A change of mind state

  In today’s blog, I’m going to return to my old life. Maybe because I have been thinking that maybe I should return to it for six months to make some money and buy my own boat.
Then I remember why I left and think anything is better…

My parents have always been amazing parents who tried their best to keep us happy and healthy. Healthy I always was, happy not so much. This wasn’t their fault, it was the fault of a persistent bully. In those days there wasn’t so much awareness and my parents did the best they could to manage it. 

Then I turned 12 and a change of schools and hormones caused my behaviour to change drastically. My astute parents promptly took me to a counsellor who was brilliant and helped me put things in perspective. When I needed her again, she had died and I went through a string of horrible counsellors who confused me more than anything. 

This is where my passion to become a psychologist started. I wanted to be a good one like Shelley who didn’t put words in my mouth or say that medication was the answer. I like to think for the most part, I succeed in being a Shelley, when I could. 

 
  

In my last two jobs, we had to follow a manual. Common sense says that human beings don’t fit manuals. If so, we would all have one from birth. But, I was mandated to follow this manual whether or not I felt it was in the best interests of the client. With time, this really started to bother me and disrupt my internal balance. 

Two years ago, I completed a yoga teacher training which changed my life forever. The yoga philosophy really clicked with me. I didn’t realise there was more to yoga than a series of movements and “connecting with your breath.” The asana (postures) practice is a tool to accomplish the yoga philosophy. I am going to completely simplify it by focusing on only a couple of elements; acceptance and living in the moment. Trust me, there is much more. 

  

I found the more I just accepted my mood states, the easier it was to work through them. In fact I didn’t have to work through them because they were simply there and would then pass. I learned quickly that all my moods would pass so I just let them be without stressing about it. The message psychology gave me from a young age was that if I was unhappy, there is something wrong that needs to be fixed. This caused me so much stress! I remember telling my Mom how I was frustrated for feeling sad after having so many good days. She said that I was just having a bad day and it was ok, everyone has them. I thought, “What does she know?” Especially as I never remembered her having a bad day. 

Turns out her advice was more valuable than all the money they spent on the counsellors. If only they had the hindsight to know that what I needed was yoga!!! Needless to say, I wouldn’t change anything because my journey has made me who I am today. 

The more I meditated and focused on the moment, the more easily I found I could manage the stress I put myself under. At work, I was starting to feel more and more like the devil as I repeatedly heard clients say, “Why are you making me talk about the past? I don’t want to go back there, it’s depressing me.” If I had a quarter for every time I wanted to shout, “I AGREE WITH YOU! This is unnecessary torture and there are other ways to deal with this…but I am bound by this manual,” I would have enough money to buy my own boat with plenty of money to fix it up. 

I thought, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m just some yoga hippy who is misinterpreting psychology. Recently, I sent a message to a friend, who is a psychologist, saying that I was having a sad day and that tomorrow would be a new day so I will accept how I feel today and just let it be. Her reply was that she liked the tactic and would remember it the next time she had a down day. AH HA!!! It isn’t just me!!! 

Why do we need to do this to ourselves? As psychologists why do we need to teach or guide others to be perfect? It’s not humanly possible. Psychology is the field that said we all experience a range of emotions. Why have they also said that only certain ones are OK to feel? 
  

Thank goodness there is a (not so) new field of mindfulness psychology and branches of this type. This type of psychology uses Buddhist philosophy and yoga techniques and teaches acceptance. Acceptance that it’s ok to feel super sad sometimes. Acceptance that it’s ok to feel angry as long as you don’t hurt yourself or other people. Acceptance to just be in the moment instead of constantly thinking how to improve yourself or make plans for the future. As I said in a previous blog, plans that may not come to fruition. 

Don’t even get me started on the famous psychological questions, “What can you do to help yourself feel better right now?” Or “what plans can you make for the future that you can look forward to when you’re having a down day?” Let me tell you my experience with these questions. For the first one, my answer, usually through tears was, “I don’t fucking know. If I knew I would be doing it instead of crying right now!!” My favourite response is when a colleague came to work after being in a car accident that really shook her up. Our qualified psychologist boss asked her what would calm her down and when my colleague couldn’t think of an answer, she continued to push her for an answer until my colleague started sobbing uncontrollably. Not a very successful technique in this situation…

Future plans? Oh I made them and one of two things happened. They happened and I once again had nothing to look forward to or I planned them with boyfriends who broke up with me before said event. The consequence to this was that I felt worse and dreaded the date happening because it was a reminder of what could have been. 

