So Much To Do, So Little Time

If you are a busy type of person, there is never enough time in the day.

Have you ever found yourself unable to say what you did all day, simply because your day was so full you just can’t think? I have.

I wonder if a busy type of person attracts more tasks. I used to be a busy homemaker and now I’m a busy retiree. I am a busy type of person. Sometimes I feel like I’m a magnet and all the jobs are iron filings.

I never fail to have a plan for the day. I get up early, pre-alarm. I start the day well, with a cup of strong tea and my bum on the seat in front of the computer, and I write for an hour. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m writing a novel and when you’re writing a book, you need discipline.

With discipline, I write schedules; I allocate time for writing, exercise, reading, social engagements, appointments…

The schedule starts to deteriorate at about 8.30am.

Because I’m busy. Jobs appear like spot fires and I run from one to the other, fixing, solving, extinguishing. Between appointments.

Appointments are the time markers of the day. I have booked in the PT at the gym, the Pilates session, the doctor, the hairdresser, the whatever, just to keep my feet on the ground and vaguely on course.

Between those appointments are the tasks that are of such priority they have made it to The List: Bunnings seems to be my second home but there’s also the Two Dollar Shop, the supermarket, the Aquarium…

At home, there are the daily crop-ups: the usual things – the washing, the gardening, the rearranging; and the usual unusual things, those jobs that you did not plan but suddenly shine bright as a beacon as the thing that needs to be done next – cleaning the pond, weeding the front path, painting the wall…

Because I have only been in my house seven months, I am still in a frenzy of getting it set up the way I want it. It baffles me that I think it will be done if I just do that one thing, but as soon as I’ve done it, another one appears as imperative. Electricians, joiners, locksmiths, tilers, builders, handymen, plumbers… all march through my house doing their job and making a mess. I always think it will be finished next week and then I’ll have more time.

Self-deception.

My life resembles an Aboriginal artwork; the landmarks in circles, are the appointments and priorities; the many dots flowing in lines around them, the paths, are the pop-up jobs that begin and end the day.

The day that doesn’t have enough hours in it.

I publish this blog on the last Friday of each month. That’s today. It is 7.25am and I’m typing. I got up at 5.30am to do it because I’m disciplined. I just had to pay one bill and answer one email before I started.

But it’s done now.

I’m off to Toastmasters. Today is another busy day.

Featured Image: Artwork by Tammy Matthews

Extreme Start to 2020

I was in India when the bushfires were ravaging Australia. Even in an ashram in a tiny village in Rajasthan, news reached me that the coastal town of Sussex Inlet, where my beloved river house sits, was in danger. Fires were out of control throughout the South Coast of NSW devastating bushland, National Parks, and towns.

Over December and January, at least thirty-four people and a billion animals died; 186 square kilometres of tree-covered land including 5900 buildings, were destroyed; people lost possessions and livelihoods; wildlife lost their food.

It’s depressing to think that some things won’t recover. The fires were too vast and hot. That which will recover, will take a long time.

But feeling depressed doesn’t help. There’s too much to do.

People are rallying to help. Communities are growing and bonding over the effort. Solutions are germinating, just as plants will.

Ironically, I was in the ashram to talk creatively about the environment. Despite the huge environmental problems in India, it is a place of such spiritual energy at its core, it’s inevitable that seeds of recovery are sprouting there.

The ashram was the location of a conference-like festival called Utasava Maa, ‘a transformative all female festival, uniting extraordinary women from across the globe to share, inspire and collaborate in response to the ongoing international repression and violation of the earth and her daughters.’

Women, the traditional carers and protectors of the communal environment, joined heads and hearts to create ideas about change, starting with ourselves and the most basic of local levels.

Like many of the other Western women, I was attracted to the festival by the passionate motivator, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic. This woman’s capacity to inspire and rejuvenate others is at goddess-level. To be in her company, and of others like her, for nine days in a soul-stirring environment, was life-changing.

