My husband used to race cars. He has told me many times what an expert driver he is.
He accelerates into the next bend of the narrow, windy country road, loose gravel sliding beneath the tires as the car takes the corner and I cringe, pressing myself back into the seat, my foot reflexively reaching for an imaginary break pedal. This pisses him off. Impatiently he tells me again what a good driver he is. Once again I tell him people don't plan on having an accident, which makes him drive even faster.
I point to an old weather-beaten tarpaulin on my side of the road and try to crack a joke. "That's probably the house I've rented there!" No one laughs. Tom is on the iPad, Charlotte and Hunter are fighting and Tim is still playing out the fantasy of being a rally car driver.
"Do you know where this place is Katie?" he asks, "Is anyone looking for the numbers?"
"The directions said it had an emu letterbox..." I offer, trying to be as helpful as possible, "Maybe if you slow down a bit we could read the numbers...."
I've brought the family to Bellingen for a week for something fantastic I’ve discovered called Camp Creative, where everyone in the family gets to do a course and indulge their creative spirit. The kids are doing a circus workshop and I’ve chosen a course called ‘Love’s Alchemy’, I really haven’t a clue what its about, I just liked the name of it. Love and magic - what's not to like?
Our littlest is too young to do a course, so he’s doing ‘Camp Daddy’ for the week. I’ve been sole-parenting while Tim’s been away, my nerves are frayed, my tanks are on empty and I’m hanging out for some well earned ‘me time’.
'Cow!' Hunter suddenly shouts from the back, "Cow! Cow!" Charlotte makes mooing sounds.
"This place you rented," Tim says, "has it got a pool?"
"No..." I say.
"Er, no I don't think so..."
"How much did you say you paid for it again?"
A lot. My heart sinks. There's a lot riding on this week. Saving up for it has been no mean feat for starters. I rented a big place to share with Tim's family, emailed them back in July about it, but no one took up my offer. My ego is bruised, and I'm still trying to recover my equilibrium from Christmas… little things, like memories of Mum’s homemade shortbread have hit me with waves of emotion. We drove all the way up to Brisbane to spend Christmas with Tim’s family which the kids loved, but I haven’t been able to outrun the void of sadness I’ve felt celebrating Christmas without her.
"Here! Here it is!" Tim announces. He turns the car sharply into a driveway, we bounce up a dirt road towards an old brown house in the distance. “Lucky we've got a four wheel drive,” he says. "you've been ripped off for sure!” He pulls up sharply next to the house and the doors are thrown open, Tim and the kid’s are keen to check the place out. I start collecting rubbish from the back seat, fast food wrappers and cold french fries, as Tim comes out to start unpacking the car. “God its hot in there!” he says, “Hot as an oven!”
‘Great’ I think, ‘I’ll have to listen to him complaining about the heat all week.’ I load myself up with bags and go inside. It’s a big old house with stone floors. I turn on some lights and ceiling fans, the walls light up in a rich mahogany colour and I survey the rooms which are furnished with big comfortable looking couches. I open sliding doors onto a wide veranda of uneven flagstones and big old wooden chairs, the supporting beams and roof are entwined with grape and wisteria. Grass and trees stretch as far as I can see, all the way to the towering dark green mountains of the Dorrigo National Park. A black cockatoo gives a haunting prehistoric call and the air pulses with the sound of cicadas, everything around me feels so alive! It’s a big change from where I’ve spent the last couple of weeks - a silent, high-rise steel and glass apartment building in a forest of skyscrapers and tangle of interconnected shopping centres. Every surface paved and concreted, the air cooled and filtered, no animals besides humans.
I wander to one end of the country house where I find a beautiful bedroom with its own ensuite. A stained-glass window bathes the room in blue and red light. I dump my bags and flop down on the bed which is solid and comfortable. Tim calls out “You can have that room all to yourself! I’m taking another one down the other end of the house!” Maybe it’s not a bad thing that we have the house all to ourselves I think…
Alone. I haven’t been alone for as long as I can remember. It feels a bit unsettling… Unfamiliar… Disconcerting…
I’ve been craving time to myself - haven’t I? I feel kind of queasy inside, my mind scrambles to remind me of the next thing on the list, always ready to keep me busy, provide me with a distraction. ‘Unpacking, there’s loads of unpacking to do!’ it’s saying. ‘And clothes to wash, your laptop needs charging! What are you lying there for? Shouldn’t you go check on the kids?’
