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Person drinking Tea In A Canola Field

The sea was all in our minds

The Sea, Lily Kershaw (feat. Jon Bryant)

My top played song on Spotify last year was called Solitude No.1 by Ukrainian pianist and composer Lubomyr Melnyk. It’s a funny and welcome coincidence since this was the theme of my 2020.

I went from living in an intentional community in New Mexico to returning home to Australia and moving to Fremantle. It felt like l lived twelve lifetimes in those twelve months. A year that seemed as if we were all living towards the end of the world. A time of radical simplification.

Staying indoors. No touching. Isolating. Coming to terms with not travelling and no freedom, while group chats exploded along with existential dread, ceaseless snacking and Zoom fatigue. All our cancelled plans and possible futures gone, plus the renaissance of sourdough baking and puzzle making.

It was the year I discovered Phoebe Bridgers, learnt how to pickle zucchini and make apricot jam, watched anything British (Sliding Doors is still a filmic masterpiece), relished the Before trilogy again, and the arrival of my second nephew, little River.

I found great comfort in escapist fiction (highly recommend Where The Crawdad Sing and The Flatshare). I was shook by Normal People — the show of 2020. My half-decade Saturn Return also ended (it was a long one, folks) and with that came a new kind of ease and settling into my skin.

Most profoundly, I lived on my own for the first time. Subleasing a New York-style warehouse space that I’d searched my whole twenties for (even after living in the actual East Village). I started a newsletter for close friends. The world didn’t need another hashtag but I wrote small town travel guides (check out #AJlovesWA) for my road trips around Western Australia.

It wasn’t all upskilling and roses though — I didn’t work for most of the year, had a big wakeup call to my privilege, and fell into spells of despair (joy is coming). I also didn’t learn the tap dance routine in Fiona Apple’s Paper Bag music video, and I still don’t know how to play You Were Meant For Me by Jewel on guitar. I did collect a lot of interesting sticks and foliage though.

In February, just before everything shut down, a series of synchronicities led me to Big Sur in California to meet my tea teacher Wu De and learn the ancient practice of Cha Dao and tea ceremony. It was a culmination of a six-year calling that I had almost given up on and it came to fruition just when I had least expected.

Arriving home in March, I had no idea that the next year would be in total antithesis to the life I’d lived so far. None of us did.

Quest for truth only works if you’re prepared to take action on what you find. — Bruce Lee

My word for 2020 was transformation.

Straight up transformation is terrifying. Hard. None of it is necessarily comfortable.

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Polaroid of girl holding a Tom Waits record

We'll be waiting for you in the sun

White Wine In The Sun - Tim Minchin

What do Rodriguez, Queen, Okkervil River, John Lennon and Dido all have in common?

Unsurprisingly, not much except that — they have all released a Christmas song, either buried in their back catalogues or somewhere in their lyrics. Enter: me.

I’ve always had an enthusiasm bordering on madness for discovering indie Christmas songs and I’ve collected non-obvious holiday songs for over a decade in a rolling playlist (without a single mention of Santa). Come December, I play them on an infinite loop and this ritual makes me feel somewhat comforted in an otherwise unpredictable world.

Here are the essential B-side Christmas songs you should listen to from great musicians that just got a little greater…

Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis — Tom Waits
I used to get my Waits mixed up with my Petty until I heard this rambling blues piano and pained husky voice (over a hundred times). In this song, a Christmas card written by a sex worker is sent to a former boyfriend of hers called Charlie. She tells him she’s pregnant, cleaned up her life, and has a happy relationship. By the last verse she lets him know: she’s back in jail, with no husband, and needs to borrow money for a lawyer. A brutally honest Christmas card delivered in the most unexpectedly beautiful way.

Fairytale of New York — The Pogues (feat. Kirsty MacColl)
Considered Ireland’s greatest musical contribution to the Christmas genre, this song starts all cozy and lovelorn and then turns into a glorious Celtic punk rock folk clusterfuck. It was famously censored on the BBC for slurs such as “faggot” and “slut”. A mainstay on any alternative Christmas music lovers list.

