The best worst days of my life

“Life always waits for some crisis to occur before revealing itself at its most brilliant.”—Paul Coelho

The eternal optimist, I kept on hoping and believing that my body would heal so I could walk from Rome to Jerusalem.

When I started to accept that even if my body did miraculously recover in the next few weeks that the distance and duration of the walk might turn out to be too much I started flirting with the idea that walking the Camino Frances to Santiago de Compostela could be a possibility instead because the total duration and distances between towns is shorter.

Yes, I was still thinking about walking somewhere even as my body was screaming out “no friggin’ way” and cramping down to protect itself— even on the days I could barely walk 40 minutes without having to sit down because of the spasms and pain. 

Yes, I’m optimistic and also very determined and stubborn.

I thought I was coming to London to catch up with Viv then walk 3000+ kilometres.

However, it turns out I have come here to start learning how to fully inhabit my body and to learn a new and easier way to walk through life.

I feel like the pain has stripped me down to my bare bones and now I am being rebuilt from the ground up.

With the help of my osteo/human movement specialist Dan, I am literally training my body how to walk without hurting itself. It has been a surprise and a revelation to discover how little I inhabit my own body through movement and breath.

The human body is an amazingly complex system. When we are injured, the body will adapt its movement to protect itself. The problem is when the injury heals the body doesn’t always revert to form. 

My body is layers and layers of adaptations.

Since tearing my ligaments in my left ankle six months ago, I have barely put any weight on my left foot. Whilst my ankle healed, it stayed frozen as I was too scared to move it in case I injured it again. My body couldn’t go back to how it used to be and even if it did, it already held onto a number of adaptations from the numerous injuries during my life.

Perhaps the biggest contributor has been my posture. I have spent years shrinking and hiding and trying to protect my heart and you can see this in my body—hunched shoulders, rounded upper back, leaning forward and collapsed through my core. When I walk, I step quietly and gently so as not to disturb anyone and to avoid attention.

I have also discovered that what I thought was gentle breathing is really barely breathing at all. I use my neck muscles to inhale shallow into my lungs and rarely use my diaphragm fully. This is especially noticeable when I am in pain. If I breathe shallow, I don’t feel the pain as much. If I breathe shallow, I don’t feel the emotions inside my body as much. This was a useful technique when my heart was broken and grieving and I didn't know how to be with emotional pain. Now I know better now, I want to feel fully alive and breathe in life.

Our breath is so important to encourage blood flow to places that need healing. 

Our breath encourages those tight places inside us to open up and release. Often it is those tight places inside us that cause our pain.

Every morning and night I practice diaphragm breathing, practices that Dan's girlfriend, Magda, taught me. During the day I am trying to pay attention to how I hold myself and breathe in everything that I do. In doing so, I have noticed how much I bend over to do anything instead of stepping in or squatting.

Already I can feel my body begin to change as I breathe myself open from the inside out. I feel light and peaceful and more free.

The last few days I have walked around Greenwich Park trying to practice what Dan has taught me—often feeling confused as I have discovered that the simple act of walking is actually quite complex. When it all seems too confusing I just remember to breathe fully, walk tall and proud and lead from the heart. I am also trying to be patient and kind to myself as it can take time for new ways of being to integrate. I gently stroke the parts that hurt and tell them they are doing good work.

I’m not walking from Rome to Jerusalem this year. 

It has taken a few weeks to accept this as I've ridden the rollercoaster of pain, sadness, anger, despair, confusion, frustration and uncertainty. I have struggled with the not knowing what is happening to me, when I will heal and trying to figure out what I will do if I don't walk. What I have learned is that being in a state of resistance does not help the body heal. You cannot fully receive healing or inspiration if your body and mind is closed down tight and you cannot make it happen within your deadline—I've tried. All I can do is set the intention to heal, commit to doing what I need to do to help myself and surrender.

I have no idea when I might try to walk from Rome to Jerusalem or even if I might try again.

Right here in this moment, it doesn't really matter.

I came to London intending to draw a picture of pilgrimage from Rome to Jerusalem but instead there is a new picture emerging, a very different journey. 

Right now, what I am really excited about is learning to be in my body in a new way that feels free, graceful and at ease.

As I wrote in my article, It’s how we travel that matters— “It’s not what we do, where we go or what we achieve in this life that really matters but how we do them and who we are being every day of our lives.”

It doesn't matter if I ever walk to Jerusalem but it does matter that I am here in this body in this lifetime being unapologetically, authentically, fully me. 

