30 September 2012

Brain fried

The melt down had been coming, I watched it approaching like a wild storm that I couldn't stop. I knew it could be serious but was hoping it might just pass over without too much damage.

One stressor on top of another, on top of another, on top of another, and after three weeks of this non stop barrage, I reached a state of melt down this weekend.  It's been a full on assault of over stimulation.

After working 40 hours in 4 days under intense pressure last week, with each day speeding up even faster than the last, it peaked on Thursday with a 12 hour work day and a long Board meeting until 8pm that flung me over into the abyss of moronic insanity.  I managed to valiantly retain my cool, calm demeanor right til the end of the meeting but by that time I was brain fried, there was no information going in, my brain was mush and all systems had shut down.

Friday, Saturday, Sunday...

Friday was my monthly day off (when I usually go away camping), but as I'd promised to look after my granddaughter (an 8 year old ball of intensity herself), my despearately needed recovery time had to be postponed another day.

Saturday and Sunday I lay in bed staring blankly at the wall for hours, sometimes drifting back to sleep, sometimes laying with eyes closed, watching the inside of my eyes and the sky show of neurons firing out of control in my brain. It has been fried to a crisp.

Many years of Vipassana mediation have made me quite sensitive to the state of my mind and brain. Sitting for long hours watching the mind one gets to know it quite intimately.

Yesterday, laying in bed and observing my mind I was stunned to see the effect of work stress so vividly: electrical spasms, like mini lightning flashes were zapping all over the frontal part of my brain. I was watching a neurological electrical storm.

Chronic Stress

I did some internet research on the effect of stress on neural pathways and YES, as I'd suspected, this kind of chronic and prolonged stress can permanently damage neurons and brain cells.

Neural Pathways

Stress excites brain cells to death

"Stress causes the release of a hormone called cortisol.

Cortisol has been shown to damage and kill cells in the hippocampus (the brain area responsible for your episodic memory) and there is robust evidence that chronic stress causes premature brain aging.

The cortisol released in stress travels into the brain and binds to the receptors inside many neurons (in the cytoplasm). Through a cascade of reactions, this causes neurons to admit more calcium through channels in their membrane.

In the short-term cortisol presumably helps the brain to cope with the life-threatening situation. However, if neurons become over-loaded with calcium they fire too frequently and die – they are literally excited to death." 

I've spent the last two days in a sort of post traumatic stress state.

Yesterday, completely burnt out and comatose, I couldn't eat at all (no energy to digest food) and stayed in bed most of the day, observing the extreme consequences of overload.

Today (Sunday) was a little better, I drank a green smoothie for lunch, ate some sushi in the afternoon and then decided a big glass of carrot and beetroot juice for dinner was all I needed or wanted.

On and off today I tried to sit in meditation, watch my breath and calm my mind - it was still on the overloaded merry go round, completely out of control. It doesn't take long for our minds to get into patterns and when those patterns are repeated (like adapting to continually process information overload and cope with a hectic work environment), neural pathways are strengthened to keep doing this and then it's very hard to reroute and redirect them. My mind has been overstimulated and running on speed for at least three weeks and this mind state is now the new 'normal'.

"The dendrite connections in our neural networks are not set in stone as once thought... Every time we learn something new, dendrite connections are changed and new ones are made that didn’t exist before.

So, the Internet of our mind is constantly changing - updating and adapting to the environment in which we place it. The purpose of this adaptation is to achieve and maintain a biological balance known as homeostasis or "Steady-State".

It appears that the brain likes predictability and consistency. Once we have acquired a certain steady-state our brain will act to maintain that state... even a state of chronic stress or depression!"

The good news? - With discipline and repetition we can change our steady-state to a "new steady-state" - or neo-homeostasis.

Whenever we try to make a significant change in our neural networks the effort is initially met with resistance. But if we persist with discipline and repetition we can make the changes we want.

While these networks have become deeply ingrained - part of a chronic steady-state... with awareness, dedication, and action, they can adapt to a "new steady-state" called Recovery.

