28 July, 2014

the only woman in the opium den

We were in the sacred lake village of Pushkar in India when my world took quite a fascinating turn.

It had been a big day. Starting out with my 'gay husband' Farrel and I waking up at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise over the desert and doing yoga at the hilltop temple.

The same day he kicked a dog and experienced 'bad dog karma' (story here).

While witnessing the golden glow light up the desert town, I spoke to a boy who was selling precious stone jewellery and had my eye on the one around his neck hanging from a black piece of cord.

"It's turquoise - my birthstone" I said, admiring it. "When's your birthday?" I asked expecting it to fall in December, like mine, to justify him wearing it.

"I don't know." he said doing the notorious Indian neck wiggle that I was still yet to master.

"Well perhaps it is in December too" I joked. Smiling at this sweet boy who'd struck a little cord in my heart as I wondered how odd it must feel to not know your own birthday.

"You want to buy?" he offered.

So I did. Of course I did.

As we made our way down the hill, Farrel and I decided to freestyle our day. This meant not spending it together.

Farrel - on a short 3 week trip on his way to Israel - was moving at a different pace to me and despite my sloth-like grace being to a spacious rhythm I enjoyed moving to, Farrel was on a holiday tick box campaign and didn't want to miss a thing.

So we arranged a meeting point for that evening and freestyled our day solo.

Firstly, as I had done every morning since arriving, I visited my "sound master". My sound master was a Kashmiri gentleman tucked behind a shop selling beautiful handmade singing bowls on the condition that one trains with him and masters the healing powers that making the bowls sing does. As I rubbed the rim of this weighty bowl an incredible sound escaped it that made the whole room sing and our souls reverberate. The serenity and stillness that followed was so divine that the master couldn't help but laugh at my mesmerised aw.

After my time making bowls sing, I continued my wander. I met camels. I went in to magnificent temples and spoke to the locals. I got lost and as the sunset found myself at the lake in time to see magnificent colours reflect from its waters. Alas the sun I'd watch rise has now gone to bed.

As I found my way and headed back to the meeting point excited to retell the days tales with Farrel, I was enchanted by some stunning crystals at a small street stall. they stopped me in my tracks as I admired the incredible energies that were dancing from the glistening stones.

"Hello madam" the stall owner welcomed me. "Please sit, sit." he said with a friendly smile. I sat with him and gushed over his stones as he explained the stories attached to them and the healing powers of the different stones.

I proudly showed him my new Turquoise necklace sat pretty around my neck and yet his face didn't look impressed. I could see he was feeling torn, that he was hiding a truth from me and he fumbled for words.

"What is it?" I asked him wandering if he was upset I'd already bought a necklace from another vendor.

"Madam, that is not real turquoise." he said sadly. I was gob-smacked. I'd been cheated. He took the stone and scratched the back of it to prove it was a fake. Tears welled up in my eyes and I felt a sense of "how dare he!" well up inside of me. I'd been so kind to this boy and he had cheated me.

"Oh no, no Madam, please don't cry, don't cry".

"I'm going to tell him! I'm going to give it back to him!" my self-righteousness had been triggered and I wanted to tell this boy it was not ok to cheat me.

"No, no madam, it is his karma, his karma, you leave this to God." the crystal man said as he gave me a tissue to wipe my little sensitive tears.

As I sat there and slowly came round, one of the friends I'd crossed paths with in Rajasthan recognised me and invited me to a get together and a sing song around a campfire later that evening.

So, later on, Farrel and I went there.

And that is where we met Malcolm. Maltese Malcolm. A bearded face that had lines telling me he was wiser than his years and with a smile that lit up a space. As the desert day turned to night and we huddled around the fire listening to Manu Chao play from the Spanish guitar, I started to shiver. This kindly soul took note and placed his woollen blanket around my shoulders.

"Thanks for sharing" I said to my new friend.

We talked about life, about travels, about Australia where we had both loved and lived. In his warmth I felt a new friend and as he talked enthusiastically about going to the Himalayas and seeing snow for the first time in his life, I knew I was destined to join him.

"Awesome. I'm coming with you." I said without even thinking. Two weeks later we'd realise I wasn't joking.

The next day Farrel and I joined Malcolm on a bus journey out of Pushkar to a small desert village where he had a good local friend to meet and say goodbye to. We were followed around by children like celebrities. I remember going to pick up a cup that had been thrown on the floor outside a chai shop, only to be laughed at by locals as I learned that it was made from clay and hence, made to be chucked. We all started laughing as I realised there were clay cups everywhere!

Upon meeting with Malcolm's friend we continued walking around the village and soon found ourselves lotusly sat in a grey concrete room with one side open to the road as a window. There was smoke. There was chatter. And there was the distinct sound of thumping as men muddled up opium tea leaves on the hard surface.

We made our way to a small corner of space and I realised; I was the only woman squeezed in to this room.

I have spoken a lot about how challenging it can be being a woman in India. At that time, having dyed my hair with henna, I was being called out for resembling a Pakistani Bollywood actress; this evidently drew more attention to me and had me constantly asked for photos much to my gay husband's frustration.

In this situation however, what I experienced was incredibly beautiful and respectful. The men in the den, at first looking at me curiously, started to humbly smile and nod at me.

"Oh my God Jessica... how do I do this!?" Farrell squealed as we were all handed little cups of this new brew.

We knew what it was.

It was opium tea.

I had all sorts of ideas and hang ups about opiates. They're addictive, mind-bending and dangerous. How the hell had Farrel and I ended up in a grey concrete walled opium tea house, I have no idea.

But I was open to making the most out of it.

Farrel and I giggled away as we cheers'd our cups and drank our teas while promising one another to look out for the other.

Admittedly, Farrel was more of a high-pitched princess about it than I was, after slamming his tea, he pulled a face and announced; " Jessica... that was sooo disgusting!" in his gorgeously camp voice.

It wasn't before long we were flying.

