Tag Archives: spirituality

108 Sun Salutations

Every three months, the seasons change. The weather begins to shift, and a new kind of energy moves into the world. Society, at large, has lost a lot of touch with these transitions simply because of how we tend to interact with nature. That is, we don’t tend to interact very much. Many pagan religions mark the coming of a new season with rituals, and indigenous tribes do the same. However, for the ‘modern’ world, many of the changes go unnoticed, as central air and electricity mean that we can get the ideal heat whenever we want, and the setting sun becomes secondary when it comes to illuminating our pastimes.
This strikes me as unfortunate, and possibly unhealthy. One of the ways that we, as humans, keep in touch with the reality that everything is a cycle, and everything changes, is by observing that very dynamic in the way nature moves. Without this, I think there is a tendency to lose sight of the death—and rebirth—inherent in every single moment. Life is death is life.
For the Spring Equinox, I decided to partake in a ritual practiced by thousands of yoga practitioners all over the world: 108 sun salutations.
The number is significant on multiple levels, across several cultures.
In Hindu mythology, it is said that Lord Shiva—the creator of Yoga—lived 108 lives before being reincarnated as a god. The number 1 represents the Divinity that is in all of us, 0 represents nothingness and also the eternal cycle of life, while 8 represents eternity. There are 108 beads on a male, 108 Upanishads (ancient sacred Hindu texts), 108 sacred sites in India, and 108 sacred points on the human body. Buddhist texts enumerate 108 temptations one must overcome in order to reach enlightenment. The number 108 is reached by multiplying the six senses (taste, touch, smell, feeling, sight, and consciousness) by the three types (painful, pleasant, or neutral) by their origin (internal or external) by time (past, present, or future). Thus, 6 x 3 x 2 x 3 = 108. There are references in literature, in Japanese mythology, even in sports and card games. (Uno has 108 cards.)

chakra stones

If you’re familiar with yoga asana practice, you know that 108 sun salutations are no laughing matter. What better way, then, to ring in the new season than with a physical, mental, and spiritual challenge. Because a sun salutation is not just an exercise, it is a prayer.
To keep track of my salutations, I turned to my daily practice of reciting the 12 names of Surya Bhagavan, the Sun God. I repeated the cycle 9 times, keeping track with my chakra stones, as well as a lovely wire flower a street jeweller made me in Cusco and a stone heart given to me by someone near and dear to my own heart.

12 Names Of Surya Bhagavan (Om…namah essentially means ‘I bow to you’)
Om Mitraya namah (The friend of all)
Om Ravaye namah (Praised by all)
Om Suryaya namah (The guide of all)
Om Bhanave namah (The bestower of beauty)
Om Khagaya namah (Stimulator of the senses)
Om Pushne namah (The nourisher of all)
Om Hiranyagarbhaya namah (The creator)
Om Marichaye namah (Destroyer of disease)
Om Adityaya namah (The inspirer)
Om Savitre namah (The purifier)
Om Arkaya namah (The radiant)
Om Bhaskaraya namah (The illuminator)

I set up my mat, Nestled My Lord Shiva murti next to my Lord Ganesha murti, said a prayer asking for guidance and illumination in the coming season, and got to work. The whole process took about two hours, including a couple short breaks and a nice, yummy savasana. In the beginning, I told myself that if I needed to stop, or needed to modify at any point I would. This wasn’t a means of torturing myself, but a way to push me beyond what my preconceived notions of my own limitations.

before and after

 

It worked. I surprised myself. I didn’t give up. I didn’t modify. I grew tired, but at the same time, I felt myself move into a space of body prayer, where every movement was a humbling of myself to something far greater than I could ever imagine. My bedroom became a temple, my music became songs of worship, and my body became a voice lifted to God.
It’s so clear to me when I look at the pictures I took of myself before and after, that a true change occurred. There’s a softness and a light there, that don’t appear in the before picture. To me, it seems like a little bit more of that Divinity that lives in me—that lives in all of us—is able to shine through.
When I woke up two days later, I couldn’t touch my toes. As close as I get to God, I am still living this human experience. Which means my hamstrings still get sore! Still, a small price to pay. I’ll be going back to this practice for the Summer solstice. I hope you feel inspired to try it out, too, or to mark the change with some ritual of your own.

 

Written by Sarah Hirsch, edited by Bethany Naylor. If you’re interested in reading about Sarah’s time in India you can check out her time in Arambol here, or read her comparisons of Christmas in India alone, and Peru with a boyfriend here!

 

How to do a sun salutation
How to do a sun salutation
FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr

No- Name Hostel

India opened its arms to me as if I were a lost child. I arrived an interesting mix of wide-eyed and broken, yearning for answers to questions I didn’t even know how to ask. The months leading up to my trip rocked my world, changing what I thought I knew about art and community and perception. I sought courage in my decision to flee to the complete opposite side of the planet as an emotional refugee, a blank canvas, and an eager explorer without a plan.

The weeks went on and I slowly recovered my sense of self with just enough missing pieces to be filled in with the love of others. I longed for the tribal support that fuels the first chakra and roots the soul, and that longing was what opened up my heart. By living with an open heart you attract the right people into your life and that couldn’t have been demonstrated more beautifully than it was by the people of No Name Free Hostel in Goa.

14938219_951317968307305_1365295064616859562_n

It began the night of the cancelled jam session. I was walking the Arambol beach with my tap shoes in hand, searching for a place to feed my belly with food and my soul with music. Each spot was blasting trance, but I persisted, determined to find the right destination. It wasn’t until I reached the end of the beach at the last little bar that I could rest.

The music coming out of Seahorse was quirky, to say the least, but it was live. That was all that mattered to me. I sat there eating my chana masala and watched the crowd dance like whizzing electrons as the guitar/drummer duo sang about nonsensical things. They made me laugh, and they energised something deep in me, shouting, “DANCE, dance!”