Neurogenesis means brain growth - it’s the creation of new dendrite connections in the Internet of the Mind. In a recent article, William Horton, Ph.D. writes:
“Positive, enriching environments stimulate the brain to create more neural connections... While positive programming stimulates neurogenesis, negative programming halts neurogenesis... Regardless of the source, the effect of continued stress from negative programming is neurologically toxic... What this means is that when the brain is constantly exposed to worry and negativity, homeostasis (balance) becomes the priority and all other neural functioning suffers. In this situation, existing neurons are preoccupied with survival and the brain does not exert effort on creating new neurons…”

In other words, if you live with a steady-state of chronic stress then all kinds of imbalances occur due to the neuro-toxicity - causing neurological, physical, emotional, and spiritual degeneration (breakdown)...which leads to pain and more stress.

Healthy-balanced living, on the other hand, leads to neurological, physical, emotional, and spiritual regeneration (growth)... and ultimately health and happiness.


Changing my Mind

I sat and made a list of things that I need to change to prevent this from happening again, the most important being to CHANGE MY MIND.
As the chronic stress state began to settle down, I began the more active process of recovery and rebalancing.

And so to Yoga practice

Tonight I just got on the mat, did a very long Dog Pose, and started:

Slow, deliberate surya namaskars

All the standing poses in the Ashtanga sequence, done with a quiet intensity, long steady holds, deep even ujiya breath throughout.

Then Ardha Chandrasana and Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana (standing splits) followed by Malasana which my body instinctively chose as the most perfect counter pose to Eda Pada.

To the wall for Handstand and Pincha Mayurasana

Seated poses: Paschimottanasa, Purvottanasana, Ardha Baddha Padma Pashimottanasana, Triang, Janu Sirsasana A, again long holds in each pose to deliberately and methodically open up my body, breaking up the stress induced calcium deposits, and focussing on alignment to rebalance my lopsided mind.  Gentle, breathy vinyasas between poses (not between sides) added a sense of fluidity and connection so the practice didn't slow down to a stop.
Iyengar's Matsyendrasana

Then Matsyendrasana, a deep twist, the balancing version where you sit upon your heel, not on the ground.

Backbends, oh my god, I so needed backbends. My heart and chest were tight with anxiety, my lung tissues had constricted and hardened, deep breathing into my lungs was difficult, there wasn't enough plasticity in the tissues to stretch and accommodate the incoming breath.

Salabhasana, I did the pose with my arms extended forward (instead of by my sides or clasped behind my back), somehow the full body stretch from fingertips to toes was necessary tonight. 
Dhanurasana, then Ustrasana with hands in namaste on my chest to assist me with the upward lift - easy to lean back in this pose without arching up from behind the heart.
Setu Bandha, followed by one very long, intense, ever deepening Urdhva Dhanurasana.

Then the entire Ashtanga finishing sequence, with long holds in just about every pose. I even did Chakrasana - the little hesitation to roll over prompted me to get my mind out the way: 'just do it' and then I just did it.

I'm in a peculiar place right now, far far away from the highly evolved and 'spiritual' yoga teacher I once was a few years ago. What happened?
I know the trauma and shock of Mark's death imploded my brain.  It altered the configuration forever and has affected a lot more than just my memory.  When I'm under extreme stress the events of his death surface like a tsunami - my brain fogs over to protect me from the pain and then shuts down.
There is no healing, only managing.

So I need to enforce some very serious lifestyle changes: get some help with my workload that has spun out of control and put boundaries on my work life in general; learn to say 'no' and not feel guilty, acknowledge that my extreme sensitivity to overstimulation is normal for an introvert, and normal for someone who has experienced a life trauma.

The best strategy is to strive for a healthy balance between my internal and external needs.
And the key is to work with this remarkable mind I have been given.

On a positive note to finish: 

"Revival from burnout is always about the recovery of lost authenticity. It's waking up to who we really are and realizing that heaven is not a destination, but a state of mind. If being fried can bring us to the point where we reconnect to our own true nature, then it's worth every moment of separation to rediscover that heaven that has been inside of us all along."

Dr. Joan Borysenko

17 September 2012

...and why I don't go to yoga classes

Anna Platten, La Parade, oil on canvas 1992/93
Are you still doing YOGA?"

