EVERY now and then I am overcome by the notion that I just need to disappear off the face of the planet for a week or so. And I generally pick a destination or activity that is way beyond my comfort zone and/or level of ability (which, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, is somewhat limited to drinking New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on my back deck while pondering the parlous state of the world). As is often the case when I make any major life decisions, my choices are based purely on how a place name sounds. Yes, you’ll find me in crazy Kazakhstan or yummy Yemen any day now. Iraq sounds quite harsh to the ear but Kabul itself somewhat intriguing. I’m the same when it comes to cooking or eating out. I’ll order Baba Ghanoush while imagining I’m in an exotic Arabian land, or buy all the ingredients to cook a big pot of Jambayla just for one, because I’m convinced someone has made a huge mistake and I’m actually a sexy Spaniard. Woy Woy – well I’ve toy toyed with a trip there too. And it was only last week when I found myself downward dog facing the jungles of Ubud at a yoga retreat that I realised just how out of sync my imagination is with my body.
Lured by this particular retreat’s name “Escape the World” I flew myself to Bali and trekked up to Ubud (by trekking, I mean being picked up in an air-conditioned vehicle by my own driver), and threw myself into this concept with gusto. What could be so hard about a total of 20 hours of yoga, a 22km bike ride, wanderings through the rice paddies, and, most interestingly, 24 hours of silence where it would just me and my mischievous monkey mind?
And I didn’t know it at the time of booking, but French Canadian Claude Chouinard runs Oneworld Retreats in partnership with two Ubud princes who happen to have their regal residences also on site. Unfortunately for me, both princes were also getting married the very day I arrived, but I remain convinced had they just waited another 24 hours, at least one of them would have fallen in love with me at first sight. I mean, what’s not to love about a bedraggled Brisbane girl, hair frizzing in the Indonesian humidity, coming off the effects of her usual red wine and Xanax flying combination, clutching her duty free stash of secret wine and gin in one hand, and a yoga mat in the other? There may also be that teeny tiny issue that I am not Balinese royalty, into which both boys also married, in what is said to be a bid to preserve the culture. And I’m not sure mentioning I’m The Global Goddess and practically Brisbane royalty has the same effect, but I was prepared to give it a shot.
On our first night, Claude reminds us that despite everyone around us seemingly being able to travel, we are only a small percentage of the world who is wealthy enough to do so. He encourages us to embrace our 24 hours of silence and see it for the gift that it is.
“For just one day you can consider this silence a form of torture or one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give yourself,” he says.
“What we know as time is in fact an illusion. For human beings, time is limited to the moment we are born, to the moment we leave this planet, a very short journey considering the age of the universe.
“Live every day by the minute and enjoy as much as you possibly can…the illusion goes by quickly.”
At first I am afraid, I am Gloria Gaynor petrified. But then I discover while I’m not allowed to read, and am discouraged from making eye contact with my fellow retreat participants even when we are in yoga classes together, I am allowed to write. And if there’s anything I love more than talking, it’s writing. But it must be mindful, and we are encouraged to pen the things we really want out of this life, and those we wish to rid, which will be burned later in the week in a sacred Balinese ceremony. After yoga and breakfast on my private balcony, I scribble and scribble until my pen runs out of ink. Before I know it, it’s lunchtime, and the food (like everything else at this retreat) is no hardship. I lunch long and languidly on the typical Indonesian salad Gado Gado (again, savouring how the words swirl around my tongue) and there’s the delicious Dadar Gulung – an Indonesian coconut crepe – for dessert.
I have a massage after lunch, and determined not to sleep but remain “mindful” to my silence, I spend the afternoon painting. I end up finishing 6 paintings (3 of which are all words) and have almost convinced myself I have captured the spirit of the talented Ubud artists who inhabit this lovely land, before I realise my ego again, is outrunning my actual talent. A swim, another yoga session, and it’s dinner on my deck, the highlight of which is steamed prawns in banana leaf. I contemplate cracking open my duty free wine but a combination of wishing to remain mindful and the fact I have a sore throat prevents this digression. My yoga teacher later tells me my throat chakra is blocked because of my fear of the silence. A less enlightened version of myself would argue it’s because of his incessant incense burning.