Holocene — Bon Iver
I will not be tripped up on a technicality, but this song mentions “Christmas night” so it’s an unintentional Christmas song to me (the best kind). This song sounds like winter, and because Justin Vernon makes it onto every playlist of mine — this stays.

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Girl sitting in tea ceremony

You gotta set your eyes on something you believe is true, it don’t matter what it cost

Made It Home — AHI

“Like you, I am scared to go within.”

These were the first words that Wu De spoke at the beginning of a week of Cha Dao at the Esalen Institute earlier this year.

I had tried to attend a course at the Tea Sage Hut in Taiwan for many years, but the busyness of my life always seemed to take over and I could never align the time to go. This came to a head last year, when my work in marketing for one of the world’s biggest food brands was becoming increasingly unfulfilling and an inner voice telling me that I had a greater purpose was practically screaming. I decided to take a career break and go on a quest through North America to ‘live into the answers’ (in Rilke’s stirring sentiment) to the questions of my life. Unfortunately, the moment I left my job, sold almost everything and moved the last of my possessions into my brother’s shed, it was also announced that the Centre would be closing.

All I really wanted to do at that point was get lost in nature, so I went hiking, traveling all the way from the top of the Canadian Rockies to the southernmost tip of the Rocky Mountains range in the US over the next six months. During my trip, I learned that Wu De (of Global Tea Hut) would be holding a meditation and tea retreat at Esalen in Big Sur, California. However, by the time I went to sign up it was sold out — naturally. I am not one to give up easily, so I persisted and pursued the gracious (read: patient) staff at the Esalen Institute reception over the coming days and weeks, hoping that a spot would become available. However, after about the sixth phone call, one of them politely told me: “Look, you’re fiftieth on the waitlist; I’d forget about it”. It was not happening, so I had to let it go.

And I did…

But a few months later, in February, I got an email out of nowhere that a last-minute spot had opened up on the retreat. I was volunteering at an intentional community in New Mexico at the time, and getting to Big Sur would be a logistical nightmare, not to mention my visa would be ending soon — but I was overcome with such a strong feeling (that could only be described as a ‘full-body yes’) that I took the opportunity. I booked my ticket and decided I would figure out the rest later — like how I was actually going to make it back to L.A. after the retreat ended to catch my flight home to Australia (ultimately, a Russian tea sister gave me a ride).

After two flights and a scenic bus ride along the famous Highway 1, I arrived at the edge of the continent — literally. Esalen is built right on the cliffs of the Pacific Coast and is one of the most staggeringly spectacular places I’ve ever been. A pioneer in holistic health and spiritual healing, Esalen is like staying at an upscale ashram that’s also a wellness haven for the senses. It is surrounded by the wildness of the ocean, a painting-like sky, giant towering trees and an invigorating sea breeze that makes you close your eyes and pause just to take it all in. The year-round fruit and vegetable gardens, bounty of flowers and bees, and the untamed redwood forest surrounding the property put nature at the centre of our immersion with Wu De and the Way of Tea.

Walking into the hall where we would convene every day, I caught sight of the retreat schedule, which would have had any tea lover in rapture: meditation, tea class, tea practice, discourse, and mealtimes repeated across the next five wonderful days. I was coming into the experience curious and eager to uncover why I’ve always felt a strong pull to tea. I’d looked for tea ceremonies everywhere I traveled and attended memorable ones in Japan, Canada, and the United States. Back home in Perth, I’d tracked down a copy of Wu De’s book The Way of Tea and it resonated with me at a bone-deep level. It was the Truth with a capital T. But I didn’t know where to even begin with my own tea practice. And so, I kept searching. I came to the retreat with the intention of integrating tea into my daily life and learning how to share my love of tea with others in ceremony.

In retrospect, I was starting a deeper relationship with tea and with myself as well.