The beginning of a headache ricochets around the inside of my skull.
Sky Shayne Innes is a beautiful woman. As I sit on a large cushion, part of a circle of about a dozen people gathered in her house for the ‘Love’s Alchemy’ course I find myself trying to guess her age. She lounges on the floor with feline grace and posture, her long dark hair tumbling over one shoulder, threaded with a couple of silver strands. Her hands move expressively as she speaks, a refined accent of rounded vowels and turned out consonants. Her clothes are elegant yet comfortable, paired with matching jewellery, she wears little if no make up. I don’t have a clue how old she is.
She is asking us to think about the kind of world we live in. Where the human species is in terms of its evolution, then goes around the circle inviting each person to give their opinion. Everyone has something positive to say - humans are going through a transformation, consciousness is evolving, planetary awareness is entering a shift… finally it is my turn and all eyes turn to me.
“I don’t think so” I say blackly. “I’ve just spent two weeks in a city swarming with people eating fast-food, constantly on their iPhones, no one looks up. They don’t even recycle!” The room laughs at this. “It’s true!” I say. “Don’t you remember in the 80s where you just threw all the rubbish in together without a care? That’s what they do in the city! It’s crazy! The planet is doomed! I couldn’t take the kids to the park because the weather was so hot, we just spent all our time in shopping centres and watching the damn television…”
Now I’ve started I can’t stop. I’m rambling like a mad woman. The only man in the room, who introduced himself as John cuts in, “What, don’t they have an App for tree climbing yet?” I can’t help myself, I laugh, but then keep on with my crusade, reeling off the things I’ve been reading about climate change, pollution, overpopulation, palm oil plantations…
“Now, excuse me for using you as an example” Sky says finally, “But class, this is an example of someone who is mind centred. My class is about teaching you to trust your heart intelligence.” I think too much. I know this already.
“Close your eyes…” Sky says to me, “Now open them again. What were you thinking?” Everyone is looking at me. I feel confused. I falter, “I don’t know…”
“You were thinking ‘I wonder what the next thought will be!’” The room erupts into laughter. I feel like I’ve been slapped, but maybe that’s what I needed - the mice in my brain have been so busy running around and around on their little wheels. The slap has sent them scattering in all directions.
“Now, I have to relay this to you” Sky says, “Your purpose, is to be the embodiment of joy.” A kind of awed nod of approval goes around the room.
Joy? Something light-hearted, expressive, carefree… the very antithesis of how I’m feeling now.
“But how?” I ask, “How can I get into that headspace?” She laughs. “Or more precisely, how can you get out of that headspace! Your mind is acting like a cage, I want to show you how to get into your HEARTspace.” It sounds like a miracle. Right now, with the headache still pounding behind my eyes I feel like I’ve been clobbered by a two-by-four.
That night I serve up a vegetarian spaghetti to my family. I’m craving fresh, simple food. I feel like I’m detoxing. The kids talk excitedly about their circus course and Tim asks me what my course is like. “Come on!” he says, “What did you do all day?” I struggle to put the day into words. “Well….” I start, “We spent about three hours discussing the question ‘Who am I?’…” but my words get lost amidst the pandemonium and I find I can’t be bothered raising my voice to be heard. After dinner I busy myself cleaning up the meal and getting the kids ready for bed, I’m aggressive and forceful and in return the kids are difficult and noisy and when I finally get them to bed I’m exhausted. I sit on the veranda with a cup of peppermint tea, a bogon moth fluttering around the light.
Sky has told us to listen to our feelings. ‘Oh all right’ I think ‘another thing I have to do!’ I sit and listen. I feel irritated! Cranky! Annoyed! …Why?
I’m surprised as part of the answer unfolds. All these chores I’m doing, most of them are unnecessary, I’m just doing all these things to keep busy… Why? What do I fear?
I sit quietly and allow the thoughts to percolate with no agenda, attempting to listen with my heart as Sky has taught me. Somewhere, deep inside a tiny little voice answers. I’m scared I’m a crazy mother.
