The Lost Art of Doing Nothing

The trek is still 7 months away. I went to the doctor on Friday to see whether I could book in for my jabs. He told me to return in August. I then picked up my training schedule which started at “16 weeks before the trek”; again I was left feeling premature and also bereft, because I like to feel as though I am always progressing by working towards my goals. Meanwhile, Storm Dennis raged outside my little London flat, with nearly incessant rainfall pattering against the windows to the soundtrack of howling high winds. I was left with few options but to accept that all I could do this weekend was nothing.

At first I railed: I genuinely felt outraged that I couldn’t be proactive and tick things off my proverbial list. In a fit of pique I messaged a friend saying that this almost felt like self-sabotage, to which she responded that she had (guilt free) slept in until late, and that sometimes it is good to be unproductive rather than to punish ourselves for not measuring up to standards of productivity which are external constructs rather than real measures of success. ‘Balance’, she advised. ‘Be.’

This state has never come naturally to me: I have always been jealous those who could nap of an afternoon to an almost resentful extent. I meditate every morning but have never truly been able to transcend a true silence; nor can I relish an opportunity to be alone with myself in the way that a French woman can take herself out for dinner and indulge in every last morsel of the experience. I was neither made nor conditioned that way.

For some reason my friend’s advice resonated with me and instead of dismissing it as something I cannot do or be, I decided to explore this concept and this side of myself with a detached curiosity. I identified that it was guilt I was feeling about doing nothing, and that this could only be a result of social conditioning, as the only person I am ever accountable to is myself. I recognised that I could actively choose not to propagate these feelings and by doing so, I could let go of a part of myself that is constantly striving to prove myself, to succeed. I gave myself permission to just be. I allowed my mind to wander, and once I did so, it stopped feeling so uncomfortable and I was able to relish in my free afternoon.

When I started this blog I wrote that every physical journey is an opportunity to journey inwards, because I knew that by accepting the Trek Nepal challenge that it would be a chance to gain self-awareness and learn about my authentic being. This has been my first real lesson.

I am putting the link to my JustGiving page at the end of every post – if you have enjoyed reading and would like to sponsor me, then you can do so here (but absolutely no pressure if you just want to check out the content!). Please copy and paste the link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/katesnepaltrek

Love,

Kate

5 lessons I have learned for when I am faced with a challenge

  1. Shift your Perspective

Earlier this week I had the privilege of attending a talk given by Major Tim Peake, where he shared with us the story of his voyage into space. He also showed the photographs he had taken of the earth from space, and as I gazed at one particularly awe inspiring photo of the snow-capped Himalayas taken from that vantage point, my Trek Nepal challenge suddenly seemed less insurmountable. When faced with an issue, it may help to visualise zooming out in your mind’s eye, as though you are looking down on it from a great height. Our minds are immensely powerful and the scale of anything we must overcome is always first created there (normally subconsciously). Armed with this knowledge we can tap into its power in order to change our perception entirely.

2. “There is a way through every block” – Yogi Bhajan

This is true of any block, no matter how large or small it may be. Through total acceptance of this comes the accompanying realisation that there is no right nor wrong way to work through a challenge; in fact, there are only infinite possibilities.

3. Break it down

Often the greatest block when we are faced with a problem is taking that first step. If you break it down into achievable goals that enable you to take action, you will begin to create energy and momentum around it. I can guarantee that if you do this, in no time at all you will look back and realise how far you have come.

4. Have Patience

You cannot control the outcome or the timing of every situation. We live in a society where how successful you are at solving something is equated with how quickly you can do it, and having patience can become its own challenge. However, adding this time-pressure only serves to enhance the existing challenge you face. When viewed in this way, it seems like a nonsensical thing to do.

5. Find a buddy

It is so much more enjoyable to face a challenge with a friend than alone. If connection breeds joy then at least working with someone else can make an arduous process less painful.

