The game of life

The thing that has been on my mind lately, is how seriously I take everything in my life. Letting go, having fun, laughing at the challenges of life – not things that come naturally to me. I always want things to be just right (my right)… As I’ve been writing my blog, I’ve come to realise that, I’m learning these lessons over and over and over… and there is no right way to live this life. And if you realise that you’ve made the ‘wrong’ decision, its often very possible to make another one to change the outcome.

And, maybe its not about whether its the right or the wrong decision, but whether its good for me. At the end of the day, its all a matter of perspective. What’s good for me, might not be good for you!

“… if you don’t want to think yourself into a corner, you need to think yourself into the open, and the only way of doing that, is to enjoy not knowing you’re right or wrong, play the game of life without trying to work out the rules. Stop judging the living, enjoy futility… remember that fasting men survive, while starving men die, laugh as your illusions collapse…” (A fraction of the whole, Steve Toltz)

I have this interesting, sometimes crazy, new life (for the next few months). I live on a tiny Greek island where everyone knows your business. I’m a waitress, with dangerously little Greek (I can’t seem to get that right!). I start work at 7 pm and very rarely get to bed before 3am. I sleep until I wake up, and have breakfast when everyone else is having lunch. Then, I might go for a swim, write some mails and my blog, and possibly have a siesta before I go to work again. Its a bizarre, but fabulous new routine. Yet, I still get stressed out – because I take it all so seriously. I’m still scared of making mistakes. It exhausts me, and it creates unnecessary tension in my life – and I wonder, why is it necessary for me to approach everything in life as if you are going to be punished if you get it wrong. My boss (the chef) tells me every now and then when the ‘heat’ in the kitchen gets too much: “Its only food, as long as they enjoy being here, we’ll do it all again tomorrow.”

This is your only life, so try to relax a little bit. Make a bit of room for mistakes – yours and others’. It does not have to be perfect. Be kind to yourself, allow yourself some room to grow. Stop being so unforgiving, uncompromising, judgemental – with yourself and others. How about making a mistake and thinking to yourself – this is a fabulous f**k up and enjoy it. Observe yourself in a moment where you are less than perfect.

I want to try out this new concept: What if I approach life as a game? If I don’t win, so what. Don’t even think about learning the rules… they will always change. You throw a dice – and while its up in the air, there are six possibilities. Life is like that. You make a decision with the information at hand, and the possible outcomes are endless. None right or wrong. And if it doesn’t work for you, make another decision. But, try to have fun.

How do you have fun? How do you play the game of life?

The magical moments of life

“Each moment does not have to match your expectations of what you think it should be. Each moment is perfect being what it is. Every moment of time is a whole new moment – a jewel.” (John Kehoe)

I still can’t quite get my head around the notion of expectations. Is it a good thing to have them or not? Do they have any positive value? How do you stop yourself from expecting, instead of experiencing?

What I have learnt (and am still learning), is that expectations can ruin a moment, a friendship, a relationship – because you very rarely allow someone or something to just be. We approach people with a certain expectation of who they should be to us, how they should behave, how they have to treat us, how we need them to be – to fit into our idea of the world. We want everything to be perfect – to match our expectations. And, it very rarely is. Sometimes its more, but we are so busy waiting for it to match our criteria, that we miss it.

I’ve made so many incredible and unlikely friends on my journey, each because I allowed myself the freedom to be in the moment. When I allow myself to be open to whatever life presents, I walk along the street and start talking to a shopowner in Kathmandu, and he eventually invites me in for a cup of tea… I take the opportunity. After countless cups of tea, he becomes my friend, we have great enlightening conversations, he calls everyone he knows to try and help me with my Indian visa, and he cooks me one of the best Indian meals.

I regret the moments, the opportunities, the people that I’ve missed along the way, because I was so busy looking elsewhere. They say life is too short to have regrets, but they do serve a purpose. It makes you realise that you should grab opportunities as they come along, stop thinking and analysing and trying to create the perfect scenario for your life to play out. Your whole world can change in one day. Don’t think that you will have the opportunity to do it tomorrow, or next week. Say what you need to say – today! Do what you want to do – now! We live life as if people and opportunities will present themselves over and over – when we are ready for them – they very rarely do.

Walking in the rain (Bali, Indonesia, 2010)

Live without waiting for everything to match your expectations, for everything to be perfect. People aren’t perfect. Life isn’t perfect. People come into your life – be open and non-judgemental toward them. Opportunities present themselves – take them. They might not match your expectations, but they could change your life.

