Take the risk, face your fears

28 Aug


I’ve always had a tendency to play it safe. For many years, there were lots of things I liked the idea of doing, but the effort required go outside my comfort zone stopped me.

When I sat and thought about the risks involved and all the what-ifs associated, I always wimped out.

So this left me conforming to the norm, living a life others expected of me and generally putting my dreams on hold so that I could remain safe and comfortable. Except it wasn’t comfortable, I was unhappy and deeply unfulfilled and only when the cost of standing still exceed the cost of change did I finally get more comfortable with the idea of taking the risk and heading into the unknown.

I left a long-term relationship that I’d outgrown, I quit my soul-crushing corporate job and I traveled overseas on my own to see the world and learn about facing risks.

The risk of leaving a secure relationship and being on my own for the first time in many years filled me with doubt—what if this was as good as it got? What if I end up single forever? I’m getting older now, all my friends have settled down and started families, maybe I’ll get left on the shelf?

One of the most difficult things was the risk I took turning my back on an 11-year career, a well-paying job without any qualifications to do anything else. I ran the risk of running out of money, being unemployed and becoming homeless. It had been the security of my 9 to 5 pay check that kept me stuck in a job I didn’t enjoy for many years, scared of exactly these risks.

But I took the risk, I spent a year doing what I loved, I trained to be a yoga teacher, travelled, wrote a book and fueled my passions. I created a life I loved and whilst it wasn’t always rosy, I wouldn’t go back and change it.

So now, a couple of years down the track, you’d think I’d be used to taking risks, having faced the music, navigated the tough times and still remained happy. Surely risk taking is now within my comfort zone? Not so much.

Click here to read the full article and my top tips on how we face our fears and take the risk

A Rough Guide to a Smooth Life

22 Dec


As we approach the end of the year the last 12 months I’ve spent trying to get my book published finally pays off and it is now available to buy!

You can click on the link to view the official trailer.  Full details are here; inspireyourlife.org/book

A practical self improvement guide on surviving modern life. Rediscover the art of happiness, find meaning and purpose and create a life you love. 

Jess uncovers the key to creating a happier life and leads by example. Her perspective shines a bright light at a much needed time. Let her guide you this book will help.  Shannon Kaiser, Coach & Best Selling Author of Find your Happy & Adventures for your Soul

For those who read the book, please leave a review on amazon and I’d love to hear your thoughts.  You can use the hashtag #RoughGuideSmoothLife when posting about the book.

To see how you can get involved and help support the launch click the link; How you can help or click here to support the launch through thunderclap

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year.  Don’t forget to check out the new resources section on the website for free stuff I’ve posted for you.

Keep an eye out for events and give aways as I launch the book officially in the New Year.

All the best for 2016

Jess 🙂

Novembers newsletter and returning home

7 Nov


You can now view this months Newsletter Nov for recent inspiration and information.

I have also just booked my tickets to return home to New Zealand after Christmas.  This has given me an opportunity to reflect on the nomadic lifestyle, having a home in a country not of my birth and the struggle many people have in accepting why nomads can’t stay in one place for long.  Here is the outcome of those thoughts:

Calling the nomad home

Pico Iyer, Travel Author, asks; “where is home?” “is it where you’re born, where you live, the place you love most? Or is it more than a physical place?” I agree with Iyer when he says “home is more about soul than soil”. It is what makes you become who you are and it’s what you carry inside your true self. It’s where you feel alive and the place you most want to be and that can be many places.

I am a Nomad. I don’t stay in one place for long and have loved to travel ever since my first trip backpacking to Australia in my early twenties. I fell in love with the freedom and adventure and have been doing it ever since. I am at ease living out of a suitcase. I don’t feel the need to have an address. I love the wonder and excitement of travel, different cultures and new people. It’s not that I am lost, nor am I searching for something I just love this way of life, the road is my home. The wanderlust, it livens my soul. I am captivated by the endless possibilities, the sounds, sights, tastes and smells.

I’m like a bird that needs to fly, I follow the sun and migrate when it turns cold. I feel unsettled if I spend too long in one place. I find my inspiration flows when I’m on the road, it aids my creativity and makes my heart sing. I also learn so much from different cultures and the people within them. I may touch down and take rest in many countries but it’s unlikely I’ll stay. My feet will itch and the road will call me once again. Like a bird I relish my freedom to fly, don’t try to clip my wings or keep me in a cage. It’s a life of adventure, a life many dream of but few live.

