A Moment Over Overpriced Chinese Food

In life there are many glorious small moments. I’m very often blind to them, too busy, too tired, too overwhelmed by other things to notice them. But I had a moment recently & it was wonderful. One of those beautiful, simple, touching moments.

My 91 year old grandmother lives in the Blue Mountains – for you non-Sydney siders that’s about an hour and a half out of the city. This last weekend I visited her. I was traveling further up the mountains for a weekend retreat with some friends so I thought it best to go up a day early and pay G-Ma a visit. She called me a day early to lock in the shopping delivery list, and the next day I arrived on her door step with her juice, cereal and bread. (Not only am I a pretty great granddaughter – turns out I’m also a darn good milkman).

That wasn’t the moment though.

The moment came later when she was not so subtly hinting what she was wanting for dinner. Her beloved neighbour Walter (I like to think Walter is her secret retirement village lover who’s name you say as if you have a lisp because) had given her a menu of “the good place to get Chinese”, which I think in reality is the only place to get Chinese in Springwood.

We ordered it. I went to pick it up. And then it happened…

I arrived home to the table set, the china was out, good crystal wine glasses already poured with wine. Now my grandmother isn’t a big drinker, or really a drinker at all, so I was touched by the gesture.

The night was spent drinking, eating overpriced Chinese food, talking about the dances she attended as a vivacious 20-something, drinking that bottle of wine and her reminding me how she knew all along I should have never gone to Europe for ‘that boy’ – something she never fails to mention.

I love that woman.

I love how I can tell her anything and, though maybe judged, I’m unquestionably loved.

I love how I can make fun of her & she doesn’t care (or doesn’t hear).

I love that she’s invested in my life & thinks I deserve only the best.

I love my Grandma – as she would say – to bits!

And this little moment, eating overpriced Chinese, talking about shopping lists and boys, are memories I will cherish. And moments I will be sure to pay more attention to.

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Follow the yellow arrow…

When you walk the Camino de Santiago there are these little yellow arrows. Little signs of validation and hope. Look for the arrow and it leads you to where you need to be. Simple.

You learn to trust your instincts as you walk. When you haven’t seen an arrow for a while you trust that one will show up eventually. When it does you breathe a sigh of relief and keep walking.

All you have to do is show up, put one foot in front of the other, and eventually you will reach the end. Yes, you may be tired, aching, limping and cursing your stupidity for thinking you can walk 30km in a day – but arriving nevertheless.

What no one warns you about is the return. People leave out the part about stepping off the plane back into ‘reality’. What’s worse is that travel had become my reality. I was returning home to no job, no house, no boyfriend, and (almost) no money.

The Camino taught me a great deal about myself, and the subsequent months of travel challenged those lessons – The Camino was a wonderful classroom; and travel, the perfect playground.

But life beyond the Camino is a minefield of decisions with no little yellow beacons saying ‘this way’. No one path. No one way. How am I to know I’m on the right path when there’s no validation from a tiny spray-painted arrow on the side of a house?! Heck I don’t even know what path I want to be on, let alone if I’m walking in the right direction.

The beauty and terrifying fact of life is that no matter what path you take, you will end up somewhere. The mistake is thinking there is a right direction. If I don’t know where I want to go, I can’t be on the wrong path. Thank you Lewis Carroll and cue Alice in Wonderland quote…

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One thing I do know is you just have to keep walking.

There is one problem though…

…I’m afraid of swamps!

Stay with me through the metaphor. What if where I tread now is straight into a swamp? I have been there, literally – I have the video to prove it! Much of life, for so many people, feels like swamps and cliffs and the loneliness of the deserted Meseta. It’s draining and confronting…And it’s the reason many are on the Camino in the first place.

Nobody wants to ‘keep walking’ through swamps. Sometimes you want fields of wildflowers, mountaintop moments that leave you breathless and pilgrim Disney singalongs. We all want to feel content on our path for a while – These are the things that give us motivation to push through the mud.

I don’t want to walk into a swamp. So I look for arrows. But when they aren’t there fear stops me from taking a step forward; a step that could lead me into the wildflower fields. So I have to keep walking.

The return is about harnessing the trust you found­­­­–that at the end of the day you will be okay. True, I liked my little arrow saying “Go you, you’re on the right track”. On the Camino you didn’t have to worry about what to wear, how you looked (though I still did), or where you were going. But life isn’t that simple. And we need to let go and learn to trust whatever path you’re on. That’s the point of pilgrimage. To learn about yourself when life is stripped down, exposed…simplified. The Camino is a teacher, and the simplicity is purely it’s pedagogical method. It’s a lesson about life… not life itself!