If I face each day with an open mind, inviting it to bring what it will, I am often pleasantly surprised. I see incredible things, I meet unexpected people and I’m at peace with the moment. As I sit here, writing, I have Vivaldi playing, loudly, and I am happy… for the simplicity of my life, the ability to enjoy the music, and be in this magical moment of my life.

Simple pleasures

… while backpacking

I’m not your typical backpacker. My former life – when I still had a home, a salary and a car – was pretty comfortable. I always had my choice of food in the house (and knew where to get what I wanted); I had the perfect pillows on my comfortable bed; I was surrounded with my stuff, comfortable and pleasing (to me); I had a variety of clothes (and shops) to choose from; I could choose when and if I wanted to be with people; and my friends were just a local phonecall or drive away. Like I said, my life was very comfortable… and there are days when I miss all of the above. But, I don’t think I appreciated any of it, until I no longer had it.

Its so easy to be dissatisfied with everything and forget the little things that give you pleasure. When I started backpacking, my priorities changed.

Here’s my list of simple pleasures… things I’ve came to appreciate in my much simpler (backpacking) life:

  • waking up without an alarm clock – there is nothing quite like sleeping until you wake up, naturally.
  • having a cupboard in which I can unpack – hang, fold away, each thing in its own space . You’d think that with so little stuff, that managing a backpack would be easy, but there are only so many times that you can organise and reorganise and hunt through a backpack.
  • a light backpack – carry only what you need. The belongings that I had with me were minimised to the extreme – because I had to carry that backpack for uncertain periods and distances. I aimed for 12 to 15 kgs… which means that I thought twice about that extra pair of shorts… and how many t-shirts do you really need. Its all those chargers that add the weight… for the cellphone, ipod, camera… and then the universal adaptor, the torch, the lock, the medical kit…
  • privacy takes on a new meaning when you sleep in a 28 bed dorm room. I’ve come to appreciate the ability to close my room door and retreat into my space.
  • a bathroom with a proper shower (with hot water) and a western style toilet is a luxury in Asia. An en-suite bathroom that I have all to myself – well, that would be heavenly.
  • a washing mashine – where you can do your own laundry regularly. Rinsing out your clothes in the not-so-great bathroom, and then trying to get it dry in the humidity of Asia, is quite a challenge. Having your laundry done in Asia, is however, a much better and cheaper option (but you have to make peace with the fact that your clothes might come back with strange stains or smells… do they really do laundry in the Ganges?)
  • applying body lotion and perfume instead of my morning beauty routine in Asia which consisted of sunblock and mosquito repellent
  • finding rice cakes (that is what you search for when you travel with a gluten intolerance) in Kuala Lumpur – you’d think that a rice growing country would have rice cakes, but I only found these by chance.
  • my ipod touch – listening to my choice of music anywhere in the world, having access to wifi and being able to make skype calls to my friends, watching episodes of Scrubs (on my ipod)- my new idea of comfort!

    On a crazy bus in Lombok, with my ipod! (Indonesia, 2010)

“Carefully observe the natural laws in operation in the world around you, and live by them. From following them, you will learn the morality of modesty, moderation, compassion and consideration (not just one society’s rules and regulations), the wisdom of seeing things as they are (not of merely collecting “facts” about them), and the happiness of being in harmony with the Way (which has nothing to do with self-righteous ‘spiritual’ obsessions and fanatacism). And you will live lightly, spontaneously and effortlessly.” (The Tao of Pooh and the Te of Piglet, Benjamin Hoff)

I’ve realised, that I don’t have to be on some trip or busy with some spectacular experience, to be happy. The simple pleasures are in the small moments. What are your simple pleasures? I am working on my list for a Greek island.

Finding my own groove

I don’t think you plan a sabatical the way I did. Especially if you’re like me – and you get anxious about the unknown, want to do everything perfectly, and care way too much about what other people think about you.

When I left my job, I had no idea what lay ahead for me. Regardless of the big change I’d made in my life, I had to make some changes to the way I thought about life. What did a sabatical mean to me? What kind of traveller was I going to be? I’ve always done the right thing, because it was expected of me. I cared too much about whether others approved of me, my choices, my clothes, my boyfriends, my career…

My initial idea was to take a sabatical from my career and travel… so, I planned a round-the-world-trip with a route that was practical, to destinations that weren’t really my first choices, all because I listened too much to what others said. I was so disconnected from what I wanted, that I did not know how to want what would make me happy. My decisions were based on what I thought the “right” thing was. On what I thought others expected of me. On what I thought was expected of someone who was travelling around the world.

