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30 November, 2016

be the change

Sculpture by street artist Isaac Cordal, which has been dubbed "Politicians Debating Global Warming."
As we cultivate our life, our beauty becomes much more about what we are creating and doing than it is about our appearance. Having moved to London recently, after 8 years or so overseas, I've adjusted to a very different world here. I've had moments of 'burgh London' and all the bias I've had with life in the big city. Nevertheless I have very thankfully maintained a fairly balanced lifestyle, healthy food, regular yoga practice, soul fulfilling projects and had time for friends and family. However, city life overall seems hectic to me.

And yet this is life for most of our planet. Urbanisation is a growing trend and learning how to foster a conscious community here is essential for our survival. I wonder a lot on how these concrete hubs will evolve. Cities are pretty new in human evolution, they're organisms that were founded upon industrialisation, productivity and capitalisation. How does one create a lifestyle that is sustainable remaining honourable and supportive to life here? How can we create a community that is real, tangible, empathetic and humanly connected beyond Facebook / Instagram / Snapchats / Whatsapps and Whatnots? How do we make empowered choices on our well-being in a system that doesn't encourage us to live healthily? GDP aligns with waistlines. War is good for business. Our money system benefits from people's poor health.

So these are questions that concern the philosopher in me.

Recently after an evening of feeling overwhelmed by the outside world's cries notably after the presidential elections and integrating 'the world is coming to an end' and what that feels like in my nervous system (something like: "OMG OMG OMG!!!"). I had a big fat reminder to take full responsibility for creating beauty in my life. 

I see the world order as mostly unfair, elitist and cognitively manipulative. And the politicians are fighting to keep it propped up as people wake up to the Truth and see through the lies and insanity. 

Change can hurt like hell, growth pains and can scare the crap out of anyone but being stuck hurts a whole lot more. How many more species does this planet need to lose? What happened to the eco-system? In marched man made ego system.

So this microcosm of Jess orbit is consciously focusing energies on creating healthy and nurturing spaces, projects and experiences in the service of life from the inside out. It's a process after a really gritty year. So besides therapy, yoga, meditation, healthy eating and studies, I'm creating beauty where I can to nurture the soul, express my heart and liberate my mind. It's a huge shift from scarcity and fear to abundance and faith. Like I said, it's a process and I'm learning.

Below are some projects on my radar. I invite you to consider supporting them too:
  • Standing Rock - What greater metaphor for the way in which our system is failing us than to see how sacred lands and waters are having to be protected by peaceful protestors led by indigenous tribes. USA's oil addiction looks to fuel the destruction of life and hope. This could be us all one day.
  • Fund a learning centre in Guatemala - getting children out of poverty through education. This is a really special and inspiring project.
  • Support The Dreamflag Project // Cloud Cloth - uniting children's dreams through creativity from around the world. A community that keeps the dream alive.
  • The Venus Project - The future! An organisation that proposes a feasible plan of action for social change.
  • Circular Economy - an enterprise sharing insights on how to design products and solutions with the view of abundance and sustainability. Recycling waste and efficiency models. A circular economy!
  • Snowflake the Last Lost Polar Bear - a children's book sharing the tale of baby polar bear Snowflake and his journeys through melting ice caps addressing climate change and his hearts tale from fear to love. Kickstarter coming soon. Please do get in touch if you'd like to back it.
  • Schumacher College - an international centre for nature-based education, personal transformation and collective action.
  • The Shanti Space Yoga & Meditation Classes - I'm on a mission to peace out London! I've started teaching yoga & meditation for body, mind and soul. Reach out for class details at my mini 'studio come ashram' in Fulham: info@theshantispace.com
"Be the change you wish to see in the world" - Good old Gandhi.
Suggested reading:
The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible by Charles Eisenstein





15 September, 2016

growing out of gossip


Blogosphere. Well. It's been a while... and well I've needed a little break.

However I’ve found myself recently, as I make a little bumpy landing back into the UK after living overseas for 9 years, needing to share, connect and commune. I'm slowly settling into a big city known as London. Never would I have guessed that this would be my place, I'm already dreading winter, but I am happy to see my old friends, bring all my inspirations home and create a beautiful holistic centre with my beloved partner, Jack. And well, I am seeing this city in a new light which is great! (old post: Sydney vs London - prob very out of date).

There are some deeply engrained programs in this old country. Having stepped away and done as much work as I can to date to relieve my psyche from a lot of deep conditionings (via yoga, meditation, therapy etc), some are so glaringly obvious and well, I have seen way too much to cower. I am determined to keep the magic alive!

The one behaviour I want to shine a light on is gossip. I’ve not felt what gossip feels like since I was a teenager at school. I remember being sat in my art class and the table of girls were bitching about a close friend of mine, Vicky. I vaguely remember flagging it as inappropriate and speaking to Vicky about it afterwards. I had a friendship group at High School that was founded on openness, honesty and integrity and see what a treasure that was. We tended to speak directly to one another, even when it was a little uncomfortable. 

What I returned to see, very clearly when I came back to the UK this Summer, is how much people care about how others perceive them, how their family / career / status represents them and what people might say. Very quickly I found myself standing in those shoes and feeling absolutely exhausted from the vulnerability and weight - that is a lot of disempowering and distracting mental upkeep. 

Yet in a society where our media system is driven by the superficiality of celebrity gossip and ‘eye catching’ news (given eye-balls equate to media sales), I can see how this paradigm has woven itself into the fabric of our social behaviour. It serves the machine.

When I found myself entangled in a story that had me the focus of gossip I got to experience first hand how this energy can wrap itself around ones being, bringing about a sense of unease and feeling unfairly, dare I say the word, judged. I found solace in a sense of ‘rising above’ and deeply honouring and reconnecting with myself. That and yoga. And I suppose if anyone else has felt this low vibrational buzz kill, coming from or towards them, they’ll appreciate how cyclical it can be.

In ancient texts it is said that gossip is like a death sentence, for your character is assassinated before you have a chance to represent yourself. If one cannot represent themselves without encountering prejudice they feel wounded by the environment and which disallows their ability to experience being more than what they are perceived as: they will be limited by the concepts of those who focus from a lower part of themselves.