I laugh now because I have a totally different frame of mind about all of it. Back then it made things worse. When I was in a negative mind frame, it gave me more food to feed the negative monster. 
Now I simply accept how I feel. I don’t let it affect my self esteem or gravely affect those around me. Sure on my down days I am more quiet which has an impact on those close to me because my energy is different. However, now I don’t get uncontrollably angry or anxious or act out or cause arguments. Do you know why? Because now I give myself permission to be a human being. Before I was always angry at myself because I wasn’t perfect, aka happy and calm every moment of the day. I was acting out and finding faults in others due to my frustration of unrealistic perfection. 

I find so much more relief when I have a down day and say to myself, “That’s ok. That’s just how it is right now,” and/or ask Captain Cool for a hug because I just need a little comfort and reassurance. Or maybe I take some time to do my yoga practice and meditate. When I do these things, it really does make it ok and then I can focus on what’s happening in front of me right now, not on some event I have planned in two months that may or may not go well. 
  
This post may seem as though I am being negative about psychology and to be honest, I am. The traditional methods never worked for me. I know many people who it’s also not working for. Yoga worked when I found the right guide. However, that’s not to say psychology doesn’t work for anyone and yoga works for everyone. Obviously psychology helps some or it wouldn’t have lasted for so long. I’m suggesting that maybe if it doesn’t seem right for you or you find yourself playing the same old record time and time again, try a new record. You may find that your record collection becomes more varied and plentiful with more chilled songs than stressful ones. 

Returning to the jungle 

  
Everything looks so different in the dry season. The ground is a clay brown and firm. You don’t need to watch your step as much for fear of falling into a deep mud pit. It looks like we (I mean CC) won’t need to spend half an hour cleaning our shoes after today’s walk!

Bizarrely, there is so much green! There’s less green grass, but the plants are taller and greener. There are more flowers on the trees and plants making the jungle filled with splotches of brilliant colours. There is an abundance of colourful butterflies which add to this natural painting. Orange, yellow, white, turquoise and the most brilliant luminescent blue of the most gigantic butterflies I have ever seen. 

  
Take a deep breath in and close your eyes. Ahhhh… The smells. The flowers and lack of rain add so many scents to the fresh air. The wind carries them to me as if their scents are wrapping me in a cosy blanket. I can smell lemongrass, sweet flowers and the smells of mandarins. When we cross into the fields, I smell fresh grass and manure. 

Don’t forget the sounds! There is so much life and so much peace. Listen close, there are too many different bird songs to count, the sound of crickets chirping, the gushing of the water forming rapids in the river, the monkeys howling in the distance, the sound of the wind blowing in the trees, the cows mooing from the farm, the sound of the rain showering the leaves. 

We are back at Rio Chagres and it is truly a full sensual experience. The last time we visited here was in the rainy season and it was great to experience it in it’s other clothing. 

I am still in a quiet mood so I am walking slowly without the urge to speak. I just want to enjoy where I am. I am ready for a big change and this often means I spend time in my head working out how to make it happen. I welcomed the break from my thoughts and enjoyed being at one with nature. 

This walk is so unique for so many reasons. Firstly because hardly anyone knows about it. If we see people, it’s the farmers. Secondly, it has different terrains. The first half an hour is along a riverbank which has lots of forest trees with jungle plants thrown in. You cross the river twice, cooling your feet off and relieving any insect bites you may have gotten. Then you reach a farm and walk in the green rolling fields for another half hour. Today, the field was full of cows who were brave and came to greet us until they realised we weren’t scared. They quickly walked away while watching us as if we were going to steal their prized possessions. 

  
Then you reach a huge tree which must be 500 years old. It is so tall and the trunk is so thick five people would need to hold hands to circle it. The trunk is the host of beautiful huge spiders who spin elaborate webs. When you step back and look up, it looks like the tree is wearing a skirt made of ivy. Look up even higher and you see her beautiful green Afro swaying in the breeze. It looks like the trail ends here, but this is where it gets good and private…

  
This is where the true jungle comes in. The river goes the other way as we work our way around the branches of the trees. It’s important to be on the look out for snakes as they are here and poisonous. Always look before you touch and for goodness sake, if you’re going to stop, make sure it’s not on the home of fire ants. I did that only once!!

  
Here the sounds of the howler monkeys become longer and I take more breaks to look up and see if I can spot any. No luck today. Last time the monkeys came right above us and Captain Cool made the best monkey howls which they answered and became excited about. It was a one of a kind experience! The air is cooler, there is no need for sunglasses and the smells change once again. It smells more like leaves and vegetation than fruits and flowers. I take all of it in. 