In the midst of suffering, pain and darkness it can be difficult to see the blessings of our experience. 

As I emerge back into the light, I am starting to see them now. 

What wonderful gifts to be cared for and supported by my friend Viv and to receive messages of support and encouragement from family back home and friends all over the world. 

I am so grateful for the healing gifts of my osteo Indy, my other osteo/movement geek specialist Dan and his girlfriend Magda and to be able to give them the opportunity to practice their healing gifts on me. I never would have met them if I hadn't have come to London and my body broken down.

And I am grateful for the insights about myself I have uncovered through this healing crisis. There have been many, many. 

Mostly I am grateful that I am becoming more and more of me.

Blackheath the other day on the way to see Dan for a treatment.

Sunset from one tree hill at Greenwich Park

Sunset Greenwich Park

Moonrising at sunset, Greenwich Park

A couple of my emerging pictures (these are because you asked Maggie x)

Will I walk? Hope, miracles and uncertainty

I arrived in London four weeks ago today. I never thought I would travel halfway around the world to spend weeks sitting in my friend Viv's living room but that is how I have spent most days since my back seized.

Pain and illness are often our body crying out for us to look at what is happening in our lives. Too often we ignore it and get on with life and its busyness.

In Australia, I grew up with the Codral Cold n Flu ad telling me to "Soldier on with Codral, soldier on, soldier on."  

And that's what I did for many years. It's even what I did during my Via Francigena pilgrimage—I acknowledged the pain and kept walking.

This isn't a time to "soldier on" but follow the cues of my body and to care for myself and I have been doing just that.

I have been seeing a lovely holistic osteopath. When there is sunshine I buy a coffee from a local café and go the heath to lay in the sun or wander around Greenwich Park. Some days I can only wander for an hour before my back becomes too stiff and sore and I know I would have no chance of walking with a 10+ kilo backpack. Some days I haven’t left the flat and have spent my time following my inner impulse: watching movies, writing, drawing, cooking, cleaning, dancing, meditating, developing a publishing plan for my book and just sitting and looking out the window.

There have been tears of pain and frustration and there has been anger and pounding of pillows but there’s been a lot of self-discovery and learning too.

Every morning I wake up with hope only to roll over and move my body to discover the pain hasn’t run away while I slept.

There have been times when I thought I had lost the desire to walk altogether. Pain does that—it brings you into the present moment (or a fight against it) so you can’t think of any other reality but the pain you are in.

Sometimes we disconnect from our desires so that the disappointment isn't as great.

Then I saw Rick Stein’s From Venice to Istanbul on TV. He visited Italy, Albania and Turkey and as I saw the amazing hilly landscapes I felt that tug in my heart as I remembered the calling to walk that pilgrimage route.

Optimistically, I changed my original flight to Rome to the 15th September and then I had to change it once more. Viv has been very supportive and accommodating but I can’t stay here forever. I have a flight to Rome on the 1st October that I will be on whether I walk or not.

With little improvement to my sacroiliac joint since the beginning of July I felt it was time to start accepting that this isn’t my time to walk.

A few days ago, I reluctantly sent an email to my family telling them that I have decided that I won't be walking from Rome to Jerusalem right now. I am deeply disappointed and upset that after 20 months of dreaming and planning my life around this journey that I can't go but my gut feeling is that I need three months to heal and get strong.

Then in an unexpected but perfect unfolding of events, I stumbled across a miracle worker.

On Thursday, I felt the impulse to tell Indy, my osteopath that I had a lot of fear in my foot and that I felt like I needed to learn how to walk again. I had been looking at Feldenkrais or Alexander technique practitioners when I return to Melbourne. Indy referred me to her colleague who specialises in human movement using kinesiology and other techniques. I had a treatment session with Dan on Saturday and in 90 minutes he unlocked my frozen ankle joint, realigned my hips and got me to distribute my body weight more evenly on both feet again—I had been so protective of my left foot I have been putting most of my weight on my right side for the last six months.

Dan believes that with a little more unlocking and resetting of my body system, that I will be able to do this walk.

He thinks I am physically strong enough to do it, it's just that my body is out of balance.

After what he showed me and helped my body to do, I believe him.

The question is do I still want to walk from Rome to Jerusalem right now?

I still love walking. I love feeling the earth under my feet and being able to make my own way through the world. I love the adventure of walking out of a city into a new unknown landscape. And I know I want to walk from Rome to Jerusalem I'm just not sure that I want to do it right now—that’s shocked and surprised me too. But I'm not entirely sure that I don't want to do it either. 

