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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.

18 March, 2014

dabbling with online dating in NYC


Not too intimidating I hope.
As connection in the global village becomes increasingly integrated with the digital world, especially as populations in urban environments increase, ways in which we meet new people and find new romantic relationships have evolved significantly.

Personally, I suppose as a freestyle traveler, I haven’t given this much thought. I meet the people I need to meet, grow, share and learn from whilst romance has been off my radar for a long period of time as I focused on getting to know myself better while creating a life to lead independently and having fun with new friends on the road.

Nevertheless after hanging out with a cool friend in London for a week or so and witnessing her bad-ass dating moves, I was inspired to try something new upon my arrival to New York City so I opened myself up to online dating in one of the most powerful cities in the world.

I found writing about myself on an online dating site (OKCupid) pretty strange especially in New York City; the land of sell sell sellAnd dating in New York totally challenged a lot of my "I'm a lady" paradigms.  For one thing it is common to date multiple people at the same time without committing to any of them! Blimey. How on Earth does someone master multiple relationships in a city like New York? Surely an occupational hazard? Not to mention the amount of naughty boys who write naughty things to get ones attention in a cheeky attempt to seduce me.

My most remarkable date has got to be with Mr Black; an interesting straight-talking guy who made movies and claimed to be ‘unreactive’. He looked pretty handsome so I accepted his invitation to meet for a New Year tipple in the West Village. Why not? I thought as I headed out in to the snowy blizzards of New York to meet my promising new date.

After a couple of hello's and a drink, I soon found myself in what felt like a job interview as Mr Black openly explained that he had shifted his personality to one side so I could have a platform to be myself and he could work out if he liked what he saw. Urm… excuse me? Have I been in the mountains for too long? I couldn’t help but laugh as I held my invisible microphone in one hand and started playing Mr Black at his own game interviewing him and asking as many awkward questions as possible such as "have you ever peed in the shower?" and "would you kiss your granny on the lips?" While we were in to similar things and had a laugh; I was really in no way attracted to Mr Black, so when he lent in quite abruptly to kiss me, I felt myself cringe before politely excusing myself as I headed off to the toilet and thought about how to manage this awkward situation with a bit of delicacy.

“I’m sorry but… about that kiss… well, I am just not feeling it” I explained. I thought that would be enough but he continued to rest his hand on my knee and I was feeling more and more uncomfortable. We finished our drinks. As he went to the toilet, I cheekily picked up my stuff, hid by the front door and watched to see his reaction as he returned to the bar to see his date had disappeared. He didn’t even blink an eyelid. Wow. The guy really is unreactive I realised as I said “peakaboo!” and smiled off the practical joke that evidently landed like a lead balloon. We left the bar and parted ways. I sent him a little email of thanks and explained once again that I wasn’t feeling it. He got the message and that was that. 

Over time, I became less and less bothered about OkCupid as I realised that perhaps my style of dating is just to meet someone cool, say hello and see if our paths are destined to align for a while without all this business of ‘selling myself', browsing for something sparkly, attending a job interview and dealing with awkward kissing moments.

So while I didn't meet the man for me through online dating, I did learn of how cultural conditioning, especially in a competitive powerful city like New York, has created a commodity market with check lists, interviews and a need to sell oneself. A game I am happy to admit, I don't want to play.  For me, love isn’t about what one can get from another, but what one can give in love for another so both can grow as human beings and share an awesome time together. A more transcendental behind the mask connection. It's that simple. Isn't it? Gosh I hope so.

For more on dating. Read old post on "real is the new sexy" as I interview Adam founder of Shhh dating; a concept that NYC could probably do with a good dose of.

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 with smiles on their faces.

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.






12 March, 2014

a raw cake for superheroes!



Here's a recipe courtesy of a lovely lady, Sophie Weldon, Planeteer of Captain Planet & the Planeteers that I shared a meditation or two with in Sydney.

Its a creamy coconut, blueberry and lemon cake. Raw, vegan, sugar free, superfood filled deliciousness. 

As they say in India "Health is wealth" and here's a wealth of goodness to fill the bellies of the superheroes out there.


