In pursuit of security

A thought process I’ve had a fair bit of late, and discussed with various others (mostly expats like myself) is how easy it is to get wrapped up in the pursuit of security.

I had a conversation with a fellow Australian-in-Amsterdam expat recently, who was anxiously awaiting the outcome of his residence permit. Amidst navigating Dutch visa requirements, we’d both been on the job hunt in recent months and couldn’t help but compare the pay and what we were eligible for with what we knew in Australia. And in that hot pursuit for a “career-move” job, we agreed we’d both found it difficult to embrace the moment and the wonder of where we were – living in the heart of Europe with access to countries to explore left, right and centre. Not to mention the fact that we’d achieved something just by relocating to the other side of the world.

We got all deep and rant-y. I said things like, “I’m finding it hard to be grateful that I’m here because I’m so caught up in trying to get back into the ‘daily grind’.”

I looked upon myself from afar:

“I am always full of adventurous dreams and ideas, but even in the midst of fulfilling one, I am at times so anxious I can’t see the beauty or feel it properly because I’m trying to take back what I just made a serious and conscious effort to let go of.”

I compared myself (the worst!) to friends that seemed so ‘settled’, a life I am drawn to, but not right now. I don’t feel ready to enter that lifestyle completely, and yet, ironically, I seem to be putting a lot of energy into promptly slotting back into that system in The Netherlands.

This is a time for my expat friend and I to feel and be free to explore in a way we couldn’t back home in our 9-5’s. We should literally be smelling the roses and taking advantage of where we are, in a city so colourful, welcoming and accepting. But we worry about whether our jobs here reflect well on our career or whether they are a step “backwards” (whatever that even means). We worry about security, which feels so ingrained in us.

Eventually, our conversation took on a kind of revelatory tone. We both knew we were caught up in all the “stuff” and talking about it reminded us both how absurd it was. Especially because, well, we were both so damn lucky.

And so, while cathartic, I also felt a little…disgusted. A worthy conversation nonetheless, wasn’t this all just first-world anxiety? Growing pains, I told myself.

This got me questioning further why we feel the need to be “secure”, and really what security means – and of course, how my version of security is focused at the level of “which country will I choose to have a roof over my head in?”, and “what sort of work will I pursue?”, versus “will I have a roof over my head tomorrow?” or “can I pay rent next week?” Enter Eve Ensler’s powerful TED talk.

Though Eve’s talk diverges into a far more important topic, her opening words ring true in a more general sense of the pursuit of security.

“In fact, I think that security is elusive. It’s impossible. We all die. We all get old. We all get sick. People leave us. People change us. Nothing is secure. And that’s actually the good news.”

“This is, of course, unless your whole life is about being secure. I think that when that is the focus of your life, these are the things that happen. You can’t travel very far or venture too far outside a certain circle. You can’t allow too many conflicting ideas into your mind at one time, as they might confuse you or challenge you.

“You can’t open yourself to new experiences, new people, new ways of doing things – they might take you off course.”

She says later: “If your end goal is security, and if that’s all you’re focusing on, what ends
up happening is that you create not only more insecurity in other people, but you make

yourself far more insecure.”

“Real security is not only being able to tolerate mystery, complexity, ambiguity, but
hungering for them and only trusting a situation when they are present.”

Perhaps then, this conversation, considering and reconsidering security, has also been a lesson in gratitude. For me, a reminder to practice mindfulness each day: of the simple pleasures, but also the privileges I have been afforded.

Even coming from a place of extreme hardship (which I, in every sense of the word, have not, but which Eve tells the story of), we can still choose to see the positive and opportunity in a situation and do good.

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Late nights and bad Dutch: things I’ve been thinking about too much

It’s funny to think that less than six months ago I felt like I really had my shit together, and now I’m scrambling around in a new continent trying to create some semblance of routine. Which, I’ve told myself, consists of a steady income, a roof over my head and some sort of command on the Dutch language.

Current reality is a mixture of bad Dutch, bad Norwegian and English with an “I would have never guessed you were an Aussie” accent, hours serving beer until 2am which has me exhausted and finally understanding that I’m 28,  sunlight slathered over my skin at any chance I can get, and a semi-effective €5 raincoat that doesn’t quite cover my thighs while I’m riding from A-B.  I do indeed have a job then (and a little writing on the side), and a roof over my head too. And honestly, most days are an adventure, some more vivid than the next. Others are definitely more lessons.

We’re slowly setting up and things are becoming more homely with every cup of Gember Thee we down, as it continues to rain outside (where did the sun go?). And I’m making money again, which is nice, given the savings account was starting to dwindle. All well and good.

Yet, the past four days I’ve been curled up sick and snort-breathing next to my poor beloved. I feel exhausted and I look even more so. Studying my face in the mirror the other day, I felt wonky. My eyes crooked, weighed down by bags, one seemingly smaller than the other, my skin just…dull, my belly stressed and bloated; I realised I was, as is often the case with me, trying to do it all again. Trying to succeed in all facets of life (whatever we deem those ‘facets’ to be), while looking after others, spending ‘quality’ time with the ones I love, cleaning, organising, planning for my upcoming trip home, and then, throw a splash of yoga, climbing and “me” time in there too (only if, you know, the rest of the stuff is done already).