All of these insights are based on my own experiences and I hope that reading them might help somebody. Ultimately however, not all of the above will work equally for everybody. We are all unique and therefore need to find what suits us best. My parting wisdom would be that as long as you keep working on yourself you are undoubtedly moving forward, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

I am putting the link to my JustGiving page at the end of every post – if you have enjoyed reading and would like to sponsor me, then you can do so here (but absolutely no pressure if you just want to check out the content!). Please copy and paste the link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/katesnepaltrek

Love,

Kate

How to organise a fundraising event for the 1st time

One of the main reasons that the Trek Nepal experience is a great personal challenge for me is that this is my first ever time fundraising. I was brought up with that terribly British mentality when it comes to the foibles and faux pas of discussing money, therefore truthfully, I find the idea of actively asking people to sponsor me a little bit awkward/ cringe making.  I managed to get through school and university without partaking in any fundraising events and I have always felt much more comfortable supporting others in their endeavours rather than organising my own. Whilst I deeply admired my various friends and contemporaries, I was happy to cheerlead from the sidelines (until now).

When I was first trying to think up fundraising ideas, my first port of call was the ever reliable “good old google”, which threw out the classic feats that people traditionally undertake. I scoured lists of ideas including marathons, triathlons, sponsored silences, and cake sales. All exceptionally worthy but none of them made me feel that little spark of excitement or felt particularly personal to me.

It was while I was at home in Dublin over the Christmas period that I had that ping; that magic aha moment. I recalled hearing people talk about what is essentially the yogic equivalent of a marathon, which is doing 108 sun salutations – Surya Namaskar A – in a row. I decided there and then that is what I would do as my personal fundraising event. Not only is yoga something that people who know me associate me with, but it also deeply aligned with Nepal. Thus the idea began to take shape. 

For non-yogis, the sun salutation is a sequence of postures that the yogi flows through. In yogic philosophy the sun salutation is a way to honour the sun; surya means “sun” in Sanskrit and namaskar means “to bow to”.  The sun salutation is also a way of acknowledging our light side, in that everyone has a light and a shadow side.  The light side is our inner wisdom and our heart’s consciousness.  The tradition of completing 108 is for various reasons: there are 108 sacred points on the body; 108 beads on a mala meditation necklace; and the diameter of the sun is approximately 108 times its distance from the earth.   It is also an extremely challenging mental and physical undertaking, not only with regards the repetitiveness but also due to the physical strength required for some of the postures. Typically the 108 sun salutations takes about 2 and a half hours for an experienced practitioner to complete. 

I am hugely excited to announce that I now have a date and time for my “108 for WaterAid”: Sunday, 29 March, which is incidentally the first day of British Summertime. I am incredibly grateful for the support I have received thus far from my friends. One owns a yoga studio and he is generously allowing me to use the space. Another friend is a qualified instructor who has been teaching for almost 20 years and she is going to take me through the sequences and help me to count them. It is incredibly meaningful to me that through their kindness, I have been able to turn my idea into a reality and that these friends have become a part of my Trek Nepal challenge. 

There are 18 spaces in the studio so I will create an event for those who might like to join me in completing “108 for WaterAid”, and of course I most gratefully welcome sponsorship for this endeavour. 

I am putting the link to my JustGiving page at the end of every post – if you have enjoyed reading and would like to sponsor me, then you can do so here (but absolutely no pressure if you just want to check out the content!). Please copy and paste the link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/katesnepaltrek

Love, Kate

Commitment No. 2

My second commitment is that I will learn at least one new thing each week about Nepal between now and when I depart for the trek in October.

Why have I decided this? Partly because my journey to Nepal is imbued with a particular sense of purpose (provided by WaterAid). I go there armed with the awareness that but for an accident of birth and the nearly 5000 miles which physically separate us, the people I will encounter have never known the privileges I have taken for granted all my life, including access to clean water and sanitation. In order to fully meet them in this capacity and armed with this knowledge, it is important to me that I learn some of their history and culture.

The other reason behind this commitment is purely for personal enjoyment: to bring the sense of whimsical wonderment to this experience that we all know intrinsically as children. This seems to get lost in adulthood behind layers of pretending we know more than we do, or seeing what we want to see. My weekly learnings might be historical or anecdotal; or in the form of learning a new word in Nepali; or trying some Nepalese cuisine. I am starting by reading House of Snow, an anthology of writings about Nepal or by Nepalese authors and poets. My first learning of this week is that ‘House of Snow’ is a translation of the Sanskrit word Himalaya: hima (snow) and alaya (dwelling).