I spend time revisiting my birthplace to see family and friends who are dear to me. But there’s one place in particular I always return to. They call it the land of the long white cloud.

It is a place of stunning natural beauty, mighty mountains, clear lakes that shine like jewels, rugged coast line. Picture postcards views. A place where there are few questions and the answer is always ‘no worries’. How I miss the big green spaces, the clean air and the slower pace of life. I long to return to a place where I’m not the only one that says ‘Ay’ after a sentence! I have no physical place to call home there, no family ties yet something keeps tugging at my heart. A light burns bright in my soul when I hear the accent or see pictures of its landscape.

I have travelled to many places yet the natural beauty here is something I’ve never seen repeated. But it’s much more about what the eyes see. The heart feels the tug, the pull towards home. The soul feels the connection to a land that is not of my birth and when I am here I am home.

I can’t guarantee I’ll stay but I am always sure I’ll be back. When I leave I carry a piece of you within me. When I return that piece becomes complete. As I slip off my jandals and walk out onto the beach, my feet fit the earth beneath them like they were made to walk here. As I listen to the Tui and walk with the Totara, my heart sings and my soul breathes a sigh of relief.

From the tip of Reinga to the wild, west coast, through the mountainous desert in the shadow of mighty Ruapehu and the stillness of the vast Lake Taupo, this is where I belong. Aotearoa has my heart, there is an unseen tie that keeps me coming back. It’s a place I miss when I am not there and a place that will always occupy a piece of my soul. Never forget how blessed you are if you call this place your home.

Mindfulness: Coming Home

29 Aug

buddha garden

“I have arrived.  I am home.” It is the mantra of Plum Village.  or in French “Je suis chez moi, Je suis arrive”.  It is the mindfulness retreat in the south of France founded by Vietnamese Zen Monk Thich Nhat Hanh and where I recently spent a week.

I’d been on retreats before but I still didn’t know what to expect as I was new to this tradition. I was looking forward to some peaceful time, living simply, relaxing in the sun and being disconnected from phones and email.

The weather surprised me as it rained for two days on arrival and although it was August overnight temperatures were low. Not ideal camping conditions! This taught me my first lesson. How the weather affects my mood and the need to cultivate happiness based on your internal state not your external circumstances. As much as I’d love to, I cannot control the weather!

It took me a couple of days to settle in, to get used to the schedule and my surroundings. The day started at 530 am, there was morning stretching and sitting meditation followed by a dharma talk and breakfast. We were silent until after breakfast and other periods of silence ensued during meal times and in the evenings. Periods of walking meditations, free time, yoga, tai chi and qi gong were scattered throughout the afternoon but everything was optional. There was also the chance to get involved in sangha communities and be of service by engaging in working meditations in the village.  Anything from gardening, cleaning to preparing food. Throughout the day bells would ring.  A sign for everyone to stop what they were doing, return to themselves and focus on the breath.

Even the animals seemed to be affected by the peaceful energy that filled the village. Cats would roam in and out of a yoga class of 200 people and a magpie would come and check out bags, sit on our heads and speak to us as we sat in meditation. It was perhaps something I think could only happen here.

I was surprised at the amount of people there, it was busier than I expected but the segregation of retreatants into smaller communities or ‘families’ and the periods of silence meant that it never seemed as busy as it really was.  Although I am not keen on big crowds I felt optimistic that so many people were waking up and that as more and more people learned traditions like this it is really possible that we will change the world.  This thought nourished my soul.

People came from all over the world to share their own stories, struggles, journeys and as it appears amazing musical talents.  Impromptu concerts of guitar, piano, violin, mouth organ, bagpipes and singing seemed to pop up all over the hamlet during the afternoons.

