Returning to New Zealand

Returning to New Zealand

When I think of moving back to New Zealand it creates a well of emotion. It’s been a long time since I lived there and in many ways, I was a different person then. I left New Zealand unsure of myself and without any understanding of where things may lead. Five years later I return with a lot more tools to deal with situations and a world of new experiences. I’m not entirely sure what New Zealand holds for me, but in many ways, I feel like I no longer belong there. I know that sounds ridiculous as that’s where I was born and my beloved family is there, but aside from that, it feels foreign move back there to live. But then, what is home anyway, right? 

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” – Miriam Adeney

I remember when I first moved to the UK it held very little interest. I was only going there to get out of Sydney, and I wished to see more of the world while it was possible (visas, etc). I intended to move to Canada and was more or less just moving to the UK purely so I didn’t miss out on its youth visa. I had no interest in the UK or Europe, I craved the mountain-scapes and wilderness of Canada. It didn’t take long, maybe a week until there was an overwhelming feeling I don’t think I had experienced before, it felt like home. This was peculiar to me as even before I was 20 years old I’d moved house well over 17 times. I think I wasn’t used to feeling settled in one place, to the extent that I even made an effort to decorate my bedroom. I’m sure that seems foreign to many, but when you move as much as we did, living in everything from caravans to barns, not to mention all the places I lived as a student, it just doesn’t really make sense to make an effort with my living space.

“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” – James Baldwin

There are so many things I love about the UK, the diversity of cultures and languages, the ancient trees, the wild parks, and the beautiful old homes, the public transport system (that actually works), and the fact that so many are willing to make an effort to make new friends. Then there is the freedom that comes with living in the UK. The feeling like whatever you desire is possible, even when your current situation feels so far from your goals. I met so many amazing people from so many backgrounds and was able to discuss ideas openly and honestly and in a lot of ways it completely changed my worldview. There was an opportunity to surround myself with so many amazing individuals and create an diverse bunch of friends so many belief systems, ideas and thoughts to discuss. I understand a lot of these examples are my own experiences and subjective but I found the UK such an amazing place to grow and learn. 

“Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.” – Anne Morrow Lindbergh

In a lot of ways, for me, New Zealand feels quite the opposite, withdrawn, recluse, and a place where life has a different intention. I know I sound whiny, but I accept that to not acknowledge these feelings would be to ignore a side of myself just to please an external force and that isn’t the point of these posts, but with that, I’m sure there are a lot of positives to returning too. I cannot wait for the fresh air and crystal clear waters, the hiking, and biking, friends and family, but I’d be lying if I wasn’t apprehensive about returning to a country where making an effort to improve yourself, your life, and achieve your goals is seen as a character flaw by many, where you have to sit in traffic for hours because there isn’t adequate public transport, and where, I fear, a lot of the freedom I have experienced will be lost.

I guess, like everything, this is where “the real work” begins, right? The integration of tools, ideas, and growth put forward into a challenging environment that is less open to such concepts and ideas, and maybe this return is the most important part. I always thought I’d find a way to stay this side of the world longer, and maybe I will, maybe this is part of some bigger plan greater than myself. For a long while its felt like my sister and I would benefit from reconnecting, so I’m looking forward to seeing more of her. Maybe its this very return and integration that is what my soul so needs to move forward.

I’d always planned to return to NZ in the long run. I think it’s one of the greatest countries in the world, but I’d always wanted to do so after I had found “success”, what that means to me I am still growing to understand, and I guess that’s entirely subjective as I have had, any “successes” in these past few years. Interestingly, since around the start of the year, I’ve had a feeling like I would be returning to NZ sooner that I would have liked, a feeling I spent the majority of this year suppressing. In writing this post I see by the way that I speak about New Zealand that there are many things I need to work on to let go of these unhealthy emotions and ideas.

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” – Maya Angelou

For now, I all I can do is be grateful, grateful for the friends I made, the conversations I had, and the experiences I was able to enjoy, from a garden party in Stockholm, Sweden, to a stranger buying me a bottle of water in Brooklyn, NYC, grateful for all these connections and memories that would never have been possible had I not stepped both feet into the unknown and booked that one-way flight seemingly at random while living in a tent in Byron Bay, Australia. I’m so truly grateful for all of it, the joy and the challenges, the love, the loss, none of it could have been experienced without first leaping in faith. So I guess that’s what I’ll do now, I’ll make that same leap of faith. 

“To live, to TRULY live, we must be willing to RISK. To be nothing in order to find everything. To leap before we look.” – Mandy Hale

I will do my best to put aside my own preconceived ideas and biases, It’s been 5 years since I lived in New Zealand, nine since I lived in Auckland, and I’m sure a lot has changed. I will do my best to move with the gratitude that I am from this beautiful little corner of the world where thousands if not millions could only dream of calling home and would be grateful to live with such freedom. Its time to practice that trust that things will all work out once more.

