A very warm welcome and huge thanks for joining me at the start of my travel adventures. I’m new to blogging and my reason for being here is to capture my experiences through photos and writing as a record for myself and also in response to requests from family and friends to share.
Another reason though is to follow a desire that has been bubbling for many years to write more frequently and to be brave enough to share my personal experiences more openly. I find Mary Oliver’s work inspirational and her beautiful words above unfold from a place of deep presence, that arises through stillness, listening, observing and sensing. Soaking up the world around her and paying attention, this is my intention too as I make my way to India on Thursday 26th December to the festival Utsava Maa in Jodhpur, Rajasthan.
Why ‘Journey to Joy’? I’m very aware that life is not always joyful and in fact it can be downright miserable and for some at times unbearable. In the words of Rumi;
“Being a candle is not easy: in order to give light, one must first burn.”
I believe that we are here to experience all aspects of this being human and to do so with as much kindness, gratitude and joy as we can muster.
Science tells us that we are wired with a negativity bias and we have to work at finding the good and the joy in ourselves, in others and in our world. I’ve become much more aware of my own negativity tendencies and how they can be fuelled when we don’t give ourselves space to see them and to cultivate a more joyful approach to life. So here I am giving myself the gift of space and simplicity so that I can learn to find some joy even when life feels tough.
If you’ve stumbled across this blog and have no idea who I am then in short I’m a woman in her fifties who is finally realising her passion for travelling. I’m also realising a yearning to live life with greater simplicity and am setting off with a backpack, that is currently too full and too heavy! Still some more shedding to do before I fly…….
I was interested to read a young lady’s travel blog that described ‘flashpacking’ vs ‘backpacking’ – a way of travelling that allows for a little more luxury, so think ensuite instead of hostel – mind you the latter is still an option apparently if you are feeling like being more sociable. So I’ll gratefully accept that to travel in my fifties rather than my twenties allows me to do so with perhaps a little more ease and comfort should I chose to 😊.
I have spent much of my life planning and organising and this can be an invaluable skill when used wisely but left unchecked it can also become stifling and lifeless. So I’m now willing to experience letting life unfold and seeing what the Universe offers. I’ll be holding these words from Jon O’Donohue close to my heart…
I would love to live
Like a river flows
Carried by the surprise
Of it’s own unfolding
– Jon O’Donohue
Mary Oliver invites us to “Be Astonished”. If I become busy organising and thinking of the next place to visit or things to do then I may easily miss the wonder and awesomeness of what is here right now. So whilst I have a whole list of places I would love to explore my plan is that there is no plan. Staying open and attentive to what life has in store for me can feel scary but oh so wild and exciting too.
To be honest I’ve always loved variety and change but usually I’ve engineered it and worked hard to make things happen. I do feel there is an intrinsic desire as human beings for certainty which is fascinating since nothing in life is certain except that one day we will move on from this world to some place else…
So whilst I’m here I’ll do my best to live this life as Mary Oliver instructs by paying attention, being astonished and telling about it.
I’d love to hear from you with any travel suggestions, experiences that you’d like to share or any general observations on life and how to live it with kindness, gratitude and joy…..
Well I’m still here in the forest four months after I first arrived, that’s a third of a year!!! Very happy to be here though and grateful to have been in lockdown in such a verdant little paradise and in a safe and welcoming community.
The days continue to pass quite quickly really but in a relaxed sort of way. Very little is planned and then what is tends to change anyway and I’m becoming much more comfortable with going with the flow and in fact really enjoy it. Such a sense of freedom, spontaneity and curiosity abounds when one is more open to life unfolding rather than trying to control and manipulate it. Even if we have grand plans for the future right now none of us can begin to know what is around the corner, we never could but now, more than ever, I think we are truly coming to know and understand that.
When we let go of what we think should happen then there are more choices when life takes unexpected and maybe unwelcome turns. I know personally the initial frustration at having some well thought out plans just collapse overnight and finding it difficult at first to grapple with and accept. I’m truly grateful however for the last nine years or more of yoga and mindfulness training and practice that I believe has helped me to be more accepting of the current situation and to learn so much from it. It has truly been a gift to be made to stay in one place and have time to take care of myself and to reflect.
Since my last blog, life has continued in a similar vein with regular walks in the forest and also further afield, spending time with the children and listening to lots of podcasts and reading books. Here is a little flavour of what has been inspiring me during lockdown….
Since reading Eat, Pray, Love and meeting the author Liz Gilbert earlier this year I have been meaning to read her book The Signature of All Things. It has been on my mind since November last year when someone said to me that the book had changed their life – I’ve still yet to find out in what way – but that certainly provided the intrigue to read it myself. I read her latest book City of Girls last December and what strikes me about both novels is the extent and depth of Liz’s research into the era in which the story is set and the vividness of the characters that leap off the pages as you read.
I found the City of Girls quite challenging to read and at one point felt really emotionally drawn into the main character’s dilemma which left me feeling quite uncomfortable. If I’m honest I’m still not sure what to make of the book but I suspect like Eat, Pray, Love I may “get it” whenever the time is right for me to read it again.
In the Signature Of All Things I could identify more with the main character Alma and I loved the internal struggle she had with trying to marry her strong scientific background with spirituality. Through her painstaking botanical studies, she has some powerful insights in to the nature of life whilst realising that these scientific discoveries cannot on their own explain every aspect of our existence as human species on this planet. I really couldn’t put the book down and so enjoyed being led into Alma’s life adventures from her birth to her final days.
I also follow Liz’s Instagram posts and admire her promotion of women of colour and various charities that she supports. I have really enjoyed listening to her being interviewed on numerous podcasts.
Another person that I have been listening to more recently is Russell Brand – he has also interviewed Liz during lockdown. I first saw him live when he was doing a double act with none other than HH the Dalai Lama! In truth I had gone to see HH the Dalai Lama and was a little judgemental about Russell Brand being on the same stage but I warmed to him at that time and this was probably over 8 years ago. He has continued on his spiritual path and what I like about him is his bare faced openness, humility, vulnerability and honesty. He freely talks of his own struggles and issues and does some great weekly interviews on his channel Luminary. Unfortunately, I can’t subscribe to it here in India but I watch clips on Instagram from the show and also video clips that he posts on current issues. I’m sure he’s not to everyone’s taste but for me I feel that he makes, what to some might seem like fluffy spiritual stuff, accessible and thought provoking. He has some great guests with amazing experiences, talents and insights that he draws out through some great questioning mixed in with his own fascinating insights. He recently interviewed Kehinde Andrews about the racist attack on and death of George Floyd in America. Kehinde talks easily and in a very compelling way about some real fundamental systemic issues that we collectively need to address. Racism is systemic in our society and requires each and every one of us to admit that and see our own racist tendencies and biases, in fact not just racism but all the other ism’s and inequalities that exist. These traits are so ingrained in white people having originated in the objectification of people for many centuries so that most of the time we are totally ignorant of these biases and we might not even consider that our actions, words and deeds are racist.
Talking of good questions then Charles Eisenstein is your man. I first came across him on FB when a friend posted a link to his brilliant essay called the Coronation which if you haven’t already read then it’s a must and you can find a link here Coronation Essay. If you prefer to listen to him read it out instead that is also an option here Coronation Audio. Like me there may be parts of it that go over your head, he’s an intellectual scholar after all, amongst other things, but just let those go and take from it what you will. He doesn’t purport to have all the answers but he does ask some great challenging questions about the world we want to live in. He has some brilliant short podcasts (2 to 20 mins) on Spotify and on his website that have inspired me to find out more about our earth and I’m feeling drawn to explore deep ecology, eco-systems and permaculture. His view on our planet is that we must seek to protect, preserve and regenerate life on this earth and whilst climate change is an important part of this he claims that it’s not the most important and that it can become a diversion away from the work that is even more important to address. Do check out his website to find out more.
In the same vein I’m reading Joanna Macy’s book World as Lover, World as Self in which she says “As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us”. She has been working tirelessly since the 1960’s to send this message out to us, knowing that to carry on as we are, caught up in materialism and capitalism, an insatiable greed to want and to have more, is leading to the destruction of our planet. And that also through connecting more deeply to the earth we can heal the loneliness and sense of separate self that creates most of the suffering that we feel as human beings. You can find out more about her life and work here on a great interview from “On Being Studios” on SoundCloud called “A Wild Love for the World” . There’s a podcast here with Tricycle on “The Work that Reconnects” recorded just two months ago.
I love Eckhart Tolle’s teachings and often listen to some of his podcast’s too. He has just been on Russell Brand’s weekly podcast which you can find on Luminary and which thankfully is also available on YouTube.
I continue to meditate with Mooji from time to time and also Louise Kay whom I have done some 121 sessions with these last few weeks. There’s a great podcast here where Louise is being interviewed by Rob Watson on “finding balance and joy in the present moment” . In this I was reminded of two books that each brought significant insights when I first read them, namely “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle and “The Untethered Soul” by Michael A Singer and it’s prompted me to read them again. Rob and Louise have recorded a more recent podcast on “awakening through adversity” and the teachings that COVID is offering . Here is a short calming and connecting meditation by Louise that I like to listen to.