I inhaled my food and stormed the dance floor equipped with my instrument of choice — my feet. It was love at first jam! The crew had never played with a tap dancer and I was beyond thrilled to fill another pocket of my soul with this tribal oneness.

15747677_1000055263433575_5117818876032803298_n

At the end of the gig, the guitarist, a tall Danish guy with circular glasses, made the announcement about No Name Free Hostel. I learned that the whole crew that night were from this same tribe. They built this place together in Keri, a quiet piece of paradise on the sea, located just north of Arambol. I knew right then and there that I would be joining the circle in some capacity when the timing was right.

The following week brought the end of my stay in Mandrem. Heartfelt goodbyes and soft tears accompanied me as I packed my belongings and fueled my scooty. With the sun waking up in the Goan sky, I dropped my shades, turned the key, and drove north. I knew my destination but the dull scratching of nerves and anxiety persisted in my guts. Would this group remember me, embrace me, welcome me, love me? Would I feel the same oneness I felt at Seahorse? Am I fun, cool, worthy, happy? All of the things that had bothered me in my past had still been there. All of the questions and fears and shortcomings that had always tortured me have never gone away. But this time, for the first time, I didn’t let my fears influence my decision to live and to be loved. I kept my shaking hand on the gas.

15032927_970495906389511_155414358415359739_n

My arrival was a flood of warmth and instant comfort. I was greeted by a tall, skinny Indian man who I’d met at the bar. He had wild, young dreadlocks and all the qualities of an old friend. The next two faces were that of a beautifully ethereal French woman who co-founded the hostel, and a spritely girl from Italy with a buzzing smile.

The little pixie gave me a tour of the grounds with heart-warming pride and enthusiasm. She walked me through what would soon be the cafe, a means of potential income for the hostel  which would allow it to remain free for drifters like myself. We talked about the vision of the hostel, about how they want to create a space for people from every corner of the world to come together and express, share, create, learn, and build. The small, eclectic group of founders are pioneers of this new type of hostel and they are currently relying on crowd-funding and generous donations to stay afloat. As we walked through the rest of the land (and they have a large chunk of it) I was greeted by volunteers fixing bunk beds for the shared bedroom, an adorable gang of kittens who sleep in their garden, and artists decorating the walls with colourful depictions of their imagination. The whole place seemed to be alive and everyone could feel it. From that moment on, I knew I belonged.

15871466_1007753589330409_3705425323118337452_n

The rest of my time at No Name is a blur of music, food, and art, complemented by its diverse crew. Some I would see again at the end of my trip only to be greeted as if I had never left, a privilege reserved for the best of friends. Faces come and go and love may blossom in this community by default, but the remarkable thing about them is their ability to embrace each person who walks through the door. When you step on this land you do not feel like a guest in someone else’s home, you feel like family. The knot in your stomach loosens its grip and you feel safe. You feel love.

 

Written by Allie Pizzo, and edited by Sarah Hirsch.

If you are interested in No-name Hostel, please watch this video to find out more about what they do. They also run a crowdfunding page, if you would like to donate.  If Allie’s story about Arambol has inspired you, you can also check out one of Sarah Hirsch’s articles on the town, or about her Christmas spent there.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr

Dealing with Anxiety

Anxiety is really hard to write about, as everyone has a different experience. It’s one of those things which can be so subtle that nobody notices until you’re completely overwhelmed, and is also something that almost everyone experiences at some point in their life. I’ve always been an anxious person. Some of my earliest memories I have are of a 3-5 year old me, worrying about something she said or did to upset someone, even if that person never noticed. When I look back at my life, my strongest memories are the fears, the worries, and existential crises which still keep me up at night if I let them. It’s strange then that now, I am capable of catching 9 hour flights and 16 hour bus journeys alone, with only my own mind for company,  even if it’s still hard.

Me, not being anxious, by a different lake in France
Me, not being anxious, by a lake in France

Sometimes my anxiety disappears. It will hide itself under the surface for weeks or months at a time, and slowly I begin to feel like a real person again. Other times, my anxiety is so bad it makes me throw up, scream at someone I love, or quite literally hide myself so no one can find me. A single word will reduce me to tears, or a bad attitude will leave me aggressive and looking for a fight. I remember in an old house I used to share with a friend and my boyfriend, there was a huge cupboard, quite capable of hiding a fully grown woman inside covered in coats. It became my refuge when things were too hard. Nobody knew. Sometimes you need to hide from the world, and that’s okay.

 

Often my friends ask me why I’m shaking. I do it a lot, so much that I usually don’t even notice. During a bad phase I will spend hours of the day quivering like a leaf, whilst on a good day it will only last maybe half an hour and then I’ll be fine. When it first started, maybe at age 14, I had no idea that it could be a symptom of anxiety and instead assumed I was chronically ill. Added to this, certain foods would make me feel so sick to my stomach that I could not keep them down. Many blood tests later, there is nothing wrong with me, at least physically.

Me, probably being anxious, by a lake in France
Me, probably being anxious, by a different lake in France

When I started to travel, the anxiety was extreme. Although I would always be having a good time on the surface, underneath guilt, fear, and trepidation were bubbling away quietly, threatening to boil over and destroy the facade I had made for myself. Over time, it got easier. On my first real travelling experience, six months of backpacking and volunteering around Europe, I had my boyfriend with me, and he made everything okay. Although there would still be days where I found it impossible to get out of bed and face a constantly changing life, and I would still be a shaking mess whilst waiting at the airport or train station to move on somewhere new, having that support with me, constantly at my side, holding my hand and telling me -“Fuck it, you’re strong enough, you can do this” – made every day that much easier. We’re no longer together, but his voice of wisdom still lives on every day in my head.

