masculine energy

Why some places resonate more than others...

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Best thing about India: prescription medicines (without a prescription) for just a couple of pence!     Best thing about Goa: endless beaches and warm sea     New favourite treat: chick-pea flour, honey & cardamon balls     What I am loving: open-air yoga surrounded by nature     What I am over: power cuts and any form of dal     What I am missing: friendship

3 SMALL KIDS, 2 CRAZY ADULTS, 1 YEAR TO TRAVEL THE WORLD

POST 15: 7th May 2017, Goa, India. 

In my 20s, just before I went to India for the first time, I was told by an old-hand that it was impossible to visit without being changed in some way. (Or kissed by a prince). They were right on both accounts. India - the chaos, the colour, the noise and its people - activated what was lying dormant inside. (The kiss was a bonus). A friend posited more recently that India works you. It massages and manipulates your soul so that you emerge the other end a more spiritually-condensed version of yourself. I think this is also true. Indeed, it's probably why I feel uncomfortable.

Our first three weeks in southern India were jam-packed with incredible sights, novel experiences, exotic tastes and warm people. And despite being tourists, we felt very much at home. But oddly, the opposite now seems to be the case: we are no longer tourists but don't feel any more settled. In fact, I feel quite isolated. Firstly, because Goans seem a lot more guarded than other southern Indians - no spontaneous smiles here - and secondly, because despite living amongst a welcoming but close-knit group of expats - they refer to South Goa as a village - we are naturally (as six-week drop-ins), viewed as being on the outside. And I am jealous. I want to be on the inside! After 8 months on the road with no social network apart from my own family, I am starting to crave the nurturing that friendships provide.

 
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Photo caption: just a few of our local beaches

Feeling ill at ease is also a result of the draining emotional transition I am forced to make every time we settle in one place. Because 'exploring' and 'living' require two very different kinds of psyche: during the former, I inevitably put up an invisible barrier between my little inner circle and the rest of the world. As the responsible adult, I create a sort of a safety bubble which allows us to be open but not too open, to relax but not to let go completely. We become totally self-sufficient emotionally: we must be our own entertainment and support system. Which isn't easy. So I am proud of how, when travelling, I seem to take hardships in my stride. In fact, I even try my best to make every new place we stay in feel cosy, neat, familiar and safe, even if it's for just one night. Low points endured heroically include cracked sinks held together (badly) with masking tape; holes in walls; cockroaches, ants and scorpions in our rooms; monkeys and snakes outside them; nowhere to unpack or put any of our stuff; interrupted sleep (howling dogs, trains, power cuts and parties); 41 degree heat with no air-con, as well as dirt and dust just about everywhere.

 
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Photo caption: cows are absolutely everywhere (top left); my open-air yoga shala (top right); the kids in front of their new school (bottom left); boho-chic retail (bottom right)

In a way, travelling is easy - you are free to do whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it. Chores are outsourced (laundry, cooking, cleaning) and there is the constant thrill of being 'entertained'. But the flip side is that this also demands a continually high input of adrenaline, and requires endless planning ahead and sorting out of logistics. This is even more the case if you have three small children under 7 that still need chaperoning in every physical, emotional and mental way possible. So forget any head space of your own: your thoughts, feelings and needs get pushed to the bottom of the pile. They are repressed until further notice. There is no time or room to give them the attention they deserve. And this has repercussions.

 
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Photo caption: Goa is actually much greener than I had imagined. And it's not even rainy season yet! 

'Living' somewhere on the other hand, demands a different approach. It may seem like the easier option, when you're jaded and exhausted by being on the road, but it can actually be even more stressful. There are just as many logistics to sort out – where to live? how to school the kids? how to get about? where to find provisions? And the responsibility that comes with each decision is even greater, because the consequences are long-term rather than temporary. When we decide to settle in one place, my tough exterior slowly melts and I suddenly remember that I am actually a princess! I realise that I was only able to put up with the hardships because there was the prospect of comfort in sight and now I absolutely must be surrounded by a degree of beauty in order to feel calm, happy and secure. Plus those emotional needs I shelved earlier finally come up to the surface for air. It can feel like a lot to deal with all at once.