Quite frequently I'll be asked this question, usually by someone I haven't seen for a while, someone whose first thought association when my name is mentioned, is yoga. 
(Today I was asked if I still SURFED by a person who I haven't seen for about 5 years.  As he is a surfer this was our only conversation and what he now associates me with)

When I say, yes I am still doing yoga, the next question is ALWAYS "Where do you go?"
(which translates as: "Which studio do you do classes at?") 

Anna Platten, Curtain and Reflected Eye, oil on linen, 1992/93

So I answer: "I don't go to classes, I do my own practice."

I know the person asking the question has no understanding of the spiritual self enquiry that is actually true yoga practice, yet if I confess that yoga classes no longer provide me with anything useful - not information, or a physial challenge, or relaxation, or inspiration, or assistance, or group support (the list goes on)...I feel egotistical, like a know-it-all!

So why do I no longer feel the need to go to yoga classes or workshops, or seek out a teacher?
What has changed?
Have I learned all I can learn from the teachers in this city?
Am I incapable of being a student any more?
Has my yoga journey progressed beyond the boundaries of external input and into the vast realms of solitary self enquiry?
Am I too lazy to go to classes and too stingy to pay for them, or do they just not provide what I need?

Surely I can learn SOMETHING from another yoga teacher?

Looking for an analogy to help me analyze and understand this, I start comparing yoga students to art students (this is easy because I work in an art school).

People enroll in art classes for all kinds of reasons: recreation, therapy, self expression, or to courageously pursue a career path in this field... They start by attending classes regularly and learning the basic skills: observational drawing, mixing colours, paint application, three dimensional thinking, spatial awareness, conceptual development, art theory, critical analysis etc...basic tools they can apply firstly in a simple context and then with increasing sophistication as the depth of their exploration continues.

After 3 or 4 years they graduate from art school fully equipped to go out into the world and set up a studio, and PRACTICE!

Some of them work alongside other artists in group studios, some work at home in complete isolation. They continue to develop their artistic and aesthetic direction through many hours, days, weeks and years of dedicated investigation, exploration, through mistakes, disasters, creative blocks, knock backs, triumphs, epiphanies.

We yogis are also artists, investigating, exploring, refining and developing our craft.
We too make mistakes, and experience disasters, creative blocks, knock backs, triumphs, epiphanies. 

Anna Platten, Sunlight, charcoal on paper, 2007
Now consider an artist who has completed their visual arts degree, who has set up their studio, and who is now working away in their own intense little universe. They have found a means of self expression where they can create the conditions for the creative force to run through them and where they come ALIVE.
They don't go to drawing or painting classes anymore, occasionally they might do a workshop or masterclass with a visiting 'master' artist who is revered for their expertise. Here they might pick up a few new tips - some they hadn't considered because they don't practice in that style (sound familiar?), or perhaps the master's passion for his craft inspires their flagging motivation, or perhaps they feel comforted and supported being around other artists who also work in solitude and with whom they can share their experiences, their quest for meaning, self expression and get some kind of validation.

Anna Platten, Ourselves as Zoe. A dream, a web, a puzzle, 2011.
Artists who practice at this level no longer go to regular classes to learn the basic techniques.

Their practice is to utilise the skills they were taught and to continue on their journey into unknown realms.

Many artists return to schools to teach and pass on the skills they were taught to the new generation of art students starting out on their artistic journey.

Whether we are artists, musicians, scientists or yogis, the true journey only begins when we cease going to classes and commence the voyage into creative, uncharted spaces.
The classes may stop but the learning continues.

You will know when you're ready for this stage because for a while you will keep going to classes long after they have ceased providing you with anything useful. And you will know: something has died away forever.
You may do a yoga workshop here and there desperately seeking to revive that 'something', looking for the missing piece of information, or inspiration to fill the vacant hole.
But nothing can stop change or progress when the time has come.

We are continually searching outside of ourselves for inspiration.
We look to others to provide instructions and direction, not realising it is within us.

Yes, the time will come when we must throw away the map and fearlessly follow our inner guide.

Anna Platten, The Journey - the gate, oil on linen, 2012

I don't go to yoga classes any more. 
I don't teach yoga classes any more.