I smiled a lot and felt a sense of harmony in our little sit down get-high-tea-house. One man had a letter written in sanskrit and asked the Brahman next to me to translate it to him. The script was so holy that no-one else was allowed to look at it. Water was poured in to our mouths so as not to share any germs. Charras smoke was hanging heavy in the room as the desert sun lit up one side of the otherwise concrete den.

I noticed my hands feeling really dry and so I got out my natural disinfectant hand gel and gave my hands a squirt. Then I gave some to Malcolm. Then to Farrel. Wow. This stuff feels really good we realised.

The next thing I know I was giving it to the gentleman next to me and watching these beautiful men share with one another this new gel. Hands were rubbed together. Some patted their faces or cupped their hands over the noses to breathe in the clean smell.

Goodness knows what these gentleman must've thought about this little lady participating in their fancy tea antics, but I'd been in an amazing space of camaraderie and eventually felt totally at ease with the smiling and the sharing.

As we left the den, the hand gel was still making the rounds among the masses of men huddled together.

"You can have it" I said smiling. "It's a gift... Namaste".

And what a serendipitous gift that experience had been for me. A whirlwind of eye opening realisations and appreciations.

It was naughty and yet, I must also admit, it was an incredibly culturally enlightening experience.

UPDATE: I absolutely do not condone taking opiates... I tried opium again about a month later and was really sick promising to never do it again.

23 July, 2014

5 things money can’t buy

“Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself, Love possesses not nor would it be possessed: For love is sufficient unto love.” – The Prophet 
More "Funny Money" images here.
As many jectaspecta readers will know, I decided about 3 years ago to go traveling until money ran out. I stepped out of the game, had paid my debts, never had a credit card and only had my personal life savings to financially support myself.

Every now and then I would get paid for good deeds done on tour, but otherwise, life has sustained me by living humbly.

It has not been easy.

Neither is it easy being in London without money and working as a yogini (which is integrally non-competitive).

All things said however, I have realised some personal truths on what gives meaning and value to life which I thought would be worth sharing.

1. Moments with loved ones.
Being with someone I care for, having their presence in my life and sharing good times is the most heart-warmingly divine experience. That time when Dad and I played backgammon and I won three times in a row is among many of those moments that I will treasure for the rest of my life and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

 2. Naked tumbles.
Those moments of love-wrapped intimacy can transcend everything. A Sunday spent naked in the arms of another, empty tea cups by the bed and the musky scent of naked tumbles steaming from the sheets is something you can never put a price on.

3. That light in time of need.
Life isn’t always easy. Sometimes there are storms leaving one feeling lost and afraid (I learned this sailing in the Caribbean). When there are disasters personal or at scale, the most natural thing for a human being to want to do is be there to help. Having someone there in those moments of darkness can be the light that guides you through. Like a lighthouse as your boat comes in to port through stormy seas, their presence is invaluable.

4. That last bite. 
It’s amazing how scarcity invites one to reflect on the meaningful things in life. As human beings we don’t need as much as we are lead to believe and when hungry one truly appreciates every morsel. We live in a world where there’s enough for everyone. But we don’t have enough for everyone’s greed. Appreciating the small things; kind gestures and last bites is worth more than any amount of money taken for granted.

5. Love.
With everything and with nothing - the hearts of gold will love you no matter what. No amount of stuff and no amount of money will ever change that. Love is the most powerful force on Earth; it purifies karma and teaches us lessons in all its feeling and through all its pains.

"Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money" - Cree Indian Proverb
Being a happy-go-lucky character living in Australia, insulated from some of the harsh realities of this planet, I didn't realise how sensitive I would be to some of the deeply saddening circumstances people live in and behaviours cultures can deem acceptable.

What has continually pulled me through is nature (and inner strength!) Experiencing unity with nature has lead to the most healing, empowering and awakening experiences.

We live in urban swells far removed from the stillness, serenity and spirit of nature. Furthermore, we are incredibly wasteful as a species and our mass consumptive behaviour has devastating results on our environment.

I feel passionately about this subject and I hope technology and infrastructure can keep up with the growing demands of increasingly westernised nations such as India and China with their growing demands and consumerist paradigm of 'buy the latest' while destroying our land and contaminating waters with toxins.

I likewise hope to see consciousness evolve to a level where cultures can unite and become more harmonious with one another, while humans act as the guardians of the planet we once were, yet somehow in our insanity, lost along the way.


06 July, 2014

what are you afraid of?

This video might be the best 15 minutes of your day in front of your computer via Thrilling Heroics

My Dad is afraid of heights.

He explained that fear of heights is either the fear of falling or the fear of jumping.

This last few years travelling to the tune of my heart I learned that one of my biggest fears has been not to live.

Has anyone ever felt like they had ridiculously little time left?

That was me before I packed my bags.

And despite knowing my shift in lifestyle challenges so many of the old man's paradigms from the era of work to make money etc. "You are dreaming Jess" is what he tells me. Gosh don't I know it!? (tips for dreamers here).

I still say with hand on heart to anyone reading this;


UPDATE: Dad said he is conquering his fear of heights. This year he zip-wired.

Go Dad!

15 June, 2014

pray for japan, pray for the world

It was the very first week of my travels and the scenes that I saw before me still visit me to this very day. I had intended on going to the mountains of Niseko to carve the famous powdered slopes with my snowboard. Instead after spending the morning exploring the Tokyo fish markets with a fellow couch-surfer, Natsumi, found myself spontaneously inspired to accompany her on her trip north to a community in Miyagi as a volunteer helping to restore the community following the devastating tsunami.

The things I saw were atrocious. Actually frankly they shook my soul in a way that can still haunt me. I remember having a very awkward moment when I visiting a lady's broken home with a couple from my team. We were ceremoniously served traditional green tea and yet something in me said "don't drink it".

It is very uncustomary to refuse tea as a guest in Japan and I knew by politely refusing I was showing disregard and disrespect to the dear host; an elderly survivor who'd lost many of her family members due to the floods. Yet, as I sat in this dishevelled living room where water stains still lined the walls and listened as my friend and fellow volunteer Shomuto explained that she believed radioactive waste was being dumped in the oceans nearby, my survival instinct took hold.

