An inner city walk to soothe the soul, heal the body and refresh the mind

I love going out of my way, beyond what I know, and finding my way back a few extra miles, by another trail, with a compass that argues with the map…”  Rebecca Sonlit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

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After a big week I was physically and mentally drained but I couldn’t resist the urge to get  outdoors and walk. There were strict criteria for this would be walk. I didn’t want anything too taxing nor too far away. It had to be soothing to my soul and pleasing to my eye. The options in my city are endless.

After much consideration I decided to head down to the Southbank precinct and design my own river walk.

The beauty of starting off  at dawn is you get to see the city wake up.  My wander took me through parklands, along the river, past our cultural precinct including art gallery, state library and gallery of modern art, over a funky bridge that replicates the masts of ships and through a mostly sleeping city. It’s wonderful to take in the diverse materials, shapes, colours, angles and soft edges of a quiet city. I enjoyed the opportunity and time to consider the public art along the way.  Too soon however my path took me past dishevelled, disoriented party goers tripping  out of the casino and other establishments. I skipped my way through their meandering routes.  These seedy elements weren’t buoying my soul or my eye and I was just starting to ponder the sense in my decision when, thankfully I plunged myself into the sanctuary of the city botanical gardens. A much appreciated, peaceful haven.

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When my son was young we spent many hours in this garden. I hadn’t  been there for years so it was lovely to reacquaint myself with the different elements of this little piece of heaven before emerging in the grounds of a university, strolling across another funky bridge and back to my starting point. It was here, back at the beginning, that I had planned to dip my feet into the pool, our city beach.

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On route to the beach I was tickled to discover a herb and vegetable garden. Basil, parsley, eggplant, tomatoes and all manner of edible delights were arrayed in a little grotto.  A second treat emerged in the shape of a (man-made) pebbled lined stream. My shoes came off and I gingerly stepped in for a relaxing reflexology foot massage. It was divine.

Shoeless, I skipped across to the beach, dug my toes in the sand, wadded across the way and felt satisfied with my decision not to hike a mountain or to drive off to the beach, an hour away. My body, mind and soul were rejuvenated and energised by my early morning, inner city, river walk.

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Create your own adventure, there are so many to choose from. You might wander down  previously untrodden  laneways, get lost in your own city, village or suburb and at the end of it all, you can sit back with a cup of tea and revel in your discoveries.

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Warning! This mountian has fine print.

Education is when you read the fine print.  Experience is what you get when you don’t.   Pete Seeger

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I ran into a bit of trouble on a mountain recently. It isn’t the sort of trouble you’d expect.  First, let me tell you about my adventure.

So, I hiked another mountain.  I know, I’m kind of obsessed now with this whole walk up a mountain thing. You may have guessed that this isn’t such a grand undertaking when one considers I live in Australia. We don’t have what anyone else in the world would class as mountains. No really, it’s quite awe-inspiring for me to travel and stand at the base of a Canadian, Nepalese or New Zealand mountain. Not to mention a French Alp or the the grand mounds of the Dolomites in Italy. In comparison our mountains here in Australia are mere hillocks. Nonetheless, this little challenge, that started off as a way of gaining fitness for an up coming Nepalese hike, has turned into a far more personal challenge.  Plus, it’s fun too.

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Woolumbin, also known as Mt Warning, is one of the highest (1156 m) and easily accessible mountains to my home. I set off at dawn for the two hour drive full of excitement and a little trepidation. While I wasn’t setting out to break any records, I wasn’t sure how I’d go after twelve months of inactivity. Basically, I planned to unashamedly plod my way to the top.  From a number of websites I gleaned the walk is considered strenuous, requires good levels of fitness and  takes approximately 5 hours return.  I managed to complete the ascent in just under two hours and my descent took bang on two. Not bad for a plodder.