Emma Slade ran a series of Sunday morning sessions during April and May with some simple practices and suggestions to help relieve COVID anxiety and to connect to a sense of calm and compassion. She also ran a 5 week course on “Fearless Compassion” drawn from Buddhist teachings and I found all these sessions really interesting and super helpful . It’s also great to connect with other people from across the world in these virtual communities. She is resuming the Sunday sessions again starting June 28th at 10am – 11am BST and I can highly recommend them. You don’t need to be a Buddhist or have any prior knowledge of Buddhism or Yoga, just join the zoom meetings with an open mind and heart and I’m sure you will find some little nuggets of insight. Here’s the link for the event this Sunday – Emma Slade
I’ve also been listening to Tara Brach again and I can highly recommend her ‘Sheltering In Love’ weekly talks that she has given over the last few months. You can find these talks and also some useful meditations here – Tara Brach webiste
I’m often moved by John Donohue’s work and this blessing (that Tara Brach read out in one of her talks) really resonated with me….
A Blessing for Beauty May the beauty of your life become more visible to you, that you may glimpse your wild divinity. May the wonders of the earth call you forth from all your small, secret prisons and set your feet free in the pastures of possibilities. May the light of dawn anoint your eyes that you may behold what a miracle a day is. May the liturgy of twilight shelter all your fears and darkness within the circle of ease. May the angel of memory surprise you in bleak times with new gifts from the harvest of your vanished days. May you allow no dark hand to quench the candle of hope in your heart. May you discover a new generosity towards yourself, and encourage yourself to engage your life as a great adventure. May the outside voices of fear and despair find no echo in you. May you always trust the urgency and wisdom of your own spirit. May the shelter and nourishment of all the good you have done, the love you have shown, the suffering you have carried, awaken around you to bless your life a thousand times. And when love finds the path to your door may you open like the earth to the dawn, and trust your every hidden colour towards its nourishment of light. May you find enough stillness and silence to savour the kiss of the Divine on your soul and delight in the eternity that shaped you, that holds you and calls you. And may you come to see your life as a quiet sacrament of service, which awakens around you a rhythm where doubt gives way to the grace of wonder, where what is awkward and strained can find elegance, and where crippled hope can find wings, and torment enter at last unto the grace of serenity. May Divine Beauty bless you.
John O’Donohue from Beauty – The Invisible Embrace
I’ve also just started reading his book The Four Elements and I’d love to visit Ireland one day when we can get back on the road.
Another great source of inspiration are the Conscious Café online meetings and last week Gina Lazenby who organises the meet ups in the Skipton area put out a topic for discussion on “Emerging into a New Normal” . She is inviting a conversation to consider and reflect on what you have been going through during lockdown, what insights have come to light for you and do you see a new way forward for you and the world? I responded to Gina with my own thoughts which are as follows……
“I have one overriding wish and that is that all humans emerge and move forward from a place of love rather than fear.
Fear contracts the body and mind and often drives hatred and greed. Love invites a curiosity, a blossoming and a willingness to wake up and engage with life.
I wish for this love to be channelled into self-love, love for all sentient beings and love for our Mother Earth. Like many others I have had, and am deeply grateful for, time to do some self healing work and reflection. I have had the guidance of many teachers (mentioned above) and my own good Self/The Universe.
At times it has been an emotional rollercoaster but one I have been truly grateful for. I feel I have walked a little further ‘home’. I have read, listened, watched, meditated, walked and written so many words – journaling, blogging and a little poetry too. Here’s a poem I wrote one day on reflecting the nature of tears….
“Tears are the Divine rains that clear the streams of manmade pollution and debris to leave them naked of ignorance and open to life flowing as nature intended.
They are a way of beauty, of deep rooted intelligence springing from love. A joyful flowing of fresh possibilities and adventures.
A torrent of vitality, an outpouring of love, washing through us, carrying us back to Source.”
Lisa Milnor 5th June 2020
I feel drawn to explore and care for Mother Earth more. I’d like to dive deeper into eco-systems, permaculture, deep ecology and to learn more about the medicinal, healing and culinary properties of herbs and wild plants. I’ve been looking at courses and the possibility of working at Schumacher college near Totnes. I’d also like to visit Navdanya Farm (https://www.navdanya.org/site/) here in Uttarakhand, North India and ultimately when I’m ready to set down some roots maybe buy some land to live a more sustainable life opening it to visitors to learn and to heal.
But for now I’m still going with the flow, letting life unfold, trying to live as awake and as consciously as I can in each moment. Using the time to shed unhelpful layers to connect to the heart more often and let love shine through. And I trust that at some point the Universe will open doors and offer opportunities to guide me on my path of service when I am ready.
I am also ready to speak out more about our rights and freedom. It would be heart-breaking and totally unacceptable if any of our freedoms are taken away from us with the virus as an excuse. It’s a golden opportunity for systemic change in our cultures to eradicate greed, racism and other inequalities – much of which, I feel, is rooted in capitalism through the objectification of people and Mother Earth – and its going to take a whole lot of awakening and love to do this 💜. I’m up for it, how about you?”
Above are some images of the beautiful flowers, fruit and plants growing on the estate.Anu and I have also made some peony infused oils.
I mentioned above about visiting Ireland one day – travel, now that’s an interesting topic to debate right now! I think all of us know deep down that unnecessary air travel is not in the interests of our planet and ultimately our own health and wellbeing yet I for one have turned a blind eye to that for many years. A part of me senses the importance of us living more in tune with the land in our home countries or wherever we chose to put down roots and another part also recognises the value of travel in terms of broadening our outlook on life and for learning and personal growth. Maybe we need to reconsider just jetting off somewhere for week in the sun or a yoga retreat half way round the world and replace it with more responsible travel and use of our time. I do still feel that to travel as a way to explore and come to understand other cultures and heritage and the different eco-systems is to be encouraged and to be of service. It is also very potent for personal growth and development, as I am myself experiencing.
We travel not to escape life but so that life does not escape us
So with that in mind I have chosen to stay on here in India as long as I can rather than to come back to the UK and then return again. My visa runs out in August and it remains to be seen whether it will be renewed on the same terms as before once international flights resume.
Meanwhile life goes on in the forest and as lockdown restrictions ease here in Uttakarahand I am hopeful of visiting the National Heritage site, Valley of the Flowers during the monsoons and the source of the Ganges in the Autumn. I have been getting out a little more here exploring the area and spent a little bit of time in Jaberkhet nature reserve early one morning and three of us walked a 10km circuit from Lal Tibba to Kolti village last Friday. The walk involved a long descent down from the mountain top to the valley below and then a steep ascent back up. We saw many beautiful flowers, grasses and trees and we feasted on some tasty wild berries as we went along too.
As we neared the end of the walk we meandered through a cemetery with beautiful Deodar trees and monuments and we enjoyed the lovely serene gentle energy that was present.
I await with some trepidation for the monsoons which are soon to be upon us by all accounts. Apparently the eight weeks of intense rainfall and storms can be more of a test of the nerves than being in lockdown! It seems that I will be here to experience this and will share with you next time. Until then enjoy emerging from lockdown (whilst it would seem I am about to go back into it 😂) and remember to “choose love over fear always”.
“If we live this life fearful of dying then we are already dead and we will have wasted a precious opportunity to live a conscious life full of love, joy, kindness and wonder.”
Lisa Milnor, lockdown reflections, 31st May 2020
Since posting this blog I became aware that Air India were sending out repatriation flights to the UK to return Indian nationals and offering seats on the outward leg to UK nationals. My original intention had been to head back to the UK for the English summer to swap the torrential rain of the monsoons of India for lighter rain 😅. So unexpectedly I’ve managed to get a seat and will be arriving back in Yorkshire on Friday 10th July to self isolate in a lovely holiday cottage in Haworth.
The end of an amazing life enriching six month chapter and the beginning of a new one and new adventures. Can’t wait to see and hug my family again and catch up with all my wonderful friends which could take a good while!
Two weeks of self isolation will give me not only time to catch up on some admin 🙄 but also time to intuitively feel into future travel adventures and the Camino Way in Spain is definitely calling …..
May the wonders of the earth call you forth from all your small, secret prisons and set your feet free in the pastures of possibilities.
Is anyone else noticing that despite slowing down the days are full and time is moving quite quickly? According to Nick Haines from the Five Institute this is because we are in the year of the ‘Metal Rat’ and it’s a period when time will feel like it is flying by. The advice at this time is to slow down and for a lot of people this has been forced upon them. Nick recommends however that if you are still running around like a headless chicken and don’t think you have time to slow down that you make time to do so and to reduce the physical, mental and emotional turmoil that will follow.
This being a travel blog my original intention was to share with you my experiences and photos of travelling in Asia. I could put this blog on hold for now as physical travel has ground to a halt however we are always travelling on this path of life and sometimes the experiences of emotional, mental and spiritual travel are equally interesting and rewarding. I do have some other travel experiences to share pre lockdown but I’m not feeling inclined just yet to share, I will in time.
