Sunday, April 26, 2015

Tears for Nepal

I have never been there ... but I feel as if I am connected to that country in a way I cannot describe. It has been on my spiritual radar since I was a child when I  first became aware of the allure of big big mountains; and even as a child I was well aware of its spiritual magnetism. This year - in November - I planned to go there. That is; it was my plan before April 25th happened. 
How can one begin to describe the impact of such an event? I for one am gob-smacked. Those of us who were caught amongst the chaos of the 2011 quakes will understand well the feelings of dread and the over-whelming sense of fear with each one of those after-shocks.  There is a world of difference though between New Zealand's ability to bounce back from such devastation, and the ability for a country such as Nepal.
Nepal is traditionally viewed as being one of the poorest countries on the planet. To me it depends how you define "poor". If you talk about poor as having a low GDP then sure, Nepal is poor; but actually as a geographical landscape Nepal is rich. Spiritually Nepal is rich. It draws people in.
This small country between India and China is on the shelf of deep tectonic forces between the Indian and Eurasian plates; hence the Himalaya's. It is rich in agriculture - making the best out of its rugged landscape, and it is also a trekkers and mountaineers Mecca; with April/May being the peak season for these activities. Nepal has increasingly relied on the growing income produced by the burgeoning tourism industry.  This quake will be felt heavily in that area of the economy. Think what the 2011 quakes did in New Zealand - a rugby world cup year at that!
Nepal also relies heavily on the support and funding provided through non-government organisations. Such organisations have enabled Nepal to build upon the strengths and abilities of its own people through utilising the wealth and knowledge of foreign funding programmes; and there are dozens and dozens of these in the country.
Now more than ever these agencies will be needed to rebuild - yet again (many were set up after recent political unrest); Nepal's delicate economy and infrastructure. The ripple effect of this quake in the months and years to come, on the Nepalese people will be devastating. However; familiar with living in less than ideal situations - with overcrowding in KTM; lack of continuous electricity a feature of daily Nepalese life ; and tenuous drinking water; these gentle-hearted people's are resoundingly resilient.  They have warmed to the hearts of the entire world, as evidenced by the pledges for aid by the majority of the Nations on this planet. The home to Sagarmatha (Mt Everest) it's spell-binding beauty may be forever changed, but Nepal will endure.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Five reasons to take up a martial art

It's been nearly a year since I started back at the karate that had been a large part of my life for over seventeen years after a nearly three year break. 
Like an unrequited love, karate was never far from my thoughts and every week I had new determined resolve to step back into the dojo - a place where I felt truly at home - and every week another week went by as I went about my life without karate in it. I had moved to a new town, had a new job, had a marriage which had imploded, knew nobody, but I knew that if I went to this different dojo (which was 300 metres from my house), I would be welcomed with a warmth and familiarity that would make me wonder what took me so long.  I didn't take the step back onto that smooth wooden floor until I had been living in this new town for nearly three years! Everything I knew about the benefits of practicing a martial art came flooding back when I did. 
A year on, I am still desperately trying to remember quickly forgotten kata and to get my "mojo" back (somewhat inelegantly), but that's my own personal journey. All the following reasons for being on that dojo floor are universal:

1. Your body will move in ways you never knew it could. 
With regular practice, unfamiliar moves will become second nature. Marvel in the way your body can adapt and grow new connections to enable such movement.

2. It is GOOD to get around in bare feet. 
It might sound like a strange thing to say but the feeling of true connection to oneself is heightened when in bare feet with no barrier blocking energies between you and the surface you are standing on. Dojo floors are usually wooden - a naturally warm and absorbent surface that is wonderful to move on with the foot bare. We don't often remove our footwear except to shower and go to bed.

3. There is a "natural order of things" ... unspoken but yet is "how we do things round here", which makes it easy to find ones place in the dojo. In this gentle unspoken yet proud way, it teaches lessons about life - as one grows in knowledge and understanding, it becomes your turn to support and guide new members; and so on. 

4. Your martial art journey will be supported as you grow in your practice and as a person. The wonderful - the most wonderful thing about being a martial artist is the personal growth which takes place, both physically and spiritually and the support from dojo members to help that happen. 

5. It brings about a profound sense of being in the present moment. As I have progressed through the grades I have realised this more and more and have become increasingly grateful for its power. As a white belt beginning on my karate journey, I projected forward all the time ... the next grading; when I am this belt or that belt; wishing I could do the fancier-looking katas the seniors were doing. What I lost in those times was the wonderful gift of mindful presence. Now a third Dan Black belt, what I love the most about my practice is the "mushin" or "no mind". There is nothing quite like the power of being fully engaged in the present moment. The clarity it offers and space to just BE is profoundly peaceful, which may sound bizarre given that people often equate martial arts with violence and aggression. The opposite couldn't be more true.
The journey is the process - the process is the journey.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

5 Great reasons to travel in your own country

We all know the temptation to head overseas for the big "OE" is synonymous with being a kiwi; in fact New Zealanders are amongst the most travelled people in the world! However; how many of us venture off-shore looking for adventure without so much as casting a glance over our shoulders towards the land we are so eager to leave?
I consider myself well travelled. Very well in fact. I have lived for extended periods of time in both Europe and USA and have been to a large variety of countries as a result of my ex-husbands job. I was lucky. I have also travelled extensively within New Zealand - or so I thought, until I recently did a road trip with my 15 year-old daughter. We headed south from Timaru to Dunedin to visit my middle son doing his Uni stint at Otago, and from there ventured into the Catlins.

Reason number 1:
It brings back that sense of awe

You know the "awe" feeling? The first part of the noun "awesome"! Seeing something for the first time (I had never been to the Catlins) is pretty awe-inspiring and I very much felt as if I was entering somewhere magical when I drove by the sign welcoming us to the Catlins area.

Reason number 2:
It gives you permission to wonder
I seriously started to wonder why on earth I had never been here and what's more; how this part of the world had remained so sparsely populated! I wondered how a man could be brave enough to eek out his living from a decrepit but wonderful old house-bus selling intricately delicate "Health Robinsonesque" mini-contraptions and I wondered how much I could buy a bit of land here for. The Catlins - wonderment abounds!

Reason number 3:
You see your country with tourist-eyes
Everything seen for the first time is seen with new fresh eyes; eyes untainted by expectation, eyes that see with clarity and freshness and a new (hopefully) a tourist might view it. Perhaps you may even find it worthy of photographing and perhaps you might be truly amazed by the places in your own country that foreigners are willing to come from around the world to marvel at...with their tourist-eyes.

Reason number 4:
You speak the same language as everyone else. 

This of course makes road directions easy to navigate...without google maps or a GPS.
Just for fun though my daughter and I did briefly consider making up a weird language just so we could feel what it might like to be a tourist in our own country. Interestingly once we got to Queenstown people expected us to be foreigners and spoke v e r y slowly to us. I felt like a tourist....and actually it felt pretty special.

Reason number 5:
Because to travel in your own country means you can take small "micro-breaks" more regularly than if you were embarking on a big overseas trip. 

That means you could plan a weekend get-away with delicious regularity and see much of the country in small "do-able" chunks (not perhaps as achievable if you live in USA, China or Russia!). In my country - New Zealand, most of the land is easily accessible by car without having to make long-haul journeys. There are many towns dotting the country from top to toe with affordable accommodation and picturesque camp-sites. It's a great way to meet "real" tourists and also to learn more about your own country.
 And finally...because travelling anywhere is good for the soul.