A Sober Year – Was it Worth it?

A Sober Year – Was it Worth it?

A Sober Year – Was it Worth it?

It’s the 27th November 2017, the morning after two of my closest friends, Adam and Katie’s wedding day, of which I was the best man. I open one stinging eye, the pain of the morning starts to hit, the familiar war-zone of mouth, stomach and head is accompanied by the added confusion that I am sandwiched between my cousin and his girlfriend in bed, and not in my own room with Laura (my girlfriend at that time). This isn’t overly unusual or concerning, as it’s pretty much par for the course after a heavy night, certainly not as concerning as how rancid I feel. I get up, still half suited from the night before, and make my way back to my room.

Arriving back, it’s not long before I realise that I have a very angry girlfriend. Not just for leaving her to sleep alone, but for some apparent display of rudeness that I had enacted in her direction the night before. I have no recollection or even conception of what I am being told due to a 5 to 6 hour blind spot in my memory. I now am joined by that familiar feeling of being left to pick up the pieces, footing the bill, for what feels like someone else’s misdemeanour. All the while I am exceedingly ill; sick, can barely stand, shaky and a headache that feels like an elephant is tap dancing inside my skull. As Simon and Garfunkel might say..hello darkness my old friend.

Next the inevitable

As the next few days unfold, so to does my hangover. Once the pure incapacitation of the first day has passed, next comes the constant feeling of being dehydrated throughout my entire being, then lethargy and zero motivation, the constant tiredness and most notably; the crippling anxiety. This time only enhanced by a visit from Katie who informs me that I had also upset another of our friends that night with an ill placed and inappropriate remark that was clearly a result of my drunken stupor. If you are someone that knows when to stop drinking, or perhaps someone that does not have blackouts in your memory. Then you may not have ever had the feeling that comes with the unique combination of hearing that you have done something you would never do in your right mind, and then also not having any recollection of it. Purely getting that information from third parties. It is an awful feeling, it makes you question the very nature of your own consciousness. It is like being sentenced for someone else’s crime.

What should have been, and still very much was in many ways, a momentous occasion, was tainted for me by alcohol. As the next few days passed and I went from anxious and depressed to full of cold and flu, the final treat that always comes with my hangovers. I began to ask myself, is it worth it? My relationship with alcohol reads like a catalogue of errors. I have lost so many phones I am now on an uninsurable list. I have woken up; In bed with countless women that I barely recall meeting. Face down on a beach in Barcelona in 35 degree heat with my shirt and jeans on without a wallet or phone. In an apartment full of french people that I don’t know how I met, and none of whom spoke any english. In a police cell, twice, one time on the morning of my 19th birthday. In a bush in Ipswich (having been out in London 90 miles away) and on the floor of an ex girlfriends garage. I have fallen asleep on the bar of an Ibiza nightclub, kicked out of a Vegas casino, chased by a pack of disgruntled gangsters, and bottled by a jealous boyfriend. I feel like I have done the things. All the things.

It’s not just these extremes, even when I have just a standard night out, I find the next week an arduous trial. As 2017 came to a close, I thought to myself; I wonder what a year would look like without a single hangover? Is it even possible? I have been getting drunk since I was about 14 so I have spent well over 50% of my life using alcohol to have a good time.

Time for change

Here I now am typing this out this article, pissed as a fart..I jest, In fact I am now into my 13th month without getting drunk. The actual rule I created for myself was that I had to stay under the driving limit for 12 months, so if I should want a glass of red wine with a meal, or a bottle of beer watching the football I could. But actually, I very rarely did. I think I had a glass of red wine on the plane flight once, maybe twice to help me sleep and maybe one or two other occasions where I exercised that possibility to have a drink but stay beneath the driving limit.

Was it Hard?

In short, nowhere near as hard as I expected. I still socialised,  went to parties, weddings, gigs (a quick admission, I first wrote concerts, realised that I am sounding like and old man, then replaced that with “music gigs” at which point I realised I am an old man, before settling on “gigs” in an attempt to conceal myself, also now we are being honest with each other… i’m not sure if I went to any parties, I did go to a conscious-moon cocoa ceremony in Bali, there was music and dancing, but only the imbibing of drinking chocolate and “sacredness” So… I will let you be the judge of whether that qualifies).

Anyway..the first  few weeks there were probably more temptations, but then as you start to notice the benefits of the non-drinking, it becomes easier. The social dynamics are hard, people wanting you to get drunk with them, which I completely get. If you are drinking it’s more fun if people are drinking with you. No one needs a sober onlooker pouring their boring all over your carefree evening. I am also at the advantage of the fact that people that know me, know i’m weird and that I try stuff, like being plant based or sitting outside in the cold in my pants to meditate. So me telling them I am not drinking isn’t that outlandish, and maybe not met with the same peer pressures that some might receive. One thing has been really interesting this time around vs when I have tried to give up drinking the past is that the reaction I used to get was always “don’t be a loser” “live a little” “Just have a drink mate stop being boring” I actually found this time round it was more often met with “I wish I could do that” “I would love to knock it on the head”. Maybe that’s being a few years older, or perhaps it’s a sign of the times, or both.

Was it worth it?

Well, here’s what I gained; I didn’t get sick all year, I didn’t have anxiety once (I got nervous before a big talk, or event) but no anxiety, I had a very challenging year in many ways and the way I responded to those challenges I am very proud of, I didn’t feel depressed or defeated once. I still danced, laughed and made new connections. Financially I saved a lot of money that I would have spent on booze. I feel strong, fit, healthy and still. Productivity wise, Monday mornings I was ready to rock and roll with my week every week, excited and inspired to grow my business and charity, to educate myself and grow. I think that I had more personal growth in the last 12 months then in the previous 4 years combined. Ultimately I didn’t feel I enjoyed myself any less, I didn’t feel that there was anything that I couldn’t do that I could have done had I been drinking (apart from talking very closely to peoples faces and leering at them through one reaming open eye). If anything I found it a freedom, I felt I could go and do things without having to rule out the next day. It grew my confidence, as I found that having to socialise without the lubrication of alcohol forced me to sharpen my ability to converse.