After an hour, I can once again hear the river and I know we’re getting close. I start thinking how it will look. The water levels will be lower and I wonder if there will be just as many fish. We arrive quicker than I remember and quickly throw our belongings to the side. After all this saltwater, it is so refreshing to jump into cool fresh water. CC dives in but it looks to shallow for me so I go over to the nearest rock and slide in. How refreshing! It is so cold and the water so heavy. I have to work to stay afloat here. 

  
We discover a little hut made of palm leaves and a fire pit. We go to explore and decide this looks like a nice place to spend the day. After chilling ourselves in the river, we find a rock which looks like a sofa to warm our cool skin. This is our private freshwater paradise. Here we can do as we like and wear nothing as we know no one will disturb us. 

  
We spend the whole day together but in our own worlds doing our own things. CC discovered some fish stranded in a tiny pool of water so he made a canal for them to pass into a bigger pool of water. I discovered a great rock to sit on and watch the rapids. That sound brings me back to my childhood. When once again the sun overheated us, we made a spa in the rapids and sat so the cool forceful gush of the water massaged our backs and necks. 

It rained on and off all day using the river as a musical instrument. The light rain sounded like various people snapping their fingers. The heavy rain sounded like a mother shushing her baby to sleep. The showers were always brief and refreshing.

  

I am not in the place where I would like to be or in the situation I wish to be in. Yes, I am ready for a change. However the universe is telling me it’s not yet time for me to jump this ship and climb onto the next sailboat to explore new waters. So I will be patient and enjoy what I have in front of me. After all, it is in abundance all around me. 

Sometimes life is a fight

  
Photo: A fortress in Portobelo, Panama

Landlubbers who don’t have horrible sea sickness which makes them run from the sight of boats, often think sailing life is perfect and super chilled. 

I’m going to tell you the truth. It is and it isn’t. A sailor’s life plays by the same rules as the rest of the universe. There’s always a balance. In my opinion, the highs are way better and the lows challenging, but rewarding when a solution is found. 

The last couple days have been hard for me. I am tired and have been in constant pain. You see, I allow passengers to drain me. I haven’t yet found a way to deflect the energy of others, whether it’s good or bad energy. The passengers left, I did my blitz cleaning to clear the energy and make our home totally ours again. Then I crashed. Sleep doesn’t come to me very well when we sleep outside or when we are sailing and take it in shifts. I am always on alert even when sleeping as I know that I may be needed to complete a manoeuvre at any time, made all the more challenging in strong winds. 

I was excited to have CC to myself for a couple days and wake up in the morning for a beautiful yoga practice on our yoga island. Then the phone rang and all plans changed. We have to sail to Portobelo for a charter. Don’t get me wrong, I love Portobelo, but we just got paradise to ourselves!!! This is why I want to have my own boat. Being part of crew means my life is dictated by the captain. Luckily I managed to convince CC that leaving this minute for Portobelo (5 pm) was not a good idea because we were both tired and I was just completely useless. 

Before the sun broke the next morning, we were already waving goodbye to Chichime. I had only been steering for about an hour half before my mood changed and I was just tired. I’m not afraid to admit it, I was whining. I had woken up with a weird neck pain and it was becoming worse. I had absolutely no energy and I didn’t want to sit anymore. As always, CC prepared food and a hot drink for us, then took over the helm. After a year of knowing each other, he knows my face and I know that whining won’t change anything so I don’t. That’s how we manage to live together!

CC told me that I could make all the navigation decisions, then promptly overrode all of them which did not improve my mood. Then changed them back without saying anything, which made me want to throw him overboard. I decided a quiet sail where he did everything and I just slept was the best. Sometimes giving up is the best and it was. 

I steered us into the last part of Portobelo which was fine and beautiful as always. We went into town to say hello to everyone and see what was new since we were last here. Not a lot, but as always, we received a warm welcome. I was still in a bit of a mood that I never got island yoga and that CC put his crocs in the dinghy but not my sandals so I had to walk barefoot around town. He of course offered his crocs to me which I promptly said I didn’t want because they are ugly (besides, I was trying to prove a point). He silently put them on and said nothing.

I woke up this morning and all was fine, thanks to the massages CC gave me. Then I reached behind me and all hell broke lose in my neck. The pain was unbearable so CC delayed his departure to massage my neck until I could move again. Other than forgetting my shoes when he tires of me, he always takes good care of me. 

