The Road to Meditation – Are we there yet?

So it has been about three weeks of meditation and training and I thought I would give an update.  I am amazed at how far I have managed to come.  Away from judgement, away from hamsters in the brain, away from “am I doing this right?”.  I am learning, albeit slowly, that there is no incorrect way of meditating.  I was really concerned I was not getting it.  I was having all these thoughts in my head about how I was listening, feeling drowsy, desperately trying not to scratch my nose or check the time, trying to ignore the meow of the cat or the chirp of the birds.  I am told that I am to acknowledge the thought and just let it be.  That took a while to be OK with.

Now I find that 20 minutes seems to pass in no time, and that I am more relaxed yet focused at the same time.  There are feelings of body tingles near the end that are energizing and pleasant.  My body, while initially feels to be uncomfortable, eventually moves into a space of just being.  I listen to the words being spoken during the meditation and seem to become entranced by them.  There are moments when I feel I have just lost a bit of time – and when I pick up the thread of the speech think that I missed a few minutes.  It is an interesting feeling.

Am I more relaxed or more focused or less stressed.  I am not sure about that yet.  Certainly there are moments of joy that seem to pop up more and more often – but I am not sure if that is a side effect of meditation or the circumstances of my life at the moment.  Then again, does it truly matter where those pops come from as long as they are abundant?  All in all it is worth an ongoing exploration.  After all, for me this is a road not travelled.

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From Muddled to Mindful – My Road to Meditation

Life has a way of handing you a curve ball that you instinctively know has always been part of the path. It’s like a big sign that comes up on the road pointing you to a fantastic farmers market just when you were thinking of what you were going to make for dinner.  The synergy of stuff in the universe has always seemed a bit kumbayah to me.  While I can often intuitively feel that things are going the way the should – it is the intellectual side of me that just battles like hell.  I was recently “restructured” out of my job (sounds like plastic surgery gone bad) and found myself like many others – trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.  At 45 that may sound odd, but I wanted to capture that wide eyed innocence of my child’s mind to find the work I admired.  Sure I am going through the methodology of updating the resume, speaking to a career coach or two, reaching out to my network on LinkedIn – but I am looking for my passion as well as a paycheck.

As Life would have it, a lunch a few months ago with a former work colleague, Monica Maurin brought me to her passion – mindful meditation.  At the time last year I put it on my “should do” list, but did not have the time or the motivation.  Fast forward six months and I have lots of time, and curiously the motivation – which is in perfect alignment with Monica’s schedule.

So today I embark on my first lesson and thought I would share my journey.  Am I a bit dubious – perhaps.  More accurately I am a bit frightened that I will be running around hugging trees, sharing my feelings and extolling the virtues of quinoa. At the moment, I believe I must trust in Monica and know that the time for this has come.

The meditation lesson started after the preliminary questions and the settling in.  I recently re-purposed our spare bedroom, turning it into my personal dressing room/meditation space.  The room has 3 windows and a skylight.  With lots of natural light pouring it – it felt like the right quiet space.  Do I sit on the couch or on the floor?  I don’t know – and apparently it does not much matter according to Monica.  The key is being comfortable and open.  We settled in and started with our breathing.  Having done a bit of yoga in the past – it was a solid way to focus and get into the moment.  Posture, sounds, feelings, heat all started to tickle at my brain as I took those deep breaths.

Then came the raisin excercise (which curiously my mind went to reason and starting firing all kinds of weird connections).  Focusing on the raisin with all our senses, we seemed to be testing how the senses were aware to the simple raisin.  An interesting exercise that did not require any awkward posture or funny sounds emitting from deep in the chest.  As a foodie when I finally was able to put that little raisin in my mouth, I started to think about how things might be if we examined each bite in exactly the same way and with such intensity.  No more robotic snacking to get things into the mouth!

Monica then guided me through the meditation with her soothing voice.  It felt like no time had passed at all when we finished.  What I noticed most was the feeling of falling 2 or 3 times.  Almost like suddenly taking a step down a stair unexpectedly, or suddenly falling asleep and waking quickly.  It felt like for a moment my brain nodded off.  So far this is not too weird.

So time will tell over the next few days how I fare on my own and if I have the ability to sit still without the hamsters in the brain running of that wheel of lists of things to do.  If you see me staring at a raisin – just ignore me.


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Heaven and Earth

We are sitting in a valley near Hermanus, South Africa in a place called Hemal-en-Aarde.  Literally in Afrikaans this means Heaven and Earth.  There are rolling mountains that fold into the sea, with fluffy clouds and blue sky vast and uncompromising.  The ocean drips off the end and feeds the lush and verdant valley where the Hermanus wine route begins.  Most people who are familiar with South Africa wines have an inkling of those in the Stellenbosch region.  Head furthe east between Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope, and you will find the

With great wine comes great food.  We ventured off for a terrific dinner at La Vierge (the Virgin) winery to be fed and pampered by Chef Shane Sauvage.  The property overlooks the vineyard and the valley and has a decidedly modern feel to it.  Floor to ceiling windows take full advantage of the view, and a petanque court allows one to sip cocktails and play in the old French way.