It is a sacrifice, there’s no two ways about it. Getting drunk is extremely fun, I very much enjoy being drunk, which is part of the issue, and most of the time, I would say 90% of the time I am a good drunk as well, I am fun, coherent and good company. So getting the beers and having a good night can be a massive highlight, but it’s short term gratification for me over long term gain and I am trying out a different approach to my life. I might not have the big upward spikes in fun, but then also I don’t get the inevitable downard fall. Instead I am trying to increase my resting level contentment and joy, so that I feel consistent sense of fulfilment, peace and inspiration across time. I don’t take myself seriously, but I do take my life seriously. I have had to come to the acknowledgment that alcohol a drug that doesn’t serve me. So for now, I will be continuing my sobriety and spreading out the fun that I used to have in escaping myself and moving toward the everyday fun of embracing myself

A Journey into Transcendental Meditation

A Journey into Transcendental Meditation

DAY 1

Meditation is one of those things that I have always wanted to be able to do, always believed in the benefits both from a physiological, mental and dare I say spiritual perspective. But over the years of trying everything from spending a week with monks in Laos, to being sat at the bottom of my bed in London, has left me feeling, well, not a lot really, other than a little frustrated. I have heard such grand reports of peoples experiences, people I respect and trust awarding meditation with some of their most important developments. I have for a while had on my radar Transcendental meditation, seemingly the go-to ritual of the celebrity world. I had decided to spend some time here in Bali, I wanted to use the time I had here to try and deepen my peace and understanding. When looking at options that may facilitate these ambitions, I came across a 5 day Transcendental Meditation (TM) course/Yoga retreat in Ubud at the Gaia retreat centre.

On arrival to the Gaia meditation and yoga centre the driver pulls up next to a rather obscure, hidden little wooden door amid a stone wall, varnished with vines. It has an almost secret garden feel. Upon entering through the door that feeling is only furthered by a stone walkway enclosed with bamboo thatching, hanging plants and stone pillars that seem as if they could have been stood for centuries. The walk is accompanied by the almost stereotypically perfect sounds of tropical nature, the symphony of insects, birds and running water. Leaving the walkway you come to the central property. Which is presented almost as a grand gateway to nature itself. Walking through the front door you are met by a huge open view of pure green outdoors, no doors, walls or windows to enclose the back of the entrance hall just the backdrop of rice fields and rainforest. The property itself is beautiful, constructed of wood, stone and bamboo exclusively. It’s designed as if the architect wanted a viewing platform as grand as the nature that it is there to observe. A step down from the entrance hall, lay a beautiful stone swimming pool, rooms to the left and right over two stories create a U-shape.

I am shown to my room, an equally enchanting space, around the rest of the property and the schedule for my forth coming experience explained. It was also explained that I was the only person here ands that there may be another lady joining the property for a detox retreat but until then, only me. Immediately I decided that I would fantasise that these were my palatial quarters, up-kept by my trusted and well respected staff.

After a 90 minute Balinese massage and a 60 minute Yoga lesson. It comes time for my first TM lesson. I am shown up to one of the bedrooms, when I walk in I slightly startle a middle aged, thin Balinese man, dressed noticeably smartly for this part of the world, in a deep blue shirt, buckled belt and grey suit trousers. He apologises for his startled reaction and explains he was meditating. I sit next to him at the dressing table, upon which is an open laptop with the words Transcendental Meditation. He begins to welcome me to the session. He is an animated and smiley man. Each word he pronounces moving his body in a different direction, as if the resonance of the word itself compels his limbs and torso. He speaks as much with his eyes open as closed and accompanies his words with gesticulate hand movements, as if conducting the music of his own phrases. He proceeds to tell me of his vast experience with the practice, the triumphs of the practice itself globally, the charitable projects he has instantiated with the children of Bali and the underprivileged schools. As well as the scientific research that he is currently working with Kings University London to observe the effects of TM on the gut microbiome. Which then takes us off script as we discuss the work we are doing at Victoria’s Promise and how we are trying to further understanding of the gut microbiome and cancer.

Over the course of the next hour he fills me in with what is tantamount to evidence both scientific and anecdotal as to the power of the practice, some of the foundations of the practice and some of the central tenants. It is explained how TM, unlike other methods of meditation is not a process of intense focus, or detachment, but instead using the natural tendencies of the mind to wonder. Reversing the process of thought arising to take you on a journey inward and down to the place from which thought first arises, to a state of pure consciousness. Utilising a personalised mantra.

This is the preparatory session so that I am well enough primed for my journey into meditation over the following days. He is a credible man, clearly engendered with kindness and passion to take a method that has served him so beautifully and take it to as many people as he can, ultimately for the betterment of the world. I am left tantalised, hopeful, but ultimately still slightly skeptical that I will experience that which he claims I will experience. But hopeful and open minded, I await 9am tomorrow morning for my next steps into the Transcendent.

DAY 2

After an absurdly restful sleep, I awoke to the sun rising outside the glass doors of my bedroom through the cotton mosquito drapes that enclosed my bed; creating a really quite stunning, almost living painting, of oranges and red, rising over the greenery of the retreat backdrop. After popping over to the small cafe (where I am in fact now typing these reflections) for the standard morning dose of caffeine, I was slightly too early (keen) they told me they would be opening in 20 minutes, so I decided to take myself a walk. Walking through the local neighbourhood I realised with each place I passed, the balinese people were up and attending to their grounds, either replacing the offerings that they lay outside of their property for the spirits. Or maintaining their grasses and flowers, as if it was customary to begin your day by beautifying and caring for your home, young and old alike. Dodging dogs and scooters I continued up to a temple and paused to admire the craftsmanship that had gone into each pillar.

This lead me to think about how so many of the most wondrous of manmade architectures for most of history, have been in the service of a higher power; churches, cathedrals, mosques, temples; a home of the deities, or in the case of palaces the semi-deified kings and queens. However in recent years grand structures, the modern temples, the crowning feats of engineering and architecture are now reserved for the corporations, our new places of worship. I wondered what price we pay in that trade off. But I will leave that line of thought there, before I traverse down a stereotypical sounding new-age hippie railroad against modern culture, as that was neither the energy of my investigation, nor the intent for this entry.