Jobless, homeless and in foreign countries, there was nothing familiar to hold on to. I had to redefine what this new life meant to me, what I wanted to get from it. I had to find a way of living that worked for me.

Finding my own groove, however, has taken quite some time…

I went into this crazy trip, not knowing what lay ahead, and not always really wanting to be where I was going. In a way, it was a blessing – I had to let go of so many preconceived ideas about how things should be, because nothing was as I’d expected.

I had to find my own way as I went along. I had to stop, and think about what made me happy. This realisation hit me on my arrival in Jakarta. I was on a trip that scared me, stuck in the most horrific city I’d ever been in – 15 million people, smog, heat, insane driving – and hardly any tourists in sight. I had never felt so foreign in my life! I simply could not deal with being there, and the thought of just going home and ending all the insanity was very tempting. But, I decided… stop trying to travel the way you think you should be doing it, the way others think you should be doing it… make this easy for yourself. I bought a ticket to Bali (where the hardened travellers don’t go, because its too touristy!), joined a tour group (what the hardened travellers don’t do… because you can rough it and do it much cheaper on your own) and saw the most incredible things, had the most incredible experiences, and met the most incredible people. I started to relax.

From that moment on, I decided to travel my way. I would see and do what I wanted to – not because a guidebook told me to. I would rest when I needed to (this was my sabatical after all), eat my breakfast at leasure, drink tea with strangers… and I would not plan my days but let them unfold.

I would do my own thing, or nothing… but I’d stop caring about what others thought.

“… no one ever mentions the … rush of pleasure of not doing what is expected of you, of not doing what you expect of yourself. Of not doing. If it was originally about disappointing other people, it has become refined into a matter of pleasing myself. … It wouldn’t make an iota of difference to the world, or in reality to me, if I didn’t actually stand on the Antarctic landmass. Been there, haven’t done that. I liked the absurdity of it, and the privacy. Its a matter entirely between me and myself… There was no longer a choice that had to be made, or an effort of will (I should, I ought, I must), no moral quandry, but something quite arbitrary. A great sense of freedom settled gently over me like a pure white goose-down quilt, and freedom, from that angle, looked very like uncertainty.” (Skating to Antarctica, Jenny Diski)

Is it society, the media, our peers or our parents who create this notion that there is a right way to live life? I’ve battled with the desire to fit into a socially acceptable groove, my whole life. Always doing what I thought others expected me to do, and very rarely wanting what was right for me.

I thought I’d learnt what it meant to ‘go my own way’ while I was travelling, but I never really stopped caring about other people’s opinions. It was only recently when I met my biker on Ithaca, that I really understood what it meant. It does not matter whether other people approve, or even what they think of me. Its my life, and if it makes me happy – then do it.

There’s still a lot more to say about expectations (in another post). But, look out for my next post, something lighter – on simple pleasures.

You have one life, live it!

Jumping out of planes, onto strangers’ jetskis, scooters and bikes without helmets… not something that the old me would have done.

Before I turned 30, I realised that I had spent the first 30 years of my life fearful, cautious and in control (or at least attempting to be). I never did anything extreme… The thought that I would be 60 within the next 30 years, and practically at retirement age, shocked me. I started rethinking what I wanted in my life!

I grew up scared – of everything. The fear of failure meant that my grades at school were good – because I spent so much time studying; fear of rejection meant that I never put myself out there, in case someone did not like me; fear of uncertainty meant that I rarely ventured where I was not guaranteed some measure of control. It meant that I lived life as a spectator… always watching, but very rarely participating.

I decided that the way to overcome this fear was to go skydiving! I started my research, calculated the cost, but never got around to doing it. There were a lot of fears that I had to face before I actually made the jump – 3 years later.

At the time of my resignation, I was petrified. I so desperately wanted to go, but I was almost paralysed by the fear of the unknown. There was a battle of wills between two personalities in me – the one, cautious, careful, controlled. The other, wild, carefree and at ease with uncertainty. The former had been in charge for most of my life. The latter was screaming to get out, no longer willing to be silenced.

Somewhere along the way, I started to give this ‘other’ me a bit of breathing room. A bit of space to just be. I surprised myself when I jumped on a jet ski with a stranger, just because he offered! I love speed, but water and speed… Something in my head had changed. There is only this one moment, this one life, and I had to live it. After that, doing crazy, unlike-me things that excited me, came almost naturally. What was the worst that could happen?