Most evenings after dinner in our families, we’d gather for songs and would part take in dharma sharing where people were free to share their thoughts, feelings and inspiration with the family, without judgement. It was a great opportunity to practise deep listening and learn from the wisdom we were surrounded by. The monks in our family also offered wisdom and this, in addition to the morning talks, was priceless. To my surprise people really opened up in these sessions, even though we had only met for the first time on this retreat and by the end of the week were had a connection just like a family. This particularly surprised me as I had not even spoken to some of these people yet I felt deeply connected to them and a great love between us that I have not previously known for strangers I have known for less than a week and will most likely not meet again.  This taught me the importance of communication without words, and in a world that can’t stop talking this was eye opening.

I had read and wrote a lot about mindfulness and considered myself to be well versed on the topic but this week has taught me the difference between knowing something intellectually and understanding the theory and then really living it, experiencing it, feeling it and knowing it in your heart.

Mindfulness is meditation in daily life, it’s being in the present moment, without judgement, being awake, alive and aware and coming home to yourself and this week felt like that had truly happened. I was able to see the beauty in every moment, even if that was the rain falling from the leaves of the tree, the frogs on the lily pads, the earth under my feet or the taste of a carrot fresh from the garden.

Everything became a meditation, each task was turned into an opportunity to turn inwards and be in the present moment. Whether it was eating lunch, drinking tea, walking, helping on the farm or sitting in the meditation hall.

The meals are light, small, pure and clean, made up of grains and vegetables and strictly vegan.  I experienced a headache for the first couple of days as my body got rid of its toxins but after that felt amazing. The food was all from the organic farm on site and we were lucky enough to spend our working meditation time down on the farm.  Helping to pick, plant, weed and really connect with the earth and what we were eating.

In the same way the walking meditations really allowed us to connect with nature, listen to the wind in the trees, the birds sing and the feeling of sunlight on my face. As I adjusted it felt like a fog had cleared from my mind but also my vision. I was seeing so much more clearly both with my eyes and my heart. The colours of the natural environment I was in amazed me and the food tasted devine. It was like eating for the first time and it filled me with gratitude. Rarely in our busy lives to we take the time to truly enjoy our food, to think about where it has come from.  The sun, the rain, the earth that has made it.  The people who have tended it, picked it then cooked it for our enjoyment. I also found that by taking my time the food not only tasted better but filled me up despite the quantity being a lot less than I was used to. My relationship with food has never been a healthy one but coming here and appreciating such clean food, eating in moderation, sharing and being connected to the cultivation of this food and the nature that allows it to nourish us was truly awe-inspiring. Mindful eating is one thing I will be taking back to me daily life, but there is so much more.

This focus on introspection led to the arising of many emotions, long hidden in our world of busyness and distractions. One day out of nowhere I experienced my own breakthrough.  I had been working on (unsuccessfully) letting go of the need to control, the need to know, planning the future and working on ‘goals’ to achieve. Whilst a certain amount of planning is necessary as we navigate life, spending too much time worrying about the future robs us of our present moment and in reality we can never predict the future as tomorrow never comes. This is something that had been part of my life for many years and the fear of uncertainty, not knowing and not being in control was something that faced me most days recently.

As I sat in the Buddha garden, overlooking fields of vines, pine forests and sunflowers a distant church bell rang and a weight lifted from my shoulders. Out of nowhere, and so simply I got it. “I don’t need to know, because we never can know” these words were spoken to my heart and for the first time I understood. This time it wasn’t just an intellectual understanding of the words, I could feel them in my heart and at once my anxiety about the future disappeared. Words I’d been reading and saying to myself for so long now made sense, like a penny had dropped and I let go. I am excited by the opportunities that I am open to and the freedom this gives me and I trust that I will feel what’s right as I navigate each moment as my future unfolds as it’s meant to be.

We don’t always need a plan.  Sometimes we just need to breathe, trust, let go and see what happens.

Letting go of the future has increased the time I spend in the present, which is the only moment we have.  Life is the present and this is where we are at home. This has been another major breakthrough; I have learned that I have arrived, I am home.

I have been a nomad since I first started travelling and went pack backing to Australia in my early twenties.  I always felt like I was travelling in search of something and I was hooked on the freedom being a nomad offered. As a result of this lifestyle I have become accustomed to being at home wherever I happen to be. Home is wherever I am, because home is a place within. It’s more about soul than it is soil and it’s not a physical place I can point to but something I feel deep inside my heart.

