What does it feel like to have a spiritual awakening?
What does it feel like to explore the edges of one’s consciousness and sanity?
What do you do next?
Sometimes it felt like the sky was splitting open and sometimes I fell into a state of bliss while staring at leaves. Sometimes I went on extraordinary journeys from within my own living room.
But I spent at least as much time reflecting on and managing the tasks of day to day living and workplace relationships; using everyday life as a vehicle for spiritual growth. Feeling my everyday life infused by this newfound spirituality, and learning to find my own way and read the signs of the universe for myself.
At the same time managing feelings of depression, anxiety and OCD and eventually seeking therapy, the lessons of which are shared here.
Experimenting with religion but ultimately not finding a home there. With my husband, experimenting with different philosophies and spiritual practices, including giving up sex and orgasms. Stretching my mind to the edges of sanity and insanity, or at least, that’s what it felt like sometimes.
This collection, of blog posts and spiritual memoirs, charts a journey of spiritual exploration and self reflection which eventually led to us breaking away from routine, security and family expectations, and selling up and going off on an actual one year trip to India and Southeast Asia, documented in my travel memoir I fell in love with you and I cried.
I fell in love with you and I cried is a spiritual, personal and travel memoir of a year in India and Southeast Asia. In April 2017 my husband and I asked ourselves, what would we do if we could do anything? We decided to sell up, leave our jobs and go travelling, along the way unpicking the conditioning of property, career and security and exploring what a life with less stuff would look like. We gave away most of our possessions and in March 2018 we went to India, where we spent seven months in all, then Thailand, Tokyo, Nepal, Cambodia and Vietnam. My book documents the trip through the eyes of a relatively inexperienced traveller. The sights, sounds and colours of India and Southeast Asia as well as the physical and emotional challenges.
This was a pre Covid19 trip of a lifetime; making connections with local people and fellow travellers and putting beliefs about minimalism into practice by living out of a small backpack for a year.
It is available as a paperback from Amazon, as an ebook from Amazon, Google Play, and hopefully wherever you buy your ebooks.
Thank you to the wonderful WordPress community who read along, commented, encouraged me, and published their own blogs which kept me company throughout the year, on long train journeys and in all the many rooms we stayed in. Thank you.
Listen to the sounds you can hear outside the room
Listen to the sounds you can hear inside the room
Bring your attention onto your body, the contact points, the chair/bed/mat beneath you. Your hands resting.
Bring your attention onto your breathing
Place one hand on your chest and begin thinking about compassion
The loving kindness you might feel towards a puppy or a kitten
Now send this feeling to yourself via… heat radiating out from your chest…. Visualising light radiating through your body…. Saying to yourself, ‘May I be happy, may I be well, may I be free from suffering.’
Whatever your method, and even if you feel you can’t, intention is everything. Now focus on sending this compassion specifically to your body.
People often focus on the external, what the body looks like
Let us also go inwards and think about our internal organs. It’s funny how the most important bits are often the bits we think about the least. Whatever our level of human biology knowledge, reflect on the intricate systems and almost magical way in which our bodies work.
Thank your feet for walking you through life
Thank your hands for all you do through them
Admire the parts of your body that you like
Admire the parts that work well
Send compassion to any parts that don’t work so well
Try to soften towards and move towards acceptance of the parts you don’t like. ‘Your mind is as big as space,’ a meditation teacher once told me. Your heart too has unlimited capacity for acceptance and forgiveness, and that includes of yourself and of your body.
Return into your body rather than pushing it away
When you are ready, gently come out of the meditation by focussing on your breathing, then your body on the chair/mat/bed, the sounds inside the room, the sounds outside the room. Allow yourself a few moments of peace before resuming normal activities.
The practical application of Loving Kindness:
Acknowledge any truths that have come up here, perhaps you know you are doing things that harm your body, or know there are things you need to do to care for your body, from booking a screening or an eye test to looking after your back.