Character assassination is one of the most degrading activities that we will encounter as human beings. As a humanity we have become familiarised so extensively with gossip that this familiarisation brings the practice into so-called 'normality'. This state of affairs is so far removed from power that by mere association, in terms of acceptance of this phenomenon, we are being programmed to be desensitised to the greater part of ourselves (that and its inherent manipulation).

How do we all rise above in a habitually externally focused society? For me, I simply bowed out and have promised myself to have the courage to voice when gossip comes my way or put a stop to sharing opinions or stories that defames another's character. That and trusting my intuition when someone's behaviours, as my Dad would say, 'smells off' and discerningly step away.

What makes me feel sad is how much we miss out on getting to know one another as we play blind guessing games, marrying people to a limited perception of them and not encouraging them to blossom into their greatest expressions of life. I know I am not alone on that one. 

So I write this for the sisterhood because I find girls especially, using their innate tool of communication (that was once used to point out the dangerous mushrooms and the fruitful bounties) gossip, holding us all back from connecting deeply from a place of openness. Like my Canadian friend Evette would say "What's with British girls bringing each other down? Sisters big one another up!" My feeling is, if we want to see a more balanced world, we must take a big honest look at ourselves, our behaviours and see what it is we are really nourishing within us.

Is it Truth...? Or is it drama? 




23 April, 2016

you dream, I dream, together we dream


In 2011 while trekking through the Himalayas of Nepal with my friend Steph Reynard, we met Jeff. Actually first we met incredible flags describing children's dreams on them around a local school at nearly 4000m altitude. And it won our hearts.

We interviewed Jeff back then and he won our hearts too and since, life on the road has enabled me to become a more practical supporter of the project and put more energy in to what I feel is one of the great examples of how we can all contribute to a better world for our children.

I feel very grateful for Jeff's friendship and humbled to know someone so committed to creating a platform that empowers children to dream a better world for themselves, to walk the path of their hearts truth and enable Schools to help prepare students to be part of a world they WANT to be part of.

I am a big fan and hence, would like to share a short exchange I had with Jeff on the project and its expansion in to the digital realm (with this Kickstarter campaign), enabling a shared dream, bringing dreamers together in an increasingly digital world.

What is the Dream Flag Project?

The Dream Flag Project is an invitation for students to reach into their hearts, to find what Langston Huges calls their "heart melody," to write about it, often in poetry, to put that on a standard sized piece of fabric, make it sing with color, attach it to a line with others, and share it with the world.
That's the simplicity of the project and the reason it's travelled so far and so deeply--around the world, into innner cities, into remote villages, all over. But at a deeper level, The Dream Flag Project is a path for bringing dreams back into the classroom for a better world.

What does that mean?

It means that when you look at the way education used to work, at least in America and much of the world, "the dream" was to do well in school, get the opportunties that afforded, and "do better" than your parents--to have a material life that's fuller and materially easier. It may or may not have ever been true, but it was a motivating dream for many. And it doesn't work anymore. Students do well in school, go to college, and can't find jobs. They have fewer opportunities than their parents, not more.
The old system was built on a model of continuous growth, a stockmarket that always increases in value. Greater GDP every year. Continuous economic expansion. And, as Jane Goodall tries to point out to everyone who will listen, that doesn't work in an ecosystem. It's a recipe for disaster--a recipie for death.

And The Dream Flag Project? Making stuff out of fabric and hanging it? Where does that fit in?

The Dream Flag Project brings a different kind of dream back into the classroom. It brings a "we dream." It's fundamentally a group experience. Students, inspired by the poems of Langston Hughes or whatever else their teachers provide, are invited to articulate their dreams. Some are simple--like having a chicken on a Dream Flag from a village in Madagascar.  Some are poignant -like the wish for a cure for Alzheimer's from a student I taught this year who lost her grandpa to that disease. Many are global, like the a Dream Flag from a village in western Russia about hoping that people will be kind everywhere or for an end to wars. But all are linked to a line, done in a group, and connected to each other. As in powerful poetry, it's the metaphor of the project that carries the impact. Connecting to others. Knowing you're not alone in your dream.
As it says on our Kickstarter site, "Schools should help prepare students to be part of a world the WANT to be part of. The Dream Flag Project already helps students to imagine that world. DreamLine will help them make it their reality."

How?

Through network and connection, the greatest single benefit we have from the sytem of technology that's part of all of our lives. Connection to others who share a dream, brings strengh and potential for real change. So it's a very open forum. And it's in schools, not outside of schools. That means it's safe for children. The teachers are in charge of making it a safe space through moderated exchange.

What will happen if we create this global network of teachers and students around the world who share dreams?

We don't know. And that's a great thing. Starting The Dream Flag Project, we just invited teachers to have their students take part in a simple process of Dream, Create, Connect, and Share. It's an open framework that's been taken in so many directions, places, and extensions, we never could have anticipated them. In today's educational world, everyone wants to know about outcomes. Like children are being processed and we can predict what we'll turn them into. Like any organic growth process, the outcomes are not completely predictable. We're not machines. Yay! But the growth that comes from connections has tremendous potential to instigate positive change.

It's very simple really. When you look at hundreds and hundreds of Dream Flags, or thousands and thousands, not one, not a single one, zero--say they dream of wiping out all of the so-and-so's or beating everyone in a war. They're about health, about safety, about prosperity. And they're about peace and fairness and harmony. When you create a global way to help children see those goals as tenable, and when they have a structure that supports small actions toward them, who knows what will happen.

So we want to bring dreams BACK into the classroom--but for a better world, for a we-dream.

Please pledge your support for DreamLine here.

20 March, 2016

going for gaia


Earlier this year I went to a special place tucked up in the jungles of Thailand. A place immersed deeply in nature called Gaia Ashram that welcomes students from around the world to learn and grow together in alignment with nature.

Gaia Ashram hosted 25 of us and with inspiringly talented teachers and facilitators we dug deeper in to the learning’s of the land. We were empowered with practical knowledge that enabled us all to live a more sustainable lifestyle free from the dependency we have on unnatural resources and the short cuts of the modern age which rely heavily on toxic substances, that consequentlypollute our lands.

On my journey, I am again and again awestruck by Nature and am grateful for the practices that have connected me deeply with her / it. I know there are some who see and advocate for a better alignment of our collective energies with the planet and the one organism we are all a part of.