Us, not being anxious, on a beach in France
Us, not being anxious, on a beach in France

Next, I worked in Rome, alone. Although that time realistically can only be described as the best and most rewarding time of my life, within 2 months of being there I had lost more than 30 lbs. 22lbs in a single month, the first month. I was scared every day. Alone every evening. Lost. Guilty about rewarding a body which my anxiety told me did not deserve the love and care it needed to survive. I worried everyone hated me, I worried that my relationship would fail, and I worried about what the hell I was doing there anyway.

I gave up. I came home. Abandoning what was suppose to be a year of work after only four months, terrified that if I stayed, I might actually die.

So trust me when I tell you this. Anxiety is the evil monster under the bed. Anxiety is the bad man walking towards you on a darkened street. Anxiety is with me, every single day, every single minute of my life, even now, and even tomorrow.  And still I continue.

Whatever happened there, Rome will always be in my heart
Whatever happened there, Rome will always be in my heart

So how can you cope, when you feel like everything is falling to pieces before your eyes, and you’re a world away from everyone you love? I want to try help, I’ve been there, I’m still there, and I’m still travelling.

Build a support network

One of my problems originally, was that when I left the country alone, I felt like that meant I had to be truly alone. I would put off calling my family for weeks, thinking that if I called, that meant admitting weakness. How silly does that sound? Now when I travel, I have my list of helpers who I know will always be there for me if I’m in trouble. Even if it’s just skyping your grandma to find out what’s going on in her life, having regular contact with the people back home helps you to stay grounded. Calling your best friend just to have a chat about some silly thing you did reminds you that people do love you, people do care. I’ve even found that staying in hostels or couchsurfing rather than hotels or Airbnb makes it easy, as you have automatic friends there who just want you to have a good time with them.

Take a moment

When we travel, we rush around the place, trying to cram in as many perfect memories as we can into one day. This is great, but it can leave you exhausted and craving peace and quiet. Just taking five minutes alone every morning can make that much difference. Some people call it meditation, but I just see it as grounding myself in my place in the world, acknowledging my own fears and desires, and slowly letting them go. Another way to look at this could be the opposite, essentially. One of the best tips I got from a therapist was to set out a certain time every day where I was allowed to worry and fret as much as I desire. The hard bit, if anxiety were to surface at another time, you have to write it down, remember it for your later worry session, then cast it from your mind. Harder than it sounds.

Make a list

First I have to admit something. I’m a huge fan of lists. On any given day I have several lists I work from, things I want to do, things I need to think about, things I want to stop and appreciate, or even things I just love so damn much. On a bad day my lists can be pretty negative, but on a good day they give me hope and inspire me to be the person I want to be. Having a list will let you get that little bit of routine back into your life, which although I claim to hate, I secretly crave.

The best place to write a list and take a moment, Nerja, Spain
The best place to write a list and take a moment, Nerja, Spain

Plan ahead

Although travelling without a plan is great for some, I personally couldn’t do it. Finding accommodation for my trips is usually the first thing I do, because as well as giving you the best price at the cheapest hostels, it gives you a little sense of security that if all else fails, you’ll have a bed that night. I’ve met people before whilst travelling who never book a bed until they arrive in the town. I could never do that. I would be worrying constantly that I’d be spending yet another night sleeping in an airport. Before I travel I know where I’m staying, what the place is like, how I need to get there, what time the desk is open, and how much every step of the journey will cost me. If I don’t, I probably wouldn’t catch the flight.

Look after yourself

This is an easy one in theory, although a lot harder in practise. Healthy body, healthy mind, so the saying goes. I’ve found it to be true. Even if you can’t, eat well everyday. Even if you can’t, sleep well every night. Even if you can’t, wash everyday, even if it’s only with a wet wipe. If it makes you feel better, put on some make-up, dress up nice, or wear your impractical high heels for a historic town tour. Do what makes you feel most comfortable, nobody is judging you, and if they are, who needs them?

On the flip side, if you need a day in bed, take a day in bed. Don’t feel bad about it, you owe nothing to anyone. On my first day in New Orleans I didn’t get up until 5pm, and then parked myself on the sofa with an aspiring actor for five hours watching NCIS and drinking cheap champagne.

Suffering from anxiety makes everything in life harder. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t explore the world at your own pace, seeking refuge when you need and excitement when you please.

If you’re struggling, there are a lot of resources you can  make use of.

Mind

Headspace

B-eat

Written by Bethany Naylor, who is currently experiencing severe anxiety from the thought of expressing this to the world

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr

When it doesn’t feel right

I recently wrote a post about that sense of recognition and belonging that sometimes accompanies travel. In that post, I said that this sensation is one reason I love to travel so much. It’s one reason I love being alive, really. Discovering places and people and things that make me feel more wholly me, more wholly integrated into this world. It is one of the best gifts I feel the Universe can offer.

pisac 2
So what happens when the opposite is true?

I suppose I’m lucky in this respect. There haven’t been many times in my life, especially in recent years, when I’ve found myself tangling with someone or something that lies on the other side of the resonance spectrum. It’s not a lack of feeling that I’m talking about here. Neutral territory is something I can move through without much problem. However, when I get somewhere and feel like that place is actively telling me to leave, well, that’s when things get complicated. And I’m currently neck-deep in complications.

pisac 3
It started as soon as my plane landed in Lima. Now, I know Lima isn’t exactly an inviting city for most people. It’s big, noisy, and dirty. A major city in other words, and as such, not exactly a place that most of the chill, semi-hippy folks I enjoy spending time with like to hang out. The only time I even left the airport in Lima was for a quick smoke, and honestly, the parking lot wasn’t so bad. From an objective point of view. Yet this feeling of wrongness was busy taking root with every passing minute. Have you ever walked uphill, with the wind blowing in your face? Imagine that, on an energetic level.