"I don't... like... green tea" I whisper to Shomuto awkwardly knowing deep down that it wasn't true. "I'm sorry, I can't drink this."

Of all the places in the world to break custom - Japan was certainly the most uncomfortable. I felt ashamed as the three Japanese looked at me in surprise (but equally grateful that at least being the 'foreigner' I could fall upon that as an excuse). I then continued to refuse all tea alternatives feeling more and more apologetic. Alarm bells within were warning me not to drink the water and while another voice in my mind said "it's just a cup of tea Jess" the louder voice told me not to risk it and I chose to trust it.

For anyone who doubts this truth of what is going on in that part of the world, I'd say; go and experience it for yourself... Or don't actually after watching this exposé on Fukushima above (watch it!) and learning what I have learned, I'd say one would be foolish to risk exposing themselves. It is however deeply saddening to think that where my friends and I were creating new parks for those brave children, delivering heaters for those forced to stay among the rubble and visiting people relocated in to lorry crates with ghastly fluro lighting to help lift their spirits; that their well-being is at further risk as are generations to come. I pray for that dear community of volunteers so devoted that when we awoke to an Earthquake at 2am, were on stand by to respond. Holy sh*t that was one of the most surreal and intense moments of my life. The whole building rattled and for a brief moment I thought we were done for.

I know full well that the media has lied about a second nuclear power plant that has been heralded as an example of excellence. It's not. Families have been separated. Workers forced to sign contracts to absolve responsibility of the power plant for any contamination. I know this because my team visited them. I wish I were more scientifically astute so that I could go in to the numbers and science behind it all (thankfully Vice spoke to scientists). I wish I could also give names, facts and recordings. I can't. I can only relay my personal experience and what I learned in the short time I had there.

What I can say, as a human being, is that something terrible happened there, life was not cared for by the government nor corporations and that the media wasn't telling the truth about the extent of damage and destruction... and also that my inner voice which I have learned to trust wholeheartedly - despite forcing me to break social custom - said very loudly "Jess, do not drink that water".

Watching this exposé now helps me realise why. Now what can we do about it?
My family in Japan. The Pray for Japan relief community.

10 June, 2014

awarded awesome bloggings

Recently I learned that jectaspecta had been nominated a Liebster Award by The Glow Seeker's Kamina Nagel. Kamina even called me "the real deal". Oh blimey. There I was thinking I was rambling to myself.

Now for the Q&A.

In one sentence, tell us your mission. 
I'd love to leave this world a better place than when I arrived.

What does ‘bravery’ mean to you? 
Bravery is people around you saying you're either an absolute jewel or a nutcase and continuing to be you. Bravery is stepping in to a situation of ferocious vulnerability and standing tall while the knees secretly quiver (or going to an ashram and meditating on the dangerous stuff). Bravery is being 100% true to yourself even when the world might be trying to carve you in to something else. Bravery is waking up one day and realising that you've been putting off your dreams and deciding to finally make them happen. Bravery is facing your demons and loving the hell out of them. Bravery is letting go of everything and everyone you are afraid of losing. Bravery is surrendering to life.

What drives you, inspires you, makes you glow? 
The world and all the beautiful people who care enough to make it better. That and my Mum. She's awesome and when my glow fades, her presence in my life lifts me and reminds me to keep going (or insists I scrub the stink of India off me right away...).

I feel incredibly lucky to have people care deeply for me in this life, despite my galavants, their love inspires me.

If you had a magic wand, what is one piece of knowledge or wisdom you’d want everyone in the world to know with complete certainty? 
Make love not war.

What’s one thing your tribe may not know about you?
I still get homesick sometimes.

Thank you Kamina. You too are a groovy glowing digital rockstar - thanks for your inspirations and for putting me on the spot ;)

Now for my nominations:

Charles Frith // Punk Planning
I met Charles virtually a few years ago and spent about 3 hours on Skype to him getting my mind blown off by geo-political theory, astral beings and Terrence McKenna. He's incredibly intelligent and wonders on some serious issues that face the world today. If you're deeply curious about the big issues, his blog will certainly provide some fascinating and revealing insights.
Warning: Mind may get blown.

Zoe Scaman // Inspiration
Zoe is a notorious pocket rocket in the creative strategy world. I had the pleasure of working with her in years gone by but more so, being a good buddy. She helped me moving house. Big kudos. Personally she has been a grounding force in my life while also a wonderfully inspiring smart cookie with her eye on the future and a genuine care for it.

Rob Campbell // The Musings of an Opinionated Sod
Rob is another adland legend but that's not why I follow him. He's a Northerner who swears in front of his clients and wears rocker t-shirts and sandals. He writes about real things and some of the cultural madness that exists in the world. I would like to spend one day in his brain just to see what it feels like. At present this is the closest I'll get.

Elizabeth Sellers // Rosalilium
Liz and I went to school together and have shown the love for one another ever since. While the world has put a physical distance and time between us, its been really cool to stay in one another's loop via the interwebs. I love the fact that Liz has the courage to put herself out there on her blog sharing the things she cares about; travel, thrift chique and yummy recipes.

Rosie De Belgeonne // Foodoodle
Rosie was my old housemate in Sydney. She moved to NYC around the same time I was up a mountain in the lotus position working on my zen. While I grew hairy legs and got high on Indian curry, Rosie was exploring her new playground with a pen in her hand. She captures through her simple doodles the delicious edibles that grace her plates in her neighbourhood.

Questions for my Nominees: 
  • If you only had a year to live - what would you spend it doing?
  • Where in the world calls you and why?
  • Who is your greatest inspiration?
  • If anything were possible - what one thing would you do to make the world a better place?

Next steps, if you wish: 

1. Thank the person who nominated you (me!), and post a link to their blog on your blog.
2. Display the award on your blog by including it in your post.
3. Answer the questions provided to you by your nominator.
5. Nominate blogs with less that you feel deserve the award.
6. Create a new list of questions for each nominee to answer.
7. Notify your selected bloggers that they’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award, and provide them with the link to your post.
8. List these rules in your post.

I hope you can keep it going and share what inspires you!

06 June, 2014

not sweet enough!?