I freefall through the deep abyss of my own inner realms, in my solitary space, using the tools I have acquired to navigate my way in the dark. Deeper and deeper I go...and there are no yoga classes or yoga teachers that can possibly see what I am seeing, or feel what I am feeling, or accompany me on this journey and provide any directions.

Instead there is an invisible creative force that guides and supports me, drawing me inward towards itself, inwards towards the realisation and expression of Truth. 

We are all artists and yogis.

Anna Platten, Study for Tree of Possibilities, charcoal on paper, 2007

Anna Platten is a renowned South Australian artist and a lovely friend of mine.
(Sometimes she even does yoga classes)
Anna currently has a major retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia and is represented by Eva Breuer.
Studies for the Tree of Possibilities (image above) were done in my main living room, you may see the similarity in the image below. 

11 September 2012

A good argument for practicing yoga in solitude

What's so magical about solitude?
In many fields, Ericsson told me, its only when you're alone that you can engage in Deliberate Practice, which he has identified as the key to exceptional achievement. 
When you practice deliberately, you identify the tasks or knowledge that are just our of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly. 
Practice sessions that fall short of this standard are not only less useful - they're counterproductive.
They reinforce existing cognitive mechanisms instead of improving them.

Deliberate Practice is best conducted alone for several reasons. 
It takes intense concentration, and other people can be distracting. 
It requires deep motivation, often self-generated.
But most important, it involves working on the task that's most challenging to YOU personally. 

Only when you're alone, Ericsson told me, can you "go directly to the part that's challenging to you. If you want to improve what you're doing, you have to be the one who generates the move."

Taken from a book I've just finished reading:
'Quiet.  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking' by Susan Cain

The text in purple is the line that smacked me in the face.
How much of my yoga practice, and how much of my normal daily activities are simply reinforcing existing cognitive mechanisms instead of improving them?

7 September 2012

Early morning yoga - intention into action

Firstly, a brief report on my humble beginnings to get up early (before 6.30am) every day and re-establish an early morning yoga practice this week:

Monday - 6.45am just sun salutes (10 minutes) 

Tuesday - 6.00am full practice (90 minutes) 

Wednesday - had a very late night on Tuesday, got up at 6.30am and did a minimum practice (sun salutes, standing poses, a forward bend, a backbend.

Thursday - had another late night on Wednesday then had to leave home at 7.45am on Thursday to work an 11 hour day (excuses, excuses). I slept in until 6.45am but miraculously got to the mat for a few sun salutes before getting ready for work.

Friday - 6.00am, slightly more than half a practice (60 minutes): sun salutes, all the standing poses, paschimottanasana and janu sirsasana, shoulderstand, ustrasana, padmasana twist, no savasana. I had to leave home at 7.45am again today to meet up with a friend for coffee before work.

Friday evening I did a substantial Iyengar practice.

Overall this first week has been a moderate start. I'm definitely fired up and inspired about chipping away the hard block that has stood in the way of an early morning yoga practice for so many years. The aim is now to challenge my entrenched subconscious beliefs, do battle, and win.

Every single night for at least the past 2 years, I'd set the alarm for 6am with the intention of getting up for a yoga practice. Every morning I'd hit the snooze button, admit defeat yet again, wallow in a wave of guilt, then go back to sleep to deaden the bad feelings that were festering inside.

How can anyone illuminate the world when they enter each day covered with such a shroud of guilt?

I don't know what's suddenly changed in my psyche, but somehow I've shifted from denial to clear vision.

Spurred on by the Way Before Breakfast project (thank you to Rose) my simple intention to get up early every morning and do a yoga practice has grown clear and strong and I've made measurable progress by actually getting up every morning instead of turning over and snoozing.

Establishing a much more consistent practice will raise it to the next level..

As simple as this one intention seems, most of us know how difficult it is to investigate and overcome our resistance so we can transform our highest intentions into action.

It takes hard inner excavation work to expose foggy unconscious patterns, negative self talk and all our constant excuses for staying weak.

Authentic and rigorous mind training is absolutely essential on the spiritual path. By overcoming our mental obstacles, we are clearing the way for a seamless translation from intention to action.

The reward is the ability to express our inner purity through action in the world - an irresistible and powerful force.

