Moving is never easy. It brings with it new energy. New opportunities that can exhaust you as you consider, and then act on, them. Even though this energy and momentum creates joy, it can also create stress.
We moved to the UK about a year ago, arriving in October. I’m very grateful we did. For many reasons. As we are now firmly into November, the seasons are changing strongly and creating beauty everywhere. The reds, yellow and oranges are in ‘full bloom’ and this is certainly my favourite time of year. It always has been, in many ways.
In Australia, growing up in Melbourne, the city there takes on this beauty and crispness around April that was always welcome to me. I remember crossing over the Yarra River on those early mornings, the water flat and glass like as the cold air gentle kissed my cheeks.
In San Francisco, October and November brought with them a subtle natural change but a larger cultural change, as Halloween and Thanksgiving holidays played a large part in the rhythms of our family. They brought us together.
And now, in the UK, what I experience is probably the strongest natural seasonal change of the places I’ve lived. The colours on every tree are turning autumnal. The weather is getting colder, and there is often that crispness on the air that you would only briefly taste in Melbourne. The days are shorter, and darkness is in place by 5pm.
The thing that strikes me is how different this energy is, compared to spring and summer here. Spring and summer are full of growth. Our gardens exploded, with grass and shoots rampaging towards the sky. It was quite stressful, and whilst those times of year have always been synonymous with good weather and relaxing days, the reality of them seemed anything but!
Autumn in our new home is calming. Nature settles down, as if it’s tucking in to bed to read a good book before turning the lights off. The trees and earth sighs a relief after a hard spring and summer. It relaxes. It contemplates the year its just had. We arrived here a year ago, and as we round our second autumn here, I’m taken by how the energy of the place we live also impacts our own energy and perspective.
I found this video really useful when listening to it this evening, and wanted to share quickly the three principles that Br Phap Hai shared in a video during 2020.
We use what we have: He laughs at the story of how they didn’t even have a shovel when they started their retreat centre. I love his example of not having a meditation hall to share with their visitors, and so they take meditation and classes in the nearby forest, as well as the local community hall that is also close by. This has allowed them to connect with the local community, as well.
We can often think that we’re not enough, or that we don’t have enough. That we’re limited. Changing our focus to what we do have, helps us bring ourselves fully to our path as we are.
We are what we are. We have what we have.
We will not ask for anything: Practicing in Oregan, where he was enjoying a solo retreat. He had very limited conditions, and limited things. As he practiced with his full heart, and be joyfully open to receive. To not worry about things. As Br Phap Hai suggests, this isn’t about being passive aggressive, but about being open to joy and accepting what is and what people will bring. He shares the story of sitting on the floor of Mountain Spring centre, and discussing a their idea of finding a coffee table. Days later, a practitioner unexpectedly showed up and brought with them an old coffee table.
Always just enough. Never too much. Don’t demand anything in particular, but live simply and celebrate the gifts that are received. Don’t live, wishing that things were different.
What we have, we share: We we have something, or receive something from our friends, then we share. With our neighbours or with others that need it. I liked his example here of when they have three apples one week, and begin to discuss how to ration, and limit, how they distribute those – before they reassess that and look instead to share them with abundance.
When we have the mentality that we have finite things, then we always seem to be lacking something. But if we share out what we have, then counterintuitively we have an abundance. It just flows like that. This can be applied to insights, as well as material goods.
“We won’t hold back, thinking we’re not ready. Rather, we’ll do our best to react to the environment we’re facing. Even when we feel like the view of the insight we have isn’t complete, we’ll do our best to share.”
It feels good to be writing here again. It’s been a while since I did so, with my last post being in mid-2017. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about those ‘old’ times and especially given the current COVID-19 crisis, about how things might change in the future. But more so, the old times.
It occurred to me that, coming back and rereading some of these old posts and the associated comments in many ways bring me back to those moments. Some posts, many in fact, I can remember where I was or who I may have been speaking to at that time. It’s a form of time travel. I think I’ve always known this, but feeling that not-quite-nostalgia lately has been an interesting feeling for me. I’ve also been reminded, yet again, of the Fred Wilson School of Blogging. That these blogs that some of us have maintained over decades become in many ways something that at the end of our time provides a view into what we built and did with our lives. It does evolve, even if only in fits and starts between posts (sometimes between years). The person writing those posts does evolve and change. Yet we carry them forwards as personas. Echos of ourselves that we’ve learned to cope with or amplify depending on the environment those personas thrive in most.
So, I felt compelled to come here today and simply mark time by posting something. Anything. And keep marking time, through time.
This past week, Rose was trekking through Yosemite with a philanthropic group from Australia. It was a wonderful chance for her to get out into the wilderness and do something she loves. A chance to reconnect with herself and with a California we’re still getting to know better. It also meant I was solo parenting the kids for the week. Whilst that was exhausting, it was also amazingly refreshing for me. It’s hard to think about anything else when you’re spending each waking moment with a couple of kids under 4.