Lockdown in the forest has been a time of reflection and diving a bit deeper into some strong emotions and trying to make sense of them. I came to the conclusion that in this cycle of birth and death which is happening in every moment and on every level that there is a sense of grieving. We think of grief as something that arises only on the passing of a loved one or good friend but in reality the cycles of life and death are all around us in some shape or form eg seasons, food, relationships, the breath, each day, the moon, animals, wildlife, trees and plants…..
We live between the act of awakening and the act of surrender. Each morning we awaken to the light and the invitation to a new day in the world of time; each night we surrender to the dark to be taken to play in the world of dreams where time is no more. At birth we were awakened and emerged to become visible in the world. At death we will surrender again to the dark to become invisible. Awakening and surrender: they frame each day and each life; between them the journey where anything can happen, the beauty and the frailty.
Right now everyone is experiencing the death of life as they knew it pre lockdown and are finding ways to deal with the sense of loss and opening up to new possibilities. Everything is constantly changing and whilst we resist death in all its forms it is a fact of life that it is necessary for new things to be born, to arise. There is a process of letting go, of surrendering and making way for the new, an awakening. On a simple level we may let go of possessions like clothing or household items to make way for new (although let’s hope we can all get off that materialistic, capitalistic, grasping cycle going forward and learn to buy less and recycle more 😊) and on a more complex level we may accept the passing of a loved one so that we can embrace life moving forward. Acceptance though is not about forgetting, it’s about being able to find a way to live with the loss in a kind and gentle way.
It’s a tricky business this “death” thing and being able to let go and move on. It is said that there are various stages to a grieving process all of which are just part of being human and are necessary as we work our way through the torrent of emotions that can arise. I’ll say here that I’m definitely no expert, especially when it comes to losing a loved one through death, so all I can share with you is what is becoming known to me as I learn to let go of attachment to people, experiences and material things. I’ve come to realise how long we can be in denial of a situation and go out of our way to try to grasp to something or someone in the hope that our wants and needs will be met. In this scenario we might have a sense of “living in hope” that we will get what we want. Hope is an interesting word and I was recently drawn to an Instagram post by Liz Gilbert where she shared her daily journal musings and one of the sentences read:
“Abandoning hope is the ending of denial”
She went on to explain how she entered a very different state of being when she accepted that her partner couldn’t be cured of cancer and was going to die. She said she could be
“…..more present with reality and be available for service and even able to relax in to the truth that Nature, Destiny or God was expressing its will. I stopped segueing with fate and found a quiet peace”.
To keep hoping that things are going to change is to stay in denial of what is actually the reality right now. This is an interesting one to consider in the current COVID situation where I’ve seen the word hope mentioned a few times. I feel there is a place for hope after the grieving process where we can be open to the birthing of new possibilities, but before this many other emotions associated with loss are experienced. In the current situation you may have noticed these other emotions including anger and frustration, perhaps sadness or a sense of loneliness, a bit of bargaining going on all of which are valid and all can come and go at any time.
Eventually we move to a place of surrender, of allowing, an acceptance of the reality of the situation and from this place we begin to make peace with what has happened and are then more open to find the meaning in it all and we may even be compelled to take action of a compassionate and caring nature in the service of others.
I’ve also found it helpful in these times to remember the many wonderful experiences, moments and gifts that have arisen from what was lost. In addition there are many examples that people have shared with me in the last few weeks relating to the current situation. These have included the appreciation of having more time to rest, to cook healthy meals, finding new ways of shopping and being more thoughtful as to where they shop and more mindful of supporting their local community, spending precious time with immediate family and with friends through technology and of really noticing the wonder and beauty of nature. What has really stood out for me is the amount of creativity and resourcefulness that people are showing and also just how well we adapt to change.
Life might not be working out as we would like it to but it goes on and I’ve found I’ve had to really watch the negative bias of the mind and to keep finding ways of tuning into the joys of life that are around me in abundance. It also helps hugely to surrender and go with the flow trusting all will be well and that life is working out as intended.
I’d love to hear what you’ve found hard to let go of and what new wonders you’ve woken up to.
Sending much love and all good wishes for your continued safety and wellbeing 💜
For nothing is fixed, forever, forever, forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.
I’ve now lost count of the number of weeks I’ve been here in my lovely little cottage in this beautiful forest retreat but I arrived 22nd February so that’s three months ago!!! Where has that time gone? Despite my intentions to have seen a bit more of India by now I have so enjoyed staying in one place and seeing the land change as the seasons have moved from the end of winter through spring to the onset of summer. When I arrived it was pretty cold and often rainy and the days have gradually got longer, warmer and drier and now it is like a lovely English summer with temperatures nudging towards a balmy mid twenties on some days. The nights however are thankfully still cool which I prefer as I really don’t like very hot temperatures especially for sleeping. Temperatures will reach mid thirties before the monsoons start so that will be testing.
I’ve tried to keep a daily journal but sometimes my days are so full that I either forget or just don’t seem to have time to sit down and write for an hour. Elizabeth Gilbert, who is one of many people that have been inspiring me during the last few months, recommends being diligent in allocating an hour a day to writing no matter how you feel and I have really been trying to do that.
So what have I been up to this last month since I wrote my last blog….
Well I’ve continued to spend time with the children either helping them out with work from school or being creative making mandalas, painting, cooking, dancing and we even made a film which was great fun.
I’ve done a little work in the garden but not enough and the weeds are getting a bit rampant. Some things are growing really well and we have started to harvest the radishes. Spinach is thriving and the tomato and cucumber plants are getting more established plus we have some lettuce, onions and an odd marrow or two making an appearance. No sign of the carrots, aubergine, green pepper or cauliflower that we planted back in early April.
Anu is keen to grow more local produce here such as ginger and lentils and a large area of land has been dug over and spread with some beautiful earthy manure from the forest. A watering system has been set up as there is now very little rain and won’t be much until the monsoon season starts early July. I had planned to head back to the UK during the rainy season here, apparently it can be a test of nerves as it rains relentlessly for seven weeks or so. I suspect though I will still be here and if so then like everything in life I will just have to embrace it and go with the flow. It will be another experience to share with you at some point.
There are masses of peonies here that Anu’s stepfather planted years ago and which he would cut and sell into hotels as far as Delhi (a six hour drive from here). I am enjoying picking the ones that are so heavy that they are lying on the ground and bringing them into the cottage together with some of the roses that Anu’s mother planted and loved. Anu and I are also drying some of them to infuse in sesame oil and they are currently adorning my windowsill. They look so pretty and smell divine. When you first pick them the leaves are so silky soft and the smell is very much like roses.
I still try to get out into the forest on a daily basis and have seen more wildlife recently the highlight being four large barking deer that came trotting towards me on the ridge on top of one of the hills. I don’t know who was most surprised as they suddenly appeared directly in front of me trotting quite quickly in my direction. At first I thought they were cows as they were a similar size and quite bulky in stature and then realised they weren’t and they were very agile as they split into two groups disappearing off down into the forest either side of me. So wonderful to see them even for just a few moments. On another expedition I saw a large hare tearing towards me closely followed by what I think was a pine marten in hot pursuit. The poor hare had to change direction and I do hope it managed to outrun it’s predator. There are of course lots of birds and many of them stunning in colour. They are also extremely vocal and the dawn chorus which starts at around 5am is very tuneful and a delight to wake up to.
Each morning the first thing I do is to throw back the bedroom windows and deeply breathe in the fresh mountain air, it really is so delicious and refreshing and the view of the forest is magnificent. I then usually have to eject a few rather large spiders and even a glow worm that seem to like living with me!
I’ve loved seeing the forest vegetation changing and thickening, bursting with soft fresh greens and now more colourful flowers emerging. I try to use the time in the forest as a walking meditation staying tuned into the many different sights and sounds and often walking at a gentle slow pace and occasionally stopping and just sitting feeling into its life force. Sometimes I come across other people and just last week as I sat down on a rock to meditate I heard the voices of some local ladies and when I later walked past them saw that they had a goat that I presume they were taking out for a walk to graze. It was such a lovely sight, these three young ladies lying in the forest just chatting and one on a phone and the goat on a rope nibbling the vegetation. I mused at how different to meeting up with friends in Skipton where we might spend time at a local café having a cuppa and cake or lunch.
Talking of food, I have been having some cooking lessons from Sushma and now know how to make Indian Chai tea, jelebis pakoras and parathas, which I really love although I haven’t actually made any of these things myself yet. I don’t really get chance as Anu, Sushma and Berfi are always very kindly bringing food round for me – I really do get spoiled here and I’m so grateful for their kindness.
It was Rakesh’s birthday last week and I had heard that you could make cake without an oven and this was a good opportunity to give it a go. I googled a recipe and sure enough you can make a sponge cake on top of a gas stove and so Sushma, me and the children baked Rakesh a chocolate cake on top of the gas stove in a sort of metal casserole dish. It was pretty good and cooked really well although it was just a bit dry so next time I might try the chalet cake recipe I used to make in France which uses yoghurt and oil. Arohi suggested we decorate the cake plate with peony petals.