After returning to the cafe and imbibing my coffee, my attention turned to my upcoming appointment with Wyan, my TM teacher. I made my way back to the retreat and with 10 minutes until my lesson, sat in the garden to await. As I sat I noticed these minutes seemed to grow longer. I sat and watched an ant colony go about its business. I was reminded of just how incredible these invertebrates are. The level of organisation on mass of the colony is something truly remarkable, I noticed just how tightly their assembly lines run. I watched as five worker ants carried some sort of caterpillar type creature, that I am assuming had deceased before they had grabbed him. But he (I say he, could have been a she, I am not apt at the sexing of vaguely identifiable caterpillar-esc creatures.) But he must have been at least 10 times the weight of a single ant, and the five seemed to be making light work of his carriage back toward their home. After about 20 seconds one of the ants dropped off, as if they had realised that only four were required for maximum efficiency. Every now and then other ants would come over to check on their progress, perhaps to judge if they needed further assistance, before going on about their methodical search for carrion. Much larger soldier ants surveyed the line, while the worker ants furiously continued their duty. I was reminded about the power of the collective whilst watching these little critters. I also found myself reminded that we have a shared heritage. Far enough back in our family history, there will be found a joint ancestor between us and these ants. Funny to think. Anyway, I look back at the clock and still only a few minutes have passed. Despite my seemingly lengthy digression.

When Wyan arrives, I jump up like an excited puppy who’s owner has returned from a day at the office. Only to be asked to give him five minutes to set up. “For f’*k sake” I think to myself, I have already spent 10 minutes staring at these bloody ants – before a little voice in my head reminds me that is not a very zen approach to a meditation lesson.

When I finally am invited into the room, I notice in stark contrast to yesterdays laptop upon the dresser, it is adorned with the various accoutrements you might expect of a buddhist or hindu shrine. There is a painting of a swami, a brass tray, three small bowles, one containing flowers, one water and one rice. There is a lit candle to the left and a burning incense to the right. I am told that today I will be inducted into the practice. He explains that he will conduct a 6 minute ceremony in Sanskrit and for me to sit an observe. Before he will reveal to me my private mantra, that I must not share out of respect to the practice and to myself for once revealed it will no longer serve me as my guide into the transcendent, a rule that I agree to adopt and respect. He begins a soft chant in Sanskrit whilst making offerings onto the brass tray from the items in the bowls and manoeuvring the smoking candle. My mind wanders toward thinking how I might express this ceremony in my diary entry for the day, before I tell myself off for not being present during such a personal and rare moment. Upon its finish, Wyan beckons me close, before repeating to me my mantra.

Wyan offers me some further instructions as to how to utilise this mantra and encourages me to begin my first attempt at the mediation. So I begin, I start to try and follow these commands and as I start this journey all I can think about is how much my back hurts in this chair. After a few minutes of me wrestling with my mind to ignore the searing pain, and try and do the mantra, he asks me to open my eyes. I look to him and his face looks at me expectantly like I have just unwrapped a gift he has been waiting to give me all year. But unfortunately I find myself with that feeling of, “oh, I already have enough socks” or “this jumper is hideous and I am never going to wear it”.

I tell him of my struggles and ask if I can relocate to sitting up on the bed, back against the headboard and to try again. “of course” he responds and I begin a second attempt. After a few moments I find that the noises of the outside world become clear, crisp almost, and I start to notice the space between my exhale and inhale getting longer and I feel a slight sensation of sinking into myself. He asks me to slowly open my eyes and return to the room and as I do I feel encouraged, though not enlightened. He hands me a form and asks me to make note of my experience, to which I respond it was peaceful and it did have a restorative quality. But I still felt very embodied, if that makes sense, I didn’t feel as if I had transcended as such. But I did enjoy the practice. One of the questions was, how long did you feel you meditated? To which I answered 6 minutes. He informed me that it was in-fact 12 minutes, which I found interesting. He explained that some people feel that they have been longer than they have and often that reflects how stressed and at unrest they are. Some feel that the time has been very short and this demonstrates that they are moving beyond time and to a deeper place. Wyan set me some “homework” to practice once more in the afternoon for 20 minutes, and twice the next day before my next lesson with him. I went back downstairs and sat where I had been watching the ants. And I decided that I would ignore slightly his instructions and try again immediately. I checked the time 10:08 and began my practice. I felt myself sink slightly deeper internally, and although remained aware of the sounds and noises around me began to feel slightly removed from them. My mind still drifted and wondered but less so, and cutting through the tropical sounds I heard “happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you” sounding as if playing from a recording, with this I begun to open my eyes, looked around to see if I could see the source of the celebratory serenade, saw nothing, so I checked down at my phone, and to my surprise it read 10:32. 22 minutes had passed in what had felt like an instant! The happy birthday song now repeating in my mind, I walked around the corner to see one of the staff members on her phone and I asked if it was her Birthday, she explained it was an instagram story. It was a serendipitous moment, as I thought to myself; “this does feel like in some ways it could be a birth-day” because I had for the first time really appreciated that there may be some real potential with this practice. The feeling of jubilation was made all the more apparent by the memory that just an hour or so before, sat in the same seat, 5 minutes had taken so long to pass, and yet sat there, cross legged, 22 of them had flashed by unawares. I await my next lesson tomorrow with restful anticipation and mounting optimism.

