You can’t fall off a mountain

Lord of the Rings quotes pilfered through my brain. I can’t recall the taste of food…nor the sound of water. With each foot placed at a slightly higher elevation than the last, I thought how fitting it was that the volcano I was climbing be used as Mount Doom for the movies.

I was hiking the Tongariro crossing with friends from the spiritual community I’d been staying at. It was time to move on and with two cars between four people we organized ourselves to camp near Taupo before dropping off a car at one end and heading to the other side.

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Less than two hours into the advertised six hour hike I knew I wasn’t in as good of shape as I used to be. I meandered up the steps, my friends patiently waiting at a plateau in the trail. Waves of memories washed over me.

I was nine years old, playing in the hay bails my brothers and I had rolled together into a fort. Our game of tag raged on with Smokey the dog ecstatic to be involved in our play. I slid down too close to the ground and my foot touched soil. I was “out.” Those were the rules. But it was my birthday and, after all, I was the youngest. I got another chance, another point to keep me in the game. I was used to being the last. The slowest.

Our hike quickly brought expansive vistas into view. New Zealand is a country of volcanoes and our new elevation enabled us to see more in the distance. Breathing heavily I urged my legs on. One more set of stairs and then a break. Once more cresting over the next hill.

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I couldn’t help but feel like there I was, crossing over this popular trek with the same patterns from my youth playing out within me. The urge for it to be easier crept over me. The thing is, no one can make it easier. It’s up to me to carry myself forward.

There are a couple of side treks off the main path. One leads to the very top of a volcano with panoramic views all around and a glimpse into the crater below. Three hours it said. I told my friends if they wanted to do it they should. I’d been worried they had already tired of waiting for me. I didn’t want to be a burden.

“Oh c’mon, we can do. We’ll take our time, it’s no problem.” Anna’s comforting southern drawl encouraged me. Okay, I would hike up Mount Doom.

The task ahead of me turned into more than just a volcano to conquer, it morphed into a symbol of wanting life to be easier, of wanting things to be done for me rather than relying on myself. I thought that at the top of that hill I would find peace with my “always the youngest” attitude. I aimed to let go of expecting rules to be broken for me.

Soon it became clear I would not make it to the top. Encouragement aside, even Anna’s complete acceptance and faith in me could not bring my legs up that slope. The elevation gain made me dizzy. I began to fear the descent. Parts of the hike were covered in tiny pebbles with every step forward sliding back 50 per cent. Other sections meant scrambling over and around boulders of volcanic rock. Eventually I knew I wouldn’t make it. I’m glad to be with you Samwise Gamgee. Here, at the end of all things.

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I’d climbed more than two-thirds to the top when I bid my friends enjoy the view for me. Turning around I was happy I’d be able to take my time going down. I moved at my own pace. Stopping on a rock someone following my trail got closer. “Are you okay?” he asked?

“Just taking my time, enjoying the view.”

“This is scary,” he said, “I want to get it over with as quickly as possible.” He scampered down below me and now I followed his path instead of him following mine.

I was disappointed I hadn’t surmounted my symbolic rite of passage, yet in many other ways I wasn’t. What if I simply am who I am? What if birth order has nothing to do with it? There are plenty of youngest siblings who are the daredevils, the risk-takers, the ones willing to climb to the top of every peak.

I began to take different lessons from Mount Doom. It’s true that I’ve made my way around the world on my own in a lot of ways. The line between healthy, supportive community and immature reliance is not that narrow.

There will always be that part of me that likes to take it easy, exerting myself beyond my abilities—and, lets face it, shoe choice—won’t prove who I really am. It’s not something I want to identify with.

After getting back to flat land I ate some food and continued on. I figured I would meet up with the group at the top of the next, gentler summit. We did have over half the hike ahead of us.

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We eventually met up and started downward. The almost-full moon greeted us from under the horizon and scraggy hills played in the soft light of sunset until we reached the forest. Our last hour was hiked in the dark, stark moonbeams sliced through the trees illuminating the way. We were forest nymphs. It was magical.

Crossing the Tongariro was a pilgrimage like all of life can be a pilgrimage. I was happy to share it with such fabulous beings and happy to have learned about and accepted even more parts of myself.

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Worlds beyond the world

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A rectangle of moonlight appeared on my bed. Streaming through the crack in the curtains, I was surprised to see the amount of light the quarter moon threw off. Like a thick shawl on the cool spring night, it reflected back at me the light of the sun, long passed over the curve of earth’s horizon. I was reading, reclined in some contortion on my bed with my feet half up a wall and my head pointing down when suddenly, it was there.

I’ve always had this fascination with the light of the moon. As a child I would sometimes wake in the night between slivers of dreams and be greeted by a bath of moonlight. Those times filled me with a deep sense of peace. For brief, vivid moments in the middle of the night, everything was all right in the world, often a glaring contrast to my anxiety-riddled childhood.