I was also excited to meet Wu De in person after listening to a few of his conversations on various podcasts, including Life of Tea. I am almost certain I accidentally gave him those “oh my gosh, it’s Wu De” eyes when we first crossed paths in the dining hall (a look he later told us that he doesn’t like, as he would prefer to be anonymous). Hearing Wu De speak is a real treat; he is eloquent and self-aware, and I was drawn to his humility and humour, as well as his masterful storytelling. In real life, he is just an ordinary person — in his words, “I am just a dude. I am broken and dented too.” But as many of us know, Wu De is more than that. He is a student at heart and a sometimes-reluctant teacher, with a special ability to articulate Buddhist concepts with contemporary relevance and weave in cultural and poetic references with illuminating gravitas. He is also deeply in love with life, which makes him someone to whom many people are drawn. Like the Dao, you can’t explain Wu De so much as you have to experience him.

We started each day with meditation and three bowls of tea in silence. And each day, when those first few sips of hot liquid entered my mouth and moved down my throat, I felt them go all the way into my roots. So profound in its simplicity, a sense of “calm joy” (as Wu De often says) washed over me and an aliveness arose in my spirit — an embodied presence that had rarely touched my life before, except through music and being in the mountains.

Over the next five days, we — a group of fifty eager students of the Leaf — immersed ourselves in tea, Zen philosophy and community. For us first-timers, this meant practising and fumbling together while taking notes and imprints from the more experienced Chajin on the retreat. And at the end of each day, groups of new tea friends would come together to bathe in the healing mineral waters of the Esalen hot springs. I remember one night sitting there looking up at the constellations of stars in contemplation, wondering if life could actually get any better than a day of tea ceremony, meditation, wild nature, amazing farm-to-table food (I’m still thinking about that sourdough rye bread), and connecting with beautiful beings.

Seven Lessons From a Cha Dao Retreat

At the time of this writing, I have been back home in Australia for six months. Since my return, I have been cultivating a daily tea practice and have just started serving bowl tea to family and friends. I still have many more quest(ion)s and the forces that got me a spot in Big Sur will forever be a mystery. However, I know that whenever I sit on my cushion, take a deep breath and start boiling the water, a calmness washes over me and it feels like a homecoming every time.

Many of Wu De’s words come back to me often, in waves of remembrance or in moments of recognition when I am sitting with Tea. It is of course impossible to remember everything that Wu De said at Esalen, but these are the seven lingering lessons that stuck:

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female at edge of grand canyon

But what I've learned, I learned the way no one tells you about

Some Days - Ira Wolf

I’m here to tell you that everything will work out.

But at first, it won’t.

You’re made redundant (twice). You break up with the person you thought you were going to marry. Friendships end. New ones begin. Health problems arise. Anxiety, depression and panic attacks hit. Money is scarce. Then comes the near-death experiences. Family issues. Rollercoaster romances. Moving away. Moving back. Childhood pets dying. The feeling that you might also die any minute. Bloated, burnt out, and having a breakdown about almost everything and I AM JUST GETTING STARTED.

Do you feel like your whole world is falling apart? Welcome to your Saturn Return — it’s real.

So what is Saturn Return exactly? Saturn (the planet) was in your natal sign when you were born and it takes about 26 to 28 years (give or take) to circle back around into your chart. When Saturn returns to your sign, it brings with it a great reckoning.

I’ve been there.

One minute I was elated living la vida loca and the next my life was a mishmash of shattered dreams and hopeless prospects with no desirable future in sight or clue about what to do. I was sleep-deprived, highly anxious, lonely, sad, confused, frustrated, exhausted and frankly some days it felt like crawling on broken glass just to get through.

Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My god, do you learn. — C. S. Lewis

Saturn is said to be the great teacher and also the great destroyer — of paradigms, belief systems, addictions, habits, and patterns. In short: anything that doesn’t serve you. Yes, it sucks. We, humans, want to feel comfort and homoeostasis at any cost. If your life is not in alignment, Saturn will have no trouble showing you (sometimes quite harshly) what needs to change. It’s up to you to recognise the signs and take actions to transform or risk repeating the same lessons over and over.