DAY 3 – Blow me down with a feather

Upon booking the retreat, I was asked to decide between a sound healing session at the pyramids of chi, and a one hour sensory deprivation experience in a flotation tank. Having experienced neither, I asked a few questions. I was informed that the floatation tank is a small space where it is so quiet you can only hear your heartbeat. Pop me down for the pyramids of chi! Having a slight case of claustrophobia made that a pretty easy decision. I all but forgot about it. Day 3 comes around and I check out my schedule; 10:30am Pyramids of Chi. The time comes around and my cheerful driver comes and collects me to take the short 7 minute drive to the pyramids. Upon arrival, although I had little expectations, that expectations I had were certainly wrong. I had envisaged a couple of ancient looking stone pyramids rising from out of the rice fields. Alas, this was a much more modern facility, I am taken into a large reception area, with a cafe and to the side I can see the two pyramids. Smaller than Imagined, and white, but still a unique thing to behold. After a short wait we are taken into a room with about 30 chairs in rows. and lines facing forward for an induction presentation. A healthy looking perhaps mid-50s, An Australian man with a thick head of side parted hair, and a white sleeveless and collarless shirt, which you don’t see a lot of, began a vibrant and engaging presentation around the history of pyramids, or the little that is known of the history of pyramids. Including some quite fascinating facts. Two particularly stood out to me; every pyramid all over the world, weather discovered deep beneath the sea (as many have been) or stood a-proud in the sands of Egypt have a 52 degree angle where floor meets wall, they are all made from stone, and that they have one wall that points exactly true north – 6 degrees from magnetic north. A quite astounding fact when you consider the distribution and age of these erections. The gentleman went onto explain what we should expect when we enter the pyramid, some of the gongs and drums that will be used to create the resonances, and how we might respond. He said that we may well feel some emotion, we may cry. To which I thought – that’s pretty unlikely.

After the presentation, we head down to the pyramids. Inside there lay around 30 mats, each with a pillow for both head and under the knees. We have an eye mask and we are asked to lay on a matt and place the mask over our eyes. Once settled, we completed some breath work (while doing this breath work I thought to myself, I have never done so much breathing as I have since arriving in Ubud!). Open minded, I lay back and the sounds begin. Before I explain my next experiences, I would like to punctuate them with a caveat. I shall explain them as best as I can to refer as closely as possible to how they manifested themselves. Implicit in my explanations, I am not making any claims of a metaphysical nature, I will leave that open to your own readings of the experience and your own predilections. I shall simply attempt to objectively recount them.

After a few moments the first thing I felt is my chest really tighten, and then a pretty overwhelming sense of fear. I felt suddenly a darkness rise over me, not just a darkness in lack of illumination, but a darkness in energy, in entity. I told myself to not fear and try surrender to the experience. With that I was taken out of myself and suddenly seeing myself laying there and a shadow-like presence leaving my body (I feel compelled at this stage to further articulate that this form of language of entities, energies and spirits is not my common way as someone very grounded in the empirical, but these were my experiences). After this I returned to my open eyes looking into the black of the eye mask. Blue dancing lights soft and wavelength in structure began forming and deforming almost like a Rorschach test. Then I was suddenly taken back into my childhood room and confronted with my 8 year old self. I was taken very vividly to a memory of me being shut in my room after misbehaving and it being pitch black, I was terribly afraid of the dark growing up and I begged for my mum to open the door and turn the light on, which she would not (sorry mum for grassing you up, you were and are, an incredible, kind and compassionate mother, I am sure I deserved it) in this moment I went to my inner child and comforted him. I told him that he was safe in the dark and he smiled and was surrounded by a blue light. With that I was taken into the first person perspective of my childhood self and my bedroom door swung ajar. Standing in my doorway was my sister Victoria, whom passed away 5 years ago from cancer. It was a childhood Vicki, standing there. A common sight I would see as a child as she would scare in the night and come through to ask me to sleep in her bed, or if asleep, she would simply carry me through. Vicki smiled at me and we hugged. I came back to my awareness and out of the visualisation. The sounds changed once more and I felt a pain in my stomach like it was untwisting as I did various images of Vicki at different times and ages flashed through my minds eye and I heard a voice I could not differentiate if from outside of me, or from deep within me say “I am with you, I am safe.” Next I felt every single cell in my body vibrate. This is hard to describe, if you recall that feeling when your hairs stand on end, when you get goosebumps. Imagine that feeling amplified by about 100. With that I felt two tears roll down my cheek. I was then taken to one particular Christmas scene of Vicki and I coming down the stairs and each sat by our respective stockings, with mum and dad sitting looking lovingly down at us. I kept throughout this experience being taken back to this scene. It felt to me as if that moment was being used to show me Vicki’s ethereal state, that moment of joy boundlessly expended. As if her way of attempting to demonstrate to me how she feels. Pure peace, connection, joy and ecstasy, that of a child on Christmas morning surrounded by their family, lost in the magic of Santas gifts.

It’s important perhaps at this stage to try and differentiate these visages from dreams. They were more like memories and visualisations than dreams. More like actually being in them, rather than remembering them.

I next heard, again more like from deep within then from without, you are a blue light, you are protected from the dark. Again my whole body resonated in the most powerful way I have ever experienced. Next I heard, and I can’t remember if it was she is, or I am, but it was either referring to or intended as the voice of Vicki “I am an angel now, stay on the path and trust in the good”

My last revelation and by that I mean the last thing that was revealed to me in this experience. Was that of an instruction around my relation to Laura, a former girlfriend of whom I had a sudden parting of ways with earlier in the year. I was presented with an image of her and then a dividing and departing of Vicki from her, as if my subconscious was representing an untangling of the two loses followed by an internal voice saying “you do not need her love, you are love. Help her”.

Now, I am not a man of particular faith, I am certainly not a dogmatic, ideological or religious individual. Last year I would have described myself positively atheist, with my closest worship to Richard Dawkins and the evolutionary process. As I write these memories I am not making claims of these experiences that they are any more than an intimate meeting of my inner most psyche. That the frequencies of the musical instruments vibrating through my being created an opening between my conscious and subconscious mind and provided me with hallucinatory experiences, with representative imagery that allowed myself to heal and suppressed emotion.

But I am also not arrogant enough to think that I have figured the nature of reality. The fabric of the universe. I have never experienced anything even vaguely close to this. All I can say for sure is that I have been deeply moved by my experience, certainly healed at a level of which before I was unhealed. And for the most part probably the deepest peace I have felt around my sisters passing that I have felt. As for the rest, I am but an hour or so outside of this journey, and my interpretation of these events I am sure will continue to develop over the coming days.

Still slightly aghast, returning to my accommodation, the only words I found to internalise my experience were – “well blow me down with a feather.”