I have discovered every time I sit down to draw with my pastels that the picture that emerges is always different than what I set out to draw. All I have to do is surrender my idea for what wants to be expressed in that moment. Sometimes I have to sit and wait until I know what my next colour and move should be too.

I came to London to start drawing the picture of pilgrimage from Rome to Jerusalem and it seems that something else could be emerging.

Isn't this the beauty (and sometimes frustration) of creating a life—letting go of the attachment to how we think things should be, letting go of the need to know exactly what our next step is at any point in time, and learning to trust our creative impulses as we surrender to the great mystery?

The view from Viv's living room

Our Ladye Star of the Sea church at sunset, Greenwich

The Rose Garden, Greenwich Park

Angels be with me, Greenwich Park

My friend the crow kept me company for 30 minutes the other day

Back seized, Rome to Jerusalem delayed

Right now, I should have been writing to you from Castel Gandolfo in Italy, expressing my great excitement to be in Italy and that after 20 months of dreaming, I had completed my first day of walking from Rome to Jerusalem. But I'm not in  Italy. I never made it to Rome so that I could take my first steps to Jerusalem. I am still in London with no plan to leave here within the next 2 weeks.

Last Monday night, after applying heat and cold to my sacroiliac joint to help its healing, my entire lower back seized. If you've never experienced a lower back seizure (which I hope you haven't and never do) essentially all the muscles in my lower back cramped causing searing, wrenching, life-gutting pain so great that I could barely lean forward. Bending over was out of the question. And standing up after being seated required me to use as little of my core as possible - arms and legs only. The pain was so great and I felt so weak that I lay down and tears streamed down my cheeks.

I've experienced some pretty bad physical pain in my life - broken bones, motorcycle exhaust burns, deep knife cuts and of course the tearing of my ankle ligaments back in March. The essence and sensation of each of these pains are so different but none quite as crippling as that back pain. It stopped me in my tracks. I could barely stand up yet alone walk with just my own body weight. I knew that unless I received a miracle (and I do believe in miracles) that I would not be able to start walking from Rome to Jerusalem as I planned.

I spent all of the next day in my friend, Viv's apartment sitting on my butt on the meditation cushion or on the edge of the futon bed which seemed to be the most comfortable posiition. Sometimes I cried because of the pain but instead of tryng to ignore it or run from it, I felt it and I asked it what it wanted to tell me.

Some may say I have had a string of bad luck this year - a long on/off illness at the beginning of the year, tearing the ligaments in my ankle, the return of my morton's neuroma in my left foot, injuring my sacroiliac joint and now this lower back issue. But it isn't bad luck. Although I'm not quite at the "yay this is fantastic" stage yet, I know this is a blessing in ways I am just starting to discover.

Those who know me or have followed my journey over the last seven years will know that I have been on one hell of a spiritual awakening journey. I understand that I create my reality through my thoughts and words. And I know that unexpressed emotions (which are just a form of energy) stay in the body until they are released through feeling them. Unexpressed or repressed emotions manifest in our bodies as dis-ease in the form of illnesses or injuries. My injuries are a way of my body and spirit speaking to me and also showing me where to look for the underlying issues that have caused the dis-ease. This isn't always an easy or pretty task - to look inward at the shadowy, less desirable parts of ourselves - but it is a necessary part of healing and spiritual growth.

Part of my awakening journey is the reclaiming of my divine feminine nature, a part of me that I disconnected from in childhood when I was hurt and that I shunned when I went out to succeed in the patriarchal world. Very early in my career, I witnessed a strong, passionate female mentor of mine discounted by male Executives for being too emotional so I hid my emotions at work as best I could in case I was seen as too emotional or too weak. I have hated the colour pink for years for being too girly. And part of me chose boxing for sport because it was hard and tough and not what most girls would do.

We all have masculine and feminine energy. The masculine is what gets things done whilst the feminine is concerned with feeling - our state of being. They are both necessary to put our dreams into action and get things done in the world but they must dance together in their own way unique to each of us for our lives to be harmonious. As I have discovered this year, too much doing or doing that is motivated by fear of not being enough, or of needing to achieve for my life to be meaningful, or needing to prove myself hurts the feminine within me. This over-doing has manifested as injuries to the left side of my body - the feminine side of my body. First my ankle, then my neuroma, then my sacroiliac joint.