We had the cake and chai in the evening to celebrate Rakesh’s birthday and then continued with some snacks accompanied by some beer and village wine. This is the first alcohol I have had since being in Delhi early February so I took it easy!! We had a really fun evening with some dancing, chatting and then a late dinner before I headed back up the hill to my cottage. Everyone has made me feel so welcome here and I love getting to know them better and to learn more about how they live and work.
I’ve made time for reading, listening to talks, doing online events that are of a spiritual nature and have felt a deeper understanding of much of what I have been learning and practicing over the last eight years or so. Some of the people that have influenced this recently include Mooji and Louise Kay whom I spent some time with in Rishikesh, Emma Slade who has been running a regular Sunday afternoon sessions and a 5 week course on fearless compassion, Russell Brand who does regular videos and some great podcasts and Liz Gilbert who never fails to inspire me with creative ideas. I’ve signed up to do some art workshops and painted my first watercolour with a youtube video as guidance and as I mentioned earlier, I am trying to write each day.
I listen to Eckhart Tolle, Tara Brach and I have an interest in Shamanism and am reading a few books on this. I find it hard to describe the impact that all of this activity and learning is having but ultimately it feels uplifting, inspiring and all supporting the embodiment of living life more joyfully, consciously and with greater kindness. My wish is that this inner work will ultimately be of benefit to others and will enable me to share my own personal development and journey with others who also wish to find ways to navigate this life with greater joy, presence and kindness.
If you meditate
to be a better person
you’ll always be busy
trying to be a better person.
If you meditate
because you are in love
with resting in your own
luminous infinite being
you’ll always be in LOVE
So that’s an hour of writing so I’ll sign off now and upload this little update to my blog tomorrow with some photos – which can be a bit challenging due to a weak network signal.
Stay safe everyone and wishing you a gentle easing out of lockdown whatever that might look like for you in your part of the world.
Today has been a truly joyful day. I awoke at 6am which is later than usual and felt rested and positive when I woke up. I’ve noticed that my mind can be quite agitated and negative in a morning and sometimes up to thirty minutes has passed since waking and I’m still laid in bed with the mind worrying and churning over inconsequential stuff. So I am learning to manage it better and one thing that really helps is the morning pages practice from Julia Cameron’s book and programme called the Artists Way. The practice is to write three pages of whatever is on your mind which might seem like utter nonsense or quite profound – it really doesn’t matter, you just let it all out through the pen. I find it really therapeutic and often quite insightful too.
I then meditated for an hour using a guided breathing practice, followed by a refreshing shower before doing a few rounds of sun salutations and a bit of TRE to loosen up the body and get it moving. Today I felt compelled to dance, something I’ve done very little of recently and I chose some tunes from my Spotify dance playlist – ‘Rhythm is a dancer’ by Snap, ‘You’ve got the Love’ and ‘Dog days are over’ by Florence and the Machine. Such a great way to lift the spirits and get the body moving – think I’ll make that more of a regular activity from now on. It reminded me of the five rhythm sessions that I’d started going to back in the UK and if you love to just let your body move with music then I can recommend seeking this out when we are all able to get together physically again. I’m sure there will be versions of these going on online right now too and I did try to join a dance session that a friend organised although my phone signal here is not that brilliant and I don’t have wifi which can make online sessions a little tricky.
I thought that today I would have plenty of time to do my daily hour of writing and to finish the mailchimp newsletter that I had started on Friday and that I planned to send out this weekend. I had planned a morning walk with the children, a session with Emma Slade in the afternoon and a family quiz zoom meetup in the evening so there would be pockets of time in between these to write. However, even living this simple life here in the forest where the days generally unfold in a relaxed way the days are often full and I never know what they have in store for me and today was to be no exception.
John came round at 9.30am for porridge and a cheese, egg and tomato butty before the children arrived for the planned morning walk at 10am. Anshu was the tour leader and off we set into the forest. It wasn’t long before he had us ascending a steep route through sometimes dense vegetation to finally arrive on the path that I often walk which looks down onto our little cluster of community buildings.
We continued walking to where the path ended at the Woodstock school gates, which were locked, and just as we were about to turn round a family walked by and perhaps unconsciously craving some contact with the outside world I struck up conversation with them. It was great to meet some new people (from a distance of course) and as I write this I realise that after two months of meeting so many new people when I first arrived in India and then the last two months of being solely in our small community and spending more time on my own I was missing meeting people for the first time and hearing their stories.
As we headed back down the path John suggested two great games to play; I-spy and a memory game “I packed my bag and in it I put….” which we all enjoyed but especially the children who entered into the spirit of it very enthusiastically. We came to some water pipes running up the hill and the kids in their creativity used them as a slide and I couldn’t help but join in too. I can’t post videos on here but you can watch one of them here on Instagram .
We then had a bit of a sing song on a viewing platform although I think my version of Wild Thing was a bit too much for Arohi who said whilst I was in full swing “Ma’am shall we go now”! 😂😂
We sat on what has become my meditation rock outcrop overlooking the densely packed forest and the steep hills that surrounded us and played some more I-spy. Such a simple game but ideal to foster their learning of the English language and by now the children were getting a bit cleverer in their choice of words.
As we continued down the steps and on the path back towards the estate, I videoed the children in slow motion jumping off rocks. They absolutely loved it and I think we might have been doing that for a few hours if it wasn’t lunchtime and we needed to be heading back. Krishna wanted to show us the fish in one of the large water troughs so we clambered down a small steep banking and then up another one to walk precariously on the edge of the trough.
At 1pm we finally parted ways and as I popped in to say hello to Anu and show her our forest fun videos and photos she offered some spaghetti with a lovely veggie tomato sauce that she had just made. I wolfed it down due to it’s deliciousness, the novelty of pasta and being pretty hungry after our three hours of forest capers. I’d just finished when Chandan Singh called me, which he doesn’t do very often as he doesn’t speak a lot of English and I speak even less Hindi so our conversations are usually very short! Anyway the gist was that he was bringing round some dahl and rice for my lunch!! I couldn’t eat it all and popped some in the fridge for dinner but as it was pretty hot/spicy I added some yoghurt with cucumber, coriander and grated beetroot and voila, lunch number two which was also very delicious!
This was the second time in two days that some food arrived unexpectedly. Just yesterday morning Anshu knocked on the door with a breakfast bag that his mum had just made. What a lovely welcome surprise that consisted of rice poppadums and a sort of rice pudding dish which had pieces of fresh coconut and raisins in it and I could taste green cardamom too. It was just so yummy and comforting and I savoured it with much appreciation. Not long after Anu sent over a Dosa that she had made which was equally delicious. These two course meals are becoming a regular occurrence and as they are all vegetarian, healthy and freshly cooked then I’m sure my body is benefitting, which is really my excuse for eating copious amounts of food! I remember also one morning Chandan Singh arrived at my door with what I think was a tasty nettle dish for breakfast that Berfi had made, such a wonderful surprise.
It feels very special to receive food from others whether they have very little to offer in a material sense or even if they do. It’s such a thoughtful act of kindness and I know that I too enjoy cooking for others and sharing food. So I am certainly feeling very loved and cared for by my neighbours in what has become my new home in the last eight weeks.
I’d just finished my second delicious lunch when a friend that I’d met in Rishikesh phoned and it was lovely to sit out in the sunshine on the veranda and catch up. At 3.30pm I had to ring off to join Emma Slade’s Sunday online session where she is sharing some of the Buddhist teachings and practices to guide us through these challenging times. ( Here is the link for the next session with Emma Slade) Today she talked about the opportunity of a precious human life and she shared the following words:
This Precious Life
“Everyday think, as you wake up, today I am fortunate to have woken up. I am alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it, I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
HH Dalai Lama
I bought a postcard with this on years ago whilst doing some yoga therapy training down in London but for some reason the words and the teaching today with Emma resonated very deeply and I had a real sense of “Oh my word this life is just so precious and what am I doing with it that is of benefit to others?”. I have written the words out on a piece of paper to read each morning when I wake up as a reminder and I’ve also added at the end “And I’m going to have some FUN doing it!”
Emma gave us a few questions to reflect on such as “If you were to view your life as really precious each day what would that do for you? What might change, what might be enabled?” She asked us to reflect on what prevents us from recognising that our life is precious and what helps us? The teachings emphasise just how rare it is to have a life, that is why it is so precious and also it isn’t here for ever and because of the intelligence and compassion that each living being has (say compared to a worm!) we have enormous potential to benefit other human beings.
Emma also talked about resilience and how we are hearing phrases such as “fighting the virus, we are going to win this war, that we need to stay strong and resilient” and suggested that this can be very exhausting. Perhaps instead of battling if we put our energies into recognising the opportunity we have in this precious life for love, compassion and appreciation then we can move through these challenging times with greater ease.