pisac 4
After an overpriced but delicious meal at one of the airport restaurants, I made my way to my gate and set up shop for a few hours waiting for the plane. I was exhausted of course, so at the time I chalked up my mounting unease to sleep deprivation and stress. Then finally, I was on our way to Cusco and to my destination outside of Pisac, a small intentional community in the foothills of the Sacred Valley.
Sleep came next. A lot of it. A lot more than I needed to fight the jet lag, in fact. When I was awake, I wandered around the community, my eyes wide open and my heart yearning to feel some kind of connection. ANY connection. I felt none. Not with the land, not with the people living at the community. I knew a few of the ‘family members’ from some time they spent in the United States the previous year, but by and large, I felt utterly adrift.
I’ve been here a month, having almost left at least half a dozen times, and I feel only slightly more connected and integrated than before, purely by virtue of getting to know some individuals more.

15556479_10210240679069428_2131543449_o
Still, the land itself leaves me uncomfortable. It’s beautiful, don’t get me wrong. For me, however, it’s a purely objective beauty. The more I experience this area—the culture, the music, the food—the more this sense of GTFO settles in. Maybe this is a remnant of a past life experience as well. When I went to Hampi, my soul sang. When I arrived in Peru, it began to cry. Is there healing to be done here? Or am I truly just not suited to be here in the first place?
I realised, as I was searching through my photos for this post, that I’ve been reluctant to even take pictures while I’ve been here. I have very few photos of the landscape and almost none of the people. That, in itself, tells me a lot.

pisac 1

By the time you read this, I will have left the community to explore other parts of Peru and South America. Away from the mountains, away from the rain, away from the expectations and obligations (real or imagined) of the family here, perhaps I will find something that speaks to me.

 

Written by Sarah Hirsch

15540266_10210240688509664_1822775917_o

 

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr

City Of Shadows

Every so often in life we all find a person, a place, or an idea, that makes us fall so deep in love we are blinded to all of their faults and shortcomings, creating a picture in our minds of complete perfection. This false ideal is unsustainable and fragile, eventually shattering and more often than not, leaving us broken-hearted and lost. For me, that was place was Barcelona.

Barcelona. One of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, the home of Gaudi and his brilliant architecture, the capital of Catalonia, and one of the most interesting cities I’ve encountered in Europe. From the wide open beaches of the Barceloneta and the gleaming high buildings of the Port to the rambling cobblestone streets of El Quarto Gótico and the fairy tale gingerbread houses of Parque Güell, the city is full of magic and mysticism. Barcelona is not simply a modern, fun, and vibrant city, it also has a long, mysterious, and incredibly interesting past.

Arc de Triomf
Arc de Triomf

When I first went to Barcelona I was 13 years old. My family stayed in a small flat in the gothic quarter, I remember feeling terrified as we entered through the graffitied and barred door in a dark and silent street. I had just finished reading ‘The Shadow of the Wind’, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, which to this day remains my favourite book of all time, I reread it at least once a year. The book, set in post civil war Barcelona had ignited a passion for the Spanish culture and history in me and I hold it solely responsible for my degree choice. The four days I spent wandering in this incredible city did not quench the fire inside of me, instead, fed it steadily until I made it a life ambition to live there one day.

The following summer, my family hosted a language student from San Vicente, a town very near Barcelona. We became friends and I visited her once a year for the next four years. Every time, I would spend a few days in Barcelona, simply walking and watching, breathing in the city. My favourite method of seeing a city is to in one direction until I hit a red light, then turn down the available route. The grid system of Barcelona is perfect for this. Forward, Stop, Turn. Forward. Stop Turn. Rinse and repeat until done. Now  you’re in a place you’ve never seen before and have no idea how to get back to where you started. At this point, have a beer and contemplate life, before guessing your direction again, and heading back home. These were the times I lived for. I would spend all year waiting for the next time I could go back, not even thinking about other places because my goal was Barcelona. It still is, in a way.

During my A level studies, my school offered the chance to do a week of work experience in Rosas, a small but beautiful coastal town north of Barcelona. At that time, I was working on a project on Catalonia, essentially a detailed political, cultural and historical assessment of whether Catalonia should be independent. In Rosas I had the chance to interview several of the people I worked with, and the week taught me a lot about the history of Barcelona, embellishing the sheer respect and understanding that Zafón had already instilled in me. It also convinced me that if I wanted to live in Catalonia, I would have to learn Catalan.

Beach front hotels, Rosas, Spain
Beach front hotels, Rosas, Spain

The year after, I went back again. This time with my best friend, to visit my friend in San Vicente, and a girl who had au paired in Bath, and ended up staying at her house in the final weeks. This experience opened me up to a new part of Barcelona, the nightlife, restaurants and shopping which before I had stayed away from.

After a few months of travelling and volunteering in Europe the year after I finished school, my sights turned back to Barcelona. The plan at the time, was that I’d move there in April and work a volunteering job until I have managed to find a stable job and flat, and to remain there the following three years for university. This however, was when my plan began to fall apart. I was travelling with a friend, and we had secured a workaway position in ‘The Hipstel’, a hostel in the centre of Gracia. Our flight from Venice, where we had spent a romantic weekend getting lost in the narrow backstreets, landed at midday. Within an hour, we were on the airport bus into the city centre. The fare had doubled since last time I had been and we found ourselves struggling to find cash for lunch as the heavens opened as we arrived in Plaza Catalunya. Our hostel did not remember us. They had no idea about the dozens of messages we had been sending back and forth, and could not offer us a job. We would later find out that this happened at least once a fortnight.

