Beyond the words

“And though all the things I love may pass away and the great family of things and people I have made around me will see me go, I feel them living in me like a great gathering ready to reach a greater home. When one thing dies all things die together, and must live again in a different way, when one thing is missing everything is missing, and must be found again in a new whole and everything wants to be complete, everything wants to go home. And the geese travelling south are like the shadow of my breath flying into darkness on great-beats to an unknown and where I belong.” David Whyte. 

One of my closest friends has gone to India. Her entire bucket list, the last wish standing. I am so happy she is there. She is resting, healing, reading, meditating and enjoying being so deeply cared for. She stays beyond the date she had for return because she wants and needs the space to be. She posts photos and updates on Facebook, one saying she’s decided with her beloved husband that they have planned to not have a plan.

I speak to her on the phone and we send messages. In the last few weeks of her life, I have this inexplicable sensation like I have just hung up the phone from talking to her, except we have not. I get it all the time. I finally message her and tell her, that we seem to be having this extraordinary communication without actually talking. She responds saying how pleased she is our hearts are open, and that she loves me.

She dies three days later.

She had been unwell on and off for five years. Still, I am devastated, and for days I barely find words to talk or write. I mostly avoid people where I can, except for a few close friends. There is nothing I want to say.

Just a sense of being barren. Not much feels real.

Plugging my phone in to be charged has me bawling, realizing we will never call each other again. I sob and sob. I find comfort in the Foo Fighters, playing their music as loud as I can because they belt out the lyrics. I scream with them. This about sums up the state of my heart.

The best way to describe early days and weeks of grief for me is being caught between two worlds, one with my friend, and one without her. This is coupled with waves of loss smashing me whenever and wherever. There is zero choice for its arrival. You can be okay one moment, and then drowning the next.

I just miss her. Even referring to her in past tense makes me reel. I feel confused. And it is not fair. Life at times is ruthless and random.

One of my best friends shares with me something our friend always said to her, that asking why is not a spiritual question. I then heard her say the better question to ask is what. Unbeknown to my friend, this stops me internally rallying at life for its harshness. I soften.

So, I ask myself what?

We talked often and nothing was off limits in our conversations, in fact some topics expanded over years. She was immensely awake, by that I that mean spiritually tenacious and she embodied living for this very moment. I have never seen such a radical transformation before in a person. I had the privilege of watching her become so full of light through her daily practices of meditation, chanting and yoga.

This is not to say she was perfect, she was inherently human, beautifully so.

She was fiercely competitive. I played online scrabble with her, once. I saw firsthand how she researched information, gathering and weighing up facts against fiction. I can only imagine how this translated into her courtroom appearances. I would not want to be on the receiving end. I admired her strength and determination. She almost always knew more about medical research and results than the specialists treating her.

She was an avid seeker of truth, she devoured books and there was always a parcel being delivered to her door step. Her empowerment was revered by many of us.

I invite a small group of friends to gather at my house, each bringing what we feel is personally meaningful to create an altar. Our offerings include candles, incense, books, flowers, crystals, fruit and much love. We talk, eat vegan food, and share stories together. There is laughing coupled with our own grief, knowing we will never physically see her in this life again. The open fire is roaring and at the most succinct moments the wood pops.

I would say she is lingering joyfully in our presence.

Her Kundalini yoga teacher arrives with chai. The brew is lovingly made and we sit in the fire light. There are times of stillness and of chatter, both meaningful. We then gather in a circle on the floor and are led into a meditation before we begin chanting Akaal for our friend.

This word means undying, without time and that which never dies, and it is said chanting Akaal helps the soul to pass out of this world into the divine beyond.

Whatever our personal beliefs about death may be, it did not matter. To sit in circle with women, meditating and chanting to a vibration of energy beyond understanding is simply stunning. One of my friends drummed and everything in me felt so much gratitude for the years of friendship we shared.

At the end, each person was invited to say something if they wanted to. The few words that came to me were, “you did it.”

I had studied palliative care and volunteered on a ward for a time, and although a topic most people do not wish to talk about, death and dying consciously was often a great discussion between us. I believe my friend had a calm death without the need for medical intervention. I would even go as far to say she would not have had any existential anguish either.

You might want to label this wishful thinking but if you knew my friend intimately, you would know this is who she is, who she became.

Most ironically, when she was diagnosed with her illness she had to cancel her imminent departure overseas, to India. I do not believe it was a coincidence that her last physical breath out was in the very place her heart always longed to be. She had the love of her life, her husband, with her. She had stopped asking why a long time ago, and instead she asked what. She wholeheartedly knew, and had the courage to follow what she was called to do.

My beautiful friend, I love you beyond the words, it seems it is our thing. Akaal.

