The Mindful Age
There has been an explosion of mindfulness in recent years. Everyone has heard of it. It’s the first time anything of its kind has been embraced by the medical field in western society and it’s helping people of all walks of life.
To me, mindfulness is being in the present moment, deliberately, and accepting without judging my experience.
It’s Not Always Easy to be Present
You know when you are thinking about your writing, maybe you think about how badly or well it went yesterday or last week (the past). Or how it’s going to stink if you can’t get it published – or how wonderful if you do and it becomes a Booker prize winner (the future). That’s NOT being in the present moment.
Being in the moment is allowing yourself to be here. Right now. Just where you are at. So if you are working on something, that’s where you are. Notice how it feels and then attempt to let go of judgements. Good. Bad. Mediocre. We are always labelling things.
How Does the ‘Without Judgement’ Part Work?
If you feel anxious about writing you just notice that. Don’t try to change it or criticise yourself because of it. Simply notice. How do you know that you are anxious? Is it a physical feeling? Is it a thought? Where do you feel anxiety in the body? If you feel excited about your writing, observe that.
When You Notice Stress, Start With the Breath.
Being aware of your breath is a key step in becoming mindful. You take a lot of breaths. Most of the time you don’t notice you are doing it. While you write, you take lots of breaths too.
If you do nothing else in mindfulness only develop an awareness of your breathing, then that is enough. Here are some ways of practising mindful breathing:
- Focus on your abdomen. When you breathe in, deliberately push out your belly. If you find this hard, lie on your bed with a book on your tummy. Make the book go up and down with your breathing.
- Breathe in for seven and out for eleven. Counting in this way while breathing makes it easy to stay mindful of the breath, as you are busy counting and focusing on your breathing at the same time.
- Yet another technique is to simply focus on your breath for a minute. Set a timer if you want, so you know when the minute is up. This time, don’t try to change the breath in any way. Just watch the rise and fall, the way the in breath turns into the out breath, and back into an in breath and so on. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the breath.
The more distracted you are, the more the mind will wander. It’s alright. You get better the more you practise and it’s okay to have a bad day even if you’ve done it loads of times.
The Stories We Tell Ourselves about our Writing
What do you tell yourself about your writing? Practise being the watcher. If you get rejected, do you get an onslaught of thoughts interpreting why this might have happened? The judges must not like me. Those things are only won/published by people who have an MA in Creative Writing or have been writing consistently all of their lives. My writing is too meh. I don’t have time to be really good.
And what about winning or being published? Do they have the opposite judgements and if so what comes of those in the long run?
Thoughts as Leaves on a Stream
Ever stopped to notice your thoughts? One after the other. Where one finishes and the next one pops up. Experts estimate that we have between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts every day. That’s a lot. Many of these are repeated too. A lot of times.
We are very good at thinking while we do things. Such as driving. Ever wondered ‘how on earth did I get here? I don’t even remember passing through such a place.’ You didn’t notice, because your mind was so busy churning out thoughts that were not related to your surroundings or the experience of driving.
I like the process of imagining that my thoughts are written on leaves that are floating down a stream. On the first leaf it might say ‘hey, this is weird. I wonder if I’m doing this right,’ and the second one ‘I wonder what I’ll cook for dinner.’ Or in your writing ‘how come I’m finding this so challenging?’
Check out this link to see a more detailed guide to this technique, called ‘Cognitive Defusion.’ There are different ways to practise cognitive defusion. Other ways including imagining your thoughts are written on placards of a marching band, or on clouds passing in the sky.
What if you were to radically accept yourself just as you are and your writing just the way it is? Even if it’s not going well today. Ideas are coming like sludge (as in, not coming). The critic is gone amok. You think your writing is the worst lot of drivel in the world and that you are wasting your time. What if you could accept that all of those things might be true.
So what if my writing is not good. Today. Ever. Who cares if I never win competitions. If I never finish anything. If my spouse hates it. If my book can’t get a publisher. So…… what?!
Imagine if you were doing your writing for the very first time. There wouldn’t be all those stories about your writing, about this piece. Forget what you know.
‘…Beginner’s mind is what we must come back to every time we sit down and write. There is no security, no assurance that because we wrote something good two months ago, we will do it again. Actually, every time we begin, we wonder how we ever did it before. Each time is a new journey with no maps.’
– Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
Mindful of your Posture
Similarly to your breathing, take a moment now and again to be aware of how you are sitting. Again, this is not to judge yourself for slouching, rather bring a sense of awareness and, thus, space into the body. Better still, go for a mindful walk.
Mindfulness for Writers in Action
Struggling to write a scene in my work in progress one day, I wondered if these techniques could help me get through it.
I was feeling stressed. There was a deadline. The scene I was writing was pivotally important and I’d been running from it long enough. Writing anything but that scene. It was time to bite the bullet and just write it. My monkey mind was hopping around squawking about this and that. You’re not good enough to write this. People will hate it. It won’t come across how you want it. Who do you think you are? You don’t have enough knowledge. And so on.
First I tried breathing. I noticed that my breathing was high up in my chest and more rapid than I would have liked. The 7/11 breathing, as described above, helped me to slow it down, and I imagined bringing it down into the abdomen.
This calmed me down a little. So then I tried to accept that yes, maybe I am a terrible writer but I’m going to show up anyway. Yes, I might be unable to make this scene as good as I want it to be today but that’s okay, I’m still here. True, some people might hate it, even if I’ve edited it five hundred times to the best of my ability, but there’s not much I can do about other people.
I was radically accepting my writing and myself in that space trying to write that hard scene. And guess what? It got easier. I stopped fighting with myself. And after some further edits, I became not just pleased with but super pleased with the scene. Which is, of course, a judgement again but hey, you can’t win all of the time.
If you enjoyed this blog for writers, you might also like:
The Hero’s Journey by Siofra O’Donovan – Plotting
Ask the Right Question – powerful questions for writers
About the Author
Susan Browne is a Wellness Coach and Author of the mind, body, spirit book Angel EFT, and is working on her first novel. Enjoy the author blog and some of her short stories here on this website.
The mapping of your heroic plot
To plot or not to plot?
Guest Blog by Author and Writer Coach Siofra O’Donovan
If you’re struggling with plot and you feel a little put off by Stephen King’s premise that plot is all artifice and that the character should lead your narrative onwards, look no further. The Hero’s Journey is a blueprint that could just work for you.
It’s a powerful, dynamic, archetypal journey that can be applied to personal experience and to the process of constructing a narrative that works as a screenplay, novel or short story. The Hero’s Journey is about both a universal and a personal story.
Joseph Campbell was a world-renowned expert in comparative mythology and a professor at Sarah Lawrence College for 38 years, known for his expression ‘follow your bliss.’ Campbell determined a narrative pattern in all myths and stories, called ‘The Hero’s Journey’ or the Monomyth. George Lucas, the producer of Star Wars, used the Hero’s Journey to write and develop the narrative in Star Wars.
“Whether the hero be ridiculous or sublime, Greek or barbarian, gentile or Jew, his journey varies little in essential plan. Popular tales represent the heroic action as physical, the higher religions show the deed to be moral, nevertheless, there will be found astonishingly little variation in the morphology of the adventure, the character roles involved, the victories gained.
If one or another of the basic elements of the archetypal pattern is omitted from a given fairy tale, legend, ritual or myth, it is bound to be somehow or other implied- and the omission itself can speak volumes of the history and pathology of the example.” – Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Plucked out of the Ordinary World
The Hero starts out in the ordinary world. Think of Luke Skywalker, bored to death as a farm boy before he tackles the universe, at the beginning of Star Wars. Think of Frodo at the beginning of the Lord of the Rings, in the shire. There is a situation. Their ordinary world is upset. They’ve got the call from the Universe. It’s task time.
In the film Witness, you see both the Amish boy and the policeman in their ordinary worlds before they are thrust into alien worlds- the farm boy into the city, the city cop into the unfamiliar countryside.
The Hero’s Journey is Universal
Think of the life of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. Think of Prometheus ascending to the heavens, stole fire from the Gods, and descended. Jason sailed through the Clashing Rocks into a sea of marvels, circumvented the dragon that guarded the Golden Fleece, and returned with the fleece.
Aeneus went down into the underworld, crossed the dreadful river of the dead, threw a sop to the three-headed watchdog Cerberus, and conversed, at last, with the shade of his dead father. All things were unfolded to him: the destiny of souls, the destiny of Rome, which he was about to be found. He returned to the ivory gate to his work in the world.