On the eve of the end of 2019, Western and Indian women danced together. It was barefoot and free. We sat around the campfire wrapped in thick, woollen shawls, and listened to the guitar and the tabla, and the voices of those who sang or had something to say. We wrote things on paper, things we wanted to let go of, and burned them in the flames. We said goodbye to unhelpful things. It was a ritual that closed off the past and wiped the slate clean for the future. It was cleansing and uplifting.

Except, at home, the fires burned. The contrast was poignant.

I’m concluding that getting back to the ancient ways is a good place to start restoring health. But I’m not going to turn this Post into an opinion piece.

Despite the euphoria I felt at midnight on the other side of the world, reality is problematic. Since I’ve been home in Australia, the positivity I felt coming into the year, has been attacked several times.

Issues that lay dormant over the Christmas/summer holidays, have seeped through the cracks and emerged, persistent. Normal life is uncomfortable. It’s bills and emails, shopping and cleaning, responsibilities and duties.

Reality has a way of slapping you in the face if you get too carried away with dreams. A very dear friend, a passionate, loving, shining light of a woman, lost her struggle with cancer and died last week. Her light has gone out and she didn’t want it to. She had life to live.

It’s important that we live knowing that time isn’t endless. Not only is our time here on earth restricted, but it can be extinguished way before we’re ready.

My point is, that we should use each day well. Be positive and step forward. Do the things that you plan to do, despite the difficulties, the fear and obstacles; despite the chaos of real life. Think about the future, yes, but live each day with vigour, concern for others and care for the natural environment.

In National Parks, the motto is, leave nothing but footprints. But a national park is like an ashram. It’s the ideal. Ideas grow into deeds like seeds grow into trees. In the real world, leave your mark. Even on the smallest level, do something to make the world a better place. Raise the children to be community minded, grow a garden, lend someone your strength.

2020 is going to be another life-changing year for me, starting with moving house and ending with a publisher for my book. I do more than hope. I do something each day towards my goal; despite the everyday hassles and drama; despite what anyone says. My dreams mix with reality. They merge and flow and continue to grow with any fertiliser thrown at them.

Be uncomfortable. Be active. Do what you need to, to make 2020 a good one.

In the words of my guru, Liz G, Onward!

 

What will you do to thrive in 2020?

 

 

Shedding

It’s the end of the year and that’s a great time for shedding. I’m not suggesting you slither out of your skin. And I’m not saying you should go build a man or woman cave. I’m referring to letting go, leaving or removing ‘things’ that are no longer good for you.

Those ‘things’ can be objects in our homes that no longer have purpose or give joy; or clothes we no longer choose to wear because they don’t make us feel good.

They can be actions we take, mindlessly, because we have always done them. They are patterns of behavior that don’t serve us anymore and keep us from moving forward. If there is no reward, why keep doing it?

Some habits are detrimental to our health. My weakness is for sweet things: cake, chocolate, ice cream. And crisp white wine. Neither are good for physical well-being and professional advice is to cut them down. I need to shed the habit of such indulgence, and make it a treat now and then.

Shedding relationships is much more difficult. And sometimes a relationship is the most important thing we can let go of. Whether it be parent/child, husband/wife, friend/‘friend,’ if it makes us feel bad, drains our energy, generates self-doubt or keeps us from being ourselves, it should go. It can be almost impossible to divorce ourselves from a relationship, but it can be most liberating.

Being true to ourselves is one of the hardest things to be. Social norms insist we’re polite and behave according to rules of our culture, family or social group. We’re all brought up to be ‘good,’ and it can be challenging if we discover that being ‘good’ doesn’t serve us well. We learn to wear a mask, even with our loved ones. But how can someone love us truly if we’ve disguised our true natures and desires? Shed the mask and we might lose a few friends, but we might also gain truer friendships.

Let unfavourable things go at the end of the year. It makes psychological space for the entry of more favourable possibilities in the new year. Shed, and put fresh skin in the game.