What I experienced at Gaia Ashram was more than an internship. While we trained in practical ways to build and grow organically and learned how to sustain and support life; it was also an opportunity to go more deeply in to the unwavering truth within that recognises itself in nature. Realising this oneness nurtures a very genuine care for life on this planet. I still smile to myself when I remember my friend Pasang, a Tibetan monk who would pick the beetles from the path as we trekked through the Himalayas. So divine to see such a care for life.
For the first two weeks we studied Natural Building learning how to create structures from the materials of the land. It was so awesome to realise that one can build bricks and mortar simply from combining the plasticity of clay found in the earth mixed with sand to give it structure. In a beautiful way it was like building a giant sandcastle as we collaborated in a mud pit, made bricks and built walls (and a pizza oven!) out of all the materials available on site. There were no masks and lots of muddy hands!
The days were long, starting at 5.45am for meditation and yoga before breakfast followed by the day’s offerings of Personal Empowerment Workshops and Natural Building. Our international group; zany, honest and beautiful, over time gently opened up and the masks slowly faded away as we got more and more vulnerable and real together. It was so refreshing.
We learned how to work together in a community, the responsibility of honouring time and energy of others and the challenging recognition that community living is no walk in the park. That there can be an abundance of triggers; that some people get upset if there’s sugar in their breakfast and that others just don’t want to play in the group and that it is all ok. It is not a common experience in Western society to have so many people living so closely together and I feel I have more empathy for the families that live on top of one another in the East or in the shanty towns I saw in South America.
What amazed me was how such a large group of people were able to reconcile - if not appreciate - their differences while practicing non-violent communication (aka 'Compassionate Communication') void of the notoriously disempowering finger point when expressing feelings in a group setting. We encouraged one another to take full responsibility for our choices and yet there was an embracing honesty and accountability. It fascinated me to watch our humanity unfold in this shared intimate space and while I was there to learn more practical teachings so I can build my own sustainable empire one-day; these lessons were undoubtedly invaluable.
The second two weeks had us in the garden planting organic vegetables, creating compost, natural pesticides and veggie patches. Surprisingly I found the garden to be a very welcome retreat from all the activity going on and I loved offering my time and energy to pulling out weeds (very liberating!) while creating a stunning mandala pebble path to beautify the space. I tapped in to the inner gardener in me and am excited to devote more time to crafting edible gardens in the future rather than putting energy in to the supermarket giants and some pretty horrific farming practices.

Deep Ecology lectures and workshops asked us to look at the world and humankinds place within it. How we are behaving on a collective scale and what practical steps one may wish to take to realign with nature and the sustainability of our planet. It was not always easy and through Joanna Macy’s processes we went deep in to honouring the pain of Nature, something Western society feels very uncomfortable with even expressing let alone honouring. These practices were however empowering as we also committed to offering more to the care of our planet.
But what of this for you dear reader? Well, I don’t know if you are with me or not, but I need to be honest about my feelings on how we really treat the planet and ultimately ourselves. I wouldn't say I was anymore perfect than the next person, but I continue persistently to try and learn how to tread lightly and live life with sobriety, implementing energy thoughtfully considering all I have learned.
It’s been a pretty humbling process and not something I expected to find myself doing when I chose to leave corporate life for world explorations.

To completely embody our true nature we must develop a greater awareness, honesty and responsibility for our inside worlds and a gentleness with that. To see the self-limiting beliefs and behaviours that can be deeply embedded in the psyche and drop the masks worn to protect bottled fears inside. I cannot begin to tell you how liberating and expansive that process is but perhaps witnessing my travels around the world might reflect that to you; Anything really is possible. Which is why I remain hopeful.

I hope that the world we create together will reflect a deep compassion, care and practice that is in alignment with the rhythms of nature and to have care - if not reverence - for Nature’s great unifying spirit. 

Interesting article: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/mar/14/nasa-civilisation-irreversible-collapse-study-scientists

Great TED Talk 'Life is Easy. Why do we make it so hard': https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21j_OCNLuYg


16 February, 2016

a loving touch for nepal



Many of us might remember the devastating news in late April, when the forces of nature shook the Earth, and Nepal, home of the worlds greatest mountains, felt the impact of a force 8 earthquake. Thousands died. Many more were injured and many homes of the capital city and ancient Kingdom of Kathmandu were brought to the ground. That was the first earthquake. May 10 there was a great aftershock in the Himalayas, further destroying the nation.


Ruined rooftops in Baktipur, Kathmandu
Suffice to say 2015 was a challenging year for Nepal. The Earthquake and the destruction of many people's homes and national monuments was one thing. Mourning the loss of loved ones deeply, was another. But adding to the very unsettling Earthquake has been the loss of jobs, a long monsoon season, political upheaval and the current fuel crisis - stemming from the Indian blockade of the border - which has taken many vehicles off the road, stopped children getting to school, and inhibited food and gas resources.

