I'm on a clean, quiet local train. Perhaps because of the time-- just before 10 am Sydney time on Tuesday morning, January 21st-- there isn't another person in the car whom I can see or hear.
It's just about 38 hours until I begin the first day of my commitment to spending a year without speaking or otherwise using my voice. My intention is that this project will create an opportunity to learn to listen differently. By refraining from speaking, I allow the space for me to be more present, more attentive as I attune my skills to hear what's behind the words and communications of others and to truly listen to my heart. Right now, in fact, as I write this, I'm listening to my heart-- in the form of music. Heart music. It's quite beautiful, really. I'm sitting with a little bit of fear around whether I'll hear the announcer call the stop for Engadine, and know that the gift of this fear is vigilance. I won't check out or zone out or otherwise leave the present moment in order to ensure that I get off at my destination.
I don't really know anything about Engadine, other than it is the town where Brenda and Tom live. I haven't yet met them in person, but I already know we'll be fast friends. In about a week, I'll be connecting with their adult son, James, in Melbourne. He is on a very special journey of his own that I'll share here after we meet. I connected with James via Greg via someone else on Facebook whom I don't know. But I know it's all divinely guided. I've encountered so many people on this incredible journey we call "life" and am deeply grateful for an increasing awareness that I can learn, teach or share something with each being with whom I come into contact, particularly when I stay present and allow for the opportunity.
I've spent the past six nights with Natalie. She's a genuine, caring and sharing light on this particular leg of my journey. I didn't know or know of Natalie until shortly before I began these travels. I'd waited until the last-minute to find accommodations, occupied with so many things of high priority to accomplish before departing my home in southern California, and bound first for my hometown of Houston, Texas, and then Sydney, immediately thereafter.
Several years ago, in 2009, I had the opportunity to travel on my own to Nepal and spend nine weeks there, getting to know the culture, the people of Nepal and myself much better. That journey provided the material for another book, which is currently about 1/3 complete and has been shelved since 2011, when I accepted the adventure of organizing and producing The WE Conference (www.theWEconference.com). I still fully intend to return to that book and I haven't yet scheduled when the writing will resume. For now, I'm fine with letting that be and "percolate," if you will. My priority for now is to live this journey and listen-- and learn to listen differently-- to other human beings, to animals, to nature and the environment, to myself and to God-- or Spirit, or Universe, or Goddess, or any myriad of names for a higher power that offers us a opportunity to be a soul housed in a human body.
In preparation for traveling to Nepal, I'd learned about an online community called Couchsurfing. As you might discern from the name, it's about "surfing" from one couch to another in private homes to experience and share the lives of others, wherever we might be traveling. There is the opportunity to "surf" (travel) or to be the "ocean" (the host for travelers) or, as the organization encourages, to do both.
While in Nepal, I didn't stay with anyone from Couchsurfing.org, but I did visit a couple of Kathmandu-area locals whom I'd met online through the site.
The first name that popped up on Couchsurfing when I searched for potential places to stay in Sydney during the Transformational Kinesiology (TK) course was Natalie's. Taking the class was the only previously scheduled commitment during my travels in Australia.
Upon reviewing my request, Natalie responded, very generously offering to host me-- without knowing me-- the entire time I'd be in Sydney for TK7 (15-21 January). She has hosted many Couchsurfing guests and has traveled all over the world. She has an extra twin mattress for guests in her "bed-sit" flat (what we'd call a "studio apartment" in America) and she offered sheets and a pillow and pillowcase. I've got my sleeping bag with me so I didn't need the linens. I've been quite comfortable with the sleeping bag on top of the mattress. Natalie has made me feel so at home. She really went out of her way to help me find grocery stores with organic produce and to respect my commitment to compassion and honor my vegan diet.
In addition to contacting Natalie via Couchsurfing, I'd written to James through his website with the dates that I'd be in Sydney. He replied that his parents would be happy to host me while in the Sydney area. I exchanged an email with his mom, Brenda, and made arrangements to take the train down to Engadine, about 45 minutes from Natalie's in the south Sydney area. Engadine is one of the last stops on the local commuter rail. Brenda phoned two nights ago to confirm I'd be coming down, and with Natalie's directions, I was able to wheel my bag and walk to the King's Cross train station to catch the train. It's 22 stops to Engadine. I've got 14 left.
Before leaving Natalie's, I made sure to bring all of the organic greens and other assorted raw vegan ingredients purchased at About Life Natural Foods in Bondi (bond-eye) Junction I'd squeezed into Natalie's refrigerator. I was so excited to have found these groceries a couple of days ago that I perhaps purchased too much. The food items were in two tote bags, one on my shoulder and the other atop my small wheeled overnighter suitcase.