While CC was in town, I read Robinson Crusoe in Spanish while taking frequent breaks to move my neck. I tried fixing a piece that holds the lines which had broken off, but it wasn’t as easy as it looked. I moved on to glue a piece of wood that had fallen off only to find I couldn’t get the cap off the glue. I then had a little swearing session about how all I seemed to be good for was cleaning and I was sick of it. I want to do ‘man’s work’ too. 

I became restless and wanted to leave the boat. CC was taking ages. Little did I know he was having a crisis of his own. He went back to the dock to find the dinghy gone. After a two hour search and getting the police involved, a friend in a speed boat found our little dinghy had escaped and was playing with some big speed boats that were along the shore. That crisis over, he returned to the boat. 

CC gave me another massage which helped for the short term. Whenever I don’t move my neck every two minutes, it seizes up. 

So today I am missing my friend who is a chiropractor and could sort me out in ten minutes. I’m missing a cool shaded place to do my yoga and stretch out my muscles. I am missing being near a pharmacy that has long hours so I could try a muscle relaxant. I am frustrated that I can’t move like I could three days ago. Today is just one of those days and luckily tomorrow will be a new day. Life has it’s own way of balancing itself and the people in it. I will just ride the waves until the storm ends. 

Return to paradise 

  
Photo: Chichime Island, Kuna Yala

Ahh… Back in paradise! Back to the place where this chapter in my life began. A place that always fills me with happiness and magical memories! The beautiful islands of San Blas, Panama. This is the place where I first stepped on a sailboat and where I found my true love, Sailing. 

In fact, we are anchored at the very island where I first walked on the boat and met Captain Cool. It’s called Chichime. It’s one of the more popular islands for sailboats because it has a good anchorage, the island is beautiful and there is good snorkelling. 

CC and I hadn’t been here together since August. We swam to the island and when we took our snorkel masks off, we gave each other a huge smile and hug and welcomed each other to our special place. For this is the place we would spend a week here and there in between charters. We like the isolated islands, but sometimes we like to break up the isolation with other people. 

There is also a great spot for yoga in little Chichime. It’s a flat place with hard sand underneath the shade of the palm trees. It’s on the quiet side of the island. We can hear the wind rustling through the palm leaves as well as the crashing waves of the breakers over the reefs in the distance. We built a nice energy of peace there which instantly gets me in my yoga groove. Sometimes the island children would watch us, giggling as they tried out the poses we were doing. When our practice was over, they asked us what we were doing and then showed us what they had learned. It just added to the already great energy of the magical island. 

Now maybe you can understand our absolute joy to be back here. We greeted the locals and met new ones. The last time we were here, they were building cabanas for tourists. Now they have finished and it was great to see their final product. They are very proud of their work and offer reasonable prices. 

We inquired about lobster and were quickly walked to the shore where they had a basket of about 100 lobster waiting to be eaten! We picked out six for us and our passengers. Humberto swam back to get money while I sat on a bench and observed the activities of the islanders. 

My attention was drawn to the sweet giggles of two adorable island children in their underwear. They were brother and sister and played so beautifully together. They were chasing each other, swinging in the hammock and jumping over the trunk of a dead palm tree. Their smiles were contagious and I involuntary smiled with them. 

Suddenly, the little boy pulled down his underwear and peed in the sand. The little girl came close and said something in the Kuna language. The boy turned around and aimed at her. The little girl promptly pulled down her underwear, sat down and then magically a stream of pee shot up in her brother’s direction. I didn’t even know that was possible!! They both giggled so hard they fell on (a clean part of) the sand before getting up and chasing each other again.   

Next, they had a little sand fight. They are islanders, so they know how to do it right. They only threw sand when their backs were to each other. The girl unexpectedly turned around when her older brother was throwing sand. The sand landed in her eyes and mouth. I was waiting for a cry, but she only laughed and spit out the sand. In a heart warming action, her brother threw sand in his own face so they were equal. My heart melted a little bit. 

The older brother found a non island friend to play with and so the girl marched into the restaurant. Along the way, she passed near me so I smiled and said “Hola!” She gave me the best death stare I have ever received. I kept smiling and making faces to make her laugh. At one point, it looked like I was going to break her, but she held her stare as she walked by. What a tough little cookie!

She came out with a smartphone and called her brother wiggling the phone with a cheeky smile. The two boys looked and came sprinting towards her. I was saddened that technology had come this far and killed the natural creativity and play of children. However, my faith was soon restored. Three minutes later, much to the disappointment of the sister, the boys tired of the phone and ran off to have races and jump off the slanted trunks of the palm trees. The little girl returned the phone, giving me another glare along the way, and came out to be one of the boys. 