Which after the fact I was reminded was a phrase of regular selection of my most beloved sister. I was mainly just smiling and shaking my head in disbelief at what had just happened, but I felt elated. I returned to the Gaia retreat centre and I bumped into Noura, the beautiful and warm hearted head of marketing for the centre, I told her that, should I leave today, I would have got more than I had hoped for out of my entire 3 month trip, in just the last few hours.

Day 4

Before I illuminate you with the happenings of day 4, I feel that yesterdays events warrant a quick post-hoc check in. How have they left me feeling now that the initial splurge of the sound and sensory smorgasbord has had a chance to settle in?

My first thoughts of it this morning where that I was glad I had written down my experiences immediately, for now they have started to take slight form of a dream. I wonder had I not immediately noted them, would perhaps they have started to evaporate. The other thing I thought to myself when reflecting upon this, was the thought – “had I not written it down, I wonder if I would start to feel like I imagined it.” This thought in and of itself was revealing to me, because implicit in that thought is that I must feel like I did not imagine it, which means despite it being an experience that happened completely within myself, that it must somehow have had a quality that differs it from imagination. Otherwise, why would I worry whether I had imagined it or not? had it been only an imagination? Hopefully that has confused you as much as it did me.

With that said, after the distillation of a nights sleep, what I am sure it has left me with is a much deeper sense of peace than I had felt previously going in. Which in itself is of some remark, as I would have considered my self quite peaceful already. I have been left with a sense of deeper confirmation that had lead to me waking (despite it being a 6am rise for an early yoga lesson) even more light and jovial than normal. But underpinned with an even deeper sense of purpose about myself. I feel as though, if I not take anything else from this trip, then I would go home feeling I accomplished much of what I came to obtain, and perhaps more.

After the early morning Yoga, I was taken on a trip to a special temple of purification, built in 1100ad. It, as I am sure you can imagine, was a beautiful all stone affair, with large, weathered but not dilapidated sculptures and ornate gateways and sub-temples. The central theme of this particular temple was that it housed a sacred spring. Which pumped pure water up from the earth beneath. The Balinese have believed since its erection that these waters purify and cleanse the soul. There is a special area designated for those wishing to be anointed to enter a long stone pool, filled with beautiful carp, the back wall of the pool is a long line of stone faucets that have a constant jet of water streaming from them. I was instructed to enter the water, dressed in a yellow sarong that was given to me at the Gaia retreat centre, and which frankly, I was a little to pleased to be wearing. And to approach each spout and to say a prayer before washing my face, then head and then full submerging myself beneath each one. Not being someone that has prayers at the ready, I decided that at each one I would see if a little poem would come into my head, and duly they did. There were about 14 spouts in total, but two of these faucets where reserved for the dead, so I was not to frequent them. I can’t remember many, hardly any of the little limericks that I invented but I can remember perhaps two:

“For those that stood just where I am
and built this holy land,
I am sure washing this long haired brit,
is not what you had planned.
But I respect these customs,
your ancient ways,
whatever they may be.
So with this splash across my face
may these waters set me free”

And another was…

“In gratitude of this path I’m on,
and for those that walk with me,
I thank this water for it gives me life
and this air that lets me breath.
With this act I cleanse myself
of fear, of guilt, of pain.
And for those I love,
both here and above,
I pray it does the same.”

You can imagine what sort of madness was running through my head by the time I got to about number 13.

I found it to be a revitalising escapade and I always enjoy experiencing local and certainly time preserved traditions. It was a privilege to experience.

Driving home, the guide explained that Ubud, was originally called Ubad which means “Medicine”. On account how the sheer number of medicinal plants in the region. It was interesting learn as I had already felt that it was a place with immensely healing properties.

Back to the main subject at hand..The Mediation.

Today part of my homework was to mediate twice, after my initial encouragement, I must admit, that I had started to run into some frustrations. I felt that I had not progressed, and perhaps even regressed. I even started to question the validity of my initial experiences. I felt as though, although I was managing to sit pretty still for 20 minutes for both times, which in itself is something I guess. I did not feel that I was finding any depth in my practice. I guess by this point I was hoping that I would have felt something slightly less embodied. A feeling a detachment from the objective world and from my body itself. But really I was still sat repeating my mantra to myself.

I don’t want to denigrate the fact that while doing this my breath was slow, almost to the point of a halt. My heartbeat was down to truly meandering pace. Which means I was in a very restful state, a hugely valuable thing to be able to obtain during your waking day. Although I am in an extremely restful environment, I mean, I have been massaged every day, no phone, no work, and just the ambient sound of rainforest to stimulate my senses. So it is hard to know how much of it is also that.

By the time it came for my lessons today, I felt frustrated. I felt perhaps I will not come to experience that truly transcendent experience that I have come to hope for. Although I am managing to keep my mantra, I am not losing it to thought, but thought is accompanying it. I spoke of my frustrations to Wayan, who was amused to hear them, and not in the slightest bit troubled. Wayan explained over the course of the session why I should not be concerned but encouraged by my experiences at this stage. And that even if I still had deeper layers of my consciousness left to journey down, he said;

“With Transcendental meditation, it does not matter how deeply you dive into the sea, you still come out wet”

Day 5

Before I embark on my description of my final day here, I have to take a moment to make mention of the staff here at the Gaia retreat centre. They have been exceptional. The masseuse’s – world class, the food in the centre has been incredible. The cook is truly remarkable, each day allowing you to select your meals from a quite extensive menu, before preparing afresh each meal. I am a fussy eater, and a vegan to boot. The food was the best I have had since arriving in Bali. All of the other staff from the absolutely lovely marketing lady Noura, the sweet centre manager Davi, the guide, cleaners and drivers all absolutely first rate. They have been beyond accommodating and friendly without being overbearing.