Each day passes in a similar dreamy rhythm. Yoga in the morning with the affable Iyan Yaspriyana while the jungle around us awakens and the cicadas chant a chorus of encouragement from the forest. Iyan encourages us every day to “go deeper”, reminding us that the mind can sometimes trick the body that it can’t go further, when it can. Daily affirmations are left in our room (and in my case, a harmless tree snake which I embrace as a good sign), there’s a dawn yoga class at volcano Batur, an evening water purification ceremony at Tirta Empul, a Balinese offering class, lunch in the rice paddies, and a closing ceremony at the retreat’s temple in which we pause to give gratitude for our lives. And most of all, I learn to sit with myself, observe the demons, laugh at the monkey, and love myself just that little bit more. According to Baby Ram Das: “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” I can already hear the next exotic-sounding destination whispering my name.
The Global Goddess paid for her own flights to Bali and her Escape the World retreat with Oneworld in Ubud. To book your own escape, go to http://www.oneworldretreats.com
I STILL look for her everywhere. And in the most incongruent of places. When I’m travelling overseas, but mostly in the local shopping centre, where she’d most likely be. Except she isn’t. One year ago I lost my counsellor, confidante and dear friend, Sue Cameron. She died unexpectedly, at the age of 76, passing away quietly from pneumonia. It was a month before I discovered she had died. And on that grey, old Saturday I howled. Fat, serious tears rolling down my face, my body shacking with the grief and injustice of it all. And then I wrote and I wrote, vowing not to let her death undo me. She’d be so cranky at that. And so I haven’t.
I think of her often. On the good days and the bad. On rare grim days I repeat the mantra she told me so often: “Turn it on it’s head, darl.” And I glance at a photo of her I keep above my keyboard in which she wears the same Mona Lisa smile she used to give me when I sought her advice on life’s big issues. It’s a no-nonsense kind of look, with an unwritten caption which I imagine reads: “You know it’s all going to work out, don’t you?” The photo arrived by surprise in the mail, sent to me by her partner Keith, 84. He sent it with a note which read: “Sue gave me the photo and I know she liked you a lot, so here is the original. May God bless you and thank you for your regard for my wonderful Suzie”. I view him from a distance from time-to-time in the local shopping centre. He looks so much older now. His tall frame a bit more hunched. No more handsome hat tilt when he passes by. But he’s surviving. Like the rest of us.
Journalist and author Susan Wyndham has just published a book My Mother, My Father: On Losing a Parent. Wyndham, whose mother died two years ago, has cobbled together an anthology of stories by 14 Australian authors who examine the concept of surviving the deaths of our parents. Some of the nation’s best penmen and women have contributed to this tome, including Thomas Keneally, Helen Garner and David Marr. In her review of the book in the Weekend Australian newspaper, Rosemary Neill refers to our parents as “those who have known us the longest”. I have never lost a parent, but have many friends who have. For me, the passing of Sue Cameron was the closest to this kind of grief I have endured. While not knowing me the longest – although we had been together through 12 turbulent and terrific years of counselling – she was the person who knew me best. And so it was a lonely landscape I faced the day she died. Like losing your anchor in the middle of the ocean and searching desperately for a paddle to get you back to shore.
Apart from the grief which never really leaves – you learn to grow around it – I’ve been fascinated at how my rational mind can know someone has died, but my emotional mind still looks for her. In Saturday’s Courier-Mail there’s a story about a new coffee shop concept called The Death Café where people gather to talk about the concept of death. This pop up concept is not about grief counselling, but more so that people can freely discuss one of life’s most taboo subjects. Attendees can be anyone from those simply curious about what happens after life, to those who have experienced death in their circle or who are facing a terminal illness. It’s run by grief educator Beth O’Brien and funeral director Neil Davis. “Death Café is…an unusual event trying to change how uncomfortable society is about death and replacing it with relaxes discussion and cake,” O’Brien says.
In her review of My Mother, My Father, Neil writes: “For many people, the death of a parent is a reckoning: a catalyst for evaluating a life lived well, or a little outrageously.” These days, I choose to live my life well. Sure, I still have my outrageous moments, chase bad boys, drink champagne with my friends, but I try to temper these with striving to be a better version of me. In the past year I have taken up yoga in the mornings, gone to several health retreats and really participated – bringing home the wisdom learnt and incorporating it into my life. I attend weekly meditation classes, swim or walk in the afternoons. I eat better, drink less. Recently, on my birthday, a friend sent me an email. It read: “I’ve really noticed a change in you over the last couple of months. You seem happier, calmer. It’s a subtle change, but I’m not imaging it. The ‘real’ you is breaking out for all the world to see and love.”
Wherever she’s reading this from, I just know Sue Cameron would be chuffed.