This place gives me faith in the human race. Most of the children are like this. They don’t have toys, they just make games with each other and the gifts that nature gives them. And wow are they ever creative because let me tell you, an island with only palm trees doesn’t have much!!! They don’t have phones, computers, TV’s or even many books. We like to give them notebooks and coloured pencils and this keeps them occupied for hours. It’s beautiful!

So yes, I am home. I am back in my paradise. Sadly only for a little while this time, but if it was more, it probably wouldn’t be paradise. 

Back on the sea


I woke up this morning very reluctant to get out of bed. Not just because whatever freak bug I had on Sunday is still slowing me down, but because it will be my last night in a bed for five days. As I walked to the marina terrace to do my daily yoga practice, I smiled knowing the next time I do yoga, I will be on a beautiful island. You know what that means? WE’RE GOING SAILING!!!!

The last couple of days have been filled with organising the boat, showing it to potential (now actual) passengers, fixing sails, doing common boat repairs, cleaning, buying things we need for the boat, cleaning, making lists, shopping and cleaning.

In fact, I spent 7 hours cleaning today. And that was just the inside! It’s also over 90 degrees and we are in the dock in a space where little to no wind enters the boat. I need a shower, but I don’t mind. We bought some new polish for the wood. It smells like cherry almond (covering up my smell) and makes the boat shine, so it’s a good motivator.

Tonight we will set sail in high seas and strong winds so I’m writing this on my break, not at the end of my day. During the 30 hours or so of sailing, I will no doubt be caring for seasick passengers, cooking meals and being a chatty host. Our autopilot is broken so CC and I will take three hour shifts dancing through three to four meter waves. Yes Mom, I have a harness!

My favourite shift is from 3-6 in the morning. This is the time when night is most still as it starts to come to a close. The stars and/or the moon shine confidently before slowly starting to fade away into the day. The plankton are still lighting up the sea making it appear as though it has it’s own twinkling stars. Sometimes the wind changes the tune it sings, making the boat change it’s dance.

Slowly the sky goes from black with sparkles to a thousand different shades of blue, yellow and orange. Along the horizon, the sun starts to peek it’s rays up from below the ocean. Then slowly, slowly it begins it’s climb to the top of the sky taking the chill out of the air and warming my body.

The passengers are all asleep. If CC isn’t asleep, he knows to let me watch this marvel in peace. It is better than any movie I’ve seen, any place I’ve visited, any drug I’ve tried and oh so peaceful. I feel as though there is nothing or nobody. Just endless waves, the boat, the wind, the fish, the sun and me. This feeling of independence and insignificance recharges my batteries that were drained during the preparation of the trip.

Occasionally, there will be numerous flying fish flying around the boat to add to this spectacular show. Dolphins often come to greet the boat and have a little play around the bow. They jump out of the water as if to say, “Hello! Beautiful day isn’t it?” After a while, they leave us to continue with their day, but leave an imprint in mine.

During the day, I like to take a book or my thinking cap to the bow of the boat. I lie down peering up at the sails in awe of the strength of the material, the stitches and the ropes. They work harder than I ever will, which I am so grateful for because they give me such pure intense joy and pleasure.

I can’t help but think how I always tried to find meaning in work, relationships, studies, leisure interests, other people, etc. The irony is that I didn’t discover it until I was still and simply observed life happening in front of me.

I am sure the open sea will send me some messages to write about, it always does. So excuse me if I am absent while I am outside of the civilised world, but I can promise you there is more to come upon my return.

I left my magnifying glass on land, or so I thought…

  
“No I don’t! I’m not getting paid to analyse people anymore. I don’t do it,” I said with a tone of annoyance. It wasn’t the first time Captain Cool made the comment on how the psychologist in me is always analysing people I first meet. 

When people say things about me that annoy me, often times it’s because they are right. So after months of CC saying this to me, I decided to ask him why he said that about me and then do some thinking. 

My conclusion was… Wait for it, wait for it…CC is right. Damn. I thought I left that life behind! As we talked and I thought, I realised maybe I don’t need to leave it all behind. 

Let me describe my old job. I conducted group therapy with men who committed sexual offences. I spent two years working in a prison and nearly six years working for Probation in the community. My prison training on how to stay safe was short, but very effective. As a young newbie, I took their advice very seriously. I was always aware of my surroundings, escape route and who in the group would protect me if I pissed off that gang member enough for him to attack me with his shank (prison made knife). After all, I was 23 and this was awesome! The danger and the excitement was exactly how they portray it on TV! Ok, that’s a total lie. It’s not that glamorous or dangerous. However, the seeds of becoming aware of my surroundings at all times in all places, were sown. 