Base

1 cup walnuts
½ cup activated buckwheat (or almonds)
½ cup pitted dates (around 8-9)
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp sea salt

Filling
1 ½ cups cashews, soaked overnight in 1 ½ cups coconut cream
¼ cup coconut oil
½ cup yoghurt (I used Co Yo coconut milk yoghurt)
¼ cup coconut nectar (or maple syrup)
¼ cup chia seeds
Juice and zest of one lemon
1 tsp vanilla bean extract
1 cup frozen blueberries

Use a food processor to mix all the base ingredients. Once combined and like crumbs press it in the bottom of a cake tin. Put it in the freezer until the filling is ready. Add all the filling ingredients to a high speed blender and mix until all creamy. Add more sweetener if you need it. Pour on base and set in freezer for 3 hours. Defrost for 30-45 min before serving.

09 March, 2014

cool things I've learned travelling


It’s been two and a half years now that I have been on the road. In the flow of the unknown and relentless awe, expansion and vulnerability. Undoubtedly these have also been the most challenging yet bestest years of my life. Something about a rite of passage in to adulthood that my soul may have decided to ensure manifested in ridiculous adventures in to the unknown along with some stuff I could’ve done without. That daaaaaaark night the artists know of... phew... survived... Yey to life!

Despite the madness, this trip has certainly added a layer of understanding to the world and mankind’s stupidity. Thankfully, while learning of one’s own stupidity, one also gets to learn some pretty cool things whilst on tour... such as...

Archery in Austria

Volunteer teaching for Angelles de Medellin, Colombia

Grafiti in Parvati Valley, India
How to catch and gut a swordfish
How to use natural remedies for leach and mosquito repellent
How to juggle
How to do fire poi
How to spontaneously dance to Gloria Estafan
How to extreme knit (knitting on an Indian bus driving through the Himalayas)
How to be a TV presenter
How to make a fire, talk to it and be friends with it
How to wash clothes by hand properly
How to talk to spirit
How to lovingly tolerate people with annoying, arrogant, ignorant, selfish or greedy inclinations (compassion + impermanence + politely walking away)
How to relate to people from different backgrounds
How to appreciate the little things
How to forgive
How to make a royal hearty breakfast
How to protect myself from negative advances
How to forage for mushrooms
How to sleep on cramped, noisy, moving vehicles
How to meditate
How to heal
How not to freak out when I witness the unexplainable
How to paint walls with cool messages
How to sleep outside under the stars
How to sleep in a hammock
How to make hair accessories out of beads and feathers
How to make macramé bracelets
How to make raw chocolate hash balls
How to appreciate selfless service and sacrifice
How to make awesome curry from scratch
How to make arepas, pitta bread and chapattis from scratch
How to eat foraged mangoes
How to wash up using ash
How to write semi decent poetry
How to make an instrument out of clay
How to say hello, thanks, yes, no, goodbye, excuse me, numbers and surprise words in Thai, Hindu, Japanese and German
How to speak Spanish confidently
How to pray
How to get lost
How to find a way
How to fix things resourcefully
How to enjoy online dating (NYC post pending)
How to be single in the most romantic city in the world (Paris)
How to shoot a bow and arrow
How to hitch hike
How not to take life too seriously
How to breathe
How to navigate mountains with a map and compass
How to navigate oceans with a map and compass
How to chill-out
How to create superheroes!
How to know when no means no
How to survive
How to share my gifts
How to surrender
How to say sorry, make amends and move on
How to live with a very broken heart

Humble acceptance and appreciation is probably one of the best learnings of all. The magic word of 'thanks' really goes a gracefully long way. I look forward to more interesting lessons and inspirations as I continue along the yellow brick road and invite anyone reading this to have the courage to travel independently one day should the inspiration take hold. The world has a lot to share and we can learn a lot from one another.

While everyday travelling this way promises to be different... she says as she sits next to an American rock star listening to the Goo Goo Dolls at a beachside cafe in Colombia.

05 March, 2014

going back in to the green womb


After bathing in the shimmering river that lead down to the turquoise waters of the Caribbean ocean, I started making the steep climb up to the small shack, a pentagon shaped hut with a thatch roof that promised to be my home for the next 24 hours. I was ready to delve in to a dimension never consciously voyaged before. This was where I was to join a local shaman with my friend a 66 year old gentleman, Norberto from Taganaga as we go to take what the people call here ‘la medicina’.