Up early this morning 5:30am to go for a sunrise walk around the rice fields. There is something about sunrise that is like no other time, it’s a time of day the I rarely see, most of the sunrises I have seen in my life are that of running out of night time, and of no sleep. Rather than an early rise. Here sunrise is announced by an abundant cacophony of cockerels. Walking through the forest to make our way to the rice paddies, herbal and edible plants are pointed out to me. When we break through to the rice fields, the sun has all but risen. Gentle orange hues punctuate a fairly clear blue sky, only slightly broken by wispy white clouds. The true green of the rice paddies finishes of a pretty perfect primary coloured landscape. I ask my guide what may be expected from a full harvest of each of these plots. He explained that about 20-30 50kg bags would account for a good yield. With each farmer expecting two harvest per year. We then set about calculating the revenue that a harvest would generate and landed upon 7 million Rupe. That is about £380, or $486. Times that by two, and that is an annual gross of £760 or $972. Not much of a family income for such back breaking labour. It is of no surprise then, that many of the farmers are now looking to lease their land not for crops, but for tourist accommodation. My guide explained that this is of some concern as it threatens the beauty of the area, not to mention aspects of the ecosystem that have grown around these long held rice paddies.

Returning back to the centre. I showered before approaching my first meditation of the day. I had a little word with myself before settling in, I reminded myself, that whatever comes, is what is supposed to come. Do not try and control my thought or manipulate my experience, just be accepting.

I set myself into position, check the time, and began my practice. Immediately I felt a difference, I usually find that I am almost forcing my eyelids closed against there will. This time they seemed contented to rest closed. I felt an ease come over my brain and mind. Like the normal wrestle between the hemispheres had ceased. I allowed my thoughts to rise without reproach. I allowed my internal voice to sometimes narrate, without reprimand. And with ease allowed myself to return to my mantra. This time I did not hang on so tightly to it and allowed it to breath in the same way you might a thought. I felt a deep restfulness, an alertness of my surroundings, but a slight distance from them and after a while there was moments, just the slightest moments, of neither mantra, nor thought, nor imagination. Sound was still entering from the outside world, but not interpreting. These fleeting moments were interrupted by my own joy at achieving them. But again I did not frustrate at my interruption. I opened my eyes to check the time and 18 minutes had passed, I closed my eyes to re-enter my mediation and found my way back to a place that felt kind of like my mind was afloat on a lie-low, on-top of gentle waves. I did not sink beneath these waves, but felt the potential that I may. I opened my eyes again and another 8 minutes had passed and I had over shot my 20 minutes, but this is of no concern.

I awaited Wayan, my TM teacher with much anticipation after greeting him with so much frustration yesterday, I looked forward to rewarding him with news of my far richer experience today. He arrived, smartly dressed and buoyant as usual, and we began our final 90 minute lesson. We mediated together within this lesson and again my experience was repeated, it was not the experience of fully transcending, but in my experience I felt of a knowing that it is available, if that makes sense. If my recent exploits into Yoga, and in-fact acquiring any new skill have taught me anything it is that; practice and patience can’t be circumvented. However, learning Yoga was, for the first few months, a torturous and will-power testing undertaking before I began to reap its returns. Where-as already, I am feeling much joy and benefit from Transcendental Mediation. It does not feel a task to carry out, which if I had tried to sit mindfully and still for 20 minutes twice a day before, would have been a near impossible request. At the end of my lesson I was handed my certificate – no matter how old you get, or what meaning it is, it is always a good feeling to receive a certificate. Wyan and I exchanged details and I was informed that now I am inculcated into the TM world, I am able to have “checking” sessions wherever in the world and whenever I should like at the various TM centres globally.

Had I been asked yesterday if I could foresee myself committed to the continuation of this twice daily ritual, I would have had some trepidation. And if spoken honestly, I would probably have had to say no. Asked today, as I type this, I feel confident that I will and even more confident that it will benefit me on the levels of wellbeing, and mental aptitude that I had first hoped that it would. Will it deepen a sense of spirituality within me? Will it open a door into a more interconnected sense of universal consciousness? That remains to be seen. But I will carry out my practice and allow what is, to be.

To bring to a close my journal into transcendental meditation here at the Gaia retreat centre. I would also like to share with you another little sideline factor of this experience. Upon arrival I had decided that I would “go dark” as it where, by that I mean to completely unplug from the internet. I switched my phone onto airplane mode, turned off the wifi on my laptop and in the last 5 days have not rescinded. I have only read, listened to music and an audiobook for entertainment. It is one of those things that I liked the idea of, but was always a little unsure if I would actually enjoy in practice. Or if after a day or two the novelty of the disconnection would wear off and I would start to crave the endless scrolling of the thumb.

So what has it shown me?

Firstly, I have found so much use of the space to think. It is funny, we as human beings tend to expand into the space that we have. Having no purpose to pick up my phone, or switch on the TV has allowed me, perhaps forced me, to organise my thoughts. Where usually as uncomfortable thoughts would rise or even before they have chance, we reach for the distraction. This space has given me so much clarity, and once that clarity was achieved, creativity flourished. I have written with words that flowed, I have made plans toward my business and ideas that I am sure will be of great benefit. I have been so still and peaceful. I have also found my attention span increase quite drastically. When your options for stimuli are dramatically decreased by not having the world at your fingertips, it allows you to sink more deeply into the task at hand without the nagging that perhaps there is a more gratifying option just a swipe away. I have read half of a very challenging book on the topic of neuroscience (the master ands his emissary) that I have been trying to read for sometime. Only usually managing about two pages before the call of a new activity overwhelms me. Here I have taken chapters in my stride without distraction, and I am a slow reader to put it kindly. I also have been served a reminder that my existence need not be validated by the digital world, in-fact it needs no other validation than my experience of it.

I am sat here now typing this in the near by cafe. And to tell you I am in no haste to switch back on my 4g is an understatement. What I will say is that of course I miss speaking to my friends and loved ones, that is no question. But have I missed social media? Perhaps I have missed Youtube as I spend a lot of time using it to educate myself. But other than that, no. I have found that remaining in the present moment is so much easier without the demands of a phone, without the 346 notifications that the new iPhone feature tells me I receive a day.

What does this mean for my return to the connected world?