Bro in the jungles of Palomino, Colombia
I am on a flight between Cartagena (Colombia) and New York (USA). Two incredibly contrasting cultures. I have come fresh out of the jungles of Colombia where I slept in a hammock, washed in a river and cooked on a fire while foraging mangoes and coconuts and staying with a humble shaman's family.

I get served high altitude coffee and despite requesting that the stewardess not give me sugar I get a pile of sugar sachets labelled "Dunkin' Donuts" and "Pure Sugar" on the reverse. One of the most addictive, unhealthy and unpure sources of sugar out there. My inner yogini breathes, surrenders, accepts and goes within to feel this fire sparked. And then in honesty another part of me really doesn't like this. No matter how cool, how chilled and how compassionate one can be, I feel like a boundary has been crossed against my will and because it is socially acceptable, I am expected to subject myself to this unhealthy brands presence in front of me telling me a blatant lie that it is 'real sugar' and whispering 'take me, take me, let me sweeten you up'.

Tip: Sugar makes really good face exfoliator. Rather than throw away the sugar one may wish to mix it with natural soap and make a yummy face scrub.

But this is just the start of my gears getting lightly grinded as my weary mind and body traverse across dimensions. I know it is probably due to my time drinking "La Medicina" (an indiginous cleansing potion) with my brother and the shaman a few days before that I am sensitive. I am feeling incredibly in touch with these emotions and when I find myself talking to the American guy next to me, I again find myself fired up.

Before I know it I am passionately explaining how the mass consumptive culture nurtured in the Western world needs to end. That things are being made to last little time before being thrown away and replaced with 'the latest model', that people are being taught to care about the wrong things, that peak oil is coming, that too much power is in the hands of the few... before I finish, said American looks at me suspiciously.

"Are you a communist?" he interrupts me.
"No" I reply politely. "But I do have common sense".

Gosh, I'm no angel. I've worked with the big banks, big FMCGS etc. I know (second-hand) that Coca-Cola wonders how to get a child to drink 7 cans of the stuff to create a newly addicted consumer.

Tip: Coke makes really good silver jewellery polish, teeth and stomach rotter.

That and a few other secrets of this world that won't be able to sustain the growing populations and demands of the middle-classes of the 'emerging markets' where people also want the latest and bestest of stuff built to last a year before the latest model comes out.

I want to cry. I want to shout. I want people to see how out of harmony we are with the world we are here to protect. The innocent children manipulated. The women made to feel inadequate. The religions made to feel self-righteous. The men commoditised. People taught to fight for a freedom that is a lie. To be at war for a 'democracy' ruled by an elite. Oh I'm so fired up and so I explain simply:

Finite resources plus mass consumption equates to the destruction of our planet. The one living organism that we are all collectively a part of and that, I believe, will also be doing a ceremonious cleanse of itself if human beings persist on being the cancerous body that destroys it.

While I say this, knowing that I am returning to the vibrant, interesting, alive yet fiercely loud, interruptive and competitive city of New York, a part of me longs to be back by the rivers of the jungle again. Despite the mosquito bites apparently caused by too much sugar, the lack of internet and homely comforts of hot showers, a fridge and stand up kitchen. At least there I felt a serene sense of connection where nature gave me what I needed without forcing products, ideas, labels and stuff on to me. Messages telling me to fill divine emptiness with clutter and insecurity. Messages feeding my human ego and telling me to be selfish and want more.

I can't direct any anger at anyone person. We are all part of this silly machine we've built and while one may, to an extent, need to adapt in order to survive (make money), another part of me wishes that we had the power to create a more responsible, sustainable and harmonious culture transcending these lesser human desires. That perhaps more people had that space and time in nature to truly see how beautiful simplicity is. And how much collectively, we need to protect our home for the sake of our own survival as a species and, dare I say, we could all do with slowing doooooooooown.

I am afraid Dunkin' Donuts sugar sachets are a long way of that.

Tip: But they do have free internet.

11 May, 2014

there's no place like home

It was Sunday 25th September 2011. I was wide awake at 3am feeling a wee bit lost and confused. I had a good friend on the other end of the line kind enough to put my situation in to perspective and remind me of my deep down wish to travel and that there was nothing (besides my job) holding me back.

The next morning, before I had chance to change my mind, I handed in my notice. Shortly after I was booking flights to the destinations that had called me; Japan, India, Nepal and Argentina while preparing a spreadsheet complete with budgets, destinations, timings etc. By the 29th of October I was hosting my "not goodbye party" with my nearest and dearest of Sydney preparing for my next adventure.

I estimated that my life savings could afford me one year of travel; finally the belated gap year that I'd always dreamt of! I gave myself enough time to work out where I wanted to resettle after leaving Sydney behind, while also allowing some quality time to myself, to creative projects, to explore the world and devote to family.

Benchmarking the duration of my travels against my savings was both the stupidest and smartest commitment I made to myself. My savings incidentally have stretched a lot further (with the odd surprise top up through working as a teacher, giving therapies or cooking as a chef on a super-yacht) while life created 'money can't buy' experiences that I could have never even dreamed of... taking me further from Argentina on to Venezuela, Antigua, touring Europe, the USA and Colombia. And despite all these blessed opportunities to keep moving... I have wanted to stop and settle down at pretty much every country I have visited.

It's been 32 months that I've travelled solo. I've couch-surfed, hired rooms, rented apartments, slept on various surfaces in various conditions and in various moving vehicles. The outside world has taken me up mountains and across oceans. I have never felt so alive and yet I've never felt so alone. So vulnerable and yet so fearlessly empowered.

I've met all kinds of people. The faithless and the faithful. The open and the closed. The resentful and the forgiving. The obnoxious and the timid. The wealthy and the poor. Characters who's hearts bleed for something or someone that they lost or had to let go of.

This nomadic lady has filled her boots with the ups and downs that one endures in the world of the unknown pushing the boundaries of the human spirit. While also giving myself the space and time to heal and grow while nurturing the patience and love to care for another. I've also prayed a lot. I'm pretty sure I've saved lives and pretty sure, I've had mine saved a few times too.