Chef Shane was there as a wedding was in full seing.  After some introductions we sat down and started with a bottle of 2010 La Vierge Temptation and tapas of smoked mussels.  We were invited to enjoy our wine on a small balcony with lounge chairs and watch the sun set.  Chef Shane came out to check on us, pouring our wine and telling us a bit about the estate and their methods.  Our starters of Steinbok and Strawberry Carpaccio and Karoo (steinbok) Sausages were tasty.  The counterpoint of the strawberries was an excellent choice and had the mouth begging for flavour.  A brief break meant a brief chat with our neighbours, as we saw them enjoying fresh oysters.  We were rethinking our tapas of mussels as our mouths watered at the sight.  Just in time our mains were delivered which included Overberg Ostrich Steak and Mozambican Prawns.  The prawns had a spicy hit and with the bottle of wine disappearing, we then ordered the Original Sin to finish the meal.  Desserts could not be avoided, however, a half dozen oysters were required to cleanse the pallet first – we could not resist!  I can never pass on chocolate and feasted on the chocolate terrine which Jacques had the Robinson Crusoe.  These were surprisingly frozen concoctions that danced in sweetness in our mouths.  All in all a high recommendation for a fantastic restaurant and winery.  Excellent and attentive service and brilliant local food.

The next day we ventured further up the wine route to Creation. Wines.  We thought we would enjoy a light lunch and the full bounty of the valley.  We spied the tasting and pairing menu and knew we were in luck.  Our tasting was as follows:

  • Aubergine and Goat’s milk cheese cannelloni with the Creation Sauvignon Blanc
  • Spicy Chicken and Apricot Satay (gingr hit!) with the Creation Viognier
  • Avcado Ritz with Prawn with the Creation Chardonay
  • Cauliflower Soup (my personal fav) with the Creation Merlot
  • Creation Pinot Noir Reserve (just because the tasting manager Joanne was we were thouroughly enjoying our food and wine and snuck in that something special for us)
  • Springbok Rilete with Cherry Jelly accompanied by Creation Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot blend
  • Chorizo Espandita, Duck and Sour Cherry Pie with Creation Syrah
  • Bobtie Spring Roll, Beef Carpaccio with Prune Chutney with the Creation Syrah Grenache

These were all bite sized canapes with fantastic wine accompaniments.   I am typically a white wine (Riesling, Sauv Blanc) drinker but more and more I am enjoying reds.

We has a bit of the Syrah Grenache left over in our glasses, so we ordered the Trio of African Origin Chocolate which had just the right hit of chocolaate, raspberry and coffee flavours to enhance the last mouthful of wine.

Alas we have only had time for two wineries on the route.  However, a visit to the Wine Village at the start of the route (and across from the complex of homes we are staying at) allowed us to drink in the knowledge of owner Paul du Toit and we purchased 4 wines from the region for our sundowner or cocktail hour before heading our for dinner.  This wine shop is brilliant and houses the best that South Africa has to offer in wines.

As a declared apostle of great food and wine, our travels have led us to the promised land of Heaven and Earth.  In a word, DIVINE!


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Chobe Game Lodge

I have to admit I arrived here a bit jaded. After the amazing time in the private concessions, we moved to a largish lodge that had room for 48 guests. I was concerned it would be too big and not very intimate. Chobe Game Lodge is still in the national park, and across the way you can see the Captiva Straight and Namibia. Pretty cool if you think about it. The lodge is in the moorish style and is beautifully decorated and appointed. James Wilson, the Travel Trade and Branding Development Manager, has been wonderful to us from the start.  We did not know him at all – however, he made us feel like we were VIPs.

We wanted to spend Christmas somewhere magical. Given that Botswana itself is quite remarkable, I was looking for that amazing experience of being somewhere unique. Christmas Eve here was unlike any other. As we went from the airport and into the Chobe Reserve, we spotted the tail and paw of a lion, and herds of elephants and giraffe and the usually JAFI (slang for Just Another F$&8ing Impala). Impala are also known as the McDonalds for predators because if you look at their tushes you will see an M. This area is known for large herds, and is not disappointing.