PS. On a personal note, I was the successful bidder, last month, on a small house (see the Take a Chance blog) and therefore I have begun the shedding of things, with enthusiasm! It also means that I will be thinking of new things next year. All that I keep and all that I gather, will serve a purpose and give me joy.

2020 will, for me, be a fresh start. I hope it will be for all of you too. What will you shed now to make space for good things in 2020?

Take a Chance

I’m a chance-taker. It makes life more interesting. It changes life and takes it forward. Sometimes, taking a chance can take all my courage. Sometimes I get my fingers burned. And sometimes, I fly. Today I’m taking a chance. Today may be a life-changer. Today, I’m bidding on a house!

Is that all? you might say. That’s no big deal. Been there, done that! Ah, but this is different. It is a big deal! It’s the first time I’m making a major life-changing decision since I’ve been on my own. I’m planning to purchase before the sale on my current house has settled. That’s the chance. That’s the tricky bit; the unsavoury, scary, thorny bit. I could lose my deposit if fate turns bad.

Leaving my marriage a few years ago, a relationship of thirty-seven years that had started in my teens, was the biggest chance I have ever taken. It was complicated and I was fearful that ‘taking a leap of faith’ so dramatic, could be devastating. But I could also see how I might thrive, instead.

That’s the difference in taking a chance over a risk. A chance has possibility. It incites, carries with it feelings of hope, anticipation and excitement. Risk has a negativity. It warns, threatens, forebodes. It screams, stop, don’t do it, run! The consequences of taking a chance and a risk may be the same but taking a chance enables us. The idea of taking a risk can scare us so much, it stagnates us.

I could fail. I could lose money. But thinking that way will shackle me. Chances are, I won’t fail. Chances are I’ll win. I’ll go into the next stage of my life in a home of my own by the sea. I see myself there. A little bungalow in a quiet suburb with a yard that backs onto a clifftop golf course. Not a fancy one, but a scrubby, natural kind of one. Just how I like it. A bit rough around the edges. A place I can walk with my dog at dawn or in darkness. A place with a yard where my future grandchildren can play. There’s a lot to win in taking this chance. I see myself winning.

And sometimes, that’s all you need to make life worthwhile.

 

What chance are you going to take to improve your life?

Persevere: One step at a time.

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.” Walter Elliot.

This piece of advice recently popped up on the Facebook Page of Australian Writers Centre, on a day I really needed to see it! ‘Perseverance’ has been my ‘go to’ word for the last couple of years, whenever I’m faltering, tired, fed up, impatient or losing heart. It’s a Post It note on top of my jumble of thoughts. So, when I saw this reminder, on a day when I felt like giving up – in this case, the writing of my novel – I thought, ah, that reminder is for me. That’s serendipity!

When things are difficult or unpleasant in our lives, we tend to put them off. Doing the easy things first is a good option: we clear our environment, our schedule, our minds, so that the difficult task can be focused on. This is my favoured technique. The problem with it is, we can keep putting off the difficult task. That’s procrastination! That’s when we need to persevere!

What I like about this quote is that it’s a reminder that perseverance itself, can be broken down into achievable chunks. If we keep going until we reach the next step, we’ll get through to the end. Think of perseverance as a journey with many stops, not just destination. Reach the step, enjoy it for a moment, breathe, and carry on.

Anything worth doing is worth persevering for. Make the struggle count. Make the most of it. Success will taste so much sweeter in the end. But pause along the way and enjoy the steps too. Make it a lifestyle.

Writing a novel is a mammoth task. 90,000 words is not the only task: they need to be the right words, in the right order, to make the right story. It’s daunting, to say the least, especially with the demon, Doubt, sitting on the writer’s shoulder, whispering – or yelling – who do you think you are? Or, your writing is rubbish! The only way to get through it, is to break it down, scene by scene, paragraph by paragraph, word by word. Persevere until the demon, Doubt, gets the message!

Life is also a mammoth task. It also needs to be stepped through, broken into chunks, lived in scenes! Perseverance is required for each stage, each goal, each battle. Don’t race to the end without stopping to appreciate the passing of each one, the beginning of the next one, and where you are right now.