In life our little yellow arrows are those divine moments when we smile, laugh, get lost in something. That’s the validation. Subtle reminders you’re on a good, right path. Or that the path just doesn’t matter. I now pay more attention to these arrows. It’s these arrows that lead me away from swamps and cliffs and mountains – and for a moment I can enjoy the wildflower view.

The end of the way.

I did it! I can now say I have walked across an entire country!

My Camino de Santiago is over. I walked St Jean to Santiago, then onto Finisterre and finished in Muxia. 916km in total. And holy shivers was that 916km a life changer. It has been confronting, challenging, cry inducing, painful, and some days just hard. It’s over, but in truth your Camino never really ends – We never fully find our way, just keep taking steps forward as we journey on our path…wherever that path leads.

The experience is one I struggle to understand, let alone put into words. I am still learning from those 6 weeks. I am still processing, and will be, into the weeks and months ahead.

I decided early on my way that I wouldn’t attempt to capture my thoughts in blog form because I didn’t want to step away from my experience, and there just wasn’t the time (nor energy). I have been thinking how best to capture and share my experience with people. Truth be told, it is difficult – particularly as I am still traveling and will be for some time.

So I thought I would share some of my initial reflections from the Camino. Then at some later date, when the dust has settled from my boots, my feet have recovered and my mind calmed – I will attempt to consolidate some of this experience to share with you. I want to share both the practical and the spiritual aspects of my journey. In the very least I have a somewhat ridiculous number of photos to share – so that’s something!

So here is some of what did I came to realise on my Camino…

  • Walking this far every day hurts – anyone that says otherwise is a liar, in denial or quite possibly Superman.
  • Compeed is a false prophet – needle and thread is your saviour!
  • Copious amounts of very cheap wine will be consumed. Embrace this fact and enjoy.
  • You will confront all of your insecurities and while you try to hide from them – you will eventually fail.
  • Baguette + Chorizo + Cheese = Every damn day.
  • Your badass body is capable of much more that you think. Mine walked over 900km and SURVIVED – despite blisters, a chest infection and a fractured foot!
  • Relationships will be spun into overdrive.
  • Collecting and throwing rocks is a powerful metaphor for letting go. Subsequently you will realise you have a stockpile of rocks in your pack.
  • Music increases your walking speed exponentially.
  • Always carry a block of chocolate in your pack.
  • Dancing with a backpack is fun and also conveniently provides comic entertainment for fellow pilgrims.
  • You will begin to adopt the accents of the pilgrims around you. One day I was Irish, the next Canadian.
  • “I will walk with you” is one of the most comforting things someone can say.
  • You will cry…on mountains, beside rivers, in the embrace of another pilgrim, in random fields, when having injuries treated, alone…you will cry a lot. Or maybe that’s just me.
  • You will laugh a lot!
  • Emotions, memories, feelings, smells, will come flooding back from times you never knew remained in your mind.
  • The experience of the every day is much more fulfilling when shared.
  • Café con Leche (aka crappy coffee with milk) will remain a morning ritual just like home.
  • Community, relationships and family – is a powerful thing.
  • Mayonnaise!
  • Life is a continual act of loving, forgiving and embracing yourself, embracing the moment, and knowing that everything will be okay – even when you think it won’t. This has to be intentional practice, and the Camino is a perfect classroom.
  • A good hug can fix anything!
  • I am a fighter. I push. I confront. I walk forward.
  • Gratitude will result from the simplest things – a comfy bed, a hot (private) shower, freshly washed clothes, SALAD!!!!
  • You will continually feel defeated. By your body, mind, relationships…but each day you will reach the end, rest, and do it all again tomorrow. You are not defeated!
  • A little mascara on a bad day can be a Godsend and make you feel human again.
  • Self-assertion is difficult when you don’t know what you want.
  • Having fast walking friends makes you walk faster – be aware of this!
  • Letting go and saying goodbye, while hard, is okay and a necessity in life.

Truth be told this is just a list I journalled in my second week…with many more insights circling in my brain as I write. So I’ll leave you with the last excerpt from my Camino journal:

“I am so glad I did this. The openness to experience. The vulnerability. The dependency and independence. The strength. The relationships. The belief in myself and the forgiveness of myself. Looking back, in this moment, the Camino has been all I wanted, and everything I needed it to be – even when I didn’t know what that was. I am sure the story will expand and grow – but it’s starting off as pretty amazing.”