It may well be that it is easy to be mindful at a place like plum village or hiking through the French countryside with like minded people whilst your dinner is cooked and your problems are left behind. What about real life? When we return to our home, jobs, traffic jams, emails and social activities? When we’re exposed to busyness, anger and suffering.  How then can we take what we’ve learned and continue to be mindful?

Because mindfulness comes from within, it is something that you can carry with you 24/7. It is something you can turn to regardless of what chaos is going on around you. It is a skill that can be applied to any task and a place to come back to when you need stillness.  It is your home from home and your place of peace and whilst these conditions are ideal for practice the more we practice the better we get making it easier to take what we’ve learned back into our daily lives.

Mindfulness is acceptance of what is, without judgement, being yourself, at home with yourself and seeing the beauty in every moment. It teaches us to slow down and notice more, this leads to a true happiness that arises from within.  Independent of external circumstances. Mindfulness brings us back to the present moment and back to ourselves, the home within.

If happiness was a place (Bhutan)

22 Jul

Taktsang Monastery or Tigers Nest

Bhutan has always held an air of mystery for me, I didn’t know anyone who’d ever been and most people I spoke to hadn’t even heard of it, but as soon as I discovered there was a place that put Gross National Happiness before Gross Domestic Product I had to visit.

I knew it was a special place before I’d even arrived. We flew through the Paro valley and approached the airport through the cloud covered Himalayas, gliding past mountains that seem to insulate Bhutan from the outside world, it felt like I was descending into another realm.

Known as the land of the peaceful thunder dragon, Bhutan is a deeply Buddhist country, with a population of 700,000. It is a small Kingdom steeped in tradition, many of the people still wear the traditional Bhutanese dress and the traditional culture is something they are keen to preserve and delighted to share. As a result of their Buddhist beliefs no animals are killed, this means meat is imported from India and street dogs are plentiful, however unlike most dishevelled strays on the streets of Asia these dogs look more like pets as they are so well looked after, it can get a bit noisy at night though!

Bhutan is the only country to measure its progress and growth in terms of happiness before GDP and is covered with 60% forest. It is a remote Kingdom between India and China yet nothing like either of its neighbours. It is an unspoilt place of natural beauty, the air is fresh and the rivers clean. Set in the beautiful Himalayas, the altitude varies as we travel though the country, some mornings we are high up and it’s barely above 0 degrees but lower down in the cities it reached 27 degrees. The altitude also meant that some of the treks were done at a very slow pace but this seemingly reflected the pace throughout the country at all elevations!

Bhutan has a serenity and calmness to it, the pace of life is slower and the people are satisfied with the little they have, it seems to work very well and they have something so elusive to many richer countries; happiness. Education and health care are free here and even visitors who fall sick are treated for free. Because there is not the same consumer motivation around money there is no hassle to buy things, no danger of being conned and no staff trying to entice you into shops and restaurants.

As our tour began in Paro I immediately noticed the unique architecture, all the houses, shops and government buildings are built in the traditional Bhutanese way, white walls with wooden carvings and intimate detail usually reserved for buildings of note dawn every dwelling in Bhutan. It is like stepping back in time yet Bhutan has managed to retain its traditions and culture whilst still keeping up with the modern world.

Once in the countryside the charm of Bhutan becomes apparent, the air smells of pine forests and at every turn there is a mountain view, a deep gorge or an untouched natural forest. We took time to trek up to one of the most famous icons of Bhutan, the beautiful Taktsang Monastery or Tigers Nest as it is known which perches perilously close to the edge of a cliff at an elevation of 3,500m but the steep climb is well worth it. The place feels sacred as soon as we enter as do many of the religious sites we visit.

The temples were many and part of everyday local life rather than tourist attractions. The fact that photography wasn’t allowed inside meant we spent more time enjoying the moment and our focus was on what we’re experiencing. Statues made of gold watched us as we moved through the rooms that were filled with an air of peace and tranquillity, monks gave out holy water and accepted offerings as the flames from the butter lamps flickered and the smell of incense hung in the air. Some of the temples we saw dated back to the seventh century, the walls were covered in the most detailed paintings depicting Buddhist stories.

