Sunday 28 May
I’ve been here a week already. And compared to Thailand it has been refreshingly uneventful.
As soon as I landed my New Zealand brother handed me a warm weatherproof coat for the sudden temperature change, and since then I have been wrapped in the warm cosy safety of my brother and his girlfriend’s home at the edge of their residential estate near Queenstown. This lovely comfortable world of spotless kitchen-tops, neatly mown lawn, two cars, two dogs, fluffy towels, snuggly dressing gowns and soft blankets to drink red wine while watching TV under. They are amazing hosts – my brother has sorted me out a sim card and won’t let me pay for anything – and we talk about electric vehicle efficiency and fixed term mortgages over quorn and broccoli. We are middle aged suburban white people and I love how far apart both my brothers’ worlds are, and that I am lovingly welcome in both.
Days here are spent on beautiful walks with the dogs in spectacular mountainous landscapes and the nights are spent on chilled out beers with friends where we chat about mountain bike trails, electrician apprenticeships and the increasing cost of rent in Queenstown.
Of course it’s expensive here – it’s unbelievably beautiful. Even before the full snowy adventures of June and July, the stunning mountains surrounding Queenstown are topped with snow, highlighting the dark jagged edges of the immense peaks. Naturally, I asked to go play in the snow so my brother drove us with the dogs to Coronet Peak, a not yet open ski-field where there is sufficient white stuff for some touristy photos – including one that got me locked into a ski-lift which I had to to climb laughing out of.
Contrast of temperatures fully appreciated, and jetlag now fully recovered, this morning I embarked on my first mini adventure on my own. I’m not particularly bothered by the range of adrenaline activities on offer here – the town centre is full of businsses that promise to drop you off a bridge, into a canyon or out of the sky – and while I have wondered about skydiving, there’s no need to throw £170 literally out the window.
Instead I wondered if there were any pursuits for mental clarity and found the Queenstown Dharma Centre offering meditation sessions on Sunday mornings. My brother dropped me off at Lake Street (having politely declined my invitation to join in with a ‘Fuck No’) and I followed the signs to a warm incense scented room at the back of someone’s house. A handful of kneeling people turned to smile and nod at me as I took my place on a cushion, before the teacher at the front in a warm woolly jumper started the session. It was familiarly religious, with polite explanations for newbies, mumbled reciting of vows and lots of meditative breath work all in the warm embrace of gentle friendliness. The fact that we all recited from neat green books, laid out beautifully on small tables in front of floormats and cushions ready to welcome a dozen brethren made me feel already at home. At peace. Welcomed.
As I joined with the others in a meditative reading of vows (including to live with a sensitive and responsible awareness of the whole ecology of life and to dwell on the mind of spontaneous generosity) I toyed with the idea of dropping everything and disappearing into a Buddhist ashram for a year or two. How simple and clean to completely disappar into a serene spiritual sanctuary. But no, I have stuff to do. I’d like to embody the values and serenity of this peaceful set of ethics – especially the bit about surrendering to the mystery of interbeing – but at the same time as pursuing a productive and connected life.
There was an important bit about letting go and being unattached, which a few of us nodded knowingly at, and a gorgeous guided meditation in which we all breathed in the love and light of the universe into a sparkling crystal lotus flower in our hearts which then breathed out love and light to the world around us. I will hold on to that vision, it’s very lovely.
At the end, in the post-mindful peaceful appreciative hush, there was an invitation to the equally as important social session, which I gratefully joined, sharing stories over lemongrass tea and vegan cookies. Two people were from Malmesbury (such is the small world nature of Queenstown) and one had also just quit her job and was looking for clarity before the next thing. I made some jovial comment about the loveliness of finding a peaceful activity to join in Queenstown while everyone seems to come here to jump off things. It turns out one of the brothers – who had been tidying away the cushions and Puja books – is a skydive instructor with Nzone in town.
‘Oh, I thought about doing a skydive, ’ I said, ‘But 319 dollars?!’
‘Yes, because of the safety,’ he explained. ‘We’re putting our lives at risk every day so there’s lots of training and precautions which is why it costs so much.’
‘Yes of course,’ I nodded understandingly, sorry to have belittled his livelihood. He and another guy talked about the far more extreme sport of base jumping and he was keen to emphasise the respect required for the mountain when you decide to take a flying jump off it.
I was happy to have no desire to jump off anything, and instead said goodbye and wandered along the lake shore to Queenstown Gardens, magnificent in the orange and gold leaves of autumn. With half an hour till my bus, of course I made a heart out of pine cones. And as I arranged them on the soft ground under the huge trees, I wondered if I could hold on to the love and beauty of the morning’s contemplations while looking for my next job. Is it possible to find an occupation that embodies the intentions of spontaneous generosity, compassion and service while also protecting myself from the exhaustion, resentment and self-destruction of disingenuous people pleasing?
It’s a delicate balance to hold. To be a person of kindness and love to others while also showing the same kindness and love to myself.
I wondered if instead of scouring through job adverts to see what feels right, I could design my perfect job instead. What if I could write out the person spec and job description of my ideal job, and then put that out into the world to see if that job exists? Wouldn’t that be a great exercise in clarifying and cataloguing my values, skills and priorities? And wouldn’t it be incredibly scary to believe that I could have that much control over my destiny, instead of being swayed by what everyone else around me wants?
We watched Guardians of the Galaxy 3 a couple days ago in the little Queenstown Cinema. I loved it, cried full on face-creasing sobs through most of it, which baffled my brother. Because as well as the sheer love of these guardians for each other, and some unbelievably heart wrenching scenes with baby animals, there was a moment that resonated with me when one of the characters (tiny spoiler alert) says, teary-eyed, ‘I love you all, but my whole life, I did whatever Ego wanted, and then I did whatever the Guardians wanted. I need to go out and discover what I want.’
And so while I have planned to spend some time this week job hunting, I may also spend some time job creating.
*The town centre of Queenstown has a very little window of sunshine in May. Even if the whole valley is in glorious sun the town is in cold shade pretty much all afternoon.
*Photos work best when there’s sunshine on foreground autumn trees and shade on mountainous background. The other way round is shit, stop trying to make it look good.
*The number 5 bus from Stanley Street in Queenstown to Lake Hayes Estate goes every hour for two dollars! Its glorious. Use it lots.
*Lake Street is the steepest road in Queenstown. Allow extra time to walk up it as it’s so difficult.
*Here’s a lovely mantra to meditate with:
Frequently I will pause to breathe mindfully and recontact a mode of being which embodies simplicity, openness, clarity, connectedness and caring. I will endeavour to bring a continuum of compassionate awareness into all my life’s activities. – THE HEART OF AWAKENING, Daily Puja Book