The Saturn rollercoaster is real.

Let’s use my life as an example. I’m a Virgo but my Saturn is in Sagittarius or the ninth house (you can find out your Saturn sign and Saturn return here). This tells me that ‘Cross-cultural relationships will be your learning grounds and you may become “adopted” by a culture different than your own at some point in your life. If you haven’t travelled extensively, your Saturn Return would be an ideal time to live abroad’. Correct. I’m also told that Saturn came back around into my natal sign since birth from 23 December 2014. Correct again. Around age 26 is precisely the time when my life upheaval began.

Each Saturn Return is said to last between two to four years but for me, it was FIVE YEARS AND ONE MONTH (until I was 31) so rest assured that I know a thing or two about what it brings.

How do you know when your Saturn Return is over?

I met a Vedic astrologer and had a reading in Ubud, Bali in May 2019. He told me the exact date that my Saturn Return would end: 20 January 2020. HALLELUJAH, I rejoiced (also how’s the symmetry). Honestly, it felt like I was on a double Saturn Return bender that I thought I’d never come off. The Vedic astrologer also said that when Saturn leaves my birth chart in early 2020, there would still be “aftershocks” for the months following. This was again, very correct. 

Saturn as a planet is said to represent a father figure, and not in the physical male body sense but more in a protective, grounding, and looking-out-for-you kind of way. The energy of Saturn is asking you to be the ‘father’ of your own life and take responsibility for what you’re not learning. I knew it was time to be the Saturn of my own life when I was so sick of repeating old patterns, feeling stuck and caged, and had a feeling in my bones that the time was ripe for something new.

Growth is simply learning how to suffer gracefully, elegantly and not letting your pain completely tear you apart. — Nikita Gill

What we resist, persists.

This is a frequently repeated adage in spiritual communities and I can’t deny it. When I resist change and sidestep the “work”, I suffer more and whatever is causing me pain me persists. I get it: transformation isn’t easy. Many of us flag it in the “too hard” basket. But maintaining the status quo over following your truth (or just the plain facts on the table) is a way to be alive on the outside yet dead on the inside. I know this first hand. Everything seems easier than doing that one thing you know you really need to do. The true price we pay in suppressing our integrity and aliveness is not fulfilling our highest purpose in life.

You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign language. — Rainer Maria Rilke

My own Saturn Return was tumultuous, thrilling, and by the far the most painful yet transformative period yet. When I embraced Saturn Return for what it is — a great cleansing and levelling up — I noticed that my life started to change dramatically.

I started questioning everything, saying no more confidently, letting go of ideals that I didn’t agree with and reassessing values that didn’t resonate with me anymore. It’s also when I decided that there are a lot of expectations that I have no interest in living up to, so I don’t. A fun thing that came out of my Saturn Return was deciding to live each year by a word and this is when I learnt the true meaning of grace, flow, reverence, soften, and alignment.

Saturn will return again.

It will come back into your sign around your late 50s to early 60s. Ever heard of a mid-life crisis? Or a delayed call to adventure? It is said if you don’t learn the lessons in your first Saturn Return, you can bet they will show up in your second (or third). I consider doing the inner work the first time around a HUGE HELP to your future self. The work requires a lot of self-inquiry and reflection, as well as bravery in facing the unknown road ahead, but the reward is remarkable.

We live in a world where to admit anything negative about yourself is seen as a weakness, when it’s actually a strength. — Jon Hamm

I wish I could console my late twenties self and say ‘it will all work out, even better than you expected’ but she wouldn’t have listened. She was too busy trying to hold her public life together (career, relationships, family, self-care, identity, the future) while privately wondering why the questions of her soul’s deepest yearnings wouldn’t go away. Ultimately my heart won, but not without a lot of heartache.

