Two or three years ago whilst I was living near Bondi Beach, on some mornings I would get up early before work and go for a jog on the sand, which is roughly a kilometre in length. Every morning I would jog down to the sand in my trainers, take them off and then run barefoot back and forth across the yellow grains. I would take in the sunrise whilst I ran, and if I was up early enough I could catch it appear for the first time over the horizon, beyond the Tasman sea. I never tired of seeing that sight. The same could not be said of my knees as my bare feet pounded the hard sand near the water’s edge.
What a gift it has been to call this city home for the past five years, I am truly blessed, though it has never felt ‘easy’ here. I moved in with a woman when I arrived and was not ready for the relationship, we were not right for each other, and in retrospect I realise I was awful to her. I have long longed to apologise. I was homesick and lonely. I made new friends, but I wasn’t happy enough in myself to show them my best self. I lost my enthusiasm for my work. I lived in a mouldy apartment that made me sick, and then I moved into a new apartment and got bitten by something in my sleep, which made me even sicker. The four years since have been a hazy blur of faking being ok and working out how to get better. Fighting to heal. The past two or so of which have been documented in this blog. Whilst the symptoms were largely physical, I realise now how much of the underlying cause was mental, and dare I say it, spiritual.
But what a blessing this city has been. I cannot really do it justice. People typically move away from home to find an adventure or to run away from something. I look back and realise that I ran away only to find more suffering, to be less comfortable, and subsequently extended my suffering to the point of not being able to go on living as I was. To wake myself up from the nightmarish dream in which I slumbered. Sydney is undeniably a beautiful city, one of the best, one of the shiniest and sunniest, a land of opportunity, full of beautiful people, excellent coffee, excellent food and some of the dreamiest beaches in the world. It captures the heart of nearly everyone who comes here. It captured mine, and then proceeded to lock it into a pit of darkness.
Two or three years ago, I think three, perhaps late summer, it was before this blog commenced in June 2018, I digress. Let’s just say it was ‘a while back’. I was running on Bondi beach one morning before heading to work. It was early, the sun was just coming up, I was barefoot and listening to some music, probably trance, probably an Above & Beyond podcast or album, it usually is if I’m running. Anyway, I was running, not much else going on, ‘one foot in front of the other and repeat’ kind of deal. Knowing my brain, I was probably riddled with rumination and over-thinking. Running usually went like this for me, I’d run harder and harder, faster and faster, as if trying to outrun the evil demon in my mind that was rarely nice to me. I’d run as hard as I could, until I was so exhausted that I would collapse on to the sand and find a moment of brief respite in that silent exhaustion. The way I attacked a run was a metaphor for how I attacked life. Distracted. Exhausted. Without style. Without grace.
How many people exercise in pain like this? Looking around I reckon it’s like Donald Trump supporters – a large silent majority. I watch people when they run these days, they usually have this scrunched up face of pain or stern concentration. I can see them in the same battle I used to spend my runs locked in. It’s the same thing in yoga classes, and spin classes, and bodypump exercises. Some people seem to go to yoga with the intention of sweating themselves into such a state of exhaustion that they’ll fall into a much-needed sleepy peace in the shavasana at the end. Nearly everyone looks so damn serious. Knowing what I know about yoga now, it’s tragic to behold. It’s meant to be fun, like a dance, but tt’s like their faces say:
“I’m concentrating so damn hard here on finding peace that I have no time for fun. This is not meant to be fun. Finding peace is serious business, I have to sweat or I fail.”
I look at these faces, either stressed, miserable or distant like a zombie’s, as they race past me in the park, or hold a Warrior 2 on the mat, and I feel for them, I really do. I remember what that used to feel like. Occasionally I slip back into that state, but I’m much better at noticing when it happens and then finding my way back out. Much better. It used to feel like I was working damn hard to feel something, but I felt nothing. To prove something, but I proved nothing. To find something that was missing, but I only found more nothing. What was I missing? What are so many of us missing?
That morning on the sand, lost deep in my world of own crap, as my run neared the Southern end of the beach, I approached a girl dancing. As I methodically planted one foot in front of another and panted with misplaced exertion, I ran towards what appeared to be an angel. She twirled, and swirled, and leapt, and swept her hands and feet in circles and lines with a beauty and a grace that to be honest, dear reader, I had no idea what to do with. She glowed in that early morning light. I could see she had her earphones in and was clearly dancing to music whilst bringing her joyous expression of life to that cold hard sand down by the waters edge. We made eye contact for a moment as I ran past and she smiled a smile I will never forget. It was so pure, so beautiful, so full of joy, so happy and loving that I simply could not handle it. My mind went blank. I stopped running shortly after as I had run out of sand, I looked back and watched her for a moment, mesmerised, as she continued to dance.