Although I can’t technically call myself a psychologist, I did a lot of their same work and have degrees in the field so I’m what I call “close enough to be a psychologist.” Or ask my Dad and you’ll get a really exciting answer! For years he told people that I was a psychologist who wrote reports to determine if people left prison or not. Now that really is CSI material! 

Anyway, whatever title you want to call me, the point is I had to analyse people’s behaviour. After all, the media portray these people to be the most dangerous serial offenders alive so they had to be analysed and watched under a microscope. The media portrayal is not true, but that’s something I really have left behind. You have your opinion, I’ll have mine and we’ll leave it there without discussion.

I will say, that like many people on earth, this population play games and like to manipulate. This meant that in order to thrive in my career, I had to be one up on them. This is a very tiring game and that is why I now live on a sailboat and quite often avoid people at all costs. 

I became skilled at reading body language, reading between the lines and playing a firm but fair good cop game so I would be fed information I could do stuff with. Obviously for the greater good of saving a victim from being harmed, so it’s not a bad thing. I didn’t always get it right, but I did pretty good. 

My heart started leaving the field of psychology a year before my mind and body did. I have controversial views on the field and I felt like I was working in a job that was betraying my values. Even more so because we worked off an old program which studies proved was no longer (if ever) an effective method. Bureaucratics made this very difficult to change. It was doing horrible harmful things to my soul and I just felt icky. 

Now I am in a place where I have peace and there are way more beautiful things than horrible things. Off be with you psychology, I don’t need you!!!

Turns out it isn’t that easy. I guess this analysing and observing the safety of others and myself doesn’t leave me so easily. 

Last night we had a perspective passenger view the boat. When CC came back from dropping her off, I said, “Wow she makes me tired.” I then proceeded into an analysis of the type of passenger she would be, what we would need to do to keep her happy and what would happen if we didn’t. I then smiled and said, “See, I don’t analyse people!” 

Actually part of the fun of our job is making an analysis on who will be who. As within all groups, whether in group therapy, social circles or groups on a charter, there are certain stereotypical roles that you will find in nearly all groups. It’s fun to see if we are right at the end. 

The fact is, it’s a normal human response to judge people and suss them out. Everyone does it, not just psychologists. There are many people who do it better than psychologists. Like many of the locals I met along the way who survive on money from tourists. They are damned good at it, as it’s how they feed their families!!!

As usual, CC and I had a profound discussion about analysing and came to the same conclusion. It’s ok and normal to judge people based on first impressions. Just make sure you don’t stop there. 

To judge someone is one thing, but to then treat them based on your own opinion, which may or may not be accurate, is another thing. Actually, it’s just downright unfair. What right does someone have to do that to another person they have only known an hour? Who knows what scars and baggage that person is carrying. Sadly, many people don’t take the time to find out who the person really is and if that first hour was really who they are. 

We all do what we need to do to survive when we are hurt. Everyone is wounded at some point in their life. Don’t judge it, help heal it. Put any judgments aside to see the person around the wound.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be cautious or ignore your gut instinct. Sometimes people are dangerous for whatever reason and there is no need to spend more time with them. Always trust your instinct, it knows. 

An example. At a new job, my supervisor had the appearance of an untrustworthy back stabbing bitch. Immediately I told myself, “Don’t trust her with anything and certainly don’t say anything bad about colleagues to her.” Then I thought how silly this was because she was being really friendly and I don’t want to be the person who says bad things about others. That’s not part of the yogi beliefs I believe in. What a great test this was! I placed my opinion aside and treated her as I would any new person I met, who I thought was really nice. 

Guess what? It turns out she had a really difficult childhood where she experienced numerous traumas. She had a horrible relationship history and never felt like she belonged. It makes all the sense in the world. If for your whole life you have been thrown aside, unloved and faced difficult times, wouldn’t you adapt a defensive look too?!?!

She told me about her life in detail. It turns out she is not an untrustworthy back stabbing bitch, but a kind, loving, caring, fun and curious person who would not say bad things about another person. Given her history, I find that incredibly admirable. I am so happy I didn’t take my judgment (opinion) as fact, because I would’ve missed out on a nice friendship that brightened my work days. 

