Can You Hear the Universe?

I’ve never been an advocate of meditation; in fact, I was somehow against it, not really understanding why someone would need to stop thinking in order to solve a problem they had. Because really, that is what I thought meditation was, and I have so little patience, I would rather get things moving instead of stopping every day to try and fix something without really getting anything done.

However, what has been happening to me lately has changed my opinion on it. See, for the past year, I have been getting into yoga; I started being « serious » about it – and by  “serious”, I mean getting onto my mat every now and then during the week – since last May, when the exam period was approaching. I stumbled upon the YouTube channel of an American girl, Sarah Beth Yoga, and watched her 15-minute yoga routines to let the stress off my shoulders and back. I got addicted to it quite fast; first of all, because she is good at teaching, and because it made me feel incredibly focused and peaceful. I would pair it with a long and slow jogging session, and I would study not only faster, but also better. All my negative energy and stress was released, and I could put all my attention into whatever task needed it. When I look back at it, I can honestly say I enjoyed my exams period, because I found some balance thanks to yoga.

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Then my daily schedule changed once, twice, and more. I would leave my practice for a few weeks, and go back to it when I felt like it, and it always taught me great things. From my own experience, yoga instructors often say you should adapt the poses to what feels good to you, since you always have to start somewhere; and the person next to you or behind you might be more advanced than you are, or a beginner. In Sarah’s words, “Take what works for you, and leave the rest behind”.

And this is exactly why I love yoga: we’re all different, right? Some of us are more flexible, some stronger, some more motivated, some more inclined to relaxing… What is more, some days are better than others. And as I gathered, a yoga instructor’s job is also to remind their yoginis of such priceless information. In fact, think about it: if you focus on yourself once in a while, and do what you ought to do, if it makes you happy and energised, the positive waves will shine out of you. Roald Dahl said it, and so did many more.

Finally, making your own choices in a yoga practice will become a habit, and I believe you will more likely make the right ones in your daily life.

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Last week, I had the chance to be at the right place, at the right moment. I got to be among Geshe Jampa Tarchin’s students for a day. He is a Buddhist monk, coming from Tibet but settled in a meditation center in New-Zealand. The day was filled with wisdom,meditation, questions, and quite surprisingly, laughter. I sat down there on my cushion, scanning the Geshe’s gestures and listening to this language I had never heard before, trying to write as much information as I could in my mind. At the end of the day, I have come to think that, just like yoga, meditation teaches you how to feel what’s deep inside of you; because you stop for a second, take time to breathe and become more aware of what’s happening both inside and out your body. The goal is to expand your mind, your view on things, understand them from afar, see them from the distance, as objectively as possible, and put them back into your life – this life you were given the opportunity to experience, in our Universe, in our Solar System, on our Planet, on this continent, in this country, in this place, in this room, at this very moment.

All in all, meditation is supposed to help you be happier, more peaceful and more compassionate with others and thus better at dealing with the world and its everyday challenges; yoga supposedly adds the physical part needed to your well-being – it helps you stand taller, be stronger, relax better, and feel and train your body, just like you do with your mind. But one important thing I also learnt is that the ability to meditate doesn’t come overnight; no, meditation requires time, and patience, a lot of patience. We all lack patience. Isthis the reason why we don’t practice it? Well, I guess I’ll meditate on that…

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Freedom and Free Wifi – These Unexpected Hours at the Local Library

One of the first things you realise when you get to New-Zealand, it’s that internet is a scarce commodity. If you have access to it at your hostel, you are lucky; if it’s not expensive, you are even luckier – and when it’s free, you feel you were blessed by an angel and won’t leave that place for a little while. And another thing you realise is that every city that can be considered so has a library – and very often, quite a beautiful one. In fact, it is often quite modern; it is a cosy place where you’re allowed to talk just enough, where the lighting is just the right amount and the temperature not too high nor too low; and finally, you’ll have guessed by now, free wifi that actually works. You got it: for a bookworm like me, it’s a perfect place – and for book-lover backpackers, these buildings are synonyms of heaven.