The first essay in the book is the journal of Major Harold Tillman, an explorer who undertook one of the first Everest expeditions in the 1930’s. In his account he poetically describes coming face to face with this awesome and unknown landscape as the ‘witchery of the unexpected’. That phrase resonated with me on a profound level, as it dawned on me that we don’t actually have to be explorers to see the world this way. We can inhabit this magic sense of curiosity for the unknown by continuing to expand our minds by learning and trying new experiences. In fact, viewed another way, we are all explorers: all we need to do is open our eyes, minds and hearts.

PS – I am putting the link to my JustGiving page at the end of every post – if you have enjoyed reading and would like to sponsor me, then you can do so here (but absolutely no pressure if you just want to check out the content!). Please copy and paste the link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/katesnepaltrek

Love, Kate

Reflecting

Earlier this week, I was thinking about how often we start something for one reason, but end up carrying it on for a completely different reason. I took up yoga, for example, primarily for the physical benefits: to change my body and to improve my posture. A few years later and I am still practising, but I have moved away from the original intention. I continue because of how much it expands my consciousness and increases my self-awareness.

One of the reasons I love yoga so much is because of the insight it has provided me into what was recently considered to be esoteric knowledge. Yoga is the best known branch of the Vedic sciences, i.e. the oldest known school of scientific learning in human history. When the British colonised India in the 18th century, they attempted to wipe out the Vedic sciences by closing down all of the schools, due to the fact that they were peddling “unknown” lessons (which were consequently perceived as irrational). Fortunately, the colonisers did not succeed in their fear based pursuit. This ancient wisdom was preserved, and it is becoming ever more prevalent in the West.

Yoga philosophy asks us to seek answers to profound questions beyond our rational and cerebral intellect. It invites us to awaken our intuition via the mind, body and spirit. It provides us with understanding of where we fit into the natural order of the entire universe. It offers space for a deeper connection to the the elements: air, fire, earth and water. Connecting to the elements is incredibly powerful, as it enables us to align with the natural forces which govern the cosmos.

At this time of year – winter – it is the water element that is imbued with special significance. Water represents our connection to intuition and the unconscious mind. Human beings are 70% water and like the earth’s bodies of water, we respond to the lunar cycles. Our emotions, like water, need to ebb and flow so that they do not stagnate. All forms of life need water in order to survive.

With this in mind, I was reflecting further on WaterAid’s mission to supply clean water for all, not only in Nepal, but worldwide. It is about so much more than providing the clean water necessary to help rid entire communities of greater susceptibility to disease and early, unnecessary death. WaterAid delivers meaningful and sustainable solutions by working alongside these communities, for example training engineers on the ground to fix pumps if anything goes wrong. It is ultimately about creating dignity and opportunities for our fellows. This brings us full circle, back to connection. We are all interconnected. We can all take responsibility for honouring this and tapping into our potential by using our collective energy to bring about positive change.

PS – I am putting the link to my JustGiving page at the end of every post – if you have enjoyed reading and would like to sponsor me, then you can do so here (but absolutely no pressure if you just want to check out the content!). Please copy and paste the link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/katesnepaltrek

Commitment No. 1

Between now and October I intend to make mini personal commitments, in order to signpost the “inner” aspect of this journey.

My first commitment is that I will try to remain fully present and grounded in the here and now.

This commitment is firstly to remind myself that I do not have the power to predict or control the future beyond setting an intention with integrity and doing my best to achieve it. Other than that, I have to let go of the outcome, by handing it over to something bigger than me.

Secondly, there is no point in worrying about something I cannot control so I might as well enjoy the offerings of the present, for instance unexpected gifts of sudden clarity; or universe winks that I am on the right path; or connections to others. This is where true joy can be discovered.

The ways in which I plan to achieve this commitment are through my regular meditation practice; breath work; and writing in my journal.

Does anyone have any tips for how to stay present?

PS – I am also going to put the link to my JustGiving page at the end of every post – if you have enjoyed reading my story and would like to sponsor me, then you can do so here (but absolutely no pressure if you just want to check out the content!). Please copy and paste the link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/katesnepaltrek

Reality Checklist

Over the Christmas break I received my trek checklists from WaterAid (for packing, for training etc), making this feel so much more real.