“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float” – Alan Watts

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Being aware of the content I consume

Being aware of the content I consume

When we speak of consumption it’s normally in reference to the foods we eat, and the liquids we drink, but what I’ve been focusing on lately is the consumption that comes in the form of entertainment/media.

“Social media not only snatches your time, but it also teaches you attention deficiency.” – Neeraj Agnihotri

We all know and have for a long time, the powers of social media and entertainment such as films, tv shows, and the news, but I think sometimes we underestimate the impact it can have on us. It is influencing not only the items we purchase, the foods we eat, and where we holiday, but also the characteristics we find desirable in potential partners, the current events issues we focus on, and most importantly, how we feel. The opportunity for influence is everywhere, from targeted advertising so subtle that laws had to be passed to ensure ads on social media were labeled as such, to movies depicting idealised relationships.

I have chosen to be extremely aware of the content I choose to consume, whether it be opting for documentaries over violent movies, what ads I allow on my Facebook feed, and especially, what accounts I follow on Instagram. Sure, some meme accounts belittling the mundanity of life might seem funny, but how is that impacting your subconscious. As the focus on mental health awareness increases, I’ve noticed an increase in accounts creating content mocking personal growth. This includes content like faux conversations with therapists discussing topics like creating healthy boundaries or creating coping mechanisms with punchlines of the clients ignoring their advice and taking unhealthy actions. I know many would argue that these are just a way to lighten your day and are insignificant, but I believe they have a compounding effect and are mitigating our opportunity for growth through the perpetuation of unhealthy ideas.

“You are what you share.” – Charles Leadbeater

As if that wasn’t enough, there are all the beautiful people scattered throughout your newsfeed who we constantly measure our own attractiveness against. Many of us are not aware of the extent of how manipulated these images or videos often are, not to mention surgery, implants, and steroid usage (and that includes both sexes). There are now apps which allow you to live to edit your appearance including facial features such as your eye shape, jawline sculpting, and even altering your complexion whilst recording video. Who’s to say the amount of damage this may cause as we grade ourselves and those around us against individuals who don’t even exist in real life. I used to follow these sorts of accounts, that was until I realised how it was affecting my own relationships in the real world.

Personality Joe Rogan before face tuning
Personality Joe Rogan after face tuning

While I’m at it, I may as well say that it’s been a long while since I watched pornography, not to say that I don’t still entertain myself, just that I don’t use external sources (TMI? sorry but someone has to talk about it). The main reasons that I stopped are that it creates and perpetuates a connection of sex without intimacy, can lead to depression, devalues real-life partners through living in a fantasy world, can lead to sexual dysfunction and impotence (!!!!), and can increase sexual perversion. Not to say kinks aren’t perfectly healthy, it’s just that these include the likes of rape and sexual violence fantasies. Find out more here and here.

“What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish.” – W. H. Auden

When it comes to movies and tv shows it’s fascinating to look back and think how far we have come. I remember when I was about 20, I walked out of the cinema during Hills Have Eyes because I was so disturbed by the senseless violence. Now in the last 10 years, that level of violence has become commonplace. We are so desensitised from violence. Hollywood has begun to normalise rape and pedophilia to the point where now when those same celebrities get put on trial for it we hardly bat an eyelid. Even without going to that extreme, let’s just consider the implications of the perpetuation of stereotypes, no wonder people are so confused and divided, whether you like it or not, consuming these narratives passively in front of a screen is going to influence your perception and bias.

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” – E.F. Schumacher

When it comes to current events I think it’s important to consider that only a hundred years ago we were more or less entirely cut off from the outside world. We were extremely limited to the goings-on of the outside world, and now, in our highly connected world, we are given the issues of over 7 billion people. Sure, I agree it’s important to stay informed, but at what point does this constant stream of information start to take up too much of our energy and affect our mental health, our brains literally haven’t been developed for it.

Personally, and I know many will disagree, I chose to limit the news I watch and have blocked all mainstream media from my Facebook feed and Instagram. This may seem like a close-minded perspective, but let’s keep in mind that until recent times institutions like coffee houses were created as spaces for discussion. Ideas were discussed amongst members of the public and now media outlets using clickbait headlines and write in such a matter that is designed to inspire intense emotion, often anger. There is no longer democracy in the matter in which we are delivered current events, instead, we have a series of heavily financially and politically influenced echo chambers. For the last few years I have chosen to learn of current events through podcasts, discussions with friends, or if the topic affects are certain demographic, I seek to understand their perspective from them.