Perseverance requires patience. It requires stamina. And it requires the ability to appreciate each step before we move on to the next one.

 

More brilliant advice:

“Don’t rush through the experiences and circumstances that have the most capacity to transform you.” Rob Bell.

Research is Empowering

Research has enhanced my life. It is fulfilling and empowering. I am a stronger person because of it. Since I left my marriage and dumped the kids (they’re in their twenties), I’ve found I have a zest for research.

The most energising form of research is the ‘follow your curiosity’ kind – the Big Magic kind extolled by Elizabeth Gilbert. That is, when you find a subject that interests you, investigate it, read about it, fall into the rabbit hole of the internet for it.

I’ve done this a lot for the writing of my novel, researching everything from Hindu cremations in India to nursing homes in Donegal, Ireland. However, it’s likely my enthrallment won’t equal my readers’, so not a great deal will make it to the story!

The value is in the knowledge I’ve gained, not how much I choose to share with the world. For research to be life-enhancing, it needs to be fascinating. And that’s all! It doesn’t need to serve a purpose. Although, often, it will.

Topical affairs such as gay marriage, live animal export or the Queensland Adani coal mine need to be researched, for us to have a rational, rather than emotional, opinion. It’s dangerous to only listen to the lobbyists, or political parties, news or social media. Research across the board, will, hopefully give us a balanced and purposeful view. Once we have a sound basis, there’s nothing wrong with throwing some emotion into it too. That makes us passionate and I’m all for that!

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve typically been a fence-sitter. I have undervalued my intellect and therefore deferred to others who I’ve had more faith in. I am also fearful of conflict, preferring to run away than argue. But research is making me stronger. I’m learning new things and forming opinions on the way. It’s liberating and gives me independence. Even if I’m still reluctant to share my view, at least I know what I think. This kind of research is empowering. And it’s relatively new to me.

I first read about this in a book called ‘Storycatcher.’ The author, Christina Baldwin, said: ‘Activism in one area of your life builds a sense of empowerment in all areas of your life; you are a more assertive citizen and so is your family and wider circle of friends, for you inspire each other into activism by giving each other hope.’

Case in point, the sixteen-year old Greta Thunberg from Sweden, who has sparked a worldwide movement of school children expressing their feelings about climate change. I hope that these children are inspired and encouraged to research the topic and form an opinion. It is an opportunity for them to learn, have a view and not be afraid to express it.

I was going to tell you about my research into banks and the one in which I’ve selected to open an account. But it seems too boring now. I’ll just say this: sometimes research is just plain necessary! But if it’s important, it can be fascinating. Researching banks has given me a knowledge I didn’t have. And I was able to make a sound decision. That is fulfilling! That is empowering. That has enhanced my life!

What have you researched that has made you stronger?

 

“I am woman, hear me roar.” Helen Reddy.

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticised anyway.” Eleanor Roosevelt.

Follow Your Heart

TOASTMASTERS has been a great life enhancer for me. Not only have I found new, caring, intelligent friends, but I’ve been able to develop my VOICE. This is a WRITER thing but it’s also very human. We all want to be heard, feel valued and understood. Most people join to develop themselves somehow. I joined because I wanted another reason to write. I’ve not only found an outlet for my writing, I’ve found a group of people that encourage me, make me feel strong and interesting. I can speak without fear of judgement and this is a confidence booster.

I’ve included here today, a SPEECH I made a few weeks ago, on my return from the Great India Interlude. I hope you enjoy it and feel inspired to follow your heart, like I have.

***

Have you ever had a strong desire to do something that’s not totally rational, or predictable or convenient? Something that pulls on your heartstrings despite your mind saying, maybe that’s not sensible?

Six years ago, age fifty, I did something out of character. I packed the dog, hired a motorhome and left the family for a six-week time out! It was a dream that turned into a life changing journey.

Two years ago, I changed the course of my life. I left my marriage.

