Friday 8th April 2016
For reasons that now seem a little misjudged, I decided it was a sensible thing to travel from our rainforest retreat at the Binna Burra Lodge to Brisbane, for a series of business meetings.
I don’t know the city. I don’t enjoy driving to or around cities, and much as I love many aspects of city life and had the privilege of living in London for a decade, I can also find cities to be confronting, confusing and overwhelming.
Making sense of new cities, in new countries, even when the language is familiar is one of the challenges of travel that has taken me most by surprise. What I didn’t expect, was to have an encounter with Angels on a Brisbane highway……
My experiences of Australian cities fall into two categories.
First there is the flying visit, for a business event or to meet friends, where there’s a timetable and agenda and as long as you engage some of your brain and ensure your body is roughly in the right place at the right time, then it’s “too easy” (as some Aussies like to say).
In that respect, these brief encounters are like having a semi-conscious, one-night stand. You may just have met the most magical, complex, interesting human being (or city) in the world, but how could you know for sure? The encounter served a particular, basic function but unless you commit to another date, you can’t hope to build a personal relationship with a person or place.
The second type of visit I’ve been making to cities Down Under have been extended stays, with only a vague agenda, where I have tried (usually in vain) to get under the skin of a city through random exploration over a matter of days or weeks.
Why I think this is possible, when I left London after ten years feeling deeply unsatisfied at never really coming to grips with the city, is probably a question I should take with me into deep meditation and not return until I have the answer.
In the meantime, I have tried to get to know Sydney, Melbourne and to a lesser extent Brisbane in short periods of time and failed. This approach is less like a one-night stand and more like having a week-long blind date and trying to learn everything you need to know about how another human being in seven days, before deciding if you love them or not.
Sometimes you are drawn to the magic of a person or place instantly. Sometimes the more you get to know somebody or some place, the more you see into the shadows behind the bright lights. Sometimes people and places reveal their true strength and beauty to you, slowly and gradually, the longer you spend time with them. And sometimes, you meet Angels in the most unexpected of places.
This was my third trip to Brisbane. I’d flown from the airport here saying a sad goodbye to Jakkie at the end of my first Australian trip in 2008. I’d spent a few days her to speak at the Australian Men’s Health Gathering in 2013 and now I was heading for a radio interview and to visit potential venues for a seminar we’re running here in June.
What I hadn’t accounted for was the fact that the magical, mystical, dreamy state of consciousness I’ve been shifting into on our travels had reached new states of otherworldliness that are not designed to navigate city centres.
As is often the case, a journey that looked simple on a two-dimensional map, became incomprehensible when travelling at speed, in three-dimensions, in city traffic. Somehow we lost the M7 (if anyone has seen it please let me know where it went) and with just 15 minutes to go before my radio interview started, it looked like we were never going to arrive at our destination of 140 Main Street on Kangaroo Point.
So I said to Jakkie, can you do that Angel thing you do and without blinking, she evoked “The Angels” to guide us safely to our destination. Shortly after we hit a busy crossroads where Jakkie said “Main Street, turn left” and I nearly did but I spotted a sign saying 800-830 Main Street and decided we were heading up the wrong end of the road and turned right, into what I assumed was the rest of Main Street where we would find the numbers descending slowly down to our destination at number 140 Main Street on Kangaroo Point.
I was wrong and now we were heading away from our destination on a major artery out of the city, with nowhere to stop or turn back. Eventually I found a place to regroup and as I stood on the side of the road with my iPhone trying to work out a side route back to the spot where we (and of course I mean I) had taken the wrong turning.
As I did, something simple and profound, which has never happened to me before, happened. I’m going to share this magical moment with you, but first let me set the scene.
There have been many occasions when I’ve come across a solitary white feather, on the path or falling from the sky. Some people say this is a sign we are surrounded by Angels. I have no proof of this (and I have no way to disprove it either).
Part of my spiritual awakening has been to step into the unknown space between that which can be proven and disproven and when I sit in that space, I find magic emerges. The wonderful thing about the mystery of life, is that you don’t have to believe it to experience it, you just have to suspend your disbelief and your need to categorize everything as “true or false”/”good or bad”/”right or wrong”, for long enough for glimpses of the unknown to reveal themselves to you.
I have learnt more about myself, about life and the wonders of the universe by letting go of “rational” beliefs, than I ever have by holding onto “rational” beliefs. The way I now make “rational” sense of the great, mysterious unknown is to tell myself that there are many ways to rationally explain “the truth”, but that none of these are necessarily the actual “truth”. They may, instead, be “partial truths”, “gateways to truth”, that bring us closer to “the truth” when we open our hearts and minds to them.
So when I noticed a white feather on my shoulder on one of my dawn walks last week, I could rationally tell myself it was just a piece of down from my pillow or I could tell myself it had fallen down from the realms of the divine as a timely reminder that there are always Angels on my shoulder, supporting and guiding me.
Can I prove beyond doubt that either of those explanations is true? No! Does believing that a mystical answer is possible, open my heart and mind to new possibilities and experiences that my rational mind would block? Yes it does!
So this is what happened to me in Brisbane in short, sharp, chronological order:
We got lost. I asked Jakkie to “do her Angel thing”. Jakkie asked the Angels to guide us and she told me to turn left. My rational brain kicked in and turned right. I got out of the car and onto my phone to try and find a shortcut to put us back on track. As I held my hands out in front of me to work the phone, a white feather fell (from the heavens) and landed directly in the palm of my hand.
I looked at Jakkie. She raised her eyebrows. Suddenly, the map on the phone in front of me made sense. We jumped in the car and from memory I wove us skillfully through a series of twisting and turning city side streets and back onto the Main Street.
We were now at 450 Main Street and heading in the right direction to 140 Main Street on Kangaroo Point where I would be just a few minutes late for my radio interview. Suddenly the entrance to a huge bridge loomed up in front of us.
“Kangaroo Point,” said Jakkie. “Left turn”.
“Yes but we want Main Street ON Kangaroo Point. We’re on Main Street. We don’t want to turn off Main Street. Does it say Main Street, Kangaroo Point or does it just say Kangaroo Point”, said my rational mind.
“Yes, but, Kangaroo Point,” she said plaintively, as I drove past what I now know was the junction where Main Street takes a turn off the main road towards the radio station and headed, instead over Story Bridge, which I now know (interesting fact alert folks) is the largest cantilever bridge in Australia.
And so the bridge carried us up and over the River Brisbane, away from the radio station and back into a land of confusion and despair. It took us another hour to find our way back to the other side of the bridge and the radio studio, where the presenter was kind enough to reschedule the interview.
What did I learn from this experience?
- For pity’s sake Glen, get a plan and follow it!
- Listen to your partner
- There is more to cities and the universe and Jakkie than you can ever hope to understand, stop trying to know-it-all
- I need to learn to master the transition from the country to city, from the spiritual to the mundane, from right-brain to left-brain, from Yin to Yang, from travel to work.
- Buy a Sat-Nav!
To find out what Glen said about his relationship with Jakkie when he finally arrived at the Radio Station, click here.