During December and January, Kris and I travelled round New Zealand and then spent some time in Kuala Lumpur. It was our first extended period of travel together and my first “travelling holiday” since road-tripping round Armenia and Georgia in 2018. Over the last 5 years, all my trips abroad have been related to yoga or spirituality in the form of a Yoga/Meditation Retreat or the 28-day intensive Yoga Teacher training in India. The teacher training was a laser focus on yoga in all it’s forms. The retreats have all been opportunities to really slow down. To simplify life. To go inwards and reflect and connect. To be.
This trip felt so different.
With just 3 weeks to take in the highlights of an incredibly magical and diverse country, we followed an itinerary that saw us sleep in 16 different beds in 21 nights. During our time in New Zealand, we bathed in thermal springs. Climbed mountains. Hiked round many lakes. Visited glaciers. Sea kayaked around fjord-like hills called Sounds. We drove over 3,500km. In short, we increased the pace of life, ramped up the level of admin and brought in much more complexity than we are used to in our usual lives.
The trip felt like a culture shock to say the least! I had forgotten how different travelling is to a holiday and especially to a retreat. There are so many decisions to make each day. How do we want to spend the precious time we have in each place? Do we need to book anything for the coming days? Where will we eat? Where are we going to stop on our route to the next place? What are we going to do about the cracked window in the hire car from all the gravel roads? In the first week of the trip, I felt like I turned up the activity of my mind, just at the time when there were so many beautiful and amazing things that I wanted to be truly present to experience.
In the midst of this frustration, I shared with Kris that I was missing the structured time for practice and stillness that we have in our daily lives and that is turned up even more when we go on retreat. I shared the sense that all this planning and thinking and constant moving was somehow creating a barrier to being present in the experiences we were having. I was missing the experiences of the moment because my mind had already moved on to what planning needed to be done to make the experiences of the next moment as good as they could be. It was a familiar pattern, but an old one. It’s interesting to me how going away and changing my environment so often unearths these old patterns of thinking and acting.
One thing that really helped to ground me even amidst the constant movement was John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara; Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World. Celtic spirituality is so grounded and immersed in nature and in the messages and wisdom encoded in the natural world. There was a beautiful story in the book about a westerner who was travelling with great haste and had enlisted the support of indigenous people to be his guides. After several days of moving quickly, he had been surprised to find all the guides sitting down and refusing to move. He asked them why they had stopped as he was still very focused on “making good time”. They explained that the pace had been too fast and their bodies had moved too quickly for their spirits. They now needed to stop for a day to give their spirits time to catch up. This resonated so much for me. Having travelled literally half way round the world, I felt that my body had moved too fast and my spirit needed time to catch up.
This story also made me think of the pace of life I used to live and how often my body and mind was moving far too fast for my spirit. I am very grateful for the changes in my life that mean my mind, body and spirit feel much more connected and present (most of the time). It felt good, upon arriving back to the UK, to spend a couple of days with my brother and his partner who are two of our favourite people in the world and gave us such a soft landing. It has also been pure joy to get back to teaching and to connect with our incredible community of students as well as welcome new students to classes. It was wonderful to explore a new corner of the world, to meet new people and have completely new experiences. And also, perhaps more than has even been the case before, it feels really wonderful to be home and to have landed back into my regular life.