Plaza Real
Plaza Real

Eventually, we were provided with beds and a job in a partner hostel, two minutes away from Plaza Catalunya. Within a two weeks I was forced to find a second job, as the hostel did not provide food as advertised, and the meagre 30 euro salary a week for 40-50 hours work could not even begin to cover the costs of life in the city. Being a not very unattractive British female, who could speak Spanish, I was offered four interviews within two days and accepted a job offer on the Barceloneta. 70, Carrer de Sevilla. Bar Celoneta. What a wonderful place, what an original name. The increase in income meant we were able to live better now, and my experience there taught me how to make 14 different types of sangria, something which has never been relevant since.

Yet again, this time the city failed me. Finishing work most nights after 2am meant that rather than an easy metro journey, more often than not I had to walk home 40 minutes through the port and up Las Ramblas. Every single night, without fail, I would be harassed by drunk men, usually tourists, who wanted to know ‘what a pretty girl like you’s doing out so late at night.’ It got the point within a couple of weeks that I was so sick of having to bat away the advances of idiots, that I would instead latch onto the closest looking normal person when I left work, and make them walk me home. This, whilst wearing long skirts or jeans and high-necked tops, I can only imagine how bad it would have been were I not dressed so conservatively.

There was one night which convinced me I would never be safe living in the city alone. I was talking to two young men after work one night, I had told them I could speak Spanish earlier on in the night but they had forgotten, and we’re addressing me in poor English. Luckily, this meant that I could easily eavesdrop. That’s the story about how I ran home, after hearing two young men discussing how they would be able to take advantage of me.

A dragon statue in Parque Ciutadella
A dragon statue in Parque Ciutadella

I left Barcelona two years and six months ago, after trying for several months to make it work and being struck down at every attempt. The night I left, £500 worth of valuables were stolen, including every single photo I’d taken travelling. I’ve only been back once since then, for two hours.

Barcelona is a difficult city. There is a darkness which lurks under every doorway, behind every corner. A thick smog of shame and secrecy hangs over the city, a city where so much has happened, and no one ever talks about. I love it, and I hate it all at the same time. I am ashamed that it bested me, and I know that one day I will go back, and that that time it will work.

 

Written by Bethany Naylor

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr

Why I travel a Psychic Journey

There are countless reasons to travel. Each person has their own set. From exploring other cultures to discovering new foods, exposure to new fashions and languages, a desire to not feel settled or tied down. Whatever your reason for travelling, it’s a good one.  

I have plenty of my own, but there’s one I didn’t realise was important to me until after I started travelling: the feeling of coming home.
It’s that strange sense, when you encounter a place or a person for the first time, of having known them before. Deja vu, we sometimes call it, though I think that’s not quite right. A glitch in the matrix, perhaps. The explanation that resonates most, for me, is that whoever this person is, wherever this landscape is, I have experienced it in a life lived sometime far back. Before I was born into this body, in Colorado, I lived countless lives with countless people in countless places. And every once in awhile I get lucky enough to brush up against them.

Temple

Of course, this sensation happened before I ever set foot on an aeroplane. Pieces of those past lives are, I believe, naturally drawn to us. I’ve met people who felt instantly like family, or who rubbed all my fur backwards for some reason I couldn’t elucidate. I felt the connection in Charleston, South Carolina, where I travelled on an ill-fated adventure to meet up with a boy. While the station I found myself in was ten shades of crazy, the city itself broke open my heart and stole a piece of it away forever.It’s a heady feeling, and hard to describe. There’s a comfort to it, like being wrapped in my mother’s arms. A familiarity, as if I’d seen this place a hundred thousand times before. A sense of belonging that defies all rational explanation. It’s a feeling I adore, and I want to experience in my life as much as possible.

I think one of the most striking episodes for me was visiting the elephant stables in Hampi, Karnataka, India. Hampi was built in the Vijayanagara empire when rulers of that area commanded a huge amount of money and power. There are thousands of ruins around the city of Hampi, giant temples and elaborate halls built for the king and queen. The stables are located near the Zenana Enclosure, a secluded area created specifically for royal women. Within the enclosure, you can visit the Lotus Mahal, see the remains of the Queen’s Palace, and the Treasury building where it’s said the queen’s eunuch guards lived. The stables themselves are one long line of stone enclosures, eleven in all, with vaulted ceilings and domed roofs. They are one of the few structures in the area that remained untouched by Deccan Muslim invaders in the 16th century.

Zenena Enclosure

As I walked over the large swath of emerald grass between the edge of the enclosure and the stables, I was struck with a feeling that I’d been there before, many times. I felt wholly and completely at home in my own skin, and in that place. I stood in the huge rooms, pressed my hands against ancient brick, and could almost smell the elephants there beside me. I could almost feel the hay beneath my feet. I closed my eyes and heard the soft rustles of the rope that wound about the elephant’s ankle, tied to the metal hook on the wall.


The barriers between our lives are thinner than we give them credit for, I think. We have these memories, distant and fuzzy and obscured by time and space that sift up through our hearts from time to time. I don’t know if they make much of a difference for this life, but I love the subtle reminder that there is more to my experience than this life’s experience alone.

So, I travel. I search. And every once in a while, I’m lucky enough to find.

Lotus temple

Written by Sarah Hirsch

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr

The Aram Bowl Effect

There’s a certain strange kind of magic in Arambol, one of the northernmost beaches in Goa, India. The first time I set foot on its sands I couldn’t wait to get away. This was the first place I’d been after spending nearly two months in the holy city of Rishikesh, studying yoga and philosophy and bathing in the Ganges river.

Arambol is not Rishikesh.