I will end this entry with a beautiful story from an Uncle who is one of the two kindest and most genuine people I know (The second is his wife, my Aunt). I know many people would not act the way he did, but I think it’s an excellent example of how the world would be a more peaceful place if we placed our judgments aside and gave more people a chance. We may not always get it right, but when we do, we may change the life of that person. 

A man in a car approached the car my Uncle was in and explained how he had a job interview in another city and needed $15 for gas money. My Uncle handed him over the money. There was a silence in the car until finally someone questioned his actions. His response was, “Maybe it was a scam. But if it wasn’t, I feel good knowing I helped someone out who needed it.” 

One path to peace 

  
Photo: On the shore in San Marcos, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

How many people do you know, or maybe you yourself, are searching for happiness? You will find moments of it of course. Maybe even long moments, but if it’s your goal in life to “find” happiness, I’m afraid you will be very disappointed and probably die frustrated and unhappy. 

In my brief stint as a Doll Doctor (fancy title, I know!), I worked with someone around my age who was searching for a life purpose. This is very common in the Western way of life. He told me he was searching for happiness. I shared that I too looked for happiness and one day something clicked inside me. 

Happiness is an emotion. Emotions fluctuate based on what happens around us, how much we sleep, what we eat and the people in our lives. If you think about it, does it really make sense to strive for happiness when you are probably not going to be happy when a loved one dies?? To me it just doesn’t seem realistic. 

I took my second solo trip to Cambodia. What a beautiful country!! I highly recommend it. I took one of those organised tours, which wasn’t half as bad as I thought it would be and I met some lovely people. Our tour guide was a beautiful local woman who deserves a special blog about my time with her. 

I had five free days before going to a yoga retreat I would not recommend. I was sad to be leaving people so scoured the airport for people who looked they wanted a friend too. As we walked to the plane, I met Jenny who was also travelling solo. When we arrived in Sihanoukville, she had met a third solo traveller on the plane and the three of us just happened to be on the same beach! It was great. We were in the same age group and in similar places in our lives. 

After Ted arrived back from his daily adventures and Jenny and I had spent all day sunbathing, slagging off men, floating in the ocean and being waited on by the friendly and helpful male staff, we would discuss the meaning of life. At first it was a joke, don’t we all want to know that? Each day it became more serious and we would have deeper conversations about possible answers. 

Three years later, Jenny and Ted are still in my life. We live in three different countries and now only have contact once or twice a year, but the contact always warms my heart as they have become very special people. Jenny and I have found our answers to the meaning of life. Ted is still on his journey. Jenny and I offer our hands as support on his journey and no advice as everyone’s meaning is different. The beauty of humanity is in our differences. Although I bet when it’s broken down, the answers to this philosophical question would be very similar for all of us. 

To me, the meaning of life is peace. In the conversation I had with my fellow Doll Doctor, I suggested he replaced happiness with peace. He said that he never thought of that before. He agreed that happiness is an emotion and peace is a state of mind, making peace more achievable. 

But what does peace mean? I’m sure there are many perspectives. I found my definition of peace in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. This is a truly magical place. There is a little village called San Marcos, which is mainly filled with ex-pats from around the world. There are all kinds of holistic healing services there. Yoga, cacao ceremonies, massage, sound therapy, kirtan, fermented foods for digestion, regression therapy, etc. I spent five beautiful healing weeks in this place. I went there to take a two week Thai massage course and had a hard time leaving! 

The lake is surrounded by volcanos and it is said that the vibrations there are higher than in other parts of the world. This means that the state of mind or feelings you are experiencing are magnified. Luckily for me I arrived in quite a positive state! 

Almost every morning, I woke up before the sun rise. I made a cup of ginger and lemon tea, grabbed my yoga mat and went to the shore to watch this daily show Mother Nature gives us. The photo above was taken during one of these mornings. 

As I watched the sun rise, I looked all around me. I took in the changes of the lake as the sun lit up the sky, the clouds, the colours. I breathed in the smells of the lake and the nearby houses. I let the cool breeze caress the naked skin of my face, hands and feet. I let my thoughts roll from my head into an imaginary boat in front of me and sent it off across the lake when it was full. I placed no judgments on these thoughts. I simply allowed them to occur as though I was watching leaves floating down a river. 

When the sun was above the volcanoes and began to warm my skin, I began my yoga practice. A beautiful practice where I could focus on the movements and let the thoughts roll away instead of allowing them to practice with me on the mat. Something I had always found difficult in London. It was the most refreshing way to start my day and I remember only one bad day while I was there. It was because of news from my job in London and had nothing to do with my current surroundings. 

