Travelling through Uganda a week ago, presented me with a lot of time to reflect. Being fully immersed in my surroundings (which would be classified as very harsh and arduous in our western terms) brought a few home truths to me.
As I have found myself in this place of ‘no rushing’, ‘being calm’ with ‘lowered expectations’ I ask myself the question, as I want to be realistic in my own life: ‘How long will this insight of mine last?”
Back in London, walking through South End Green, up Pond Street past the hospital on my left, I was immediately aware of the amount of concrete, people with their faces buried in their phones, bumper-to- bumper traffic with fumes up my nostrils - even in August; I was filled with sadness and I did not enjoy the walk at all.
I longed to be on the dusty, very bumpy, incredibly uncomfortable road in Uganda, immersed in dust and surrounded by jungle. Looking out to see people carrying water, bananas, wood or coal and pushing their pedal bikes, if they were lucky enough to have such a sophisticated transporter. The roads frequently are too steep and difficult to pedal, the push bikes are mostly used to transport cargo for miles.
The Ugandans are the friendliest people I have come across in a long time, I never experienced or observed any form of aggression or violence, no one was ever shouting; I only experienced and observed patience, kindness and content communication. Everyone made eye contact and one was generally greeted with a beautiful white smile and a wave of a hand.
I saw no over-weight person, nor a cripple, nor any physically deformed individual – perhaps I was just very lucky. Even the toddlers walk and carry small buckets of water on their head. One learns from an early age that one is part of a bigger system and everyone has to share the load. The people walk upright with strong postures, they bend easily, they work the fields with grace and ease. Everyone squats, from old to young. They gaze, they chat, they play with self-made balls in the streets or on the fields. To see body movement with such elegance, from old to young, hit a chord with me.
What is life about? I wonder. What do I do as an individual for a meaningful life and what is meaningful at the end of a day? To keep on expanding, gathering, ‘self-enhancing’, seeing more places.... or making sure one has enough food and water on a daily basis to feed one’s family, to spend time with one`s family each day and to work one’s little piece of land. Maybe I should strive for some place in the middle.
I was astounded by my own excesses once I have returned to London, I don’t have one plant to water, I have hundreds.... We ordered an Indian take-away for my first night, (a usual routine after having been away on holiday). The amount and variety of food on the table made me laugh and then I was shocked, the number of flavours in one bite.... all over- whelming and my stomach suffered for the first time in 10 days. I experienced the sensation of having eaten too much. I was disgusted. It was simply just wrong. I did not need that much. Was I over-whelmed by the variety and excessive amounts available? What made me over-eat?
In Uganda I had a choice of two meals for dinner, there were one vegetarian and one meat option. I always chose the vegetarian. I had daily chats with guides, trackers, locals and they informed me that they live on 1⁄2 a sweet potato for lunch, an Irish potato and perhaps some peas or nuts for dinner. Meat, usually stewed beef with tomatoes and peppers, is saved for Easter and Christmas and when a very special friend visits from afar.
I went to Uganda for two reasons. It was a trip to see the mountain gorillas for my mum’s 70th birthday. (This item ‘Gorillas’ was high on her bucket list). It took me 22 hours x2 of travel to get to Entebbe and back via Dubai. It took three days of travel by road in an uncomfortable, rattling, dusty Jeep to complete our itinerary. One bounced up and down, side-to-side constantly and one could find no rhythm whatsoever. Some things in life, one has to experience oneself, no explanation will do justice. Those trips presented me with: an Opportunity to practice patience. Time to think. Time to gaze. Time to gain perspective.
Nothing that is truly wonderful and special comes easy, and nor should it. One has to be prepared to do the extra yards (or miles), literally.
However, meeting those creatures in a jungle after 3-hours of a track was worth every mile, every bump all the swallows of dust.
The gorillas were much shorter in the leg than in the movies, they are strong and mobile. We were particularly lucky as it was the dry season in Uganda and browsing was difficult, they had to travel far for food daily and rests were needed. We caught them in their napping time in a fairly open area.