So here I am – writing from the Wanaka library. Since I have been woofing (housekeeping for a few hours a day, in this case, in exchange of accommodation) here for the past three weeks and have wifi at the lodge, I didn’t even bother asking how or where the library was here. Today, however, when I had planned on heading to Dunedin, I spontaneously changed my mind and ended up walking in there, curious and happy, excited even, to discover a new place.

It might be the books, their smell, their font when their language is English, the low voices, the comfortable chairs, the grey sky outside, the warmth inside, or all of them together, I am not sure – but I feel at home. Or is it because I spent so much time here? Is it because I got used to walking these streets? Is it because I now know where things are in the supermarket? Is it because I know that wherever I go, I’ll come across friendly faces? Is it because I know this familiar lakefront is waiting for me to visit, when I said goodbye yesterday?

To be honest, you know what I feel? I feel that, thanks to that constant moving around, thanks to this beautiful nature I have been getting closer and closer to recently, I feel the Earth itself is my home. You know what they say – home is where the heart is. Well, my heart has gone beyond that acquaintance line that was lying between this beautiful, old Lady and me – and where I might go, I believe I will feel the same way. In fact, just like every room of your house becomes part of you when you have spent a significant amount of time in each of them, I believe the same is happening when you try and seize everything every part of our Planet has to offer. Just like every room of your house holds a purpose, a way to be, details to notice, corners to furnish and walls to decorate, I believe every continent; country; region; city; field; mountain; bush; lake; sea; to name but a few, is waiting for good-hearted human beings to meet and treasure them.

Today, I am grateful for what I have – Freedom. Freedom to explore, freedom to leave, freedom to stay; in other words, I have the freedom to choose. I can follow my heart and stay where I please, or pack my things and go – and whichever I’ll decide on, I will feel at home if I just follow my heart. And just like free wifi in New-Zealand, freedom is a scarce commodity – just like free wifi, it is a simple good to those who have it and yet so complicated to get to those who can’t enjoy it on a daily basis. It is so simple to forget about it and yet so noticeable when suddenly it is not there. So today, I am grateful – for this home and this freedom (and, well, free wifi) I touch and hold with my hands, mind and heart.

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I took this picture of Lake Wanaka during a sunset I got the opportunity to witness from Roy’s Peak, on a beautiful day of March this year, 2015. How could I leave this place?

“Si la vida es genial, lo va a decir el libro”

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Here I am, once again, trying to reflect on what I am experiencing here in New-Zealand. And in fact, I must say that nothing special has been happening to me for the past few weeks, but I keep meeting new people on a regular basis. Since I am living in a hostel, it is buzzing with people from all around the world, and in this one, I am sharing the area with many South Americans – Argentinians mostly, Chileans and Uruguayans.

By sharing mate and talking about life – work, music, religion, politics, a lot can be covered in a day – I realised that what I love the most about travelling is people. Now, New-Zealand is very quiet in general; apart from Auckland and maybe Wellington (I haven’t been there yet), cities are small, and if there are any, you can see them written on a map without zooming in that much. There are about 17 inhabitants per square kilometre – according to Wikipedia -, which lets you enjoy the green and blue views as well as the silence about 98% of the time. However, the Flying Nun is not New-Zealand – this ‘backpackers’, as they call it, is an old and grey building with a surprising rainbow-coloured inner life.

Let me explain: there are many types of travellers – we all come from different countries, even continents; we have different backgrounds and have experienced different things along the way; we got here for different reasons and with different expectations. Not only does this make me see the place I am in right now as very colourful, but this is also what, in my opinion, is the most interesting part in travelling.

What are the chances for you to meet an Argentinian history teacher who left it all to see if he could regain faith in his job? What are the chances for you to meet a Japanese make-up artist who is now doing gardening in a remote surfing town in Kiwiland? What are the chances for you to meet a German girl who grew up in Africa, studied accounting and is, so you just discovered, passionate about nutrition and health? What are the chances for you to meet a 21-year-old English cook and surfer who has been on the road for the past three years of his life?

What are the chances for you to meet them all at the same place?