I have reflected on the Dalai Lama’s words and how might I take action to the benefit of others as for the last two months I have been taking care of myself as this has felt necessary. There are small ways I am doing my bit here to support others whether it’s helping fund the building projects, supplementing a family’s income by paying for my washing and some food or helping the children with their school work. After a hectic two months in India I have for these last two months, whilst staying in the forest, taken the opportunity to slow down, rest, recharge and continue to let life flow and unfold. As a result, I’m now sleeping better, I feel fitter from my daily forest walks and yoga asana practice and I’m eating a healthy vegetarian diet. I think this together with being at altitude, 2,200 metres, the clean air and the oxygen of the forest are all benefitting my body on a physical level. When our bodies are more relaxed and we slow down then it helps the mind too in the same way although as we become more present to this life emotions are more likely to surface. It is fair to say that I’ve had a few emotional meltdowns whilst here with some familiar emotions arising and some surprising ones too. I’m very grateful for the teachings and practices that I’ve had over the years that are helping me now to support myself at these times and also for the support from Anu here and other friends and teachers that have provided virtual support. Whilst it may not feel pleasant at the time, I know that it will pass and that ultimately these emotions need to be processed and shed to feel freer and more joyful going forward.
Life does not accommodate you, it shatters you.
It is meant to and it couldn’t do it any better.
Every seed destroys its container or else there would be no fruition.
Florida Scott- Maxwell
So after this period of taking care of myself I’m noticing that I’m feeling more energised and ready to take more action and a few days ago felt compelled to write a newsletter sharing resources that I have found helpful during the lockdown as well as sharing links to the work that many of my friends are doing to help others. More will unfold gradually and I’m listening out for signs from the Universe as to what I’m being called to do.
So back to the joyful day…I was just settling down to do my hour’s daily writing when a text popped up from Anu asking me to head down into the garden. We have a major project going on to dig over and plant out around seven areas of ground. The family of migrant workers working on our neighbour’s property are also helping Anu with some jobs around the estate and they have worked hard as a team to dig over the beds and weed them. Anu had been given some seeds by her neighbour, Rupen, from the flowers on his large estate near Mussoorie. Whilst John, Anu and I planted theses flower seeds Chandan Singh spread out some beautiful rich compost that he has been collecting from the forest each day. He is only of small stature but boy can he carry some heavy weight, I couldn’t even lift one of the bags.
After we had finished Anu invited us in for a cup of chai and a chat and then I headed back to do my daily hours writing as it was now getting late in the day but other tasks needed doing as I hadn’t been in the house much that day. Then a knock at the door and Anshu arrived with a huge bunch of freshly pulled spring onions that Sushma, his mum, had just harvested from her garden, then it was time for dinner and Chandan Singh arrived with subje and three chapatis. The subje is vegetables and today these were maidenhair ferns that Berfi had collected from the forest. Every other day Berfi cooks a simple supper for me which I pay for as a way to supplement their income. Berfi will sometimes help me with my washing for the same reason. These are tasks I could easily do myself but it is a way to support their income and “helping them to help themselves”
After doing a bit of tidying and getting things ready for bed I tuned into zoom for what is turning into a weekly family Sunday get together and tonight it was quiz time. Each of us had to ask five questions and mine were all about India – did you know that shampoo was first used in India, it was called Champu which is a Sanskrit word. Clearly a larger group has it’s advantages with my brother and his family easily winning and little old me on my own clocking up the grand total of 1 out of 15 points 😊. Anyway as they say it’s the taking part that counts….and yes it was wonderful to see everyone and I did learn a few things too.
What a fabulous fun day. So much to be grateful for – kind unexpected gestures of food offerings that make me feel loved and cared for, laughter, fun and learning with the children, fresh vegetables from the garden, the feel of the warm earth and planting seed, connection with other human beings even if at a distance, spending fun time with family, writing, receiving teachings and engaging with others across the globe. Just a wonderful, heart filled day and one that I really feel has been lived joyfully, consciously and with so much kindness from all around me.
Not every day is like this and some are pretty tough emotionally and I’ll share these with you too in due course. But I wanted to really capture today so that I can look back and savour the good as Rick Hanson recommends. In the book I’m reading (The Reluctant Shaman) they talk about “Passion Hunting”, connecting to what makes you feel alive and joyful, well I’ve had all the ingredients today for that – kids, food, friendship, family, new experiences, gardening, being in nature, teachings, meditation and dancing!!! Oh and yes finally some delicious chocolate that I get delivered. Rohan who dropped it off the other day thanked me and said it was people like me and John that kept their business just covering it’s costs and paying wages. Bingo! What a great excuse to make a regular order. Eating chocolate and knowing that it is helping others, it doesn’t get much better than that.
The day however was also tempered with the news from the UK that a good friend and family had lost his niece to the virus. A stark reminder and contrast that life is not that joyful for many people in the world right now whether due to the virus or their ongoing circumstances that have been in existence for years such as illness, death, homelessness, loneliness, starvation, war, abuse. So if like me you find a window of joy then take a big deep breath and breathe it all in, let it fill your body, your mind, your bones and as you breathe out send that beautiful energy to all around you to the world around you. Nothing is permanent and one of our tasks in this precious life is to surrender to this uncontrollable fact and to take it by the hands and dance – like no one is watching.
May we all live this precious life joyfully, consciously and with kindness.
I’d like to share a poem with you that seems relevant in these times….
Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop, the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend.
Well it’s been a while – hey?! I’m not really sure why it has been so long but I feel if I don’t write something soon I might never write again! Just kidding, but to say I’m staying in the “Writers Cottage” there hasn’t been a lot of blogging going on although I have been quietly writing away in my journal. So I thought I would at least write something quite short today to get the momentum going again. I’ve also been inspired by a post by Liz Gilbert who recommends writing for an hour a day whether you feel like it or not and even if you are in full swing to just write for an hour. So that is my plan to write for an hour a day and to publish more blogs. Let’s see because somehow life seems to have a habit of taking over even in lockdown!!!
My last post was 14th February so that’s over two months ago but to write about all that has happened since then feels a little overwhelming so rather than start at the beginning I’ll start at the end. I’ve kept notes throughout the last two months that I can share slowly over the coming days and weeks. I’m hoping now as I’ve said to get into a writing rhythm, we shall see……
So here I am in lockdown in a beautiful, idyllic forest retreat, in the foothills of the Himalayas, near Mussoorie in the North Indian state of Uttarakhand which borders with China and Nepal. I arrived here eight weeks ago intending to stay a week or so and then as things began to heat up with the virus I decided to just wait to see what happened and boy I’m so glad I did!
So let me tell you a little about this forest retreat called Aranyaka Upanishad that the Universe has so graciously brought me to. Anu, who describes herself as the caretaker of this little piece of paradise, was gifted the forest estate by her mother just over two years ago. It was a total surprise to her and it meant uprooting an academic life in Denmark to initially protect the forest from hungry money-making developers and then to constructing yoga halls, cottages and a forest school to share the forest with others. Anu’s personal story as well as that of her mother is extraordinary and I hope one day that she will share it more fully through a book that she is planning to write. Maybe I will share a few snippets in another blog – it really is an incredible inspiring story of love, dedication, vision, intrigue and passion, all the hallmarks that make a best selling book and a block buster movie!
We are a small community here of currently fifteen, Anu the guardian, myself and another UK national John, a family of four, a family of three and a family of five migrant workers who are currently constructing a new house for a nearby land owner and conservationist. There are three children aged 11, 9 and 7 and on a week day I spend an hour or so helping them with their school work or doing something creative. We have also walked together in the forest collecting firewood and done some PE with Joe Wicks. It’s a real joy to spend time with them especially when we are out in the forest, watching them run around and see their curiosity at even the smallest flower or piece of lichen.
Most days I go for a walk in the forest to get some exercise and to meditate and sometimes read. Anu has a great collection of books which she is very happy to share and I’m currently reading ‘The Reluctant Shaman’ which is fascinating. I have to say that I still prefer to have a paperback in my hands rather than read from a screen but when you are travelling you have to pack light so I’m grateful to have this time when I can hold a book again.
The other morning I went for a walk earlier than normal as I had a few things planned during the day and also it is beginning to get a bit hotter here now. Even at 9am when I was sat on the top of the hill in the sun meditating with Mooji the sun was quite intense. After some cold and wet weeks the weather now is wonderful and most of the time like a beautiful English summer’s day and I love sitting out on my veranda outside my cottage which is what I am doing as I write this blog.
Life moves at a slow pace here and seems to have slowed down further now in lockdown. I came here to the forest feeling the need to retreat after having spent two intense weeks travelling the cities of Rajasthan and then spending an amazing eight days in Rishikesh (I will share my experiences at some point!). I needed to let all that I had experienced settle and to digest what felt like a huge download of information and connections. What I didn’t expect is that that retreat would now be in its eighth week or that the whole world would join me!!!!