“Select two or three heroes and then ask these mythical beings to incarnate through you, and watch the change.” – Deepak Chopra in ‘Finding Joe’, a documentary about Joseph Campbell.
Inner and Outer Transformation
You are the hero of this journey. By tuning into yourself and the character you are developing as a hero, you will awaken your inner potential as a writer and creator of worlds and activate powers that you never even knew you had. The character reaches a stage of the journey called The Master of the Two Worlds, in which she has received the ultimate boon. She crosses the return threshold, and finds her way back to the ordinary world, a transformation has taken place within and without.
We all know what it’s like to return from an amazing adventure, and with photos in tow. We enthusiastically try to convince our friends that this is the place to go. And please, oh please, listen to me recount every detail of what happened. No! They say. I don’t have the time. And why do they not have the time? Apart from being envious, they may also be threatened by you, an emissary of another spatiotemporal reality that… actually has nothing to do with theirs. Or so they think. And isn’t it excruciating when the returnee is a particularly enthusiastic photographer and inflicts you with a slideshow?
But the thing is, it was just the same for Jesus, and for Buddha, and for Mohammed. And the same for Rip Van Winkel, and poor old Gulliver, who returned, sadly, empty-handed and with nothing but their tales to tell. At the end of their extraordinary cavortings. Gulliver was deemed mad by the Royal Geographic Society, after recounting his tales of Lilliput, Laputa and the Land of Houyhnhnms (a race of intelligent horses described in the last part of Jonathon Swift’s satirical Gullivers Travels) But this is how it is for every traveller I believe.
The Mastery of the Two Worlds
But for the Spiritual journey-er, it is an even more explosive reception, the Mastery of the Two Worlds… What do you do with your message, your gift, your Boon of Wisdom, when you return? Are you stoned, slated or worse again, crucified? We each go through Hero’s Journeys every day. For there are micro and macro versions of this never-ending spiral. It’s like Yeat’s Gyre, or the Serpent shedding its scales.
The serpent, demonised by the Western World as an evil, poisonous and devious creature of sin, condemned from the Garden of Eden for Eternity, is a creature revered in the East. The power, our power, resides at the base of our spine, and this in the Vedic tradition is likened to a snake coiled at the base, and over time and with much yogic practice, it climbs up through the body, clearing out the debris of conditioning, delusion and ignorance along the way, until it reaches the crown, where the practitioner becomes enlightened.
“Woman brings life into the world. Eve is the mother of this temporal world. Formerly you had a Dreamtime paradise there in the Garden of Eden – no time. No birth, no death – no life. The serpent, who dies and is resurrected, shedding its skin and renewing its life, is the lord of the central tree, where time and eternity come together. He is the primary god. Actually, in the Garden of Eden, Yahweh, the one who walks there in the cool of the evening is just a visitor. The garden is the serpent’s place.” It is an old, old story.” – Joseph Cambell.
The Hero’s Journey undertaken is an act of uncoiling that latent inner serpent, shedding the old skins, and growing a new one, infused with wisdom in insight. It is a transformation of the human spirit.
“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well, the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.” – Friedrich Nietzsche.
More than a Formulaic Blueprint
And so The Hero’s Journey is much more than a formulaic blueprint for writing a story. It is a tool for going within, taking a journey as you/ yourself/ other- your hero, your heroine and finding the treasure that lies beneath decades of conditioning, conflict and inner turmoil. Outwardly yes, we face Darthvader- but remember well that when Luke Skywalker did that, he saw his own face. It was the showdown for the Father-Son separation. There was no difference between what he saw, and what he was.
And remember that when George Lucas wrote Star Wars, he did so with constant reference to The Hero with a Thousand Faces
. He consulted Joseph Campbell himself, who said that Star Wars was ‘a myth for our time.’ Just as the Marvel stories are, and The Game of Thrones. The writers of these may not pay any attention to the Hero’s Journey, but inevitably, its bones are there beneath the story- informing the development of the plot and the character arcs.
Is the Hero’s Journey an Overused Tool?
“Stories are about solving problems, not mythical journeys of spiritual transcendence. In Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Belle is the Main Character and the Beast is the Impact Character. Both don’t fit in with the rest of society, but one—Belle—has found an appropriate way of dealing with it.