Ugh. How many times have I caught myself out here?

I gave myself all of about 3 days to “assimilate” to life here. Just dumb. Then I expected, somehow, to just hit the ground running – dive into work like a mad woman, cutting out sleep, taking on extra responsibilities, because that would be the way to go, right? The way to figure it out. Not to mention, given I’d just had a few months off, I sort of needed to “make up” for lost hours, didn’t I? And if more needed to be done, well I could pick it up because I still probably had more free time than the next person or because it’d be less of a hinderance on my schedule. Nope.

But this idea of a schedule, my calendar, being the first place I consult to see where I can fit in things that matter to me – like a skype call home, a yoga class, some fresh air, dinner with a friend – isn’t ideal for me. I remember my friend back in Australia being shocked at my long to-do list, and that amidst ‘groceries’ and ‘write article for work’, was ‘yoga’. I don’t want to be someone who has to schedule in a yoga class like some errand I have to tick off, rushing, pushing, rundown.

It becomes very difficult to take in your surroundings or circumstances and really be aware of them and grateful when you’re always moving or planning forward. I struggle with this in waves.

I’ve just moved countries, cultures, languages, homes, careers. I am so totally trying to figure everything out right now and should 100% not have my shit together. When life is in a flux, even one you’ve called for, you have to let it happen, be present. Don’t force it, don’t rush it. You’ll end up ill and wonky.

I probably won’t have the career or the language sorted until next year, which scares me. But I’m going to sit with that idea a little longer and roll with it. Because resisting never helps. It’s power versus force, as ever.

And so here I am, trying to find it again, the routine, the familiarity; moving between rolling with it, excitement and gratitude for this current state of change, and thoughts of self-doubt and questioning the whole thing.

Thankfully, even when I ask myself what the hell I’m doing with my life, the resounding response is something like, “exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.”

It takes time to transition and integrate, and one needs to allow space for it to happen, but also to feel it, really experience it.

Here’s to that slow and steady life I’m still working towards, to remaining present in the hastier days and wilder bouts of upheaval, and to (soon) no longer pouring beer at 1am.

And I do like you very much, Amsterdam…

 

 

“An extremely valuable insight that is learned by all spiritually evolved persons in the course of their development is seeing one’s own personal consciousness as the decisive influence that determines all that occurs in one’s life.” – David R. Hawkins

Grounded

That gritty earth smell was veiled now, only by a thin picnic-rug layer – between her and the dark, damp ground below.

Lost in the water’s reflecting patterns, she had a strong urge to curl her fingernails deep into the dirt, to scrape it into her palms. Inhaling completely, the cold earth filled her lungs with ease.

It wasn’t the first time she’d had this desire, there were times before. She’d woken in the morning yearning for the forest, fresh and green as it woke up too; and times where the Australian bush, the lantana, the rough and burnt-brown, orange and yellow, beckoned her.

Once, restless, she abandoned her morning, heading straight to the nearest bushland, and, confident no one was around at such an early hour, she gathered the dirt at her feet and held it to her face. Breathing in that raw, damp earth satisfied her wholly, unexpectedly. She’d taken fallen wattle and foliage from her running path and arranged them in a vase at home, a miniature shrine to some wildish, unknown calling.

But now, there were certainly onlookers taking in the Autumn sun like she was. There was no way to get the fix she needed, a filling of the elements.

We hid ourselves so far from them these days, she thought, that it was no wonder we either craved or ran from them with such energy.

“The creative force flows over the terrain of our psyches looking for the natural hollows, the arroyos, the channels that exist in us. We become its tributaries, its basins; we are its pools, ponds, streams, and sanctuaries. The wild creative force flows into whatever beds we have for it, those we are born with as well as those we dig with our own hands. We don’t have to fill them, we only have to build them.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

Match

Many matches I have met
Gosh it’s all unknown until
it’s standing right in front of you

Then you’re in the thick of it –
the tinder and the terra
Ignited inside out

So elated, mentallly
stimulated,
Heart full,
Lungs filled

A trigger, flicker, flame
It’s all over your face,
a sweet and human place
of delirium, belonging

Take its waxing, waning
in your stride
Be sure, be strong,
be grateful as it flows

Here

As I exist between a multitude of places – between here and there, between then and now, between what was, and what will be – emerging from plane sleep, I feel with intense clarity that now is the moment. I step out (that proverbial ‘first step’) into the real unknown, the one that has been calling.

Of course, everything before this was leading to now. I have arrived here with purpose, truly only expected by the waiting universe.

Though I am clumsy from half-sleep, from tedium and repetitive questioning, suspended physically and emotionally in the clouds, this realisation hits me all at once like a tonne of expectation-laden-bricks and with the ease and might of the wings that lift me (out my window and over the Alps!)

I am weightless with gratitude, and never more prepared.

This is the moment I sought.