It was an action that was neither predictable or convenient. I stepped into the abyss and it took courage. Why did I do it? Because I knew, deep in my heart, that I would never be all I could be if I stayed.

Two months ago, I boarded a plane for India. This may have been rational and predictable. After all, I am writing a novel that includes India and I am known as adventurous. But going to India alone was going to be challenging.

I was nervous about being a single woman travelling alone in a country where native women only travel with their family. If alone, they risk being thought of as reckless or having loose morals. I was nervous about getting sick, finding my way, getting accosted.

But the twinges in my tummy weren’t from nerves. They were flutters of excitement. I wanted to be alone in India, to immerse myself in the place, in the crowd, with the noise and cows and colour. That was what was pulling me there.

I’d been there before and travelled like a maharani. But the India I craved, was amongst the commoners. I wanted to connect empathically.

My book is the story of three women who have the courage to start again (any similarity to me is coincidental!) and one of them lives in India for a year. I wanted the trip to be my version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, maybe Bollywood style.

So, despite my fears and friends’ words of caution, I embarked on my journey. In transit, in Hong Kong, I faced my first challenge. I missed my connection! This was stressful and I wondered if the trip was really a good idea!    I appealed to the gods, asking if I really needed such a lesson. I pulled myself together, found my offloaded suitcase and figured out how to get to Mumbai that night. Arriving at 3am, there was no one to meet me. I had no cash and I needed a taxi. With the help of a kind Indian man, I figured out the foreign ATM machine. Then I set off through the dark, quiet, deserted streets with a taxi driver who spoke no English. Friends’ words of caution were firmly blocked out.

After this initiation by adrenaline infusion, things settled down. My days of research in Mumbai were glossy with success. The help I had was beyond my hopes. Nothing was too much trouble. I found where my character lived, shopped and cremated her husband.

The next part of the journey was a nine-hour train trip to Goa. Another example of facing my fear and doing it anyway (thank you Susan Jeffers) Online horror stories of women-solo-travellers on trains and the cautions from friends had me alert, but concern was unwarranted. At 5am I was escorted by a guide to the right platform and the first-class carriage. The carriage was comfortable and fellow travellers looked agreeable. No scoundrels in sight. The most unpleasant part of the trip was the man on his mobile, shouting ‘hallo, hallo,’ every time the signal cut out.

Goa is a seaside resort town and very relaxed. On my first night, I settled at the garden bar of my resort to listen to the traditional Indian band.

A bellydancer wove through the tables and grabbed my hand. I leapt from my chair, my inner bellydancer coming out to play. Travelling alone is liberating because there’s no-one you know to bear witness to your actions.

As I returned exhausted to the bar, a fine-looking English gentleman sung my praises. I was charmed as we chatted, especially when he told me he bred and showed spaniels. We ate dinner together and laughed at our stories.

I began to think I’d met my soul mate. I was quite besotted. And then he said four words that changed everything. “As a gay man……”

After I recovered, we went on to have dinner together every night.

Determined to never think of romance again, I concentrated on spirituality. One evening in Udaipur I attended a puja, a Hindu ceremony.

I mimicked the worshippers: hands together, sitting cross legged, lining up with the ladies to run holy water through my hair and accepting flower petals. As I made my way through the little alleyways back to my hotel, I almost skipped.

I could tell you twenty other stories: of conversations with women, of feeding dogs and kissing cows, of lascivious looks by young men in villages, embarrassing massages, disturbing road accidents, Bollywood movies with no subtitles, falling a little in love with my guide in Varanasi, clever beggars, and trudging through the snow before dawn to watch the sun                          rise on the Himalayas.

But I’ll just tell you this one. I wanted to get some advice from a traditional Hindu doctor. I had a hand drawn map from my guide in Varanasi and I was told it was an hour-long trip. I was deliberating as to whether it was worth it and was sharing these thoughts with a Swiss woman at my hotel. She looked me straight in the eyes, touched my arm and said, “You have nothing more important to do today!” So, I went.