I've laughed so much at the world's ridiculousness and cried more tears than I knew I had. I've been struck by panic in the rush of neon city chaos and felt the comforting relief of arriving at the station just in time for a long bumpy bus journey. I've got myself supremely lost and faced some unpleasant fears yet had enough giggles and light hearted experiences to lift me out of them. I've been gravely disappointed by unconscious behaviour yet filled with joy at another's sincere generosity. I've felt abandoned to the core and loved to the max. Blimey has it been intense; the wrinkles and the scars do enough of the talking.

Last week I finally ran out of travel savings just as I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As I neared the end of the savings bucket I realised all my insecurities tied up in money. While I recognise it as a form of energy, there's so much conditioning we can have around capital and I'm glad I allowed myself to go there and wonder on my own worth along with it. Of course if I wanted to make money, with the skills and experience I have I could get a paid job easily, but I wanted to know this feeling and stick to my promise to keep going until I ran out. This feeling of not being able to afford to do what I want to do and humbly accept it. To live on the bare minimum and to swallow my pride in accepting the hospitality of another. To feel supremely insecure and take full responsibility for it. And of course to finally reach the end of this chapter of my life and arrive independently with my marbles intact.

The concept of home has been much food for thought along the way. Is it a matter of having walls to decorate or friends to see? Is it my family? Is it a country that speaks my language? Or is it the person(s) I am in love with? The world has shown me so many homes and I must admit the one I have loved the most, besides nature, was that of the poorest family I stayed with in a small village in the Himalayas of India. Perhaps it was their humility and acceptance that I was so moved by, their ability to live simply and so connected to the land and their welcome, love and support for one another and their community.

So I turn 30 this year. I left England when I was 22 and hit the road after a break up at 26. These years have been the most defining and remarkable collection of moments of my life which I'll continue to be grateful for in many years to come. And it's also quite plain to see that they've also been the most reflective time of my life... Sorry about that readers! Yet the greatest realisation of this long winded tour has got to be; as much as the journey is the destination - there's no place like home. 

Where is that exactly? Well for me it's a place of being and personally, a journey to go on that no-one else can do for you and at times may require strength, courage and grace.

09 May, 2014

who's the guru of the guru gang?

A crazily long time ago I managed to persuade my open-minded boyfriend at the time, Chris, to join me on a weekend trip to the Blue Mountains, Australia. We stayed at a cottage embraced by autumnal woodland in order to study techniques in meditation practice. I was really looking forward to having a break and enjoying a trip in to nature while taking my mind out of the grind.

When Chris and I arrived we slowly found ourselves participants of what seemed to be a real life comedy. We were welcomed in to the cottage on Friday night and shown our room. I suppose this was when things began to get strange as we found ourselves in a florally decorated room, with a charming patch-work quilt and one very strange framed photograph next to the bed.

“Urmm…. Who is that?!” Chris said to me quizzing said photo frame. We both started laughing uncontrollably as we realised that there perched next to our bedstead was a photograph of an old white lady with her hands in prayer staring right at us promising our nights sleep somewhat awkward. Unsure of what the protocol was at a meditation retreat with a strange old lady image next to our bed, whose eyes seemingly followed us, we decided to gently face her down as we settled in for a nights sleep.

Eight people from Sydney had made their way to the retreat in search of some stillness. Early in the morning. Michael, the meditation teacher had us settle in the studio for our first meditation. The session started with the teacher gently requesting whether we had any questions before we started…

“Yeeeeaaaa! I do…” a loud New Yorker voice called out from the front breaking the zen silence of the room with her voice.

“Yes? Please what would you like to ask?” replied Michael the meditation teacher softly, taking a breath and bringing the energy back to softness.

“Who’s that woman in the picture everywhere?!” she replied. Asking the very same question that Chris and I pondered upon the night before.

“Oh, you mean, our Guru? That’s Guru xyz.” (I’m sorry I don’t remember her name but it was a little long and unpronounceable)

“What’s a Guru?!” replied New York.

“Well, she’s our teacher. We honour her and respect her.” Said Michael calmly ending the subject. “Are there anymore questions?”

“Yes..." New York again with more on her mind. "Who’s the Leader?” she remarked.
“What do you mean?” Replied Michael patiently taking in a deep breath.

“I mean, who’s the leader of the guru gang?!” said New York incidentally raising a very valid point.

What followed was a very interesting dialogue whereby Michael tried to explain how revered his teacher was while funny New Yorker challenged him on every point in her very abrasive and loud zen-shattering voice.

It was quite hilarious and by the time the conversation finished there was little clarity on who indeed was the ‘leader of the guru gang’. The elderly lady with hands in prayer was obviously a special woman who had been a guiding light for the owners of the meditation retreat, however, without any personal connection nor inspiration from her or her life; Chris and I merely saw an old lady, hands in prayer with head tilted, staring at us creepily from our bedside table

The whole weekend was life stranger than fiction which had Chris and I joking about it for a while after. I still giggle to myself about some of the funny incidents that actually inspired me to write a comedy sketch based on it. While the meditation was beautiful and certainly beneficial especially with the backdrop of the stunning autumnal colours in the Blue Mountains, besides giving us the heebie-jeebies; the owner's guru did nothing to inspire us if I am honest.

This memory revisits me, mostly because it makes me a laugh a lot and also as a teacher it's something I realise is important to remember. I feel we can all be our own masters and learn to honour one another, that we are all creators, that we bring in to our world the people and situations that can teach and grow us while perhaps the most divine of teachers is one’s own inner self no longer manipulated by the expectations of society, people around us and I’m sorry to say, even our parents’, but free to explore our own ultimate potential as empowered guides to ourselves.

27 April, 2014

time to go to the moon kids

When I was a child, like many, I had a fascination with the moon. I remember my Dad returning from a business trip with fluro painted rocks (obviously from his trip to the moon) that could glow in the dark. Mine was green and my brothers was, his favourite colour, orange. Together we would switch the lights off and pretend to be spaceman explorers discovering rocks on the moon. When I heard that an old school friend Craig Reeves had created a children's show about a man on the moon, obviously my inner child was very excited! 