I like to let the days unfold and to just go with the flow and most days are full in a relaxed way. Spontaneity, simplicity and slowing down are my current mantras. I’m able to cook for myself which I enjoy and also means I can still have my English favourites of porridge and marmite 😊 and sometimes I eat with Anu and John. Anu cooks a mean Paratha amongst many other delicious dishes. We have also planted our own vegetables and some flowers over the last few weeks.
So all in all I feel very fortunate to have landed in this beautiful part of the world whilst we are all in lockdown. I’m safe, well, being quietly cared for and most of the time I’m happy so all is well in my world right now. More than ever we come to realise that taking each day at a time, each moment at a time is all that we can ever do and if you have the opportunity to slow down and reflect then accept and appreciate this precious time. There are countless different experiences of this lockdown and for some it means extreme hardship and I am hugely grateful to those who are doing their best to help those in need. Times such as these always brings out the best in humanity and added to that our amazing planet is getting to rest, restore and rejuvenate.
Sending the warmest of wishes to you and your loved ones wherever you are in the world and may we all stay safe, well and kind in these interesting times.
I posted these words by Jeff Foster on Facebook and it’s the most liked and shared post I’ve ever done so I thought I would share them here too. If you have the gift of being able to rest then treasure it. I appreciate though that there are many people especially those in the medical profession who are exhausted and I hope that they too can find some downtime to recharge and take care of themselves too.
In my limited experience so far of travelling in India I can only describe it politely as “interesting”. In the seven weeks I’ve been here I’ve travelled by bus, train, taxi and tuk tuk, oh and by camel too! I’ve previously taken internal flights and I’ve yet to experience motor biking and cycling.
What to make of it all, its definitely different to travelling in Europe. The factors that contribute to the experience include Indian time which is not as precise as Western time; lack of clear signage, if any, indicating bus stops; difficulty booking tickets online if you are not Indian; excessive noise not just from the cronky, old vehicles and the constant horn blowing but from the drivers and passengers too; the ability of Indians to cram themselves together in small spaces and to think nothing of it; the taking and sharing of food with other passengers; the pollution and dirt from the overcrowded and often unmade roads; the total lack of health and safety awareness in terms of roadworthy vehicles and driving ability; very lax driving test requirements and if there are road rules nobody knows them or totally ignores them and the lack of cleanliness despite best efforts.
Does that give you a bit of an idea as to the challenges a Westerner faces when travelling around this vast country? If you are thinking that you’ve experienced similar in Europe then imagine it being at least ten times worse.
So travelling here is definitely not for the fainthearted, a sense of adventure and a whole lot of trust that it’s not your time to leave this earth is needed! I keep reminding myself the age a clairvoyant said I would be when I shuffled off the mortal coil, however I should have also asked what state my body would be in 🤣🤣.
My second trip on a bus was the community bus from the ashram to Jodhpur. The driver drove like a man possessed until half way through the journey we stopped for a break and after some chai and food his driving was less suicidal! I sat at the front of the bus alongside two ladies one of which asked me a number of questions which included “Do you have anything from abroad you could give me?” and “Could I have your mobile number?” A firm “No” was my response to both questions. One thing I am learning fast here is to set boundaries very quickly and to be very assertive when behaviour is not acceptable. I’m sure being in my more mature years is also helping me in this respect but it’s not something I’ve been able to do easily up until now.
It was a fairly uncomfortable journey not just because of the numerous occasions I thought we were all going to die at the hands of this dangerous driver (especially when he was also talking or texting on his mobile) or because of the impertinent questions from the young Indian lady, or because of the continuous stares of other passengers and them trying to surreptitiously take my photo but also because of the hard seat and doing some luggage juggling. But hey I’m here to tell the tale and it was preparation for what was yet to come….
Travelling by tuk tuk is quite hilarious once you’ve been in one a few times, think whacky races on steroids. It’s like a dance the way all the different modes of transport and people on foot weave their way along the roads. Everyone honks their horns constantly as a way of letting other vehicles or pedestrians know they are there but no one takes a blind bit of notice. Everyone seems to try to go as fast as they can darting and weaving about but there’s so much traffic in the cities and towns that you don’t get very far and it’s a constant stopping and starting. The near misses are happening in every moment but someone always gives way right at the last millisecond. We had a few fun moments when with friends it became a bit of a tuk tuk race.
Train journeys are interesting too, particularly the cockroaches which gave us all a surprise on Sunday as we travelled from Pushkar to Delhi. We were on the train for around 7.5 hours which felt long enough to me but apparently the train kept going for three days!!!!! Can you imagine being on a train for three days, some journeys are even longer? Taking overnight trains and buses are quite common amongst the travelling community but I personally don’t feel drawn to it just yet. I doubt I would get a wink of sleep, worrying about my stuff getting taken or worse still a cockroach up your nose or in your ears 😳😳!!!
After this long train ride and a week of being on the road with a group of friends from Europe (blog on that adventure coming soonish) I was getting pretty desperate for some peace and quiet and to get into nature. However India decided she’d just give me another blast of craziness before I could do that. Bus journey number four and I thought I’d got it all sussed and it would be a breeze, what could possibly go wrong. Lesson learned, do not expect any travelling to go as planned, know that no two journeys in India will have any similarities.
Where to start and how not to bore you with what felt like an epic journey. Shortened version is couldn’t find the bus and with a ton of luggage to carry and departure time imminent a bit of flustered panic set in. Bus found but wasn’t impressed with it’s appearance, even less impressed when I managed to get on it as it had lots of sleeper cabins and felt a bit claustrophobic. Left about an hour later than planned and seemed to take forever to get out of Delhi. Consequently ETA moved forward by an hour to 7pm and then later in the journey to 8pm – this is totally normal apparently Constant horn honking by the driver at times, not conducive to sleep but other passengers clearly used to it. Noticed that the door between the passengers and driver could only be opened by someone in the driver area, not a good feeling for claustrophobic tendencies 😳.
On a positive note the guy in front didn’t recline his seat (suspect it was broken) and a had a petite young Indian lady sit next to me. Also I managed to fall asleep for about an hour which helped time go more quickly and also shifted a niggling headache. Loo stop quite acceptable and although the sleeper cabins started to turn into sardine tins (my worse nightmare) thankfully there were only a few people standing in the aisle.
Confusion reigned when we got to Haridwar, 14km from where we were supposed to be getting dropped off and still 21km from my guesthouse, when we were told to get off the bus. In hindsight I should have got on another bus that was going to the location I’d booked but lots of helpful and I’m sure well intentioned Indians decided I should get a tuk tuk to my final destination. Now 7 or 8kms in a tuk tuk in the city is quite long enough but 21kms in the freezing cold and on the bumpiest roads ever (due to roadworks) is total madness. And that’s exactly what it was – we changed tuk tuk part way, picked up and dropped off other passengers along the way (interesting prompt from the Universe on the Bhagavad Gita – more on that another time), driver no idea where we were going and then the roads on google maps (I became the navigator) turned into dirt roads and to cap it all the tuk tuk broke down. Yes I kid you not just 2km from the farm house we stopped the engine so that I could speak to the farmhouse manager and then next news the driver started lifting up a seat and with a cheerful smile on his face pointed to a broken frayed cable which sparked when he put it near metal. Deep joy 🙄. It’s at this point that I remembered the wise words of Eckhart Tolle whom I’d been listening to on the journey. When faced with a challenging situation you have three choices:
1) Step away, remove yourself from the situation or;
2) Surrender or;
Clearly I couldn’t remove myself from the situation, here I was in the middle of nowhere, 9.15pm and still 2km from my final destination. Now suffer, yes there were definitely waves of frustration and utter incredulity but when I realised the negativity arising I remembered the other option – surrender. So I chose to laugh at the ridiculouslness of the situation rather than get angry and so I smiled back at my tuk tuk driver and held the phone torch over the engine whilst he fixed it.
The final part of this epic journey to some peace and quiet was off roading in the tuk tuk as we followed the farmhouse host on his motorbike to our final destination. Bless him the driver was now incredulous and complained he was really cold so I lent him my pink shawl to wrap around his head. Then he was happy again and the smile returned. After bargaining the price down at the start of the tuk tuk ride I felt compelled to give more as a way of thanking the driver for his persistency in getting me to my final destination and in one piece!
Earlier that day whilst having a little wander around Delhi an older man came up to me and after a few minutes of conversation mentioned that he had a fleet of cars and did I want a taxi to Rishikesh – just 3,500 rupees so around £38 (without bargaining) for 225km. Boy was I kicking myself now for not pursuing that option but I’m sure it wouldn’t have been as much fun or would it…… 🤣🤣
Ps sorry no photos just yet as having trouble uploading them 🙏
I’m writing this blog whilst sat on a train from Ajmer to Delhi. There was a moment when the cockroaches appeared that a plan started to be hatched to get off at the next station and get a bus but things have settled down and I’ll be on cockroach alert for another seven hours 😂.
I’ve been on an organised tour with eight other ladies for the last week, hence it’s been a bit too hectic to keep up with blogging. So my time at the ashram seems a long time ago now as I’ve visited four cities since I left there nearly two weeks ago. Note to self to keep on top of blogging – shorter ones more often perhaps?