And when it all somehow settles down, when you think you’re starting to know people, when you think that tonight, you’re just going to enjoy a beer and laugh about the events of the day, you realise there is an amazingly talented photographer, a quiet bracelet-maker and a virtuoso pianist in the crowd. People are full of surprises, stories to tell, jokes to make, emotions to show, theories to elaborate, recipes to share – and the best part of it is they often don’t realise it.

Finally, I have come to realise – yesterday night at around 1 o’clock in the morning GMT+13, to be precise – when in a joke, someone told me that “si la vida es genial, lo va a decir el libro” (the book will tell if life is amazing), that one’s actions are not what makes them, but what one makes of their actions – this is what matters.

And when you’re travelling, it is when you can truly experience the freedom of being who you want – or rather, who you truly are. You can decide that your book, even if you’re not the only one to write it, is yours to be considered amazing or not. In fact, I truly believe that the feeling one gets after reading a book is what one should remember – just like words sink in to be reflected on, events happen for one to make something out of them.

Just by being themselves and making something out of their stories, travellers are precious sources of inspiration. They broaden up your vision and lead you to paths of opportunities you would never have thought of before. And actually, travellers are not – people are.

What Are You Afraid of?

As I have been traveling for a month around a small part of the North Island, I got to meet all kinds of people already. Many backpackers, but also locals, among which many Maoris, since the East Coast is one of the regions where they are found the most. And among them Kiwi Maoris, many that I met had never been to the South Island. I must admit I was a bit puzzled in the beginning even though I tried not to show it; I am traveling from Europe  to New-Zeland and you have never been further than 300km away from your house – how big is the gap the lies between us!

I managed every time to try and understand why they had not done so yet: ‘do you not want to see what is just a few towns away? Do you feel you don’t need to go explore?’ and so on and so on. Many times, they said they were really happy with where they were and did not really see any reason why they should change it. Many of the people I talked to in the beginning were ‘full’ Maoris and their relationships with other family members is of utmost importance. For a christening, for example, members would gather around the new-born, then surrounded by three generations up him. That would give him a great amount of cousins, aunts and uncles, let alone the fact that most Maori parents raise a lot of kids – ‘oh I have 12 siblings, so no, we’re not that many!’. Obviously, raising these babies is quite time and money-consuming, which discourages parents to go explore their country, let alone the world.

When I met these people, they often had two questions, or similar ones: they asked what I was most afraid of, and what I missed the most from my country. Before they asked, I don’t think I had ever really thought of missing things – as opposed to people – albeit that from traveling around a bit already, I know that what I would not find in Ukrainian, English or Belgian supermarkets, I would not find in New Zealand either. As for fear, well, there are the basic of a traveler: losing your passport and/or credit card. A smartphone is very handy too, but quickly replaceable if you really feel the need for it. Then if I think a bit further, then I would say I am afraid of terrorist attacks, murderers, car accidents or any kind of accident that would cause physical pain, running out of money, forgetting important papers or items somewhere… But these things are universal. In other words, wherever you encounter yourself in the world – you as a human being living in the modern society -, these are things you are aware of; they are things you know could happen anywhere, anytime. When traveling, one just be aware of the areas where more care is required – dangerous roads, dodgy areas and expensive places. And I have come to realise that the more you know about a place, the less scary it seems to be.

Given the mindsets that these people who questioned me were in, I could not really give them this answer – they would probably have looked at me with big eyes, wondering what the hell I was talking about. So I gave it a bit of thought and ended up with one answer.

To me, nature seems scary. While driving along the North Coast – as it is probably the case for many other places -, it is impossible not to think about how small you are. And somehow meaningless; in fact, should there be any kind of fire or tsunami and/or earthquake taking over the Earth, the powerful nature would be pitiless, and History holds way too many examples to back up my words.

However, to the people I would give the answer to, the wilderness would probably not be scary; big cities might. Gigantic amounts of cars, planes, high buildings, that would scare them, or at least impress them. Elevators, maybe. Things they are not used to seeing on a day to day basis. But they can ride bareback from a very young age and walk barefoot on the grass without wondering if ants might be preparing a human body invasion.

All in all, one place is scary for everyone; when we get out of it, we get nervous, excited and stressed at the same time, clueless and lost – we call it comfort zone. This is what we are afraid of.

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