Do You Suffer?

I came across this recently on the Post Secret website.

Image copyright Frank Warren @ Post Secret

Now it may seem bleak, but atually what this person has stumbled across is the cornerstone of Buddhist philosophy.

“”I teach suffering, its origin, cessation and path. That’s all I teach”
~ Buddha

Buddha laid out the Four Noble Truths for us, so that we could understand what he meant.

1. We suffer.
2. We suffer because we desire.
3. We desire because we have attachment. We can rid ourselves of attachment.
4. This is how we rid ourselves of attachment.

That’s a very basic stating of what the Buddha meant, but you get the idea. (click this link for a more detailed explanation).

I strongly believe that the majority of pain and suffering we experience in life comes from the ideas in our head. We think that the buses should run on time, that our bosses should treat us fairly, that our partners must act in a certain way, and we become frustrated when things don’t happen the way we think they should.

If we could just learn to accept what is, to enjoy the unexpected highs, and react less to the sudden lows, our lives would be a great deal easier; and happier.



The Sydney Tourist

Well I’ve been the consummate tourist these past few weeks. Maybe that’s what Sydney does to you, but I’ve been to a number of sights, done lots of touristy things (including eat a lot of chips!), and got tons and tons of photos to share.

Actually I think having people to hang around with makes a big difference. You tend to do more stuff. My first week in Sydney I had my friends Sarah and Kellie to drag round all the tourist spots. And we did plenty, as seen previously.

Then last week Lena arrived, so there was more stuff to do (special items I’d been keeping in reserve just for her), so all in all it’s been a busy few weeks!

Now as mentioned previously, I did the yoga at the top of the Sydney Eye Tower. Well later that day I went along to do the Skywalk I had originally planned to do right afterwards but couldn’t because of the weather.

wet and windy

For $65 they give you a snazzy blue jumpsuit to wear in exchange for all your personal belongings (including your camera, but more on that later), then they harness you up, clip you onto the guide rail, and away you go!

skywalk group shot

kiki on the left

kiki on the right

I didn’t find it as scarey as some of the others. Personally I just found being outside that high quite invigorating. Even jumping up and down on the glass walkway didn’t bother me that much. See…

one, two, three... JUMP!

I have to say, the guy doing the tour (Stu) did an excellent job. He was fun, funny, and told us lots of interesting stuff that I’ve since rattled off to other people, much to their bemusement. He was even good enough to let me do a headstand shot, which is the main reason I went up there in the first place (that, and it’s twice as high as the Sydney Harbour Bridge at a third of the price).

25. skywalk headstand

That photo cost me $50, more or less. That’s how much for their souvenir photo pack. Considering how much it costs to print photos and burn a disc these days it was a bit of a rip-off, but what can you do? If you want a momento they’ve got you by the asanas.

It wasn’t as dark as it seems on the photos when we were out there, but it got dark not long after, and I got to enjoy Sydney at dusk once I was back inside, which was nice.

dusk from the tower

In fact I had to enjoy it, as I got the shakes a little once I was back on ‘terra firma’. I had to sit for a bit and have a cup of tea before I could head back to the hotel. Now that was a surprise to me.

All this I did the day before Lena arrived. Once she landed we had a whole list of stuff to do, including tickets (one of which was a surprise for her :)).

NB: I won’t tell the saga of the hideous ‘lodge’ we had booked. Suffice it to say I took one look and immediately went out to find something better. And I did, just around the corner! Ten times better, and at the same price. I’m telling you, don’t settle for less. Life’s too short!

The surprise I had for Lena was in fact the first proper thing we did (aside from eat, sleep, and stroll about). It was tickets to see the opera Carmen at an outdoor event on Sydney Harbour. To get an idea of what I mean here’s a view from the Tower Eye.

carmen from the tower

Not very good as I really had to zoom to get the shot, but you get the idea.

We got down there a little early and managed to take a few shots of the harbour from one of the best vantage points in Sydney.

sydney harbour at dusk

opera house and bridge at dusk

a night at the opera

I also got some shots of the spartan stage before the show began,


including one from our seats.

the view from the cheap seats

The show was good, but I have to say, I don’t think I’m that into opera. Just didn’t do anything for me. A few nice tunes, but other than that I wasn’t too bothered. Still, it was an experience, and at least I can say I’ve been.

Now even though I’d done the Skywalk, I still wanted to do the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout. $11 and you get to go up one of the towers on the bridge (which are purely decorative by the way. Look at the photos. There’s nothing connected to them. they do nothing to hold the bridge up!).

You get some great views of the harbour,

sydney harbour

and Circular Quay,

circular quay

CBD, with cruise ship

not to mention the bridge itself.

sydney harbour bridge

bridge climb in progress

You also get to see an upside down Englishman, but only on rare occasions.

26. pylon lookout headstand

After the Pylon Lookout we went to the Chinese Gardens near Darling Harbour. I’d been here before when I swung through Sydney for a day on my way to Perth. I’d found them nice and peaceful, a really enjoyable and relaxing place to be, so I wanted Lena to see them too.

phoenix, dragon, duck

baby buddha

through the square window

temple through the trees


yin yang

chinese gardens bonsai

the garden gate

happy smiles

I also got another headstand shot,

27. chinese gardens headstand

as well as doing a bit more yoga based monkeying around.

baby buddha crow

I love that Baby Buddha statue! I want one in my garden. 🙂

Our last day in Sydney we went to Bondi beach. Had to be done really.

bondi beach

kiki at the beach (on a very bright day)

We wanted to have a swim, but in the end it was too cold. But, we did get to sunbathe a bit, and I got this photo (one for all those who think I’ve gotten really skinny since being away, lol).