As I have sat and spoken to my injuries with kindness and curiousity, I discovered why my back seized and was quite shocked by what I learned: I have suppressed my fear about this journey, walking alone from Rome to Jersualem through unknown lands that I might not be safe in.

At the time I tore my ankle ligaments, many people kept asking me if I was scared to undertake this pilgrimage alone. What I heard them saying was that they would be scared to do it and that I should be scared too. Now I hate being told how to feel and what to do. I reacted the way I always have since I was a child and my mother tried to tell me how to feel and what to do. Subconsciously, my stubborn, inner rebel rose up and took control. She decided that I wasn't going to be afraid because everyone expected me to and because being scared was weak. She stuffed it down where it couldn't be seen or heard and assuredly declared that she wasn't scared, that she only expected to meet curious and helpful people along the way to help her.

Futhermore, thinking this was a great opportunity to do something positive and show others, especially women, that they didn't need to be afraid to follow their dreams or to do it alone, I decided that I was going to be a kind of martyr and that my pilgrimage could serve as a lesson for others. I contacted my pilgrim friend, Peter, who had recently asked if he could walk with me and I told him that I now felt that I needed to walk alone.

Oh dear. How arrogant and foolish of me. How much have I misunderstood fear and judged others. And oh how I have been tremendously humbled. I say this with great love and kindness to myself.

Perhaps if I really listened and didn't judge what was being asked, I would have heard the question simply as it was asked then felt into my body where I would have felt the fear that was and is there. And instead of reacting, I would have answered, "Yes, I am afraid but I feel called to take this journey and I'm going to do it anyway." This way my fear could have accompanied me in my awareness to be used as an ally, to help me ascertain when my safety really could be at risk. Instead I shut it down and silenced it. I thought if I really felt my fear and acknowledged it that it might stop me from doing what I really want to do. But because I wasn't listening and fear needed to be acknowledged and part of this journey too it stopped me anyway by clamping my lower back muscles down around my root chakra  my centre of safety and security on earth - to get my attention so it could keep me safe.

As I said earlier, I believe in miracles, and in an act of grace, my back stopped seizing on Sunday about the time I would have landed in Italy had I been on the plane. The muscles are free and I can bend forward and move pain-free.

 However, I am left with the pre-existing sacroiliac joint dysfunction and pelvic instability so I'm not physically ready to start this pilgrimage yet. I also have some more inner work to do looking at the shadow parts of myself and reconnecting with the true essence that motivates me to walk rather than the one made up by my ego.

I am blessed to have a friend like Viv who is happy for me to stay here camped out in her lounge room for as long as I need. 

It's not surprising that my back has seized here. Viv lives in a basement apartment which essentially means that it is below ground level and looks out onto the surrounding garden. I sit amidst the roots of vines and trees going into the earth delving into the deep and often dark aspects of myself. It also helps that Viv is able to hold a safe and understanding space for me to do this.

I have a flight to Rome on the 15th September - a date I chose intuitively with a lot of hope when I changed Sunday's flight so I didn't forfeit the fare. But I don't yet know if I will be ready to start walking then. I don't yet know if my back will heal sufficiently that I can even start walking from Rome to Jerusalem this year.

There is a chance that I may need to surrender the walking - the doing part of this pilgrimage and just throw myself into being. You see whether I walk or not, the pilgrimage has already begun. For what is sacred and holy lies inside each one of us. We don't need to physically go anywhere to experience this but instead have the courage to sit silent and still and go deep inside bringing the light of our own love and compassion to our dark nooks and crannies and honour the divine light that burns at our very core.


Watching the baby ducks at the local pond on a rare sunny afternoon

Sitting in the sunshine - yay.

Because I love woden doors.

The obligatory shot.

View from loungeroom window in one of the few moments of sunshine we've had since Friday.

In Germany with 11 days to go

I have been in Germany for almost 4 whole days now, spending time with my dear friend Ina who I haven't seen since I visited her here in 2011. We met back in 2009 in Phuket where she was my dive instructor for my divemaster course. Although we pretended to be very studious, we spent as much time talking about life as we did diving theory and practising diving skills.  A friendship quickly developed and extended beyond the diving classroom to coffees and beer o'clocks, travel and diving adventures. So far it has stood the test of time and distance with her now living here in Bavaria in Germany with her finace and me in Melbourne.

We have been going with the flow. 