And while you’re in the clusterfuck of Saturn.

It bears repeating, everything will be okay. Maybe not right now, or tomorrow, but eventually. I know that might be hard to believe, so I’ll believe it for you.

Here are thirty one bits of advice from someone who made it to the other side:

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book with flowers

Too forward, too fine, too patient, too wise, now look at you shine

I Won't Run From It - Big Red Machine

1. What do you hope greets you at heaven’s door?

A tray of warm cinnamon scrolls with Justin Vernon playing an acoustic set and every cat I’ve ever loved running towards me.

2. What is the best thing you have ever overheard?

Do the next right thing’ at a cafe in Sedona, Arizona. Also “all my needs have been met” at a farmers market in Santa Barbara.

3. Your biggest karaoke fail?

Africa by Toto in an Athens karaoke bar – there are definitely two extra syllables in the chorus that I didn’t know about until I was singing it to a room full of unimpressed Greeks.

4. What fascinates you to no end?

Dreams, sex dreams, the perfect potato to salt ratio, how the postal service actually works, the mystery of attraction, the universe.

5. Is there anything that people would find surprising about you?

I have a seemingly bottomless reserve of blind faith and almost every Ed Sheeran song can make me cry.

6. A fun fact about yourself that no one really cares about?

I am told my name means ‘apricot tree jewel fruit’ in Japanese!

7. Which childhood game misled you about how adult life would be?

Tetris, bastards.

8. The best song to play when stuck in a traffic jam?

Walking In Memphis, every time.

9. Confound me?

I hate being cold and I love winter.

10. Which film would you make devoted to an entire subject matter?

How people actually meet – synchronicity.

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how to read more

She wants a tree house, she wants a garden, a little bit of land, to put her hands in

She Don't Like Roses - Christine Kane

I am one of those annoying people that reads a lot of books.

In 2018, I set out to read 52 books (a book for every week) and I ended up reading 58 in total. I then challenged myself to double it in 2019 to 100 books, I finished 101 that year. We’re just over halfway through 2020 and I’ve read 46 books (or so, as my Goodreads tells me).

Here’s my advice: don’t have a reading goal, it’s actually quite distracting and you end read things just for the sake of it. Instead, read what interests you greatly. I’ve stopped counting how many books I have read and it turns I’m unknowingly reading more instead.

It would be fair to point out that I spent half of last year and the start of this year travelling so I had time, and also that I am a voracious reader. I will forgo watching the latest TV show and socialising online for a good book. I carry whatever I am reading with me to most places. You’d be surprised how many pockets of time there are in a day (waiting in line, for a friend, an extra 20 minutes here and there) to read a book instead of scroll a screen.

I can trace back the beginning of my love of reading to when I was totally engrossed in The Baby-Sitters Club as a child of the 90s. I have read almost every book published in the 213 edition series, and many of them three times over. I remember as a kid I would press a book up against my window at night to catch the streetlight so that I could read when everyone else was asleep in my house. It’s probably the reason I wear glasses now.

A few friends have asked me: ‘how do you read as much as you do?’. I joke: while you were breeding, I was reading (not entirely untrue) — but to be honest, I don’t have any speed reading superpowers or special abilities, I have just made reading a way of life.

Give me a night by the fire, with a book in my hand. — Mark Helprin

My bliss point is a brilliant narrative with believable characters or an engrossing non-fiction book that gets to the heart of a matter. Reading makes the pressures and stresses of life cease to exist, for at least a little while. Words in novels and poetry can be a full-body experience, not just taking place in your mind. Sometimes I feel a scene in a story or a line in a poem as a literal pain in my chest or a fluttering in my gut.

There is a blurred line between this world and the worlds that I read. I often refer to my favourite writers like they are close friends: ‘Oh yes, Rilke said…’, ‘It’s like how David Whyte always says…’, ‘That reminds me of when Liz Gilbert talks about…’. In some way, from afar, we share a kinship through the sharing of their experiences, they become a part of mine too.