28. bondi beach headstand

We finished the day off with a ballet performance at the Royal Opera House. I really wanted to see something there, and the performance of Don Quixote is what was on.

don quixote

I think I like ballet a lot more than I do opera. The show was brilliant. Started off a little slow, but by the end the dancers were doing some amazing things, and you couldn’t help but cheer and applaud.

The storytelling was great too. I mean it was handy to have a program to get all the details, but you got a good idea of what was going on just from the performance. I’d go again to the ballet, and to the Opera House (significantly more comfortable seats than Carmen too!).

sydney opera house detail

I even managed to get a sneaky headstand shot when everyone had cleared out,

29. sydney opera house headstand

and another one outside, of the harbour at night,

30. sydney harbour headstand

which puts me up to thirty headstands so far! Not a bad haul really. I wonder if I’ll be able to get to 100 by the end of it all?

And that’s me for now. The next day we picked up our camper van and started our drive up north to Cairns (by heading west, but more about that later).

Mountain Meditations

I don’t like a lot of talk. Oh I can do it well enough, both the listening and the yapping away, but by nature I tend toward silence and solitude. That’s why I was really looking forward to my one week retreat in the Santa Cruz Mountains. After 3 months Karma Yoga, and a few weeks traveling (in one of which I visited 3 major cities!), I was in need of a recharge.

vajrapani institute

I found the Vajrapani Institute just by doing a quick Google search. There were, unsurprisingly, quite a few places to do meditation in California, but it was their pictures of the cabins, and the surrounding hills, that sold me on going there.


Getting there proved to be reasonably straight forward, but at the same time a bit of a mission. I took the Amtrak down from Oakland (near San Francisco) to San Jose, where I had to jump on a coach for an hour to Scotts Valley (near Santa Cruz). From there I could have taken the local bus to Boulder Creek, then hiked the 5 miles into the woods up to the retreat (like that was going to happen, lol), or, as I decided to do, I could call a cab.

I gave the number they recommend a call, and ended up speaking to a lovely chap called Gary. Turns out it wasn’t so much a full cab service as just Gary, semi-retired, just doing stuff as best he could to get people from A to B.

When I asked about a cab from Boulder Creek he was somewhat reticent. He was nowhere nearby, and it would be a long hike out there for him for such a short trip. but he was near Scotts Valley. How about he pick me up from there and take me up to Vajrapani? At the bargain price of $35 (down from the $50 he’d normally charge) how could I say no?

atop the lama ridge

The trip didn’t take long, and after checking in and getting my ridge top orientation from the lovely Betty I was left to my own devices.

my cabin in the woods

My cabin was very sweet. Small, secluded, it was exactly what I was after. And nicely decked out too. Ok, so there was just a small burner for making tea, and you had to go out onto the back porch to wash your dishes (toilets and showers were in a communal block on top of the ridge), but the bed was comfy and the heating worked (with a little persuasion), in the end what more could you ask for?

inside my cabin

I didn’t do much for the first few days. I just settled into a regular practice of yoga and meditation, with a lot of reading in between, some tea drinking, and a few naps here and there. The meditation came easier than I’d expected, which was a relief, and by the end I was up to a sitting of 45 minutes. That was about enough for me to start getting antsy. Think I’ll stick with that for now, increasing the frequency rather than the time as I progress. Apparently, as with so many things, little and often is the key.

castle rock state park 1

Middle of the week I went for a walk into Castle Rock State Park. There are a few wee hikes you can go on, but this was the big one. There’s just a road into the park and you just hike until you get bored and then turn round and come back.

castle rock state park 2

I’m not massive on hiking so I just walked until I got some decent views, and then headed back for supper.

meal bag combo

The food was excellent. Vegetarian rather than vegan, though in fact most of it did turn out to be vegan, so I didn’t mind eating round the cheesy bits.

It got delivered at noon(ish) each day (you cooked your own breakfast in your cabin, from supplied ingredients), with a hot main for lunch, and a jar of soup and some salad for your evening meal. There was facilities in the cabin for reheating the soup, and let me tell you, when the temperature drops as the sun goes down you’re glad of a warm meal in your belly.

a nice place to sit and think

All in all I can’t fault them on anything about their retreat (except maybe the fact that the granola you had for breakfast was a little burnt). You got exactly what they advertised, a quiet, safe, supportive environment for you to practice your meditation and take a rest from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. I’d recommend it to anyone, and at $80 a night I’d say it was a real bargain to boot.

sunlight on the shrine

I was very relaxed after my week in the woods. It was just what I needed. Unfortunately it was followed by a 13 hour trip down to LA, and all the shenangians that entails, but there’s nothing you can do about that. And indeed, isn’t that the point of meditation? To give us the tools to deal with such things in a calm and magnanimous spirit. I think so (I hope so! lol).

Either way, it was a great retreat and I’d go back there any time (if only I lived in California *sigh*). 🙂