His creation is so full of joy and imagination. Such a lovely little gift for the little rascals of our time. 

I asked Craig of Pickled Pepper Productions a few questions on their latest wonderful creation; Moon Man Dan.

For those who don't know - who and what is Moon Man Dan?
Dan is a Moon Man, the keeper of our Moon.  He lives in a ‘Luna-Caravan’ and has adventures with his Moon friends, The NoOms and the MoOnMoos.  At the end of the day, the Moon Clock chimes, and Dan readies The Moon for bed. He pulls the blanket that gives The Moon it’s shape, checks through his MoonMan Telescope that the Earth is happy and ready for bed, and when all is right, he turns on the big Moon light.

What's the inspiration behind the Moon Man Dan project?
Moon Man Dan was inspired by a younger me, having conceived the idea many years ago as a young boy looking up at the night sky. The notion of looking out at our Moon and projecting a character from an imagination spoke out to me. Personally, The Moon has been a place of wonder and mystery, echoed I am sure over the century’s by millions of stargazers to all who have stared up at the night sky.  Its simple and alien landscape is the perfect stage for our characters to engage with our young audience and bring the notion of a world beyond our own

How have children and adults responded to it?
Pickled Pepper Productions has had some fantastic and exciting feedback from both parents and children, it has simply been overwhelming to see and hear. During production of the concept and episode design, we presented Moon Man Dan to children of different age groups. This activity allowed us to understand where Moon Man Dan works or needed attention, since, the concept has seen many tweaks and alterations over the years to bring us to where we are today. Our research has ensured that sounds are stimulating, characters are engaging and that our concept achieves its goal of bringing The Moon and space to the attention of children through entertainment. We believe that this detail in our craft and development is key and why we have had such a great response to our work. 

What is next in store for Moon Man Dan?
Moon Man Dan, The Gravity Lever has been created with a personal budget and a team full of passion. We are children’s TV professionals with experience working on many award winning shows such as In The Night Garden, Peter Rabbit, Teletubbies, Shaun the Sheep, Octonauts and Abney & Teal to name but a few. With many of us having been made redundant from our long standing positions, The Moon Man Dan project has kept us together over the past three plus years and hopes to secure our continuing contribution to the children’s TV industry. We are currently collating our feedback in order to present to investors and commissioners from all walks of the children’s media world, both in the UK and internationally.

- I wish them all the best of luck! You can stay tuned with them on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.

24 April, 2014

stonehenge spiritual rituals in crappy british weather

The Summer Solstice is the most important day of the year at Stonehenge and a truly magical time to be there. It's a time of celebration that brings together England's New Age Tribes (neo-druids, neo-pagans, Wiccans) with ordinary families, tourists, travelers and party people - 10,000's of them! 

At the heart of Druidism lies a love of Nature and of her changing faces as the seasons turn. Eight times a year, once every six weeks or so, Druids participate in a celebration that expresses this love and last year I was kindly invited to join the druids for their celebrations at the British pre-historic monuments where they have exclusive access to perform their energetic rites at the stones. 

This is a time of fertility and celebration: bonfires, maypoles, dancing, and outdoor festivals have been traditional during this time for most of human history. In some modern Pagan faiths it is believed that this holiday represents the highest ascendancy of masculine divinity.

In my experience - in true British style - it was so bloody wet! We slept in cars and did various meditations throughout the 12 hour long overnight ceremony which required commitment especially in England's summer downpours from sunset to dawn. First we did a meditation in a remote field where in a circle, affirmations to connect with the divine were made as we meditated together. At one point during the speech of one of the elders a huge gust of wind blew at the most divine point of his speech, that put all my hairs on end as the sensations overcame my being and I felt a wave of dizziness while I meditated in the muddy field that my wellies were sinking in to.

Around 4.30am we arose for the final sunrise meditation at the stones. The rain poured down on us as words in the old English were proclaimed in the ceremonious celebration of mother nature and love for humanity.

Throughout my life I've been a part of many different spiritual practices which in my heart I feel is an cathartic way of connecting and healing one's being; whether through ritual, ceremony, contemplation or creation, while demonstrating a humility for mother nature that which envelops, nurtures and unites us. This time round, perhaps given it lacked the mystical mantras of a foreign language but was grounded in the stories that preceded Christianity, I found the experience really intriguing and a little bit funny.

I mean there I was, in my white gown over waterproofs and wellingtons, walking around in divine cosmic time to meditate on ancient stones while hearing words such as "Walk forth torch bearer!" in the country I was born. In one aspect it was amazingly powerful within me. I mean the energy created by this devotional act was to a vibration of cosmic levels that if you haven't experienced - you might think I was nuts. Yet, in another aspect, lets call it an egoic identification with personality, I felt like I was in a funny play where the characters all spoke English with funny accents using old linguistic terms and funky props to connect with their truth and the divine. My inner cynic would've written it off as some ridiculous ritual, but as one beautiful soul brother I met in Nepal reminded me "isn't life one ridiculous ritual?" and who am I to say what is the best path to take or rite to make in order to create a sacred space for divinity? And the truth is, after the ceremony, something did change within me. I became friends with a pain that had haunted me for far too long. Perhaps it took for me to meditate under the stars, in the shitty British weather, aligned to the divine shifts of the cosmos and Earth's seasons at some old stones to finally say "its ok to let go now".

See here for more info on the Druid order and special thanks to Cristel who I met at a yoga retreat in India for the kind auspicious invitation. There are more images on my photoblog.

22 April, 2014

I love you, I'm sorry, forgive me, thank you.

'Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.' - Martin Luther King Jr.

Katey Brooks - B****, Don't Kill My Vibe - Acoustic Remake 

"Ho'oponopono" is a beautiful Hawaiian ritual whereby one makes an affirmation "I love you, I'm sorry, forgive me, thank you" to all the relationships from ones life that need atonement. I know while my adventures in the outside world are probably more interesting, I really want to illuminate how cathartic and beautiful this little ritual is.