About love

I have learned someone can love you with their whole heart, and still break yours.

And that hurt they carry has nothing to do with you, but everything about the relationship they have with themselves.

I have learned no amount of love can heal another’s pain.

They have to love themselves enough to find their own way. I can only walk calmly beside them in their distress.

I have learned that is enough.

And that, this is love.

I have learned if someone wants to wreck something incredible I cannot stand in their way.

I have felt the pain of stepping aside, to take care of my own heart. At times, this has meant walking away without them.

Shattered.

And that, you can never predict this moment of truth, and its delivery is a ruthless, harsh blow.

Because of this, I understand the wretchedness of leaving someone, or being left, even though you would give anything for it not to happen.

Even if it is for the best.

Loss and rejection has made my heart tender when once it was hardened by fear.

I have learned you have to save yourself when someone is destructively unravelling.

It is down to you or them.

For in my past, I also have been that person grappling and trying to find my way in love, and failing.

Beautifully, this has somehow gifted me the grace to not be cruel even when I have felt rage beyond my understanding.

For the broken deserve the most love.

However, this does not mean I stand willingly in harms way, or that I will not be fierce in protecting myself.

I understand betrayal is not a story about what is wrong with me, but rather where a person is in profound struggle.

I have cultivated compassion, born in despair, both towards myself and others, welcoming healing rather than remaining bitter.

This is freedom and creates heart space to eventually move on.

I have learned you can love someone with your whole being long after they’ve gone.

And that is okay, it is the way it is meant to be.

I have discovered a gentle space within where you do not have to disconnect from your heart. No matter what you or they have done.

Rather the more you wish them well, the happier you become. I also know reaching this place takes time and emotional fortitude.

I have learned the art of both enormous love and letting go. And eventually being okay with both.

I can live in that contradiction.

For when you open your heart to love, you risk hurt. I have found it is worth the gamble.

I have experienced the opposite too, where I have padlocked my heart. This has meant I closed myself to everything, not just love.

I do not wish to live that lonely way.

There are no guarantees and I have stopped looking.

However, I am learning the way of discernment, for not everyone who stops by is worthy of my heart.

Reaching a place of strength, I would rather allow love to break me open than break me apart. This is within my power. No one can take that away from me.

I have learned a person can only meet you as deeply as they have met themselves.

These days I am able to stand in the invitation of loving someone whilst I take care of myself.

To be fully and humanly present in the ecstasy, mess, joy, and darkness of loving.

And if I find myself bleeding, bruised and broken over love leaving, I will hold myself in the grief of these callings.

From loves departures, I am finally in the place where I feel imperfectly whole on my own.

And ultimately, what I have learned is from this space, where I am already complete, only more love can arrive.

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A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See https://leaning-inwards.myshopify.com/products/youve-got-this-necklace

Smashing it out

“They won’t tell you fairytales of how girls can be dangerous and still win. They will only tell you stories where girls are sweet and kind and reject all sin. I guess to them it’s a terrifying thought, a red riding hood who knew exactly what she was doing when she invited the wild in.” Nikita Gill – Girls of the Wild

With my inherent love for the mountains, how could I say no to our friends asking us to leave town a week before Christmas and camp. Get away from the lead up and the madness? Hell yes. The alternative of staying in the city felt untenable for many reasons. And who could knock back days of swimming in the lake? I was enormously grateful for the invitation as we packed up and left. I had no idea when we booked I would soon be holding a heart laden with grief. This kind of heartache in me belongs in the wilderness, where her tenderness soothes more than any other place I have ever known.

If you’ve read my previous blogs, you’ll know I’m a girl who honors the call to be somewhere out in the wild, and sometimes that shout out requires some serious logistics to pull it off.  In recent years, I’ve woken up to how vital it is for me to put my oxygen mask on first. I spent years putting myself second, and um, very last, with everything. Turns out those airline safety announcements have actually come in handy!

I borrowed an old road bike for this camp to decide if I would take on this cycling gig back home. From our site, I watched my lycra-loving friend take off to ride and up down the mountain. I was filled with both curiosity and envy about what it would be like to do this kind of climb on a bike. The thought was enticing and incredibly overwhelming, it had my attention. I already felt its pull.

Already climbing on foot with hiking, I knew the joy and exertion in reaching a summit. As I watched my buddy ride off, I recognized a glint of excitement in in his eyes, and I vowed I’d be back to ride up this mountain as my first serious cycling goal. I hadn’t even brought my bike yet. You’ve got to be careful what you wish for. You might just get it. Another wild call.

The next directed step just appeared. Why am I not surprised? I registered for the women’s supported ride up the very mountain I set my intention to climb. Yep it just came up in my newsfeed. Three months into my cycling life I found myself standing listening to the briefing, softly sinking into the muddy autumn earth filled with the same sense of adventure that draws me out hiking.