For all my love of reading, I’ve never been in a book club — I KNOW. I’m actually a bit of a stubborn reader and I very rarely read genres that don’t interest me, like historical fiction, crime, or anything fantasy or sci-fi. I love to read philosophy, psychology, poetry, memoirs, essays, spiritual texts, contemporary fiction, food, health and wellness, and travel non-fiction. Sometimes I read for pure escapism which is totally fine too. 

I am someone who cannot persist with a book I am not enjoying. Or rather, I’ve decided to stop reading things that don’t resonate with me. There are literally a million more illuminating books that I am yet to get to! This is not hyperbolic. You will barely get to read even 1% of the books you want to before you die. As such, I have no regrets or doubts about giving up on a book a few chapters in and neither should you. 

I do take recommendations from trusted friends and mentors, and these have been some of the most lifechanging books of my life. If there is a book you’ve told me to read and I’m not vibing with it, I’ll politely let you know. I will, however, insist that you read everything on my ‘Everyone Must Read This’ list (annoying, see I told you).

Love words, agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world. — Susan Sontag

Sometimes I read three books in a week and other times, like many of us, I get into a reading rut. I know that reading the books on your nightstand can feel like an insurmountable task to add to the many others on your overwhelming list, but I promise you — reading nurtures a rich inner life that supports your selfhood. Reading is a refuge while the world spins madly on. 

Here are eight tricks and tips that I’ve picked up along the way that can help you read more:

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Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is call and I'll be there

You've Got A Friend - Carole King

A relationship to anything deep and intimate is often inexpressible.

It occurred to me recently that my memory is catalogued in smells and tastes, and most of them come back to tea.

Tea is a lot of things: a warm beverage, an invitation, a moment to yourself, a chance to connect with someone, and a way of life.

Tea is said to have roots that go back 6000 years, she is ancient and wild. But let’s go back to before I knew that, to the beginning of me and tea.

My earliest memory of tea is of my mum making me a cup of chamomile when I was sick. She would add honey and it would taste like sticky sweet goodness. As a child, I would sometimes open the box of teabags in the back of the cupboard just to get a whiff of that flowery meadow scent. Chamomile is still my go-to when I am unwell or need comfort.

When I was 19, I left Australia to study abroad at Queen’s University in Canada. I lived in a giant Home Alone-style house with ten people and one of them was an English rose called Amanda. I met her while she was unpacking and noticed she had a giant ziplock bag of teabags. I asked her what they were, and she said “PG Tips”. She had bought a stash with her from London in case she couldn’t find them in our small college town. Amanda made a cup with a dash of milk and sugar and it was like a warm liquid hug. We became instant friends. To this day, the smell of English breakfast tea takes me straight back to Amanda’s room and the giant autumnal tree outside her window.

In Kington, where we lived, I was introduced to jasmine dragon pearl tea after Amanda gifted me some from a charming tea store downtown. This was 2008 and I had never had proper loose leaf tea before this point! I was enchanted by the smell of the fragrant jasmine buds and would sometimes poke my nose in the bag just to get a hit. When I went back to Canada seven years after my exchange, I went looking for that very tea shop on the main street only to find it was no longer there. A heavy sadness came over me. It’s no coincidence that I wear jasmine scented perfume to this day and always stick my head in every flowering jasmine bush that I pass.

When I was 26, I went on my first 6-month solo trip (or ‘quest’) across North America. I made a point to visit Portland and discovered it to be the tea capital of the US, and later had a tea and tarot session at a teahouse in Burlington, Vermont. I ended up going to a sacred spirituality festival called Beloved in the Oregon woods. I went for a walk after setting up my tent and came across an altar covered in crystals and gems with a man called RonJon sitting behind it. He was serving tea to anyone who pulled up a cushion, all day and all night. I sat down to drink tea and ended up staying for hours chatting openly with strangers. One particularly memorable night, I made my way to the tea circle around 3am and RonJon served us a special tea with palto santo shavings and coca leaf. It was magical and I had one of the best sleeps of my life.

