January – New Year, New Look, New Bliss Project

This year the 365 Days in Bliss has changed slightly. Each month I will be doing something new for the whole month, blogging about the journey and updating my experience. Last year, the necessity to blog everyday was a huge commitment and when work made it difficult, I started to stress a bit. This was completely counter-productive to the purpose of the blog so this year, doing a monthly project gives me a bit more freedom to write as I go and still offer up a bit of Bliss Exploration as the journey continues. For the month of January, I have decided to take a picture everyday. I have already found a couple of days where this has become difficult; I either almost forgot or just took a random picture out of necessity. There are also some days where I find more than one thing I want to take a picture of, so I have included multiple pictures where I found it necessary. The idea is to find the aesthetic beauty of each day. In the meantime, here are the first 9 days of photos. Tomorrow we leave for Vietnam so I can imagine the next ten days of photos will be FULL of amazing shots!

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Day 237 to Day 244 – eight thousand words

This week I decided to take pictures in place of writing. I kept finding moments of bliss all around me that could no longer be described with words and so in the spirit of stillness and silence, I used photography to capture them. Feel free to contribute any captions that you feel would be appropriate, but most of the time when I look at these photos, all that comes into my head is; “I LOVE MY LIFE!”

Day 237 – wine tasting harbour cruise… work obligations

Day 238 – the morning rituals I can’t live without…

Day 239 – morning run

Day 240 – on the road

Day 241 – always impressed by a person who has a small collection of Buddha’s/deities in their room

Day 242 – breakfast is served: coffee and a view

Day 243 – Sydney by Monet

Day 244 – Happy Father’s Day. Let’s celebrate LIFE!

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 143- grocery wars

I am down the coast at my brother’s house minding his kids with my mum and I am in the mood to cook quinoa and roasted vegetables… My mother takes me into the local bulk buy discount super market. I am almost in tears as I leave. Everything is in a package or frozen! The fruit and veg section was tiny- they didn’t even have sweet potato! And all the veggies had plastic wrapping! I am so horrified and shaken up. As I almost cry, driving home with the kids asking when we will get home, the familiar orange sign of BWS (Beer Wine and Spirits) comes into my peripheral vision. This is my shadow saying, “this is too hard, just give in, become part of the consumeristic culture and just have wine and toast for dinner…” I don’t listen. I physically swipe my forehead, deleting that old samskara (habit) from my mind. I stay strong and cook lentil and roast vegetable pie instead. It is hard trying to be in this world and yet not be affected. I was so angry at the supermarket. Why do people buy crap to put in their bodies? Why does the food industry fill us with crap? Why so much plastic!? Where are the fruit markets lining the streets? You know you don’t belong in this shiny progressive brave new world when, in all its chaos, India makes more sense.

Then I receive an email from one of my friends from the STP course in India; she is an angelic singer and always finds beautiful songs in Hindi describing the principles of yoga. This song perfectly describes my present state and has come just in time as a beautiful reminder that this is reality- this is the struggle we must all face. It would be easy to retreat to a cave and meditate but then, I wouldn’t be learning what I came here to learn. I entered this lifetime, as a woman born in Sydney, for a reason and I must learn to be in this world. Wherever I am, I must find the guru within and learn the lesson I am being shown. These experiences are actually part of the path to enlightenment, not obstructions. There is no need to cry. Just observe, find the truth and always remember the way home is to turn within.

Below the song is translated:

All my wishes and desires are visibly written on my face/forehead.
What can I ask you, really? You yourself understand
Oh Master, Protector

There are only splits, pains in my fate, oh Master/Guru
Set my fate right, dear Guru
At your doorstep, I bow my head and thus, ‘I’ extinguish and am born again. Set my fate right, dear Guru

Whoever came to your doorstep, came with the intent of letting go
They came staggering inside filled with drunkenness of worldly attachments.
They came with a thirst which was unquenched outside, you filled him up completely, fully.
They were seen drenched in Light and thus, rescued.

Chorus: There are only splits, pains in my fate, oh Guru
Set my fate right, dear Guru

There was a fragrance leading me
I lost myself in its search, in the maaya of silken delusion and despite it, I kept yearning for it.
When I started on Your path, then Truth revealed itself to me.
I held within me that fragrance all along, You introduced me to this fragrance.

Of course, I knew only how to be shattered, unfocused and splintered.
I had not learnt to follow the one reason with obedience and surrender
Let me be in Worship/Meditation, Now, I won’t go anywhere else
Don’t turn me away this time. If you do, I won’t be able to pick/gather myself from pieces.

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