Friday, January 06, 2017

Pilgrim's place

It's breakfast and I glance around the dining room of the re-purposed convent where I am guest for two nights. All the tables seem to be reserved for groups, so I ask an English speaking volunteer in an apron where I sit if I'm not part of a group. "Why, the pilgrims' table, of course. We are all pilgrims, aren't we?" I settle myself into a place at the almost empty table.

Breakfast at the pilgrims' table
If a pilgrim is a traveller in search of a holy place, then I do seem to fit the description lately, both in a figurative and more literal sense. A metaphor of valleys and hills has been the theme of the past year, which began with moving to the vibrant Dulwich hill community in Sydney's inner west, and ended with (temporarily) moving to the stark, yet magnificent South Hebron hills. Throughout the year there have been some really special visits to my favourite valley in the whole wide world. In all of these hills and valleys friendships new and old have been incredibly important to me. Travel and visiting, usually in beautiful landscapes and always with cups of tea, have been a big part of the journey. Contemplation and creativity has also been key, as I have dipped my toe into collective music making, continued with my writing and pursued my "only as a hobby" water colour painting.

My emotional journey has been one of peaks and troughs as well. I reached almost rock bottom earlier in the year and cannot thank enough the small band of close friends who supported me as I clawwed my way back up to a higher place. I'm particularly grateful, in no special order, for motivational mindmaps, tough love, sing-alongs, supportive presence in the rain, cuddling under a blanket, forgiveness and apologies, road trips, folk music and a lift to the airport when said I didn't need it but actually kindof did.

View from current rooftop

This year I've also embarked on a journey called "Meeting for Learning", a Quaker process of personal reflection and discovery. The rolling green hills beyond the Don Bosco Retreat Centre were the backdrop for the commencement of the personal contemplation and "inner work" that I have sought to undertake. I would like to share some of my insights so far:

1. That strong female companions and role models are as important for the journey of the soul as swiss army knives are for hiking expeditions. Through crafternoons, mindmap-ernoons, music making, music appreciation, wine appreciation, serendipitous meetings on buses and many delightful house-guest experiences, I've learnt to trust, confide in, really listen to, stand up to, call out, cry with and laugh with the many incredible women in my life.

A few of the amazing women in my life

2. That boundary setting is not being mean. It's actually being kind - to myself and to others - because it shows self respect and gives people (who are not mind readers) a guide as to how I want to be treated. The alternative options - passive aggressive behaviour or glum silence - are not nearly as effective despite being easier to implement. This past year I have been provided with numerous opportunities to set boundaries and gently demand respect. I'm pleased to say that in most cases, including a quick final test the universe thought it would offer me right before Australian midnight, I have remained steadfast to my intended message, expressed it kindly, and the relationship with the other person has only improved as a result.

Music making in my favourite valley

3. That there is a time to be brutally honest with and a time to show unconditional support for the people we love. This past year I have been the recipient of tough love, and of consistent reassurance in the face of self-doubt. Both were appropriate to the context and significant moments in my journey. My challenge to myself going forward is to be wise enough to know when which approach is appropriate so that I can repay the favour for those I care about.

So, as the new year kicks into gear, my personal pilgrimage continues. There are no new resolutions or intentions, but rather a renewed focus on the journey I am already on. Thank you to everyone who has been with me so far.

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