La medicina promised me a cleansing like no other and while I have heard and witnessed accounts of people’s experiences with this indigenous herbal concoction, words do very little justice to the experience I was to undergo as I delved in to the green womb of the Earth mother in what I can only describe as a journey through life and death.

Cleansing the medicine on the fire
Juan the shaman started the ceremony with a presence ritual while cleansing the medicine on the fire. He chanted an indigenous mantra while shaking a brush made of leaves and rattles in worship of the mother in prayer.

Juan, the Shaman, blessing the space
The mother, I thought, the mother that will undergo a pain unbeknown in order to create life. A suffering and pain that perhaps, I realised, I had not considered before and this ritual triggered an insight and appreciation for all the women on this planet who give so much of themselves for their children.

The medicine spread through my veins,  as I stretched and started to feel my insides grumble as the potent liquid hit my stomach. I realised that perhaps it was time I lay horizontal as the sun slowly said its farewell to daytime in Colombia.

In that dark meditative moment, as I lay in nothingness I began watching the most incredible five dimensional colourful pattern form through the back of my eyelids. An evolving beauty so colourful and vibrant. A mesmerising inspiration flooded my consciousness in disbelief. I need to see nature. Nature. She called me and I followed her as I opened my eyes and walked gently like a toddler finding her feet walking in to a spot of grass nearby. I sat there, eyes wide and finally saw her. She moved, grew and formed beautiful shapes that were swaying and talking to me. I touched her and gave her love as the colorful patterns of life continued to form in the shadows. Creating a sacred space, I formed a protective dome around my being with an intention that what joined me was only for my highest good. I saw darker formations appear beyond the protective force field around my being like trapped spirits of the underworld looking for their home. I told them; forgive, surrender, let go like a voice inside my head telling myself the very same thing.

And then the bowels finally spoke up. They told me to find a hole in nature to which I had to do my own letting go. Most inconveniently. Nevertheless I stumbled through the shadows, nature guiding me, swaying in the direction I needed to go while pointing out brambles as I balanced barefooted along the pathway. In the darkness a fear cast over me, I breathed deeply as I hastily located the hole in the ground. I was stumbling back somewhat exhausted from my ‘release’, when a sudden wave of energy struck me and before I knew it, a sickness from the depths of my stomach seized me like a tube of toothpaste being squeezed suddenly as whatever weight within wanted to escape from a depths I hadn’t been to before. It purged out of me in a moment that gave me no time to think or breathe.

I crawled back to my spot of nature and lay in awe once more, more intensely, as the sickness and darkness were forgotten amidst a present moment that welcomed a new light. Tears fell as I saw symbols upon symbols floating in colourful lights in trans-dimensional beauty. ‘Be gentle’ said nature. ‘Be gentle’ she held me. And from that moment I was in love absolutely truly in love like a child seeing the wonder of the world through eyes that not only saw but felt it throughout her being.

Juan the shaman visited me from time to time to check I was ok and we shared musical notes, deep ommmmmms and spontaneious outbreaks of laughter as I rotated between lying in awe staring up at the cosmos, with sitting up in admiration at the beauty that surrounded me as nature continued to converse and play with me.

Enough came up for me. So much came up for me, so many epiphanies, releases, acceptances and realisations. I found answers to some of the big questions that had hung heavily around my heart for too long and I met a child within to whom I fell totally in love with. She giggled spontaneously and had no fear. Sometimes she was intense in her joy but I loved finding her in my heart and loved her in a way that I suppose now I see, a mother might love a child. 

Norberto in surrender after the cleanse
I practice yoga regularly and have had many of my internal ‘samskaras’ (sufferings) relieved through various therapies and retreats. While Ayahuasca came to my attention and curiosity over 3 years ago, I am glad that I allowed this time to pass before entering the green womb. The journey between then and now has been more enlightening than I could’ve imagined and I don’t know if I could’ve handled it all at once. I recommend one to take care and be true with oneself should the green womb call and not to rush that journey. It crossed my path when I was ready, in mind, body and soul.

I don’t wish to create expectations in the minds of others reading this as there is so much more than words can even begin to explain and each experience is unique to each individual. Nevertheless, if there was one message that Nature would wish me to share with anyone reading this, it would be this; love mother nature and stop fighting with life.

To that my inner yogini can finally say; I surrender Mother. You don't always make sense, but you are awesome and I can say I live without regrets.

