A Buddhist Temple, a few Lamas and a full moon

 

8am- A feeling of calm swept through my body. It’s idyllic this place. I was at the Temple of Dag Shang Kagyu in Huesca, Spain.

When you first look at the view from the Temple you see a flat plain, the arid colour of the valley below and the hills which slowly slip into the earth. But with the days that have passed I’ve seen its texture: with the incoming fog, the droplets of rain, the sun’s fire.

In the blazing heat and humidity, it appears as if the earth has lost its texture, it is flat and lifeless. But there is life.

It was when the moon rose up from the earth yesterday that something chimed, a sweet echo. It was the sun’s  imposter. It met the folds of the earth at dusk and gradually rose into the sky becoming fuller. Chameleon moon. Its smooth transition from fiery red to shiny silver was deceiving. Luz blanca.

It rains in the valley, a thick steady drizzle. We are nestled in the inlet of the hill, the rain here is stunted, struggling to break into a continual rhythm. When it eventually does, after creeping slowly towards us, I bare my face to the rain. Its rhythm is like the drum’s beat in the Puya, the daily mass, a crashing energy, a cleanser. It’s water droplets,  so small  and yet descend with such force, mirror the mantras of the Lama, the priest. The moon a reflection of the pure energy of this place.

Thunder rumbles echoing in the corners of the valley. Energy.

It’s not surprising that in nature we find refuge. It’s our oldest friend, a stable backdrop to man’s existence. The close relationship with nature was forged a long time ago and we relied on nature’s movements so heavily, it dictated our fate. We were nature.

But a smoke has descended with the rapid whirlwind of industry, flights and racing cars blinding us, removing us from nature. Technology casts nature’s importance in  photo, in mechanical power and electricity. We harness nature but forget to work with it. We have become distanced  from our oldest friend. If we abuse this long standing friendship, we will not only destabilise the natural movements of this earth but also the contentment of the human race through breaking our bond with nature, our refuge. For we are nature and thus we must respect our oldest friend.

When you begin meditation you first Tomar el refugio, take refuge. The refuge is something which you have absolute conviction and trust in. Many place their refuge in the Buddha, for others it is the love they have for their loved ones. For me, the Temple had let me to truly value the pure connection one could form with the natural world. Nature is my refuge.

 

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Not just chance encounters

IMG_20170831_162444_038He was 31, a 2 litre a day coffee addict and a seatbelt designer. I was tired because it was past midnight and with a 5am start the next day I was in no mood to chat to anybody let alone this new late arrival dorm mate. However, I politely slipped into conversation, sinking into a nearby chair as the conversation continued past a few minutes, letting out a heavy internal sigh not being able to excuse myself from this guys’ persistent midnight monologue. However, my ears became alerted when he moved away from the mechanics of his past mechanical engineering job and took a more spiritual turn. He talked very seriously about his efforts to improve his emotional intelligence, understand human nature and the human mind. I opened up about my challenges with my way of overthinking  which caused me a good deal of anxiety.  He with a shrug quoted  Einstein stein, ” only imagination sets our limits” and then began to relate the importance of harnessing your imagination and channeling it positively. He talked a lot about self determination. I learnt that using what you have, in my case an unruly imagination, can in fact  push you towards and not necessarily deter you from your dreams. It’s all about channeling it in the right direction.

Earlier that day I had met a 62 year old Irish adventurer. This woman had filled her life with adventure and a persistent curiosity to find out more. Her journeys had taken her to every continent mostly passing through rural communities. She was doubted many a time, first for being a woman travelling solo and now for being a more mature woman travelling solo but her personal conviction in her adventures was the only driving force she needed. She craved adventure so she pursued it.

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It was too humid and I craved quiet from Barcelona’s bustling streets. Diving into a bookshop I got directed to a pile of English books tucked neatly in an ordered box. Rifling through them, leaving them completely disordered thoughtlessly, I  left the shop. I don’t know why I turned back but I did, only to see the shop assistant letting out a sigh. She spotted me and pointed at the box. I returned and set about ordering the books reluctantly. Under her breath she muttered in Spanish “where is the respect, with the tourists it has gone” I looked up, understanding Spanish and asked her to explain. She was surprised but began to talk about how people get this notion of their own self importance and in doing this lose their respect for others. “Nobody is above or below another person.” She said that whilst she came from a financially struggling family in Honduras they were rich in values. I nodded. Respect.