“The more screen-time you consume on your device, the more revenue can the big tech make. So, your health, your wellbeing, your sanity and serenity are nowhere closer to their priorities. That’s why, your health is in your hands, your serenity is in your hands, your sanity is in your hands.” – Abhijit Naskar

I am doing my best to create awareness around what I consume, avoiding violent movies, listening to music with a neutral or ideally positive agenda, and most recently restricting the accounts I follow on social media, meaning no more Instagram models. I’ve gone as far as to cultivate my discovery page by choosing “not interested” on images I deem to not be beneficial.

Who knows the effects our media consumption has had on us already, especially as it has gone on since we were children watching sexualised cartoons and being sold toys, sugary drinks and processed foods, but at least now we have a choice. Do we feed ourselves inspiring and enlightening content or continue the consumption of harmful narratives generating a spiral of self-loathing, desensitisation and disconnection from fellow humans? For me, I choose to become more conscious, I choose podcasts over violent movies, Instagram for learning and creativity not perving, and coffee shop conversations for connection not comment sections for meaningless quarrels. Not only does our consumption impact our mental state, but it also wastes our most precious resource, time.

“One day you will look back and recall all the time you spent on social media and wonder why you didn’t invest that time someplace else.” – Germany Kent

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Men cry.

Men cry.

Today I was told that this week is Men’s Health Week. I had no idea, probably because I have been actively avoiding social media for the past week or so, fittingly, for my own mental health. I’d like to say that during this time away from social I found lasting relief, unfortunately, that’s not the case. Though one thing is for sure, stepping away helped to reduce some of the noise and grounded me a great deal. Its easy to get caught up in everything and after all, we were never programmed to deal with the goings-on of 7 billion people, in fact, according to Dunbars Law that number sits around 150. 

For me, my mental health has always been a bit of a rollercoaster, it’s definitely improved in recent years as I’ve developed tools, but like most of us, the uncertainty at this time just added insult to injury. Most of us have no idea what the next three months have in store, let alone next week. I don’t even know what I’m going to do tomorrow, although I know it will include my morning routine and hopefully a coffee. In these unprecedented times, nothing is certain, which is anxiety-inducing enough in itself. Its all very well to preach “go with the flow” and say stuff like “this is a lesson from the universe in letting go” but this doesn’t really help does it?. That doesn’t save us from wondering when we will see our family’s next, or whether we will have an income in six months time. What we need is tools and techniques to mitigate our own mental health.

My mental health has been a priority for the past 5 years or so. I’m a daily meditator, have cold showers, walk frequently, eat as best I can (most of the time). I know personally how much all this benefits me, one-day last week I did none of the aforementioned and ended up having two coffees, and a chocolate muffin by 10 am, properly messed my whole day up to the point where I achieved nothing whatsoever. Even though I’m proactive in regard to my mental health, it often still feels like I’m fighting an uphill battle. During these times I find solace in knowing that if I wasn’t being proactive, taking these steps, I may be in a far more challenging position. I look back and try to appreciate how far I’ve come. There was one point no to long ago where my friends threatened to walk away because they were so sick of me.

One way I have found for releasing these tensions and stressors is through journalling and tears, real tears, the ugly face ones that leave you aching. There is something about the sobbing, gasping, convulsing from lack of breath, the honest, raw movement of emotion that always seems to relieve some of the symptoms. When nothing else seems to be helping I have always found journaling to at least slightly soften the burden. Obviously, having someone to talk to is the best scenario, but that’s not always an option, and if you’re like me, and you have trouble reaching a point where you begin to cry, maybe journalling first can help. The technique I use to journal is relatively straight forward, find a quiet space, maybe light a candle, focus on the emotion or physical pain, and ask how does it make you feel? Can you describe the sensation? where is it exactly? What colour is it? Does it remind you of anyone? or anything? Get a pen and paper, and write it all out, write it till your fingers ache and there is nothing left to say, then reread it aloud, sit with it, see where it takes you. It may not lead to an emotional outpour, but it will definitely do something.

“We need never be ashamed of our tears.” – Charles Dickens

Yesterday I developed, what I can only assume, was a migraine and during that time, in an effort to understand what was causing it I began to journal, this is a section:

I feel sore, tired like a weight is pressing on my brain, and I’m sinking. In the midst of it, all my head is pounding and I want to throw up. I feel vial, a mixture of exhaustion and anger, fuelled by resentment and self-criticism. Why can’t I make decisions right now? Why can’t I commit to anything? Instead, here I am going in circles. My neck is tight, my brain swelled and feeling as though it will pop out my eye socket. I hate this situation of not knowing, of being trapped. The lack of forward movement, of drive. The nausea of lack of direction. When will it all end? Thunderclaps and rain pours outside. I feel the tension of it all. How good it must feel to pour from the heavens when conflict arises. An instant release of tension. Yet here I sit. Emotions trapped like seized threads in the unturned vice which is my heart. Clogged and downtrodden. How good it would be to relinquish this pain, this frustration. Just like nature, we aspire to release to the elements, to both internally and externally, go with the flow. Rain, hail, or shine.

