Four profoundly powerful practices everyone should do at least once

The best things in life are the people you love, the places you’ve seen, and the memories you’ve made along the way

A recent hiking holiday reminded me of several things I already knew but hadn’t fully grasped the significance of. I realised there are four things every woman (and man) should do, at least once in their life but preferably more often, for a powerful realignment to their true north.

1. Sleep with your back to the earth
There is something very settling about sleeping with your back to the earth. On several multi-day hikes around the world my beloved and I have slept in the wilderness with just the thin fabric of a tent between us and the elements. Enclosed in a small space, unadorned with furnishings, without manufactured structures between the earth and ourselves we revelled in the grounding, reconnective and healing nature of this opportunity.

I find now, having done this quite a bit, that I crave to pack up and go outdoors to sleep when things get busy and out of control.   Part of the pull is getting back to basics, it’s partly about shrugging off all the unwanted and unnecessary parts of life but a greater part is about reconnecting with nature. Feeling the warmth drain out of the earth, going to bed with the sinking of the sun and rising with the trill of birds and the breaking of day is powerfully seductive in its simplicity. Why not pitch a tent in the back yard, create a lean- to and crawl under it if you don’t have the time or means to take a camping holiday or throw a sleeping bag on the ground, if you are so inclined.

2. Go hiking and carry your belongings on your back
Like the previous item this action is mind-blowing. Apart from the reality check of hiking where time is inconsequential, devices are left behind and routine turns into a gentle daily rhythm, there is something really sobering about lacing on a pair of hiking boots, slinging a pack on your back and walking in nature for several days.

When on a multi day hike you are limited by how much you can carry. It’s a great lesson in prioritising. Only the essentials are necessary for a more comfortable experience. After my first multi day hike many years ago I realised the towel and the soap and the book I’d packed weren’t necessary. Nor were several other items I thought I had to have. Not only were they adding to the weight of my pack but in the end, I didn’t even use them. More recently I realised I could swap my small brush for a comb to lighten my load. I’d taken a sleeping bag liner that wasn’t necessary with the thermals I’d carried. Why did I pack three pairs of socks when I only wore two? Once you are out on the track things change. A clean set of clothes each day isn’t as important a priority as it usually is. Not looking in a mirror or doing the usual grooming routines, one normally engages in, is liberating and refreshing (well, perhaps not too refreshing for those in close contact with you when there hasn’t been facilities to shower or bathe for several days).

I remember on the Walls of Jerusalem walk in Tasmania, a few years back, having a light bulb moment when I realised that all I needed to survive was in the pack on my back: food, water, shelter. I realised, in that moment, that so much of what I’d acquired over the years wasn’t really necessary. Yes, definitely some things make life more comfortable but going on a walk and having to consider what you’ll be happy to carry up hill and over dale day in day out helps you readjust your values and priorities. The things I long to have with me on my hikes are not things at all but the people I would love to share the experience with. Carrying a pack on a hike is a nice exercise in getting back to basics; something we all need from time to time. I challenge you to pack up and go hiking for a few days, what will you carry on your back? Who will you take with you?

3. See the sun set and rise on top of a mountain
There is something magical about a sunrise and sunset. It doesn’t matter how many you’ve seen, it’s one of those enchanting experiences. Sharing the experience with someone is even more special but sharing both, with someone you love, in the same place, is an absolute must do.

My beloved and I camped atop Brinkley Bluff in the West MacDonald Ranges recently and watched the sunset over a magnificent and vast landscape. We woke early to watch it rise again to warm the earth after a cold and windy night. That experience will stay with me forever. It was a highlight of my life such was the magnitude of it. I totally recommend you do it, you’ll not only be connecting with nature in a very real way but you’ll be investing in a shared experience with your loved one and creating a lasting memory.

4. Be a tourist in your own country.
I love to travel. It’s an enriching experience and it changes you. You can’t go home the same after all you see, do, hear and engage with. Travelling at home and visiting places in ones own country is immeasurably pleasing.

I recently visited the heart of my country, central Australia. I’d learnt about arid zones in school when I was young, I’d seen pictures in books and watched movies set in the various places I visited but nothing prepared me for the experience of actually being there. I was gobsmacked by the beauty, the vastness, the palpable spirit of the place. Of course not everywhere you go at home will have the same impact but it’s definitely worth exploring those places you know about but haven’t actually visited. It helps you have a greater appreciation for the country you live in, its history, its geology, the ecosystems that thrive there, the opportunities and the experiences available.

Many people I know were unaware they could ride a lift to the clock tower of our city hall. Nor did they know there is a magnificent art gallery and museum on the same level as the lift entrance. Discovering and exploring these points of interest creates a greater sense of connection and belonging with where you live. It is an easy way to bring more joy into your life through adventure, curiosity and discovery. I travel for work quite often now and approach each trip away with the attitude of ‘what will I discover there this time?’ Sometimes it’s beautiful botanical gardens, or quirky public art, a zoo, often it’s a peaceful place to watch life unfolding in that place.Where will your curiosity take you? What would you like to explore that’s close to home? Perhaps it’s somewhere in your own city or town.

If you feel rudderless and adrift or stressed out and totally wired why not take some time to get back to basics, to realign, to invest in yourself, to embrace life more, to reignite your sense of wonder and awe with some profoundly illuminating, yet simple practices, such as these. Go ahead. What will you do first?