Often we’re drawn to things that are very specific to us, yet we feel like everyone has a similar experience. I thought everyone had the same magnetic pull to celestial bodies. As I grew I learned how these details of our personalities combine to create the unique beings each of us are. And it wasn’t just the moon I remember being drawn to. It was also the stars.

Staring up at the vast expanse with hardly a farmhouse nearby to obstruct the view I would be swept away as a child, engrossed in a world beyond this one. I heard tidbits from my brothers. The universe was infinite. That means it goes on forever. How does that even work? My little mind would wonder. And wonder I did, absorbing light that had travelled thousands of light-years to be captured by my retinas. Where is the edge? What’s on the other side?

I remember these questions as I stare up into the southern hemisphere, totally lost as to which direction is which. There’s nothing familiar now when I look up at the constellations directly above me. Gone are the days of being in new cities and finding my way back after being lost by looking for the North Star. I’m in unchartered territory.

The other day I was driving back to where I’m staying after a night in the city with friends. Out the backseat window I saw a familiar sight dancing along the horizon. Orion’s belt leapt out at me as I gasped, startled. I wasn’t expecting to see it here right now. A few minutes later the view from the motorway cleared and the Pleiades also made their place known. My favourite constellation.

Nestled in the woods of Albany I haven’t seen all of the stars that reach down toward the horizon. I’m pulling newly learned groups together and making maps in my head. I’m charting my way.

Soon it will be time to leave the gentle structure of Kuwai Purapura. I’m hoping to hike the Tongariro with friends—a volcano in middle of the North Island—and am making connections to volunteer with the Hare Krishna group in Wellington.

Sometimes I feel confused, torn at which direction to go. North or South? East or West? Get a “real job” or temporary seasonal work? I know I’ll find my way. The light of the moon and the stars will lead me.

My first spring birthday

Part of the current KP crew

Part of the current KP crew

Sometimes I imagine that before incarnating into this life I sat around a coffee table with a bunch of souls making plans. “Hey! Let’s meet when we’re 11 through friend’s of friends and start hanging out years later,” or, “Tell you what, I’ll be walking down the street in 2010 and we’ll make brief and vivid eye contact, flitting by one another without a spoken word but a world of knowing.”

We make these arrangements and then dive into the tangible, manifested plane of existence that holds earth and the entire known universe. Sometimes the plans go awry; we make choices that pull us away from our original intentions and one or more of us miss the appointment. Sometimes though, everything falls into place.

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Eden, Anna and Kate. Lovelies. The one in the middle (from Tennessee) is the reason why I now talk with a southern drawl.

How would I have known that the delicious souls I made plans to hang out with for my 29th birthday are the playful, joyous, accepting and vivacious people I came across?

Surprise birthday cake by Lydia. Delicious!

Surprise birthday cake by Lydia. Delicious!

The group here at Kuawi Purapura was an amazing crew to share my birthday with. I had a peaceful foray into a nature reserve, sun-soaked day at the beach and a surprise celebratory cake. I felt so loved and cared for and can’t wait to see what the last year of my twenties has in store for me.

Beach time!

Beach time!

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Carrying our shoes because we were just knee deep in the kind of mud people pay good money to slather themselves in.

Gratitude to those near and far who sent me love and light for another turn around the sun.

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Acroyoga and Feeling at Home

I’d only been here for a few days when there was an acro-yoga class in the city that a few of us were keen to take. Since buying a car when travelling New Zealand is a popular activity, one of the interested parties had wheels and we hopped in, eager for our acro adventure.

Flying high

Flying high

Though we ended up crashing an intermediate class that should definitely have been labeled an advanced—I mean really, they were inventing flows between poses with strange names when we barged in a few minutes late—we had a lovely time with a great friendly bunch.

Basing Anna, the girl with the enthralling Southern drawl.

Basing Anna, the girl with the enthralling Southern drawl.

After a beer and a twenty-minute drive we arrived back home in our wwoofer den, a cozy, low-ceilinged basement space with lots of comfortable couches and about eight fridges for the twenty or so of us.

As I walked in I headed straight toward the sink for a drink and mid-way there this rush of a feeling came over me. No, it wasn’t the beer, it was this sense of familiarity.

As a traveller I’m used to putting myself in completely new situations every single day. Every bus ticket, cup of tea, piece of fruit, everything, is acquired for the very first time. There’s no autopilot as I walk into my regular grocery store and head to the correct aisle. When I’m travelling I have to read every sign and search for what it is I’m looking for. In fact, today I had to ask a store clerk where the rice was. I was in an Asian grocery store. Anyway.

I put so much energy toward figuring things out that when I walked into that kitchen I’d prepared less than a dozen meals in, a sense of home filled me. It was a lovely feeling.

I recognize how the need for that feeling is a universal human experience and that everyone creates it for themselves in different ways. Some people surround themselves with furniture they’ve purchased in a house they have their name legally associated with. Others will find it anywhere they go.

On September 8th the Yasodhara Ashram celebrates our lineage. It marks Swami Sivananda’s birthday and is a day we honour our teachers. After a few seasons away I was happy to be able to return to the Ashram over the celebration weekend. The question we were encouraged to reflect on was “What do I want to initiate?” For me the answer came quickly: I wanted to initiate a mantra practice that would carry me as I navigate this world out here.