 

A life well lived…

A year ago today I lost my Grandad to brain cancer.

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There is nothing unique about this kind of loss. Loss is something we all experience. The loss of a grandparent, while painful, is part of growing up. Grief is a natural part of the experience of life. Yet, still the pain is profound and the pain is deep.

Today I wanted to celebrate him. In whatever small way I could – probably with the selfish motivation of finding little solace through honouring his legacy of love and strength. But I truly believe celebrating those who have inspired and moved us is at the heart of human existence.

On the front cover of his bible was this poem,

“Trust Him when doubts assail you,

Trust Him when your strength is small.

Trust Him, when to simply trust Him,

Is the hardest thing of all”

When I was in high-school I was quite unwell for a few years. Both my Grandad and my Nan would visit during the day to keep me company when I was home alone. I will always remember, when I was facing uncertainty as to whether I would finish my HSC, as he was leaving for the day he turned to me and said in his quiet way, “chin up, it will be okay”. That was how he lived his life, and – while I am not as good at it as him – how I endeavour to live mine.

This was a man who had faced so many of life’s struggles without a single breath of hostility or anger toward the unfairness of the hand he was dealt. Holding a gentle and humble strength he gave wholly of himself with no expectation of return. He believed in his family. And he loved unconditionally… He loved purely.

His legacy of love lives on in the hearts of all those who had the privilege of meeting him. The love, strength, hope and faith of my family is testament to this incredible man. A man who just simply lived, with humility, grace and above all profound love.

 “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”              1 Timothy 6:11

My Grandad, Peter Solomon, was a true gentleman. A true man of God. And the epitome of a life well lived.

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Calming the Workaholic Within

As we find ourselves refreshingly in Autumn, I’m sure like me, many of your new year resolutions are much less resolute than you would desire them to be. Having decided to become one of those post-grad people, I am at that stage of the year where the tsunami of organisation hits – endless to-do lists, planning, goal setting and buying of overpriced stationery. 394834_10150697002603056_268929931_n Being the list maker that I am, I have used up many a note-pad sitting in cafes trying to organise my life – an attempt at relieving the stress and being intentional about not overextending myself, scheduling breathing time into my life. I find it somewhat easy to get caught in ‘doing’ mode where life becomes about damage control and meeting deadlines. Always planning, mitigating, and pre-empting – skills I am well and truly a master of. What I seem to have lost the knack of is just ‘being’. Relaxing! This became evident in the last couple of months where I had my first ‘break’ in over 3 years. Only to find myself accepting a new job, alongside an internship, signing up to run a few events and completely incapable of switching off. It’s clear relaxation and just being are NOT my strongpoint. So as I plan for the next wave of uni & all-round busyness, I have 3 things I am going to try and learn to do.

1. Organise, do, then stop!

2015-02-18 15.16.59-1Plan, write to-do lists, schedule what needs to be done and when it is…Stop! I notoriously feel guilty for feeling like there is more I should do. Another article I could read, I could get started on that essay or that client brief early – No! Step away from the laptop, put down the phone and relax. Take yourself to a cafe, eat some delicious food & get ready for the week ahead. I’m a pretty good scheduler, so I need to learn to trust my scheduling abilities, and take some me time once all the work is done.  Introducing ‘done for the day’ into my vocabulary is step one.

2. All that healthy lifestyle jazz

Not something I enjoy – though a future blog will be about my new-found love for yoga and a Texan lady called Adrienne…But I digress. Exercise is scheduled ‘me time’. Nothing new I know, and certainly not rocket science – but with a busy schedule looking after myself is the best thing I can do, and more often than not it’s the first thing to be pushed to the bottom of the list. Let’s face it, living off coffee and a walk to the bus stop… not the best.

3. Scheduling breathing time

1966763_10153514867878056_761878287410851408_nI learned very quickly this summer that it’s a rare thing for me to stop, take time to just go and ‘do’ things. Movies, beach, a walk with my new hug-machine of a puppy by the river. Taking time to breathe clears the head and quiets the soul. It’s looking after myself. Getting back to nature with fresh air and a stroll along the water is one of the best things I’ve found to calms my spirit – those writers were onto something when they wrote “down to the river to pray”. I guess it’s just a learning curve. A bit of a trial and error – and it’s difficult for me. It comes easier for some, while is impossible for others – and that’s okay. But it’s something that has a profound influence on work, health and sense of wellbeing. Work-life balance is a tightrope we all walk. Despite our best intentions we can’t do everything. Let’s help support each other & help keep aligned and focussed on what matters. You-can-do-anything-but-not-everything

Sydney Siege – Today I cried…

Today in Sydney, in the city I have lived my 23 years, a hate-filled man took siege over a cafe. Stopping Australia and locking the worlds attention on a little chocolate shop. Ending in the violent death of three people and the trauma of a city.