This trip, we have explored three countries (Myanmar, Laos and India) and lived in four (Greece, Thailand, Bali and India) and each time, the transition from one to the other has left me feeling frustrated, anxious and confused. Frustrated because I naively expect some kind of respite as soon as we stop moving (which always takes longer than I would like), anxiety over whether we chose the right place to stay (what if we got it wrong? should we find elsewhere? how long do we give this place before deciding?) and then confusion because I am forced to sit - powerless - in the unknown. (Which, as an organising, controlling, perfectionist Virgo, is tough).

 
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Photo caption: Goan architecture (top and bottom left); our temple house (bottom right)

Being abroad is a bit like being inside a snow globe: when you are on the road, the snow gets all stirred up and when you stop in one place, it takes time for it to settle. And the most important thing I need to remember, is that until it does, it is as though I am wearing blinkers. It is impossible to see properly nor appreciate what is unique and special in the new.

The problem is, I did forget this fourth time round and was temporarily blinded when we arrived by what Goa was not: unlike Thailand and Bali's relatively good-value luxury villas, rental stock here is limited and basic; private transport for hire is non-existent, shabby or unreliable (cars are decrepid and the tyre on our first scooter burst whilst driving to the garage to fix a puncture on our second) and supermarkets are grotty and basic. It has taken a while to get used to this.

 
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Photo caption: Saturday is market day when the streets are flooded with lots of fresh fish and fruit and veg (top); the school-run doesn't get much better than this (bottom)

But now that we have been here for 3 weeks, I am finally beginning to see the beauty inherent in this particular corner of the world: the school the children are in is small, friendly and welcoming; the beaches nearby are deserted, clean and the water is warm; I have re-instated my regular yoga practise and once again, I have time to myself to meditate and process things. Hurrah!

Unfortunately however, there is one thing that the adjustment period won't change. We arrived in off-season. Which is something I was aware of but seriously underestimated. I thought it meant low season - less tourists, a bit of daily rain and cheaper prices. I was wrong. Actually, it means that everyone leaves (locals and expats) and that everything closes. The school is dwindling in size by the day; most of the beach restaurants and cafes have already shut; yoga classes are winding up and local stores are disappearing alongside the diminishing tourist dollar. Then there is the weather: May is the hottest and most humid month of the year (oops) and June brings monsoon. Not just a daily rainstorm that clears the air but a torrential onslaught that tears down all impermanent structures and makes your clothes to go mouldy. Because this is India after all. And everything is extreme here.

 
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Photo caption: drying chillies (top left); our local beach shack restaurant (top right): turtle hatchery (bottom left); colourful Goan houses (bottom right)

So, whilst we originally thought we would stay until the first week of July, we have decided to move on earlier. Which is fine. Because even though I can now see the attractions of Goa and I appreciate its own, special charm, I don't think it truly resonates with me. Probably because it is too much like me.

Whereas Ubud is supposed to be governed by feminine shakti energy, which felt nurturing, supportive and loving, Goa is supposed to be ruled by masculine shiva consciousness which is about activating the feminine energy - giving it direction, form and content - and about getting things done. And I don't need any more pushing. I am just learning to allow. My still dominant masculine energy wants to receive and surrender, to be softened and not tamed. So my friend was right: India does work you, just not in the way I need right now...

To see where we are on a map, click here!

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On embracing our multi-passionate selves...

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As soon as we are of school age, we are taught to hone our skills and limit our field of interests. After assessments on 10 or so subjects aged 16, that number is quartered for our final set of exams. Next, it’s off to university to focus on one single subject followed by a career whose ideal progress is linear, direct and upwards. At this point, everything else must be excluded from public view, in case it is seen as a distraction. Why else would interviewers narrow the field by asking where you see yourself in 5 years’ time? Thus, we are groomed by a patriarchal society to prioritise our masculine energy over our feminine. We are taught that in order to thrive, regardless of our sex, we have to adopt a logical and analytical view of the world. We learn that to get ahead, we must be fearlessly determined, single-mindedly independent and driven towards a financially-orientated definition of success.