“I never guessed I could cry so hard my face hurt.” – Vernor Vinge

I’m sure I’m not the only male to say I find crying incredibly difficult, and it sure as shit isn’t talked about. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I was even able to cry at all, and only more recently that I realised how beneficial it can be, instant weights removed, and stresses released. For me, the movie Lion, was what first powerfully moved that energy within me, maybe in some way I relate to it? the feeling of being lost from something or someone? myself? There is strength in surrendering to that weakness, to really sitting with your emotions. Even when your head is pounding or your breath is scarce, just staying there, digging deeper. I do this through writing about the feelings, emotions, and thoughts that come up, and if I really get deep enough, through tears.

“To cry was to release all sorts of ugly little pressures and tensions. Like waking out of a long, dark dream to a sun-filled day.” – Anne McCaffrey

This post isn’t a cry for help, this is just me letting you know that life doesn’t always feel great and that no one is exempt from these sorts of feelings or emotions, it’s just that some hide it better than others. The beauty in this is that we are all in it together which I hope can help us all feel a little lighter.

“I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.” – R.J. Palacio

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At what point are we good enough?

At what point are we good enough?

As I ran today I was thinking, I couldn’t wait to get fit again, but as I kept running I began to question that statement. When will I be happy with where I’m at? When I can run 10km with ease again? When my pace is “fast enough”? When will I be enough?

 I often spend so much time thinking about the next thing, the next goal, the next adventure, the next whatever, that I don’t enjoy my current accomplishment or how far I’ve come. Unfortunately a byproduct is that I never really consider myself as “good enough”. Whether that be good enough for my dream career, my dream lifestyle, or even good enough to slow down a little and appreciate how far I’ve come. I think a big part of my reasoning for not wanting to return to New Zealand is that I don’t yet feel like I’ve accomplished enough to return. To a certain extent, I’m sure most of us think that as soon as we do this, be this, or learn this, then we’ll be happy. That continuous pursuit is exhausting and of course detrimental to our mental health.

To find life’s purpose. Have no judgements, no expectations, and give up the need to know what happens tomorrow. Be fully present and appreciate all that is in your life right now – Caroline Myss

The mindset of always striving for the next thing and not appreciating the journey becomes increasingly frustrating. Now in my 30s, it feels like I have spent years grinding but in no real direction. Moving from one thing to the next, always hoping that whatever that next thing is, it will bring satisfaction. While many of my peers have focused early on and built somewhat of an empire I’m still trying to find my direction. But then again, at least I now know what I don’t want to do, and maybe my story is the “direction”? and everything else is just building blocks in some unimaginable creation. An extrapolation of our chance to exist in this finite form. I know it’s wrong to compare myself to someone else, and that at some point my life and my journey will all make sense.

Yoga & meditation teacher, Rod Stryker, talks about building gratitude for the present moment by reflecting on everything that has aligned for you to get to this point, I find this really powerful. It’s time to start appreciating more, even the fact that I was able to live here in London, where others struggle is an accomplishment. Even getting all the way from New Zealand to London for that matter! I’m sure a little gentleness will go a long way, and when I start seeing each moment as the “end result”, because that’s all there really is, I think life feels lighter. There is no future, just blurred lines, and crossed paths connecting us to something greater than ourselves. 

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. – Steve Jobs

We are the past, present, and future. So yeah, let’s try to enjoy it. Let’s create a better present for our “future” selves. It doesn’t have to be poetic, just the mere understanding that this is all we have, and all that we are is enough.

“Life Consists Entirely of the Present Moment”. – Eckhart Tolle

No one man should have all that power: Thoughts on the Guru

No one man should have all that power: Thoughts on the Guru

There I was, sitting cross-legged under a mosquito net in thick humidity somewhere in the middle of Sri Lanka, so far off the map that not even the locals had heard of it. I was at Vipassana, the 10-day silent meditation retreat, which has become popular in recent times. It was the end of day six and we were being shown our nightly video to reflect on. The Guru (spiritual teacher) in the video had already mentioned a few times that those who left without completing their 10 days were “weak-minded”, and tonight he seemed even more aggressive towards those abandoners. It had already felt a little like a cult to me, and maybe he was right, maybe I was a little weak-minded, but that was it. In my mind, if this bloke was any sort of guru he wouldn’t be making comparisons and speaking poorly of others, so I left and never looked back.