When I walked along the beach that first night with my travel mates, taking in the clash of music from the cafes and the lounge chairs strewn across the sand, it was hard not to just turn around and hole up in our shack for the night. Which, to be fair, we eventually did anyway. The next morning we beat a fast retreat, heading for the sleepy beaches of Gokarna, and I swore I’d never go back.

image

Fast forward a couple months and many emails between friends later. It was early morning as I stepped off a local bus and trundled to the nearest cafe for a cup of coffee and some internet. I had a contact from Rishikesh looking forward to my arrival. A place to stay, a person in the know, and a promise of a week or two, max, of Arambol before undoubtedly heading elsewhere.

Except, Arambol is a place that doesn’t let go easily. That first night, I think I escaped by the skin of my teeth. My second venture would not be so short lived.

My friend took me back to the room we’d be sharing so I could get settled. Like many rooms in India it consisted of a thinly mattressed bed, tile floors and little else. Just my style. I grabbed a shower while he cleaned, sweeping the floor from a squatting position with a thatch brush. It was a vision of him that stuck in my mind, this young Himalayan mountain boy in Goa for his first time, the voice of his mother still loud and clear in his ears, making sure he keeps things tidy. So far, I thought, Arambol is okay.

image

That night, when the techno music started in the bar across the street, then the cafe down the street, then the Israeli party pad catty corner to our building, I realized I might have bitten off more than I could chew, but it was too late. I was hooked.

I spent part of that night on the rooftop overlooking one of the main drags, very close to the beach entrance. Directly below my perch point was the Om Ganesh grocery store, a perfect spot to grab booze, smokes and snacks at any time, day or night. I cannot think of a better place to people watch. Russian women dolled up in heels and bustiers, vacationing Indians with a little too much to drink, hippy kids with dirty feet and straw hats they made themselves, they all made an appearance. The streets of Arambol are rarely quiet, and never boring.

image

For those who want big parties, Vagator Beach is a better bet. However, I wasn’t into great crowds of kids hopped up on Molly. What intrigued me was what I could find in Arambol itself. It’s a very small town, when you get right down to it. Everyone knows someone, who knows someone, who knows you. And everyone’s got an opinion about everything. Sure, the option exists to stay insular if you’re traveling with a group, but I find no joy in that. Rather, I wanted to get out, experience, explore.

I attended my first sweat lodge in Arambol. It wasn’t life changing, by any means, and my more recent experiences with this type of medicine have been a lot more edifying. But where else can you find a white guy from Arizona, his Goan fire tender, and a group of people from all over the world gathering together in the backyard of a cafe to sweat and sing and pray?

image

Arambol introduced me to the philosophies and followers of Osho, an Indian mystic with a rather controversial approach to spirituality. One of the cafes hosts a series of Awareness Understanding Meditations (AUM). Essentially, there are about a dozen steps to this meditation. In each stage you fully embody a particular emotion/state of being. Sadness, anger, forgiveness, sensuality. Part of that embodiment is expression; participants roam the room, and when they make eye contact with another participant that expression is engaged. Anger: you scream at one another. Forgiveness: hold each other’s hands, apologize, hug. Sensuality: a solo or partnered dance steeped in your sexiest output. It’s extreme, draining, often uncomfortable. And for days after I had people telling me I looked years younger. Yet I could never quite bring myself to go back, it was so intense.

On Christmas Eve I danced onstage with Anna RF during a blackout at one of the biggest cafes in Arambol. It was just me up there, until the band moved their instruments from the larger stage to my smaller stage, and we rocked out until the lights came back.

I fell in love. I fell out of love. I had my heart and my ego bruised, and I’m pretty sure I did some bruising of my own. And every day, every single day, I woke up thinking This is the day I leave Arambol.

image

Written by Sarah Hirsch, edited by Bethany Naylor

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr

Faraway in FaroWay

Sitting in my dark room in the first months of university , a heavy depression hung in the air. The curtain was tightly closed, in order to keep out the prying stares from the benches outside, and the candles remained unlit. Due to fire regulations and yet a old romantic soul, they stayed purely for decoration. I was thinking about the two years preceding that moment, years filled with exciting and new adventures, incredible sights and discoveries, and a new set of friends every day. In truth I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing there.

Inside the gallery of old art, sculptures and instruments by the harbour in Faro
Inside the gallery of old art, sculptures and instruments by the harbour in Faro

In was purely by accident then, that I happened to be absent mindedly browsing skyscanner that evening and came across incredibly cheap return flights to Faro, Portugal, that Christmas. At £50, it seemed like a less economic decision not to do it considering how much is usually spent on a student night out, so I booked it without a second thought. After deciding that I would use this time for pure relaxation, I stayed away from couchsurfing.com and instead spent the next the few days researching on various hostel websites for a good deal. Due to an administrational error, a few days later I stumbled upon something amazing. Thanks to the mistake of someone who has probably long since been fired, I managed to book six nights in FaroWay hostel at an absolute steal of one euro a night. Talking to the hostel manager once I had arrived, it turns out that only one other lucky guy had managed to book before that error was taken offline ten minutes later.

Gertrude the hostel Stork
Gertrude the hostel Stork

In mid December, armed only with a carry-on filled with four textbooks for three essay titles which would remain neglected for the duration, and a poor grasp of Portuguese that three months of a degree had lent me, I arrived in Bristol Airport with no idea of what to expect. I have travelled alone of course, but this definitely seemed more like a holiday, and I wasn’t sure how to approach that.

Faro harbour

Fortunately for me, one of the best things about FaroWay hostel was the diversity of the crowd it attracts. I was by far the youngest person there, and by then I had learnt that although wisdom doesn’t necessarily grow with years, the multitude of stories does at least. The first night I spent in a dimly lit typical Portuguese bar, discussing literature and politics with a 44 year old Scotsman. Scot, it happened, was also midway through writing his first novel, and we exchanged stories and ideas throughout the night. He had been travelling since the age of 18 and had witnessed things I can only imagine. Five years was spent with an ex girlfriend, living in a cave in southern Spain and harvesting their own fruit and vegetables, dumpster diving for anything which they couldn’t grow.
When he first started travelling mobile phones were not yet a thing, and the only way he had to keep in touch with his family was to call the landline in the local pub in the middle of the Scottish highlands, and book an appointment for his mother to come in and talk to him every few months.