Today I cried.

Not because I knew the hostages.
Not because I am fearful or angry.
Not because I was there in Martin place.
Not because I am Muslim and fear the social repercussions of this one lone man.

I cried for the loss of innocence – for the victims, for a city and for it’s citizens.
I cried because for me this has never happened in my home, yet for millions around the world this is a daily burden and today I felt only part of that horror.
I cried because the world stopped for this tragedy in Australia, yet doesn’t blink for the 126 children killed by a school bombing in Pakistan.
I cried for the fight Australia now faces in softening angry voices, diffusing racial tension, and stilling religious vilification.
I cried because while our eyes were fixed on a cafe in Sydney, the Australian Government quietly went about stripping the world poorest of another $3.7billion.

… and I cried for so many reasons I myself am yet to fully understand.

The siege in Sydney affected me and many I know in a strange, weird and confusingly exhausting way. Some days the world just stops. There was a eerie stillness in my home and my work. We called friends over for the comfort of community and the solace of a hand to hold. As my friends and I gathered on our little couch in suburban Sydney to watch the unchanging news after so many hours, none of us quite fully understood our thoughts and feelings. As we sat, holding each other that little bit tighter, none of us could express our feelings, many of us were silent – yet we acknowledged the worry and sadness. A worry now present as grief.

Today we are grieving, we are confused, and we cry. And amidst this grief and confusion let us not surrender ourselves to fear and hatred.

Let us hug our friends and families a little tighter. Let us maintain soft hearts. Savour the blessing of freedom that little more eagerly. And allow this to become a time representative of Australia’s compassion, our strength as a community and our hope as a nation.

I hold onto the hope that the beautiful and peaceful city I call home, will despite today’s trauma remain alive and full of hope for a brighter more peaceful tomorrow.

Image by Kyla Roma www.kylaroma.com

Image by Kyla Roma http://www.kylaroma.com

First things first.

Welcome to Rachelbertram.com

I’m Rachel. A twenty-something Sydney sider, who writes songs and sings them here and there. I am also a (soon-to-be graduate) Uni student with not all that much of an idea of what I want to do – other than explore what it means to live, love and experience life authentically and happily. If I can do that, I think I’m doing alright.

me with roseMaking decisions is my worst nightmare. They drive me crazy. Anyone that’s ever gone shopping with me, watch me attempt to compose a tweet or choose a photo to instagram will testify to this – come to think of it, it’s probably their worst nightmare too.

It has literally taken me years to just choose a name for this blog which really – lets be honest – cannot be healthy. Maybe that’s the person I am; always trying to make the perfect decision that I rarely end up making one. Alas, the bullet was bitten, a decision was made…and here we are! Yay for belated decisiveness.

I’ve spent the last 4 and a half years at Uni studying how people think, what people think and the ways in which thinking has shaped this terrifyingly beautiful planet we call home – resulting in a whole lotta thinking.

It’s in these 4 years I have come to the conclusion that reaching any state of knowing is as rare as the adorably neurotic white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland – it exists, but is elusive & fleeting. Capturing this white rabbit for you, even for a moment, is my hope.

This blog is really just a space to engage with life. I know that sounds rather idealistic and amorphous, but that’s how my brain tends to work…you will get used to it. You will find everything from faith to fashion, sexuality to social justice, lifestyle to love. Some things serious, some ridiculous – as that’s the way of life isn’t it? Horribly messy and delightful all at the same time.

I live with two wonderful darlings in Sydney. One’s a dietitian (thank you free nutrition advice) and the other, a fellow writer, though more so along the Sylvia Plath, Shakespearean lines. Both fellow bloggers. Both lovely ladies.

me with roseIn a nutshell…

I love music. I love make-up. I love fashion.

I love tea and I suffer a dangerous addiction to chocolate.

I seek justice. I seek equality. I hold hope. I  question.

…If you do too I believe we will get along just splendidly.

Rach. x