My point is this: for me, establishing a daily morning yoga practice has nothing to do with physical wellbeing. It is simply providing me with the means for revealing all the rubbish that is polluting my mind and for systematically cleaning it up.

On a clear day you can see forever...

Master of Headstand

Mukta Hasta Sirsasana

I am officially a 'master of headstand' according to Light on Yoga.

Tonight with the luxury of a free evening, I felt like treating myself to something different than Ashtanga, so I opened up Light on Yoga and decided on the week 45-50 sequence. There were a few poses in this sequence that I didn't know by name and had to look up (a couple of the Headstand variations and Anantasana) and a few poses that were very crusty (a couple of the Headstand variations, Kukkutasana and Garbha Pindasana), but apart from that it was a lovely practice, sort of like going to an unfamiliar yoga class with a new teacher and enjoying the novelty of playing with new toys.

The sequence starts with Headstand and lots of variations. Tripod Headstand was no problem, but then came a similar three point variation where the hands are inverted and much closer together, fingertips pointing away from the head (Salamba Sirsasana III) - I felt a bit wobbly going up and down with this one. The third variation, Baddha Hasta Sirsasana, with hands holding elbows felt a lot more stable than the inverted hand one.

Mukta Hasta Sirsasana was next, a variation I'd never tried before - the arms are fully extended, elbows off the floor and the palms upturned. The introduction to this pose said:
'This is the most diffcult variation of Sirsasana to master. When it comes comfortably, one is a perfect master of the head stand. It is comparatively easy to balance in this asana, but it it extremely difficult to go up and come down keeping the legs straight without bending them at the knees.' 

Feeling up to the challenge I followed instructions, engaged my core then carefully raised my legs off the ground and up into the full pose. After 5 breaths I lowered my legs gracefully together, quite surprised that I could do this supposedly 'most difficult variation'!  Next time I'll set the challenge to hold it longer.

Since I was now a 'master of headstand', I skipped the remaining seven headstand variations.
: )

Shoulderstand sequence - I did the full sequence including the Padmasana ones which I hadn't even warmed up for. Evening yoga practice = supple body, so different to my morning body.

Supine poses: Supta Padangusthasana and Anantasana
Anantasana was a pose that I had to look up.  It wasn't difficult and I think it would be a great preparation pose for anyone trying to master Vashisthasana II.

Seated poses:
Paschimottanasana and Parivritta Paschimottanasana
Janu Sirsasana and Parivritta Janu Sirsasana
Akarna Dhanurasana 


Padmasana poses:
Baddha Padmasana and Yoga Mudrasana
Kukkutasana and not Garbha Pindasana - got my arms through my lotus legs but the pressure into my calves was intolerable, it felt like instant bruising.  I stayed with the pain to practice rolling forward and up into the Kukku balance a few times, but didn't quite make it. By that time I had to urgently get my arms out so I didn't attempt Garbha Pindasana.
These two poses used to come easily for me, so I know it just takes some regular practice to acclimatise the body (and mind) to the new sensations.

Goraksasana - attempting to balance in this pose was challenging but great fun.  It requires precision awareness and coordination to get each hand off the floor while adjusting the pelvic tilt to rise into the fully upright position. The mind and body must be working together perfectly.  My new goal is to become a 'master of Goraksasana'.

Backbends: Matsyasana, Supta Virasana, Bhekasana

Seated pose: Baddha Konasana

Twists: Ardha Matsyendrasana (my new favourite twist), Marichyasana C
Malasana and Uttana Padasana

Then for the grande finale: 6 x Urdhva Dhanurasana backbends - a supreme mental challenge because I'd never done that many in a row, 3 is my usual maximum. What a great exercise it was to observe my first reaction:
6??? you must be joking!!!!
I'll never last for that many
After 6 I'd never get to sleep with all that adrenalin pumping through my system
and to then calmly take control, override the baseless arguments. complaints and obstacles, and just do them!
I switched to a steady, balanced mental approach and did each and every one, staying up for 5 breaths each time.