October 17th marks the 40th day of my practice (minus that pesky day that disappeared when I flew over the international date line) where I sit in meditation every evening before I sleep, passing my mala beads through my fingers. The sense of home and familiarity as I imagine myself shrouded in light is phenomenal. The sense of home I can get wandering into a kitchen I’ve used for a few days is relatively shallow when compared to the depth of feeling I get from my practice, yet I know they stem from the same source.

Through knowing myself I can go anywhere and feel at home. I’m grateful for those around me who reflect back at me even more facets of myself. I’m grateful for knowing that home is where my heart is.

Hanging out at KP

A spontaneous trip to the west coast—Bethels Beach.

Where the river meets the sea. A spontaneous trip to the west coast—Bethells Beach

Intentional community used to enthrall me. I love the concept of people with no familial obligation living together and sharing a life. I would hear talk about such places in my early twenties and listen with fascination, wanting to know more. Brief experiences with them shortly thereafter confirmed my suspicions: community life suited me.

Now, I have years of experience living communally and the thing is, it doesn’t fascinate me anymore.

Giant calla lilies....that aren't really calla lilies.

Giant calla lilies….that aren’t really calla lilies.

Padding barefoot over the weathered deck I leave one community kitchen here at Kawai Purapura and make my way to another. The wwoofers had just had our weekly meeting and were given a $5 voucher for lunch at the resident’s place where I had just finished eating up a delicious soup and some homemade bread.

Kawai Purapura is located in the sprawling suburbs of Auckland. With accommodations for 100 residents, retreats and courses throughout the year, and around 25 volunteers(wwoofers) currently residing here, the place is the largest community living centre I’ve ever stayed at.

It came to me during that walk back to my computer that living in community doesn’t have this web of mystery and intrigue for me anymore. Yes, I know that I’m still well suited for it and yes, I still choose communal living situations, but my years at Yasodhara Ashram filled any longing I have within me.

I understand various aspects of communal living and it’s become a way of life for me rather than an abstract concept. Not only that, but the Ashram gave me what I was looking for on deeper levels as well. Now, a short stint as a volunteer at KP is giving me little by way of deeply nourishing spiritual sustenance, but much in the way of a home base while I organize my next steps in New Zealand.

I opened a New Zealand bank account and am working on the paper work to get a tax number so I can work here. It’s all within walking distance from here.

I’m glad I’ve landed here and glad to have the chance to participate in random Kirtans and other yoga offerings. I’m meeting loads of lovely people and there are hints of opportunities for the future. Life is good.

Arrival: Transitioning to NZ

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One of my first purchases

I was in an airplane somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. My body and cell phone—both of them going off old information—told me it was one time and day, while the flight information screen in front of me told me a very different time and day.

Okay, I thought, Okay, I’m in a different place now.

A word akin to surrender—okay—kept popping into my mind. It did so in a lot of ways, and continues to in many others.

Birds sing sweet songs in celebration, buds bloom open and fresh green leaves make their way out into the unknown. Okay, it’s springtime here.

Nine p.m. fills my body with fatigue as my eyelids droop and my mental faculties recede. Okay, jetlag hits harder than I anticipated.

An email from my program director about a full-time job in the department I did my summer internship sends me into a frenzy. Should I drop it all and rush back into the arms of a city that never did hold me quite right? Okay, I’m questioning my choices and seeking security.

Okay, I’ll walk to the market and get some food. I’ll send out emails and drop-by backpacker communities and edge my way into a life here.

Okay, so I’m wondering just what it is I want to experience in the southern hemisphere. And I haven’t even looked at the stars yet.

Sunrise in Fiji

Sunrise in Fiji

“It is worse to stay where one does not belong at all than to wander about lost for a while and looking for the psychic and soulful kinship one requires.” 

— Clarissa Pinkola Estés

I came across that quotation recently and immediately felt I could relate. Yet the thing is, I don’t feel lost. I never feel lost anymore because I feel at ease with who I am. Yet I still wander all over the place looking for something. I think it’s life experience I seek. Not in the same way I did in my early twenties when I felt more experience would mean I had more worth and value as a human. Now, I just want to experience life, and putting myself in new situations to challenge me is part of that.

Already I’m clear I want to engage in community, I want to engage in life and build hobbies and, as I’ve been telling dear friends who then respond with confusion, I want to make myself more interesting. Yes, I know I already am interesting, but I don’t feel very interested in life lately and I’d like to rectify that.

Also, I’m already being hard on myself for not “doing more,” for having stayed indoors on this rainy day and for not having been to downtown Auckland yet. *Sigh* Old habits die hard. 

Ways to make life more interesting:

  1. Focus on community
  2. Learn about the constellations in the southern Hemisphere
  3. Learn to surf
Staying with a NZ friend who's cat-sitting.

Staying with a NZ friend who’s cat-sitting.