To make mistakes is to be human and sometimes the people who hurt us the most are those who know us the most intimately. I wish I could say I am the perfect human being that does no harm, but I've screwed up, said the wrong thing or pressed someone's buttons enough times.

I sat my third Vipassana the other day in Bogota, Colombia. The first time about 5 years ago was incredibly painful, I sat with multiple cushions supporting my twice fractured coccyx, a wooden floor-stool to support my curved spine while I struggled through my mind's OCD behaviours around herbal tea and light switches, as I committed to 10 days of daily 11 hours sits of mediation and went on the proverbial cosmic journey. That time I came out and stopped eating meat without a rationale besides "I didn't feel like eating it anymore" and I recall visiting a shop with my boyfriend trying to find a shampoo and having no idea how to choose. I became that equanimous! The second Vipassana I sat was 18 months ago. Shortly afterwards my father called Interpol...another story...
from Burning Man via The Atlantic

Now this last silent 10 day sit was different. For one thing I only had one cushion to support my body and my mind was incredibly well-behaved and present. A fire burned through my spine however in the agony of sitting in stillness for 11 hours a day and to be witness to it without judgement, nurturing the act of equanimity, was incredibly challenging for me. Nevertheless I had epiphanies, time travelling realisations and outbreaks of spontaneous emotions while every now and then transcended the pain that felt like a knife had been lodged in my back.

It's taken the last couple of weeks to integrate the experience spending time as a recluse out of the travel community while hanging out with a friend on the outskirts of Bogota. During the full moon my friend and I both set our intentions and did a little fun Ho'oponopono ceremony together which involved cheerful smiles and cheesey music. The results for us both afterwards were incredible though, so much so, that I felt compelled to share.

I find people come in to our world to be vehicles for something deeper within us, whether they shine a light on a vulnerable area of the subconscious or simply teach us that the journey to love is found through forgiveness for another... as much as for oneself. Easier said than done sometimes and I am not one to preach, although in my experience, if there was more forgiveness and acceptance in this world, it'd probably be a much more peaceful and happier place.

24 March, 2014

violence in mother's homeland; venezuela

When I was 21, I remember receiving a phone call from my Mum to let me know some horrific news. My Venezuelan cousin, Ana Laura Rodriguez, had been murdered by the Guerilla resistance in Colombia on an environmental expedition. She and the other 8 members of her team had been shot dead by rebel forces. She was only 23 years old.

That day I found an old photograph of us on a holiday we shared on Margarita island and blue tacked it to my wall while making a promise that I would live my life to its fullest because one never knew when it can be suddenly taken away.

Now I see student-led protesters clashing with the security forces in Venezuela, the worst anti-government protests the country has seen in over a decade, and of course, I am concerned on a very personal level too.

They fight over a range of grievances that include inflation, joblessness, food shortages and high crime.

While I tread lightly on politics these days. Given now my mother's Facebook feed, once full of Deepak Chopra-esque quotes of inspiration and inner peace is now laden with stories and images of the bloody violence that paints the streets of her homeland, I felt it necessary to at least share one angle of this story.

A quote from a teenager trembling with emotion (via npr), said "the only way this can be resolved is by continuing the struggle. We can't dialogue with an assassin. You can't extend your hand to a hypocrite who says one thing but does another."

I asked my cousin, who's a paediatrician currently in Caracas to let me know her perspective of what is going on in Venezuela.

"Right now we don't have all that many products we used to have at the supermarkets, they (government) control the movement of US dollars and they are not giving them to companies to import the products or the materials to make them here, hence our economy is not sustainable - despite having the biggest oil reserve of the world - because they are directing all the incomes into their own pockets and giving it to other countries like Cuba, Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia, to get them as alies (aliados).

There is so much corruption.

Politically we are not ruled by the constitution anymore, they (the government) do as they please with the laws. Socially this all has affected everyone, kids are brought up with no respect or values, no morals, education has gone to a very poor level, they've messed up the education program and the autonomy of universities. The government have everything centralised in their power.

Everything is so expensive now, the costs have gone up more than 300% and keep rising, but salaries don't.

People have to queue to get essential products such as toilet paper, milk, vegetable oil, sugar, coffee, corn flour for arepas, wheat flour, medicines for chemotherapy, antibiotics and other important ones... the list goes on and on... I can't find tires for my car, or batteries for cars or watches... it's just mad!

The students are on the streets, closing them, while police and the national guard and armed government forces shoot them. You'll find a lot of that on the news and on youtube and tweeter... check cnn too.. there's a reporter called Fernando del Rincon who has been following all that's happened recently, you'll find him on tweeter too @fdelrincon."

Media coverage of the protests has been limited inside Venezuela, where the socialist government dominates the airwaves and even international media faced harassment as police smashed and confiscated cameras while images have been blocked from Twitter Venezuelan accounts.

More than 30 people have been reported killed during five weeks of clashes between protesters and security forces who are sometimes joined by motorcycle-riding civilians loyal to Maduro's socialist government. Hundreds more have been wounded and arrested. The threat of violence didn't deter tens of thousands of anti-government activists from marching peacefully in Caracas and other cities Saturday to demand an end to the use of force against dissents by what opponents have taken to calling Maduro's "dictatorship."

With both sides showing no signs of backing off, the political balance increasingly hangs on the course of the economy, which is struggling despite high prices for oil that account for more than 90 percent of Venezuela's exports. Many economists are forecasting a recession this year, with no end in sight for widespread shortages of basic goods and galloping inflation that hit 57 percent in February.

While I may not always trust the mainstream, I will listen to my family on the ground there living through what seems to be a gross misuse of power, corruption and violence with a saddening prospect for the future economy and psyche of the country.

Mum and I are doing what we can to help get family members out of the madness and welcome your support in sharing the stories to hopefully bring to light a change needed for that country and its people.

For on the ground tweets: See list of who to follow here

20 March, 2014

how not to let the creative journey kill you

I write this from beautiful Cartagena in Colombia where I have based myself under a mango tree (that keeps on dropping them - fortunately not on my head) as a make shift officespace to focus on bringing some very special projects to fruition.