I had planned a trip to Nepal with a group of yogis in May, however the expedition was soon cancelled, and when my Dad said to me, 'remember the deal Jess - I go before you,' I cancelled my flights, hoping to come and visit when the time was appropriate.
Teaching the team 'marma points' for Ayurvedic Face Massage
Six months later I was invited to volunteer at Vajvarahi clinic, run by a Tibetan Buddhist foundation in a small remote suburb of Kathmandu. So I recently made my way back to Nepal, dedicating time to nourishing the inner worlds of the Nepali people after a challenging time for the country.
Life is hard here in Nepal, especially at the moment, in the wake of the earthquake and in the clutch of a 3 month border blockade without signs of abating. As the weather turns colder and colder I wonder how many will get through the winter ahead. Many patients I treat have lost their homes and are living in tin huts with no blankets, having lost all their possessions. Many patients too have symptoms that manifested themselves at the same time as the earthquake, no doubt due to the fear, anxiety and trauma it caused. For me the greatest positive to take from the experience has got to be the people. With so many problems a-foot and times so hard, and with some in so much pain, everyone still has a smile on their face. The Nepali people are the most friendly and warm hearted I have ever met, with such resilience and humility.
The local monks
The clinic is a simple small concrete building next to a gompa, home to many young monks. It was here I met with four other international volunteers; acupuncturists, herbalists and massage therapists, working side by side in a treatment room. Each morning we would wake up for morning yoga on the rooftop to watch the sun rise over the foggy city, share breakfast and chai, and begin a long day treating local patients.
Jack Weaver treating a patient
'My time at the clinic came to an end last week, so throughout the week I was saying goodbye to the patients that I had been treating for over a 3 month period. The whole experience has been invaluable to me. Patients only have to pay 15 rupees per treatment (the equivalent of 80 pence) this means they return again and again and aren't put off by the cost of a treatment as in the West. We therefore see some patients as much as 2 times (sometimes 3 depending on the severity of their condition) a week. "Seeing patients on such a regular basis has really allowed me to experience which treatment strategies and point combinations are most effective for particular situations," explained my friend Jack Weaver, acupuncturist at the clinic. As a volunteer I was offering Ayurvedic Massage Therapy along with Yoga to the patients. I was so amazed by how much of a difference it made to them. It humbled me to be reminded of how nourishing human touch can be, how restorative and healing it is to really move and ease some of those knots and tensions that the body can hold on to. Seeing the lovely Nepali faces after a gentle relaxing massage really touched my heart.
Practicing yoga at the mountain nunnery
One of the highlights of my time volunteering was our visit to Nagi Gomba, the nunnery, which was an adventure. The nunnery is tucked in the hillside of the mountains that tower over Kathmandu. It's a beautifully magical place, basked in sun and prayer flags while surrounded by pristine jungle. It's got an amazing energy as it hovers above the smog- ridden capsule of the Kathmandu valley. After our bones had been rattled around for a couple of hours, the jeep dropped us there and Annie Sonam (the nun in charge) greeted us as we organised our schedule over the coming week. Every morning we welcomed the sun with the nuns in yoga classes and dynamic meditation. Coming from yoga, it brought me such deep appreciation to share some gentle yoga movements and breathing exercises with these peaceful and happy ladies. While we couldn't speak the same language we seemed to connect on a level of understanding that had us all in a fun flow together. After the morning yoga class we opened a small clinic to treat the nuns with acupuncture and massage therapy.


The whole experience of volunteering with Vajravarahi Clinic was one of the most heart warming I have ever had. It reminded me that even in the most challenging times of our human experience, in the depths of grief, loss and pain, we can find ourselves again, and that there is a ray of grace found in the little things - the kind gestures and acts of thoughtfulness - that take us out of ourselves in support of one another. The ancient scriptures of the East speak much of the microcosm of a person's inner world; how from this place we can heal and emanate the wholeness of our being to the macrocosm of our planet. One thing we all can do is nourish our inner worlds, create balance, and calibrate our internal systems so that perhaps, when we reach out beyond our own little worlds and the limiting conditions of upbringing, and when we remove the warm cosy coat of culture, we might connect to another and speak in a language of the heart to those around us, inspiring balance, nourishment and ultimately healing and wholeness for us all.

Special thanks to Candice Quartermain of Circular Economy and Jeffrey Harlan of The Dream Flag Project and family, for their kind and generous support for this project.

01 December, 2015

ashram life in mother india.

'Meditation allows you to still the mind, look at it objectively, and see which of the mental contents are useful and which are not. By watching the modifications of the mind and by looking at their source, you can clearly see what kind of impressions have been depositied in to you're mind field'

It is 6.30 and the sun is just starting to come up. The beautiful Indian Pranayama teacher is sharing his wisdom from the ancient traditions of Indian yoga. He lives an ashram life and his whole being glows and lights up the room. I am humbled and equally tired as I peal myself out of bed each morning, transcending my fierce resistance to alarm clocks in order to meditate to the mountains and allow the sun to rise and glow through the window panes reflecting off my plain weary face.

Here I am in the inspiring town of Rishikesh, India. The home and mecca for all things yoga. Where spiritual seekers have been traveling to for many years on their transcendental journeys and devotional pilgrimages. It was common and still is for many men here, once they'd served their duty as a householder, husband and father, to renounce their material possessions in order to achieve higher levels of spirituality and consciousness here. Babas (hindu for 'innocent'), the spiritual men, donne their bright orange loin cloths and walk around barefoot asking for alms.  So there's a mysterious energy in the air, uplifting and almost tangible one can taste the nectar of liberation as one gazes meditatively on the infamous Ganga that washes through the valley.

While India has a way of lifting the spirit so high one hardly touches the ground, she can also take you to the dark depths of your soul. It could be the gruelling schedule I have of 6am meditation followed by an hour and a half of Ashtanga before breakfast, that and the pouring of salt water through my nostrils, lack of sugar in my diet or the tangible distance I have from my nearest and dearest, I don't know, but the emotions have been riding high and I am learning to watch and breathe through them and ground in the routine here. Cultivating a practice the yogis call compassion and understanding while watching how this process takes one a little deeper, moves the inner world to bring up to the surface what impressions are ready to be felt, accepted and surrendered.

Seeing the dogs on the street hungry and uncared for really upset me; it was a challenge not to get entangled. I have found taking action a way of channelling this upset in to something more hopeful. Hence the other day a friend and I were feeding a little street puppy biscuits and leaving some with the local shopkeeper to take care of the innocent little life. And then there is the begging and the dirt that one encounters when walking through market towns in India. A poor old man without limbs who looked like he was just waiting to die broke my heart. I give what and when I can but well, it's challenging to see on our planet. Sometimes I think we don't know how lucky we are.

Then as I am all too familiar with in this country, there is of course India's magical gift of inspiration and awe. The light on the river at sunset glows rays of pinks and golds. Poetry flows through me with a hint of romantic tenderness. The Himalayan air is so crisp and clear. And I love the food and the opportunity to get tactile with it, dipping my finger tips in to touch each morsel before it reaches my mouth. Only with my right hand though. Left hand is exclusively for nether regions post squat  so I am training myself not to touch my face with it in front of Indians. Unless I want to be naughty. Then I lick my left hand fingers, ha!

