his eye as his own dad drowns him in the blue sugar. I politely decline but then my legs have a change of heart. They follow the cake to the kitchen and then my hands join in the rebellion and grab a tiny sliver of a piece. In a final act of defiance against my will power, my mouth succumbs to this bite of cake and I know that this desire (addiction) for sugar is going to take more than 11 minutes to kick.

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Day 149 – close the eyes and see the beauty of the world

Australia Day, 2010, I was admitted into hospital for the first time in my life. It was only a few days before that I had said aloud that I had never slept in a hospital, so of course, the gods had to strike me down for my hubris. I didn’t take my contact lenses out that weekend and by the Monday, my left eye felt like some unidentifiable spec was inside it. I took my contacts out and administered eye drops all day but no matter what I did, the spec just got more irritating. By the next morning, I had not slept from pain and fear. I was terrified that I would tear my own eyeball out of my face in pure agony. It turns out I had a severe infection and a big ulcer on my left eye. The doctor reprimanded me for keeping my contacts in for so long- 16 hours a day? Overnight? But I was told these fortnightly lenses could be kept for the whole fortnight if you used enough eye drops! Apparently I was wrong and they should only stay in for 8 hours a day. Well, wasn’t I learning this the hard way? She said that I could lose all sight and had to begin treatment immediately. As my left eye wept puss, my right eye wept tears of fear at the idea that I could go half blind. The nurses of Sydney Eye Hospital had to put acidic drops into my eye every ten minutes for the next 24 hours, all through the night. I was kept on heavy painkillers and barely remembered waking up. By the next day the eye drops were going in every half hour and the rim of my eye was stinging and red. I couldn’t see anything out of my left eye. It hurt to open it and when I did only dim light made it through the thick cloudy fog. I couldn’t keep my right open for very long without my left eye hurting so I just had to sit or lie with my eyes closed. I stayed in hospital for a week.

It was only on the third day that I realised what this was all about. When you have no other option but to sit still with your eyes closed, meditation just happens. In removing my vision, sensorial distraction was stripped away and I began to delve deeper inside. In only a few days my other senses grew sharper. Deep in that internal space, I heard a voice, my voice, the voice of my higher self, the divine, whatever you want to call it. It started to speak louder. I could feel the warmth on my skin, as though I was being embraced by the wings of an angel. I could smell the flowers beside me and the cauliflower (it was always cauliflower) on the dinner tray. I could taste the sweet nectar of the meditation trickling down the back of my throat. As I became a witness to my thoughts, I began to see my internal world and was forced to face myself there in its depths. In facing ourselves, we may not always like what we see but it is only that deep introspection that can allow change to take place.

When the eyedrops were cut back to once every two hours, I began to escape from the hospital. I was only a short walk from the Botanical Gardens so I began to potter around in the sunshine. The wild hair and white band around my wrist probably had people wondering if I wasn’t an escapee from the Psychiatric ward. I found my way to the herb garden and, with my eyes closed, walked around imbibing fragrances of basil, lemongrass, rosemary and thyme. I stopped to feel the heat of the bronze statues warmed by the sun and listened to the Wattle birds high up in the Morton Bay Fig trees. By the time I had let go of the fear of going blind, I could see out of my left eye again and with more gratitude than ever before.

In yoga we call the withdrawal of the senses pratyahara. In order to practice pratyahara, it is important to first focus all the mindful awareness into the senses so that one can then consciously withdraw them. Withdrawing the sight is hard, because our instinct insists that we see the world openly, that we observe and keep a look out for danger; but with television, advertising and the fast pace of the modern world, the senses are overloaded and we see so much that we end up seeing nothing. Like that old adage about not seeing the forest for the trees except that we probably can’t see the trees for the buildings. In a yoga class, especially, we rely upon the eyes, out of fear of ‘doing something wrong’ or of falling over. We watch the teacher or the other students or a spot on the carpet. I have even been guilty of inspecting my toe nail polish in a forward bend. But when we close our eyes, the attention has to go inwards. It is one thing to close the eyes, knowing that they can be opened at any moment… It is another experience entirely to be blindfolded. Tonight at Yogatime, I am teaching a blindfolded yoga class. I have never taught one before, but knowing what it feels like to be blind, I trust my higher self to guide me. As I instruct the class to tie their blindfolds around their eyes, I can feel their fear and apprehension at surrendering to the darkness.The hardest thing for everyone is not balancing on one leg or finding the wall. The hardest part is trusting oneself to know exactly where the mat ends, trusting that when you turn to your left that you actually are facing the left wall. (They all get it right straight away and then half of them use their toes to check and end up turning a little bit too far.) As I watch the students fumble, stumble and giggle their way around, they eventually surrender to their innocence. When we can not see and we know we can not be seen, the judgement is stripped away and the ego grows quiet. People smile more when they fall, they laugh more when they bump each other and they open their mouths wider in lion’s breath. Everybody slows down and by the end of the class, there is a bubbling energy as everybody figures out whose head they patted or whose legs became intertwined.