That evening, I asked a local guy for directions. We began talking and ended up going for a beer. He’d done alot in his life, a great deal of travel. He had lost one of his legs at the age of 16 but didn’t let that deter him. ‘You are only what you think of yourself, I gave up worrying about what people thought of me years ago’. Self respect.

A month later, I was in Barcelona again. I had arrived a day before my flight to yet another humid day. I met a Canadian woman in the hostel and we went for lunch together after bonding over the fact that we had both walked the Camino de Santiago, both starting on the same day a year apart. It was only at the end of our lunch that the ambulances rushed past in a sea of searing sirens and the trickle of crowds began to increase to a heavy footfall as people ran from las Ramblas. We dived into a nearby bar and there we stayed until the late evening. The shutters of the bar shut down on us due to our close proximity to the attack. I felt an urge of self protection. The Canadian woman was incredibly inspiring in her calm approach throughout the attack and also her reassurance to me, diluting my panic.

Life is about learning. Perhaps a great part of that is learning from other people. At times, it can be difficult to keep your heart open to new experiences and people. We are taught to be scared. But I think what is more worrying is if we shut ourselves off completely. From every person you can learn something. Its not just a chance encounter. Its an encounter where you have the chance to learn something.

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Taff Trail: more adventure than expected

 

 

6am and I was on route to Bristol Temple Meads feeling the pulse of adventure rushing through me. But mid-way down Whiteladies, I heard a crunch. With a judder, my bike ground to an abrupt halt and I was thrust forward, my bike chain had fallen off. With the kind help of a lorry driver from Coop and covered in grease with blackened hands, I was underway to Cardiff on the train. Cycling was new to me.  The Taff Trail sounded exciting. A welsh adventure on a 55 mile cycling trail from Cardiff Bay to Brecon, in the heart of the Brecon Beacons.

Cardiff had awoken unlike sleepy Bristol I had left an hour earlier and the city was beginning to buzz with the Saturday morning market and the opening of shops alongside Cardiff Bay, which glimmered in the early morning sun. I found myself soon leaving the city, through the Bute Gardens lying just behind Cardiff Castle and onwards out of the city following the gently flowing River Taff through tree-covered paths and playing fields.

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Emerging in Pontypridd, time had passed very quickly and I had only clocked off a few miles. This was due to the detour I had taken up a very steep hill, having been convinced I was following the right route, after being bypassed by many cyclists who were trying a new PB on their strava. At the top of the hill, was Castle Coch, a gothic revival castle, though unfortunately on the wrong route! Interrupting yet another local lycra cyclist and thus ruining his chances of making a new PB, he not only directed me on the right path but then cycled with me. I lagged behind, my face turning a deeper shade of red, which was not only due to the steadily rising heat of the day but also his fast paced strava cycling, which was not the slow plod I was accustomed to. I continued on my route to wishes of good luck from my new friend, through open fields, and winding paths some hidden in the comforting shade of the tree line; others open to the blazing sun which pierced down upon me from a stark clear blue sky.

The miles ticked off so slowly that when stopping for a rest in The Station pub halfway point to my end destination, I felt anxious. 25 miles to go at 4pm. No accommodation booked. Food quickly running out. No cashpoint till the end. And a severe lack of energy. The locals at the pub were keen to dissuade me from continuing the route alone on the hottest day of the year, which did not help my feeling of apprehension. But there was nothing I could do but continue.

I was in the Brecon Beacons, climbing a steadily winding mountain path, confronted with a steeper one which I climbed, before finding I had followed the wrong path. Down the hill once more, my tyre suspiciously sounded punctured. I felt hot and exhausted. Yet, emerging to the stunning views of the reservoirs surrounded by gorgeously green rugged mountains, I felt full of energy as I gazed out at the huge expanse of water, at its ripples and sparkles. Reaching YHA by the reservoir and finding there was no space, I continued and was confronted with a similar story in Talybont. It was getting later, 8pm and I still had no clue where I was sleeping or if I would reach Brecon by nightfall. Continuing on the canal path, which was balmy in the setting evening sun, I reached the Royal Oak, a quaint pub nestled by the canal side. Curious the locals enquired where I been and before I could stop them, tears rolled down my cheeks. I had cycled so far, the heat had weakened me, my sugar levels had dropped.

 

 

Not able to cycle any further, I retreated to a nearby farmers’ field, placing my bivvy bag under the hedgerow. The only sound of life was the nearby tractor on the hillside above me, which made its way into the late hours until the sun had completely disappeared. But I was asleep before it had stopped its evening work.

Awaking to misty morning, with mist nestled in the valley sides, I began my cycle to Brecon. A Spoons breakfast and with a large dairy milk and sour cream pringles stuffed into my bag, I set off on the return journey. Although my back felt stiff with sunburn, my body did feel stronger. The route aside from one steep climb was mostly downhill. However, reaching the end looked improbable when my front wheel began to jam. It was then that I heard a growing sound of engines, and a flight of motorbikes emerged over the brow of the hill, in what looked like a mafia style motorbike chase. I ducked into a nearby hedgerow to avoid them, but was left bewildered in a cloud of dust which their wheels had churned up. No time to stop having fixed my jammed wheel, I reached the top of the hill, once again surrounded by stunning views. I met the Army SAS on their training and they kindly supplied me with water. I barely stopped on the return, motivation had kicked in and despite a rather rickety bike and a rather exhausted body, I was determined to reach Cardiff, which I did at

I barely stopped on the return, motivation had kicked in and despite a rather rickety bike and a rather exhausted body, I was determined to reach Cardiff, which I did at 9pm. So relieved I fell asleep at the station, meaning I nearly missed,but luckily got, the last train back at 11pm.

Reflecting on the journey, I am surprised I completed it. It was beautiful and yet absolutely gruelling. The mind is a powerful thing. I craved adventure and stubbornly pursued it.

 

 

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To crave adventure

 

I crave adventure. Is this restlessness? Maybe. But it’s just that there are so many moments to experience; to pack in. We often look at adventure, with eyes opened to the possibility of undiscovered exotic places we can travel to. We link adventure with foreign travel. We eliminate adventure in our weekdays. We crave the weekend, we crave a holiday. We ignore the simple things in pursuit of something grander, and in doing this the basis of adventure becomes lost. Google says adventure is an ‘unusual, exciting or daring experience’ but has this become lost in a world of routine, arrangements, appointments and deadlines? It certainly seems so. Adventure becomes marginalised into our weekend off, our annual holiday and doesn’t seem to feature in the day to day of our lives. But these are actually years of our life which we shred into a numbing hum-drum of existence because a voice tells us that’s how it should be.

So…Ideas of how to lead a life full of ‘unusual, exciting or daring experiences’

Be unusual by…

Going to that film, because you really want to even though none of your friends could make it

Going into that museum/pub/club/gardening centre you have always wanted to go, but told yourself you’d do it another day

Drinking a beer with a group of people you have not hung out with before, just because why not?

Applying for that competition/  freebie giveaway, because someone has to win. Could be you.

Be exciting by…

Walking around a city, not using google maps. You may get lost, but you’ll certainly see more.

Joining a silent disco on the way back from work because you never had been to one before.

Going to Wales to camp spontaneously to find the next morning you have pitched the tent right next to a lake.

Be daring by…

Going for that coffee with a random person you met whilst out shopping because what’s to loose?

Buying a bike, and cycling around a new city, despite having not ridden in years

Telling someone how you feel about them because sometimes why the heck not. You never know, you may be pleasantly surprised by the answer

 

So go on, live a life full of adventure. It’s easier than you may think.

 

Queens square

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so it ends, and yet it begins…

 

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00.00km at Faro, reaching it for the first time

 

Finisterre translates to mean ‘The end of the world’. For me and many other pilgrims, this resonated entirely. Arriving in Finisterre, my heart was a hotbed of emotions. 878km across Spain later, I was here by the sea, on a rock at Faro, unable to physically walk further West, staring into the distance of the huge expanse of ocean in front of me, which sparkled in the bright sunlight.

 

 

It was a few weeks later whilst I was volunteering at a hostel in Santiago, that Finisterre called me again. I returned. Unable to see the sunset the night before due to fog, I left the hostel early and alone to see the sunrise. Walking the 3km along the cliff path in the darkness was incredibly terrifying and the silence was only interrupted by the sound of my heartbeat’s strong pulse through my body. And yet every step I took, the distance back to the comforts of my bed in the hostel in Finisterre grew, so I had to keep going. Arriving at Faro at 6am, I was surprised not to see others at this famous viewing spot. However, as the fog had gathered the night before, many had said that seeing a sunrise would be impossible that day.

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Photo by amaianos (originally posted to Flickr as Fisterra)

Sitting alone on the rock at Faro, I felt I had two options, to scare myself witless or to choose to appreciate the beauty of this isolated spot. As the rock jutted out into the sea, I could see nothing but the vast ocean stretching out before me blanketed in mist; the waves a continual rhythm as they lapped gently against the rocks. I had the feeling that if the ocean chose to rise up and engulf me, it could quite easily.  It was beautifully foreboding. The Romans had believed that souls escaped from bodies at Finisterre and I can understand why. This place was mystical. The sun began to make streaks of orange across the sky and a sole bird became outlined in these streaks as it glided across the foggy layer of the sea.

On my walk back to Finisterre, in the increasing sunlight, I glanced back to the lighthouse and the expanse of sea. Surprising me at this moment, the sun broke through the mountain of mist hanging over the ocean. It was fiery white rimmed with red, as if drawn by a painter’s brushstroke, sharply contrasting against the pale embers of the morning sky. The sun formed a path of golden sunlight speckled with red across the sea. At its foot, the path changed direction slightly and the strength of the sunlight began to diminish. Minutes later, a fishing boat began to make its way across the water, its normally quiet engine breaking the stillness. The boat crossed the sunlit path forcing a crossroads in the sun’s light. A crossroads.

Is this the aftermath of my camino? I was at a crossroads before the camino and I find myself at a crossroads again. I was at a crossroads before because I knew something had to change, the way I was living my life was not the way I wanted to. And now, I am at a crossroads because I can either choose to change or choose to continue to follow the path of the past once again. But maybe part of my journey is this aftermath. Maybe the Camino is setting another challenge. The challenge maybe is to resist the pulling magnetic force of this ‘path of the past’ and make the break. To resist the ease of once again becoming a cog in the machine of society and becoming a partaker in the trappings of  a superficial world. Now, is the time to reflect. Now, is the time to take the right path at the crossroads. It may be a challenge but if not taken, my Camino runs the risk of falling into a large bank of holidays rather than potentially the most enriching experience: an experience which could continue to guide my life now and in years to come.

 

A girl without a plan, just a journey

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Camino means path in Spanish. However, it also means journey. There are many different physical paths to reach Santiago but there are also many different spiritual journeys, unique to each individual. The routes of the Camino de Santiago stretch across the globe, they are not just confined to Spain, Portugal and France, as some pilgrims decide to walk straight from their homes from destinations across the world. The pilgrimage is steeply embedded in religion. Nevertheless, walking the Camino Francés , I discovered that regardless of whether you were religious or not, ultimately the Camino is a personal journey which encourages connection.  This connection is multi-faceted. On one hand, it is your connection with the path. For me, my Camino was the 791km path from St Jean Pied de Port, in the French Pyrenees, to Santiago in North West Spain and then 87km path more to Finisterre. From the early hours of the morning to the late hours of the evening you are outside on the path which stretches in front of you, a seemingly interminable distance, which one day suddenly ends, surprising you.The path is the thread through the journey.

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Then, there is the connection you share with the  people you meet. For me, I met 40 different nationalities stretching across the globe from South Koreans, to South Americans to South Africans , formed friendships regardless of age and met people who in general day to day life I would not have ever met or made an effort to meet. On the Camino, hearts  which may have been closed were allowed to open and spirits allowed to rise to the surface , encouraged by the physical and mental challenge of the way. Therefore, true connections with people became easier to form, not just the superficial ones we get into the habit of making. With this connection,  I broke out of my bubble and  preconceived stereotypes vanished as I realised people are just people.  I realised that people are not rigid structures to be classified.  Ultimately, people are just people.

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However, essentially the Camino was about the connection with the self. It was a 5 and a bit week walk of listening to my physical and emotional needs. With no social media to distract me, just an emergency phone, I had no distractions from this personal journey. With no accommodation bookings or  strict schedule to stick to in order to catch a plane, I had no kilometres that I needed to clock off each day. Even with my Camino friends there were rare occasions when we arranged to meet, we would just naturally drift together along the way. For once, my mind and heart were connected and I was listening.

 

On my journey, I encountered such  wonderful people and places, that I became full up with this incredible energy and  level of contentment.  However,  I did make mistakes and I did face tough moments along the way but I am a stronger as a result. For what I had craved was not a holiday but an experience, one which will continue to infiltrate into my life for years to come, and I believe I found it .

I was a girl without a plan and I thrived.

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