Here is an old post on my first shamanic write up and I want to send thanks and appreciation to Rak Razam who I met in New York and who guided me back to the green womb of "awe".

Below is an extract from philosopher and researcher Terence McKenna (Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution
The experience induced by ayahuasca includes extremely rich tapestries of visual hallucination that are particularly susceptible to being "driven" and directed by sound, especially vocally produced sound. Consequently, one of the legacies of the ayahuasca-using cultures is a large repository of icaros, or magical songs. The effectiveness, sophistication, and dedication of an ayahuasquero is predicated upon how many magical songs he or she has effectively memorized. In the actual curing sessions, both patient and healer ingest ayahuasca and the singing of the magical songs is a shared experience that is largely visual. 
The impact of long-term use of hallucinogenic indoles on mental and physical health is not yet well understood. My own experiences among the mestizo populations of Amazonas convince me that the long-term effect of ayahuasca use is an extraordinary state of health and integration. Ayahuasqueros use sound and suggestion to direct healing energy into parts of the body and unexamined aspects of an individual's personal history where psychic tension has come to rest. Often these methods exhibit startling parallels to the techniques of modem psychotherapy; at other times they seem to represent an understanding of possibilities and energies still unrecognized by Western theories of healing. Most interesting from the point of view of the arguments made in this book are the persistent rumors of states of group-mind or telepathy that occur among the less acculturated tribal peoples. 
Our history of skepticism and empiricism would have us dismiss such claims as impossible, but we should think twice before doing so. The chief lesson to be learned from the psychedelic experience is the degree to which unexamined cultural values and limitations of language have made us the unwitting prisoners of our own assumptions. For it cannot be without reason that wherever in the world hallucinogenic indoles have been utilized, their use has been equated with magical self-healing and regeneration. The low incidence of serious mental illness among such populations is well documented.

23 February, 2014

moments with murray



Born on March 23rd, 1925, at 88 years old, Murray is my oldest friend. New York born and bred with a sharp wit and an endearingly gentle manner – I had the honour of sharing my last month or so in New York in the Upper Westside apartment of this dear soul.  Murray is the Father in Law for Jeff, the Founder of The Dream Flag Project, which is how we met and we quickly found a kindship in our shared love for nature, photography and poetry.

Murray has his quirks, his incredibly warm apartment with the radiators tuned to the hottest reminded me of the Bikram studio and his likeness for classical music was a wonderful soundtrack to our time shared. Murray lost his wife last year that he’d been married to for 53 years. While I’m sure he knew how to deal with his loss, as a now retired psychotherapist, I sensed the weight of his loss while I was there. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her” he said to me once as I admired all the stunning pictures of the life they shared together on display in his apartment. Heartbreak and grief had weighed down his spirit and I hope at the least my bouncing optimism and poetry recitals may have lightened the days we shared. I know the night I transformed his living room in to a movie theatre is marked high in the box of beautiful memories on the road while we enjoyed The Princess Bride together and it concluded with "You know what's funny, for a moment then, I thought I was at the movies" in his beautiful New York accent.

Given his background, I wanted to ask Murray some questions on life. I knew someone who'd had countless people lying in the proverbial horizontal position recounting their life stories probably enlightened him muchly to the human condition. 
So I asked my very grounded and rational friend “Murray, do you believe in God?”
His response was a flat-out “No”.
So then I asked… “So what do you believe in?”
To which he responded so eloquently in silence using only his fingertip as he drew on the dinner table a big giant question mark.

His faith in the mystery of life is something so simple and yet in this day so distant to what many ideas people conform to. We have created so many stories that we cling on to and many people follow them blindly without experiencing the mystery (or for me the magic)… These ideas that have been cause for war and social disharmony while also leveraged by politicians in powerful places to manipulate its people.

I have no issue with faith. It’s powerful and at times all that's been left. But perhaps faith in something that is silent, that just is, that doesn’t have a word nor rules that can be modified to manipulate its subjects, perhaps faith in the question mark may be a safer exploration in wisdom than anything written and translated by man. Yoga, among many other philosophical teachings has been a wonderful teacher to me but it'll never close my mind to the thoughts, ideas and inspirations of others; especially this wise and wonderful gentleman.