To find life’s purpose. Have no judgements, no expectations, and give up the need to know what happens tomorrow. Be fully present and appreciate all that is in your life right now – Caroline Myss

It’s fascinating how those of us in the West, who go in search of answers, tend to venture to the East in the hope that we will find a teacher who will give us all the answers. It really seems quite counter-intuitive considering the cultures are so very different. Sure the overarching premises are relatable but the way in which we must integrate them into our lives is vastly different. Not only that but the moment we expect answers from another individual, we give all our power away to an outside source. I’m speaking from experience; it’s a lot easier to run away to Asia in search of answers than it is to face the real world. I’m not disregarding the search, and it’s part of the journey for some of us. For me personally, there was a huge benefit to the trip, but that came more from creating space by stepping away and taking myself out of my comfort zone, and the personal growth that came from that.

There is only one way to learn. It’s through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey. – Paulo Coelho

I will never forget, when I first arrived in London I went to a Satsang, or talk, with a well known and highly regarded spiritual teacher. I cannot deny that when he spoke there was true value in his words, and even his gaze was powerful enough to mesmerise you. It felt like he was staring into my soul. There was a real peacefulness in his presence, but when members of the audience had a chance to speak and were addressing him like a deity, he didn’t rebut and it felt to me like he no longer saw himself as equal to his audience. This completely went against my belief that we are all equal, and for someone to be in a position as he was and not correct the individuals, made me question his intent.  It really solidified for me the importance of not putting others on a pedestal. I think it’s fine to appreciate the value in what these people have gained in their journey, as there is with anyone who has adventured or been down the path of self-inquiry, but at the end of the day these people are only human and we are all perfectly imperfect in our own way. Therefore we should approach them as such.

“No one man should have all that power” – Kanye West

If I’m perfectly honest I have always been skeptical of the so-called “guru” or “teacher”, and probably come across a little jaded. Maybe I just haven’t found myself in front of the right teacher, but to me, it always seems as though there is a margin for human error or ego when sitting in the presence of someone who is capable of seeing and connecting with you on a deeper level. Maybe that’s the point, they are just here to test us to the point of realising our own power. As  Alan Watts puts it, the guru is there to send you on pointless journeys, over and over, until eventually, you realize that they are just feeding your belief that you must do certain things to find fulfilment. When in reality it has always been within you. 

I’m sure they have their place but it always felt to me like they were somewhat disingenuous. That being said I have always found value in teachings by the likes of Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, Lama Surya Das, and Mooji, etc. However, these teachings have always been through a filter or medium such as a book or podcast. These mediums allow us to advance ourselves spiritually and have a more pure filter of delivery. For example, Ram Dass’s book ‘Paths to God’ has probably been one of the most influential books I’ve read in recent times and I gain a great deal from his recorded lectures, yet even if he were alive today, I’m not sure I would visit him. I’m not saying he was nefarious by any means, I just believe that when an individual records their learnings and teachings, all the value is there without the potential for the concepts to be misconstrued through the emotion of the follower.

I believe that life is the greatest teacher, and although a guru may give you the skills to use and develop, there is no better teacher than the “real world”. For example, yesterday I was listening to a fantastic podcast about a woman who had turned her entire life around by refining how she spoke about life, meditation, visualisation, and using gratitude lists. Then, last night my housemates and I revisited an episode of a tv show (The Midnight Gospel) which we were already halfway through. As soon as we resumed the show, the first thing the lead character said was “you need to stop focusing on the negative stuff”. It really resonated with me and already felt profound. But if that wasn’t enough, my housemate then kicked me, laughed at me, and pointed at the TV. If that isn’t the teacher appearing when the student is ready I don’t know what is. It’s not a new lesson but definitely felt like I was being forced to pay attention again. My point is that life won’t always be as obvious as a guru, but when you start to pay attention it’s always talking to you.

“We’re not broken. We don’t need fixing. We don’t need teaching. All that we need is to finally accept all that we are” – Panache Desai

Thankfully most great minds write books or record audios and I personally believe that these hold all the value that we will ever need. I’m not saying “don’t trust Gurus”, I’m just saying, don’t get caught up in the quest to find one, remember that they are only human, and be open to the ways in which they manifest themselves.

“The biggest advances are not made by being a great teacher, they are made by being a great student” – Pursah

Ayahuasca – A reflection, one year later

Ayahuasca – A reflection, one year later

I’d been fascinated by plant medicines for at least five years. A fascination which began after listening to a podcast with Graham Hancock in which he discussed the role he believed they played in ancient civilizations. It wasn’t until November 2018 however, that I felt the time was right to experience them personally. I wasn’t (and still am not really) an avid user of narcotics in any form. In fact, my first experience with psychedelics was only one year earlier, with LSD. An experience that also coincided with my first experience practicing yoga.

It’s been well over a year now since I had my experience with Ayahausca and had I written this post back then I think it would have been very different. After completing my two sessions with the plant medicine I was convinced my asthma was gone, and that I had life more-or-less figured out, or at least a distinct plan. I felt unstoppable had a drive and presence like never before. After the session I was convinced I would fall into the perfect job, I had found the love of my life and that this feeling of self-love would last forever. I felt completely connected to everything and everyone.