In the end, she continues to do things the way she always has. The Beast, however, is the one who has the major transformational change. This is NOT the physical transformation but rather, the transformation of character that he undergoes. He changes and the spell is broken. The Author’s proof that Belle made the right choice is apparent in the smile on her face as they dance into the clouds.” – Narrative First, ‘Not Everything is a Hero’s Journey.’
Refer Back to the Steps
You can use these steps if your hero/heroine get lost in the mire of the plot:
- The hero leaves the ordinary world. Sometimes, they are ripped out of this by force.
- The hero experiences death and rebirth. Literal death and resurrection, or a close brush with death. Or it could be a figurative death.
- The hero is initiated into their new life. This is a period where they’re able to get their bearings and learn the rules of their new existence.
- The hero returns to their own world. Permanently changed by everything they’ve experienced. A classic return ending comes at the end of Stephen King’s alternative history novel 11/22/63. The return doesn’t always happen, especially in tragic endings or in more literary examples of speculative fiction.
‘The Hero’s Journey is not an invention, but an observation. It is a recognition of a beautiful design, a set of principles that governs the conduct of life and the world of storytelling the way physics and chemistry govern the physical world.’ – Christopher Vogler.
Siofra O’Donovan’s Creative Writing Workshops at the Novara Centre are inspired by the work of Joseph Campbell, whose Hero’s Journey is a universal blueprint for all myths and stories across the world. The Hero’s Journey is taught as a method for enhancing Creative Writing. It can be used as a tool for self-discovery or a greater creative project like a novel or screenplay.
Learn more about Siofra at www.siofraodonovan.com
To see the Hero’s Journey in the context of a travelogue memoir, see Siofra O’Donovan’s Lost in Shambala.
The story of her amazing journey through the Himalayas in search of Shambhala, among the Tibetans living in exile along the Indo-Tibetan border. Based on years of research, this book was published first by Pilgrims books and is now available on Kindle.
‘It’s everything the armchair traveller with spiritual leanings could hope to read about Tibet in exile.’ – O.R. Melling
Climate Change – what can I do?
There’s an elephant in the room. Our climate is not just changing but it’s breaking down and people don’t want to talk about it.
I want to talk solutions.
Stuff we can do. Stuff that makes a difference.
I sometimes wrestle with black and white thinking. If I can’t do the whole climate change life thing perfectly, then why bother at all? But it hurts to bury my head in the sand because the truth is I really do care about it. I always cared about it. I am nature lover and I don’t like the cruelty, greed, littering, polluting and so on that comprises human disrespect of the planet.
So I’m going to look at it as parts of a jigsaw.
If I can’t get it perfect today with my carbon footprint, what one thing can I do?
I like to think of sowing seeds. Ask the question (see my other blog called ‘Ask the Right Question’) ‘what is one thing I can do today to help towards the conservation of planet earth?’
Maybe it’s to shop in a more eco-friendly shop, or choose less plastic and more eco-friendly products in the shops I do use. As a mother of three, I’m well aware that some of the eco-friendly choices are more expensive. But actually, some of them are cheaper.
There are a lot of people out there asking the same question so it’s worth seeking them out so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. After a quick search on Facebook of climate change followed by the name of the area I live in I realised there were lots of initiatives happening close by that I didn’t even know about.
This month’s copy of National Geographic is full of inexpensive home remedies we can use that do less harm to the environment, from beauty products to homemade laundry soap.
Grow it yourself
To reduce plastic and the carbon used to transport foods a ridiculous distance, grow your own. If you have a garden or access to an allotment there is a lot you can grow yourself. Sure, the carrots might not take off this year and you will learn as you go along, but don’t underestimate the ripple effect this has. Other people hear about it, taste your homegrown treats, and perhaps want to do the same. I love this book on the power of growing your own by artist and grower Lisa Fingleton.
We need to make the shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energies.
Many of us are reliant on fossil fuels to heat and power our homes. It’s just not feasible to change everything in one day, so what can I do today? Look up ways of changing to more renewable energy, thinking of long-term goals as well as short ones. Wear extra clothes on cooler days to reduce the amount of home heating needed.