Really? If it is true and we attract the things we fear, even if we attract them subconsciously, then I am glad I have listened to the tiny voice inside which has been doing its damnedest to get my attention, I realise that now. All my ranting and raving stems from this fear. Is it true? I ask myself. Am I a crazy mother?
I feel like one at times… but I know I love my children with all my heart. This is the true feeling. I go to bed and sleep like a dead person, the deepest sleep I’ve had in weeks.
“You’re very quiet today” the lady sitting beside me says when we break for morning tea the next day.
“Yes, I guess I’m just sort of taking it all in… surrendering.” I smile. The headache is still there but it’s subsiding. It is teaching me to be patient, to slow down.
In the morning’s meditation I listened to Sky’s voice directing us to focus our attention down to our heart centre. In my chest I felt a heavy feeling, and I realised that feeling had been there all along. It was very big. It was a feeling I usually associated with anxiousness. I felt like I’d been running away from it for a long time, maybe the feeling was what the start of a panic attack felt like, or a heart attack! Now I knew I had nothing to fear, calmly I embraced this feeling in my chest… It felt good. I felt like I had come to rest after a long marathon.
“There’s no excuse not to meditate every day,” Sky had said after the meditation, “In this day and age it should be part of your daily personal hygiene, like brushing your teeth.”
I feel like I know the lady sitting beside me very well, in fact I feel like I know all the people on the course. Is it because like me, they are sharing such private thoughts, thoughts that are usually kept hidden from everyone, even ourselves - or is it because I am coming to realise that all of our motivations stem from the same fear in different guises. Fear of ageing, fear of death, fear of intimacy, fear of rejection… and when we remove these fears only love remains. Each of these people are aspects of me. The group is like a sacred mirror, we are healing ourselves and each other with every revelation.
I lie on my back for the rest of the day listening to Sky talk about a myriad of interesting things - Quantum mechanics, the holographic universe, consciousness, an intelligent universe…
I could have chosen a holiday lying on a deckchair beside a swimming pool I think. I close my eyes, imagine I am on that deck chair in a parallel universe… but this is better, lying here, listening to all of this. My mind is being taken on an adventure. Sky is leading the group up a mountain of existential discussion, to the top where we circle the great question: ‘Who am I?’. She helps each of us with our struggle to the summit, confident and precise like a skilled psychological surgeon, cutting through every false pretension, assisting us to find our own pearls of wisdom. She explains this is the alchemy of her course, turning our leaden fears into golden awareness.
I start to experience a feeling of wholeness over the next few days. I feel optimistic and yes… joyful. The topic of the environment comes up again, and from my enlightened perspective now ask a different question. I want to be informed about what’s going on in the world, it would be a false reality to ignore the problems in the selfish hope of hanging onto this joyful feeling. But the enormity of the destruction causes such pain - how do we reconcile ourselves with this?
John, who I’ve since learned is Sky’s partner pipes up again. His white blonde hair is pulled back into a simple pony tail, he is wearing a black Sea Shepherd T-shirt. He looks after the IT, fiddles with the room lighting on an iPad and answers the phone while Sky’s talking. And he has a knack for throwing in humorous insights that explode the tension in the room when the atmosphere gets too heavy. “You have to be aware of the shit, but not step in it.” he says. Touché.
In the afternoon I take the kids for a dip in the Never Never Creek. Crystal clear water tumbles over large smooth rocks, a blue fairy wren dips and flutters through the shafts of sunlight that filter down through the overhead canopy of trees. It is divinely beautiful. I feel so connected with the Earth at this moment, my heart is overflowing. Charlotte is in the water, already up to her neck, wading across to the other bank. She has always been a sensorial child, immersing herself fully in whatever environment she finds herself in. “Mummy!” she calls out, “This leaf is in the shape of a heart! Isn’t that what your course is about? Is everything made of love Mummy?”
“Yes sweetheart.” I reply.
Check out Sky Shayne Innes' book Love's Alchemy or visit her website to download The Knowing Heart eCourse and guided meditations at http://lovesalchemy.com
Camp Creative is held in the third week of January every year in Bellingen, a beautiful town inland from Coffs Harbour in northern NSW. Check out their website and be inspired at www.campcreative.com.au