Follow/connect on Instagram @rachel_hill_relaxation
What I mean by spirituality is perhaps more of a coming to consciousness. And to quote the often quoted Jung quote, ‘Enlightenment isn’t about imagining figures of light, it’s about making the darkness conscious.’ Which means it isn’t always the bliss moments; it’s also a sudden awareness of horror, sadness, personal mistakes, regrets, pain, times when we accidentally caused pain to loved ones, and so on.
Becoming suddenly sensitive- the pitchfork photograph jumped out from the newspaper, me suddenly seeing gardening as an act of violence, tearing up the habitat of all the tiny animals and insects. (I am a big fan of No Mow May, Let it Bloom June, and just letting gardens go wild so that they become filled with the sound of insects, rather than the silence of a perfect lawn. Worse still, Astroturf, which kills everything beneath it.)
Reflections that make us better, or intend to be better, e.g. realising that I dragged my husband out on a walk with me even though he had sore feet and we should have just gone back.
This awareness also includes moments out of nowhere of total spiritual resonance, listening to Park Life by Blur and understanding it in a completely new way, not just a laddish story of drinking in the park, as I used to think of it, but of how a moment of mindfulness, in this case, feeding the pigeons, can stay with you and sustain you all day; which was actually something I had been thinking about only days before. Another 90s/00s anthem: ‘Once you know where you’re going, you can lay back and enjoy the ride, soak in the sights and drowning the senses…’ also resonated strongly.
In a flush of oversharing I had given two people books at Christmas, including my very personal spiritual memoir, and then later regretted it when it was returned only partially read. So I was really unsure when I felt like giving out books at work again, this time my travel memoir. I had told K about it, he had said he’d like to read it, and I know he’s interested in writing. And I’d had a big chat with F re travelling and she’d seemed interested. But still. I waited until almost my last day. I had to go and find K, make a real effort, ask him to bring his bag so he could put it straight in to take home. He said, ‘I have something for you too. It came into my head to give it to you but then I thought it was too mad and I wasn’t going to give it to you, but when you said you had something for me I thought, ‘’I have to now, that’s fate.’’ It was a perfectly good phone, Android like I am used to, in a case, with a charger. Mine had died just a couple of days before.
Elon Musk said when he was six people thought he was mad. He loved Sci Fi. He thought, What am I going to do with my life, for it to have meaning? Try and go to Mars. To have the self belief and determination to follow such an outlandish path having come from such a freakish base- being thought mad at six years old. Please let us not get stuck on Elon Musk, I know some people may not like him. It’s not about him and what he’s doing, it’s more about how can we do that within our own lives.
I was teased at school, felt like an outsider, an outcast at times. Can I go from that to believing that I can do something completely unique to me and in total accordance with my own values, in alignment with my own interests and talents?
Is it a quest, that we drop down into this world, everything set up for conformity right from the first days at school, peers, teachers. Creative thinking not encouraged, no real philosophical tuition. Teased, put down, alienated. But if you can rise above that, dare to be different, survive and then decide to do something totally mind blowing and say it with absolute confidence and work all day and all night to make it happen. Well maybe the reward for that is to see it. I want to go to Mars.
That sense of being in the present moment, of being on a different path, feeling my way along a totally different path, Journey to the East. At times at work I felt alienated like I did at school. But towards the end, when I really felt like myself, when I had done a workshop and made my plans to leave and do this independently, when I felt fantastic and full of confidence, they liked me just as much. More, really. Encouragement from all sides. Lovely words at my leaving do. A spiritual gift.
The reward of nothingness, as I’ve called it before; The realisation that we are all doing our best or at least we are all navigating life in the only way we feel able to. You do the best you can with the information and abilities you have at the time. Okay so some people don’t do their best, they just do. Then again, who amongst us really does our best, every day, every hour?
Accepting that we’re just like everybody else. Which goes against the human urge to separate and judge. And as well as all that, to realise that not every problem can be solved. As I saw on Instagram the other day, ‘If you can’t seem to solve it, maybe it’s not a problem to be solved but just something to be accepted.’ Again, this goes against human nature to overcome and master problems rather than simply accept them. But trying to accept something you can’t fix does feel like work, is work.