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The mountain is cloaked in rainforest. It is one of the most beautiful rainforests I’ve explored. It is also one of the noisiest. I was  accompanied by the loud call of lyrebirds, whip birds and a smaller species I could not identify by its trill. I saw small finches and lovely little speckled birds that braved the understory and hopped about on the track. There were bold and brazen bush turkeys as well.  The flora is abundant and lush. Being a subtropical rainforest there are palms, and vines and great trees with buttressing trunks. There were many red and blue berries and red nut casings along the path. I saw small ferns and violet ground covers as well as magnificent samples of fungi and lichen in places.

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The day was overcast with an 80 percent chance of showers. The hike up was fairly dry but the waterfalls were running and there was much water over the track.  The initial section of the walk, about the first kilometre, gets the heart racing. The ascent rises quickly, the way paved with innumerable, uneven steps. Before long the hammering pulse in my head slowed to a more regular cadence as the path evened out into zigzagging switchbacks and a rhythm to my swagger returned, until the summit approach.

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The last push to the top is very steep and rugged and virtually straight up. A chain provides one with the means to haul oneself up the rocky incline.  Knowing there would not be a view did not dampen the experience of reaching the top. There is a peace and a quiet on top of the mountain. It is a sacred place. Close clouds shrouded the pinnacle enveloping me in a sacred silence one rarely finds unless meditating. There is a palpable presence on the top of the mountain. One does not feel quite alone. After drinking in the atmosphere, marvelling at the blinding whiteness of the cloud, resting just a bit and feeling pretty chuffed that I’d made it, I found it really hard to leave this magical place. It was precious to have the crest to myself, considering the number of other hikers I’d met on the way.

The descent is probably more demanding than the way up as the steep decline turns your legs to jelly.  A decent rainfall cooled my downward journey and when I returned to the car park I was grateful for flat ground. Needless to say, after a year of inactivity my muscles felt bruised for several days afterward.  A small price for such a wonderful adventure.

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Woolumbin is situated in northern New South Wales in an area refered to as the Northern Rivers. It is a short drive from the quaint yet bustling regional town of Murwillumbah. It is a place I know well from many holidays visiting my grandparents when I was young. Honestly, this is one of the most visually appealing places to visit. It is always lush and green, it is both inviting and enchanting.

Woolumbin, named Mt Warning by Captain James Cook in 1770 to warn other mariners of the dangers posed by nearby reefs, is, I discovered, the relic core of a volcano. Also, being so high, it is the first place in Australia to see the sun each morning. Aptly, the mountain is sometimes refered to as ‘cloud catcher’ as it is often cloaked in cloud. I haven’t seen the top of the mountain too many times due to cloud cover. Even on very fine days one can always see a few clouds gathering at her apex.

Now, for the fine print.

It was not until after I’d ‘summited’ and scrambled down the chained, rocky outcrop that I read a sign and learned with rising horror that climbing to the top of  Wollumbin is against the wishes of the Bundjalung elders.  I was quite upset that I hadn’t known this earlier. I felt disrespectful for not investigating more deeply prior to my arrival.  I was dismayed I hadn’t read the small print. On my descent I checked each sign and, sure enough, below all the large warnings of making sure you leave in the day light and to stay on the path and the marker indicating the half way point, clear as the nose on my face, there is, in smaller print, a statement indicating that the Bundjalung elders  request visitors and the uninitiated do not climb to the top. In my defense, the placement and size of print used on the signage is where, in Australia, the name of the local council or parks and wildlife name would be and so, is easily overlooked.

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I know, I know, there really is no excuse for ignorance. Though there is certainly a disparity here between aboriginal law and national park regulations. One requests no climbing and the other doesn’t restrict access.  Amid my growing unease at  having disrespected the laws of native people I reflected that I was reverent in my interaction with nature, in awe of the spirit of the place and full of gratitude for my time there.  Valuing and respecting aboriginal traditions and wishes is an important step in building relationships, promoting understanding of aboriginal culture and sharing our love of this land.