As I stepped around the cows and into the white building, I was greeted by the doctor. I shared my concerns. His final words were, “You’re fine. You have everything you want in your life. Meditate, fast and you will be well in body and mind. Concentrate on writing your novel.”

Some of life’s greatest moments come when you’re not totally rational, or predictable, or comfortable. They come when you feel that pull on your heartstrings and you go with it.

Follow Your Heart (2)

I Want To Be Free

Have you ever felt like life is a school that’s handing out too many tests? Like there’s too much homework to do and you just want to go out and play? I have! Right now! I’ve had enough!

Life isn’t bad! It’s a good school: the grounds are picturesque, and the building is comfortable. The food is healthy and classmates friendly.

But I feel like I’m running the same circuit and the tests, the hurdles, just get shifted around.

I want to run free. Cross-country.

I’m currently trying to end one stage of my life: that stage where I fell in love, got married, had children, raised them, then found that the air I shared with my husband had gone stale and didn’t sustain me, or him, anymore. Some people can keep that air fresh and invigorating. That wasn’t the case for me. The window was closed and I had to break the glass to jump free.

I want to start the next stage. The only thing is, I’m still not free. I’m still stuck in the grounds! I’ve been here for two and-a-quarter years, trying to scale the boundary walls and only getting part way.

The tests have been emotional, physical, psychological and legal. Sometimes they stand alone and sometimes they’re mixed together.

I’m not going to go into details until I’m well and truly out of, or in, the woods! I may be legally divorced now but the legal and financial proceedings go on.

What do I want to do when I get to go out and play?

You may be wondering: Do I want a new partner? No! (Unless I was offered Kevin Richardson, Lion Whisperer.) Do I want to travel to obscure places that no partner would want to go? No! (Unless you call the Australian Outback and country towns, obscure.) Do I want to be a cougar? I’m too old! And No, anyway!

I just want to be me! I want to follow any path that intrigues me. I want to learn new tricks. Make discoveries. Achieve greatness in my own mind!

I want to be free to make decisions for myself, learn new skills and make each day count towards a fulfilling life.

The most fulfilling thing I could do right now is write, every day, towards completing my novel. The story and three characters consume most of my good thoughts. Those thoughts make me happy, even when I’m struggling! Those thoughts are play! (The other good thoughts are privately to do with Kevin Richardson)

So, Life! Here’s a plea. Can we get the tests over with? Can we say, enough with the homework, go out and play?

Go! Run! Be free! Yehargh!

 

Disclaimer: I apologise if Kevin Richardson is married! I haven’t actually stalked him to find out! 😉

www.lionwhisperer.co.za

https://www.instagram.com/lionwhisperersa/?hl=en

Tolerance

Self help books on motivation, reaching your goals, understanding yourself and others, finding your path and getting things done are what I’ve been thriving on for the last few years. They advise to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’, leap and the net will appear, commit and Providence will assist etc.

I love these books and they all contribute some part to my makeup, thoughts and actions.

But sometimes, they just don’t work. Or more correctly, I can’t do what they say!

I’m motivated to reach my goals. I want to write every day and have a book written by the end of the year. But menial tasks get in the way. Like the washing, or car service, or answering emails, looking up files, organising handymen, preparing tax documents, going to the dentist….

I understand myself: I know what drives me, what I value, who, what and how I love, what I need for a peaceful and joyful state of mind. I’m pretty good at understanding others. I have empathy, compassion and emotional intelligence.

Considering this, you’d think I’d be a hotshot at self-management, staying calm and focused, getting along with everybody, not being disturbed by change or noise or people’s behaviour.

Well, as they say, scratch the surface…

Thankfully, my surface has thickened over the years – in both senses! But in the sense of being calm, tolerant or impenetrable, it’s not thick enough yet!

Barking dogs drive me crazy and interfere with my otherwise laser-beam concentration. They cause so much interference on the receiver of my mind, that I can’t hear anything else. (This is ironic, considering dogs are one of my favourite things on earth.)