16 February, 2014

learning from angels


Having spent the last week at a community centre in the slums of Medellin volunteering as an English teacher and playing with grubby little beautiful children, I thought it would be worth me sharing my experience.

Firstly, I can't believe how emotional this work is. One would think after all the heartbreak; there'd be a strong wall of equanimity built around this heart with eyes accustomed to witnessing extreme poverty; but for me at least, the opposite is true. The walls have crumbled away and I am perpetually moved by these gorgeous little children that just want to play and know how to smile with so little. They want to skip ropes and do jigsaw puzzles. They want to learn English so they can one day have a good job. They want their family to be healthy and have dreams of seeing the world. Saying goodbye the other day, I was followed to the bus stop and waved off by two shouting little monkey-faces while the little rickety red bus headed away from their village to bounce on the dusty dirt track back down the mountain. This my heart wasn't quite prepared for and I've shed a tear or two in that humble realisation that perhaps I really have no idea.

But I don't want to paint a sad picture, because it isn't sad, it's really bloody good. There are places in the world, on the ground, that bring people with hearts and hands of kindness to those that need it. It's amazing. And the work has true meaning for everyone. I ran a workshop the other day to invite the kids to create their dreams on behalf of The Dreamflag Project. Wow it was so cool. Children of all ages were engaged in envisioning their wishes for themselves, the world and their loved ones and making flags that were then hung around the classroom.
Obviously Valentine's day was going to be unconventional. My 'date' involved bringing my couchsurf host and friend Juan Pablo with me; up to the slums via a cable car and on a rickety bus up a dirt track in order to hang out with poor dirty children. Not the most romantic one might argue.

Juan Pablo is an amazing conductor (his work here) for the city youth orchestra and despite now being a successful musician and professor at the University, his beginnings were also humble and poor. He took responsibility for his family; Mum, two sisters and now two nephews and as he explained to me, was 'saved by music'. He found a place in music where he could escape the discomforts of his living situation and focus his energies on something beautiful. Now he's an example of hope for these children.


So a group of valentine volunteers trekked up to the remoter part of the slums; we bought bananas, snacks and toothbrushes to give to the children and visited two of the disabled members of the community in the remote area to give food and care just in time for the rains to fall down on us and create mudslides through the pathways separating the little shacks. I was amazed at the gentleman we met who was handicapped and had set up a little gallery to sell his paintings. They were lovely and his spirit was so positive.

After a full on day, we returned back to the apartment in Medellin. I smiled with a sense of gratitude for the day, despite feeling pretty exhausted. I then had the pleasure of cooking dinner for my host; curried beans, rice and platano followed by strawberries and ice-cream for dessert. Juan Pablo is also bisexual and unfortunately, in this strongly Catholic culture, there's shame associated with that. Which is why I suggested we went dancing at a cool gay bar last night to finish off a full on day. It was a very cool experience being surrounded by gorgeous latin men without attracting anything other than a joyous giggle (probably at my dance moves and perhaps the odd cheesey pop singer impersonation). It was extra fun seeing Juan Pablo enjoy himself there.

I woke up this morning to an email from a friend I met while in New England, USA, letting me know that his wife had passed away after a long battle with cancer. They'd spent most of their lives together and while my heart sank in sadness for his loss, I felt it open graciously too. He recognised what they had shared together; something beautiful and true. They'd gone deep in their love and despite leaving the body, as we all do in this world, I feel that she is with him infinitely and pray he can find joy again perhaps also through music given he's a very talented Blues musician. 

So a big lump sits in my throat after what's been a pretty intense week volunteering for Angeles de Medellin. It's not a very long time, there are people here who spend months and years doing this kind of work and I have so much love and respect for those who dedicate their lives to such meaningful work. I don't know if in my lifetime I'll live to see equal opportunities around the world or for these kids but at least this week I've learned one thing that we are all very much equal in: We all live. We all die. 

Whatever we choose to create in that space between; I hope it to be more joyous, accepting, loving and respectful. With a few gay dance moves thrown in for good measure and dreams coming true for those gorgeous little grubby children.

06 February, 2014

are you worth your weight in gold?



There are two things I really wish I was taught at school: Economics and, being British, Nutrition. Yoga would've been appreciated too.