Set & Setting:

There are a few critical factors to a safe experience with plant medicines such as Ayahuasca. Most important of which are set and setting. Since I’d moved to London six months or so prior to my experience with Ayahuasca, I’d heard that guided sessions were available in Amsterdam (no longer the case). However, it wasn’t until two strangers within 12 hours of each other mentioned Ayahuasca in Amsterdam, one of which that gave me a recommendation, that I decided it was time to give it a try. They say that when it’s your time to try plant medicine it will call you, and the call will be undeniable. There were definitely cheaper options to my referral, but I knew set and setting was important and I trusted the word of this person over a google review. I knew I’d made the right choice when I looked up the next available session and it coincided with a trip in a few week’s time that I had already booked to Amsterdam.

The experience:

As with most of these things, I don’t think the details of my own personal journey are important as they will just lead to expectation, and if I learned anything, it’s that there is no real way of knowing what the medicine will have in store for you, and experiences are vastly different. That being said, I will give a brief outline.

In the preceding weeks, we were given a detox diet to follow which became more strict the closer we came to our session. On the night of the session, we started off a few hours of bonding with fellow participants, the Sharman, and her assistants. This aided in feeling more comfortable with those around you as you shared the experience. Once they had cleared our energy and the energy of the space and stated our intention for the experience we were then given our dose and made our way to our mattress where we lay for the duration of our trip.

As we lay there the Sharman chose music, both contemporary and more tribal, sung, danced, played instruments and watched over us with her assistants. Given aid to those who were being challenged in some way. I would highly recommend taking a notepad and pen with you as there were a number of times in my first session where I found it necessary to jot down ideas and thoughts, even if they didn’t always make sense at a later date.

Like most who speak on their experiences with Ayahuasca, I felt a deep connection with nature, that of which is difficult to describe and for those who have not experienced it, almost impossible to comprehend. There were a series of ideas that came to me, concepts I was familiar with and thought I believed, but somehow it that moment they seemed cemented and profound, such as the idea that love is all that matters and I was perfect and worthy just the way I was. It showed me the importance of coincidence and that literally everything happens for a reason and as a guide for the path ahead.

There were experiences of shadow and light. For example, finally grieving the loss of my Nana (the shadow) followed by the knowing that she was there with me smiling down (the light). Another was the experiencing the heartache of the loss of my unborn twin brother followed by the deep understanding that an individual I’d recently met and felt a strong connection to, was in fact a reincarnation of him.

After years of asthma, like many asthmatics, I was shallow breathing. Ayahuasca “spoke” to me and taught me to breathe properly, but not in the sense of hearing the words, or visualizations. It was more a knowing, instinctively understanding but realizing that the information came from a source outside of myself. It gently encouraged me to focus on my breathing and breathe more fully. By the end of the session I felt a lightness in my chest and breathing that I had never felt before.

During my final session, there was one more lesson, it highlighted who my soulmate was. It showed me our lives together and how deeply we were connected through more of those instinctive understandings, like how a tattoo I had seemingly got at random many years earlier was in fact a representation of her. As you can imagine I left and thought that was it, it was all sorted, but a few months later I found that feeling wasn’t reciprocated creating a great deal of heartache. Now looking back I can see it was a valuable lesson in external validation, it taught me to be present, and that there was still work to be done in learning to love myself.

A reflection:

Looking back I find it was a valuable experience but not the be-all and end-all. Ayahuasca gives you a taste of what life could be like if you learn to love yourself and others unconditionally, release all fear and be guided by love. The taster that Ayahuasca gives you eventually wears off and there you are left with the real work of making a conscious effort to put the lessons into practice. Having said that, it gives me the space I needed to let go of losses and experiences that I had burying deep down, and for the first time in a long time, cry and let myself be able to feel these emotions fully. Previously these feelings just built up and turned into frustration, and anger, and eventually sickness. It was very common for me to get sick seemly at random. Now that I’m able to sit with those emotions fully and let them go through crying, breath or meditation I get sick far less often, and recover faster.

Advice: My advice to anyone interested in plant medicine is, like most things, do your research. Find likeminded people, watch podcasts, read books, and don’t rush. I highly recommend Michael Pollan’s book, How to Change Your Mind (my review is here).

To have these profound experiences you must feel comfortable and safe. If at any point something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. There will be another chance. These medicines are no joke and some people have found themselves in horrible situations having placed their minds and bodies in the trust of the wrong people.

Next time? I think I will try plant medicines again soon, but there is no rush. I’m now of the mindset that if it doesn’t come easily, or with obvious signs that I must do it, then I will just wait until the time is right. Right now I’m content in better understanding the science, reading anecdotes and focusing on personal growth through journaling, reading, and meditation. After all, most of these individuals working with plant medicines eventually discover that meditation is the only sustainable way to become love.