Requests for information, administrative tasks, problems with phones, computers, internet, health issues, legal issues – they all irritate and interfere with the big picture. They’re a different kind of barking dog!

And then there’s those people in your life that simply press your buttons – those buttons that make you feel tense, anxious, snappy, unkind, and absolutely seething. Hopefully none of these feelings escape the thickened skin, and you remain looking magnificent. But they might. Because the skin was penetrated in the first place. Those people have teeth, they’re biting dogs. And, in this blog, shall remain nameless!

This blog post was a spin off from frustration. I’m venting! My lessons haven’t been learned well enough yet. My tolerance is not as high as I would like it or as high as I thought a few hours ago. I’m not ZEN yet. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to stop trying.

Obstacles are good. They teach us what our shortcomings are. They show us that we need to try harder. They push us to be clever and find ways around them. Another lesson –  the journey would be bloody boring if it wasn’t for the obstacles. (Talk to anyone that’s driven across the Nullarbor.) We just have to learn to go more slowly, breathe, notice the view and figure out the best way to pass them.

I feel much better now. Writing it down has always helped me re-establish calm. I feel tolerant again. I feel like I’m a better person: kind, compassionate, focused and driven.

Until next time!

Get Out There

The benefits of facing your fears and pushing yourself to go outside your comfort zone, are exponentially rewarding. Each time you achieve something on your own, you buoy up your confidence and your ego, and that means you can go on to to do even more adventurous things.

Visiting a foreign country on your own seems to be something most people are afraid of, or maybe it’s just women. But as I’ve said before, the advantages, like being adopted by strangers and following your own interests and timetable, outweigh the disadvantages. Once you’ve done it, it gets easier. I’d recommend going somewhere similar to home first then stepping up the ante. I started with domestic travel in Australia, then moved on to Ireland, and now it’s India.

Exploring on your own, day or night, seems scary to some, as well. I know I’ve talked about this before but I want to reinforce that it’s worthwhile. I want to share some examples I experienced in India to convince you.

Catching the train from Mumbai to Goa, nine hours on my own, was far easier than I anticipated. I did need help finding the platform but that wasn’t bad. I brought my packed lunch and mini-thermos of masala chai, and found that tea, snacks and lunch were provided! Mind you, I wouldn’t eat it, but that’s pretty convenient.

Hiring a driver is essential for safe and time-efficient site-seeing in a place like India but it’s not necessary for short trips with a purpose. I could have opted for hotel transport to and from the Jaipur Writers Festival but choosing to take the auto rickshaw was fun and gave me some of my best photos. And a real taste of being a local. Apart from motorbikes, this is one of the key ways for locals to get around. They’re really cheap and give you an authentic experience.

On my first night in Varanasi, I went along the promenade of the Ganga to survey the area before dinner. Being sensibly cautious I first asked the hotel staff if it was safe to do so, since it was dark. Their answer was absolutely. There were so many people going about their business: chatting, bathing in the holy river or sending candles off in little foil trays with a prayer. A young man started walking alongside me asking, where are you from? The usual conversation starter! Did I feel threatened? Not at all. Was I wary? Of course! When he asked if I’d like to see the cremation site, I said yes, but it wasn’t like I was following him up a back alley. I was in plain view of everyone and he offered pieces of information which were helpful. When he offered to guide me the next day, I firmly told him that I already had a guide, gave him 100 rupees (AUS$2) to make him happy, and left. It was a positive start to the trip.

The next night, I attended a religious festival, which happened to coincide with my being there. There was a huge number of people and a lot of noise. As a single, I could climb over people that were seated at the front to perch myself in a tiny spot. I squeezed in to cross my legs next to a dark, sari-clad lady who smiled, made a bit more room, then helped me put red paste on my forehead. She even shared flower petals with me. I was delighted and I think she was too. Returning to the hotel, a kilometre walk along the Ganga bank, I got even closer to the cremation site than the night before. About five pyres burned, flames reaching metres high and smoke billowing, stinging my eyes while my ears and chest vibrated with the loud beating of drums. I finished off the evening with feeding a mother dog and her four puppies, and three cows, my left over dinner of naan bread and vegetable kebabs. (I’d asked the restaurant to pack it in a takeaway bag for my lunch!) This whole experience, which I wouldn’t have had if I’d been too anxious about going out, will always stay with me as a highlight.