In my experience of no-sight, I found light. I stumbled into meditation and found something valuable in the dark stillness. If for no other reason than to give them a rest, I invite you to close your eyes for just a moment and know that when you open them again, you will be seeing everything a little bit brighter. In this way can we honour the beauty of the world, in this way can we honour the beauty of our sight.

Day 148 – Coogee to Bondi coastal walk

I have never seen a blue quite like the Pacific. It is cold despite the bright sunshine. I am walking slowly and talking quickly with a friend from school who I haven’t seen in years. It is like no time has passed. There is no point catching up on so many years- Facebook has kept us more or less in the loop about how our respective lives have changed. So we just chat and laugh the whole way. The entire coastal walk should only take 45 minutes to an hour each way but we take about 3 or 4 hours as we stop to take photos and have a coffee at Icebergs, Bondi. The walk is beautiful. Sandstone cliffs hanging over the white foaming waves, crystal blue water and ships in the distance. The cold weather means that the beaches are empty so the sand looks clean and bare. The south end of Bondi is really windy as we stop to take a picture. It is only Autumn so the air is only going to get colder and colder as the day goes on. I feel happy, despite the cold. Winter can’t seem to shake me this year. Despite the break-up, despite coming home from four amazing months away, it feels good to just enjoy simple things that make Sydney so special. The beautiful coast, amazing coffee and great friends- all the ingredients of coming home. Even in the cold, we warm up from the exercise. People jog past us on either side and I miss my jogging as I haven’t done it since Friday. It is seriously addictive, this running business! It is the endorphins, the breathing, the fresh air, the sense of achievement when I extend my endurance another few minutes. And then there is the gentle twitch of muscles when I finally stop to rest. After we ascend the small hill and come around to the bottom of the cemetery at Clovelly, I can feel that same twitch in my thigh. That physical reminder from the body that it appreciates so much movement.

When we get back to the car in the afternoon, my eyes go straight to the sign advertising gelato and I have to remind myself that it would defeat the purpose of the walk to go and eat so much sugar right away. I think I have succumbed to my sugar addiction too much lately. I seem to be eating chocolate nearly everyday. After dinner, as I eat the burka cupcake my mum brought home from the Muslim function she attended with my aunty, I make the decision that I can no longer use chocolate as a comforter. For the next week, if I feel like indulging in sugar, I am going to drink water, then have a cup of herbal tea and then a piece of fruit. I have heard the reward system works best for things like this so my reward for each day without sugar is that I get to buy a new song from iTunes. When I finish the week, I can buy a new album. Sounds like a good deal… until I remember that Wednesday is my nephew’s fourth birthday. Oh god, there will probably be cupcakes! Well there is always this beautiful coastal walk to make up for the cupcakes!

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Day 147 – secret sages

It is my first yoga class since I have been back and I am so excited to teach. I am teaching at Yogatime, in Bondi and it is a bright and beautiful morning as I drive down past Coogee beach. I have mastered my short cuts and through a series of turns can manage to get there in twenty minutes. Pretty impressive, really, since I remember this drive used to take me 45 minutes. I guess I still know my way around Sydney after all! Although I got to teach a friend in Rishikesh very briefly, there is nothing like being in a room full of people and sharing my passion. I am a little bit nervous that I will confuse hips with shoulders or arms with legs but I know most of the students and they are forgiving anyway. Even though I have nothing prepared, none of that happens and as soon as I open my mouth the words just flow. It is like I am merely a channel for something higher that knows exactly what to say. The class goes through at a steady pace and I neither stumble on my words or go too quickly. I feel the prana moving around the room, through me and through the students. It is a beautiful feeling and I am so grateful to be a part of this.

After yoga, I catch up with a close friend, who is one of those wise sages disguised as a football player. We drink coffee from my favourite cafe in Coogee, Morning Glory (I have to hold back from taking a picture of my mocha- it is a work of art!) and we talk about life, in particular a book I gave him to read a long time ago called Living in the Light by Shakti Gawain. It is one of my favourites for spiritual guidance. The most important lesson I gained from that book is the idea that every person you meet is a reflection of a part of you and are there to show you something of yourself. So even the people we may not like or agree with are there to show us what needs to change in our lives.

