A version of this post appeared in Khuluma inflight magazine in July 2018
It was Gandhi who said that achieving outward peace was dependent on what was happening within. Wise words indeed but unless you’re blissfully ensconced in Utopia and immune to the rat race, la vida is loca for the average person. Time feels tight, schedules dominate, and in the search for serenity, people are making pilgrimage in simple and ordinary ways.
Without balance and a greater attention to self-care, it’s game over. A few years ago, media mogul Arianna Huffington collapsed in a heap of exhaustion on her office floor. Since then, she has been spreading her gospel of prosperity, the type that glorifies our inner welfare, eclipses materialism and redirects our eyes. In Thrive, her 2014 bestseller, she shares passionately about her awakening to the redefinition of success and a need to end pernicious habits that erode wellness. The Huffington Post Editor-in-Chief and Pulitzer Prize winner became something of a ‘snooze specialist’ as she discovered the restorative power of getting more sleep. Simple as that. Her commentary on the transformative benefits of unplugging our gadgets for longer periods of time continues to inspire thousands into taking steps to disconnect and retreat from the online overload that invades every second of our waking hours. As she puts it, our mobile devices don’t deserve the excessive attention we lavish upon them. “Technology, especially when it becomes addictive, makes it harder to connect with ourselves, our wisdom, and our ability to wonder and to give. Our hyper-connectedness is the snake lurking in our digital Garden of Eden,” she said in an interview. She has long advocated more mindfulness, altruism and a concerted effort to being more present in an internet saturated life.
Adopting a similar digi-philosophy, singer and songwriter Andy Lund ignores his phone until he is done with a very structured morning routine which, for the most part, is unwavering. He lights incense, fires up the kettle, drops an album on the turntable and over a home brewed cortado, readies himself for the day. “This is how I find my zen and I’ll only pick up my mobile after my rituals, no matter how great the urge to do otherwise.”
Rituals and community
Rituals and rites are underrated. They can revolutionize behavior patterns, slow us down and prompt introspection and an alertness that is able to bring us into harmony with our surroundings. Novelist Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, believes we all need places of ritual safekeeping. This may be in the form of worship, an emotional enabler that helps shed negativity and upload feelings of goodness, be it through prayer, chanting or the presentation of offerings. Repetition in a church or synagogue service soothes congregants and what is perhaps perceived as monotonous in one person’s eyes, restores faith in another’s, cementing religious ideologies and bolstering belief, the intrinsic foundation of faith. Which links to tradition. Since time immemorial, they have been passed down the generational line and are regularly re-enacted. From the harvest celebrations of the ancient Aztecs to Christmas, Shabbat dinner or a Japanese tea ceremony, there is solace to be found in symbolism and congregation. The promise of gathering ‘same time, same place’ is comforting and children and adults alike flourish in the predictability of it all and in times of upheaval it’s the proven glue of normalcy that holds families and societies together.
Walking the Camino
Purposeful walking is one of the most ruminative of all physical past times. The simple act of putting one step in front of the other can soothe an agitated mind, create harmony between body and spirit and reverse a sad disposition. The Camino is perhaps the most famous stroll of all and draws 250,000 pilgrims to its paths annually. Reasons for embarking on the path differ. Some crave social interaction or the thrill of literally going the distance, all 780 kilometres of it if you’re following the Santiago trail. For others it’s a spiritual exercise in holy health and for Capetonian Pam Stern who recently completed her eleventh Camino, it is a calling. Aside from having once led a group, she has journeyed solo numerous times, an experience that she finds liberating. “To be aware of each step, the silence, the birds, the peace within and being in tune with myself is very profound-it’s about the real and the simple and being fully in the moment”.
Being in the moment: Marc Lottering, Marianne Thamm & Lewis Pugh
Understanding being ‘in the now’ is a growing trend as people discover the value of situational sensitivity, an awareness of others and to the immediate. Marc Lottering, one of South Africa’s most cherished comedians, says being present helps him not to sweat the small stuff. “I mostly run a crazy schedule, so I have to ensure that I consciously take care of whatever’s going on inside my head. I’ve eventually learnt to do that by living in the moment. Literally. Not stressing about the drama that unfolded yesterday. Not being anxious about what’s meant to go down tomorrow. Try to be fully present in the current moment. Make it amazing, whatever it may be.” For Daily Maverick investigative journalist Marianne Thamm, that sentiment holds true and she finds her zen in solitude. “I love to be alone, walking my dogs and just being in the moment. Also, always being open to other people and not be guarded; this has been my greatest joy in discovering extraordinary people where I least expect it.” Ocean advocate and pioneering endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh believes that “being in tune with your heart is linked directly to finding your inner peace – I don’t think you’ll ever achieve it without that.” Being immersed in nature is undoubtedly one of the most cherished soul sedatives. “I can have the toughest day imaginable but as soon as I dive into the sea, I feel at peace.” Nature and the great outdoors has a way of replenishing our souls like little else. Eco renewal is an exquisite distraction and can dislodge morose moods and instill positivity. Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel, in the midst of unspeakable horror said “if someone had seen our faces as we beheld the Salzburg Mountains with their summits glowing in the sunset through the little barred windows of the train to Auschwitz, he would never have believed that those were the faces of men who had given up all hope and liberty.”
South African Zen monk Antony Osler, has been a student of Buddhism since the 70’s and is an advocate of meditation, the discipline of stillness, selflessness and intimacy. “It is a subtle art that can only really be found in the doing of it, because any pre-existing idea of what it should be will only get in the way.” Successful meditation is no small feat. It requires absolute focus and dedicated effort to quieten internal turbulence. True meditation is the very embodiment of a plain and simple life says Antony. “Even looking for calmness or peace will complicate things, and the very seeking for a benefit will be an obstacle to its attainment. So we sit still in silence and attend gently to our posture and our breathing, and we see what we find there”.
Travel, the liberator
Travel is an invigorating way to counteract the mundane and lends a fresh perspective to those for whom exploring is the tao of life. These are people whose curiosity has to be constantly sated. They are stimulated by there mere thought of seeing a new destination and have observation down to a fine art. They’re travellers not tourists, trip takers who get a rush out of booking a flight, planning an adventure and immersing themselves in other places and cultures, close to home or far, far away. This is is the tribe to which I belong. I find intense satisfaction in focused observation- new things, incredible design, other places, popping colour, architecture, whales watching, art, different cultures. Absorbing what’s in front of me- every last bit of whatever that might be so that it fills my eyes and spills down into my soul, depositing newness and an invaluable vitality to very core of my being.
The catalysts for a steadier heart rate and a thick sense of peace often lie in unexpected places. Talking to your cat, walking through a deep green forest, staring at a Rodin sculpture or hearing David Attenborough’s soft voice. There may not be a prescription for inner peace nor a night school for nirvana but finding the sacred space within is achievable. Restfulness and repose begin with the smallest action, your own unique pilgrimage, and the greatest rewards await, measured by no-one else but you.