Urban meditation

Meditation. The act of being poised in peaceful solitude, with your thoughts silenced and the rhythmic tide of your breath refueling your zest for life and patience with idiots.

Is that how it works?

I wouldn’t know, because every time I’ve been led in meditation I’ve managed to “focus on my breathing” for all of, oh, two breaths before a very clear and persistent chant enters my head accompanied by my in-house mariachi band. It goes like this:

FOCUS ON YOUR BREATHING!

FOCUS ON YOUR BREATHING!

KEEP YOUR EYES CLOSED!

FOCUS ON YOUR BREATHING!

Then there’s two more breaths before my eyes start opening like the Sphinxes’ Gate in the movie, Never Ending Story. And, we all know how badly that can end.

From that moment on it’s all over – any attempt to marshal my mind back into some form of idyllic hypnosis is doomed. Instead, my eyes zip around the room looking for other naughty children, or waiting to be glared at by my committed teacher. But, of course, my teacher wouldn’t glare, because they’re focused on the task at hand – wandering through the Utopian garden of bliss they’ve created in their mind. Or not, because their mind is clear, still…peaceful.

See! It’s not easy figuring out this zen master stuff.

Based on my experiences so far, I can confidently hypothesise that, even if I was alone in a plain white room, with perfect climate control, wearing virtually weightless clothes offering supreme comfort, I’d still manage to distract myself from the practice of meditation. Probably with a really fascinating internal dialogue about the whiteness of the room.

So, naturally, I have a huge amount of admiration for people who manage to still the world’s chaos for even a few moments and disappear into an internal wonderland of peace and serenity.

Imagine my awe, then, when I stumbled upon a man in quiet cross-legged reflection (you were right to picture him wearing multi-coloured tie-dyed harem pants) on the steps of a busy outdoor bar in Sydney’s CBD during Friday peak hour.

In front of him hundreds of harried little minions scurried about trying get as far away from Point A (work) as possible and cross the finish line at Point B (somewhere serving alcohol, most likely) in a record time that would astonish their FitBit. Honestly, we should all be made to don sweatbands and stopwatches at 5:00pm on a Friday. But, I digress…

Behind him, hundreds of over-achievers who’d already arrived at Point B were raucously draining their wine and beer glasses and erasing the memory of any missed deadlines or politically incorrect comments made to their boss.

Yet, here was this man, persisting in his quiet contemplation at the isthmus between a crowded bar and heaving pavement. The only person who came even vaguely close to his level of stillness was this bloke sitting nearby reading the paper…

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Was he taunting us by silently singing, “ner, ner, na, ner, ner! I can control my thoughts better than you.”

No, surely not. His mind is too pure of thought for childish mockery.

But then, as I paused to watch him (for a millisecond – I had a train to catch, after all), I realised he might not be meditating at all.

In his hand he was gently cradling a lighter. At first I thought he probably just grabbed whatever he had close by to help centre his thoughts as he chanted his AUMs.

Maybe it wasn’t that.

Maybe he was quietly sitting there all this time trying to remember where he left his smokes.

Theatrical commuting

A commuter train is not the first place I’d choose for a spot of people watching. All those weary worker bees, heads seemingly dipped in prayer, looking at whatever device will take their mind off the stained upholstery they’re sitting on; it rarely makes for an interesting spectator sport. Unless it’s the day your carriage becomes the theatrical equivalent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, and you’re holding a golden ticket.

This week, I had VIP seats to some of the most glorious displays of human behaviour I’ve ever seen.

Like many people, I suspect (hope), I often make a quick visual sweep of the platform before I board the train, just to get a sense of the characters that are sharing my ride. This day was no different.

On my right stood a young girl in jeans and a flannel shirt I’d bet cost a lot of money to look that ‘worn’. On my left stood a man I’d describe as a lot older than me, but only because the birthday alerts keep getting sent to my memory’s junk mail folder; it still thinks I’m in my twenties (bless).

Together, we got on the train and sat in the vestibule area by the doors. I didn’t realise my trendy little flannel friend was on the phone until we sat down. She was talking so quietly I doubt an audio engineer skilled at recording praying mantis mating could hear her. But that soon changed.

I believe it was her rhythmically aggressive tone and furious gaze that tipped me off to the fracas she was embroiled in. Suddenly it wasn’t just her shirt that was distressed. A quick scan in my peripheral vision confirmed that the commuters on either side of me had twigged to the tiff brewing across from us as well.

Delighted to have picked the carriage screening the latest Netflix drama, I silently squealed, “grab your popcorn, folks, it’s ON!”

After a minute or so of different variations of Flannel Girl asking, “why didn’t you answer your phone?”, I couldn’t help but feel deflated at the predictable plot line. But, just as I was about to switch off and join my fellow worker bees at Swipe Club, in swept a whole lotta crazy from the next carriage. A twist so unexpected and dramatic that Flannel Girl suddenly lost the leading role and became a cameo (at best).