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The tortoise and the hare both finished the race but…

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Image courtesy of cumberlainincubator

“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.” ― Eddie Cantor

“One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a horse master. He told me to go slow to go fast. I think that applies to everything in life. We live as though there aren’t enough hours in the day but if we do each thing calmly and carefully we will get it done quicker and with much less stress.”

Viggo Mortensen

The tale of the tortoise and the hare, where slow and steady wins the race doesn’t seem to sit well in modern western life.  We wake up, race off to the gym, or work, fit in back to back meetings, gulp down lunch at our desks, collect a handful of groceries on the way home from work, cook dinner while a load of washing is on, make lunches for the following day, complete some unfinished work correspondence or projects. Then, if we are still awake, squeeze in a little reading or television viewing before lopping off to bed to do it all over again the next day.  Faster is better, more is approved of and fitting in as much as possible, in our already busy lives, is seen to be normal, or at least the norm.

On a trek, in Nepal, I realised things can be different.  “Slow, slow” is the mantra. Plodding is accepted and encouraged. There is no hurry. Basically, one’s body does not function well at a fast pace when dealing with altitude.  Mentally this is challenging at first. Slow is so unfamiliar, so strange that the mind does not settle into slow comfortably.

The Nepalese people are a gentle and slow-moving people. Life is hard in the remote villages we visited. They carry massive loads over great distances and food is prepared from scratch. Rice is hand ground in stone mortars for making Momos and bread. Milk is not bought from a local store but milked from yaks and goats. Vegetables and herbs are grown in patches around homes and yak dung is  collected, rolled into balls and flattened to dry in the sun for later use as fuel for fires.

Days are filled with hand washing clothes, preparing food, farming, herding animals long distances and surviving the harsh elements. Nothing is wasted. Resources are respected and utilised to the full. The throw away mentality doesn’t seem to be prevalent. The fast pace I’d left behind was also nowhere to be seen.

Despite the harshness and seemingly difficult lifestyle, compared to my own, the Nepalese are extremely generous, they find joy in the simple things. They value family and relationships weigh in strongly. Time is taken to watch children play, there is much laughter and many ready smiles. Attention is given to the task at hand, without concern for the next.

Once I got my head wrapped around what my body knew was the value of “slow, slow”, the benefits revealed themselves. Each day, we stopped for a tea break. For an hour. Yes. An hour. It was such a terrible waste of time to my pre-programmed run, run, run mode.  Lunch was a leisurely two-hour break.  Hard to fathom when I’ve not taken a lunch break in over ten years.  These opportunities to pause were strange to me. Physically I needed them but mentally I was totally challenged by the down time, at first.  When you stop, you take in the surroundings. When you stop, you talk to people. When you stop, you can meditate and be grateful and breathe deeply. When you stop you get a better perspective of where you are and from where you have come. Making decisions on how to proceed become easier.

Slow and steady has benefits.

One very cold morning, walking up a steep hill, I moved aside to allow an elderly couple to pass. While waiting I rubbed my hands together for warmth. After exchanging namastes  the elderly woman reached up with her right hand and covered both of mine. She made an exclamation which conveyed “cold”. I responded that hers was warm. She rubbed my cold, reddened hands with her strong, broad, warm hand and my heart soared as I stared into her wizened face. We’d connected in that moment on a mountainside far from my daily grind and rapid routine. Had I been focused on racing to my end point, I’d have missed this beautiful exchange.

At morning tea another day having stopped at a tea house I was resting; head reclined and wrapped against the cool breeze, when  I heard a woman’s reproach, one another mother easily discerns. Before I could open my eyes I felt a small hand on my back. When I turned, a small red-cheeked child was beaming at me from under her yak hair beanie, delighted at having surprised and roused me from my slumber.  We two were caught in a moment of mutual fascination and joy.

The long afternoons and  evenings were filled with conversation, laughter, card playing and story telling. The lack of distractions, the forced pause, enabled us to connect with others around us. We could take quiet moments for introspection,  for journaling, for just being.

These moments are not restricted to treks in Nepal. They can be experienced anywhere, if only we make the time to slow down, just a little, to take in all around us, to observe and to consider others. Being more deliberate, slowing down and taking time to pause gives us an opportunity to connect with ourselves, our journey and those around us.

“Yes. but …” I hear you say, “that’s all well and good on holiday.”  I admit, I haven’t exactly taken an hour lunch break since returning but nor have I missed a deadline by slowing down. Each day I consciously take the time to appreciate my world. At lunch, I have taken a moment to look at my food, to notice the colours and the textures before digging in. I’ve enjoyed the smells and savoured that first mouthful. I chew rather than gulp. When my colleagues arrive each day, instead of calling a half-interested greeting over my shoulder, I stop, turn, look at them. Notice them. Then wish them a good morning and inquire about their evening, their health, comment on their outfit or some idea we shared the day before. It’s just a short exchange but it’s a lovely way to begin the day.  On waking, instead of jumping out of bed and racing off to the first task I take a moment to wiggle my fingers and toes. To stretch, to smile and be grateful for a new day. Instead of taking and making calls in the car as I’m travelling to work, I enjoy the time to gather my thoughts and to notice the little things happening in each neighbourhood I pass through. My phone calls are taken later, when I can devote my undivided attention to my caller.

I’ve not become ineffective. If anything my head is clearer, my heart is happier and I feel more connected to my life. My advice would be, in the words of my Nepalese friends, “Slow, slow”. Plod occasionally. Stop briefly. Look and listen often. Breathe deeply and enjoy life.

The tortoise and the hare both finished the race but who enjoyed the journey more?

Shannyn

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.