They stretched regularly, they changed position ‘in bed’, they yawned, sneezed, snored and snoozed. They gazed as if in wonder. They played with themselves, with one another and with little twigs which they chewed on and waved. Some were more restful than others. The silverback raised his arms once and made a sound when the little ones irritated him. They scrambled very quickly into a cranny. They slept next to one another, rested their heads, arms and legs on one another and some preferred their own space.
They did not smell like an animal to me, they smelled like a very dirty person who had not had a shower in 3 weeks and had plenty of intensive work-outs. The odour, however, was musty, rather than overwhelming.
My favourite picture is the one of Rafiki (which means friend), the leader of the group of 14, stretched out, one foot stretched into a bifurcation, looking upwards to the sky.
I will remember the soles of their feet, their nipples – identical to those of human beings, their hands and fingers, the funny big toe resembling a thumb to enable them to use their feet like hands. The thumbs on their hands are also very short as long thumbs will get in the way when they swing from tree to tree, called branching.
Back to the studio, back to Autumn. The time of year when leaves fall, things slow down and trees prepare themselves for winter, shielded by their coat of bark. This Autumn I want to take things slower, I want to do less, drink less, eat less – never have I said ‘nothing or zero or stop’, nordid I say ‘everyday, intensive, hard, fast’.... I want to be realistic daily, weekly, I want a balanced, overall approach to my whole life. I want to be present when I eat, train, walk, read, talk. I want to stop doing 2-5 things at one time.
I am going to set small goals, to keep me on track and to help me prioritise better, as this city called London, is a jungle full of opportunities and options that bombard us every day from every angle. We get persuaded so easily by ourselves and by others. I hope to keep on reminding myself of my incentives and my promise to myself to slow down and to be present.
For training; The Ladder Approach: One step at a time; ladders go down, they stay still and they go up, it is not a one-way traffic upwards – don’t fool yourself. Try to gain perspective from your position on the ladder and learn and gain from each step. There is no rush and I promise you there is no end destination. All you get when you reach the top of this ladder is another ladder. The higher you aim, potentially the bigger your fall. Yet, horizons also broaden when you have gained some height. What does make sense then in your life?
For being; I want to be creative this Autumn, I want one project, it is either going to be photography or painting. I will commit to one on the 30th of September 2018.
For business; For the family; For friends: For dancing; Etc.
Many insights were revealed during our ‘Catch That Fall’ Retreat – June 2018. A few of them are still very fresh in my mind. Mr Stolzenberg confessed at the end that he always had a ‘zero-to-hero’ approach and he always got injured. He thought that if he did one class a week that he would get strong and flexible. He realised how wrong he was and he realised how much work one has to put in, however hard it is at times, it will be possible. It takes a lot of dedication but the onus is on you, it is you that have to put in the work, no-one else can do it for you.
Mrs Utting said that she did not wish for anyone to suffer, however, it was comforting to know that other people suffer too from pain and discomforts. That we all have our own issues and that we have to deal with them and mostly we can.
I hope to inspire you to be kinder to yourself about your self- expectation, I want you to take a little bit of time and really think what matters in your life. Take one step back. Do one thing fewer. Do it properly. Be authentic in your choice(s) for your life. Assume accountability, put in the work and stop blaming ‘having no time’, ‘having too much work’, ‘being too tired’ ......... start and commit to something small, one step at a time and enjoy it.
I am not dependent on exercise/movement/connection for my survival, however, I fully know that I derive so much more meaning, joy and contentment when I do move, am creative and have proper connections with people daily.
I wish you all a wonderful Autumn. Do choose from our SFS Menu what will enhance your life holistically. There is enough on the list to offer you a meaningful choice, perhaps choose something that you always secretly wanted to do, however never felt ready or good enough to do.
Look out for the colour in the leaves when they “autumnize” be one of those beautiful white smiles that greet people with your eyes and when you can avoid walking up Pond Street in traffic!