Finally, in Kolkata, I left my lovely hotel, a cocoon of peace and safety (but also rather un-thrilling for dinner for one), and discovered a buzzing hive of brightly-lit activity, just outside the gate. Night markets were right there and as I stepped through the crowd of buyers and sellers, I watched as locals examined the clothes, stainless steel pots and embroidered tablecloths. I even bought a couple of things myself. Young people gathered around food stalls and stood eating dishes that I now recognised. The aromas of sweet spices and garlic made me hungry so I pressed on to the rooftop bar and restaurant recommended to me by my guide earlier in the day. I was thrilled that the atmosphere was both vibrant, enhanced by contemporary (Bollywood-style) music, and comfortable, with white cane chairs, orange cushions and marble table tops. And the food was tasty and inexpensive. It was another authentic experience that I wouldn’t have had if I stayed in the hotel.

I want you to understand that these moments not only enhance my travel experience but also help me grow as a strong and curious person. These are the building blocks for developing a joyous and purposeful life and I hope I can encourage you to take the first step towards doing this for yourself. We can all do it if we start with baby steps. It’s taking a leap of faith, even if it’s off the bottom step first.

“Be brave. Without bravery, you will never know the world as richly as it longs to be known. Without bravery, your life will remain small – far smaller than you probably wanted your life to be.”
Elizabeth Gilbert.

PS Adventures don’t always run smoothly. Things do go wrong and they can hurt. But whether they’re negative experiences or learning experiences is how you view it. I’ve had worse but I’ll tell you this tale because I see it as funny!

On my last day in Varanasi, I decided to see an Ayurvedic doctor, as much for the experience as a curiosity about advice he would give me. I followed a hand-drawn map scribbled on a napkin by my guide the previous day. This was challenging and fun, a bit like orienteering. I had to catch a boat first, a ride of 30 minutes, and get off at Assi Ghat. Then I turned left at the steps and right at the chai shop and past the ATM and up to a big house on the right. On the way, I was stopped by a thin woman carrying a toddler and an empty baby bottle. ‘No money,’ she said. ‘Baby formula, milk!’ And she waved the bottle at me. ‘No money, milk for the baby,’ she begged again. Well, what could I do? I asked, ‘Where do I get the formula?’ ‘The shop, follow!’ she said, beckoning me with a wave of her hand. I followed her to a shop twenty metres away and she requested the formula from the shop owner. ‘Two,’ she suddenly appealed, touching my arm and leading my gaze to the toddler. So again what could I do? Okay, two! I was surprised at the cost and exclaimed it. The shop owner showed me the box and the price was printed on the packaging. ‘Okay!’ I nodded, reaching into my purse, mumbling to myself, No wonder she can’t afford it! The baby pinched my arm, a little painfully, in gratitude. He was quite strong!! I took their photo, which was reverse begging really. I love my people photos.

So….I went to the doctor. I stepped past the lazing cows and into his house foyer. He spoke English, was kind and intelligent and basically told me I was going to be fine. Ayurvedic doctors are free so of course I believe him. This was a truly positive experience.

Back to the lady and toddler. I sent a message to my guide saying how helpful he’d been in his recommendation of the doctor and map drawing. I said something brief about the lady and buying milk. He replied that I’d been ripped off, that she would take it back to the shop and get a refund. 600 Rupees (AUS$12) it cost me! I sent the photo and he sent back, ‘Ya, I know dis bloody leady.’ This made me laugh at myself so hard, I may have looked crazy. Really, did it hurt? No! Did I learn something about life in a hard world. Yes. About myself. Yes! So end of story. Another great experience!