New Zealand next

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.’

More crying…

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

Day 18: Mindfulness and meditation

This title has been sitting as a draft article here for three weeks now! I felt like I couldn’t write about it until I had some magical meditational breakthrough to write about, until I realised that’s not happening any time soon. What has happened is a sudden explosion of community related tasks in the run up to Christmas so that my job has completely – happily – engulfed my time and I have found myself running about the town on various missions of festive frivolity that I have had no time for anxiety, and much less time to explore ways to overcome it.

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Day 15: Laughter

My research is proving to be more and more fun! In my alphabetical adventure this one is next. I don’t need to list my sources of hilarity this week, as there are a million entries for ‘comedy’ on youtube that you can access at anytime, which I recommend doing because as we all know, laughing makes you feel better. After an hour or so of any of my heroes of hilarity like Sarah Millican, Eddie Izzard, or James Acaster, I can actually feel the difference in my relaxed muscles, improved breathing and general lightness about my shoulders.

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Day 11: Gratitude

This one is so lovely. And easy. And makes me so happy.

I read about the benefits of gratitude ages ago, so I started writing my thank yous at the end of each day. The idea is to find at least five new things to be grateful for each day, and either write them down or say them out loud. Even on the shittiest days I found there was always something to be grateful for, even it was ‘Thank you that we have a soundproof ladies room at work so I can have a proper cry before the policy meeting,’ – not resoundingly joyous, but still something. I found that on the worst days I would try harder to find positives so I got quite good at finding little snippets of good in amongst the bad, and I found that really comforting. It’s like when we were kids we were told before we could say something mean about someone we had to first say ten nice things, after which that one hurtful thing would sort of lose its power.

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Day One: understanding where anxiety comes from

I woke up at six am, proper excited about day one of my new course! And sat there in the dark for nearly an hour wondering where exactly I was going to start. It’s like I had promised a curriculum of 21 lessons and my single student (me) arrived at class and we’re both delighted with the clean blackboard and new notebooks but we haven’t actually got a lesson plan.

So the first hour was spent brainstorming all my ideas, so that I now have a neatly alphabetised direction to follow for the next three weeks – packed with a diverse range of subjects including Gratitude, Cold Showers and Radical Forgiveness – but before delving in, today will start with the question of what is actually going on in my brain and why it keeps doing what it so masterfully does to keep me in fear.

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Do not subscribe to those thoughts

So in an effort to still my scrambling mind, I turned to YouTube, my old friend and advisor, who knows me so well. Even the adverts he shows me are about wellness and meditation. And tonight YouTube tells me to watch this interview with Mooji. Yes I think I need to get a bit transcendental today.

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At the end of my meditation, I like to imagine a lovely bright light from the universe filling my body. It’s a nice visual process of mentally cleaning out and strengthening myself for the day.

Today when I imagined this, it sort of surrounded me with an aura of white light, and formed the shape of a droplet around me, sitting crosslegged on the sofa. And it reminded me of what Chidi says in The Good Place, about being drops of water in a wave. We exist for a short time as our own unique droplet, and then we merge back into the sea. And I saw myself as a tiny drop of rain falling out of the sky. Next to millions of others in this particular rainstorm. And it is as if we have this few minutes after we’re formed in the cloud, to fall out of the sky, experience the magic and beauty of life, hurtling through the air along with the others, before we meet the ground, sea, tree, car park where all the other drops have gathered and we merge and flow into our next manifestation.

And how ridiculous is it that we spend our fleeting flight bickering, comparing, being jealous of, scared of, feeling judged by or misunderstood by the other drops. Who cares?! Just enjoy this short time, make the most of it, fly with drops who make you happy and stop trying to change those who don’t.

Because none of it really matters anyway, we’ll just all merge back in a puddle, in a water system, in the sea.

The beauty of conflict

I had to call my counsellor again on Monday. I would have normally dealt with the anxiety and overwhelm on my own but because my job required me to attend the Monday night meeting, I needed to quickly tidy up my spinning head before 7pm. We had a ten minute call in which I breathlessly explained that things were getting really tense at work, there was a lot of conflict and hurt around, and I was scared of attending this meeting in which I’d be stuck in the middle of it all. She very gently got me to slow down and speak clearly, and asked me why the conflict was bothering me.

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2.39 am

I suppose I should just accept it, enjoy it even. Set my alarm for 2am, make a cup of tea and settle down for the inevitable hour of drama after the pub kicks out. As the sun set over another warm July evening earlier, I looked at the people setting out for the evening and knew it would be a loud one.

The initial fear and apprehension as crowds gather, swaying and swearing, turns to fascination at the dynamics of a drunk crowd. A fight is taking place a little away from the crowd, people watch and laugh. The doorman moves towards them and one eventually walks off, shouting back his defensive ‘yeah fuck you!’ the whole time. Someone is carrying a woman on his shoulders. The others look on amused, as he walks off, and places her down on the pavement so they can walk together. Couples under the tree and more interested in each other and some dancing and giggling is taking place. I try to image their excitement, their euphoria to finally be out, their need to shout to each other, to the whole of Melksham, I’m alive! And their inability to consider the few dozen of us that would prefer to be alseep a few metres away from them.

By 2.30 most of the immediate crowd has gone, I watch them disperse, very slowly, and other little groups form further down the street. The daytime features of beautiful hanging baskets and flags of civic pride adorn the brightly lit street, punctuating the spaces where groups of people now stagger, shouting, laughing, swearing, screeching. It’s another 20 minutes until I can try to sleep again, with just the last few shrieks of ‘fuck you! You’re nasty!’ drifting up through the window.