According to Mr Iyengar's week 45-50 sequence, after completing the 6 Urdhva Dhanurasanas, you're supposed to do Savasana. Not sure what was he thinking when he wrote that.
For me, after 6 backbends, both the body and mind need a counterpose to help settle the wildly circulating hormones down.  Sure, Savasana will do this, and in hindsight it would have been interesting to go straight into Savasana and watch the process happening, but tonight I did a long Paschimottanasana before finishing with Savasana.

A playful practice tonight.

4 September 2012

Establishing an early morning yoga practice

Two steps forward and one step back is still progress I remind myself.
I made two giant steps forward today - suddenly I have collateral.

Giant Step Number One was getting out of bed at 5.55am
Giant Step Number Two was getting on the mat and doing an honest practice for an hour and a half.

These weren't baby steps, these were giant steps that have suddenly blitzed all those years of resistance to early morning yoga practice.

Getting Up
I woke up 10 minutes before the alarm went off (set for 5.45am) and had time to check into my mind state. Despite falling asleep some time after 11pm I felt wide awake and energised. This moment is always the coalface, the moment where I experience the deep groove of habit, where I look the challenge straight in the eye before turning away and going back to sleep every morning.

But not today.

I wanted to get up! This was a full on rebellion against the norm.

This was exciting.

To be honest, if I'd waited until that alarm went off, I would have surely turned it off and gone back to sleep. The habit is that strongly ingrained.

But instead I got up before that alarm went off and jumped straight into a hot shower.

From shower to mat, it's now 6am.
Sun salutes amid bird chatter and a panoramic rainbow sunrise.
Good morning to you all, I'm so happy to be here.

And so to Practice
Morning stiffness is natural, the body's been immobile for over 6 hours.
I start with a few stretches to gently open up mortified muscles and joints, then hold a series of lunges to connect down into the earth and enliven my legs.
Slow, steady beginnings.

Yoga isn't about obtaining a flexible body, it's a practice to reveal where our mind is stuck; it's an opportunity to systematically investigate and release what is holding us back.

Which is why I am so intent on establishing an early morning practice - I'm simply tired of being a slave to a limited view of myself.

The sun salutes are slow, intense, precise and invigorating, the movements mysteriously invoking the sun to rise up and bestow light upon the land.

Standing poses are the same: slow, intense, precise and invigorating, the energy of my intention is rising, unwavering.

I reach for my big toe in Trikonasana, not quite getting there today, and it just doesn't matter. The pose is strong from the base, the feet, the legs, the bandhas, the expansive twist that opens my heart, the extension upwards into infinity...

Having broken the barrier to getting up early today, the next barrier to overcome will be Buffy. She wants to go walkies and sits at the door yapping. I continue the standing poses and try to ignore her. Indignantly she trots back into the room and begins throwing herself at me with eskimo rolls. She's desperate seeking love and attention, a tummy rub at the very least.

I bind in Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana and bend forward gracefully, my free hand now stroking a Buffy belly for 5 ujiya breaths. For four variations of Prasaritta Padottanasana my face is planted in a mass of fur.
Eventually she wanders off to sulk.

After the standing poses I digress - 10 breaths in Handstand against the wall, 2 forward bends (Janu Sirsasana and Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana), backbends (Salabhasana, Dhanurasana, Ustrasana, Urdhva Dhanurasana), Paschimottanasana, then most of the finishing poses with 10 breaths in Shoulderstand and Headstand and 5 breaths in all the others.

Before Baddha Padmasana I often do Padmasana with a twist to each side, one hand grabbing the opposite foot, the other hand levering against the knee. I lift up, spiral from the base to the top of my spine and stretch open lung tissues, heart energy, shoulder tension, squeezing, expanding, flowing, enlivening...

Padmasana is a powerfully configured physical base upon which the body can be transformed. I've often observed an alchemical process happening in Urdhva Padmasana, today I observe it in the seated Padmasana twist. I don't fully understand the energetics that are activated while in Padmasana, or how this particular leg/hip/pelvis position creates such a magical force flow upwards, but I do know it has a deeply powerful rippling effect throughout every level of my being.

My practice ends at 7.30am.

Out Into the Day
Buffy gets her walk. It's a perfect spring morning, warm and breezy.
New life is budding everywhere.
Hope fills the air.
I'm excited to be alive today.

