9 February 2020 | BY ANDJELKA JANKOVIC | Life
Time and again, it's time to be brave
Travel is a thousand unseen hands and a whole lot of snacks. So much of what happens is not Instagrammable and the high highs and low lows are often unexplainable – which sums up the second half of 2019 when I left Australia to embark on a spirit quest to America.
Looking back on last year, it was a beautiful and bewildering chapter, full of uncertainty and mystery. It has taken me longer than usual to write about it because I’ve been so immersed in living it.
Let me take you back to mid last year. I had a job, house, beloved cat, incredible friends, and my brother, sister-in-law and nephew had moved back from Copenhagen so my family was finally all living in the same city. To the outside, life was great (and it was). But on the inside, I felt an everpresent emptiness in my soul.
You are going to know failure if you are brave with your life. You can’t take criticism or feedback from people who are not being brave with their lives. — Brene Brown
In May, I spent seven days at a silent retreat in Bali hoping to get some clarity and direction. A few days after, I went on an adventure to the island of Nusa Penida and had a near-death experience when I almost fell off a cliff I was climbing up. Nice metaphor. The feeling of intense presence combined with terror, adrenaline, and the high of being alive afterwards certainly left an imprint.
Death is the best invention of life, your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. — Steve Jobs
I couldn’t deny it anymore: I needed to go. On a quest for truth. I felt if I didn’t do it, a part of me would die. Everything that I thought my life was to be — career, place, lifestyle — wasn’t going to be anymore. And I had to wander deeply into the world to find it.
When you follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while — waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. — Joseph Campbell
It’s one thing to tell your friends you’re going to do something, and another thing entirely to actually do it. Within a month, I took a redundancy from my job, sold and gave away most of my possessions, had a finale for my food club, closed up my accounts, said goodbye to the people and animals I love, and flew to the US.
You believed in Santa for 8 years, you can believe in yourself for 5 minutes. — Seen from a bus somewhere in Silverlake
Now here’s the part no one talks about: leaving is the easy part. This surprised me the most. What comes next when you are traveling alone is the real story.
In the second half of 2019, I was on my travels in North America, feeling the full spectrum of being a human from excited, inspired, confused, tired, brave, and lost. Travelling has been the character-building bedrock of my life. You get to be more you than you’ve than ever been — and you have to welcome it all as an opportunity to grow.
I swear I see what is better than to tell the best. It is always to leave the best untold. — Walt Whitman
Highlights of the spirit quest include:
- Eating the best buckwheat waffles of my life after hiking to the Hollywood sign in LA
- Going on a fried chicken research trip to Nashville with my chef brother Drasko — Southern porches, soul food, and gluten tablets at the ready
- Watching Bon Iver from the second row in Portland
- Hiking the Canadian Rockies for a month, trekking to remote teahouses in the mountains, and seeing bears (and baby bears!), moose, elk and mountain sheep for the first time in the wild
- Catching the Rocky Mountaineer train from Jasper to Vancouver in peak fall
- Making my own fire in a forest cabin on Salt Spring Island
- Carving pumpkins and visiting spooky houses on Halloween in Victoria
- Hitchhiking around Tofino and discovering World War II plane crash ruins
- A Big Sur road trip over Thanksgiving with my childhood best pal Kylie
- Finally seeing the Grand Canyon in all its magnificent glory
- Hugging the red rocks of Sedona
- Couchsurfing with over fifteen incredible humans in North America — I could tell you stories of kindness for days
- Experiencing three tea ceremonies in one weekend in Santa Fe
- Hiking and hot springs in the southernmost tip of the Rockies in New Mexico
- Living and volunteering in an intentional community in Tijeras
From the most Western point of Canada to the wintery desert of New Mexico, here I am.
And then there is the great plot twist of 2019: I got a mystery illness.
In November, I woke up in the middle of the night with sharp pains in my legs. Then over the next few days, the tingling and numbness spread to my arms and my hands. I was convinced I had a blood clot (and a myriad of other things) and went to the emergency room in Canada for tests that didn’t show anything. The paralysing feeling persisted in all four limbs for two months, along with major anxiety and lack of sleep = sharp mental decline. And then, I ended the year with pneumonia. Woah universe.
I went quiet for a while because I honestly didn’t know if I was going to make it. But the numbness and pneumonia have since cleared (so so thankful) and this health scare perfectly lived me into my word for the year: alignment.