The beauty of living in an ashram is that there is routine, discipline and seclusion. Morning meditation one watches the sunrise and my classes are filled with so much insight and challenge. I chose to do a yoga teacher training course because I felt ready. Life on the road has been very much supported by a meditation and yoga practice. For a while I felt like I had broken up with yoga, reluctant to get on my mat, resistant to my own practice and stuck in old patterns. It took some gritty gruelling times and a lot of self care to humbly step back in to a committed practice and being at an ashram practicing twice daily certainly empowered me to dive a little deeper in to the ancient healing art form.

I feel endlessly humbled and try to remember that this is a practice and not to compare where I am in my downward dog to others. One sometimes forgets to appreciate how far they have come. Sometimes it has been self-limiting beliefs that have entrapped and yoga certainly teaches me to gentle move beyond. My philosophy teacher is also a psychologist, which I love relating to and the lofty spiritual concepts can ground in science - to some extent - and understanding. Beyond theory I am getting my backside worked of course. Bridges, head stands, sweaty salutations to the sun and the moon. I am taller folks! I feel like I have extended by an inch which serves me well as such a pocket size person.

Last Friday we had bhajans, recited mantras sang from the heart with lots of clapping and dancing. You know the ones? Those skin-headed dudes you will see in gowns on the underground chanting away. The teacher said to us "This is a time for you and God, to express your love completely unafraid" so I donned my bright pink sparkly sari and danced full throttle, I even pulled out the funky chicken and some break dancing moves which weren't so sari friendly but it was nevertheless ecstatic and joyous.

The group here are from around the world and life here could easily become a spiritual sitcom with various characters and expressions. We have got the proverbial die hard seeker who has read every spiritual teaching going, blended them, confused himself and is desperate to meet his guru to achieve enlightenment. The shanti chic who lives in Hollywood and all she owns is a bed (I really dig this girl actually), a few off the wall types buzzing in another dimension that they seem to only glare at you as they download a plethora of information which speaking English requires too much energy so they float on by, there is an awesome shamanic lesbian called Mia who burned spots on my leg the other day, doused the wound with frog poison (Kambo) which made my face swell up and my insides release everything within it. I was ready for it but am in no hurry to medicate myself again with this ancient indigenous concoction - although it did cure my cold (dear parents thank you for being so open minded). There is a lovely man from Bolivia who described jumping in to the river 'like taking a chocolate' in his latin accent which made our hearts melt. Soft reserved types, open hearted and playful types, crazy spiritual and grounded and real. So far just sitting and chatting with people here has been one of the most interesting highlights and in our togetherness we grow.

And then there is my roomie. Chloe Barber. My notorious rival at school and the only person besides my brother I have had a physical fight with only to be peaced out with an offering of conkers and marbles. We were 10 after all. I love that The Universe has reunited us here of all places. She is a cool London lady now, classy and elegant with a hilariously provocative sense of humour. 'I am so hungry, I could eat a cow' she said as we walked in to the dining hall the other day. Cows are holy in India. People just don't eat cows. I am really happy to have her company here and she keeps me in check and not too away with the fairies. As much as I love them.

And so that is me folks. A month of yoga teacher training in an ashram of the Himalayas loving life and all its textures while growing, laughing and healing along the way. I will continue to share my yoga practices with friends and family, perhaps over time more and more to the wider community as I nurture the inner Buddha and slowly master an asana or two.

Hari Ommmmmmsssss

30 September, 2015

why i don't eat lipstick

Apparently a financial crisis triggers women to buy lipstick. 

Turns out when the purse strings are tight, women reach for the lip pie as an affordable beauty fix rather than the expensive get up on her proverbial Saturday High Street splurge.

Go figure.

What interests me a bit more though is what it is exactly that the ladies are reaching out for.

According to the latest market research from Lucintel, the global beauty care products industry is forecasted to reach around $265 billion by 2017.

Nearly half what the USA spent on war in this fiscal year (54 percent of all federal discretionary spending).

Needless to say - that is a lot of cosmetic face bomb! 

I could rant on about why women even feel the need to put on their daily war paint, could get a little critical about what it is to be female in the world we live in today and not to mention our very, very challenging unobtainable conditioned concepts of beauty that can tear down a woman's self esteem and bring a whole plethora of issues and dysfunction in to the collective psyche of humankind. 

But I might be here all day.

What I'm intrigued by - right now - is what the hell is in all these cosmetics so many of us are consuming?

I wear make up too sometimes (if not often) and when I decided to take a look at the ingredients of some of my beauty gear, I realised there were a lot of words that I never learnt at school, are unpronounceable and are missing from my vocabulary.


As I've scratched beneath the surface, I've learned a few more things:
  • According to the Environmental Working Group, 89 percent of 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by the FDA
  • In fact, the US federal government doesn’t require any health studies or pre-market testing on personal care products
  • As a result, many cosmetics are thought to contain carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and other chemicals that may pose health risks
  • Up to 60% of what we put on our skin gets absorbed into the bloodstream
It gets worse: the list of toxic additives present in many cosmetics is jaw-droppingly huge. 

U.S. researchers report that one in eight of the 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products are industrial chemicals. Pfff.

Harmful ingredients in your makeup drawer that should be avoided at all costs include (but are certainly not limited to): Butyl acetate, Butylated hydroxytoluene, Coal tar, Cocamide DEA/lauramide DEA, Diazolidinyl urea, Ethyl acetate, Formaldehyde, Parabens (methyl, ethyl, propyl and butyl), Petrolatum, Phthalates, Propylene glycol, Siloxanes, Sodium laureth/sodium laurel sulfate, Talc, Toluene, Triclosan, and Triethanolamine.

Blimey! Quick!! Open your vanity case and start reading labels like a Walmart shopper on the Atkins diet. In the frozen foods aisle… 

With a microscope…

Would you choose to eat any of the stuff put on your face and body? 

Now this is when I usually get brushed off with a shoulder shrug label such as 'hippie' or 'tree hugger'… not that I don't appreciate a good tree hug :)

But unfortunately for me, the Gods gave me brains too. 

And while thinking hurts sometimes and can take one on wearisome tours, these deep dives really can illuminate ways in which we may be causing harm to ourselves and being very out of harmony with nature. 

The average woman uses 13 products per day with 515 ingredients. That's a lorra lorra of stuff.