“ … the fears that push you about are not legitimate, appropriate responses to What is, such as warnings of danger ahead. Instead, they’re the constricting fantasies of What if… The next time a What if starts badgering you, look it straight in the eyes and ask it, ‘All right, what’s the very worst that could happen?’ And when it answers, ask yourself, ‘What could I do about it?’. You’ll find there always will be something. Then… you can have power in any situation. And when you realise that, the fears will go away… because the power comes from you. (From The Tao of Pooh and the Te of Piglet )

I finally made my first tandem jump – in New Zealand. I was scared on the way up, climbing to 12 000 feet – my mouth was dry, and my heartbeat was so loud that I thought my tandem-partner would hear. And then we jumped… the first 20 seconds of the jump was exhilirating! I still don’t have words to describe what it feels like to freefall at 200km/h. I wanted to scream, ‘f**k, this is incredible’, but could not get anything out. And then the parachute opened, and everything slowed down. I did not want it to end. When my feet hit the ground, I knew that I was addicted, and that if my budget was not an issue, I’d go back up again!

After the jump - Skydive Wanaka, New Zealand (February 2010)

Skydiving is not the thing that has taken my fear away – but, its become a reminder of what I can do. It kickstarted something in me – a desire to live, to participate. I only have this one life, this one opportunity to do this thing… if there is even the remotest spark of interest – do it. I will never have the moment back, and life goes by too fast to sit around and do nothing.

I could only laugh when I read my horoscope this morning: “You’re a thrill seeker, Aries. As an impulsive Ram, you often look for activities that will kick up your adrenaline.” I had just come back from an exhilirating and fast bike ride – with the island’s rev head! The thing is, I love speed. I’m not quite an adrenaline junkie… but fast cars, fast bikes, and jumping out of planes – there’s nothing like it to remind you of the moment.

Arriving in Jakarta, however, gave new meaning to the idea of “facing your fears”. More on that in the next post.

If you don’t enjoy it, stop doing it

How do you make the decision to leave your job, sell your stuff, go on a sabatical, and buy a round-the-world ticket … if you are prone to depression, anxious about the future, struggle with the unknown, love the comfort of home and need to be in control? I did not think about any of this too much. If I had, I would probably not have done it.

The thought of staying, however, was more depressing than the uncertainty of leaving. The choice was obvious.

9 years is too long to do something that you dislike. What started off as a stepping stone, a place to learn about the publishing industry when I completed my degree, became my life. Years were consumed by deadlines, meetings, emails and publishing books that I had very little interest in. For years, I knew that I had to get out – but to what? I moved companies… and then cities… (and almost countries). But, it ultimately dawned on me that I had to get out of this career that I had not passion for. Or it would destroy me.

There are things in life that you do, that don’t necessarily excite you, but you do them because you know it will get you to the place where you want to be. But, when you

Ithaca, Greece - June 2009

don’t know where you want to be, this is pointless. So, why was I doing it? To pay a mortgage, to have the life that I thought I wanted. But, I was not living, I was surviving – I used to wake up in the morning, wishing that I had some kind of illness that would enable me to call in sick, counting the days until the weekend, and then spending the weekend in recovery – from work.

When my morning routine got to the point where I was hitting the snooze butten for almost an hour before I eventually got up, all the while trying to talk myself into getting up and going to work, I realised that I needed to find a way of living that energised me. This career was sucking the life out of me. I knew that I had to find something that I’m passionate about, something that I love doing. I’m still searching… but, I’m hopeful.

Its just over a year since I left the publishing industry. I’ve worked as a waitress in Greece, tried my hand at caring in the UK, travelled for a few months. And, every day, I am grateful that I made the decision to let go of a life that was not good for me.  I am back in Greece, working as a waitress for the summer. Its hard work, but I love going home in the early hours of the morning with my wages and tips in my pocket, knowing that my job for the day is done. I sleep late, I read, I go to the beach, I have a life – and I don’t have to convince myself to get out of bed in the morning.

I don’t have a plan, and I still catch myself wondering about the future (every now and then). I still have moments of depression (who doesn’t?) and anxiety about money. But, right now, I’m doing something that I enjoy, and I know that I can stop when I’ve had enough.

“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back. A new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.” Anais Nin

Hello world!

Its not about the spectacular sunrise, the trip around the world, the perfect home, the body shape, the career, the bank balance, the status or this blog … its about this moment. I’ve read (and re-read) the books on being present, attended the meditation courses, discussed it endlessly… but it was on an ordinary day during my recent travels that it actually sunk in. This is the only moment that exists. I will never have this moment again. And by continuously worrying about tomorrow, next week, next year – I’m missing this moment. This is it!

Welcome to my blog! This is my journey, and some of the lessons that I’ve learnt. Some very simple, some practical, and some life changing. I’m still learning…!