Nothing is ever straight forward when you’re a beginner, there seems to be so many small fine-tune ups to this cycling. My very next lesson involved having so much mud in my shoe I couldn’t clip in. I didn’t discover this until I was in the bunch riding. Oops. I had to drop off once I realized what the problem was. Did I mention rookie? Yep.

As I stood on the side of the road trying to fix my problem, more bunches rode past asking if I was okay. Internal groan. There is so much humility in cycling. I needed help. And then he appeared. A very loud and Irish ride marshal ringing his cow bell at me. Couldn’t we just do this quietly? Apparently not. Mr. Charming handed me the bell and instructed me to shake it at the bunches coming. You know I smashed that out. Cool, so that’s now off my bucket list.

As my shoe was inspected, he decided we needed a pointy object to service it. He reached for his pocket and said, “the pen is mightier than the sword”, I giggled as he got to work.  As the next bunch came along the now Mr. Swordfighter yelled out, “I’m just seeing if the glass slipper fits.” What a dude. With my problem solved, I declared him my hero for the day, and took off to smash out my first real mountain.

As I cycled up, I called out to another rider to let her know I was passing. Spinning her legs, she puffed, “yep, another person going by me, I think I’m close to last now.” This is where all that math came in handy from high school, I churned the numbers in my head, we were probably in the middle, not the fastest, not the slowest. There was a heap behind us. She seemed relieved.

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Fascinated, she told me about a serious bike accident she had just two weeks ago. I told her she was pretty awesome and gutsy. She immediately tried to rebuff it with negativity. I wasn’t having that. I had also come off my bike a week before on the tram tracks. We were both doing our thing climbing that god damn mountain. That’s worth celebrating. And so is reaching the top.

Taking a quiet moment, I acknowledged my efforts to get to this day, and how I am no longer that person who allows fear to tell me what I can’t do. Interestingly, I quickly label fear but I’m starting to see it’s actually excitement. My inner commitment is to find and do what makes me come alive. The strong hold gripping me for years caring about what others might think has all but gone. Now I am motivated by what I believe of myself. This keeps my life continually opening up to more adventure. Bring it on. My part is allowing myself to be a beginner and learner, and that makes me one hell of a happy girl doing her thing.

After rocking that first mountain climb, there was an optional much longer ride the next day so some of us took off early morning. To say it wasn’t daunting or I was very ginger on the huge descent is understatement (think tram tracks) but I still did it. As I pushed myself way out of my comfort zone, I had to trust in the training coupled with the enthusiastic voices I carry within me of my loving friends, and of my own heart knowing I’m doing what I love. The magic for me is in the turning up. Not just with cycling, but everything in my life.

Going back to the top of the first day climb, another cyclist wanted to ride beyond to see what was there. I knew already. I jumped at the chance to ride a few extra kilometers, actually I always do, and yes there were a few eye rolls when I declared a recovery ride for myself later that afternoon. The sun was shining, we were coming down at a cracking pace and there it was, the lake, I almost squealed. I was returning to a place that knew me well. A few months ago, my tears had softly fallen upon this earth and the lake met me exactly as I was.

And here she was again, holding me in another time where my heart was whole and opening to love. This time she received my happiness. I was on my own bike and was reflecting on how I can never know what will unfold at any moment. Through turning up in the messiness, I knew I was finding my way back to trusting in life. I thanked her silently for I suspect she already knew how the timing of my life is always, always perfect.

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A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See https://leaning-inwards.myshopify.com/products/youve-got-this-necklace

The right people

“We’ll be friends forever because you already know too much.” Unknown.

My friend wraps her arms around me, it’s her 70th birthday celebration, without fail she always finds something so loving to say to me when I’m in her embrace.  She is an awesome woman, lived an incredible life with so much dignity, grace and hard work. The smell of her perfume lingers on me for the afternoon as I race about picking up and dropping my kids from the school fair to basketball finals. For some reason, the fragrance gets me thinking about the incredible friendships I have in my life.

Odd how the brain works sometimes. Maybe it’s actually the heart.

As I move with the family’s events, I find different friends popping into my mind with love and appreciation. These friendships span a great number of years and over many, many life events. We’ve travelled, celebrated, grieved, laughed, danced, walked, partied, explored and spent endless hours talking and hanging out. There is a history binding us together underpinning who we once were and who we are are now.

Fair to say I’ve lost a few friendships too, that happens. At times, you just outgrow each other for a number of reasons and I’ve learned the art of letting go. Doesn’t mean it hasn’t hurt or I haven’t experienced the loss but, as I’ve become older I accept that not everyone is meant for the long haul.