Many people have started out local groups and have put them up on social media to help share ideas on what we can do to help in both small and big ways.
What is Ecocide and what can I do about it?
Serious damage to, or destruction of, the natural world and the Earth’s systems. Making the people who commission it – such as chief executives and government ministers – criminally liable for the harm they do to others while creating a legal duty of care for life on Earth. Click here to sign the petition and here to give as little as a €5 once off donation and become an Earth Protector to stop ecocide and change the law.
It is said that just a hundred companies are responsible for almost three-quarters of global emissions, and so doesn’t that mean that the government should just come along and sort it all out? The sad news is, they haven’t been doing. Things are looking up in some ways though. Just a few days ago in Ireland, a Climate Emergency was declared, as well as in the UK and other countries. The more the general public demands clean energy, zero plastic and so on the more they have to listen to us and do something. It all filters down.
You are powerful. Your voice matters.
You don’t need to be Greta Thunberg or Sir David Attenborough to make a difference. Talk about it. Share stuff on social media (all shares of this blog much appreciated too btw). Choose to buy from companies that respect the environment. Leave the ones that don’t. Tell them why. Write to or comment on social media why you don’t want to buy from them.
Ask or write to your local politicians. They are anxious to please, especially around election time and your questions may make a difference. Encourage others to do the same.
Use your talents
If you love photography, why not volunteer to take some photos at an eco-friendly event you can attend? Love writing? Write about it, share it. Love speaking, speak about it. Love gardening? Share your gift with others and show them what to plant and how to help the bees, plant more trees or grow your own. Good at organising people? Help to organise an event near you or start your own. Focus on your strengths and how these could be of service if you have any spare time to give.
Who to look up/follow on social media
These lists are far from exhaustive and apologies for the many I have missed: Polly Higgins (RIP, 2019, but her movement goes on and the resources on her page are invaluable); Greta Thunberg; Greenpeace; Climate Camp; Franny Armstrong; Eric Pooley; Bill McKibben and many more. Even by just liking and sharing someone else’s efforts, you are helping the message get more reach and keeping climate breakdown top of mind.
Hashtags to use/follow: #ecocide #pollyhiggins #gretathunberg #climatechange #climateaction #climate #climatebreakdown #globalwarming #ecologicalbreakdown #arctic #nature #environment – many of the Instagram-only ones are prefixed with ‘insta,’ e.g. #instaclimatechange
Think grass roots action.
“You can argue all day about whether one person not using straws or going vegan makes a global difference. The point is the mindset. We need to change our thinking from this idea that the earth is a bottomless pit of resources and start acting like what we do matters. Changing the philosophy of cultures and societies starts with individuals changing their own hearts and minds. That’s the importance of grassroots action. It’s not that my composting will empty landfills of food waste, but my changed mind and heart may influence others. And that could spread and change the world.” – Olga Evans
Ask the right question … to get an amazing answer
Today’s blog focuses on life wisdom – how to overcome setbacks using powerful questions. I’m still writing my first novel, and lately, it came to my attention that there are chunks of it that don’t work yet. Some big changes are needed. At first, this seemed overwhelming and I began to ask myself… What if I don’t have what it takes? Why am I SO slow at getting my book done? What if it’s just beyond my ability as a writer?
Of course I couldn’t get this far and then give up. I had to come out of rookie novelist mode and step into coach mode. To coach myself. So I chose to begin by asking powerful questions. Instead of focusing on the parts of the plot and characters that weren’t working I had to ask in the positive. Here’s an example:
Instead of ‘oh dear, the way my main character goes missing doesn’t seem feasible and doesn’t work very well,’ I asked ‘How else might my main character have gone missing?’
By asking a good question, I began reaching for an answer instead of getting overwhelmed and negative. My mind followed the question like it was some exquisite path taking it on some adventure into a magical land of possibilities. And I got a choice of helpful answers that made me want to keep writing and keep working at it. Result.
This type of questioning works across the board, not just for writers but for all things in life, I believe.
Here are some more random examples or powerful questions and their not-so-helpful counterparts:
Q: How could I support myself to eat more healthily? vs. I never have the willpower to eat healthy food.
Q: What else could I try to manage my time more efficiently today? vs. I don’t have enough time to do all the things I want to do today.