A collision of sensations dancing effortlessly – an understanding of why, how and when I am here. A clarity, a fervour, a creative and human uprising, a coming together of self.

Finally. A space of peace. A trust in oneself like no other.

Here, fear has disappeared.

I must admit

My worries are predominantly unfounded
Born of society’s incessant push to be and do as one commonly would
The way one should
I must admit I get caught up in that fear mongering –
in the idea of how to live a secure, safe and respectable life
But I’m not sure where happiness comes into this picture
It’s not when basic needs are met,
not in this Western world, no, we want more than that
But I don’t think it’s when boxes ‘a’, ‘b’ and ‘c’ are ticked
in an orderly and timely manner, either
For me, it clearly, in part, lives in the unexpected unravelling
But when certainty isn’t visible, or at very least on the horizon,
my mind is all too familiar with a murky and repetitive haze;
of questions unanswered, of conformity,
a need for clarity and ‘the right way’

Mundanities | Norway

I am late again on the next Local piece (I interviewed someone who works in a museum!) I haven’t finished writing it because I started doing a lot of work, and consuming most of my days with its tasks, along with moving places twice.

I’ve been overseas for almost eight weeks, with seven of those spent in Norway. Only, in that time, I didn’t end up going to Lofoten as I would have liked, or Bergen as I had planned. It got too expensive and I have been erring on the side of caution money-wise. Now I’m at the airport about to head to Alicante, Spain, and I feel oddly as though I am about to enter ‘holiday mode’, feeling that I haven’t been ‘in it’ (along with an awareness for how obsurd that may sound).

But now, I’m not sure if I really ever began this journey to be on holidays. I’m exploring a lot in places I’ve never been, nonetheless, but I haven’t done the backpacker thing this time – hauling that ever-trusty bag of mine from place to place twice a week, collapsing on another hostel bed after beers with strangers. Nope, that ship sailed a while back, and I gladly accept it.

But, still yet to see much of the Norwegian wildnerness (having only touched on a small but very exquisite part of it so far), one might think I’d be disappointed in my travel choices this time round. That one being me.

But really, many of the most special times have come from the simple things: mundanities, oddities, dare I say, domesticities. And of course the timing of it all has been perfect. There isn’t an ounce of disappointment.

I would like to share some of the ‘bigger’ moments, but for now, my mind is all caught up and easing – like a sun-soaked afternoon – into the smaller moments of joy I’ve had recently – some of which I know I wouldn’t have experienced if I didn’t leave home. And so, perhaps in these moments I have found ‘holiday mode’ after all. The ability to let one’s guard down and make room for the simple pleasures that so often pass us by unnoticed.

Black coffee.

How wonderful it is to have time in the mornings to enjoy the coffee-making process. Three scoops of freshly-ground beans into the plunger, and then waiting for it to brew as you prepare breakfast – perhaps some soft-boiled eggs.

My ritual here has changed. No longer is the habit of buying an almond latte with work colleagues each morning a thing.

I have come to relish the stronger taste of homemade black coffee, and can’t imagine why a latte ever tasted so good. Of course, it’s partly the slow routine itself that I enjoy.

The night sky.

I can only speak for the summertime sky for now, but the colours tend to lull me into daydreams each night. Pinks, purples, oranges, blues, whipped with lashings of creamy cloud.

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Walking almost everywhere.

Exploring on foot is generally the way I enjoy new places best. And no matter where you’re walking to, or how far, it’s likely you’ll be graced with a park or two, teeming with summer flowers.

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Euro accents.

So gentle to the ear.

Different waters.

Diving into the Norwegian sea has made me nervous more than once. The colour is a deep, dark green, and so wide open, unable to see to the bottom, my mind conjures up images of non-existent sharks and whales right by the shoreline. I think back to my childhood, swimming in rivers and lakes and the ocean of the Northern Territory, and the warning to be cautious in open water because there may be crocodiles.

Nevertheless, each time I jump in it’s so refreshing if the day is warm, and I’ve been lucky to have many very warm days.

On my last morning in Oslo, I made a deal with myself to dive into the sea at Aker Brygge without hesitation, and to float for ten breaths without fearing the unknown below. This was undoubtedly a metaphor for my headpace in general. Staring into the noon sky, sharp breaths on account of the chill, I was able to succumb to the unknowns below, and the ones ahead of me.

Norwegian cheese (and the trusty slicer).

The mildness of the cheese, coupled with the ease of the slicer – delicious genius!

Reading and writing more.

I have ‘having more time’ to thank for these pleasures. Often made even more delectable under the shade of a tree, or by a window with golden afternoon light and a cup of chai.

And then, in the many pauses or times of solitude I’ve had…

…like those times brewing coffee, wandering to an undiscovered location, or in between devouring scrumptious passages of a book, there is the soft, steady realisation that I love someone who loves me in return.

Or the slow understanding that Oslo feels like a place I could (and would like to) call home for a while.

And the clarity of mind and body that one has (often all too briefly) to comfortably exist all at once in the present; emboldened and most certainly alive.