Until recently, I was the perfect disciple: intellectually assertive, in control and busy. I saw myself as the sum total of my skills, achievements and job roles to date, not as the person behind them.

But this didn’t always come naturally. I came across my first stumbling block just after university - that weird limbo between childhood and adulthood when you do not yet know what your purpose is, nor how you should present yourself to the world. Having favoured intellectual curiosity over the emotional kind, I had no idea who I really was. The arena in which the masculine had thrived no longer existed. I was suffering from a quarter-life crisis and my existential angst was not assuaged by hearing that “the world was my oyster”. Because faced with a quagmire of potential career options and no route map to navigate it, the oyster looked pretty bleak.

What I needed was some balancing feminine energy: something to ground me, to allow me to surrender and to be flexible. But with no tools to access it nor role model to emulate, I replaced intuition with strategy, took up a seemingly random job and continued to forge ahead.

I hit another such block in my late 20s, when the masculine model revealed a few more flaws: I was exhausted of doing rather than being, of pushing rather than allowing, of always striving for a better future or lingering in the past, of not feeling enough, right now. But still ignorant of an alternative modus operandi, I again dismissed these warning signs and struggled on impervious.

It was only when I became a mother and was forced to slow down, that the once small stirrings of my neglected feminine became a clamour. Mothering in my masculine had been successful for a while (Gina Ford offers an arguably acceptable role model), but a second, less ‘pliant’ infant and a demanding toddler in tow, made me see that children need more than just the essentials: they needed my full presence, complete acceptance and constant, unconditional love. In this arena, my masculine was revealed as impotent. I had reached my mid-life crisis.

And so began a difficult but rewarding journey towards emotional and spiritual balance. I took a long, hard look at my motivations, beliefs, reactions and triggers, at the people and situations I was surrounded by and at what makes me truly happy and fulfilled. Finally I met my divine feminine: I practised reconnecting to my body and intuition, I began to allow uncomfortable feelings and I implemented self-care. I balanced my yang yoga with some yin; I carved out time to be meditative and calm, and worked on cultivating patience and gratitude.

Don’t get me wrong, life is not now miraculously easy. But it is easier. For the first time, it includes centredness, joy, fulfilment and connection. And to quote Marianne Williamson, I would much rather endure the occasional, “sharp pains of self-discovery” than the enduring, “dull pain of unconsciousness”.

These days, I try to see the world through feminine-tinted glasses: to be more collaborative, vulnerable, soft and creative; to flow with life and allow unexpected, magical things to happen in the spaces I no longer rush to fill. Instead of pigeon-holing myself into the Linked-In mindset, I have embraced my multi-faceted nature. I realise that being authentically me means revealing more than just one of my many faces; that I can navigate different paths at the same time and that these actually enrich and enhance each other.

And I also want my children to value these feminine traits -  just as highly as the masculine ones. To combine both energies in the way that best suits their unique range of skills. Which is hard. Because there are so few role models. Particularly amongst those who, like me, toed the academic party line. I can count on the fingers of one hand the women with whom I was hot-housed who are running their own, creative businesses. It seems that those who dare to step out of the intellectual matrix in order to shine their creative light, are few and far between.

For our current educational system promotes the story that the intellect and intuition/creativity are mutually exclusive and then trains you to exemplify this: the more academic you are considered to be, the more your passions are (subtly) repressed. You are taught to worship your powers of critical analysis, your prize a career that is “intellectually rigorous and rewarding”.

But what if we could be intellectually rigorous AND intuitive, driven and present, nurturing and successful? I want my kids to know that WHO they are and the WAY they are is just as important as WHAT they do.

So, I won’t ask them what they want to be when they grow up, instead I will ask them what they love to do. I will show them that they can be pulled in more than one direction. I will encourage them to be proudly multi-faceted. Because then, the world really IS their oyster…

Art by Christian Schloe

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