Depending on my day, I would sometimes sit after my practice with a smile and watch life on the lake. It was one of these sessions where I was struck with a realisation that has forever changed my life. 

I realised I felt truly at peace. And not just for that moment. I had been feeling at peace for a while. This explains why so many of my friends there said I had a glowing energy about me. This explained why I felt as though as I was floating through life and negative events weren’t having a significant impact. 

When I got home, I quickly journaled how it felt to be at peace. After all, I didn’t want to lose this realisation and I wanted to share it with anyone who would listen so they could feel it too!

Before I came on the boat, I left all my journals at my parent’s house because I didn’t want anything to happen to them and I would forever lose those memories. When I decided to write a blog on this topic, I was so disappointed I didn’t have that journal. Then I realised I’m still at peace. Fourteen months later I have still managed to keep my peace. Therefore I don’t need my journal. I can tell you from my present experience my version of peace. 

Being at peace is living in the moment and enjoying the surroundings around me. Noticing the colours of that tree, the dress the person across the street is wearing and breathing in the smell of the coffee in front of me. 

Being at peace is when I am mentally and physically present with the person or people I am with. Really paying attention to what they’re saying or how they’re acting without judgment. 

When I am angry or sad, I still feel at peace. Despite my anger, I have a calm air about me that helps me find a solution. When someone is angry or aggressive towards me, my peace allows me to remain calm and look deeper into the reason for their behaviour while standing my own ground in an assertive way. After all, it really has nothing to do with me. I don’t make anyone feel anything, the individual decides to feel a certain way whether they are conscience of it or not. My peace protects me from their anger. 

When I am sad, my peace comforts me. It’s ok to feel sad, I am human after all. My peace tells me that it is hard right now and one day it will all be ok. It always works out how it’s supposed to. This peace makes my sadness last hours or maybe a couple of days and then I am back to see the beauty the world has to offer. After all, if you wear the right glasses, you will see the world’s beauty in abundance. 

Being at peace helps me realise that I can’t always fix the challenges in my loved ones lives. I can only offer support and my time to make it easier. This allows me to keep my peace instead of take on their negative emotions. It is not my job to carry their emotions, only to ease them if possible. 

Life is not perfect. As well as beautiful, happy and fun days, I have sad days, lonely days and frustrated days. Sometimes I am impatient with life because I want something to be different. My peace reminds me that there is always a lesson if I look for it. Patience and an open mind will always bring me to where I belong. The anxiety, frustration, loneliness and sadness are alleviated by this peace. 

My peace allows me to be patient. That sailing trip around the world I want to make, that new friend I want to meet, meeting that sailor who has the same sailing plans as me, that sailboat I want to own, those student loans I want to pay off. They will all happen when the time is right. My peace tells me that when the opportunity arises, it will be what was needed to fulfil my goal or give me an important lesson. Why do I need to worry about it or rush it? Doing that changes nothing. 

Being at peace means that my whole world could crumble apart and all my loved ones could leave me, but I know it will be ok in the end. 

Having peace gives me independence and control over my life. I no longer need to find that man who will make it all ok. I understand he doesn’t exist for me or anyone. I am the only one who can make it all ok and now I have. 

For those of you reading this who know me, you may think someone else is writing this. I have been far from this state for much of my life, particularly in my teens and early twenties. I let fear, anxiety, low self esteem and sadness rule my life. 

You may ask how I made this transition. The truth is, I really don’t know. I do know that yoga helped a lot. My mind isn’t quiet when I do yoga. I know some people who say they don’t think of outside things during class. How blissful this would be!! However, my mind has changed during my practice. It used to rule my practice. If I thought of something I needed to do, which almost always happened when I was in London, I would spend the rest of my practice reciting it to myself and in a panic that I would forget. If I was at home, I would sometimes stop to write it down. 

I don’t do that now. I acknowledge the thought and then bring my attention back to my breathing and movements. I may spend all practice doing this, but the anxiety or panic is no longer on the mat with me. My mind likes to be busy, but my peace accepts that and doesn’t let it control my emotions or my special time connecting with my body. 

I started taking more time for me instead of giving all my energy to others. I started being honest with myself about what and who was helpful and unhelpful in my life. That was, and still is, sometimes very painful and uncomfortable. However, it was all worth it in the end because I found peace. I live every day comforted by this peace and it is something no one can ever take away from me. I am choosing to keep it in my life, it’s not for others to take. 

So you see, to me, peace is much more helpful than happiness. In fact, it makes my happiness even more genuine than before.