Q: What could I do to feel better around this person? vs. That person is so annoying and it’s their fault I’m feeling irritated.
Q: What’s one thing I could do today to be more environmentally friendly, vs. Climate change is happening and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Hopefully you’ll agree that asking those questions puts you in a more curious and positive mindset. I’m all about mindset in my writing and in most areas of my life. We can literally talk ourselves right out of things as well as right into things. Our thoughts are powerful things. We need to keep weeding out the bad ones and taking good care of the good ones so that they grow.
Try it Yourself
Now it’s your turn, to try a few of your own. If you find this useful, that is. To make a powerful question, remember it will have these traits: it is open-ended; it is curious in nature (think: interested and open-minded); it is clear and not long-winded. If yours is long-winded you might need to split it into more succinct questions.
Thanks for reading
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One Year Anniversary
It’s a year to the day that I created sbrowneauthor.com and the social media platforms for it on Insta, Facebook and Twitter. I wanted to create a site for my author journey and to share also some of those short stories I’ve written that otherwise sit on a lonely hard drive never seeing the light of day after being written for a challenge or being published way back when. Huge thanks to SJS Web Design, Listowel for all their help in making it happen.
It was a way to get ‘out there’ on the web as an author and hopefully upcoming novelist. I wanted to meet other similar minded folks, and connect with a possible future readership. There’s been a lot of learning and still loads to learn.
It’s been a fun year. I got to visit Goa, the place my novel is primarily set in. I have been, twice. But that was years ago. So to go and see it now and especially the places that serve as the backdrops was incredibly useful and a joy as I still really love it there.
Over the last year, I see I have come from 32K to now over the limit 83K. Writing your novel isn’t just about satisfying a word count. There is still a lot to do to get this thing into shape ready to start the querying process. I thought in the past a year would be ample time from start to finish to get a novel done but it’s taken me almost eighteen months so far and I think there are a few months left. It’s been so fun doing this. You know when you are on the right track in life when you are doing what makes your heart sing and you bounce out of bed every morning. Well, okay, most mornings!
That’s not to say it’s been easy. There have been times when I’ve had to question the whole thing. What if I write this and it ends up being a complete load of rubbish? Or nobody will publish it? Or I end up self-publishing and nobody reads it? Lots of self-doubt moments. According to Joanna Penn, this is true of all writers worth their salt. So I’m in good company.
Soon it will be time for a professional edit, then more changes on my part I’m sure. Then more polishing before it’s finally ready.
The books I’ve read this past year to help me on my quest to finish my first novel include:
Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody; How to Write a Novel Using The Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson; Writing Fast by Jeff Bollow; How to Publish Your Book by Jane Friedman; The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan; The Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn; Writing Great Fiction by James Hynes; Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer among others I’m likely forgetting. I will likely write another blog some day on my thoughts on these books that help aspiring authors.
I’ve also read many fiction novels and won’t mention them all here.
I’ve entered the NYC Midnight short story challenge again and await results later this week from round one of the challenge. If I make it to the second round I know what I’ll be doing next weekend. I’ve just added one of the NYC Flash Fiction stories I wrote two years ago, check it out in the short stories section.
Thanks for reading, if you enjoy hearing the updates, click here to sign up to my occasional newsletters.
Happy writing. Or reading. Or both,
Introduction to this Blog Series:
7/3/19: It has to be a good year. I’ve already been to India and it’s not even St Patrick’s Day. I’ve walked the golden sands of the Goa beaches, swam in the warm Arabian Sea, felt the wind in my hair as I drove a scooter through the palm forests, smelled the spice and fragrance of Anjuna market and felt Kashmir silk on my skin. I’ve survived crossing the Bangalore roads, dyed my fingers yellow eating a biryani with my right hand trying to act like the locals, tasted the dosas, drank the sugary, milky coffee….
I’m ready, 2019.
My book is not ready, but it’s getting there. It is looking like a novel now rather than a tragic mass of word spaghetti. The mountain with a thousand summits has finally been summited and I am skipping down the other side. Finally, I can use the somewhat regal #amediting hashtag. Boom.
Arriving in India after fourteen years, having just ascended from the e-visa queue I feel right at home. In Bangalore airport, my other half and I are simultaneously trying to get cash out of a stubbornly non-compliant ATM and engage the Uber app for the first time. It’s all fun and games, and we chat to an Englishman who is on a similar mission to us. The bank call to check if I’ve been robbed – I reassure them ‘no – I am actually in India, booking an Uber.’