We then walk to the top of the magical hill. It isn’t really magical, it’s just that when I used to work at the Palace, which is the pub next to this cafe, from the Aquarium bar on the top level we would watch happy people walking to the top of this hill in the sunshine of their blissful weekends while we worked hard through into the late night/early morning. So we started to call it the magical hill. It took a whole year of working there for me to eventually walk up to this hill. Today I am the one enjoying the sunshine of a blissful Sunday. The enormous sculpture of the three rings is a memorial for the Bali Bombings. It was only a couple of months ago that I was at the memorial in Kuta, looking at the same names, remembering the same horrific tragedy. Another older couple stand before the sculpture and offer their silent prayer and then walk away. Like the holiest of temples in India, I believe this has actually become a magical place.

By evening, it is cold and dark by 5.30pm and with good intentions, one of my good friends tells me something I don’t want to hear. It is funny when people talk about ‘going through a break-up’ like it is a long tunnel and the actual separation is only the entrance. How long does it really take to come out of the other side? How long until the darkness and solitude of this tunnel stops affecting my emotions? It was easy to let go and move on in India, but coming back to Sydney, there are so many people I need to talk to, so many people asking questions. So many times I have to try and come up with some kind of funny euphemism to hide the hurt. At first I am angry to be told something that is really none of my business anymore, but eventually I understand that it is good to hear it. Maybe the end of the break-up tunnel isn’t a light, but a steep drop. Maybe you have to fall one more time to make sure that you never go back and make the same mistakes. I wipe away the tears and look in the mirror. What is this showing me about myself? It hurts, but at least it is closure. I can close that chapter of my life now and move on. These tears will be the last.

I have a hot shower and get ready. Red lipstick and red pumps. I even put on earrings (something I never do). Actually I never even wear high heels anymore but despite feeling like I am wobbling around on my tip-toes, it feels good to look good for no other reason than myself. At a pub, I hear that some old work colleagues own a bar over in Bondi so we decide to go there so my friend, Chels, can have a hot chocolate and I can finally have some Australian wine. I was told this bar is ‘sexy’ and when we walk in to Bondi Hardware, I can definitely agree. It is dimly lit and filled with casually dressed beautiful staff and customers. Andrew used to joke that “the people are better in Bondi” though better than what, I am not sure. There is definitely a touch of understated glamour in the rustic feel of this restaurant bar. (Ugh, did I just say rustic? Well there is cacti on the tables and bare brick-work) The house sparkling is a little sweet, but delicious. We consider the squid but Chels wants to know if the tentacles are still attached. This could be a deal breaker for her. It turns out they are; this is a new trend in food fashion, to serve the squid with the tentacles still attached. I guess it gives it that freshly caught feeling. We decide to get the pumpkin and goats cheese pizza. It is so simple and yet the slivers of basil keep it full of flavour and the texture of the creamy goats cheese perfectly compliments the crunch of the wood fired freshly-made base. As we eat, talk, sip wine (everything that is so Sydney and yet so the opposite of how I was eating a month ago in the ashram), Chels surprises me with her wisdom. At only 19, she offers me the maturity and insight of an old sage who has just stepped out of deep meditation. Where are all these secret sages coming from? I travelled around the whole world searching for wisdom and all this time it was right beside me.

It turns out, it doesn’t matter where or what or with who or with which glass of wine, the mirrors will turn up for reflection whenever they are needed. Sages will walk into our lives and give us a peanut or a pearl to teach us something valuable and bless us on our journey. They will always come when they are needed most, whether climbing to a glacier at 3800 metres or walking alone in a dark tunnel. If I ever feel like I need guidance, it seems to turn up. I just have to know when to listen.

Day 146 – the Rocks are vivid right now

First day back at work… And it is AWESOME. I am lucky enough to work with some of the most beautiful people in the world at Embrace, Miranda. It is a spiritual, new age store that is kind of like walking into another dimension when you step inside. The kind of place that always smells amazing from the scented candles and incense, where the energy seems to resonate at a higher level, where you are surrounded by crystals, where children (and grown-ups) can believe in magic, where hugs are free and the laughter flows freely. I only had time for a ten minute meditation in the morning, but it feels like enough because I am already beyond excited to see a couple of my friends and I am singing the whole way to work. My short shift flies through and tonight I am meeting some girlfriends at the Rocks for some chocolate.

We sit down to chat and for the first time, I am with people who have no idea about the break up. They ask casually how wedding plans are going and I have to explain that they are not going. At all. Or ever will be. They gasp (loudly) at the news and then offer consolations, but I am already leaving the table. No, I am not going for a cry. We are at the Guylian cafe and there are more important matters to attend to- like choosing which cake I am going to eat. They all look so amazing, I know this decision is going to take a while. I know that eventually I will have to tell them what happened, but they are understanding and it helps to be stuffing your face with chocolate when you have to relive matters of the heart. Eventually the sugar and caffeine overload has us all leaning back into the cushioned seats, lazily licking spoons and trying not to feel guilty about the ten thousand calories we just ate.