When it comes to places to stay – Jacques has learned a valuable lesson.  He stands outside the room while I do my inspection.  It is best this way so that he will not get too attached to anything if I decide the room is not suitable.  In all our travels it is a discipline that I practice with efficiency and scrutiny.  In this case, the room was perfect.  From the comfortable bed with the crisp white linens, to the mini bar, coffee service, safe, robes and terrific soap products.  Everything was clean and in good working order.  We were on the main floor, so we had a view of the river in front of us, and the cheeky family of mongoose (mongeese?) to entertain us.  Oh yes, and AIR CONDITIONING!

After the drive and settling in, we went to grab a few drinks at the bar. We had something called a ginger square, which was comprised of ginger liqueur, brandy and ginger ale. Delish. We walked (stumbled) to the al fresco dining area, where we are greeted by name, and told that we were being seated for a special dinner. Huh?!?  We looked at each other and thought it best to just go with the flow.  We were guests in an amazing country with gracious hosts – who are we to argue?  We were escorted out to a boardwalk where there was a private table, candles everywhere, and our own personal waiter. We were presented with the Chefs menu, champagne and an evening to last a lifetime. The choir of staff strolled over and sang us the traditional welcome and wedding songs. Dishes included impala, kudu, prawns and the famous Botswana beef.  We giggled like newlyweds as we toasted one another, joked with the staff and simply enjoyed the sounds of the night.  I wanted magic and there was no shortage of it here on Christmas Eve!

A tremendous storm hit later that night killing the power, but hey, who cares, we were sleeping soundly in our soft bed. As with all camps, wake up is at 5 am for a quick coffee and then a jump into the trucks for a game drive.  After 10 solid days of doing this in previous camps (and perhaps a bit too much wine the night before), we opted to skip the game drive and breakfast.  Given that it was Christmas day (and perhaps some hints from the staff) we were saving ourselves for a huge Christmas lunch was coming.

At 10:30 am we jumped on a pontoon boat for a cruise down the Chobe River. The most exciting thing was coming a bit too close to the hippo pod of about a dozen of them. The river had a strong current and I think the guide freaked out a bit as it took us way too close. She was the consummate professional however, and did not show fear or hardship and she managed to just dodge the hippos. Jacques and I looked at one another knowing that this was the most dangerous creature in the area, and we would not want to tick them off. The rest of the folks in the boat (5) thought it was marvelous and were oblivious to just how close a call we just had.

Christmas lunch did not disappoint, with flowing champagne, duck, salmon, turkey, ham, ox tails, lamb and roast beef. Not to mention all the salads, veg and desert. Thankfully, we did not have to do much in the afternoon, as I booked us in for massages.  We have had our share of those as well.  I can’t tell you how lovely it was to be so well treated.  The therapist was a solid masseuse and I know as I waited for Jacques to finish she did an excellent job by the snoring coming from the room.

One of the most wonderful aspects of our travels is meeting fantastic and intrepid people.  We often find ourselves having drinks and sharing meals with folks from all over the world.  Chobe Lodge was no different, and offers a wonderful way to connect with nature and people.  The stunning beauty of not only the natural surroundings but the Lodge itself, coupled with the phenomenal attention to detail and service – allowed us to enjoy ourselves without complaint.

Jacques and I decided not to exchange gifts this year, as this trip was our gift. While we miss family and friends and the tradition, nothing could have prepared us for just how special Christmas could be here. We unwrapped a fantastic day.

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Vacation from vacation

I am a planner when it comes to our vacations. I research the heck out of places trying to find the unique experience, the once in a lifetime moments in places generally obscure. The road that is not only not travelled, but likely can’t even be found on a map.

One of the things I have learned is that sometimes, between the magical moments you need to have a vacation from your vacation. Despite what is planned for the day, or the location we are in and the must do’s on the list – a day off from it all generally is one of the most refreshing moments.

After getting up at 5 am every day to bolt down breakfast and jump in an open jeep to see some magnificent animals in their habitat for most of the day – we decided that a day off was warranted. Instead of the aforementioned grueling schedule to ensure our time and money were well spent, we just hung out in our little cottage for the day.

Our deck has a view of the river which is teeming with life. Huge bull elephants lazily stroll by, mowing the grasses and sucking up the river water in their trunks. The occasional pushing and shoving takes place as the boys try and establish dominance, but soon enough they are rolling in the mud and splashing themselves with water. Cattle egret stretch their wings out, and fish for the small river perch, breem or tadpoles in the tannic waters. Tree squirrels curiously run up and down the posts, sometimes jumping on the thatch roof while chirping at the lizards. The ongoing buzz of the mosquitoes competes with the hum of the fan laboriously trying to keep us cool. Our bottles of cider are sweating in the heat, leaving watermarks on the teak table.

Leaves rustle in the mopane trees as the doves squawk their cry that sounds like “work harder, work harder”. Not likely. I needed a day off from the bouncing jeep, the game watching and the focused determination to make this an amazing experience.

Sometimes it is the pauses between the notes that sound the sweetest.

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