Locals made offerings and walked countless times around the Stupas whilst clutching their mala beads. There are prayer wheels and flags at every turn in the colours of the elements earth, wind, fire, water and forest. They look magical flaying over the mountains and the people here have coveted one of their main economies, hydro power, to ensure the prayer wheels turn continually.

The tour took a more energetic turn as we embarked on an overnight trek up to one of the oldest monastery’s Jele Dzong over the Jele pass and camped in the mountains overnight. The guides looked after us at every step, hot meals appeared out of nowhere high up in the hills, our tents were erected and dismantled for us and the bags seemed to follow us everywhere yet we never had to move them. As we began steep climbs rather than the usual safety briefing, the advice was to go slow and enjoy the moment. I spent time watching the clouds move across the hills like smoke rising from below as the sound of monks chanting drifted across the dawn and rays of sunlight filtered down onto the villages below.

We spent a couple of nights in the countrys capital city Thimphu. The gorges here are not wide enough to fly into and it dawned on me as we sat having lunch that this must be the only capital city without an airport or a traffic light. They had tried to introduce a stop light at the busiest intersection (where dogs still sleep in the road) but it confused people so now there is a young, well dressed man in elegant white gloves who directs the traffic as if he is conducting an orchestra in a way that only the Bhutanese could.

On the way out of town we drove past the prison which apparently has 15 inmates, there is no capital punishment here, a life sentence is the penalty for murder but apparently there haven’t been any murders to test that!

As we left Thimphu we drove back up into the mountains and we were welcomed into a local farmhouse in the village of Gangtey for an overnight stay with a Bhutanese farmer and his family. Seeing how the locals lived and sampling the food they cooked for us was a real glimpse into Bhutanese life. 70% of the local population live rurally on farms so there was no shortage of food, the local food is both simple and delicious and defined by the frequent accompaniment (with every meal) of their favourite red rice and chilli cheese.

Full of surprises our next destination didn’t disappoint. We stayed in Lobeysa the home of the divine madman and seemingly the countrys centre of fertility. Paintings of large phallus dawn every building and the temple Chime Lhakhang is frequently visited by couples who are struggling to conceive, here they receive a blessing for fertility, a name for their child and promise to return once they have given birth to say thank you, apparently it’s 100% successful!

One of the things that surprised me most was the standard of English for a country not heavily visited and only open to tourists since 1974. They have been learning English at school since the 50’s long before tourism and it shows. I noticed at the front of the schools there were mottos such as ‘excellence in body, speech and mind’ and ‘meaningful living’; how I wished more kids across the world were being taught this sort of stuff.

Once we had done the most of our trekking we were treated to some scenic drives which my aching legs appreciated. We drove through the deep gorges of the magical Haa Valley and up to the highest road in Bhutan, the Chelela Pass where we caught glimpses of the snow capped Himalayan scenery through the mist. It was here at 4,000m elevation that we hung our prayer flags and began a trek down to the Kila Goempa nunnery.

We spent a lot of time driving such are the distances between towns and the mountainous terrain. Due to the monsoon seasons and an undeveloped road network, work is constant and ongoing. Our journeys by road were long, bumpy in places and sometimes terrifying as we clung to the sides of sheer cliff faces but also breathtakingly beautiful as the winding roads ascended through forests, mountains and villages, past cows, monkeys, dogs and villagers selling tea and dumplings at road blocks and school children cheerfully waving as we passed by. We also took the opportunity to stop and watch a game of archery, the national sport of Bhutan before heading back to watch a local cultural dancing performance in the city.

It is becoming easier to get to Bhutan but they are still determined to protect the country, ensuring sustainability and in keeping with their mantra of making decisions that are good for the people and good for the environment. All visits must be booked through a tour group and whilst there is no limit to tourist visas they are all subject to a daily visa fee (approx. $250US), whilst it may seem expensive the fee includes a guide, accommodation, food and transport and your tour can be as individual as you want to make it.

Despite the packed schedule, the days of trekking, cold nights camping and arduous road journeys I feel happy and at peace. Bhutan, its untouched landscape and its endearing people have made my soul sing and is unlike any place I’ve been before.

As I prepare to leave, I feel exhausted yet still wanting more, I’d love to spend longer here but also consider myself lucky to have been to somewhere so unique. It warms my heart to know that there is a place in the world like this and that these people are living according to what matters.