After months of travelling across the US and Canada, I ended up living in New York’s East Village in a 15th floor apartment with no elevator. I had a lifelong dream to live in Manhattan and so I had to see it through. However, it quickly started to show itself as not being my place. The hustle and grind of the city, the everpresent noise and sirens, the community you could see everywhere but never get into, and the lack of nature and trees (two things I need!) really got to me. And frankly, I had no idea what I was doing there.

One day, I saw that my yoga studio was hosting a ‘tea ceremony’. I didn’t know what that was exactly but I was drawn to it. I was going through a particularly hard time with my health and I wanted a feeling of peace. The tea gathering was hosted by Bealyn Elspeth who is better known as All Matters of Spirit. As I sat in a semicircle with about twenty women drinking bowls of tea, I didn’t quite know what was happening, but I liked it. At the end, we shared our experiences with each other. I can’t remember what I said but I did feel connected to something for the first time since I got to the city. Several people in the group broke down and cried. They said the silence made them anxious and they didn’t know what they were meant to do. That’s the thing: we were just drinking tea and not talking. I then realised that for so many of them, being native New Yorkers, they had never experienced such stillness in their entire life.

From this moment, I was in rapture with tea and the ritual of ceremony.

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I once read that hope is the most private emotion, I would add that so is loneliness.

We can all feel it so much without telling anyone. I’ve often thought that the opening line of Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence should be changed to ‘Hello loneliness, my old friend’.

There are so many types of human longing: for a partnership, a pet, purposeful work, a community, a landscape, or your place in the world. I feel it when I glimpse into other people’s homes from the street. It is something unexplainable yet so present.

Add to that being isolated, detached or not having support networks, and suddenly loneliness is a psychologically difficult pain to live with.

One tragedy of loneliness is that lonely people can’t see that lots of people feel the same way they do.  Jill Lepore

I recently listened to a conversation between Brené Brown and Dr Vivek Murthy and I was struck by the concept that there are three types of loneliness:

Intimate loneliness. What you feel when you lack really close relationships and don’t have any people who know who you truly are, and with whom you can be fully yourself. For instance, being single and craving an intimate relationship. Or having a nourishing, loving relationship but not a best friend (I call this person your anam cara — Celtic for soul friend).

Relational loneliness. When we lack close friendships or a circle of friends that we can spend time with outside of work and on weekends. These can be old school friends, a tight-knit group of friends you make in adulthood like a girl gang, a surfing crew, a women’s or men’s circle, or a group of people you share a similar hobby or passion with and emotional closeness.

Collective loneliness. You feel this when you lack a sense of community or don’t have a group of people with whom you share an identity and likemindedness with a truth, mission or interest. This could be a physical community like the neighbourhood you live in, an online community like a fan club, a sangha commonly found in spiritual traditions, your extended family, or a faith-based collective like a church group.

When I get lonely these days, I think: So BE lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. — Elizabeth Gilbert

I can relate to all three. As I delved deeper, I did a ‘loneliness inventory’ of my own current life:

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I wish you could know what it means to be me then you'd see and agree that every man should be free

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free - Nina Simone

It is impossible to be alive right now and not address the Black Lives Matter movement, the violence and violation of human rights against marginalised communities and First Nation’s people, police brutality and misconduct, and the systemic undermining of Black, Indigenous and people of colour worldwide.

Last week George Floyd walked out of a grocery store and was arrested while uncharged and killed in an undignified, unjust and horrific way, as were countless others before him while innocent and sleeping like Breonna Taylor, a child playing in a park like Tamir Rice, and David Dungay Jr, an Indigenous Australian man who died in police custody. His last words were also “I can’t breathe”.

This current uprising traces back to very deep roots of racial inequality and deprivation of basic humanity, this is a huge problem and we all need to do more.