I approached the ticket window inside the King's Cross train station and was beckoned to approach by a friendly, smiling man. I returned the smile, reflecting his back to him. He asked, "How are you?"
I replied, "I'm beautiful."
"Yes, you are!" he responded. "It must be the greens."
I was a little confused, and tilted my head, looking at him quizzically.
"The greens," he repeated and pointed.
He was gesturing to my tote bag, perched atop my wheeled overnighter suitcase. I looked down at the opening of the tote bag and saw a container of raw organic leafy greens peeking out on top.
"Absolutely!" I exclaimed, as I understood what he meant. "They're a fantastic source of energy and provide all the protein I need."
"Vegetarian, are you then?" he questioned.
"I'm raw vegan," I answered. "I eat fresh, uncooked, organic vegetables and fruits, and soaked or sprouted seeds and nuts."
"I'm not so sure I could do that. Might not get enough nutrients, you see," he responded.
"I'm 57 and I'm quite fit. I've been powered by plants for many years. You could do it. If you wanted," I added.
I asked for a piece of paper and scribbled down my name and email address.
"Let me know if you need support around making changes in your diet," I said, and handed him the paper.
I went downstairs, as he'd directed, to platform 1, and within 10 minutes the train that travels to Engadine arrived at King's Cross.
So here I am on the train.
The final level of the Transformational Kinesiology practitioners' training intensive (TK7) concluded yesterday evening. The co-founder of TK (and one of my mentors), Grethe Fremming, 73, of Denmark, guided the small group of participants through the technical, detailed and often challenging material. As it always seems to do, the course unfolded as it should-- like a lotus opening and revealing limiting beliefs, expanding awareness and incredible beauty-- and allowed for expansion of love, trust and patience. I always grow from each of the intensives in this esoteric healing practice. It had been a few years since I'd seen Grethe. She'd responded to my sympathy note when her husband, partner and co-founder of TK, Rolf Havsboel passed away about two years ago, but otherwise, we hadn't stayed in touch. We never did, really, in between the TK courses.
Grethe immediately noticed a change in me and remarked on it. On the physical level, I imagine I look quite different to people who haven't seen me in awhile. My hair is no longer long and blonde and styled as you might expect in the image of a television news anchor (presenter). About 1-1/2 years ago, in May 2012, I was finally at new juncture-- I was ready to release that image of the "perfect hair" and stop hiding behind that mask. Deep inside, I believed that cutting my hair represented a severing of any opportunity to go back into TV news and I was finally ready to release myself from the loss of that identity. I made an appointment at the salon where Dusty, my stylist for nearly 20 years, works his magic to allow me to feel beautiful.
This idea of someone else "allowing me to feel beautiful" or defining or permitting my beauty is a concept under which I was raised since as early as I can remember. I realize now that it was just an illusion. My beauty -- and yours-- come from within.
From the get-go, my mom (and others influencing my young life) appeared to judge everything based on physical appearance and behavior (propriety). I observed this at the pre-cognitive level, so I never really realized that I grew into living this way of thinking. It's an outward way of living-- dressing, accessorizing and making myself appear attractive on the outside, and relying and seeking compliments from others on my external appearance-- and it's finally been replaced. Instead, I have shifted into a place where I'm more focused on accepting and loving what's on the inside, and no longer worrying about "how I look."
"Cut it all off," I told Dusty, showing him photos of Natalie Portman, Judi Dench, Charlize Theron and Halle Berry, sporting their super-short styles. "Super-short," I added.
"Do you want to highlight it?" Dusty asked.
I'd been putting highlights in my blonde hair for many years. I really liked the color. I liked how I looked and felt as a blonde.
"No. Au naturel. No chemicals," I responded.
I was sick of the whole paradigm of having to look perfect. My body and my soul deserved better. My hair color has nothing to do wtih my worth, my value or my beauty. I was committed to my choice. To paraphrase the Queen in "Alice in Wonderland"-- "Off with her hair!!"
When Dusty finished snipping and trimming and buzzing, I recognized that I was now sporting what I call my "super-duper-über-short, sassy, sexy AND SILVER magical pixie cut."
I loved it then and still love it now, as I enjoy the freedom, the ease and the lightness of being I experience with this cut.
Women whom I've never met approach me now and tell me they love my hair-- they tell me they wish they could do it, and I tell them that they can.