I walk along my street, grateful that I have another day to feel the breeze on my skin and the love in my heart.

The working day is about to begin.

Can I get up again tomorrow morning and accelerate today's progress?
Imagine taking two steps forward every day..and never going backwards...

3 September 2012

Notes from another camping retreat

My favourite Casuarina Campsite,
now ruined by ugly posts
After 4 hours of early morning driving I finally arrive at Casuarina campsite on the far tip of Yorke Peninsula to find it closed for renovations.

I'm momentarily shocked.

This is the place amongst the coastal trees and sand dunes I've retreated and returned to almost every month since Mark died.

Ugly waist high posts now enclose each camp site. Beurocratic madness has invaded the bushland and turned it into a prison camp.

Heartbroken I drive on.

Entrance to campsite at Shell Beach
There are two more campsites further on: Shell Beach and Browns Beach. 
Shell Beach is a pretty place, there are 8 campsites set in a spoke design around a central circle and its a short walk to the enclosed little bay. It's not as wild or open as Casuarina but there are no prison posts and no other campers here yet. The sky is overcast. I set up tent, take a reconnaisance walk up and over the sand dunes, and snap a few pictures of the beach.

The path to Shell Beach
After lunch I curl up in my camp bed.
It's 2pm.
Shell Beach on Day 1 - overcast
I wake up briefly around 5pm for a drink, then fall back to sleep until 7am the next morning.

Day 1 of this retreat is spent asleep, unconscious, system shut down.

Morning coffee revs me up. 
I go Walkabout. 
On my travels, I take note of the sandy undulations of the landscape, the higher dunes that provide a lookout, the patchy scrub bushes, the birdlife, the wildflowers, the waterholes; I listen for the ocean sensing and measuring the distance.

My legs feel strong, walking long distances is a pleasure. 

I have a water bottle and camera in one hand, my pad and pen in the other; hiking to Browns Beach connects me to the land through all of my senses, through ancient memories.

Kangaroos near Browns Beach
The campsite at Browns Beach is not as pretty as Shell Beach - its smaller, more exposed, not manicured, I like it better. The beach here isn't as intimate or enclosed as Shell Beach - it stretches on and on, I like that better too.

I'll camp at Browns Beach next time.

On the way back to Shell Beach I see a foot track off the main road that goes to Gym Beach, the walk is about 2 hours one way and I foolishly detour. After half an hour on the track I realise that I didn't eat breakfest this morning, OR any dinner last night. My last meal was a salad yesterday around lunchtime. My water is low and the track is unfamiliar. Sudden anxiety (or common sense) turns me back.

Watch out for cars
The road feels like a safer walking track now, though not for the sleepy lizards that wander out looking for a warm spot.

Emu poo
I notice emu poos here and there; a particular one on the road is a beautiful shape. It actually looks delicious, a wholegrain pyramid studded with colourful seeds. A vegetarian restaurant couldn't present it better and if I was hungry I'd be tempted to eat it.
Moon setting over Dolphin Beach

During meditation in the afternoon my focus is on 'sky-mind'. 
Instead of focussing on the breath and developing a laser like attention, meditating on sky-mind expands my awareness outward. The furrow in my brow dissolves into clear open space as my mental frequency refines; sky-mind transcends boundaries, dissolves blemishes, clears obstructions.

I come out here to be alone, to get away from all external stimulation and to reduce the internal stimulation that runs amok in my head. 
I'm blissfully happy out here, wandering alone along foot tracks that lead to places I haven't been before. In my own company I am free from anxiety.

I find interaction debilitating; or perhaps it's my personality interacting with others that drains me. Out here I am uncontaminated by any personalities. I revel in this purity, simple being, simple awareness, solitude and privacy.

The morning sun shines on my back as I wander up along the sandy track, past Dolphin Beach, towards the clifftops at Royston Head. My ears soften, opening to take in the morning sounds unique to this landscape. I listen to the multitude of bird noises: twitters, whistles, hoots, squawks, cries, I hear insects buzzing, a faint breeze in the bushes, the thundering ocean roar...

I stop walking and stand still to admire the panorama from on top of the cliff, my shoulders melt and my heart opens, I release into the vast space of all that is, and all that I am.