Captain Cook may have named the mountain Warning in 1770 to alert others to the dangerous reefs off the coast but my ‘warning’, to would be hikers, is to be aware that Woolumbin is a sacred aboriginal mountain that is still used for rituals and ceremonies.  To be informed is better than to be ignorant.

When we wander on this amazing planet of ours it serves to ask “Upon whose land do we walk?” “Whose country is this?”  “Who walked here before me?” It certainly brings a deep and rich experience to our travels.

I now seek some means of making recompense for my intrusion while continuing to love and explore the wonders of this amazing planet of ours.

Wishing you happy travels.

 

Routine is Deadly, Create your own Happy Maps

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Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.

Albert Einstein

How often does the busyness of life dictate that we get from A to B via the shortest possible route?

We are so conditioned to shaving time off travel and maximizing our days that routine becomes the norm. Routine certainly has its place, its predictable, familiar and allows us to slip into automaticity. We can zone out because we are on familiar ground.

I love routine. Well, that’s not entirely true. I used to really thrive on routine and structure. I had every part of my life so very structured that it “flowed” without hiccough. After years and years of this and losing myself in the sameness of each day I started to branch out and seek little moments of beauty, change and difference. I chose joy over the safety of monotony.

imageDaniele Quercia gave a really cool TED talk entitled Happy Maps. Who wouldn’t want to listen to a talk with that title, right? As an inner city bike rider he got to thinking about how our mobile devices and GPS’s provide us with the simplest route between A and B, often this is the shortest route. By accident one day he veered off the simple route and discovered a quiet, un-trafficked road. Prompted by this discovery he is creating an app that offers users an option to the simple path – the most enjoyable path. He plans to offer different paths: the happiest path, the most beautiful path or the quietest path between two points. Decisions are based on random sampling of the public. What a smashing idea!

Daniele’s talk made me realise I’ve been doing this intuitively the last few weeks. Having begun in a new workplace I have an interesting journey to work. No longer do I turn up to a workplace with a designated car park. Now I park a good fifteen-minute walk from my building. This was initially a shock to my system. But the beauty of this current situation strikes me each day.

Not only has an old routine been changed, I now have so many routes from car to work available to me that I’m constantly changing things up to suit my mood, the weather and to account for the different times of day and foot traffic. I can make decisions based on the quietest path, the most relaxing (with green space) the funkiest option past groovy bookstores, cafes and neat architecture. There is one highlight of my daily journey that never changes. I pass by the Conservatorium of Music and by some amazing feat of engineering, whether by design or otherwise, there is a spot on the footpath where, by way of a piece of metal decoration, chamber music from within is channeled onto the street. Each afternoon I receive strange stares from passersby who wonder at my loitering on the street. Obviously they have not discovered the beauty and wonder of this seemingly anaesthetic piece of sidewalk.

Another afternoon I was delighted by a simple discovery. Instead of turning right out of my building I went left and around the block and came across a sight I’ve not see before. For twenty-five years I have seen a Brisbane landmark, the needle, towering over buildings from many locations. Imagine my surprise to find myself at its base for the first time in a quarter of a century. Incredible. Yes, yes, I know small things do excite me!

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Quercia, in his address, implores listeners to avoid the danger of the simple path, he encourages us to escape the fabricated world and experience our journeys.

Embracing change is hard when routine is habitual but hey life is too short to lose ourselves in the monotonous, the mundane, the simple path. Just one day a week go a different way. Stop to look at the way the buildings are placed in the landscape, check out that piece of public art you pass each day without noticing, browse the window display in the bookshop on the way. If you are driving do all this with care and caution of course.

Go well. Choose your own happy maps. Create change in your life. It really is as good as a holiday.

Haves, have nots and humanity in the city

Image by fastcodesign

Image by fastcodesign

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. Dalai Lama

I have a story to share. I hesitated at first because I didn’t know how it would be perceived. I didn’t want anyone to think it was about me. Because it’s not.  Well, it says a lot about me, I guess, but the gorgeous soaring love I felt for humankind  arose, not from my actions but as a result of another’s.