I will, of course, never truly understand what it’s like to not have white privilege and how it feels to live in daily fear of my safety and very beingness. But I can acknowledge it, educate myself, and actively be an ally for anti-racism. As anti-apartheid and human rights activist Desmond Tutu said:

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.

Read that again. This hit my heart like a dart. I realised my silence, although well-meaning, was a convenient cloak for inaction. The fact I can choose to opt-out, stay in, or not speak up is a freedom other people don’t have. Not knowing what to say or if you will get it right stops so many of us from doing anything at all. I get it, but action is more helpful than perfection. The best thing we can do is:

Shut up and get educated

Develop racial literacy. Listen, really listen. Understand white privilege. Do the work.

Privilege isn’t about what you’ve gone through – it’s about what you haven’t gone through. ― Janaya Future Khan

There is A LOT going on and an avalanche of information out there. The collective grief and anger is devastating, soul-crushing, and paralysing. Now imagine how it feels for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) who have to live this existence every single day and for whom it has been that way for generations upon generations of trauma and injustice.

The anti-slavery, civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements in America and the Indigenous civil rights and land rights movements in Australia are extremely nuanced, layered, complicated and in some ways, forgotten and buried histories.

No one can be authentically human while he prevents others from being so. ― Paulo Freire

In an effort to begin understanding anti-racism and unpacking white privilege, I’ve collated a starting point as a living list of things I’ve found helpful for educating yourself and taking thoughtful action.

The invitation is to get your head around the issues, learn from the lived experiences of BIPOC voices, and mobilise ourselves in service and solidarity as an ally for anti-racism (now, not later).

Only you can educate yourself, don’t expect others to do it for you. Of course, there are two sides to every story, do your own research.

I’m learning too and I have a lot of catching up to do.

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Keep climbing into my head without knocking, and you fix yourself there like a map pin

Dogwood Blossom - Fionn Regan

There is life before Normal People and life after.

I have just finished the screen adaptation of Irish writer Sally Rooney’s widely acclaimed and loved novel of the same name that spun the internet (and me) into a frenzy when it came out two years ago. It was the soup du jour read of our generation ― passed around from friend to friend and eagerly awaited at every library. The story made me fall back in love with fiction and yes, I was basic enough to post a book in hand review on my Instagram.

Normal People is about that person who you first loved or made you feel most alive, the one you are inextricably entwined with for life. Whoever you first thought of when you read that, it’s probably them. The two central characters Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal) are twin flames ― a concept that has fascinated me for a long time. In the show, hair fringe envy (her) and male sensitivity kudos (him) ensues. The plot is steeped in the intensity of infatuation, the beauty and brutality of relationships, and ultimately our biological yearning for emotional and physical closeness with another.

It’s not like this with other people, she says. Yeah, he says. I know. ― Sally Rooney

Marianne and Connell are young and in love, and it’s complicated. What most fascinated me over the 12 episodes is watching their undeniable chemistry and kismet-like connection unravel. Their conversations are unabashedly honest, innocent, and earnest (even though you want to scream half the time: ‘tell them how you really feel!’) and their intimacy is profoundly raw and beautiful. They are best friends and soul magnets attracted to each other despite remarkable differences. I call it ‘friendship on fire’ and if you’ve had it, you know it captures your mind and spirit like nothing else.

At times he has the sensation that he and Marianne are like figure-skaters, improvising their discussions so adeptly and in such perfect synchronisation that it suprises them both. She tosses herself gracefully into the air, and each time, without knowing how he’s going to do it, he catches her. ― Sally Rooney

Even though I am freshly in my thirties and the story is set at the end of high school and the beginning of their twenties, it is relatable for anyone who has ever loved, lost, lived in the rapture of someone, or wished for it.

For a few seconds they just stood there in stillness, his arms around her, his breath on her ear. Most people go through their whole lives, Marianne thought, without ever really feeling close to anyone. ― Sally Rooney

I warn you now ― watching Normal People is very addictive and will get under your skin.  The series will do seven more things to you:

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