The second night was spent with Scot, a Floridian girl, an incredible man from Paris, a boy with Greece, and a Belgisch woman living in London, watching a typical Portuguese style of music called Fado on a bar by the beach. Jorge, our host, was incredible in his ability to make sure that everyone in the hostel had met each other and was getting along, and was always happy to provide a recommendation for coffee, lunch, dinner, or evening entertainment. I miss that man. I have stayed in many, many, hostels, and never have I found a man so enthusiastic and kind to his guests.

Some of my favourite graffiti I found in Faro
Some of my favourite graffiti I found in Faro

The next days were spent discovering the town and surrounding area with the guy from Greece, who I still hope to see again one day. Faro is an amazingly beautiful and historic town, the best backdrop to a romantic setting that I can imagine. Arriving back in Faro on the Friday night, I met another man who would go on to change my life. Fresh off the bus from Lagos where I had spent two unforgettable days, I came back to the hostel in a sad and weary state. Fortunately for me, my roommate Aoki, from Bali, had a very similar expression on his face.

After I invited him out on the terrace to share a beer and forget the woes of life for at least a moment, we ended up spending 7 hours in the many bars in Faro, discussing everything from love and relationships, to cultural differences and religion, to diet and fitness. We stayed in contact from then, and in February of this year he invited me out to Reykjavik Iceland to distract me from the many stresses that University life so willingly provides. He was an incredibly good friend to me in a time of great need, and I can only hope that I returned at least a small fraction of the impact he had on me.

Orange trees and sunshine in December
Orange trees and sunshine in December

In April I spent ten incredibly, awe inspiring, and beautiful days with him, his wife, and her uncle in Reykjavik. Strangely, I have not yet written about those times. In all honesty, the only excuse that I can give, is that the kindness and beauty I discovered in Iceland deserve a far better writer than I. The time I spent there changed me both mentally and spiritually, and I have found that not a day goes by where I do not remember seeing the aurora borealis light up both the sky and my dreams.

A sunset over Reykjavik
A sunset over Reykjavik

The day I spent hiking up Mount Esja with Antonio Monteiro was a turning point in my life, I learnt more from that man and that mountain than I have learnt in so w many years of schooling. On my penultimate day in Iceland my grandfather, another man I worshipped and loved like a god, who has had a bigger influence on my life than he ever knew, on so many lives more than he ever could have wished for, went into hospital for his last time. Were it not for the advice and love I received from Antonio, were it not for our talks about death, and reincarnation, were it not for the strength and wisdom he showed me, and the faith he nourished in my heart, I don’t think I ever could have survived. A man like Antonio Monteiro is a very lucky man to find in life, I cannot be more grateful for the time I got to spend with him, Aoki and Julianna in Reykjavik.

The oldest church in Iceland, possibly
The oldest church in Iceland, possibly

For someone so different, so much wiser, intelligent, and loving than I can ever aspire to be, he changed my life, my views, and my heart at a time when it could not have been needed more. I have a habit when I travel, even long before my grandfather’s death, of finding grandfather figure in those who I meet. In Barcelona, it was the head chef of the pizzeria next door to my bar on the Barceloneta. He called me Carmen because he could not pronounce my name, and I loved him for that. In Rome, it was the manager of the cafe I frequented four times a week, the man who brought me chocolates and biscuits and insisted that I must eat. When I went back to Rome, he wasn’t there. Because of his age and health, I was heartbroken and distraught, until one day I bumped into him on the street and he explained that a triple heart bypass had meant that he could not return to work, at least for the foreseeable future. Antonio, you are one of the best men I have ever met, and I will never forget all that you did for me.

None of this, none of the growth, none of the friendship, none of the love, none of it would have happened if I had not taken that chance and been spontaneous. In booking flights to a place I had barely heard of and never seen, I let the wind carry me where it must, and it saved my life.

The cat I met in Iceland loved posing for photos
The cat I met in Iceland loved posing for photos

Written and edited by Bethany Naylor

Although I managed to spend ten days in Iceland on a shoestring budget thanks to the generosity of a few amazing strangers, the reality is that it can be a very expensive country to visit! If you’ve been holding off Iceland due to financial concerns, why don’t you check out Ferdinand Götzen’s blog post on surviving Iceland on a budget!

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr

Exhausted thoughts

DSC_0787

I’m sitting on the roof top terrace of a hostel in Long Island City, New York. It’s one of these new style hostels, big open spaces, draft beer on tap and huge sofas for the guests to lounge on as they recover from their days. up here on the terrace, there are wicker seats with soft white cushions. I wonder what they do when it rains unexpectedly, there’s no shelter. My muscles are cramping and my eyelids drooping, but I won’t let myself give up until I’ve seen the sun set across the intimidating Manhattan skyline. I wandered along the river this afternoon, watching children play and helicopters fly, but I bet it’s another experience from up here. I’ve come this far, it’s my final stop. I can make it another hour.

The last time I was in this city was two months and a day ago. We flew into JFK as the sun was setting, I had just finished my first year exams, it was my first time coming to America, and I had the whole summer ahead of me. I could feel the excitement building as I waited for my luggage, biting my lip with nervous thrill as I waited for my friend outside of the airport. I’m back here now, but everything feels different. I feel like somehow, I am different. I don’t mean just physically, although I’m sure I am. My skin has browned to an olive glow, my hair has become dreaded, I wear a bandana and a dream catcher hairpin everyday to keep it out of my face. I have a new tattoo, a sun, in memory of both home and away, and the brightest personalities I know. Freckles creep across the bridge of my nose, threatening and yet restraining from breaking out entirely, as they did two summers ago in France.