MickJaggerIf I had to guess his stage name, it would have to be Man Under the Influence of Suspicious Substances* Who’s Passionately Interested in the Gaza Strip Conflict. Why? Because in the three loops he did onto the top level of our carriage and back underneath, he was having an enthralling conversation on the phone about that very issue – all punctuated with a series of spectacular lunges reminiscent of the inimitable (until now) Mick Jagger. His performance was electric, I was both spellbound and nervously trying to avoid eye contact.

He exited the carriage as flamboyantly as he arrived but the memory of his dramatic exploits stayed with me for the rest of the ride home.

Honestly, it’s the only way to travel.

*Not something I’d condone or recommend.

 

Parents: be ware the child-free holiday

I fear it’s not safe to visit too long with memories of my life before kids. Mainly, of course, because they bring such incredible joy and, um, yes, deep perspective on what’s important in life. But also because it’s just not helpful to let your mind wistfully wander to weekends spent waking up at one’s leisure and enjoying a peaceful cuppa in bed with the papers.

Truth be told, I’ve never done that, but my memories of those days clearly chronicle something like that happening.

It’s these very memories, fantasies and half-truths that inspired my husband and I to take a brief sojourn to the Blue Mountains recently without our ridiculously cute, funny, adorable and button-pushing toddler.

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The stunning view of the Blue Mountains from the Three Sisters lookout at Katoomba

Just to get some necessary fact to balance out what we were sure was inspired fiction, you see. It’s not like we bolted to the car, arms flailing in the air like lunatics escaping the asylum, locked the doors and rushed off, at speed, before our heaven-sent family members could change their minds. That most definitely did not happen.

And, so, it pains me to tell you that any dreams you have that take you tripping, nay, skipping (with daisies in your hair and soft, green grass beneath your feet), to a place where you can visit the WC on your own and leave your house on a whim, are true.

You can do everything at your pace – fast, slow or not at all. Naps are for adults, wherever and whenever you fancy. And, the papers can absolutely be read slowly with a cuppa in bed, or during a relaxed breakfast spent in companionable silence.

There is a small catch, though – the bone-jarring thud of reality that’s waiting to welcome you back into its clutches. The same reality that insists you check your bright eyes and holiday glow in at the door. The same reality that will make you realise those nostalgic glances at photos of your kids while you were away – usually accompanied with protestations of, “oh, I just miss them so much” – were a misuse of valuable time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a good’un; a kid that’s just so stinking cute I can’t stand it and who makes me smile more than I had in my entire life before she became part of it. But, boy did we pay the price for having a ‘time out’.

There was no over-excited, “Mummy!” as she ran into my arms. Quite the opposite, really – more blithe indifference than heartwarming Disney-esque reunion. Then there were the tantrums. Two within half an hour of our return, when I have it on good authority (from my sister-in-law) that she didn’t throw one the whole time we were away. Saving them as a special welcome home gift for us, obviously. See, thud!

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The famous Three Sisters rock formation at Katoomba

I blame the hotel. How dare they attend to our every need like that. How dare they lure us into a hypnotic state of restful naps by the pool. How dare they make it possible to enjoy a game of Monopoly without one of the hotels being shoved up a nose or in an ear.

How very dare they!

 

 

Keeping quiet

Anyone who’s ever adopted another country as their home will hopefully agree that, once you’ve given your heart to another place, it remains forever adrift; locked in a bittersweet tug-of-war of loving where you are and longing to be somewhere else.

I feel that way about silence.

I love being in its company but can feel intimidated by its presence at the same time.

In truth, if you could ask silence how committed I’d been to our companionship over the years, I’m sure it’d say I’d been most inattentive. We don’t get together often, but when we do it’s usually a passing nod of acknowledgment – quick dip of the cap – and we’re off in different directions again.

Lately, though, my respect for silence has been reborn.

It’s called parenthood.

The squeals of delighted playfulness that fill your house and melt your heart are met, in equal measure, by ear-splitting clashing, banging and screaming. It’s a land where silence surrendered long ago.

I escaped our Land of Bellows briefly over New Years Eve, thanks to incredibly generous grandparents, aunties and uncles, desperate to unashamedly spoil the youngest member of our clan.

My first thought as the car drove off towards three blissful days of sleep-ins and relaxed breakfasts spent reading the paper?

It’s so quiet. Too quiet.

There was no dog whining in the boot, desperate for a pee, and our darling toddler wasn’t imploring, “more, more, more…” as soon as Taylor Swift’s Shake it off finished playing on the stereo.

Maybe I’m a bigger fan of the cacophony of life than I thought.

 

 

 

 

The artful conmen

I love to marvel at nature with the best of them – a beautiful vista; majestic wildlife; weather that can switch between delicately pristine and beautifully violent in an instant. All breathtaking.

Sometimes, though, you just have to wonder if it’s having a laugh at your expense. I certainly thought that was the case on a lovely holiday to Tasmania’s much revered Cradle Mountain Lodge recently. My partner and I were enjoying an early morning cuppa (tea, that is) in our cabin, overlooking the sensational view of the bush outside our window. We could hear a creek making a run for freedom nearby and smell the delicious memory of our wood fire on the breeze.