These projects are dear to my heart that I am delighted to invest my heart and soul in to. However with such an investment of my time, I have found old worker bee habits sneaking back from my past life in Adland where, at its worse, I would wake up checking emails on my iPhone and spend the whole day in front of my laptop, unconsciously eat lunches in front of a screen and even work over the weekend in 'always on' worker bee mode (tips and tools for surviving the daily grind here). 

Thankfully I have not been sick for a long time but I recall the impact the grind was having on my body, mind and soul that required I also gave loving attention to myself as I went on retreats, took up Bikram yoga and did detox cleanses (not ideal in an office environment especially when meetings with clients were often gastronomic and a little over indulgent).

I’ve found that this talk from Jonathan Fields a timely reminder on how we might avoid dying through the creative process while one makes something extraordinary from nothing (Marianna also talks wisely on the value of the emptiness of which creativity is born):

Balancing work with play on tour is a challenge.

I love this lifestyle and I have learned so many cool things; however I need purpose in life and that is to create.

These three 'secrets' are keeping me alive, engaged and turned on. I hope you find value in them too:
  1. Ritualise the morning.
  2. Checking emails first thing is not wise and can have one start the day in a responsive mode. Recently, while in love with my work, I slipped back in to this habit. Now I am back to a meditative sitting (or if in a dorm, lying) practice to provide me with a mind re-set to start the day. Personally, I enjoy pranayama breathing and connecting my body with my breath by lifting my arms above my head behind me and back down gently restoratively with breath. Note: if you are sharing a dorm - this looks strange to others. Play cool meditation music (playlist I made here) with headphones to be less of a distraction. As Jonathan explains, mindfulness can help remove the negative story-lines (such as not being good enough) that can hinder the creative process.
  3. Move. Move. Move. I enjoy going for a walk with my beloved camera and listening to some fun tunes on my ipod shuffle. Should the climate not be too hot I may even go for a run. Yesterday, after a gruelling Monday, I created the time to visit the beach, do some yoga, meditate and have a massage while I saw my productiveness and sense of calm be restored upon my return. This was the first track that played on my ipod which gave me such a skip in my step.
  4. Eat healthily. This is super challenging while travelling; sometimes I just have to humbly accept what I am given as a guest (and forgo vegetarianism). I really recommend applying the Ayurvedic principles and eating fresh fruit and veg! Sometimes I fast for the day and only have fruit fallen from mamma mango tree and I believe that the religious practice of fasting is actually born from intelligence (a modern day equivalent: 5-2 diet). I seem to love myself and my work that little bit more when my snack breaks are delicious pieces of fruit. Also for travellers who need grounding, having the same breakfast everyday is good practice as is a breakfast like porridge with grounding oats and grains.
I hope this gives you some useful tips and insights in to how to ensure the creative journey, with its dark night and all, ensures your mind, body and soul sit in a state of yummy goodness as you bring those beauties to life with a sense of grounding.

15 March, 2014

who goes there?

I am so happy to share with readers a space that a dear friend, Fern Trelfa and I are creating for The Shanti Space. Yes, this is a little shameless little plug.

Add one squeeze of spontaneity; a twist of joy and a giant spoonful of love and you’ll get a taste of what Who Goes There? is promising to share with the world.

This retreat is essentially for those who go there. That place. You know the one. The land of endless possibilities where life flows freely and playfully like wind flowing through a flute to create a tuneful song that rocks the mind, body and soul.

Yogini optimist Fernie T (old post on Fern's powerful optimism here) and beloved sidekick and Sound Therapist - yours truly - are bringing to light a special 9 day yoga retreat where we invite guests to truly rejoice in their being with an open heart, still mind and a sense of humour among the beautiful backdrop of the Andalusian hills of the South of Spain. It's super beautiful.
This collaboration was conceived 8 years ago at a music festival (old festival love story here) on the Isle of Wight where we two souls united forces to create a space for healing in exchange for donations. What transpired was so magically alive and in tune that The Universe has called us back once more to create a precious space for joyous being and doses of magic.

We glitter bugs don’t take ourselves too seriously (as readers probably know), we know the power of positivity and want to share the cathartic chemical reaction our energies combined create in love and playful delight on a 9 day yogically inspired voyage that will take guests there, courageously empowered and ready to face the world alive and at one with it all.

Please share with your friends and come along. 

Program details are here and here's the Facebook event.

Full price: £750
Early Bird (until August 4): £625
10% of profits will be going towards children's program Super Cape-Abilities.

13 March, 2014

an artist out the cocoon: shea peterson

If you were to take the techniques and vision of Max Ernst, the poetry of late Miro, and the playfulnes of Paul Klee we would begin to understand the paintings of Shea Peterson. Add a core of Primitivist aesthetic and an eye that straddles the boundaries between the nonfigurative and semifigurative and you come a little closer to understanding Shea’s work. He’s an artist that seeks no more than to continuously create. His paintings lure you in with depth unfolding freely and the viewer realises there’s story upon story being told in each work.

As his wife and friend of mine, Xanthe, explains “He's prolific and free. Living with him I've become used to his compulsion to make art. It's not a choice to paint or create a piece it's a necessity. His process is crucial to his expression in context to the world around him and within him. I can see this in his pieces and I wonder if others can too.” After spending almost 3 years hidden in his cocoon. Shea is finally ready to showcase his work to the Sydney art scene and I am delighted to support his work.

“I feel like I've been true to my creative instinct and have not sold out to the dominant white wall aesthetic” explains Shea. Having moved to Sydney from Hawaii as an established artist three years ago his work offers something truly unique and testimony to the impressions of the life he’s led overseas.

Most of his work is acrylic and mixed media. He’s unashamed to experiment with college, frottage, automatism, aerography, and decalcomania. An abundance of works on paper, canvas, and found objects will be on display.

If you would like to also enjoy Shea's works, you are invited to have a conversation with him during his weeklong exhibit opening in Sydney on March 20th 6-9pm at M2 Art Gallery, Surry Hills, Sydney. Here is the facebook event and some really inspiring examples of his work.

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