Vivid Festival is on right now in Sydney so we wonder around Circular Quay taking photos of the light sculptures. The sandstone of the historical Rocks, usually so rustic and ancient, is splashed with neon lights and across the water, images are being projected onto the beautiful Opera House. Screams call us over past the angelic bicycles and enormous naughts and crosses where we find a wall that lights up from the sound of screaming people that stand in front of it. Young girls run over in groups to squeal at the wall, making the metal pieces flap up to reveal a row of lights and we are surprised at the small crowd that has gathered to watch. Like a Mexican wave, the crowd starts to scream together and the wall opens is nearly blinding. A single man walks over and roars so loudly he even gets a bit of applause. We wonder on to make shadows on the walls of the MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art), and then ponder the meaning of the blocks of melting ice. My friend Jenny walks away, shrugging; “it is probably some kind of statement about global warming”.

With the city looking so beautiful, the crowd is littered with photographers and tripods as they open their shutters to get beautiful images. I feel a little embarrassed that I have only my humble iPhone camera, but then again I would probably be more embarrassed carrying around my SLR and pretending to know what I am doing. Sydney has such a vibrant energy, it is perfectly embodied by these shining neon lights. I love this city for its ability to be all things at once. In between ancient sandstone beginnings, The Rocks, and its sparkling light show, Sydney is a beautiful place to discover again.

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Day 145 – girt by buildings

My niece’s Year 1 class is singing at her assembly today so we drive in to watch her. She is nervous and smiles shyly when she sees us come in a little bit late. The school is singing the national anthem when we walk in, with the words projected on a screen for the students to follow along. I suddenly realise I have no idea what the words are. I mean, I know the first verse, but they are singing that mysterious second verse I have heard about. I think they are actually singing a third verse. I have never even heard these extra verses. I used to joke that nobody knows the second verse and that it is probably un-Australian to know it but I feel seriously ignorant when I google the lyrics and find out that there are actually FIVE verses! Five! It was only a few months ago that I found out that the word ‘girt’ in the first verse means ‘surrounded by’.

Driving home, I can feel the energy of the city as we draw nearer. I am dreading it. I don’t want to be within this bustling bee hive. I haven’t even started working yet and I have already been looking at flights to leave again. I can feel myself getting anxious about being in Sydney, like I am worried about getting stuck here. I fall asleep in the car and when I open my eyes, the sun is setting and it is already cold. I go to the shops by myself for the first time in months. It is daunting for some reason. I have no idea why, but I feel intimidated by all the bright lights, the fast moving, well dressed people staring straight ahead, and the prices which make no sense to me. I can’t understand why bread costs $5. It all seems too much. The grocery aisles are laid out in a very specific pattern and when I double back to find something, it is like driving on the wrong side of the road. I feel like I am breaking supermarket law and people seem to be getting annoyed with me. When I try to find petrol, the usual petrol station is closed for renovations and I end up driving around in circles because I can’t remember where another pump can be found. How can my home feel like such a strange place, especially after I have been to so many other strange places?

I come home and cook. I have missed cooking. I don’t pretend that my food ends up looking anything like the Donna Hay recipe I am following and I usually know the quinoa is ready because it is burnt to the bottom of the pan, but I know vegetables and I can even make my carnivorous brother eat my vegetable and lentil pie. Today I am cooking roasted vegetables on a bed of English Spinach. Easy, delicious and I am not even missing the red wine that I would usually drink while chopping. While the vegetables roast, I make humus. I don’t have tahini so I use ABC spread (Almond, Brazil, Cashewnut) and sesame oil. It works well enough. I remember my mother gave me this blender when I first moved out of home, nearly nine years ago. I can’t believe it has lasted this long! Eating food I made myself, already in my pyjamas, I feel at home again, but still that longing doesn’t leave. I know I need to do something in the mean time while I am working to make more money to go away again. I can’t just drive around in circles knowing more verses from Amy Winehouse than the national anthem. Then I hear a comment on the TV…

“I don’t much believe in ‘meantime’, life happens in ‘realtime'”.

Well, if I was in Sydney for the first time, what would I do? I probably wouldn’t be sitting around in my pyjamas, waiting for life to happen. Sydney is one of the most beautiful travel destinations in the world. I need to start treating it like a destination instead of limbo between destinations. Ok, let’s turn the world upside down and change perspectives.

Day 144 – running and breathing

When all else seems chaotic and even the pranayama, the meditation, the yoga, takes a backseat to the emotions or the thoughts, there seems to be no greater fix than to go outside and connect with the Earth Mother. Nothing is more grounding than feeling grass between your toes, more refreshing than crisp ocean air, or more calming than moving water. For once, I am lost for words. As I run down along the river and into the dense gathering of pines, this is a running meditation best described through pictures…

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