It was so heavenly it was cliched. So, I guess we were lucky for the reality check that flew around the corner, after a quick visit to the cabin next door, and sat on our balcony. It was a jet black crow sporting a rather unfortunate injury. It seems he’d* lost a good chunk of his beak in what we could only assume was an unfortunate lock picking incident. Judgemental, I know, but he just seemed like that kind of bird.

As soon as he confirmed the room had occupants, with a scan of his beady little eye, he got to work. He went from sitting on our balcony railing to the back of a chair right by the window in the blink of an eye. Then he began transmitting what was clearly an urgent message by morse code. The telegraph key of choice? His tapping his beak on our window pane, of course.

“Please help me,” we believe he said. “It’s my beak, you see. It makes it so hard to capture my own food,” he continued.

“Won’t you help me? How about a biscuit from the tea and coffee station, or even a Mars Bar from the mini bar? I know you’ve got some in there.”

What he probably didn’t know is that there are polite requests all over our room not to feed the wildlife. Their little sob story was going nowhere with us. Realising this, our beak-less friend called in reinforcements. They came in the shape of another feathered friend. He’d obviously been waiting just out of sight on our neighbour’s balcony, ready to leap into action if the first act didn’t wow the critics.

He quickly took his place on the balcony and sprung into action, warbling a tune to complement the tap, tap, tapping of his friend.

These jokers had their scam locked down. They’d clearly done the hard work to not only identify their USP – unique sympathy point – but also refine it. Together they made quite a symphony and their beady little eyes made for quite a foreboding accompaniment.

After a couple more minutes of tapping, warbling and eyeballing we’d obviously reached the final act. They both gave us one more threatening stare before silently declaring to one another;

“Stuff this, man, they’re not going to give up the goods. Let’s look somewhere else.”

*David Attenborough I am not. The little fella’s gender is assumed.

Hound-ward bound

I’ve stumbled on a parallel universe. A place where you tend to know people only by the name of their companion and a trip to the supermarket involves shopping for an array of toys and treats promising loyalty and obedience.

The best friend a family could have
The best friend a family could have

It’s the world of dog ownership and it’s a bit like Hotel California; once you cross the threshold you’ll almost certainly never leave.

I remember the moment we knew we’d bought our one-way ticket perfectly. It was our newly adopted friend’s first day out of the clink; the RSPCA’s pet shelter. We were walking down a grassy knoll in Sydney’s Centennial Park, leaving footprints in the dew because we’d been up since daybreak tending to the little fella’s every need. Not that he’d noticed, I might add.

Ahead of us was a crowd of people and pooches all looking like they belonged. The people came well prepared in their Hunter wellington boots, leaving me silently cursing my already damp Converse for revealing me to be the novice I so clearly was. The hounds strutted around like it was their own backyard, casually sniffing bottoms and chasing balls with gusto. Or, in our little man’s case, total indifference.

We walked tentatively around the edge of the park, conscious there was nothing keeping our pooch from scarpering if we got too cocky and let him off the lead. That is, he was yet to realise we were his meal ticket, and there was certainly none of that loyalty and obedience we’d tried to buy at Petbarn. So, to be on the safe side, we kept him on the lead and spent the morning feeling quietly chuffed with ourselves as we got into the swing of exchanging pleasantries with the other dog owners we passed on our jolly stroll around the park.

It’s possibly the best way to start a Saturday morning I can think of.

** Note – it’s been a few months since I first started writing this post. I’m pleased to report that our little friend has settled in perfectly and delights us every day with his shenanigans. Thank you to all the staff and volunteers at the RSPCA who held onto him for seven months, just so we could find him.

The festival and the mighty town of Dungog

God, it’s exciting descending on a town you’ve never been to before full of pre-festival jitters. It’s been so long since my last one, I’d forgotten what it’s like; walking up to the gates surrounded by people in lots of weird and wacky get-up, all itching to let the fun begin.

There was something just a little different about this musical spectacular, though. We were in Dungog for Mumford & Sons’ Gentlemen of the Road festival and it just so happened to coincide with an absolute scorcher of a day. Not a cloud in the sky, nor a drop of moisture in the earth and a balmy 38 degrees celsius all around.

Instead of walking into an arena full of bearded hipsters jostling for poll position in front of the stage they were all huddled quietly under trees. It was all very unexpected and very odd.

A sort of mollified silence had descended on the festival as people battled it out for what little shade there was. In a flash I was taken back to my days growing up on the farm, when I’d drive past a dusty paddock on a stinking hot day and see a cotton wool ball of sheep gathered under a eucalyptus.

Then, slowly, as the sun became less ferocious, the festival spirit started to wake from its slumber. The chatter became louder, the dancing more spirited and then, at the end of the day, this happened…

Mumford & Sons, going OFF!