So we come face to face with these facts. The realisation that the work, the place to get to, isn’t a place at all but a realisation: That what you do each day is the thing, the task and the lesson. It’s both much better and much worse than you hoped. What you do is very important as well as not important at all. How you respond is the lesson. Stepping outside of the day to day to see things as they are, and then going back in. The emptiness at the end of the road.
Life imitating art, or at least the news; there’d been a story on the BBC about how a discarded carrier bag with a photo of a lion on it had caused panic about a lion. Then John came into the spare room where we were sleeping and saw this koala bag and thought for a split second it was his mum’s dog on the bed.
My fleecy zip breaking, at the same time my mum giving me a fleecy a friend had passed onto her, that is just right, better, even, as it is big and baggy, and now that we no longer have cats it’s no problem having a black fleecy.
And, Aldi car park gets very busy. I was prepared to go out again and park on the road and manage the shopping somehow. I knew I wouldn’t want to reverse into a difficult space. And then there right in front of me was an easy space, easy to drive straight into and get out of. I didn’t visualise or even hope for it, yet it still happened. ‘I want what I need,’ as Robert from Switzerland (a remarkable person we met in India) said, re conjuring up things he needed.
We have moved back to Northamptonshire. I am setting up relaxation/wellbeing classes.
Whenthings fall apart, is a book by Pema Chodron, Buddhist Nun and teacher of meditation. She has the best book titles, another is The wisdom of no escape. I read her in Varanasi, India when a sadhu told me to ‘Pick a guru’ *realising this could sound rather pretentious* anyway, back to the everyday present:
I had two weeks leave from work, unfortunately I had a bad cold which began in my last days at work and finished the weekend before I returned. It did make me slow down though, and that was a good thing. I binge watched Succession Seasons One and Two, and rested.
I went to Norfolk for health checks- blood tests and a consultation with the GP, having put this off for months, while worrying almost 24/7, and everything came back clear. I saw a couple of friends and did some Christmas shopping.
I returned to work to find three members of staff were leaving: my manager who interviewed and recruited me; one of my favourite people; and a new member of staff who had barely started.
And just like that, it seemed, work fell apart. Everyone got stressed, moany, demanding, and less likeable. (I include myself in this too, as despite my high ideals, I am not Buddha)
The foundation and the heart seemed to have vanished. An alternative job appeared in my inbox and I applied; chatting to the agency on the phone in the garden at work feeling like the beginning of an affair. (I didn’t get it)
I know, I know, I always know, that all I have to do is stay steady in the face of upheaval and things will settle. In fact I didn’t stay steady and things did settle.
A member of staff who had been off for weeks suddenly reappeared as good as new, like a good omen. Them, me and the favourite member of staff who is leaving shared some laughter and an emotional moment, eyes filing with tears. My manager’s replacement has been appointed.
I have at last started to become fully reacquainted with swimming, going regularly, building my strength and experiencing occasional moments of flow when the stroke really comes together. I’ve also been doing yoga at home.
After stagnating a bit (or as I call it, having a fallow period) due to both having long lasting colds, we have set new goals to switch off Netflix and talk about a topic at least some evenings. Last night we spent a happy evening on travel plans, excited by India and then Cambodia lifting tourist restrictions.
At work we have begun saying goodbyes to the dear member of staff; she has requested we all write her letters! Maybe this is what this will be?!
What I’ve really enjoyed about knowing you is our meaningful chats about spirituality. I’ve really benefitted from the company of someone who is religious. I have found it inspiring and enriching to hear your stories and to talk about your perspectives on mental health, which includes your own personal family experiences which you have been kind enough to share; about Islamic perspectives on mental health and the challenges faced by ethnic minorities in a predominantly white-European-centric system.
For example, I appreciated you telling me about the non-colour-blind mental health services assessment, which specifically asks questions about individual’s experiences of racism. I have found these conversations enriching and educational.
But I’ve also just really enjoyed being around someone who has such strong values, such a strong personal spirituality, and someone who continually reflects and tries to be a better person each day.