I’m often asked what an ashram is and what do you do there? Having only ever stayed at two ashrams I’m not really experienced enough to answer this question with any authority. So I can only tell you about my time at Shri Jasnath Asan, based in the small village of Panchla Siddha, in Rajasthan.
I didn’t actually choose to come to stay at an ashram rather I chose to attend the festival Utsava Maa, which just happened to be hosted here. However plan A after the festival finished was to stay on for a few weeks until the tour with my friends began early February, unless I got itchy feet. I have already written about the festival and if you’d like to find out more you can read about it here. Utsava Maa
For brevity I’m going to share my experience in pictures accompanied by a few words to give you a feel for ashram life Shri Jasnath style.
So let’s start with some images of the ashram itself. It’s situated in a fort like structure, with a palace, temple, gardens and a library all held by high white walls. I loved to climb up onto the tops of the walls to meditate and practice some yoga asana in the warm afternoon sun.
Outside of the inner fort walls is a large parking area and other buildings that include two temples, a large yoga hall, an ayurvedic wellness centre and some offices. There’s also a large area set up for tennis or badminton.
Walking through some internal gates to the outside of the fort area takes you to a newly completed guest house, a large Bhojanshala (dining hall) and huge washroom facilities for the occasions when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit.
There is also a wonderful vegetable and fruit garden which is a source of food for the delicious meals we had each day. The food really was exceptional and my digestive system was very happy whilst I was there 😊. A wonderful man called Ramuji tended to the gardens and it was a peaceful place to practice walking meditation. Loving the pink turban 💜
My favourite Indian breakfast is Poha which you can see in the photo above with the pomegranate seeds. Poha is made with flattened rice, peanuts, tumeric, coriander and onion and has a lovely light consistency. Sometimes vegetables like peas are added to it.
The area around the ashram is very flat and there is a lot of scrub land and sand since Rajasthan is a large desert. I have to admit to missing the green hills of Yorkshire to get some exercise but nevertheless I enjoyed the walks that I did in the surrounding countryside. There are plenty of birds and the ashram has produced a leaflet with details of some of them and I spent a few happy hours playing bird bingo. One of my favourite birds is the owl and there were some living in an old tree in the ashram grounds that seemed quite happy to sit and be admired.
Most of the land around is farmed with vegetables and mustard seed being the most grown crops. Water irrigation systems are essential as there is very little rain here.
I was often accompanied on the road by cows, goats and one morning I saw a deer with young ones which apparently is quite rare. In the morning the route was busy with children going to school and I was often stared at by the locals who were really not used to seeing Westerners. They would also wave with huge smiles or stop and ask me the usual questions of “Where you from? Name? How old?”
During my stay I was asked if I could take a daily yoga class for guests and for some Indian ayurvedic patients staying at the ashram. The weather was warming up and we were able to practice on the yoga hall rooftop and in the Palace gardens. One thing I’ve noticed about Indian people is the abundance of burping whatever they are doing and yoga is no exception. Excessive burping together with language challenges, oh and yes one Indian lady was pregnant too, made the classes rather interesting and was a great example of why a class plan is really a waste of time 😂. So I learnt a bit of yoga hindu which was basically inhale, exhale and breathe.
It’s possible to stay at at the ashram on a karma yoga or seva basis where accommodation and food are provided in return for a few hours a day of work. There is always lots to do to run the programmes that are offered here and to keep the ashram running on a daily basis. The ashram are keen for anyone willing to offer their skills whether marketing, teaching, accounting, art, cooking, music, gardening or just happy to roll up their sleeves and muck in to come and stay. You can find out more here.
Numerous programmes are run throughout the year to locals and visitors in line with the purpose and mission of the ashram. These are sponsored by Guruji (Surajnath Siddh), the spiritual head of the ashram and Shreejan Sita who came to stay at the ashram six years ago and now spends much of her time running and supporting programmes such as Ayurvedic and yoga training, yoga retreats, de-addiction, empowering young women, kids yoga camp and eco-friendly farming.
You can see Shreejan in the photo with the puppy which fell ill whilst I was at the ashram and which after some treatment and a lot of loving care by Shreejan returned to good health. This puppy, named Yoda, was exceptionally lucky, there are a lot of stray dogs and other animals and it’s not uncommon to see them injured or dying which can be quite heart wrenching.
The young man with the dog is the son of one of the few paid staff here and he was such a wonderful young man. Always smiling, polite and respectful and was quick to help out without being asked.
Over the three weeks of my extended stay the number of people that had been attending or helping at the festival slowly decreased. Austin, an ayurvedic chef and coach remained throughout the time I was there and planned to be there for at least another 12 months or more. He is receiving training in ayurvedic healing and yogic practices whilst in return offering his skills for the running of various programmes and promotion of the ashram. He is devising some online ayurvedic programmes and you can find out more about these and Austin’s work on Facebook and Instagram (@austinvantastic).
Towards the end of my stay I had a consultation with Shree (these and ayurvedic treatments are also available at the ashram) and one of the topics that came up was the three stages of change and how these cycle through our lives. The first stage is when change or transformation arises which might be through choice or can unwittingly be thrust upon us. In ayurvedic terms this is a Vata stage and quite often we can put off a much needed change. The second stage, which is often skipped, is incubation, a Kapha time, when some space, stillness and quiet is needed for reflection and to let the third stage arise. In this third, Pitta, stage we are able to move forward with clarity and purpose. After some big changes in my life recently it feels like incubation time, a time of liminal space that needs to be honoured. We also talked about using this time to focus on more spiritual practices. More on all of this next time.
Before I leave you , a little update on my journey so far….no rats seen on the train, you get used to cockroaches, Indians seem to carry so much luggage when they travel (not that I have much room to talk), the carriages can get quite busy, everyone is very friendly and sociable, some Indian men snore, belch and talk loudly, 7.5 hours on a train is a long time, people ignore the signs that say ‘do not open doors whilst the train is moving’, people walk around on the rail tracks whilst trains pass by, some trains look like cattle carriages and are crammed full of people (heaven forbid that ever happens to me), toddlers are fun to be around 😊
So thank you for accompanying me on my train journey today, we’re getting closer to Delhi now so time to sign off. Tomorrow my friends fly back home and I take a bus to Rishikesh. The call of the mountains and nature has been too strong to ignore. I’m headed for some quiet, stillness and space to support this liminal time. It’s been over six weeks now since I arrived in India and something is stirring around the spiritual path that I need to sit with. Once I’ve settled in the farm stay at the foot of the Himalayas and out in the countryside, I’ll share my reflections with you later this week…..
On the 31st January whilst the UK prepared to leave the European Union, as a total contrast, I was fortunate to be in the welcoming embrace of a truly inclusive community where a sense of connection and belonging is at the heart of all that they do.
As I arrived at SKSN school, near Jodhpur, the children, staff and teachers, a mix of all ages and physical abilities, lined the driveway. “Sneh”, I asked, “do the children do this every time you come to the school?” “No”, she laughed, “just when we have visitors.” Oh my word I thought, all this just for me, these smiling happy children and staff, some in wheelchairs, some on crutches, some with limbs missing (but hearts most certainly intact), some struggling to stand upright, all with huge welcoming smiles.
I stepped out of the car and as I looked around at all these young people a surge of emotion took me unawares and I felt a tidal wave of tears rushing to my eyes. I was greeted by three students, one who anointed my forehead with a bindi, another carefully placed a huge garland of divine smelling marigolds and roses around my neck and a third tied a red and yellow band around my wrist. I was speechless and despite trying to hold them back the tears flowed, such was the wave of heartfelt love that this beautiful community was offering. At the time l wasn’t entirely sure why I was feeling so emotional but on reflection it was a deep sense of compassion for what I perceived as the suffering that all these young (and some older) people must face with physical challenges. And yes of course living without a limb or one that is not fully formed, being unable to walk, to hold things has to be a real challenge that as someone with all her body functioning fully can not really begin to comprehend. However, rather than suffering what I actually saw were happy, hopeful children who were making the best of their lives and flourishing in a loving supporting community were everyone mattered.
I have never felt so overwhelmed and so lost for words but as the children headed back to their classrooms I managed to compose myself to meet some of the teachers and staff. Lessons would be finishing soon so we visited each class to meet the teachers and students and to find out what subjects were being taught. These included English, Sanskrit, Hindi, general science, maths and geography were a young man very confidently shared some facts on Rajasthan. In the primary class I sat on the floor with the infants and they taught me some Hindi words.
I loved being amongst the students and was interested to know what was being taught and how they were learning. I feel very at home sharing information and experiences and facilitating learning in others and can recall how from an early age I would gather up other children in the street at home and use my blackboard to impart some knowledge, although I can’t for the life of me remember now what the subjects were!