We’re queuing in the half-light behind a huddle of breakfast bars. We are reassured, our driver is coming, along with a hundred other drivers clamouring their way around a colossal roundabout. The coffee is good. Like nectar. I didn’t have change and so paid way too much for it, but I’ll get more organised as we go along. When we get into our car there are no seatbelts in the back and the driver seems to think I’ve got a screw loose for even asking.
The roads here are not for the faint-hearted. We are straight in at the deep end. Well no, technically that would be actually driving here. But if you’ve ever been to Alton Towers, Drayton Manor or one of those theme parks local to you… think of the scariest ride you ever went on and quadruple it and then you are right there in Bangalore in rush hour traffic. Ironically, I weep tears of joy inside this car. I write in my journal: Hello Mother India. I don’t look very Indian. Big-boned, six-foot blonde with skin as white as milk. But I feel connected. Like I’m returning somehow.
I’m not a city person generally. Give me lakes, mountains, waterfalls, ocean any day of the week. But there is something about Indian cities. Bursting with life and always teetering on the edge of death but with a hearty laugh, or a shout, and inevitably a thousand beeps.
Our first journey in India is this very long drive from Bangalore to Mysore. Mysuru as the vernacular Kannada speakers call it, rolling the ‘r’. Our driver gives each and every beggar that comes to his window a coin. I hold my breath as I watch the kamikaze pedestrians just going about their business. A van is filled with swaying lemons in front of us. On one of the many freeways, he just pulls in, without explanation and jumps out of the car and begins chatting with some men at the side of the road. We hold our breath, brain cogs turning furiously. Another guy then hops in and explains with a smile that the first driver was too tired, working all night, and so he would be bringing us the rest of the way.
Our hotel is an oasis in a busy street where the sun boils above in the sky. I want a coconut. I’m here in India many hours now, I must find a coconut. If you’ve never had one, they’re green and huge, not like the little brown ones we get at home with the not-so-pleasant milk in them. They are full of the most refreshing drink – coconut water. A large knife is used to cut the top off and then a straw is plopped in the top and voila. Some coconut sellers will offer you the flesh for eating afterwards that they scoop out using part of the coconut they just cut off as a scoop. It’s a bit strange, jelly-like. But I like it anyway.
We wander down the road, discovering that uninterrupted pavement is a rare luxury and we watch our step as it falls apart in places. We are asked over and over if we require a taxi. No, just a coconut thanks. No, not a taxi to get a coconut. They’re only around the corner. Eventually, we are brought into a silk shop and before I can say namaste we are being measured for clothes. ‘But I only want a coconut.’
‘Yes, yes, we will get for you. Please. Sit down.’
I get my coconut. But it’s hard to enjoy it now because we are ensnared within somebody’s expectation. And I have no notion of buying a dress or getting anything made. Even though I am sure it would be fabulous and the fabrics are exquisite looking. It’s just not on today’s agenda. He ends up buying trousers for a friend back home.
This first part of the trip is family business. Visiting the workplaces and grave of my husband’s great aunt who gave her life here as a nun. When we finally discover the way into the convent we are warmly welcomed by the sisters, whose lunch we are interrupting (it turns out we are good at that). They generously give us food and fruits we have never seen, less tasted before. Bull’s heart. Jack fruit. They show us around the beautiful garden. The chapel where she would have prayed.
Later they arrange a driver to bring us to the famous Mysore Palace, a three storey stone structure with marble domes and a five storey tower. Surrounded by gardens and facing the Chamundi Hills. One of the most famous tourist attractions in India after the Taj Mahal – we don’t get to see it lit but the lights are turned on Sunday evenings and public holidays.
Around the side of one of the entrances, we stumble upon elephants having a bath with hoses. It’s not really meant for the public, so we don’t stay long.
Afterwards, we are taken to see Karanji Lake. Home to a host of egrets, cormorants, ibis, storks, herons and many more. Here boasts the biggest walk-through aviary in India that includes black swans and peacocks of various sorts.
Then it is time to rest. The incredible journey east is taking its toll. Tomorrow we go back to Bangalore.
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