It doesn’t mean that I will boycott digital media, in fact quite the opposite. But I hope that my relationship to my phone will change. That rather than the habitual pulling out of my device every time the world isn’t grasping me, I will instead use it only intentionally. I would like to think that having this space from my phone will allow me to take back control of it, rather than its control of me. I will remember that it is not boring to sit with nothing else but my own mind as company and to contemplate my own naval. To what degree I manage this when I am back into a normal routine remains to be seen. But this experience will serve me as a reminder. I would highly recommend that you find a way in your own life to take a digital detox, completely disconnected from the internet. If that idea seems drastic, perhaps that is even more reason to do so.

If you have come this far with me, thank you for reading my rambling journey into my own mind, into mediation, and into Bali. I would not hesitate for one second recommending to anyone a repeat of my experience with the Gaia retreat centre. I hope that my words have served as some sort of value, some sort of entertainment. After all, it is only in our perspectives that we have true uniqueness and in that uniqueness lies our greatest value to one and other.

To whatever journey you are on in your own life, I wish you peace and understanding.

The Opening of a Rose || Poem

The Opening of a Rose || Poem

The Opening of a Rose

I got lost for a million years,

In the beauty of a rose.

As I walked, lost in thought, a rich Scarlett caught my eye.

I turned my head and there she was, delicate and shy.

Petals wrapped tightly closed, but just open enough to glance.

She appeared to me as if looking over her shoulder, an invitation not by chance.

I lightly held her, not too tight, with space for her to breath.

Between my thumb and forefinger, I held her up for me to see.

As I began to admire her, and twirl her in the light,

she was the most miraculously mesmerising magnificent a sight.

The more I gazed and admired, the deeper I looked, the more she opened still.

One by one her petals began to tenderly unfurl,

with deepest reds, vivid rich with every crimson curl.

I tried to impose my will on her to open faster, but my will only encouraged her to close.

Never had I seen a more exquisitely exceptional elegant a rose.

I returned to just admiring, allowing her to be.

Grateful just to be with her, however that may seem.

And sure enough her bedazzling blooming brilliance began to blossom more.

Beauty can not be rushed I thought, it must not be ignored.

I could not presume to know all she was, all that she would be,

but just enjoy what she revealed, allow my self to see.

This rose, this rose, her revelations came in droves.

As she emerged beneath the sun glistening dew began to run.

I noticed one petal still yet to release, had faltered in its flow.

I asked her why this one petal, was she more afraid to show?

I gently looked at what it hid, and beneath it was slightly different in its form,

a slight tear, slightly stretched, perhaps caught up on a thorn.

I reminded her, her beauty is not held in one single petal, in just her scent or held in just her colour.

It’s in her flower, it’s in her entirety that her wonder is discovered.

And with those thoughts she let go and opened up in full,

seductive, perfect-powerful with mesmerising hues.

Scarlett ran to vibrant pink, with metamorphic myriad of tones,

her perfect perfume proliferated and danced upon my nose.

All life at once held in her centre, the start of all creation.

Intoxicating devine femininity that did not know of hesitation.

At once not two, not me and you, no her, no him, not other, but simply one.

A billion years of reciprocal life entwined in now, nourished by the sun.

My exhalation she inhaled, her respiration refilled my cells. The circle now complete.

And with fresh life breathed through my veins I took upon my feet.

I walked with her so proud in hand, held up in the light.

And as I did she caught the eye of a passer by.

“Wow,” he said, “you are so lucky to have found such a flower.”

He looked at her wide eyed and mouth wider still, bedazzled by her becoming.

I noticed in his left hand, drooped a forgotten wilted rose.

left beneath his shadow still unloved, it still remained still closed.

I felt myself feeling protective of my precious flora.

He stood transfixed and mesmerised I could see that he may have lost his way.

And as I held my Rose more tightly and thought to keep this foe at bay.

I realised hers is not mine to own, to hide and shut away.

Her beauty is the worlds to see, her music hers to play.

I felt her wriggle, I felt her move and I felt her pull away.

I asked if he would like to hold her, and his face alit with glee.

And with that I passed her over and let him walk ahead of me.

I felt the urge to try and look, to try and hold on tight.

But then I knew I must let go, I must not try and fight.

For what luck have I, just to have known such significant a splendour,

and nothing need be more than that, nothing lasts forever.

I walked along with hands behind my back and warm sun on my face,

like a man that had known true love, a man touched by true grace.

Later on when I was sat, a tap upon my shoulder,

“here you go my friend your Rose, thank you for showing me her radiance and kindness,

it helped me find my way again, I found love and light and guidance”

My Rose, my Rose, you’ve returned. I could see she’d travelled far,

as her petals flowed in the wind, I could see that they’d been scarred.

I sat with her and breathed her in, and thought “my god… how beautiful you are”

Never had she been more perfect, her colours came to life.

There was richer reds, softer pinks and now the purest incandescent white.

So sumptuous did she now look, my soul gazed with pure delight.

Just to be with her once more. Just to take her in my sight.

As time passed, as I watched, she grew and continued to transform.

It is not ageing but enriching, petals softened and wisdom dawned.

And as it did so did her power of encapsulation, so did her beauty to.

Now open with full confidence she had never been more beautiful, she had never been more true.

The more beauty that I saw, the more that would reveal.

With every layer of herself a deeper love within myself I’d feel.

To think all that I needed to do to know such beauty, to feel such love, was to see that it was there.

Such perfection in the imperfections that make every flower rare.

To admire her, to be with her, to notice, to love her.

Not to command, demand or reprimand. But to just be. Just to choose to see.

I thank you Rose for all you are, for opening to me.

Thank you for your gift of life, the air you let me breath.

I got lost, for a million years in the beauty of a Rose.

And like every story, every chapter,

this flower to must have her close.

I lay her down upon the grass, as softly as could be,

as much as my heart did feel the weight, I knew that I must set her beauty free.

Now my Rose, back to the earth from which you came,

and although so hard to let you go, I will not wallow here in pain.

As there is no end, no start, and you will rise as life again.

And I will tell of you my love in ink from stroke of pen,

Your beauty will live out in words, within my heart and soul.

Our separation just illusion our halves are always whole.

I got lost, for a million years, in the beauty of a Rose.

To have known her for just a moment, was to have known life,

was to have known all eternity.

Thank you Rose for all your lessons, 

for opening to me.