We're pulling into Engadine. I look forward to meeting Brenda. She's taken a day off from her job as a nurse in a local hospital to spend time with me. I'm honored, grateful and appreciative.
I am heading to the elevator and the door is closing. I pushed the button and the doors reopened.
I maneuver my suitcase on wheels and the tote bags into "the lift."
Another woman swiftly follows.
"Welcome to this elevator!" I smile, as she enters.
"Kaci?" she said, and opened her arms to hug me.
It's Brenda! I'd had no idea. We've connected and I know we'll have a magical time together.
. . .
It wasn't just my hair that Grethe recognized was different.
"What happened to you?" Grethe demanded.
I didn't really know how to respond. No "one thing" happened. Life happened. I'd begun releasing "the masks" behind which I've been hiding or posing most of my life. A few weeks after my last TV news contract was not renewed, Steve suggested I consider taking the Vipassana meditation again. It would provide an opportunity to immerse myself in myself for ten days of silence. I spontaneously chose to travel to Nepal to experience my second time doing the 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat. I'd had no intention of going to Nepal. But once the wheels were set in motion, it became a magical journey.
I knew I was different from the person Grethe remembered. I'd changed. I've grown. I don't attribute it to any particular event. And then I remembered Vipassana. And I recalled The WE Conference and releasing the masks and The WE Juice for Joy Experience-- and juicing for deep cleansing and healing on so many levels. All of these things have facilitated this change.
And now I'm sporting this super-short haircut and I'm enjoying it.
. . .
Brenda and I have arrived at a lovely home in an area with lush green vegetation. Her husband of nearly 34 years, Tom, comes out to greet us, and we bring in my bags. After a tour of the house, the three of us sit out on the terrace with their 7-year-old Maltese dog, Bruce. I'm missing Malibu and Miracle and Koa. Brenda remarks that Bruce is so comfortable with me and that's not usual for him. I'm appreciative of his welcome. The hilly, green vista from the balcony is peaceful and beautiful, and the cicadas are singing. Cockatoos, cuckaburros and mynah birds call out to me. I'm listening. I'm hearing.
Brenda had read one of my blog posts, revealing that I wanted to buy an inexpensive digital camera to capture some moments, and she and Tom surprised me with a small portable digital camera that they weren't using and offered it to me as a gift. I was so touched by this generous gesture.
After awhile, we head out on a drive to a neighboring seaside town, Cronulla, in search of a place to eat. Brenda recently committed to being vegan. I know her son, James, has had a profound impact on his family's health and well-being.
We arrive at a charming restaurant called Pilgrims Vegetarian Cafe. The large windows showcase a beautiful ocean view, the menu is vegan-friendly and the staff is welcoming.
We're shown to a table and the tall, slender woman who has guided us there tells us that there may be a bit of a wait, that the kitchen is running about 20 minutes. It was smart of her to let us know what to expect, and we're fine with that. There's plenty to talk about. I'm so glad Brenda encouraged me to come visit while I was still talking. She and Tom are so much fun, and we enjoy great banter and there's lots of laughter. The time passes so quickly, and then there's a beautiful plate of greens and vegetables in front of me, while Brenda and Tom enjoy vegan burgers stuffed with veggies.
It turned out that the woman who had shown us to our table, Kelly MacDonald, is the proprietor. She shared that the restaurant has only been open about a month. I pepper her with questions and introduce her to Brenda and Tom. Later, Kelly comes back to the table with a piece of paper on which she's written a couple of other raw vegan-friendly places to eat. What a thoughtful gesture!
After lunch, we stroll through an area with shops and then we walked along the oceanfront. It had been an overcast day, the clouds and gentle breezes kept it cool. We stopped in an office supplies store so I could get an SD (SanDisk) memory card for the camera, then headed to the mall to visit a travel agency to look into a rail pass, and then wander around. There were at least four different juice bars, all offering fresh-squeezed juice. I don't think any were using organic ingredients, but the fact that there were so many different kiosks shows the progress and awareness.
We returned to the house, and while Brenda caught up with a friend, Tom and Bruce and I went for a long walk. Tom teased me about the uphill incline and asked if I needed a push. Just as Natalie had done for my first week, Tom and Brenda have also really gone out of their way to make me feel right at home.
It's late and I'm sleepy. Tomorrow Brenda and Tom (pictured) will lead me on a "bush walk." I'm really looking forward to that. Bruce has decided to hang out with me tonight. I'm glad of his presence.
The adventure continues. And the silence begins in 21 hours. I'm getting there.