And sometimes I’ve even felt enormously grateful they’ve gone.

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Having children changed the way I experienced friendships too. There was no longer the time there once was. I’m pretty sure that cost me a few mates. Having four children in five years pretty much put me in ‘unavailable-just getting by’ mode for quite a time. Then there were the years of post-divorce survival and intense study as I transformed my life.

One friend left telling me I had changed. They were absolutely right, how could I not? I think they might have been saying they needed me to shrink back to the way I was to them. I actually didn’t ask, the attack came thick and fast and I decided to step back, let it all go to the wicket keeper and see what was left. Nothing apparently. As another beautiful friend always says, onwards sister.

These long-time friends have been the kind to not demand my time when I was running on limited output. They are the people who I can call at any time and I know they will not only answer, but have my back to the end of this earth, and then some. They can experience me emotionally unkempt and jagged as I grapple with what life may have thrown at me for that day, month or year.

They can distinguish my sobs on the end of the telephone long before I’ve thought to say it’s me.

Even as I unravel in tears they will at the same time have me gasping for air by making me laugh as we face life on life’s terms together. They can hold me in all my despair, joy and grief but also do not feel obliged to find my answers or solve my problems. We have learned to be there without co-dependency enmeshing itself to our souls. We are free to disagree, to share our wild and fierce opinions and dreams, and even if we don’t really understand why, we will back up in each other’s lives anyway.

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“If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.” Winnie the Pooh

These are the people who don’t think twice when I tell them about what my next adventure will be. They are the ones who believe I can do what I set out to do. We celebrate who we are: gutsy, wholehearted and true to ourselves. We don’t tell each other to stop, reign ourselves in, or roll our eyes saying, “you should have this sorted by now.”

There is a calm acceptance of where we are at, and sometimes that is at the seemingly bottom of the barrel facing a struggle, maybe a thousand times over. We know life is shockingly difficult at times, as we’ve faced destruction and deep loss, both unexpectedly and by the decisions we or others have made. We have never given up on each other.

We know we are messy as we strive to live this beautiful life, and we just hope it’s not all of us of the same day. So far, so good on that one.

We are an interesting bunch, all ages, spread across many places, with extraordinarily different education and careers. Some of us have kids and we understand what it is to parent day in and day out, to lose your stuff and feel like we’re failing. And we also get to share when we ace it too, and everything in-between.

Some of us were unable to have children, and we’ve walked with each other whilst facing the unbearable loss of both miscarriage and the opportunity. Some have decided to not have a family, and we’ve celebrated this decision as well. Us parents might have put them off!

The mix is rich, the variations are deep, and that is our bond.

These people are the ones I trust when I lose my equilibrium, when all about me seems unfathomable and shaky. We understand there are times where we find ourselves in the darkness and we call to each other so we know we aren’t alone there. Sometimes we pull up a seat and a coffee and sit there, in silent support. This can be enough.

We trust in each other’s goodness and ability to find our way through. We respect that sometimes one of us is not available, perhaps reached emotional or physical capacity, and there are times of retreat.  Other than checking we are okay, we don’t take this personally, and if we do, we talk about it when the time is apparent.

We are not perfect, but I know we are no longer striving to be. We have ditched the rule book and found ways to be who we are in relationship, without drama and emotional chaos. Quite frankly, we have full lives and there isn’t much time for that. I am not talking about a hundred friends, but a good few who have become a part of me for all of time.

They are the ones who have left footprints on my heart and very bad jokes on my voicemail and inbox. They will tell me the truth, even if it hurts, but that same breath will be backed up with love.

These are the friendships I cannot live without.

All images via Pinterest
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A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See https://leaning-inwards.myshopify.com/products/youve-got-this-necklace

For the love of lycra

With everyone sound asleep I leave the house at 6am. The streets are mostly still. I rely on the bike light as I cycle towards trendy Beach Road. The only sound is the changing of my gears against the backdrop of birds singing the world awake. It’s Saturday morning and I’m avoiding bunches who usually start at seven. I figure if I’m out early I can ride quietly and not be overwhelmed by numbers.

As I roll to a stop, giving way to a small group barreling down the road, the silence is shattered by the sound of each rider saying good morning. I look around to see if there are others behind me. No, it’s just me. I’m taken aback by their friendliness and impressed they can even speak at the speed they’re going.

This is how my day begins, riding beside the ocean with the sun rising and the sound of the cyclists all wishing me well as they fly on by. Yeah kind of shows you how fast I am not going. There is something about it, almost intangible as I peddle along, that is pulling at me with each greeting. There is a kindness in such a simple gesture. There are some who don’t say a thing as they pass but the ones who make the effort impress me. It doesn’t take much and it creates a connection, even just for that moment. Reminds that I am not alone. I feel happy.

I am seeing connection everywhere these days. Worlds opening up. The support has been incredible and the enthusiasm for a woman getting on a bike is second to none. I’ve been out riding with a couple of different women’s groups, learning skills and increasing fitness. There has been nothing but encouragement, and a lot of laughter.

As a side note, how awesome are some of the clothing kits. Wild. Just quietly I don’t mind a six foot man in lycra. Am I allowed to admit that? Now I’m a lycra girl with nowhere to hide.  However, here is a tip, you should never refer to Rapha as Ralph in the bike store, it stops conversation. No need to thank me.

Back to my new efforts, most of my life I have suffered from black and white thinking, my mind doesn’t seem to like the middle ground. To my credit, through the years I have learned to see when this polarized mindset kicks in and to ignore the initial cognitive assessment. This was once again evident when I borrowed a 17-year-old bike from a friend to see if cycling was a hit before I brought myself one. Gosh if Sister Lorraine and Father Michael could see me now, so sensible.

This borrowed bike was the clip-in-your-shoe-on-the-pedal kind so that took some getting used to. Yep I took a few falls. My shins, hips and hands covered in bruises for a good few weeks. Ouch. I’m glad one my cycling friends gave me the heads up about not unclipping fast enough. He laughed twice, first when he warned me that falling over was all part of learning and all riders do it. Thanks buddy. I didn’t feel so stupid when it happened. And again. And again. And secondly, he was amused when I reported in with each fall but he also tempered his response with be safe out there, and seriously, what about a bike path? Now that was a good idea.

Three falls in fact, each with embarrassment written all over them. One was outside a building site, and yeah you can imagine. My last one was on a two-laned main road. I had traffic behind me, I timed the turn really well, coaching myself in my head, you’ve got this G and then some pedestrians stepped out onto the road. I needed to stop suddenly and couldn’t unclip fast enough. Yep, I just fell sideways, in what felt like slow motion, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. I happened to be wearing bright pink so you couldn’t miss the chick cyclist falling. What was I saying about wild kits?

As I lay there humiliated with cars and trucks stopped behind me, that black and white thinking kicked in. Blow this, I quit, it’s too hard and I do not know what I’m meant to be doing. I pulled myself up, utterly frustrated, and limped off the road to safety with the voice of a kind driver asking if I was alright. I wanted to scream back I’m not alright, this was a stupid idea but I forced a smile and thanked her for asking. My thoughts continued to swirl, why wasn’t I getting this cycling gig? Surely at 46 this is just a ridiculous undertaking! Um, hello girl, you’ve been on this bike for two weeks, on your own. Get help. Sometimes I annoy myself with missing the obvious.

Now weeks on, yes it’s still early days, I’m riding my new bike, it’s a brilliant red by the way, and that help continues to arrive. I have joined a cycling club that runs an awesome beginners group. You know that means more rowdy kit. Facing my fears, I’m learning the skill of riding in a bunch and meeting so many great people. The polarized thinking has relaxed a little now that I am not on my own. I have a couple of cyclist friends who have been so generous in riding with me, and teaching me how to ride safely and confidently on the roads, and cycling paths (yes I took that suggestion on board too).

On my first beginners bunch ride, an older gentleman with the kindest demeanor rode beside me for a time. He asked if he could give me some advice, sweet. Sure, I said. He told me that my bike was my friend, it wanted to help me so how about you stop strangling the handlebars, and relax your shoulders a little. He had me laughing. He was right. I was murdering them with tension.

Now when I ride I have his calm voice in my head. It has been like that with each person who has taken the time to help me. I am grateful I didn’t quit on that last fall, and my next goal is to climb Mt Buffalo, and a few others (wink, wink) before I head to Europe mid-year to hike. Hopefully, I might be able to meet up with others and tackle a mountain or two on a bike. I wonder if there is a kit for that?

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I never thought I’d see the day she photographs her own bike!
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A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See https://leaning-inwards.myshopify.com/products/youve-got-this-necklace

Being too much

Courage is not shaped by a Wonder Woman cape, it is an everyday girl facing that which terrifies her and saying yes anyway.” Quote unknown.

Two years ago, at age 44, after completing only two overnight hikes of around 20kms each I was compelled to travel to the Italian Alps. Originally, I looked at a hike in Sardinia but June was going to be too hot. Look up North they said, the Dolomites, there are some good walks up there. The Alta Via 1 is around 150kms. I never questioned my ability aside for a few jokes with my friends, I just took it in my stride I would do it.

In hindsight, when you are hiking a path of this scale, it might have been prudent to buy the topographical maps first and have a look. I cannot explain to you the drive that propelled me to choose this one. I did not question the call and I booked my flights. In the end I think my hike was about 200kms. You’ll read why.

I make myself sound like I didn’t do any research. I read a lot. I put out a call on Facebook and sure enough a friend of friend had done it the year before. Awesome. He sent me a billion photos and answered my questions. Did he use a compass? Was the trail hard? Trail markings clear? Problems with altitude? He answered in word, sending more photos of him hanging off cliff faces, holy crap, he looked fit.

I found a reputable tour company and booked a self-guided walk. This meant people knew I was out there and I was expected nightly at each Refugio. Perhaps the question ought to have been, should a gal who has been hiking less than year take on this trip solo?  Maybe subconsciously I knew what the answer would be so I never asked. I refused to listen to fear.

Of course, I trained, well what I thought was training for this hike. I took hikes with a hiking group who all reassured me that I could easily do the AV1. A few of them had done it but I failed to see they did it in a group. I added in stair work and hiking on sand, and for the record that did not prepare me for snow, nor did my regular Bikram yoga classes. Damn it, the snow was a hard slog.

However, as always, yoga prepared for me the mental anguish and despair I faced. I had learned to not give up, acknowledge the pain, name the struggle but keep on going. I also hiked amazing routes above Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast before the AV1, covering many kilometers with steep ascents and descents. The rest of the fitness came on the hike.

A handsome Italian guide, Andrea, briefed me on the maps marked out with highlighter, saying it was easier to follow and he did it for all his clients. Looking at the map, I thought maybe he was just sick of going to search for lost hikers. This was not just one straight path, it was crazing making spaghetti like trails. The map was a one big mass of green and grey with trails of blue, red and a little bit of orange. What the hell do they all mean anyway?

I was about to find out. I have a friend who talks about waking up bit by bit when you’re on a spiritual path, and maybe this was true for your first real hiking path too. There is no argument I wasn’t awake about how demanding it would be. The alarm was about to scream so loud I would be fully awake soon enough.

Back to Andrea, he asked if I had hiked before, um yes. Was I okay about being out there on my own and did I understand that people die on this trail? Sure, I said. I mean the hotel receptionist just called me the adventurous type. I guess that was the Italian assessment of my hiking ability. He said I could call him any time, as long as there was phone range, and if I needed him he could come to me.

He then cheekily suggested meeting me at the end of the AV1 for some via ferrata (Italian for climbing route instead of hiking). I nearly choked on my food. I remember thinking he definitely had an element of likable crazy to him. He laughed, said it would be fun. I did wonder if that was opposed to this not being fun. You know I’m so going to try via ferrata next time!

Had I thought this through? Yes and no. I believed a hike in the Dolomites would be spectacular and beautiful, pretty meadows, stunning mountains and cow bells. What I didn’t know was it would push me beyond all my physical and mental limits, allowing me to witness courage, exceptional fortitude and to uncover how self-doubt can easily rob me of encountering how capable I actually am. This was mighty girl stuff.

There’s a lot out there about moving outside your comfort zone, well this hike took me to a totally new level of discomfort. I experienced a few utterly desperate moments where I just had to surrender and lapse into absolute powerlessness. Paradoxically, I then watched the magic arise through bravery in action: making decisions, finding solutions, losing my temper and returning to a calm state once again. I nearly threw my hiking poles over the side of the mountain at one point. Not helpful.

With mountain after spectacular mountain, both majestic and daunting, I had many moments of awe in the vast spaces I found myself in, I had to stop walking to take it all in. There was fear bordering on panic when I took the wrong trails, like I could possibly lose my mind at any moment. Well some might have argued I had already lost it. At my lowest moments, I just wanted lie down on the trail and take my last breath. Dramatic I know.

Self-doubt was ever present and dominating, screaming through me at what I loser I was to be out here. Ironically, it is the first time I looked at my self-doubt and knew with absolute truth it was a liar, to be pushing my boundaries like this does not take a loser, it takes a warrior.

Surprisingly, I write that with sarcasm, getting lost was a combination of some poor signage and let’s face it my own inexperience. I felt both enormous joy and sobbed my heart out, sometimes at the same time. My toes caused me excruciating pain in the last few days making me cry even more. I lost five toenails in the end. In contrast, my body was astounding and powerful as I walked up, down, over and through knee-deep snow, mud, massive boulders, little rocks, pathways, streams and meadows.

Climbing heights to 3,000 meters where it became this mystical realm beyond the world as I knew it, in-between layers of cloud, where anything seemed possible. I wandered through green valleys to the sound of only cattle and goat’s bells, curiously raising their heads to watch the lone hiker walk on by as they grazed in the morning sun.

Alone for hours in my own company, with both peaceful thoughts and dark, desperate ones. Forced to find my way when I just wanted to give up exhausted. I distinctly recall climbing one mountain, sobbing, and unreasonably wishing for someone to appear before me and hoist me off the mountain. At the same time, knowing to the contrary the only person who could save me was myself, you know be your own hero, by taking step after step to the top. Relief flooded me as the hut came into sight each day (which also meant a macchiato and Italian cake) as I navigated my way along those trails with wonder, doubt, happiness, confusion, agony, aches, energy and a force I never knew I had.

One of the days I hiked with a gorgeous young lady, Allannah, who was taking the same route, she was a perfect companion and geologist, very handy.  Day eight I hired a local guide, Roberto, knowing I was bordering on physical exhaustion with an 18km trek over five snow slopes, one mighty peak and severe descent. I remember the snow easing the pain in my toes. He even carried my backpack, a hiker’s dream. I declared I loved him in Italian. He couldn’t stop laughing. He spoke very little English but he said the mountains were in his heart. I could tell.

As I followed Roberto I remember thinking this is an exquisite walking meditation as I didn’t have to think. Asking for help was totally unplanned but instinctively the right thing to do for that day. Some trails were busy, some were remote, and regardless I kept on until I found myself grief-stricken with sadness on the last day, not wanting to leave these mountains both holding and changing me.

There were two common questions on my return, “did you know what you were getting yourself in for?” Ha, I have sufficiently answered that. Secondly, “what did I learn from my hike?” I saw both a contradiction and an erroneous belief, I thought the more vulnerable I felt the weaker I would be, but as I pushed myself into the most self-exposure I have ever known, the more robust I became.

Interestingly in this state where my thoughts grew dark I discovered I could hold myself in those spaces, indeed I was strongest in what I would once have labelled as pathetic. Essentially, it did matter how I treated myself in those moments, in dropping into extreme vulnerability I found resilience and self-compassion for the tenacity it took to be on the trail on my own. Experience and living in the unknown, the part that is beyond the plan, is where I found the magic, the inexplicable depths of who I am.

Back at home, I was recounting my tales to a woman in her sixties, with my then 10-year-old daughter snuggled into my side. I was a few months into a new relationship and the question was raised “with all this adventure, do you think you will be too much for him?” Well aware my daughter was listening to every word I replied kindly but fiercely, that I didn’t care about being too much for anyone because this is who I am. I realised how far I had come.

I have spent a great portion of my life pleasing others and thinking I am not enough, and now I was being presented with the idea I might be too much. I know this woman had good intention, I love her dearly, but I also understand this is no longer my story. I do not have to tone myself down for anyone nor do I even have the slightest willingness to do so.

In the relationship mentioned, we had talked about the possibility of hiking the Walkers Haute Route together this year. Little did I know this was going to be our last conversation, a few days later we ended abruptly and for good reason. This was a few months back and with my heart broken open, I booked the flights anyway. I am now happily planning my return back to the mountains of Europe, solo. This time I will take with me confidence and the experience I have earned. I’ve even mapped the route myself!

And that girl cuddled into me, well she is one of three gutsy daughters, and I also have a great son. I know they watch very closely in how I live my life. There is no space within me to give up on my dreams because I am on my own. I am busy seeking adventure and daring myself to keep on turning up to life in a mighty girl way. Some may label that too much. I would call it wholehearted.

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A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See https://leaning-inwards.myshopify.com/products/youve-got-this-necklace

Taking to the trail

A few months ago, I was compelled to make the bold decision to hit the reset button on my life. As it turns out a very powerful resolution for me. I felt shockingly low and disheartened, so very apt when in you’re the middle of transformation. Sometimes the perspective doesn’t arrive until you’re a time down the track. Well I’m here to report I’m down that track, literally, as I’ve just finished the Great Ocean Walk this week, which I’ll get onto shortly.

Back then, my decisions for the future began to be based on a Facebook meme that happened to pop up in my feed on a day where I was feeling reckless and highly charged with emotion.  A simple but powerful saying of “do something today that your future self will thank you for.” Damn it, all my thoughts of retaliation were instantly squashed as I didn’t want to stand in my future with remorse and amends to make. No thanks, my future self said fuck that. Refocused, I planned and booked the hike when I was at an emotional bottom trying to find my way through the transition.

When I hiked out last week I was so excited about taking on the 100km challenge. Who wouldn’t be? Okay maybe not you non-hikers out there! This trek had stunning ocean views with the sounds of the waves crashing onto shore to keep me company. As the saying goes “the cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” The tears were all cried so the sweat and sea were exactly what I needed. The wilderness is where I recharge from this world, and with mostly no phone range on this trek it was a welcomed break from the white noise of life. I simply walked.