“The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less sure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend.” — Aldous Huxley

The Camino de Santiago (Video & blog) – What I gained from the experience

The Camino de Santiago (Video & blog) – What I gained from the experience

Like many experiences of this nature, it’s hard to put into words the values of completing the Camino de Santiago. I have articulated myself as best I can, with the intention of not creating a false expectation to the reader of what they should expect from their own experience should they give it a go themselves.

I had originally planned to start on the 2nd of September 2019 however, due to airline strikes, I had to push it back a day. Not only that, but I had to change my destination due to flight availability. I flew San Sebastian a day later, then traveled by train and bus to St Jean-pied-de-Port. From there I would walk the 780km to Santiago. The Camino has a habit of teaching you lessons in ways you cannot even begin to expect. It seems to be a microcosm of life, it teaches you a great deal about yourself and the world around you as you tread The Way.

Straight off the bat, the initial and reoccurring lesson was, be nimble. The Camino had begun to test me before I even set foot on her. Fortunately for me, I had only booked one night’s accommodation so little adjustments to my trip, such as flying in a day late didn’t affect me too much, aside from a bit of a loss of sleep as I worked out the logistics of getting to St Jean from a completely different direction. This reaffirmed what I was already conscious of, which is to not hold too tightly to outcomes, It turned out that had I been a day early I would have got caught in a mass entrance of Pilgrims that Sunday which meant that 100s of people had to be put on buses and taken to neighbouring towns as there wasn’t enough accommodation to support everyone. Not to mention that I would never have met the amazing people I did along the way as I wouldn’t have been traveling at the same time as them. These sorts of events happened frequently and seemed to be the Camino’s way of letting you know who was in control.

“Leave room. Sometimes the universe has a much bigger plan for you. You are loved, and everything is possible”. – Kris Carr

On that note, I also recommend you leave early. The Camino is growing in popularity and pilgrim numbers are skyrocketing, which is great, but it also means accommodation is limited. Try your best to arrive at your destination each day before 3 pm, this will help guarantee you a place to sleep.

Just say something, anything. Most pilgrims are traveling alone (I recommend this too), and unlike the London Underground, it’s perfectly acceptable to start a conversation with the person next to you. A few weeks in I was sitting on a stone wall under the grapevines watching the sunrise eating my breakfast as pilgrims passed in dribs and drabs. I had one particular face a number of times throughout the previous days and decided to say “hi”, as he walked passed I greeted him and commented on the beauty of the day. He replied and exclaimed that he wished he’d taken the time like I had to enjoy these moments. He carried on, but later in the day I saw him again at a cafe and sat down for a chat. Like many people I met along the way, we confided in each other and supported each other and he became a close friend. He even helped translate for me during my time in hospital. This brings me to my next lesson.

Be open. From my personal experience, It was incredibly common to meet someone who, like myself, had quit their job and begun the pilgrimage in order to deepen their understanding of themselves or to create space. For this reason, people tend to be incredibly open about what’s going on in their lives, should you be willing to do the same. It’s a beautiful experience and if nothing else it showed me that my life’s challenges were often similar to others and it was greatly beneficial to talk these things through with a fresh perspective. These conversations also helped foster strong relationships quickly. I’m sure I’ve had deeper conversations with those I met on the Camino than many old friends from back home.

My attempt at ordering Spanish Omelette in Spanish… I mean all the ingredients are there?

If you can’t imagine yourself speaking to strangers, start with baby steps like waving or saying “hi” as you pass-by someone. I also recommend that you don’t wear earphones too often. Earphones make you appear closed off, and you never know who may pass you by not wanting to disturb you. They also detach you a little from being present and allow the mind to actively avoid working through whatever may be on your mind. This is great sometimes, but it’s a rare thing to have this much free time.

Create space. I’m not sure about you, but it’s not very often in our lives that we are gifted with the opportunity to spend a month without the concerns of the outside world, like work, whatever may be going on, so try to make the most of it. Personally, I tried to avoid using my phone too often, especially when it came to social media. People won’t forget you should you wait till you finish the Camino to post photos, and you won’t die should you not get validation from your friends or followers for 30 or so days.

I went with the intention of not listening to podcasts or music either, but every now and then it’s nice to treat yourself. While I’m on the subject of creating space, I also highly recommend you stop and smell the roses. I have no idea why, but the roses along the way are beautifully fragrant, and when you get a good one it will make your heart sing with the gratitude of being alive.

Much like the Camino, life is finite, so make the most of the experience. There will undoubtedly be days of walking where you are really over it, and it’s extremely boring, or your feet will ache, etc. Personally (and it took me a while to get to this point) it really helped me to sit with these days, as these are the days where your mind goes crazy and all you can do it try your best to catch your ridiculous thoughts, and laugh at them, or choose another thought. You have so much time so you may as well use it to your advantage. Find a way to make the most of those monotonous days treading highway or burnt orange soil, they will help you appreciate the beautiful days even more.

