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Published: June 27th 2012
And so the adventure that is my life continues to unfold. After exactly nine months in Australia, I find myself once again on a cargo ship, this time heading back to Europe. It’s high time. I haven’t been home for two years, and I miss my friends and family dearly. This ocean stretch completes my circumnavigation of the world by container ship, a form of travel I have deeply fallen in love with. This time I am on a German vessel called MV Hatsu Courage, journeying from Port Kelang, Malaysia to Hamburg, Germany via the Suez Canal.
What’s different this time is that I’m not travelling alone. My partner Sameer is with me, something that I would not have imagined would happen when I sailed to Australia nine months ago to meet a man I had been corresponding with for three years. But then, many unexpected things have happened in the past five years after I left England for a trip to Pakistan that was supposed to last only a few months. This is the magic of a travelling life – it always brings new people, paths and developments into the equation.
Looking back over my time in Australia,
it’s been pretty difficult. I spent the first six months in Toowoomba, a small country town in Queensland where Sameer lived. I was working on my book ‘Meeting Shiva’ in a little garden studio I’d rented, my relationship with Sameer was developing nicely and we were becoming very close. But I was unhappy. More unhappy than I remembered being for years.
A variety of factors were at fault. Somehow, energetically, Australia didn’t gel with me, as much as I tried to like it. I couldn’t figure out why: the country is without a doubt beautiful, it’s sunny most of the time, and the people are friendly. But something was missing. Maybe it was just the area we were living in, where I had difficulty finding like-minded people and activities. I suddenly found myself in a conservative environment, submerged in a 9 to 5 lifestyle that crept up on me almost without my noticing due to being with an auditor who kept office hours. It all felt so mundane, so far removed from the magical adventures I was used to experiencing in my life – even though I had chosen these circumstances myself to try out the adventure of a
new relationship. I just didn’t think that things would take this turn that would test me to the limit.
I was feeling lonely and began to mourn the free life I was used to living, flying from one place to the next, with only intuition to guide me. I felt like my wings had been cut off. Surely this wasn’t the purpose of love? Wasn’t love supposed to set you free? I didn’t know what was happening to me. This wasn’t me. My happy free spirit felt like it was becoming weaker and sadder every day. It was as if all the joy had drained from my life, and I had become a different person: melancholy, drawn, tearful. I lost so much weight that I started to avoid looking into the mirror. Not even my sadhana, which I practiced every day, seemed to help much in the circumstances. As much as I loved Sameer, who was bewildered at how things were developing, this couldn’t continue.
I was torn, to say the least. Should I stay and live a lifestyle that made me unhappy, or should I leave and sacrifice the relationship? Was there a middle way? All sorts
of practical questions made the situation more complicated than it should have been at this early stage of our courtship. Australia and Europe were a bit too far apart for a long distance relationship. And if I wanted to be with Sameer long term, then I had to stay in Australia for at least twelve months on a tourist visa before we could even apply for a partner visa. But did I even want to stay in this country? And what were the alternatives? Australia is the only country that allows partner visas – to live in any other country we’d need to marry, something I felt to be premature, also considering that Sameer would only be able to work in English-speaking countries.
Then there were the philosophical questions. Were our ways of life compatible? Sameer was still rooted in a world that I had never been really part of. He’d spent ten years in accounting and auditing and was used to working in big offices. I, on the other hand, wanted to fly off again into the unknown and see what fate held in store for me at the next stop. There’s a special air I need to
Saying Farewell to Toowoomba
with friends Terai Koronui and Marcello Serini
breathe to feel happy. This air doesn’t exist for me in cities, shopping malls and apartments. What calls me are the mysteries of the Himalayas, the wild oceans, the tribes of the Hindu Kush, the ashrams and temples of India. Sameer liked my way of life but, being more grounded than me, didn’t feel ready for it. But what kept us together was our love that seemed so strong and real, despite all the difficulties and agonies. We both agreed that so many things in the past had fallen into place for us to meet and fall in love despite the odds of different locations, cultures, age and backgrounds. We didn’t want to give up so easily. And somehow I sensed that it were exactly our differences that would bring about expansion and transformation to both of us if we surrendered to them.