You have lit up the team. The staff love you, the patients love you. I always said when we did our groups we didn’t really even need to plan an activity (although you always did bring such lovely, beautifully presented and thoughtful activities for the patients), because they would have been happy just to see you.
I will miss you, it won’t be the same without you. If you want to meet for coffee on a Saturday sometime I would like that very much.
The Verse of Light (Arabic: آیة النور, romanized: āyat an-nūr) is the 35th verse of the 24th surah of the Quran (Q24:35).
Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.
The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp,
The lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star,
Lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree,
Neither of the east nor of the west,
Whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire.
Light upon light.
Allah guides to His light whom He wills.
And Allah presents examples for the people,
and Allah is Knowing of all things.
— Translation by Sahih International Wikipedia
Thank you very much for visiting
Since August I’ve been keeping a stream of consciousness document going, some of which gets loosely edited into blog posts. Along the way I make a note of spin off ideas to come back to in the editing. It’s part work memoir, part meditation on boat life, and life in general. Working title Triangles are the strongest shape
My memoir of a year of travel in India and Southeast Asia- I fell in love with you and I cried– is complete and will be published sometime next year
Modern conveniences Things you take for granted in a house, electricity, water, sewerage… At some point we will go back to living in a house, and oh how I will appreciate running water that never runs out, a rubbish collection, a flushing toilet, a washing machine, electricity… Currently the invertor has broken, new one on its way, which means no laptop, no electric toothbrush, only things which can be charged on USB. Doctors Collecting prescriptions, blood tests, screenings, hospital appointments, X rays… All are a three hour drive away. I follow narrowboat femmes on Instagram, they recently did a reminder to get cervical screening done, as many boaters miss out on healthcare. However our doctors surgery is linked to a good and familiar hospital. The alternative would be registering as visitors locally. The physical hard work John does all this, carrying logs from the car, shopping, gas bottles (occasionally), opening locks. Moving the boat every two weeks Going out to scout out where to moor up and where to park the car on a Friday evening after a hard week at work, driving both cars there and one back. Getting up and moving on Saturday morning even if it’s raining and you’d rather stay in bed. Last weekend we moved the cars at 10pm Friday, and then at 8am John woke me up with a cup of tea and got going. I took a bit longer, finding my thermals and gloves, and joined him at the first lock. John had filled the water and turned the boat around while I was at work, to save time on Saturday. John has done most of the moves by himself, so when I do drive the boat again it takes me a little while to get my eye in. After my first lock I was okay again. At the third lock a man came down, shouting at John. We hadn’t noticed that someone had left one of the paddles slightly open, meaning water was running out of the lock: so that was why it was taking a long time to fill, me jogging on the spot to warm up in spite of my many layers. I was a bit worried about John and the stranger arguing, two men with windlasses in their hands; I do have a vivid imagination. As I came out of the lock I steered well clear of the angry man and his boat, but he beckoned me to the middle, it was shallow at the edges, he said, and he apologised to John for getting angry. Then we were there, past a sweeping bend, a little row of boats and just green all around. Beside the towpath a huge log with intricate silvery-brown ivy. Right near the bridge and the road, (our last mooring was quite a walk to the car) and a proper non-muddy towpath. I hadn’t wanted to get out of bed but getting up, getting going and being out in the elements, seeing nature, water, and just getting on with it, even though I didn’t have to do that much, was actually very soothing after a busy week. Space ‘Sometimes I long to stretch my arms up above my head,’ John said. I can only do The Tree yoga pose with arms curled not pointed. Some friends recently moved from a van in a field, into a house in Norwich. It was so amazing to be in all that space; two rooms downstairs, spacious bedrooms, big pieces of furniture, and best of all, big, big wardrobes! I miss being able to see all my clothes at once. Between us we have three large-medium drawers, and a canvas small-medium wardrobe. And a bag of clothes in the boot of the car, from which I remembered to fetch my thermal trousers the evening before the move. There are people who have boats which are neat as a pin, with everything put away in lots of clever cupboards. We are on the messy side but in our defence there isn’t a lot of cupboard space and 48 foot or 14 metres for two people living aboard full time isn’t that big. When it’s a mess it does irritate, but it doesn’t take long to sort out. Simplicity/personal growth/spiritual wellbeing Always being close to nature, the swans, ducks and moorhens, the sound of the rain on the roof, very loud on the metal, alongside gratitude for there being no leaks. Living in such a small space, with so little, when most people have so much and think they need so much, ‘You realise how little you need to be happy,’ John said. Whatever happens in the future, I feel that this is a lesson which will remain with us.