Nothing must be postponed. Take time by the forelock. Now or never! You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment – Henry David Thoreau

A fountain of free wine!

On that note, slow down, there is no prize for finishing the fastest. Not only that, but there will be no one to celebrate with as you won’t ever get the chance to meet anyone as you charge passed them. This may be the only chance you get to experience such a journey, slow down and enjoy it. When I first started the Camino I met a guy on my first day who was a well-versed adventurer, for the first three days I kept up with him, and it was great fun, but it was just the two of us. Eventually, I pumped the brakes and left him to it. I have no idea what happened to him after but I can only assume he had a vastly different experience to myself having not had the time to stop to smell the roses (metaphorically and literally speaking).

With all these new people you’ll meet there is no better way to bond than over food. This topped with the undeniable fact that eventually, you will get sick of eating bread and Spanish omelet day in day out. What better way to kill two birds with one stone and cook together. Many of the Albergues (the Camino hostels) have fully equipped kitchens, and no matter how talented you are in the kitchen, there’s nothing more enjoyable after a long day of walking than sharing a meal. These are some of my fondest memories. Cooking is also a great way to get some extra veggies into your diet which are lacking in man of the pilgrim’s meals. While you’re at it, top it off with a few glasses of very good, cheap, Spanish wine. Just because it’s a religious pilgrimage doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. Loosen up.

Sometimes you’ll begin to feel a little off, or there will be a nagging voice in your head. For me, this happened a few times. On one occasion I had been having this reoccurring urge to go for a run but I’d disregarded it as I don’t run often, I had to carry my 7kg bag, and I didn’t want to hurt myself or pull something. With about one week to go, I decided it was time for a rest day and had been encouraged by some Camino friends I’d been walking with to take a day off with them. I spent the next morning relaxing and eating good food, but I had this nagging feeling that I had to go.

Long story short, in the final minutes before I checked in for a second night, I left. I strapped my bag tightly and proceeded to run like the wind, and it felt amazing! I guess after weeks of walking my body was desperate to be pushed a little harder. Not only did it clear my mind, but it was energizing, it felt so good to get a sweat on. Pilgrims were cheering me as I flew past them, laughing at the craziness of my actions, but most importantly I was grinning ear to ear, earphones in, singing at the top of my lungs until I could barely breathe. I ran about 20km that day and walked the last 5km as the path steepened into the mountains. My friends ended up catching up with me a few days later. Had I ignored that nagging voice I never would have realised how capable I am, or created space from the chatter in my head. The more we ignore this voice, the more likely it is to fade. Listen to your inner voice, this is your Camino, you may only get one, so put yourself first.

With all these days of moving, you’d expect you’ll need a lot of sleep. To which the Camino says, “good fucking luck”. Unless you are staying in private accommodation each night (in which case, are you even a pilgrim?!) then you will most likely be sleeping in bunk beds with between 50 and 200+ of your closest friends. Each with their own bedtime, wake time and snoring tune. If you’re a light sleeper like me you’re in dire straights. Bring earplugs and an eye mask. The symphony of snorers, teamed with the Spanish love of a fiesta will really challenge your need for a solid 8 hours. Aside from the earplugs and eye mask, I suggest afternoon naps. Do your best, but you’ll quickly learn how little sleep you need to get through each day. Worry about that another time.

Finishing the Camino for me was where I got what I see as my most valuable lesson. If you read any other blogs or watched any videos on the Camino at all, I’m sure you will have seen how profoundly most people are affected upon its completion. The energy of the space, combined with the sense of achievement, and being surrounded by people you shared such an experience with leaves most people in hysterics.

For me that never came, there was nothing, no real joy or sense of pride in what I had achieved, there were no tears, just a lingering feeling of “okay whats next”. It took me a while but eventually, I came to understand that throughout my life I never really take time to appreciate where I am or how far I have come. I’m so determined to make something of myself that I never really take time to appreciate the steps along the way. I think that was an inspiration for writing this post, to actually reflect on what a valuable journey this was.

I personally didn’t plan much at all. I left not knowing where I would be staying on the first night, and in my opinion, everything worked out just as it should have. If you’re really worried you can find my packing list here, but I won’t tell you what towns I stopped in because this is your Camino, you don’t need to relive mine. Go without expectation, let the journey unfold in front of you. You may hate it, or it may be the single best experience of your life, but unless you do it, you’ll always be left wondering. For me, the Camino can be summed up in one simple phrase “It is what it is”. Don’t make excuses, just go for it.

“There is only one way to learn. It’s through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey”. – Paulo Coelho