I left Toowoomba after six months to spend some time at my guru’s ashram at Mangrove Mountain near Sydney to clear my head and find sanity again. It worked. After just a couple of days I was myself again, immersed in my world of yoga, mantra and fire ceremonies. I met wonderful like-minded people and spiritual
teachers. My laughter, joy and zest for life returned. It was a bit shocking to see, really – but it was also a huge lesson for me to never betray who I truly am.
But the question of our relationship still wasn’t solved. We’d done so much brainstorming and agonizing to answer the ultimate question: can we find a compromise? Can we find a place, a lifestyle that makes us both happy? Is the love we feel for each other enough? It is said that true freedom lies on the inside – that no outer circumstances are necessary when true inner freedom has been achieved and the world of duality has been left behind. When one is truly free, one can be happy anywhere. I agree with this. But I also know that I am not at this advanced stage of development. The adventurous life of the wayfarer has become my reality and is in my blood now. My anchor is inward and consists of my sadhana, my faith and my trust in the Universe.
But nevertheless, we tried. We discussed moving to Melbourne, where I certainly could find more like-minded people. After two weeks in busy Melbourne, I was sure that I didn’t want to live there. Mullumbimby, one of the spiritual ‘hotspots’ in Australia, was an option, too. It’s actually a great place full of interesting people and ventures, though employment options are a bit scarce.
Ultimately, a different plan emerged altogether. My visa was due to run out soon, and I was yearning to return to Europe. I asked Sameer to come with me. I’d tried his lifestyle for a while and it didn’t suit me, so I wanted him to experience my way of life before we made a choice. We had an idea that we might start a business that would allow us to work and travel together, at least for a while. But what do a financial auditor and an Ayurvedic consultant have in common?
The answer is, of course, India. Sameer loves to cook, and he’s a great chef as I have had the opportunity to sample aplenty in the past nine months. In our time together, he learned much about Ayurvedic principles and applied them to his cooking. He also discovered yoga and developed an impeccable Ayurvedic dinacharya (daily routine). So the plan is for me to teach Ayurveda and Yoga workshops across Europe (see for more details), while Sameer cooks yummy Ayurvedic lunches for the people who attend. We want to teach people how to set up their own healthy Ayurvedic kitchens and how to cook simple, nutritious meals even if they are working full-time – something we implemented in our own life through trial and error. Ayurveda and Yoga have certainly become my life, and they bring me so much benefit and joy that I am excited to share every aspect of it. After this, we want to go to India and study some more before picking a place to settle for a while.
It’s a trial, and certainly scary for Sameer, who courageously gave up his job and drastically changed his life for this new venture. His world has been shaken up through meeting me, and I appreciate what a challenge it must have been for him on every front. In his native India, such extreme life changes or even gap years are almost unheard of. People study hard to get a good degree, aspire to work in big firms abroad, marry, settle and have kids. Few people divert from this conventional path to follow their dreams. I’m proud of him for being open to giving it a shot.
Once this plan had been decided, we had about two months to get going. I found a cargo ship, aptly named Hatsu Courage, which sailed the desired route home via the Suez Canal. We had to sign pirate declarations as the Indian Ocean is a notorious pirate area, obtain certificates and visas, and my passport was due to run out. We had to sell a car and household items at breakneck speed.
In the end, it all worked out, but only just. I won’t bore you with the details, but it was a crazy race against time. I breathed a sigh of relief when we were finally en route to Malaysia to board our vessel. Now, on MV Hatsu Courage, life is good. We can finally relax. We still don’t know what the future holds, but with the difficulties of the past behind us, the present is a pretty delightful place to be.
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