And no one really knows how certain chemicals affect us over time, or how they react in our bodies in combination. Some chemicals have known dangers: Phthalates, for example, which are often found in artificial fragrances, are a class of hormone disruptor which can be linked to birth defects, sperm damage, infertility, and the feminization of baby boys, for instance. Oh boy.

So what now?
Well, Mother Nature apparently has a cure for nearly everything, and fortunately these days there are many beauty brands that are keeping their ingredients list as close to the earth as possible.

Some options include:

Mainly due to my lifestyle - I make for a terrible beauty queen. Much to my mother's disappointment. "Yesssssica - you really need to do your nails!" she says to me when I roll in from a flight having spent the last month or so camping in the wilderness. But I'm ok about my tidy naked nails.

A lovely travel friend persuaded me to give away all my make up in 2011 while I was travelling through India and all I held on to was eye liner, mascara and the occasional blush. And I do really like to use simple natural ingredients on my skin worthy a mention such as:
  • Jojoba Oil - a natural hydrating face oil also good for hair
  • Coconut Oil - great for dry hair and on skin but only in warm climates (otherwise it solidifies!)
  • Avocado/olive/coconut oil, essential oil, salt and ground coffee - a yummy homemade body scrub that leaves the skin so soft
I wouldn't choose to eat them - but they won't hurt me if I did.

I've become so sensitive to the chemical smells we squirt around lately, airport Duty Free's can actually give me a head ache and don't even get me started on household cleaning products.

I've not convinced Mum on the wonders of vinegar and other alternatives - partly because I made her house smell like a fish and chip shop the last time I got evangelistic. But I tried.

Perhaps I might invite you dear reader to spare a thought for what it might be you're putting in your system and what other informed choices you might wish to make in the future…

Nature has a wonderful way of bringing out our natural beauty and thankfully these days, there are options for us to take that might also be healthier for our insides too.

Tree hugger. Over and out.

Useful link: http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/6-crazy-facts-about-the-toxins-in-makeup/

18 September, 2015

dear burning burning man

Photo: Galen Oakes
Dear Burning Man

As I watched you burning fiercely amongst the 70,000 'Burners' I reflected deeply on these last few years since I left Sydney and the stories I'd been battling with since I was a child. I watched you light up the sky bathed in beautiful fireworks and realised just how there I was. How released I felt and ultimately, how bloody grateful.

As I meditated on you I felt the fire within me burn too; absolutely free, alive and whole. Thanking myself for burning the shame, burning the sadness, burning the fears and burning the fury and the rage. Burning Man, you burn and boy do you burn good.
The BE //Photo: jessicabrookes.photography

What I wondered - as I sat under the stars of the Nevada desert - was what exciting dreams would come to life next? Where would life take me? How would I grow? As the ashes shook away, I finally, sighed with huge relief. I can't explain it but I can bow my head and say thanks. You took away my fears Burning Man and those things can hot bake pretty damn deep.

If all the grit brought me here, in this very hot moment, I thought. Then I have a lot to be thankful for. Except the wrinkles, they've taken a bit of time to adjust to - ironically. But I rather a few lines that crinkle when I smile, than the high security armored heart I'd slogged around for far too long. Yes I feel more than before, the tears come all too easily but yet the joy for living showers me in such inspiration, Burning Man. Like waterfalls of endless potential you rain down the message loud and clear; anything is possible.

To all the Burners, you beautiful celestial beings that make the pilgrimage to this wonderful place, I wholeheartedly salute you. What an incredibly magical place we crafted together, what powerful dust storms we fought (I will not forget cycling straight in to that sculpture!), the boundary pushing workshops we dove in to and dance floors feet kissed while bathed in the breath-taking golden sunsets. I rode my edge Burning Man but I  didn't snap. Even as the storm pulled out the tent pegs and coated everything in a layer of dust. Even then when you pushed me that far. Nope. It was OK.

Burning Man, you are full of such dreamlike wonder. Full of the bizarre, eccentric and fun. You are full to the brim with creative spirit and you are so full of love and everything that's inspired. You are a great place to burn off the pains and exist more fully in the NOW with a smile on the face and a big open heart. And you are extraordinary because you are a collection of creations, selfless and empowered. A giant united heart facing the sunrise and looking forward, day after day. When I rode through the desert and found a watch only to learn that the time said N:O:W - I got the message. A great present from the desert that I offered to the beautiful Temple which was home to so much grief. Somber it was, thank god that got burnt down too! In silence. With plenty tears. And so many people moved by it.
The Temple //Photo: jessicabrookes.photography

Thank you for burning. You have liberated, enlightened and been a space for healing and self expression to a lot of brave people. You have also brought a whole manner of sorts in to one field; from the naked banana pancake camp to the giant penis sculpture.

Here's to more magic, more love and more joy. Let that fire ROAR burners, there's a fire in your heart and your life is the canvas to blaze it on. You don't always need a desert, baby, you've got soul.

So spark it up Burning Man and burn burn burn.

In love with desert light, made peace with the dust.

Jecta x
"Your life is a sacred journey. It is about change, growth, discovery, movement, transformation, continuously expanding your vision of what is possible, stretching your soul, learning to see clearly and deeply, listening to your intuition, taking courageous challenges at every step along the way. You are on the path... exactly where you are meant to be right now... And from here, you can only go forward, shaping your life story into a magnificent tale of triumph, of healing, of courage, of beauty, of wisdom, of power, of dignity, and of love." ~ by Caroline Adams

08 August, 2015

what does the world need right now?




I met this beautiful couple on the beach in Thailand.

At the time I didn't know they were musicians and my friend Brett and I decided to go for a walk and jam on the beach to the sunset with his guitar. We invited our new friends and in a divine spark of magical union, created a wonderful little song.

We called ourselves Coco and the Palm Trees. The next evening we performed it at the open min night (video here) which was so beautiful to share with our friend's at The Sanctuary and was a lovely welcome shift from some of my old heart bleeding poetry :)

This song really moves me, so I wanted to share it.

24 July, 2015

are you a drop in the ocean? or the ocean in a drop?


One of the virtues of being in charge of my own time, mostly, has been the opportunity to reflect on some of the deeper questions on life. This is not new for me. As a child I remember asking "what is the meaning of life?" with the rather cute response being "to find the meaning". For a little nipper, that is pretty wise and deep...