The river of time

The river of time

I was sat having a coffee this morning overlooking a stretch of river flowing beneath me and

I began a little thought experiment. I am often trying to get my head around the nature of time, because I have read so many things that have persuaded that time is not how we intuit it to be. Our experience of time and space is apparently more a reflection of how we operate in it, rather than how it truly exists. Anyway, I was daydreaming and looking down at this river, and a plastic bottle came floating along it, it was zig-zagging its way along the fast moving rapids, moving from side to side, up and down atop of the various waves that made up the surface of the water. It hit into a rock and that pushed its trajectory into the bank where it caught a reed. While caught in these reads the water pressure began building up behind it and it started spinning and taking on water and started to sink. I thought to myself; the way I think that we approach time, or life, is more like a solid road that we must walk or run down. But perhaps a better way of conceptualising it, is more like that of this river. Ever flowing in one direction, and we are like bottles on its surface. If this is the case, it is futile to try and swim against the tide, just like the futility of fighting against time, all we will do is tire and drown.

I pictured myself on the bottle and wondered the most effective way to ensure that my journey would be smooth and flow with the river. I realised that it would not be a case of me having to move towards something, but rather to pick a target in the distance, to have something clear that I am aiming toward and then not worry about going to that target, but instead to focus on keeping my balance, and ensuring my aim remains true, and allowing the target to arrive as the flow of the river (time) would carry me to it. Even in the phrase “a true aim” there I believe is laden deeply profound and important information as to how we should live our lives. If we pick an aim, a target, that is based on something deep and true within us. Something of value and purpose, and if we then focus on just keeping our balance and our alignment with that aim. Perhaps we can trust the flow of time to carry us the rest of the way. And not let the turbulence of the waves of life leave us spinning under the pressure of time, or worse sinking.

Just as time and space can’t be separated, they are two parts of one whole, so-to is the flow and the water of the river. You can take a cup of water from it, but now it is a cup of water and no longer a river. For us to know anything, it must be in the comparison of something else. This is fundamental of reasoned knowledge, which is one of the reasons we are struggling to conceptualise consciousness and the mind as they are unique in our rationalised experience to biological creatures. Perhaps thinking of ourselves afloat a river can let us take clear aim, and then return to focusing on our balance and alignment in the moment. Perhaps this is why people report such success from methods like that of “the secret” and vision boards, something I have always believed has utility, but not enjoyed the explanation as to why. Life is not a race, it is a ride, and maybe even one that can be enjoyed, and not worried about.

Motivational States

Motivational States

I have sat down to write a blog post and I have been staring at the cursor flashing at me for about 5 minutes. I feel like it’s getting impatient with me, it seems excitable, like it’s been waiting for me to produce something for an extremely long time, and now I have finally opened a page and unleashed it, it’s starting to run out of patience. Perhaps that is why they call it a cursor, because the longer you stare at it, the more you are cursed with writer’s block. In an attempt to curtail the cursors carousing flashes, I have,as by now I am sure you are well aware, just started to type. A literary, or perhaps an unliterary stream of consciousness thrashed out upon the keyboard like a peace offering between and the blank space that was this page.

Perhaps my drivelling divulgence is down to the fact that as I glance to the time, it is now 8:41 pm on Friday night and my to-do list has been all but satisfied, apart from “write blog post”. So here we find ourselves, me, typing an aimless externalised internal dialogue, and you generous, bored, or confused enough to still be reading it. I think a part of me had hoped that by now if I just started exploring would have found myself somewhere of import, or at least interest, but alas, no such joy as of yet. I think possibly the most poignant of ironies is that before landing upon my blockage, I had optimistically entitled this post “Motivational states” having hoped to articulate a recently garnered understanding I have accumulated regarding how our differing motivational states come “pre-loaded” with behaviours and patterns of thought, and how it is highly beneficial for us to raise our awareness of these states, as to not find ourselves at their mercy, puppeteered by their whims. One way to think of these states is as different pieces of software on a computer, preloaded with behaviours designed to obtain an outcome. These states are relics of our evolutionary past, when our consciousness was not so sophisticated. Let me give you some examples of what I mean;

Hunger can be thought of as a motivational state, now that “state” will come preloaded with a set of behaviours designed to increase the likelihood of you getting a meal. We have all met “Hangry” individuals in our life, maybe you even are a hangry person. A former girlfriend of mine was quite hangry and would transform into a snarling-saber toothed serpent should her supper be delayed. I have heard her expel unrepeatable expletives to delayed deliveroo drivers. There was countless occasions that her first few bites of food would be followed by an apology as she returned to her more sain and sanguine self. It just so happened that her hungry motivational state comes preloaded with impatience, anger, and apparent hatred to all human beings.   

These motivational states make us act in ways that left in a resting, content state, we would never elect to act. These states veil us from ourselves. Think of the time you have eaten lunch, and gone to the supermarket full of good intent and loaded your trolley with the healthiest of produce. Only to go home and come dinner time cursed yourself for not picking up the frozen pizza, as you stare down at the recipe for your courgetti in basil pesto. Another example is sexual arousal, you may have experienced times in your life where you have made a decision in a state of arousal, that you may have not made had you not been engulfed in that motivational state. And those motivational states can change very quickly, in the case of sexual arousel, very quickly indeed. You can spend a good couple of hours thinking something (or someone probably more accurately) isa good idea. Only to regret that decision, immediately after, how should we say… completing the mission of that state, whoops. It is very wise for us to observe ourselves in different states, so that we can step back from them and ask ourselves the question, is this how I really want to act? Or is this the result of my motivational operating. Do I really think that? Or is my sleep seeking motivational state on the driving seat. Would I choose to say or do this, if I was to sit down at the start of the day, and select how I would respond to this situation? The goal is for us to make choices that are closest to the trues self as possible. The highest self. The small decisions we make in our daily lives accumulate to take us in large directions. Allowing our motivational states to decide our fates is allowing our old automated software to be running our lives. We can’t choose what comes at us in life, but we do have the luxury of how we respond to it, and that will be what defines us. Don’t leave a chimpanzee behind the wheel.

And next time you have writer’s block, just start typing.