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“She doesn’t have a religion. Her faith resides in the stars, flowers, ocean, and herself.”

My hikes are not constant Zen experiences and I can’t take a selfie of the inside of my mind to show you exactly what I mean. I’m talking about the monkey mind and I almost invariably suffer at times from it doing its thing, THINKING. There are no problems with thoughts except when they demand you start to live there. When you are hiking alone there is a lot time to think, daring to take on a life of its own and before I know it I’m in the middle of bad idea getting a worse one. I try not to give myself a hard time and I see it as the spiritual challenge of every hike, that at some point my thoughts are going to run amok.

The morning of day two, I awoke to barrage of thinking and it was not good. The usual suspects were there, “what the hell are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere anyway”, “look at you all by yourself”, “can’t you just live a normal life, why do you have to push yourself all the time”, and that’s just a few. I made my coffee, grabbed my journal (a luxury when weight is vital) and started writing. Out it all flowed, the bullshit, the negativity until I hit the real sore point. Fear. A really big one and nothing to do with hiking. Truth is it had been lurking there for some time and I was scared about pulling it out into the open.

I stared at it, quite startled by its ferocity and I thought how in the hell am I going to get through this one, I’ve never felt this before. Immediately overwhelmed, my eyes were drawn to an etching on the wooden table at camp.  Someone had scratched a circle and within it was a triangle. This very drawing is the symbol for Alcoholics Anonymous, something that is recognizable worldwide to people in twelve step programs. I am familiar with this fellowship for many reasons and seeing it instantly reminded me to just trust. This is all I had to do with this new fear for now. Buoyed I packed up camp and hiked on.

The next morning, day three, I awoke to a heavy heart and loneliness. Whose idea was it to hike anyway? Let’s blame Facebook for that dumb meme several months ago. I was awash in my own pain. I just wished to hike peacefully. With that I penned my thoughts again. I accepted my grief as real but I saw my loneliness as disconnection and I could change that. Coffee in hand (it’s almost always involved in my insightful moments) and I set my intention for the day. I planned to connect to each person I saw if they were responsive to it. I would respect their privacy if they didn’t want to make eye contact but I would at least say hello and chat if they were open.

Now this can be a tricky intention when on a trail because sometimes you don’t see anyone for hours or even all day, or even days. However, not on this morning as I hiked out of camp and almost walked into two people. They had many questions about a female solo hiker on a 100km trek with 20kgs on her back. His parting comment was, “I bet you’re getting sick of talking to yourself”, I laughed, he knew what is was to be human.  A one point as I hiked I named out loud everything I was grateful for in my life, that took some time, and I was feeling pretty blissed out by how beautiful and remarkable my life really is.

This also happened to be my longest hiking day, about 25kms with many quiet hours but as I got to crossing points there were day visitors who loved a bit of chat. At about the 21 km mark I sat at the seat which miracously appeared, thank you, feeling exhausted after clocking up 65km in three days. I knew I had a few kilometers to go, and two of that was on soft sand, said to take a good hour to cross. As I wondered how I was going to pull this off another hiker appeared. This dude had just thrown a rock in his pack and was doing some training for his next hike. My kind of guy. We chatted about the South Coast Trek, which I would love to do so he invited me along in March and then took off.

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“If you have to force it. Leave it. Relationships. Friendships. Yoga Poses. Perfect pony tails. Let that shit go.”

I dragged my weary body into action to finish the day’s hike. As I approached camp I could feel a really lovely vibe. People! A group of about 12 on a catered tour. A delightful man said, “are you Georgina?” um yes, thinking I’m in trouble with Parks. I always go to the dark side first. He smiled and handed me some information from the rock in the pack guy who asked it to be passed along to me. This welcoming man was a mature and humble professor of mathematics, business and philosophy and we became fast friends, as I did with a few others in the group. I didn’t hike with them but I spent two nights in their company, very engaging and interesting people. More connection.

The next day was a remote and difficult track and only the hikers who are prepared to carry everything in get this experience. I was the only one there. I have to say it was the best of all the campsites, perched on a high cliff overlooking the ocean. I soaked up the afternoon rays, daydreaming and watching the sunset. This is true multitasking. I hiked 6 days and the last few were with calm thought. Now being free to reflect, I felt thankful I trusted my future self to know what was best for me in a time where everything felt uncertain.  I could acknowledge my own bravery and tenacity, not only being able to get out on the track solo but in pressing the reset button a few months back. I had no idea when I planned this hike it would be the perfect time for me to see my transformation was complete.

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“And suddenly you just know it’s time to start something new and trust the magic of new beginnings.”
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A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See https://leaning-inwards.myshopify.com/products/youve-got-this-necklace