I'm fascinated by philosophy. Love to get poetic and metaphoric with spirit and science. I get called a 'hippy' on a regular basis. Which still bugs me a little but I am learning to embrace it. I don't know what qualifies me as a hippy... But nevertheless as a 'bonafide hippy' there's one idea I work to advocate and that is the shortcut key of 'Peace & Love'. I've got there a few times. Of completely 100% embodying this place but then like a burning fire on a relentless mission to purify the soul, something will come up and I'll be put back to work again. That's the inside practice.

What I often fall in to duality with is the 'inside-outside' world. I have written a lot on some of the madness our world faces and there have been times when I have walked around and felt disturbed by the world around me. Just the other day I walked around Times Square and being wide open to everything felt like I was taking a huge over excited moving screen hit of neon that was injected directly in to my adrenal gland. People everywhere. Lights everywhere. Messages. Buy, buy, buy... Eurgh. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

Then I teleport back to walking through a small market town in the Himalayan region of India and seeing a beautiful grubby girl holding a plastic bag full of empty bottles. I loved that child. She was doing such a service by collecting that recyclable waste instead of allowing it all to toxify the lands in the area. But her society saw her as a low caste, an 'untouchable'. When I held her hand and we walked through the street together, my Indian friend Ganesh explained that people were pointing and expressing their disgust at this girl and I for being in contact. How cruel to think there exists a world where a child cannot be held because of the caste she was born in to.

There's a shamanic principle that suggests one 'has acceptance for all'. A wonderful non-dualistic concept; learning to appreciate the darkness to appreciate the light. Or something like that. But stepping aside from this enlightened place of 'everything's meant to be' I still struggle to come to terms with some of the terrible things that are happening on this planet.

A decision I felt forced to make in 2011 was to get dark, deep and gritty with my stuff. To delve within. And after many a self-righteous rant about all this is wrong with the world; the environment, poverty, sexism, inequality and a whole plethora of issues that need to be addressed besides the fact that media is brainwashing us with fear and subscribing us to tow a line that may not be in service of good at all ie. war... After all this ranting, I very quickly realised that inside me also exists shadow dimensions of pain, anger, fear, sadness and turmoil. Some inherited genetics, most psychologically conditioned reactions and resistances from Earth school grit.

I hadn't previously realised how much the past was still replaying in my present. What emerged were psychological wounds and vulnerable feelings of a misunderstood and very sensitive child. I recall reading about a polar bear that died in the local zoo due to the heat wave and I just broke down in tears. I began psychologically studying myself, got angry a lot, I practiced mindfulness and therapeutic practices. In an act of self-care, I hired a hut in the Caribbean and spent most afternoons doing yoga and meditation on the beach. In my shack I worked on integrating, writing, photo editing, creating beautiful things out of the resources I had and I danced. It was transformational and it was painful and at times I felt very sorry for myself. I found the key to mindful awareness was to develop a secure frame that could contain any feeling; no matter how painful, to allow it to to be received with grace.

I share this because I want to get real here and I know what it is like to be going it alone and feeling vulnerable. Things happen in life, the ocean gets choppy, we swallow too much salt water and we may struggle to keep afloat. There are times when the life boat feels like it is sinking and safety feels a long way away. I learned that safety needed to be something I could create for myself amidst any kind of chaos and pain. An inner trust and sense of safety. With a tightly gripped hand we cannot hold water, it falls between our fingers. But with our hands we can cup it. When I came home to this place again, I realised it had never gone, I was always held by mother nature. But I'd got swept up in a big rip, held on too tightly and needed to improve my breaststroke and breathe a lot deeper. I needed to surrender and allow myself to be present with life no matter how painful. The chemical soap burn scene in Fight Club encapsulates that feeling; no power animal, no visualisation techniques, no mantras, just 100% there with the feeling.

The thing's that plague our society still make me dream it better and have had me in tears but I am grateful to feel. In the West we have built up a strange notion that feelings are a weakness not a strength. And there's a lot in this world that is heartbreakingly destructive or darn right insane. But thankfully there's also a lot on this planet that is so so stunningly beautiful, inspiring and kind. 

If we want to be shining beacons for peace, it starts - in my humble opinion - with being ok with oneself; to respond to one's authenticity with presence and acceptance (and compassion) even when the ocean's rough. And we need to have the courage to allow for change, as life inevitably is.
“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.” - Gandhi

24 June, 2015

love & care, going to extremes

sadhu crew at bamboo
"Most people would join a gym Jecta" my old friend Springer remarked as we crossed Wandsworth bridge in London while I explained that I was planning on spending some time on a detox retreat at The Sanctuary Thailand. Perhaps, but not for me.

Somehow my time in the French Alps had taken its toll on my mind, body and soul. I'd held myself to ridiculously high standards in terms of my work, my diet and my lifestyle and after 5 months working a six day week so intensely with all the responsibilities that came with managing chalets and a team, I could see how my relationships around me were telling me that something wasn't right and I was slipping in to a place of guilt for not doing as much yoga and running as I had hoped while nibbling on croissants and allowing a bit of winter buffer around my belly to bug me.

After some curve balls and disappointments, I chose to step back in to my power again. It was time to give myself a gift. The greatest gift of extreme self-love and extreme self-care. Nourishment from the inside out, a polish and a realignment with the rhythms of nature and all her blessed shapes.

On a beautiful remote beach on the coast of Koh Phangan immersed in the jungles along the beach lives a stunning retreat centre called The Sanctuary. After two planes, a cab, a ferry and a fisherman boat, I stepped on to the sandy bay and breathed it all in. It was like stepping in to a dream and London felt a lifetime behind me as I gazed up at the open ocean calling me in to her waters.

I had visited The Sanctuary in 2011 with my Mum and we had opened up to the beautiful therapies, yoga classes and detox programs of the resort. I'd spent a session with a shaman going on a journey to find my power animal(s) and had had wonderful enlightening experiences for the two weeks we were there. This time round however, rather than being a corporate advertising executive with my designer bikini, playing hard ball negotiating my next contract and staying in one of their beautiful air conditioned Garden Suites, I was donning my rasta string bikini purchased at a local shop for a couple of hundred baht, had no time restrictions to my duration and no Mum to take care of. Just me and a humble fanned room with an epic view of the bay.

