Thursday morning came and it was time to leave the gathering, with me were two new travelling companions, Maria, who would be joining me to Sydney, and Cale who was after a ride to Melbourne. Most of the camp made the walk up the hill with us as not only to lighten our load but to collect a large amount of fruit that was waiting in the back of a car at the top. At such we were gifted with a joyous send-off and began the journey – stopping to enjoy nachos and hot coffee at an Omeo café – what a culture shock to be in civilisation again.
Toward Melbourne we steered the van, heading into the sunset. Maria was calling a few friends to find us a place to stay in the city on our first leg, alas it was not to be. Cale however offered his mum’s place for us to sleep the night and to my relief was not too far from where we currently were. We gratefully shared a meal and rested in warm and comfortable surroundings.
Cale had decided to stay with his mum and left Maria and I to continue onwards, we now had no reason to enter the city so took a beautiful route through the mountainous forests East of Melbourne, the winding road, darkened with moisture cut its way through majestically towering eucalypts and mossy ferns that peeked out at us through the mist. The rest of the way to our next stop was simple highway, I listened attentively to Maria’s story as I lightly grasped the wheel and comfortably coasted along the black top. I am enjoying the discussion with this being, we take turns in weaving tales of experience while the other listens, a skill that I enjoy to cultivate, to have a mutual understanding that stories are listened to without desire to interrupt, put your two cents into or allow the ego to aggrandize itself. We made it to Wagga Wagga, Maria’s partner lives here and I slept well in the spare room, they were to meet in Sydney the next day but we had decided to have dinner here as well, the following morning these lovers would be arriving in Sydney, one by plane and one by van.
Onward we set, along the great roads to Sydney, our journey made pleasant by long tales broken by peaceful roadside stops. For the past few weeks I had a slight anxiety about going into Sydney, I had impressed upon myself that it was too big, too noisy and too angry for a comfortable visit, all of these useless mental constructs served no real purpose as we navigated smoothly down the busy streets to arrive at Maria’s apartment in the inner city suburbs. We all had a grand clothes washing task made easy by modern amenities, what a comfortable existence the first world has made for itself.
That afternoon, over lunch with Maria and her partner I mentioned my plans of visiting a friend’s spiritual retreat in the hills north of Sydney, upon this discussion I sent an SMS to this friend, Maitreya, to let him know that I was in town, almost immediately he called in delight to inform me he was on his way in to play a Kirtan (singing circle) not far from where I was staying. I gave my friends some peace for the evening and set out on foot for a yoga studio in the heart of Newtown, NSW.
I love this suburb, the main street is a melting pot of cultures and people celebrating their differences – instead of trying to be alike. I was met along the way by a guitarist playing a jam as he walked alongside, engaging me in a five minute conversation all the while creating a rhythm to step to resulting in us both grooving in unison through the town square. A few minutes later I met Maitreya and shared in song with the band and about 20 people gathered in the studio, afterward I joined the band members for dinner enjoying conversation while internally working hard to remember everyone’s spiritual names, Sanskrit is not an easy thing to remember.
I slept in the van for the first time in well over a week, it is becoming such a sanctuary for me, to rest in such comfort and security whilst having every possession within reach.
Monday morning I rose and set out for The Grove, the high recommendation came from Maria who knew Prof and Jackie, the custodians. After some time of searching and finding the correct ferry to take over the majestic Hawkesbury River I rolled down the steep and rocky drive that gave entrance to the professed paradise hidden in the central coast of NSW.
I came upon the main house, a stilted multi story wooden manor, the veranda, where the old couple now stood, waving at me, overlooked a part of the river through the trees. My lessons now include the realisation that it takes time to know someone and to release that little egoic voice passing judgement and threat evaluation of everyone it meets. I help myself to do this by expressing (but not pushing) vulnerabilities if they come up in conversation, something that a while ago would have been kept inside thanks to the silly thought of the world being out to get me – these words sound open and obvious but feelings like this can and have been so subtle within my mental process. The three of us went through tea and introductions, lightly telling our stories, friends and experiences.