One of the highlights of our days together at home, was when we would update our map of Yosemite National Park with where Rose was hiking that day. Edie and Willow and I would crowd around the map, consulting the itinerary of Rose’s trip, to place her location on the map. Even through we were out of phone connection, it helped us all feel connected during our time apart. When she got back, I felt like I’d experienced some of the trek with her as we knew the routes and various day’s activities.
All of which is to say, it’s easy to forget that following along on someone’s journey is a wonderful thing.
As I write this, I’m perched happily in my arm chair in my home in Noe Valley, San Francisco. However, many people I know and love have been heading out to my previous home, Sydney, in the past month or two and it seems that more people I meet are heading there shortly, too. So I wanted to try and capture the things I want to recommend to people that head to Sydney. I won’t include the obvious things here, like the Opera House/Harbour Bridge because, well, that’s fairly obvious. Instead, I’ll share some of the things I used to love doing whilst I lived there. The walks and places to see and most importantly, the places you can get great coffee – at least, the places you used to be able to get great coffee – it’s been more than a year since I was last in Sydney! So here goes.
1) Bronte Beach.
I got married here and that about sums it all up. Bronte is a beautiful beach that is a short 1.5-2km walk from the more well known Bondi Beach. It’s got a small ocean pool that you can swim in and a terrific beach to sun yourself on should you feel so inclined. Here’s my tip. Take a bus or Uber out to the cafe/restaurant Three Blue Ducks. There, you will find one of Sydney’s best coffee’s. Place and order ‘to go’ and then, once your coffee has arrived, head down the hill towards the ocean. At some point, you’ll find a little street that offers a beautiful panarama of the Pacific Ocean and a park bench. Either take a seat and enjoy the rest of your coffee, or keep wandering on, following your nose to the beach. Once there, head to the far end of the beach towards the swimming pool. Jump in and enjoy. Once you’re done, catch the bus back into town.
2) Manly-Spit Bridge Walk.
This one will take most of your day, but it’s well worth it. Bring with you a light backpack, comfortable walking shoes and a water bottle. Dress in whatever is comfortable, but make sure you’re wearing something you can swim in. Start by heading to Circular Quay (where the Opera House is) and buy yourself a bus pass and a ferry pass. You’ll need the bus pass to be a Zone 1&2 ticket, I believe. You’ll use that later. For the ferry ticket, buy yourself a one-way pass to Manly. Walk through to the ferry terminal and jump aboard the next Ferry to Manly from Wharf 3.
This ferry trip is one of the jewels of Sydney. It’s public transport, but the views are spectacular. Make sure you get a seat or a space on the ferry outside. Take lots of photos. The ferry ride lasts about 30 minutes. Consider that, for many people living in Manly, this is their daily commute.
Once you arrive in Manly, walk from the ferry into to town and buy something for your lunch. Don’t eat it yet! I used to like going to the Manly Deli and getting a Mediterranean sandwich. Ask them to wrap it in glad wrap/cling film and then pack it in your bag. Buy anything else you fancy for the journey and then head off.
You’ll want to then walk back to the ferry wharf and turn to walk ‘right’ – or in the direction of Sydney city. Check out this site for a better map/directions. You follow a footpath for most of the first 2-3km, weaving in and out of suburban Manly. At some point, you get onto a bush trail. Keep walking until you hit a point where there are a lot of stairs that lead you down to the beach. It’s about 6/7km into the walk, so slightly more than half way.
This is my favourite bit. Strip down to your swimmers and dive into the ocean. It’s amazing. If you’re lucky, there’s a chap that makes smoothies on a boat that drives up and down the coastline. If he’s there, buy one. Once you’re done cooling off, eat your lunch on the beach.
To finish, you walk back up the stairs and then come out onto a beach. The beach takes you around to the Spit Bridge. Cross the bridge and then head over to the bus stop, just outside the small cafe and buildings there. The bus that arrives will take you back into town. All told, it’ll take you 5-6 hours from leaving your hotel to arriving back home.
3. Darlinghurst coffee day.
Depending on your love of coffee, you can spend the entire day wandering around Darlinghurst/Surry Hills/Paddington. Here are a few of my favorite cafe’s that I frequented when I lived in the area. There are bound to be new ones since I left, so follow your nose. Room 10, Single Origin and Reuben Hills are probably the highest quality of this list, but each option as it’s charm.
Finally, although not in the Darlinghurst area, I reckon Sydney’s best coffee can be found at Coffee Alchemy. It’s worth the pilgrimage to get out there to try it. It’s a religious experience. I used to take the train and walk but you could equally just Uber or drive.
4. Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair – good for runners.
If you’re a runner, you can’t miss the chance to job around the botanic gardens and around the headland known as Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair. It’s hard to talk about this without a map, so you’re best bet is to search for Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair when you arrive in town and plot a run from your hotel to there, ensuring you wind your way through the botanic gardens as you do. It’s one of the most picturesque places in Sydney and gives you an awesome vantage point of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge. If you don’t normally run with your phone, you may want to so you can snap some photos.