I recently spent an afternoon in Bogota Colombia at the Gold Museum. An incredible shiny place of a very powerful element: Gold.  It illuminated to me the history of gold and the energy associated with it from days gone by.

It also made me wonder on how the value of gold is perceived today and the irony that we now have pieces of paper that we hold up as value when behind the scenes there's no gold to be seen to represent it. The history of gold before the the Hispanic societies invaded is quite an important observation because therein lies much wisdom of a people's much more attuned to the spirit of nature and the responsibility of those with power.


Gold artefacts were greatly valued by pre-Hispanic societies, because of both the meanings and stories attached to them and the materials, knowledge and skills involved in working them. Many of these objects were therefore repaired by goldsmiths. Some got damaged through the constant use and were remade using wires, bands or rivets, while others which had manufacturing defects, were repaired using new metal pourings or, as in the case of the filigree earrings from the Caribbean Plains, by mending the weave with metal threads.


These Pre-Hispanic gold-working societies developed special ways of understanding the world. With these, they gave order to their surroundings and filled them with symbolic content. These cosmologies answered problems that were central to their existence, such as death, illness, and the meaning of life. Imbued with a profound religious sense, they converted the universe, society and its creations into sacred realities, while establishing a link between man and his ancestors that was essential to the continuity of the traditions.  Metals, particularly gold, symbolised the fertilising powers of the sun and expressed the divine origin of the power held by the rules.


Chieftains, priests and shamans had the responsibility of guarding, transmitting and renewing cosmological representations. Endowed with special sensitivities and skills, they were subjected from childhood to lengthy processes about mythology, sacred plants, astronomy and ritual practices. With their work, gestures and objects as tools, they did a symbolic job, one which transformed the world in order to guarantee not only the wellbeing of society but also that nature would reproduce herself. Alongside them, the technical and at the same time magical work of goldsmiths transformed metals in to objects that had cultural meanings much like the artwork of today.

Because of its colour, intense shine and unchangeability, gold was associated with the sun. Gold ornaments expressed the celestial, divine origin of the rulers power.


The shaman's believed that metal that is transformed by goldsmiths returns to its place of origin. It takes the form of the bird-shaman who flies through the middle, upper and lower worlds and adopts the posture of the seated shaman who, in his hallucinatory trance discovers the secrets of the cosmos and controls the forces of regular life. Metal objects return to the Earth as gifts to the gods. Imbued with profound religious meanings, they are offered up in lakes and caves in order to restore the balance in the world. The metal cycle is thus completed, manipulated by man, it is used by him to manage the universe.

And thus we see the incredible stories attached to gold within ancient civilisations where spirit was at the heart of the matter. What was once an art has since become a commodity of which the craftsmanship of its creation is overlooked in a world of modern day mass consumption.

My Australian friend Jess Miller (who wants to see Australian Politics shaken up) decided to invest her pension in artwork instead of conforming with societal norms of major institutions while another friend of mine, Jamie Stockwood is selling this awesome Banksy piece (on eBay) that if I had walls for, I would love to invest in. Craftsmanship that is commentary on society today.

Gold was once something pure, unchanging and divine in these regions of the world. An art that connected man with the land. It strikes me how much that story has since changed.


04 February, 2014

practically loving nature

While in Buenos Aires, I studied at the TEFL English School with two wonderful teachers; Michelle and Brad (below) who moved to Argentina from South Africa. Since that time they have embarked on a new adventure together; they are creating a stunning sustainable community in the hills of Uruguay. Environmentally conscious living at its finest.
Michelle & Brad

What is the use of a house if you don't have a decent planet to put it on? - Henry David Thoreau

At present they only have the land tucked in the hills of Uruguay. There are no buildings on it, so they have to start everything from the very beginning. Their plans are incredibly exciting and will provide a beautiful place for people to enjoy the divine scent of their lavender fields, learning to tend the land with opportunities to study English and do yoga while living sustainably. Such a wonderful beacon of light for people looking for a change or to learn new paradigms of sustainable living in this world.

In the meantime they need money to make this project really happen. They have some funds to start but to speed it along Brad and Michelle are putting a call out for donations and investment capital and obviously, I really would like to support them in anyway I can.

You can learn more about their project here on their blog and visit here to make a most worthy donation to their project.
If 100 people gave us either $5 or 5pounds, it would help their project tremendously. 
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