There is so much to share about the wonderful work that is happening in the school and the Indiability Foundation website captures it more eloquently and thoroughly than I can in this blog. Click on this link to find out more Indiability website
What I would like to share with you is that I had a strong sense of helping in some way to improve the mobility of staff and students at the school who are wheelchair users. One of the school wardens, Janak Singh, who looks after the welfare of the children, has a wheelchair that is very old and has been repaired many times and whilst he feels very attached to it (after all, as he said himself, “this gives me a life”) it is getting very near the end of it’s useful life. The wheelchairs that the children use are more basic and are also second-hand and refurbished. They are very cumbersome and heavy and very difficult for the children to manoeuvre especially the younger ones. No one complains though, all of them just get on with it and are happy to have some means of getting around without crawling or relying on others.
So after some discussion with Sneh to get clearer on what is needed and how best that might be achieved, I’ve set up a Just Giving page to help in a couple of ways. Firstly to raise some funds to buy Janak a used refurbished wheelchair and secondly to connect the organisation to possible sources of old, unused wheelchairs that can be refurbished for the students. You can visit the page here and gift aid options are also possible if you are a UK tax payer. If just 50 people donate £10 each then we can easily get the funds for Janak’s wheelchair. Please do consider making a donation and share – all of us are truly grateful for any help you can offer.
What is truly inspiring about the school is how the children are empowered to live their lives much in the same way as a child who does not have physical challenges. As soon as they start at the school they are encouraged to do as much as they can for themselves and parents who have perhaps spent a lot of time doing everything for their child (with all the best intentions) are amazed at what they can do without their help after just three months at the school. Many of the students go on to higher education and can sometimes be the main breadwinner in their families, clearly demonstrating that every human being has potential if they are given the fertile soil in which to bloom.
Despite the physical, emotional and mental challenges that these children have to deal with they are the lucky ones. It is estimated that there are 70 million inhabitants of India with disability. The Indiability Foundation is reaching out to these through raising awareness and showing what can be achieved when prejudice and judgement fall away.
After lunch the children have free time to do some self study and to play sport or relax in whateve they way they chose. Sneh had an idea for the girls and we spent a happy relaxed afternoon painting our feet, hands and shaved head (no not mine 😂) with henna.
The children were keen to show me their rooms and excitedly grabbed my hand to proudly show me where they slept. Five or six beds to each large room with just a few personal items. They have so little in terms of worldly possessions yet so much in terms of belonging, care, love and joy – they really are so joyful.
We went to pooja at the temple on the campus which was a rather raucous twenty minutes that the children seemed to throw themselves into with gusto. Then it was time for dinner and I helped distribute the 1,000 rotis that are made every day for the students. Buckets of Dahl and other healthy dishes accompanied by masses of rice were served and heartily devoured. Everyone seemed to have hearty appetites, looked nourished and definitely enjoyed their food.
I spoke with one of the teachers who was also a warden for the girls and had been a student herself. She had a beautiful caring disposition and shared with me how she loved her work which was so wonderful to hear and so precious. I know too many people that live to work rather than work to love or others that feel trapped in a capitalist world and feel they have no other choice and finally those that do love their work but are not supported by the organisation to let that love flow easily to others. If this resonates with you in anyway, then take some time out to question what stops you living a life that you love? And if you love your life and work please do share what makes if joyful for you.
“Never ignore somebody with a disability, you don’t know how much they can inspire you.”
The school are always keen to welcome volunteers so do get in touch with them if you feel you have something to share and would like a life changing experience. Accommodation and food can be provided and the ideal minimum time to commit is two months but less is also okay. I feel a stirring to get on and finish my Tefl qualification……..
I’ve just spent a magical 24 hours staying overnight on the Ashram’s fruit farm near Jodhpur. The head of the ashram, Guruji, very kindly invited myself and the only other two people currently staying at the ashram to join him on a visit to the farm. The farm is 32 acres of fruit trees that include pomegranates, bers, lemons, oranges, bananas, sitafals and dates and is situated in a wonderful rural setting about 90 minutes from Panchla Siddha.
On the way to the farm we stopped off to check out a resort where you can take a camel tour and stay overnight in luxurious tents in a very beautiful, tranquil setting. The ashram offers this experience to its guests when there are groups staying. Guruji was impressed with the set up and decided that it was a much quieter setting than the current camp they have been using.
Along the way we passed fields of carrots, wheat, rapeseed, castor bean plants and farmsteads with roaming goats, sheep and cows. Excited children rushed towards our vehicle and waved as we slowly drove along the quieter rough tracks to access the fruit farm.
The land has been owned by the ashram for hundreds of years and much of it has been given to local families for farming. With the remaining 32 acres Guruji began planting fruit trees seven years ago.
We were greeted by the people who manage the land and who did everything they could to make our stay as comfortable as possible cooking us delicious food and setting up our beds and bedding.
We explored the farm when we arrived sampling the pomegranates and the bers.
It took us a while to find out that pomegranates are ripe when they have just started splitting, a good excuse to keep sampling. I’m blown away by how the flower turns into the fruit, it really is an incredible transformation.
A lady who is soon to be working full time at the ashram arrived with her mum and joined us for dinner along with some of Guruji’s business friends. We might have been in the middle of nowhere but the food was as good as ever and the ‘bedroom’ became the bhojanshala (dining room) for an hour or so.
Before dinner I laid outside mesmerised by the matrix of stars that shone of mystery and magic. I sought out different formations and for the umpteenth time in my life vowed to find out their names. I did notice however that the only constellation that I do know, the plough, was not to be seen and that the night sky definitely looked different to how it looks in the UK.
Facilities were basic and of an al fresco nature and thankfully the nights are now definitely warmer. Having said that we still had a proper bed away from the floor and plenty of warm bedding. Other than brushing my teeth the normal facial night routine was discarded having already decided that I would just live au natural for 24 hours. I could clean up once back at the ashram tomorrow evening. I made a point of heading out to water a spot of ground before getting into bed to avoid any such shenanigans during the night!
Lights went off (ie power cut) in a timely manner just as we were all settling into our beds and as Guruji was talking about tantric yoga teachings. I dozed for a little while and then decided that the nightlife noise whilst pleasant was probably keeping me awake. I slept until around 2.30am and then had that two hour stint where the mind latches onto any potential problem that it can think of. I’m more adept at recognising what it’s up to these days but still it can be very slippery and not at all interested in focusing on the breath or the body. Usually I distract it with listening to a talk or yoga nidra or meditation recording but I didn’t have my headphones and I was content to keep returning to now, noticing a sudden freshness in the air heralding a new day at around 3.30am. Even with earplugs I could hear rave like music in those early morning hours drifting across the fields and orchards from nearby villages. The 26th January is a public holiday in India and a celebration of Independence from British rule. It’s the anniversary of India drawing up it’s own constitution and a good excuse for some partying from what I could gather.
Finally I noticed the mind becoming calmer and felt waves of sleep returning and next news it was 7am and my room mates were stirring.
Before breakfast Katka and I headed out for a morning walk and to find some secluded toilet facilities. We set off along a nearby track for a while and then with a sense of adventure decided to leave it to climb a hill. Finally a hill – I hadn’t seen one of these for weeks, let alone had chance to walk up one, so off we went to watch the sunrise from the top
Please skip the next section if you really are not at all interested in toilet talk.
The last time I had to do a number two outside was when I went on safari in Africa about 15 years ago. However that had been quite a posh experience by comparison as a hole in the ground was dug for us and we had a little fold up stool with a hole cut out in it to sit on. This time the yoga squats came in handy and Katka, an expert in these matters, offered the helpful tip of taking in the marvellous views. One Western thing though that I was not yet ready to let go of was toilet paper, using your (left) hand and some water was one step too far for me this time!!!!!
Anyway less of the toilet talk, after managing to find our way back to camp via a circular route, we were greeted with a delicious cup of chai tea. This was followed by the most amazing and enormous breakfast I’ve ever had.
We were presented with a beautiful platter of papaya, banana and pomegranate seeds together with kitchari (rice, mung beans and turmeric), corn on the cob rubbed with lemon juice, salt and chilli (a divine combination) and sweet potato!!!! What an absolutely delicious feast and extremely filling.
A long walk was now necessary and whilst exploring some more we saw deer, wild boars with their young, an amazing fluffy white mongoose, many different birds (some of the sparrows shared our ‘bedroom’!) and thankfully no cobras!!! We found out whilst driving back that there are apparently cobras (mongooses can kill them), which of course would be deadly if you stepped on one by mistake. I might have taken a little more care when doing the al fresco toilet thing if I’d have known about this!!!!
Back at camp we chilled in the shade for an hour or so before suddenly the decision was made to head back to the ashram. I’m not sure why but it seemed that we had to grab our bags and leave immediately, not even five minutes notice – Indian time 😊. It wasn’t a problem just quite funny really. We threw our bags into the car together with packs of fruit and veg to take back.
We stopped off for lunch (yet more food) at a resort restaurant where sometimes Guruji and Shreejan take local children to play in the pool and learn to swim. We arrived back at Shri Jasnath just before 5pm, time to catch the last rays of sun on the guesthouse roof before a nice warm shower and then, yes you’ve guessed it – more delicious food!