Thursday 21 August 2014

Watch, Learn, Grow and Love

Twenty years ago I returned home after travelling abroad. I spent just over a year exploring parts of the world that were exquisite and exotic and fantastic and foreign. Backpacking after graduating university proved to be one of the most eye opening experiences in my life and the lessons I learned then have helped form who I am today.

The flight from Toronto to Australia was ridiculously long so after some consideration a decision was made to start the journey westward by train to Los Angeles where I would then board a plane for Sydney. It was during this sabbatical from the 9 to 5 days of “normal life” when I realized how much I LOVE to travel. I wasn’t sure about living out of a backpack, staying in hostels and travelling by bus, train, plane and automobile.  I just didn’t do these things. They weren’t part of my everyday existence and the idea of leaving my so called “ivory tower” was terrifying. But I did and I lived to share my story.
Up until I left, my world was a small, comfortable place created by friends, family and myself.  The walls that surrounded me were cushioned and there was always someone around to kiss any bumps or bruises I had.  I had always thought I was an independent girl, wanting to do things for herself, never letting fear stop her, taking that proverbial leap of faith when that was all I had. Well, I was wrong. My independence, my true sense of independence came from this adventure.

I was on the other side of the world before the days of the Internet and Facebook. Daily communication with those who had been my security blanket all my life was very sparse and costly! There was no one around to tell me to do this or not do that. I did what I wanted. Reverse bungee jumping, rappelling down an 18 story building, drinking Bundaberg rum until I couldn’t stand any longer. So, maybe some of my choices weren’t the smartest but isn’t that what growing up is about?  Learning how to make these choices, suffering the repercussions of the wrong ones and basking in the glory of the right ones?

Twenty years later I am sitting here reflecting on that year away and my memory is flooded with the good, bad and ugly of the trip. In the midst of all this, I have one memory that has been etched in permanent ink in my mind.  It is one of the places my minds drifts to when I want a break from the monotony of my day.
In the distance, a splendid haze of reddish-orange blasts against a crystal clear blue sky. It is almost 350 metres high and about 4 kilometres long. Ayers Rock stands in front of me, smack dab in the middle of an empty plain known as the Red Centre. The thrill here is to climb to the top and see how vast plains really are. I had fully intended to embark upwards on this journey that would bring me closer to Nirvana.
Walking along the base taking note of the beauty of this magnificent chunk of ancient sandstone, I met a man named Peter. He was a delightful old man who shared the many legends behind “Uluru”, the aboriginal word for the rock.  Every feature of the rock means something to them, from the cracks and fissures to the caves and waterholes. Natives don’t climb the rock as a tribute to their belief and herein lay an issue that Peter struggled with daily: the clash between ancient traditions and what now has become modern tradition – climbing the rock. 
We continued to talk as we walked. I noticed glimmering plaques all inscribed with the names of the brave few who perished in their own battle with Uluru. It was then I made the decision to sit and not climb up with the rest. There are times when I wonder what I missed by not climbing up but then I think about what the climbers missed by not sitting down and enjoying what was in front of them.  I am happy I took that time to enjoy and focus on the moment instead of using mind, body and soul to get me to the summit. An ancient aboriginal proverb says, “We are all visitors to this time, this place... Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love and then we return home." And this is what I learned sitting in the tranquil beauty of theses plains.
Ayers Rock, Northern Territory
Photo credit Audrey Bresar
It was 2 ½ hours since the others made their ascent before I see them cantering down the last part of Ayers Rock exhausted. The battle between man and rock is over. Man has won, this time.  The chatter of how arduous the climb was and how beautiful the sight was from atop began. I listened and smiled politely, noticing that the sun was setting and in the midst of all the excitement, I looked over the crowd and saw the most incredible thing.
Watching the sun set around this sacred piece of rock, a beautiful metamorphosis occurs.  The monolith that stood so majestically changes its colour from fierce red to warm orange and then a deeper shade of crimson and finally a silent grey. The red rock that towers over on-lookers, that holds the secrets of many battles and that defeated some of those who tried to conquer it now sleeps like a baby in the distance.
Maybe it is not so intimidating after all.
Talk to me! Where did you find your independence? What did you learn?

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