What I have learned so far: I need to buy lots of things I don’t have – I have already decided that a good sleeping bag is a non-negotiable. I will be trekking 8 hours per day – our trek is rated Orange with Green being easiest and Red being the most challenging. I need to train – not for speed, but for endurance (‘endurance‘ was in bold so it’s a safe bet that this is a key concept).

My attitude to said endurance is not always consistent: sometimes I display a dogged stubbornness that would rival a mule; other times I go to the gym 2 days in a row and wonder why I don’t have a body like any of Leonardo DiCaprio’s ex-girlfriends.

Of course, neither of the above is representative of true endurance, which is as mental as much as it is physical; an opportunity to use various faculties of both mind and body to persevere with something extremely tough that is outside one’s perceived levels of comfort, normally for a finite period of time.

To endure something takes us beyond our natural pleasure seeking state. Sometimes, we endure something (or someone), out of necessity, or on behalf of someone we love. Sometimes, as is the case with this trek, endurance is for the sake of a particular end goal, which, although immensely satisfying in itself, doesn’t make it any less challenging.

This is where the mind comes in, meaning our uniquely human ability to shift our perception of a given experience. One can train their body to withstand almost anything: animals are adaptable. It is training of the mind, however, that enables us to shape our experiences or to transcend something difficult, to the extent that it almost becomes a spiritual practice. Viewed through this lens, walking or trekking, that is the repetitive act of placing one foot in front of the other, has potential to become the ultimate meditation.

What are the lessons to be learned from endurance? We are always stronger than we think we are. Our mind is incredibly powerful: just because we think of something as difficult doesn’t make it true. By engaging with the mind in order to alter our perception of an experience where endurance is requisite, it can become an opportunity for so much growth.

PS – I am also going to put the link to my JustGiving page at the end of every post – if you have enjoyed reading my story and would like to sponsor me, then you can do so here (but absolutely no pressure if you just want to check out the content!). Please copy and paste the link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/katesnepaltrek

Looking forwards and backwards

In Roman mythology, the god Janus had 2 faces: one looking backwards, towards the past, and the other looking forwards, into the future. It said that this is why the first month of the year, January, is so called.

The beginning of a new year (and in this case, a new decade) is traditionally a time when we take stock of the year(s) gone by: what successes we enjoyed; what challenges we faced; what lessons we learned; and what we can ‘leave behind’. This latter idea of letting things go can sometimes feel daunting – even scary – especially as habits tend to become comforting in their familiarity. Ultimately we always have the choice to walk away from people, places, or things that cause us harm, or are out of step with our values. For me, this is anything which places me further away from my authentic self, which is trying to live my life with purpose, curiosity, imagination and love.

The start of the year is also an ideal time for setting intentions, resolutions, and contemplating going outside of our comfort zone with regards new goals. The Trek Nepal challenge which is the subject of this blog falls squarely within that bracket for me.

When setting resolutions, I always think about what my small wins would look like, as well as my larger, more ambitious targets, as both are equally meaningful. The important thing is that my resolutions are personal to me, and that they are for me alone. By this I mean that they are aligned with my true self, rather than being about trying to impress another person, or pleasing my ego. I also like to share some of my personal goals in order to keep myself accountable.

To this end, I commit to posting to this blog on a regular basis until the end of my Trek Nepal challenge. The intention of this blog is to provide joy, to connect to others who are undertaking or who have undertaken similar challenges, and to educate readers about Nepal and WaterAid, and what each and every one of us can do to make a difference.

I know that this challenge is not only going to be about the physical aspect for me, or about keeping my fundraising commitments to myself, to WaterAid, and to those who have selected me to take part in this trek. There will also be an element of a spiritual and mental challenge as I open myself up in this blog and share honestly about my vulnerabilities and any inner discoveries over the next 10 months.

I hope you enjoy reading and that I hear back from some of you, should you be inspired to share some thoughts or experiences if you have been on a similar journey.

Kate

PS – I am also going to put the link to my JustGiving page at the end of every post – if you have enjoyed reading my story and would like to sponsor me, then you can do so here (but absolutely no pressure if you just want to check out the content!). Please copy and paste the link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/katesnepaltrek