Monday was a couch day as I had only 2 hours sleep in over 27 hours transit and it was raining. On Tuesday, we hiked up to the monastery and biergarten at Andachs where we ate their famous roast pork and meatloaf then walked down to Lake Amersee where we sailed to the otherside and back then browsed the nightmarket with its stalls of jewellery, clothing, wine and local foods. Yesterday we shopped in Augsburg whilst today we hung out by another lake near Friedberg and walked through the local woods. And of course we have been doing lots of talking and catching up whilst drinking lots of coffees.

Sometimes we talk about my pilgrimage, the way I plan to walk, how far it is and the potential risks but I'm not spending a lot of time thinking about it right now. Soon enough the time will come for me to start walking but right now I am just being here in Eurasburg with my friend enjoying what each day has to offer and the wide open spaces, the quiet, the green forests, the fresh air.

I am still riding the rollercoaster of pain from my injured left sacro-iliac joint.

 Some days I am pain-free. Fortunately it was fine the whole way from Melbourne to Munich. Then other days, like yesterday and today, the pain returns and gnaws away from my lower back to my hip and down my left thigh. My walking slows and the pain drains my energy.

I don't know how this journey will unfold. I don't know if I will be able to make it all the way to Jerusalem. Sometimes when the pain is bad I wonder if I will even be able to make it out of Rome. 

But as I learned during my Via Francigena pilgrimage, sometimes its best not to look at the destination but instead to focus on your feet and the next step you have to take. This strategy helped me to climb a lot of tough hills and to keep going on some long, tiring, painful days. 

Sometimes we have to be okay with the not knowing how things will turn out and if we are going to make it and just take the next step anyway.

As I enjoy just being here in Bavaria, I feel the great current of life hold me and take me gently into the day to the next experience then the next. Despite the pain and the uncertainty, I trust and I know, that everything is going to work out just fine - just possibly in ways I could never have expected.

View from Andachs monastery

Me and Ina on the way down from Andachs

The enchanted forest

Paddlesteamer coming in to the pier at Herrsching am Amersee

Castle house by the lake at Herrsching am Amersee

Pier at sunset - Herrsching am Amersee

Tree massage at the night market at Herrsching am Amersee

Lake near Friedberg

Path to the forest in Eurasburg

Enchanted forest in Eurasburg

The training of surrender

The training of surrender
"If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans."—Woody Allen

The days until the start of my pilgrimage are falling away so gracefully just like autumn leaves floating and twirling their way to the ground. There are only 3 days left of my work contract, 3 weeks until I fly to Munich and just over 5 weeks until I take my first steps from Rome towards Jerusalem.

In the last two weeks there has been a little slow walking when I have felt the urge but no training.

My Morton’s Neuroma in my left foot has settled down but not gone altogether. And my body has had a painful time adjusting to the orthotics prescribed by my podiatrist. They jarred my lower back and even now, 3 weeks later, I have almost constant lower back pain.

But this isn’t the reason I’m not training.

I surrendered the notion of training for this pilgrimage when I realised how I was pushing and striving and slamming the feminine part of myself that just wants to flow and move with joy.

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Another standstill

Another standstill

There are only 9 weeks left until I take my first steps from Rome to Jerusalem and again I have been brought to a standstill.

I have been pushing myself hard over the last few weeks since the ligaments I tore in my ankle at the end of March healed enough that I could start hiking. I have effectively been working the equivalent of 4 days in 3 as my contract's project moved into a critical phase, plus walking 3 days per week up to 20 kilometres per session, plus finishing the edits on my book so I could try and publish it before I leave, and not to mention trying to finalise plans to walk and pack up my life for 6 months or more.

Then 1 week ago, after back-to-back days walking 16 and 20 kilometres in the Dandenong Ranges and beside the Yarra River wearing the Princess boots, the Morton’s neuroma in my left foot returned. The nerve between my third and fourth metatarsals is compressed and fibrous tissue has formed around it causing constant pain and discomfort.

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The power of silence

The power of silence
"Silence is a source of great strength." — Lao Tzu

Silence is a continuing theme in my life right now and Lao Tzu’s quote has inspired me again. defines silence as the absence of sound; stillness.

I define silence as the great undercurrent that holds everything together.

When sound is absent, there is still something there. If you pay attention and try to hear silence, you can feel it. It is an energy that has a deep and eternal source. It holds us as if in cupped hands even when we’re busy noisemakers, even when we forget that it is there.

It is the silence that carries me when I walk and helps me to keep going when the going gets tough.

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