*I’ve been listening to Placebo on repeat, the Meds album, another charity shop find of John’s.
So we completed #NoSextember successfully. I told all my work colleagues about giving up sugar and caffeine, and actually told a couple of them about the no sex aspect. It’s the most open and natural place I’ve worked, emotional and expressive. People regularly say ‘I love you’ to me and to the whole team. Eyes fill with tears of empathy when someone shares a sad story. Hugs are freely given. It’s a strange and wonderful work office, hence I felt able to share.
One person said, ‘In all the religions there is fasting. And by stripping away all these things, you begin to find out who you are. Who am I without my morning coffee, who am I without this show on Netflix I always watch?’
For me, always an outsider, to have some of the individual/unusual things I do, be understood… well it is very gratifying.
So without caffeine in the morning or during the day, you find out how you really feel, and if you are tired, if you need to go to bed earlier. I was in bed by ten, sometimes half past nine. Also without morning caffeine and guarana (natural caffeine) my anxiety was much better.
On occasion I actually felt as if I could just get up and go to work, without the usual worrying and fretting and wandering maze of thoughts and mini existential crises that accompany my mornings. Also my OCD was better; one day I even left a light on! (a sin on a boat)
I’d already experienced a biscuit sugar spike and crash; this month I experienced one from eating white bread. Avoiding sugar in sweet snacks increased my sensitivity to it in bread. It made me think how many people are lurching from sugar spike to sugar crash, exhaustion to caffeine buzz, all day, every day, without even noticing.
So it was nice to notice awareness increasing, which after all is the primary purpose of all this, not (only) a health thing per se.
We’ve been living the life of continuous cruisers, moving every two weeks. We said goodbye to the swans of Kings Langley, my first swan friends since my dearly beloved in Northamptonshire. The Kings Langley swans were very pushy, not only tapping to get us to come out like swans do, but continuing to tap on the boat with their beaks while I was right there! At the next place the swans were different, younger (paler beaks) not as forceful.
There were birds I had never seen before, like a cross between a moorhen and a mallard, black with blue and red, matching the big rusty boat opposite. Each evening a woman in the house nearby fed a group of almost-grown goslings, again a variety I had never seen before, a milky orange colour, whilst mum, hardly any bigger than them, watched from atop the rusty boat. ‘I love it here,’ I said. ‘You say that every place,’ John said.
The boat next door had a giant cactus or aloe vera plant outside the back door. One day they were gone. ‘We never even got to meet them,’ I said. ‘That’s the way it is,’ John said.
I’ve started swimming again, three times a week, primarily for the showers before and afterwards but also hopefully the beginning of a long road back to some kind of physical fitness, that like many seekers, I have neglected on the spiritual path.
I fill up a 2 litre bottle of drinking water at work and bring it home each evening. John fills up the 5 litre bottles either at work or right now at the water point which is not too far away, and we put it through the freestanding water filter just to be sure. Soon we will pass the water point and fill the tank up.
Electricity has been manageable; John bought a little USB smoothie maker- the USB chargers are a different circuit and so far always work, as do the lights. The Nutribullet- which has to go into the normal plugs on a different circuit- runs out after a while, and the hairdryer is a complete dead loss. I give it a blast at the swimming pool but the only time I have shiny silky properly dried hair is once a month when we stay at John’s mum’s.
Getting rid of rubbish in public bins discreetly is another challenge…
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