Sometimes deeper mental clarity is preceded by great internal storms. – Yung Pablo
Alignment is the silent scream on the inside. It tells you loud and clear what needs to change. The reality of alignment is that it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable. An interruption to being ‘asleep’. The reward of alignment is the greatest freedom you can imagine. If you are willing to live your truth. Alignment is the sound of things clicking into place. It’s the feeling of biking up a steep hill and then letting your feet fly free on the way down.
Has everything fallen into place for me in the past year? Not quite. Have the stars aligned after a year of courageous questioning and truth-seeking? Yes, in ways I could not have ever imagined. I even made a playlist for it.
There is nothing more beautiful than when you prove to yourself just how strong you are. — Danielle Dolby
My word for 2020 didn’t come so easily and then it was crystal clear.
An emerging and a becoming. Full body yes’s. Evolving into the highest version of yourself. Releasing old patterns and changing habits. Uncovering the truth at the centre of your life. The possibility of extraordinary expansion. An invitation to soar.
Write this down: I am a motherfucking volcano. Volcanoes are breathtaking and spectacular. — Heather Harrilesky
As we know from the caterpillar in the cocoon miraculously turning into a butterfly, transformation means dying to the old self. I’ve been through enough dark nights of the soul and Saturn Return (on steroids) for most of my late twenties to know that I’m ready for the metamorphosis.
In honour of my love of lists, here are the 10 things that genuinely changed my life in 2019:
Hiking makes my heart feel like the gospel choir in the chorus of Walking In Memphis. It’s completely life-giving, you’re essentially walking in nature for free. The term ‘happy trails’ just makes me smile. Buying my first pair of proper hiking boots in Banff was like getting my first car — I was unstoppable. They hurt like hell at first, but I’ve worn them pretty much every day since and they have molded perfectly to my feet. I never thought that day would come and I love them.
I’ve been a tea lover my whole life — green, white, chai, oolong, herbal, red, and my recent discovery: Cream of Earl Grey (add a dash of rice milk and maple syrup and you have Canada in a cup). A significant moment of my year was discovering tea ceremonies as silent meditation with plant medicine. It’s the first time I’ve felt ‘calm yet awake’ and experienced such high states of clarity and connection — all while drinking tea with strangers. I’ve started my own bowl tea practice, joined the Global Tea Hut community, and hope to host tea gatherings in the future.
Making My Own Fire
I can stare at a fire for hours. I could not, however, start a fire to save my life. Then I rented a cabin in the forest on Salt Spring Island with a wood-burning stove, a claw foot bath, and zero fire-starting skills. It’s funny what you pick up when you have no other choice. After much trial and error (lots of wasted kindling and smoke inhalation), I nailed the teepee method, built a roaring fire, and declared it my proudest achievement.
I started The Artist’s Way again — a 12-week creativity program — after abandoning it 10-weeks in around four years ago when my life hit a crisis point living in New York. I picked it up again in late 2019, and have been writing ‘morning pages’ as three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, usually in the morning. It teaches you to do the one thing you find a million excuses not to do: just write. It’s probably how I managed to publish this piece after not posting for a year. As Julie Cameron says: ‘The stringent requirement of a sustained creative life is the humility to start again, to begin anew.’ Give yourself that grace.
Oh, Canada. After falling in love with the Rockies in Colorado four years, I fulfilled a lifelong dream of catching an overnight train and waking up in the Canadian Rockies (on my birthday!). I went hiking for a month through Jasper National Park, Banff, Canmore, and Calgary. Making trail buddies, staying with awesome locals, encountering wildlife in the actual wild, and hitchhiking to some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes I’ve ever seen. Sometimes I would turn a corner and burst into tears from the beauty. I’ll definitely be back.
This deserves its own paragraph. I was Couchsurfing in Jasper with a lovely gal called Elsa and she mentioned she worked for the Rocky Mountaineer – one of the most luxurious train journeys in the world. I mentioned that I had been weighing up catching it to the Rockies, but in reality, it was too expensive (I could live in Bali for 6 months for the cost of a ticket) so I decided to catch VIA Rail instead. The next day she came home and said she mentioned me to her colleagues because “no one your age is excited by trains”. One of them — A RANDOM STRANGER — offered me her complimentary pass to ride the Rocky Mountaineer back to Vancouver so I could experience it. So thanks to an angel, I was booked on the last train of the season home and had two days of unbelievable train travel with peak fall leaves, misty mountains, and frost-tipped trees as far as the eye can see.