After tea, Prof gave me the tour of The Grove – a short road opened up to a lush grassy area, shaded by trees and broken by small structures, the biggest of which, a grand stage overlooking the area, murals splashing colour on the sides and a barrier of woven rope preventing a fall if a performance become too lively. Next to the stage was an outdoor kitchen, a plethora of pots, pans and utensils allowing culinary creations inside a small open block. We took some grassy stairs toward a hillside and behind a thick display of native foliage appeared another building, this was the size of a small house and accommodated toilets, shower, library and a lounge area – a luxurious addition to this camping paradise.
We climbed further upward, the steps, instead of gravel, grass and wood were carved into rock, we were now well on the side of the hill that the grove backed. At the top of the path was a small cave with large wooden planks set on stones to provide bench seating for 6 or so people, this sheltered rest area looked over a beautiful Bodhi tree planted within a large square rock bed, Prof had told me the story of how this came to be – a cutting from the famed Bodhi tree that under sat Siddhartha Gautama during his enlightenment process was then taken and grown in another part of India, where Prof on his seven year pilgrimage collected another cutting to bring back to Australia. The space for my morning meditations was determined.
I spent the next two days, enjoying the gentle solitude in The Grove, dinner with my hosts on the second night and a wonderful farewell from the balcony as I made my way back to Sydney.
This day I arrived back at Maria’s place and the three of us (her housemate Talis as well) went out to lunch, the venue was Lentil As Anything, a community run and supplied – pay by donation restaurant, beautiful music played as we supped on delicious meals and hot chai. As the three of us ate, the seat next to me was taken up by a beautiful young lady who introduced herself as Mili, I discovered that she was from Chile and exclaimed that my travelling companion, Maria, was the very same. The four of us continued the lunch in wonderful conversation, joy and laughter, until Maria and Talis needed to leave for other appointments. Mili and I left together and spent the afternoon walking around the streets of Newtown taking photos and investigating colourful shops and artwork. Night fell and the four of us met back at Lentils for dinner, again, a fun experience, every ten minutes a retiree on his mobility scooter blasted old time rock n roll through his battery powered speakers and – upon every pass we got up and danced in the sidewalk. That night the dancing continued with a tour of some of Sydney’s funk infused nightclubs and a few bottles of wine.
Maria and I picked Mili up from her hotel the next day and the three of us travelled north to visit Shanti Mission, an ashram where Maitreya practiced and lived. Our band was joined by Maitreya and a few others to continue the adventure after enjoying a tour of the spiritual centre and its inhabitants. That night we dropped Mili off at the train station to take her back into the city, she was returning to Santiago, Chili the next morning. We gave emotional goodbyes and thrilled in more last minute excitement as we got her to the station just as the train was pulling up.
After spending a little more time at Shanti Mission and enjoying the devotional ceremonies we set of for Inana, a paradise in the bush, these were friends of Maria and along the way I was given her experience of the beauty of the land and the people residing, I was feeling tired and excitement took no hold as I pulled the levers and rotated the steering wheel of the van now moving along the graded dirt roads of the Central Coast bushland.
Upon arriving we were greeted by some of those residing here including Vajra, the custodian of the land. I listened to conversation amongst our new hosts while helping to prepare dinner, I was drained from the last two days, I felt separate and did not have a desire to speak, a vacuum filled by the wanting of solitude and the plotting of the mind to excuse myself to the quiet of the van. A glass of wine aided the feeling of comfort to the situation but as dinner came to an end I made words and way to retire for the night.
The quiet rest was well received and I felt, shall I say, human again, I spent some of the morning in meditation at the large circular temple on top of the hill, this beautifully designed structure was used for ceremonies. The round inside wall was broken by cellos, guitars, drums and other musical instruments, spiritual artefacts and relics found home on dusty shelves, big wooden boxes were filled with comfortable looking mattresses and blankets for weekend long retreats.
Vajra and her son were travelling to Victoria for the weekend so I was unable to spend more time with either, part of me was relieved as I felt intimidated by their presence but another part was curious to know more of these folk, particularly considering the mother shared the spiritual name of my teacher, a not-so-common name. This feeling of intimidation has become a marker for me lately, the experience is something I may want to run away from but to stay in open loving kindness results in the most amazing relationships.
That night, after dinner and really getting to know the families living here I spent a time in another fire bath, staring up at the clear night sky, the stars peering at me through the canopy of the trees.
In the morning we all sat under the front veranda in a talking circle and told a few tales of experience, this I felt bought us all together, Maria and I drove away basking in smiles and waves by the families living at Inana.