What do I mean by these?
For me these are moments that really caused me to re-evaluate my view of the world and kick start some internal re-wiring. Defining moments are those you use to shore up your idea of what you are and what you are not in the world. Un-defining moments make the world bigger, force you to throw off pieces of your ‘self’ and find more at-one-ment.
I hope we all have some of these. Here is my list. It is not exhaustive and these are not ‘favourite moments’ or ‘time of my life moments’ (although some were that too). For some people these moments would be ‘so what?’ - that’s fine. These are some of the ones that I was fortunate enough to have that made me grow.
1. When I was 13 and went on my first French exchange to Dijon. Tipped off the coach and picked up by my penfriend’s family, we arrived at her home. The garage had automatic gates down to a basement garage. We walked up through a games room to the ground floor where staircases curved up on both sides of the hallway to the second floor landing. My room was the size of my whole upstairs at home. There were so many rooms that I forgot which one was the toilet and had to go in my ensuite shower in the night. In the morning we had breakfast outside (truly exotic - Frosties with yoghurt and raspberries) in the sunshine next to the huge swimming pool. We had pool parties after school. I secretly fell in love with her cousin. One weekend we drove down to their flat in the Alps for a spot of tobogganing, views of Mont Blanc and Raclettes. Hot chocolate and brioche before brioche was a supermarket staple. Bloody meat presented for lunch (just eat it - no one else is dying). Mind blown.
2. First visit to Camden Market as a teenager when my friend’s mum drove us there. I felt as if I’d entered an alternative universe of dreadlocks and joss sticks and other funny smells. Trinkets and memorabilia and tie-dyed clothing. Cue lots of saving of pennies and return visits. Happy days.
3. First term at Cambridge. Getting a ‘D’ in my first piece of Use of French homework and the soulful look from our lecturer. Never knowing the answer in the Russian grammar workshop. Vaguely wondering how other people did but also wondering why it was scheduled at 9.00 the night after the student club night. Busting a gut just trying to keep up. Not being able to define myself by ‘doing well’.
4. Arriving in Beijing on the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1996. (It does something to you to see the same country go past for seven days, the same lake (Baikal) for one whole day.) But specifically, the journey ended one morning at dawn as we pulled into Beijing. The parks we passed were full of older people practising Tai Chi. Before I had any idea what Tai Chi was. Before working out in parks was a thing. Beijing itself, The Great Wall. Wondering if we needed to go home at all.
5. Short and sweet - first night in Istanbul age 20. Being woken at dawn by the call to prayer from the three nearest mosques. (Argh. Do you have to? I like my sleep). Roll on a few (ahem) years. If you can't beat 'em....you marry them (or something). Nowadays when in Turkey I pass my mother-in-law in the dark on the way to the bathroom as she gets up to pray, me to meditate.
6. Living in Russia in the late ‘90s. Different rules. Not worrying about it.
7. Hmmm. Still not sure I want to talk about this. Breaking off an engagement because I fell for someone else. (I guess settling down at 24 was a little optimistic). The genuine horror of not being a ‘good girl’. Trying out the mantle of ‘scarlet woman’. Not being struck by lightning. And finally, most terrifyingly, not being sure why I had wanted to marry the guy I finished with in the first place.
8. Giving birth. Nothing prepared me for the way my body behaved in labour (and yes I did do the class - I'm thorough I did two). My experience was of my body transforming into an enormous pump over which I had little control, designed to expel a wee babe in super quick time. I learned fast that I needed to ham it up to get the midwives to pay me attention. My first daughter was nearly born in a corridor, the second not quite in the toilet. Neither one was ultimately fazed by the experience. Mild trauma and over excitement.
9. Early motherhood. Major identity crisis. Where did ‘I’ go? Who is that puffy face looking back at me in the mirror? Why is the weight not ‘falling off’? My ‘little sister’ is awesome but how do I come to terms with myself as ‘mother’? Am I the only one who feels like this?
10. Babaji. Beginning, middle and end. The ultimate love-hustler. In his presence everything is forgotten. All that matters is the joy that comes with it. Not being. Just love.
This is the quote that is keeping me centred right now, from Hindu saint Sri Anandamayi Ma:
"Before I came on this earth, Father, 'I was the same'. As a little girl, 'I was the same'. I grew into womanhood, but still 'I was the same'. When the family in which I had been born made arrangements to have this body married, 'I was the same'... And, Father, in front of you now, 'I am the same'. Ever afterward, though the dance of creation change around me in the hall of eternity, 'I shall be the same’.”
'I am the same'. Everything else is illusion.
'Our love affair was a prickly thing
I thought you were ugly and cruel
You enticed me back'
I was planning another post, but given the current diplomatic crisis between the UK and Russia (and the world), this one feels more timely.
As love affairs go, this one's been pretty damn big for me....
Moscow is my Himalayas. I start to breath differently there as soon as the plane hits the tarmac. It's a place to feel more alive. I realise not everyone feels like this.
How do you learn to love something which initially seems off-putting?
Well, this is the essence of tantra, and Russia has taught it to me well...
'Overcast and austere, you make me glad to be with you
Unwelcoming, you embrace my soul
Once more I breathe deeply in your feather-heavy air
My belly bubbles the buzz none can hear'
Often, the things which seem most 'difficult' are the ones most worth the effort. When I first visited Moscow in 1996, I can safely say I was not immediately in love with the place. It was big, dusty, unwelcoming, had horrible red tape, and all the good nightclubs were hidden un-signposted down some back street only to be reached using a hastily hand-drawn map.
But there was something.... an excitement, a challenge, a significance, a secret, a promise of more.
It is becoming a bit of a theme for me, but if you want to experience ecstasy, you need to embrace complexity - the 'good' and the 'bad'. It is only through transmuting the duality of these that you find genuine unconditionality and passion for life.
Those red stars on top of the Kremlin get me every time....
(Also, y'know, Russians are not that difficult to get on with - lots of my favorite, favourite people in this lifetime have been and are Russian).
Poetry heals, and here is a poem I wrote in Moscow two years ago in 2016, a whole twenty years after my first visit - celebrating the things that had changed, the things that hadn't, the memories, and the constant new-ness. I hope it goes some way to offering a fresh perspective.
Am I old or young?
This place tumbles my feelings
Until I melt into the flow
Releasing the years in between
Worn like barricades
Can I still be one of you?
In these spaces so grand
I lose myself lightly
So present in every in-breath
Every mouthful, every undiminished echo
Still delightfully stern and unyielding
Now flaunting glamour and poise
A new-old presence reinvented again
Between grid-locked cars
Joy bursts out at stony walls
A face this serious can only be pretending
One tickle and here's a laugh
It's flooding back to me
I remember how to dance through this
Lilac trees invite
Red stars in the night
Vibrating with stored knowing
A constant landmark for our stories
Yours, and mine
Of course - you were my mentor!
Shaping my young years
Being the anarchy of aliveness
A love of many lifetimes
We must know each other well
Connecting so deeply
Your love-flow flavour
Comes spontaneously to my lips
I am here, now
Dissolving the distance between us
In the awe of your embrace
I am always young
Do we need a song? Hmmmm. Too much choice. I think on this occasion a traditional one...
confidence - freedom - passion