My first two weeks I spent without food and having a self-administered plastic tube up my bottom. Some would argue that this isn't a very loving thing to do but my goodness when one feels the boundless energy of the emptiness created, the heightened awareness and looks in the mirror to see the slender body once a distant memory, I can guarantee it brings about great appreciation. The detox program involved regular clay shakes of benzonite clay and psyllium husk, super food capsules, daily yoga classes and spa treatments... along with a daily enema. It required a fair amount of discipline and time keeping.

What amazed me was how ok I was without food. I really wanted to explore what Russell Brand says "lives behind your hunger" but I actually felt ok. I sat with people eating at the incredibly healthy and delicious cafe of the retreat centre, admired the salad bar and perhaps felt a craving or two for the Raw Bliss Balls and cheese cakes but otherwise what really filled my being was gladness.

"There's no where I would rather be" I found myself saying as I surrendered my whole time in Thailand to that bay. I didn't go on any big adventures, I didn't trek the jungles or wash elephants. I didn't visit a single temple nor step on the streets of Bangkok. Instead I immersed myself in the beauty of the bay and shared some of the happiest moments with the gorgeous family of therapists, yoga teachers and travellers in this little hub of paradise.

"Don't be sorry, be sexy" was the mantra of the bay and boy did we all feel it.

Open mic night saw me step in to my vulnerability and read poetry and sing in front of an audience. Movie night I buzzed with excitement watching this incredible documentary; What About Me? I joined Craig Stuart from Coral Alive replanting coral in the reef donning masks and learning to hold breath underwater. I danced wildly with an empty stomach in the small hours of the morning at the local weekly shindig, I watched the sunrise over the bay in pink golden light and connected with some beautiful new friends from around the world.
the special veranda
One afternoon I doused in poetry on a bamboo veranda with a gorgeous writer-musician (actually a dinosaur in disguise as a human) Luke from Travel Write Sing before practicing frog impressions in the plunge pool and resonating powerful 'Ommmms' in the steam room cave. Another time, surrounded by beautiful women we sped like a ship of warrior goddess' across the ocean to a 'tribal chique' garden party in Koh Sumui armed with face paints, glitter and feathers.
Brett on the rock.
One day I trekked to the neighbour beach and meditated with a cliff jumping tattooed Canadian called Brett and we practiced Samyama meditation with the great rocks that had made it down the mountains after eons of travel. We knew they were happy to have reached the ocean at last. Sunsets I had jamming with musicians serenading mosquitos or joining gatherings to watch lightning storms across the bay. Not forgetting a few nights dancing wildly in the rain singing with the boy with the biggest smile, guitarist Jason and laughing and cuddling Maddie, my 'Sagi Sister'.

Another evening I experienced the incredible luminescent plankton as we went on a night swim and I felt like a child in ecstatic wonderment watching my movements create sparkles in the deep dark waters. I recall lying on a beach bed looking up at the stars with a soul brother Dan from the States. A kindred spirit who too had studied Law and pursued a career in the corporate world before it spat him out and he journeyed through Tibetan Buddhist culture and became a yoga teacher. His words still with me now and inspiring seedlings we birthed in each other.

My people I found there. Grounded, open hearted and inspiring souls from everywhere who reminded me of things I already knew and whispered through their hearts "keep going Jess, keep going". I cannot begin to explain the love and gratitude felt for the tender hearts on that bay. Its a magical place.

After meeting a powerfully healing ROLFING practitioner Sarah, I spent a month having regular sessions and experiencing some of the deepest healing's I've ever had while bringing my body in to its fullest alignment and posture. I won't lie, there was certainly pain. Ever questioning I couldn't believe it when I physically felt an energy leave my stomach like a tangible ball of anxiety dust extracted through a cosmic vacuum cleaner. "Oh my God... What the hell was that?" I said to Sarah. "It doesn't matter now dear, it has gone now in love and light" and then a world of tears fell as feelings of betrayal vibrated through my body and intense heat gushed through to my finger tips while a sigh of relief breathed my insides. Wow. Then there were cacao ceremonies, elemental dances, sound baths, Ayurvedic classes and all the other incredible workshops the Tea Temple hosts for guests at The Sanctuary.

Well, I could go on and on. I can say that nothing felt more liberating, more empowering and more inspiring than this time being at The Sanctuary. I was bare feet for a month - that is always a good sign for me. I swam in the ocean everyday and wrapped myself in the sounds of nature; the frog orchestras, the birdsong, the monkeys and the soft beating of the gentle waves crashing on the sand. And I've been writing, that long awaited tale that I've spoken so much on and finally found the inspiration to write. It feels like an old painting that I am merely articulating through words. And my goodness is it flowing, I've filled up the back of my journal and found myself scavenging scraps of paper to capture the words that want to live somewhere. So exciting for this little writer.

I appreciate that not all jectaspecta readers live a lifestyle that gives them the means, time and space to go on long nourishing retreats like this one (and so does The Sanctuary with its weeklong programs). I can't say that my lifestyle is always easy but I can say that like the human experience, it is one hell of an adventure and I love it most the time... and in moments when I'm not, I know I'm growing in appreciation and strength.

Admittedly in the past I have got entangled in the heavy stuff, fallen in to places of doubt, frustration, envy, anger and sadness. These places are hard for me - I'm sure like many of us - because I grew up believing they were wrong and I didn't have the courage to sit with the pain. This nourishing experience really acted as a soothing balm on what has been one hell of a deep process on the road and while I was there a beautiful friend and Yin Yogini Georgia shone a light upon my grief one afternoon as we swam through the ocean together. She helped me see that what I thought was grief for an old love and everything that revolved around it, was actually the grief I had for my old self. A simple realisation but the most liberating to date to realise the intense transformation the last few years traveling has had on me, shedding the layers and old programming and coming to accept the person I have become through it in the NOW.

So more and more I am learning about self empowerment - to find the love and care for me from within and give myself a lot of it because I bloody well deserve it as do we all! As my Mum would say "Happiness is always with you, patience and faith are a good combination. But happiness is with you always." Such a wise woman she is and what an empowering reminder for us all.

Thank you The Sanctuary and all the incredible lights that held and shared space for me while I was there. I am still buzzing in grace :)
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