 

DSC_0844

No, it’s not just physically. Something has changed within me, something that is hard to pinpoint. On my walk these evening I stopped to pass the time with two elderly men, one American and one British. They both lived in Massachusetts, one only 50 feet away from the house where Lizzie Borden once lived. I spoke with them about politics, about Syria, about Donald Trump, about England. When I left they seemed happy to have met me, as I was to meet them. I don’t know why I did that, but I’m glad I did. Just knowing that that those men were at that age and still didn’t understand was a comforting thought.

Being here, my faith has been challenged, my values have been shaken and my core beliefs rocked. I have met people who on any other day I wouldn’t have looked twice at, and they have become important memories for me. I remember when I arrived in North Carolina two weeks ago, in Fayetteville. After drinking an excessive amount of coffee after my 12 hour bus journey, a cafe agreed to look after my bags for me whilst I explored the historic town. At one point, I had walked away from the old town, across the slow river and rusted train tracks and found a small park. It had beautiful fountains and floral displays, similar to a park back at home. I started taking photographs of the central fountain and the roses and within a few minutes later a woman came up to, suggesting that my photos would look a lot better if she was in them too. She was wearing all red and had short, possibly shaven, hair underneath a baseball cap. I smiled and her and agreed. She didn’t look like she was in the right mind set to have a conversation, so I started taking her photograph on the edge of the fountain, after a few, she came over to see. She smiled so widely. I thanked her, wished her a pleasant day and started my walk back to the centre of town. Turning around as I reached the end of the park, I saw her jumping and splashing in the water, I had never even asked her her name. It didn’t matter.

DSC_0512

 

I think when we grow up, we create an identity for ourselves so young. We teach it to our family and friends, saying ‘this is me, this is who I am.’ We get so trapped in creating an image for ourselves and a trying to find a personality which fits, that we never remember to wait and get to know the person we have become. When I pictured myself, I used to see an awkward, overweight and angry person, angry at the world and herself for not letting her be who needed to be. Now when I picture myself, I see myself walking, in an unknown place. I see myself strong, and confident. I see an inquisitive and curious girl, one who now understands that she never will understand herself, nor the world. But she’s happy, and that’s all that counts right now.

 

 

Written by Bethany Naylor

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr

People over places


My first summer abroad, 6 weeks in Sevilla

When I started travelling, I was definitely leaning towards the more naive end of the age range. I caught the travelling bug after taking my first solo flight to visit a friend in Spain at fourteen. Since then I’ve taken every possible opportunity to travel, even delaying my start at University by two years because I wasn’t quite ready to settle down in one place. When I started this lifestyle, I was always one of the youngest in the hostel, the one with the least life experience and worldliness. It was a humbling experience. I was desperate, as some of us are, to always be on the road and moving on. Always looking ahead to see new things, I would rarely return to the same city more than once, to the point of not only neglecting my family and friends at home but also forgetting to create new ties in the place I was in. Given the chance, I would have rather gone to check out the cool castle, or wandered down to the beach to watch the sunset by myself, than spend time with the other guests in the hostel. It wasn’t until now, sitting in my cold and uncomfortable student flat, that I realise how important those social experiences were. They’re the part I miss most.

hitchhiking
Although when there’s no people, the views tend to be better

Looking back, I could talk for hours about all the beautiful things and incredible places there are on our planet; about waking up with the sunrise on a beach in the south of France, finding an isolated and abandoned church in the middle of the mountains, or getting lost in a seaside Spanish town; about watching the lightning storms in Sri Lanka, seeing the awe-inspiring view over Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain, or the delicately carved patterns of the Alhambra. I could tell you all of that: the adventure, the thrill, even the fear, and it wouldn’t explain the best feeling you get from travelling, the part which always gets left out when we call back home. As a traveller, and especially as a solo traveller, you have this incredible opportunity to meet people from every corner of the globe. The chance to talk to people of all ages, from all walks of life. These people might just become your new best friends.

Of course, I’m not saying that you should trust blindly. When you’re travelling, your gut instinct is your most important asset. Do not go home with strange people, and DO leave if you suspect your couchsurfing host to be developing inappropriate feelings for you. (Pro tip for couchsurfing hosts: Please do not text your guests who are twenty years younger than you saying ‘you look so beautiful when you’re sleeping.’ No, really, stop it.). When you’re alone in another country, you definitely have to put your safety first because no one else will. But if you never take any risks at all then where will all the fun memories come from? The freedom you feel when you’re in another country isn’t an illusion: you really are free, and you just have to decide which memories you want to create.

The point is that as a traveller, you have an amazing opportunity to make friends across the globe, the chance to hear stories from people whose lives one simply cannot comprehend. Of course with the internet, it’s quite realistic to be able to start talking to somebody on the other side of the world at a moment’s notice, but it’s just not the same. I would never have heard what is was like to grow up in the Netherlands during the second World War if I hadn’t taken a chance on a hostel-friend in Faro and taken an unexpected detour to Lagos. Some things you just can’t plan for.

In my first two years as a wanderer, one of the most important lessons I have learnt  is that everybody has their story to tell and is just waiting for their opportunity to do so. In normal, day-to-day life, it can be hard to really open up or have fun with someone you’ve just met, especially when you know it’s only going to be a two-day relationship.

spain
Hostel friends are friends for life

I wish that I had fully taken advantage from the start of the wisdom and stories from the people whose paths intersected mine whilst travelling because so many people I did give the chance to ended up changing my perspective and giving me new dreams.

Written and edited by Beth Naylor

Originally posted on the Wayfaring Student

To read another story about how travelling can change your view on society, check out Sarah’s post about discovering real poverty in India.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr