A Travellerspoint blog

ladders to where?

sunny 35 °C

Maybe you've heard or read the encouragement to do something really frightening everyday. The image of giddy shrieking followed by cathartic relief is a powerful one. Unfortunately for me it falls into the same category as the encouragement to do ab-work everyday - a great idea but one I don't quite manage. Lots of people think quitting my job, selling our house and heading off around the world with a carry-on bag is fightening, but truly for me it was not at all. Learning to drive in Chicago at age 37, with a job offer hanging on the results of the driving test was terrifying, and although my marriage ceremony itself was relaxed, dancing the Argentine Tango with Jim as our first dance in front of everyone was also one of the scarier moments of my adult life. Count them though - two frightening things in six years - hardly the once a day standard that seems so cool. And yet, here in SouthWestern Australia I've managed the leap of faith in myself to accomplish two frightening things in three days.

Before breakfast on Sunday Jim and I got up with the birds. Not the delicately melodic tweeties we're used to in Illinois. These birds sound like cats hanging upside-down from trees by their tails, or like whining toddlers. Goaded out of bed by this ruckus, we made the short drive to Porungorup National Park for the Castlerock Granite Skywalk. On a rising path of about two kilometers, we came across two groups of wallabies that allowed us quite close before hopping just out of range and continuing their breakfast. The path got rockier as we climbed, and we came to a gorgeous lookout scattered with enormous menolithic formations generated as bubbles millions of years ago in molton rock. These are some of the oldest rocks on the planet. The surrounding stone had been worn away over time until these "bubbles" balanced precariously on and around each other like a group of asana students lifted on their toes in chair pose.

We paused for some photos and became aware of the gusting wind as we got higher. At 7am, it was already 35 degrees Celcius, but the wind sent a chill through our sweat-filmed torsos. Around a bend in the path, things got even more challenging. The climb was steeper and I had to tighten the straps of my Barmah hat tight bitingly under my chin. Our way now was over giant granite boulders, the remnants of shattered "bubbles" that had become unbalanced and cracked apart against each other. Jim went ahead and occasionally gave some advice on footing. It's pretty frequent that I'm grateful to have married a tactical genius, and this was just another instance.

At a particularly rough spot I thought to myself "Oh, just let Jim go ahead. He can get some photos and I'll just wait here." Two weeks ago in Fiji we'd had the opportunity to climb out to the end of the bowsprite of a schooner we were swimming around, and dive into the beautiful water. Jim of course engaged eagerly, but I stayed in the water, congratulating him both times he dove in. But this morning I did not give up so easily. "At least wait until you fall! You haven't so much as stumbled yet," I told myself. As the way became more difficult, the park rangers had installed a few handles in strategic spots, but friends, I'm telling you their model hikers were taller than six feet, and leggy, because both of us had to overreach and lunge to move along.

Meeting up together at the next pausing point, I again nearly lost my nerve. Rising up six or seven meters high in front of us was a ladder. I know the idea of a ladder probably sounds easy, but I was just not keen on that ascent. The wind here was intense, and would have knocked me down without a firm hold. There was no one else around, and unlike in the U.S. where we would have signed waivers and been suited up, strapped in and helmetted, in Australia they continue to allow people unsupervised experiences, and here I was wrestling with mine. "I could just stay here at the bottom, " I rationalized. "It's pretty amazing RIGHT HERE!" It's true it was, but yet I went on.

One of the most influential yoga teachers in my training has been Toni Gilroy. With Toni, I very gradually worked on the asana ardhachandrasana - half moon pose. Balancing sideways on one foot with the other lifted in line with the torso, one hand lifted to the sky and the other either grounded forward of the foundation foot or maybe hovering just off the ground, this was a monster of a pose for me, and one that still eludes me some days. Toni always taught it with this fantastic preparation cue: start with three points of contact: two feet in a shallow warrior-two stance, and the bottom hand placed so it will be directly under the shoulders when you lift that back leg up and roll the hips open.

"Three points of contact" was my cue as I climbed that ladder. One hand at a time released and grabbed a higher rung and then clenching tightly with both hands, I lifted one foot at a time and slowly, breathing steadily, up I went. "Three points of contact" went through my head with at least every fourth breath. I alternated that sage cue with "OMG the wind is gonna knock me off this rock!" , "look straight ahead not down," and "just keep going." When I reached the platform above, I found to my relief that the walkway that led out to a further lookout point was lined waist high with plexiglass. I crounched down out of the wind and waited for Jim to join me and my heartbeat to slow down. This was the giddy part.

We stood together, walked out to the furthest point, and were rewarded with three hundred and sixty degrees of the whole world spread below us as far as we could imagine. Nothing even came close to being as high as us. The canopy of trees below us was a mottled carpet ( something from the early eighties maybe) and the view was magnificent. One more granite bubble was tantalizingly close to the walkway and I fantasized about sitting on top of it. The indigenous people who lived here before Europeans believed that a spiritual being occupied this site, and I wondered what sort of being it was. One very brave I think, to sit up in the wind on top of bubbled rocks that sometimes lose their balance.

Realizing that photos could never convey the view we had, nor the sense of accomplishment in attaining it, we lingered some time more and agree we'd earned our brekkie. The first part of the return was nearly as challenging as the way in, but when our feet again hit simple soil and the angle of descent softened, we moved fast and easy, sure-footed and confident. Back at the parking lot we marveled at how little time had passed. "Well, I've done my scary thing for today," I thought. "Heck, I might have done my scary thing for all of Australia!"

Two days later I was looking up at another ladder. This one wrapped around Gloucester Tree, one of the highest trees in Australia and one of the few available for climbing. The treehouse landing at the top is 72 meters off the ground. "Ok, three points of contact," I muttered as I faked some bravado and started climbing first. Up I went, pausing a few times to catch my breath and enjoy the view. About half-way up, I really did relax. Again it was early morning and the intense sun was sifting sideways through the trees and heavy underbrush. It was peaceful and sweet and as I re-initiated the climb without thinking, that hand that will sometimes hover in ardhachandrasana lifted up with the same foot and I climbed for awhile with only TWO points of contact. Rhythmic and efficient, I went up and up, round and round that enormous trunk, above the crowns of other trees and looked down at last on the entire karri forest.

The next day, walking out on Busselton Jetty, the longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere, I copied down this poem posted by Lucy Dougan because it spoke so pefectly to my experience with these challenges.

The Pact

This pact between Solid land and shifting water
Sings a simple pledge
That we can venture out
Into a more capricious element
And survive
Without wings
Without gills or fins. . . .

Something calls our names
As surely as the moon bids tides
And we answer
One foot in front of the other
Shape-shifting into an inter-element
Where all is still and still all moves.

She wrote about the jetty, but her words spoke to me about those ladders. They were my pact between feeling solid and venturing out into capricious experiences. Answering the call out of our comfort zone is scary, but answering the call with frequency lets our skills build upon each other. The reward for our exertions and leaps of faith may be a breakthrough in vision, as I enjoyed above the forest - a prize of changed perspective, playful communion with the world.

Posted by Stravaigin 18:15 Archived in Australia Tagged tree lucy gloucester porungorup dougan Comments (2)

Lesson learned


sunny 35 °C
View Stravaigin on Stravaigin's travel map.

There's a vision of myself that I treasure: a memory from one of the first hot Vinyasa classes that I took with that bursting bubble Grace Boland. We'd been hard at it for about 45 minutes and as she'd promised, things had gotten sweaty, things had gotten loud. She put on Paul Simon singing "Cecelia" - not necessarily a yoga song, but one that really digs deep and lifts you up, espcially at assertive volume. From down dog to a three-legged dog, we lifted our bent knees to the ceiling, stacking one hip over the other, and Grace invited us to "flip our dogs" bringing that lifted foot back down to the earth behind us, spinning our torsos up and releasing instead that same hand. It's this vision of myself that I cherish. In this twisting backbend, heart open, throat open, grinning chin lifted to the ceiling and my free hand reaching for the horizon, I was in joyous expansion, yet anchored firmly on three points with a solid foundation underneath me. The vision was solidified by Kathy Koenig, who had walked by the studio window at that same moment and said to me after class "Wow Jenni, you looked like you were having the time of your life!" I absolutely had. This vision of myself and its emotional and spiritual components encapsulates what I love about my asana practice, and is an apt icon for my life these past few months.

As our plans for this trip came together (lightening our load of possessions, selling the house, disengaging from the inessential roots we'd put down), that feeling of confidence and exaltation grew and grew. By the time Jim and I delivered the news to our employers and our game could be quite open, those positive feelings began to build exponentially. The well-wishes from friends, family and most powerfully from fellow yogis left me incredibly inspired by the time we took off. The last few classes I taught were some of the best I've done, and my own practices were deeply satisfying. Time spent with our families was warm, supportive, productive (as the final knots got tied off) and relaxing. Arriving in Fiji my heart was swelling still. The place is so beautiful, and yet very real. (We didn't stay in a resort.) People here are gently courteous and exuberantly friendly and helpful. We've been traveling up and down the coast in open-sided buses, shaded from the intense sun, squashed up against Fijians in beautifully colored island prints, listening to reggae versions of rock songs and fun international pop music with lyrics like "I just want to feel this moment." We've snorkled on a coral reef, treaded water in possibly the most exquisite marine-island situation on the planet, lived pretty cleanly and slept well. My meditation has been consistently easeful, and though my asana practice some days means adjusting my posture, the stress of my retail job has mostly sifted out of my back and hips. We've comfortably divided our time between activity and relaxation with our books and journals beside the pool. In effect, we've been disarmed. In that metaphorical flipped dog pose, I became quite giddy, floating so high I lost that firm contact with the mat underneath me.

In a situation with too many red flags fluttering in our face to be believed, we were fraudulently fleeced of about $30. In that twisting backbend, I was far more excited about reaching out and making a connection with a nice family from the other side of the world. My willingness to extend myself pulled me beyond the bounds of safety. I lost connection with awareness, lost my skills of "travelling 101," and lost one large bill. After figuring out what had just happened, I asked myself what my practice should be. How did I react? At first with sadness, and a few minutes of feeling humiliated in front of my husband, dismayed that I had been that gullible. Really! But as Jim said when he also settled himself, it was a pretty harmless and inexpensive shot across our bow. It didn't harden our hearts, but it did bring me back to earth. The practice in that moment was to regain stability and reset, to be able to open up and reach out again, grinning chin and all.

There are many styles of yoga that I enjoy, each offering something valuable and different, but Vinyasa is my favorite. It offers intense pleasure in the body, the grossest part of our selves, but an entryway nonetheless into other theatres of our experience. The joy of sure and rhythmic movement, (the regaining of steadiness when that surety is bobbled!), the application of just the right amount of exertion to allow the salience of subtelty, sweet trembling fatigue after an offering of energy, strength and grace, and that precious, precious skill of prioritizing stabilty over extension- all these things reward me richly. At some point in my early 30s, my grandmother was expressing her disapproval of my life. I was unmarried, childless and even worse, lived far from my parents and extended family. "I like my life, Grandma," I said. "I'm happy." "Hmmph! " she replied, "Life is not about being happy." I adore her, and value every memory of her I can hang onto, but I think she got this one wrong. When we are truly happy, anything on the spectrum from quiet contentment to supernova explosions of glee, we are aligned with the Divine. That IS what life is about. Wayne Dyer encourages us to "vibrate at a high frequency," a phrase I embrace and repeat with gusto. When our energy is directed outward in creative and generous love and beauty, when we offer and accept that energy with practiced strength and skill, even when we stumble, our motions are grace-full. That flipped dog pose is still one of my favorites. It makes my heart and soul unleash nearly ecstatically! From now on though, I'll be practicing with a much deeper appreciation of being grounded first, aware of my situation, seeing truly. I'll move through the world open to kindness and friendship, reaching out with a smile, but less vulnerable to being pulled off my feet.




Posted by Stravaigin 22:17 Archived in Fiji Comments (4)

What is my intention?

"Stravaigin" is a Gaelic word meaning "to wander aimlessly with intent." (We know this not from studying Gaelic, but from traveling to Glasgow, Scotland and eating at a terrific restaurant by that name that presents itself so.) Whether or not it's an accurate translation, we're drawn to it as a verbal gonfalon for our Magellan vacation. I'm drawn to it as well as an expression of my yogic life - one that is process- instead of goal-oriented. We celebrate the continuous directionality of this trip on which we go west and west without turning back, always traveling away and yet always coming closer home. T.S. Eliot wrote "We shall not cease from exploration- And the end of all our exploring- Will be to arrive where we started- And know the place for the first time." And so I focus on the process of exploring, of engagement, as I tell my students, of cutlivating awareness without judgement, cultivating appreciation, cultivating tolerance, patience, awe, letting our attention wander as it is drawn over a "world rolling in ecstasy at our feet" (Kafka), wandering aimlessly, inspirationally, intent on the process.

Intention is one of the most pervasive words in my practice. I tell my students that our moment of intentionality at the beginning of our asana practice, (or the end of meditation - an incredible opportunity!) is the most powerful of our day. In this moment we decide what kind of experience we will have, in what sort of world we choose to move through. Settling on a word is not sufficient, a strong clear vision is what we need. When I take a class as a student, and the teacher offers this moment, I always feel unprepared. My brain riffles through possibilities as in a few heartbeats I assess my physical, energetic and emotional situation. But more often than not in the last second, with a rush of satisfaction I simply dedicate my practice to the teacher at the front of the room, and see his or her shining face clearly in my heart. As I move through asana and meditation, the joy in my interaction between myself and the instructor and everyone in the room suffuses me and enriches my experience far more than simply setting an intention for "joyfulness" ever could.

So with this round-the-world in five months trip, there are so many things to do. Skills to hone, discipline to maintain, a banquet table mosaic of things to experience and discover, connections to make, ways of being to improve. But the visionI I choose to fuel my intention now is the exhilerating one of my hand clasped with Jim's as we step out into the world in a truly bold and challenging way, traveling always away and yet always closer home. Together in expansion, hearts and minds in playful communion with the world, wandering aimlessly but with intent.


Posted by Stravaigin 08:25 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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