I realise now, looking back, that it was a pivotal moment for me. She sparked something inside of me, that girl on the beach. She had something I didn’t know I was longing for. Freedom. Love. And I didn’t recognise it in the moment, in fact I don’t think I really fully recognised it until I sat down and started to type this today. Grace.
That girl on the beach was grace appearing in my life at the exact moment that she needed to appear. Grace has continued to appear in my life since, with increasing frequency as time progresses. Katie dragging me to Sydney was grace. The spider biting me in my sleep was grace. The former flatmate, Mathilde, who introduced me to the ecstatic dance that led to this blog was grace. The four days spent with Tony Robbins was grace. The two decades of romantic disappointment was grace. Finding myself in Thailand at that yoga retreat, studying under David, was grace. The woman I have been relentlessly pulled towards for the past year, but whom has always kept me at arm’s length, is grace. My campervan, Vinnie, breaking down and thus forcing me back to Australia was grace, I needed to come back here to find what I was looking for. All along. It was grace. All of it. That was what I was missing, and yet it was there right in front of me the whole time.
My entire life has happened exactly as it was meant to. How incredibly freeing. And my response? Gratitude. Gratitude for all the shit; the sadness; the anger; the fear; the confusion; the suffering; the pain. And all the good stuff of course; the family; the friends; the laughs; the shared experiences; the love; the challenges; the smiles; and the physical touches, and wonderment. And Awe. Look around. Be awed by the world around you. It is terrible, and yet it is awesome. Yin and Yang.
Gratitude. Gratitude for all of it.
A week ago I danced on my own in the park near to where I live, beautiful spiritual music filling my ears, looking every bit the lunatic. I span around and around as I became the music. I twirled, and swirled, and leapt, and swept my arms in circles and lines. My entire being was filled with feelings of love and freedom and connection. I channeled that girl on the beach. With grace.
I smile a lot these days, I smile for no reason other than to be alive. I don’t need anything special to be happy. I have nothing to prove. Nothing to fear. My body demands I take care of it with basic whole foods, plenty of water, sleep and exercise and time and space (yoga/meditation). It’s taken me a long time to get here, and I know the path is never ending, but that death is simply a return home. I smile because I am grateful. Grateful for it all. Grateful for this experience of life, for the grace that I feel within my being, and shows up in my life. It has been so hard, so long, so lonely, so awfully confusing, and yet so magical, mysterious and wonderful in equal measure.
I recognise the look on the faces as I walk past people and smile at them now. People in cities are weirded out by strangers who smile at them. They look back confused, or perturbed, they avert their gaze, turn their heads to their friends, or their phones. They react as I once did to that girl on the beach, it is too much for them to make sense of so they turn from it. I have often longed to leave the darkness of the cities this year and retreat to the light of nature’s sanctuary, but something has kept me where I am, and now I know why.
I no longer despair when people turn from my smile, for I know a smile is all it takes. The seed is sown with that smile. A smile lights up the world. It is part of why those damn masks are so insidious and you won’t catch me wearing one. Like that girl on the beach I am going to do my part in healing this world, one smile, one twirl, one swirl, one blog, or Instagram post at a time. The anger and sadness within me grows weaker with each passing day, the darkness of the world affects me less, and with each spurt of growth I become more assured of my purpose here. It is the same purpose we all have. To light it up. To take each other’s hands and guide each other home, together, with love, to Graceland.
I’m going to GracelandPaul Simon, Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see Graceland
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there’s no obligations now
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
This truly is the most incredible life, the most incredible experience. The world we inhabit may be currently filled with darkness, but where there is darkness there must also be light. The darkness is no match for the light. It never was, and it never will be. The pain is here to guide us towards the light, and I will shine my torch of love into every dark place I can find.
Together, we shall walk each other home, with style, with grace.
Amazing grace. That saved a wretch like me.
How does this happen? I sit down to write and an hour later out pops 2000 words. Are these words even mine? What is ‘mine’? Nothing. It is all ours.