Silent retreats offer a rare opportunity to eat in silence without distraction. During my seven days of silence at a retreat outside of Ubud, I ate three meals a day overlooking rice fields and the jungle – and honestly can never remember food tasting so good. I still think about the cream of corn soup and pandan pumpkin seed milk (emotionally good). I am trying to continue the intentional eating in my everyday life — slowing down, conscious presence, and not overeating for better digestion. It’s a habit to practice for a lifetime, but slowly but surely I can see how it’s a total game-changer.
Finishing 100 Books
I read 100 books in one year! But you don’t have to. I am a fast reader and love reading, but honestly, it was a lot of self-inflicted pressure for no reason to finish books, instead of relishing them. If you’d like to know how to get to hundred, the trick is to always carry a book with you (digital or real), give up or greatly reduce screen watching time, keep track of your books on Good Reads, and read like a maniac when you realise that you’re behind. The upside is I read a bunch of brilliant books that transformed my ideas and expanded my mind.
My favourite reads of 2019 include: Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, The Second Mountain by David Brooks, Soulcraft by Bill Plotkin, Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, Lost Connections by Johann Hari, Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot, A Job To Love by The School of Life, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell, and The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker.
Skin Cancer Scan
I had a precancerous freckle cut out of my ear after I had a skin cancer scan to check my moles (that I’ve had since birth). Early detection is key and these skin cancer doctors are booked up for months, but I persisted with the feeling that some of my spots looked a bit suss — and luckily because I couldn’t even see this one on my ear! I am super glad they caught it before it became a melanoma and I highly recommend booking in for a check-up. Growing up in sunny Australia comes with a crazy high UV index and the highest skin cancer risk in the world. So get your moles checked friends!
I said I wanted to make my iPhone boring. In 2019, I actually did. I put my phone on permanent silent mode – i.e no call ringing or text dinging, TURNED OFF ALL NOTIFICATIONS (goodbye red bubble), go for analog walks, use aeroplane mode when I need headspace, unfollowed brands I don’t care about and people I don’t know, deleted Facebook and Messenger from my phone, put a 10-minute limit timer on Instagram (which I occasionally break), and have been unsubscribing from email lists like it’s an Olympic sport. I also noticed I share much less on social media in the moment. Instead, I keep the experience for myself for a few days or weeks – and then when I feel inspired to post, I do (or don’t).
I’m always looking for ways to reduce the need for an addictive hit of digital dopamine. I’ve found that making my phone more of just that — a phone — has reduced the knee jerk reaction of looking for my phone, but not totally eliminated it. I still reach for my phone as a habit when I am bored, lonely, wanting a distraction or needing validation — and then stop myself. I still use my phone for things I value like Spotify, writing notes, WhatsApp, tracking daily steps, and THE WEATHER APP.
Vedic Astrology Reading
After learning Vedic meditation in Byron Bay three years ago, I finally found a Vedic astrologer to read my birth chart in Ubud. Based on your birth date, time, and longitude and latitude of your birthplace, your life and personality are read to you with extraordinary and intimate accuracy. The reading covers which plants occupy your twelves houses and what that means. I discovered I have Libra rising with a Capricorn moon; and Mercury, Mars and the Moon are my strongest planets. He described remarkably specific traits, past experiences, and future events. The big bombshell was him validating that I WAS IN SATURN RETURN and pinpointed the exact date it would end. A Vedic astrology reading is like a blueprint for your life that keeps unravelling and I was very happy to finally get a glimpse of it.
A self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living. – Virginia Woolf
Coming up for 2020 – the futuristic year that everybody thought would never come.
Meditate twice a day.
Practice conscious eating.
Host tea gatherings.
Make apricot jam.
Join a drumming circle.
Commit to zero waste and plastic-free.
Go on a silent retreat in the mountains.
Learn a partner dance.
Sit with some big questions in nature.
Align my gifts and soul purpose.
Wake up to the rain with you.
Be of true service, shine a bright light for others, and know you’re on the way.
What’s your word for 2020?
She has been feeling it for a while now — that sense of awakening. There is a gentle rage simmering inside her, and it is getting stronger by the day. She will hold it close to her — she will nurture it and let it grow. She won’t let anyone take it away from her. It is her rocket fuel and finally, she is going places. She can feel it down to her very core — this is her time. She will not only climb mountains — she will move them too. — Lang Leav