I shared my story with a friend and she said to me: “Blog your story. That is a beautiful story, you must share it. Kindness does not go unrewarded! It makes me all teary again, how the haves are sharing with the have nots cos they want to and it feels right.”

So, one day, not so long ago…. there was a homeless man on the street. He had a message scratched on a sign, I glanced and walked away. How do explain myself? I can’t except to say I have always felt confronted by homeless people. I’m not sure why or where that comes from. I’m not an unkind person or lacking compassion but I do have a serious issue with knowing how to respond to someone in such need. How much is enough, is a little adequate?  Excuses I know.

Anyway, I felt guilty that I didn’t stop. But the further away I got the more embarrassed I was to turn back. I told myself stories to abate the guilt – I only had large bills or credit cards. I don’t really like to give money. Etc etc. I was surprised to sense a little voice in the back of all of this justification saying if he was there the next day I’d stop and read his sign.

As it turns out he wasn’t there but the day after that he was.

I’d left work early for an appointment but I stopped and tried to read his sign, it made little sense to me.  However, I spoke with him and told him I’d seen him a couple of days ago. I asked him where he slept and if he got any benifits. Then, as if watching myself from out of my body, I heard myself asking him if he’d eaten that day. He said he had but not much. I suggested we go see if the posh cafe I’d just walked past was still open. He agreed and quickly gathered his meagre belongings.

When we entered the cafe the guy behind the counter eyed us strangely and I almost thought he’d ask us to leave. When I asked for sandwiches he said he had none. I could see sandwiches, rolls and wraps in the fridge behind him. He told me they were stale and no good for eating. He said he wouldn’t even give them to me as they were too dry.  I turned to the homeless man and explained the situation. I was a little unsure how to proceed. Then I saw a cabinet with delicate sweets, I didn’t want to buy him sweets with no nutritional value but I spotted salads on the bottom shelf so I asked him if he’d like a salad. Yep. He did.

The young man who served us was so lovely, he kept calling the homeless man sir and asked him if he’d like to eat in or takeaway, if he needed a fork etc. He said he would add a danish and a croissant for later. He asked us if the meal would be eaten shortly or carried a long distance. He was concerned, as it had egg in it and didn’t want any health issues arising from overheated, unrefrigerated food. I asked my companion if he’d like a drink and we got a cappuccino, with two sugars. Again our waiter was charming and continued to address the gentleman by the title of sir, ensuring he had what he wanted. He made the coffee beautifully. Taking care to add just enough extra milk to top it up, wiping the cup free from spillage. He packaged it all up in a carry bag with a napkin and utensils and wished the man an enjoyable meal.

Once his package was in hand  the man left and I turned to the waiter to pay for the meal.   The lovely young man, who had treated a homeless man with dignity and respect looked at me, waved his hand and said, “There is no charge. You are a good woman. It’s on us”. I was blown away. Honestly, how lovely is that? How often have you witnessed something so beautiful? I walked  up the street on clouds of gratitude and love, with a swelling heart, marvelling at the depths of human kindness and grinning like a Cheshire cat.

Aren’t humans marvellous?

This whole interaction occured as if within a bubble.  We three were connected for a short moment in time. A time within time. I felt buoyed by the love, respect and kindness I’d witnessed. I was reminded that we are all equal and that everyone, regardless of background, means or circumstance deserves to be treated with respect. I was reminded that we can share intimate meaningful moments by treating others as we would like to be treated. Gosh, imagine what we could do in the world if we were all a little more like the young waiter who served us.

(Here I am talking of intimate moments with two souls and I didn’t even asked either gentleman his name.)

What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity.
These are but trifles, to be sure; but scattered along life’s pathway, the good they do is inconceivable.  Joseph Addison

Embracing beautiful connections and never underestimating small actions.

Blessings to you all,

Shannyn