The Bibbulmun: day twenty six – Donnelly River Village -> Tom Road

In September and October 2016 I did the 1000km Bibbulmun Track Solo, North-South. Here’s a few excerpts from my journal.

Nice cruisey walk into hut, around 4 hours. Feet hurt a bit – tried strapping with rock tape instead of bandages – hurt more today than bandages. Might try combo tomorrow. Meant to be showers tomorrow 🙁  then RAIN, thunderstorms and hail the next day 🙁 🙁 🙁 Felt a little anxious leaving Mum and town today – always a bit of a rip required to pull away from showers/food/comfort.

Such a gorgeous day though, sunny and warm – got sweaty for first time in couple of weeks!

My feet – have never known such a burden as that which I’ve placed on them in last 500km. They are doing well. Love you feet.

I thought I’d be spending more time writing and nutting out my life – I seem to be spending more of my hours in the huts listening to audio books and eating and chatting with people. Mr Deer and I, old bloke Phil (heading to Pemby, ‘Bucko’) and father and son duo going Pemby –> DRV. So much for solitude! Had lone male hiker at 2 nights between Balingup and DRV.

Not happy about weather forecast – was so enjoyable walking in good weather today! So enjoying being in karri tree land too. Finding when talking with other people I’m struggling to find empathy for them. Just don’t have much giving a shit for much these days. Depression? Not sure. Certainly haven’t felt depressed in last 3.5 weeks, but my mood/thoughts/behavior yesterday was pretty typical of when I’ve depressed. But now I wouldn’t say I’m depressed and yet find myself thinking/acting similarly – what does that mean? Told Linton about this conundrum and he said ‘Great! More things for you to thinking about with all your time walking.’ It is helpful to be able to head out into the bush and just have alone time, to soothe the soul. Could be hard to transition back into Real Life. I mean the luxuries are nice but the nervous system feels very settled here. Exercise, sunlight, 12 hours in bed…Noticing that sunlight hours are increasing. Even though rain is hard, I like being connected to the weather. Very easily forget it though.

How to live in a screwed up world (I don’t know)

Sometimes I’m actually not sure whether my sensitive soul can deal with living in this world. It seems that my heart (soul?) hurts more (when I’m exposed to the hardhships of life) as I get older, insted of less, as I’d expected.

When I was a child and I would cry about something like having a fight with my friend, or getting told off, or a small animal dying, it seemed like a fairly expected thing for a child to do, right? But as an adult, I find those things, and more, somehow even more painful than I used to.

I used to walk around cities, as a late teenager/early 20’s adult, and seem homeless people, and…I don’t know exactly what I did. I still offered them food, but I wasn’t so saddened by their existence. Perhaps I found them a bit scary or something. But now, my heart aches every time I go into the Melbourne CBD, and see the (many!) people sitting curled up under blankets and carboard, on the concrete. Last night I was standing on the footpath at the edge of the street, waiting to cross at a set of lights. Ont eh opposite side was a man, who looked as though he’d fallen down. He had a black bag next to him, and he was kind of sprawled/hunched over, and holding on to one of his legs. I saw multiple people glance at him, and walk past. I thought, what the fuck? What if he’s hurt? When I crossed, I stopped and asked him if he was ok, if he was hurt. Just after I stopped, a guy riding past on a bike also stopped and asked the same question. The guy on the street couldn’t really answer, he was slurring his words a lot and didn’t seem to understand much of what we were saying. I guess he was wasted. Eventually he asked to be helped up; bike guy helped him and I got his bag for him. He was staggering around and I was worried he would fall onto the road and get hit by a car. Bikeguy was helping him figure out where he was going (Coburg?) so I left him to it. I had someplace to be, you know?

I honestly didn’t know what I could really do to help, other than to ask if he was ok, to care just a little bit. As opposed to all the people who just walked past, and didn’t even acknowledge him as another human being. I don’t know what he needed, but I don’t think I could offer it. Certainly, I don’t personally have all the resources to provide food, shelter, emotional support for all the people living on the street in Melbourne. And yet my heart aches to just walk past.

The other day I stopped and bought a guy a Subway footlong (meatball, his choice). Because I was on my way to go buy some hiking gear, and I felt so guilty considering spending a couple of hundred dollars on something I want, but don’t need, while this guy was sitting there apparently cold and hungry. I say apparently, because I don’t know for sure what his experience is (was). That’s how he looked, and what he told me. I have also heard the opinion that you can actually make good money begging, and that some people wll do it even though they are actually alright, financially. Personally, I can’t see the appeal.

But is that enough? Can I buy a guy a Subway, ask another if he’s ok, and then just continue to walk past and do not much else to help? Does the fact that I managed to hold onto my sense of self enough to not get into drugs, to get a house to rent, to get a job, go to Uni, mean that I’ve earned all the privilege I hold and I shouldn’t feel guilty about it? In all honesty, seeing them makes me want to turn away. Because it aches?too much to see. But I keep being reminded of something that Glennon Doyle-Melton wrote (I love her blog), about the refugees in Greece recently:

“But let us not say: I can’t look at this. It’s just too much. That is not true. It is not too much for us. It is too much to be them, but it is not too much to look at them. Please look and remember that if that was our [family] (and it is) we would want good-hearted people to draw close and help – not to look away. We will not look away. We will not protect our own hearts: we will work to protect our human family

When I think of that quote, I think, I’m doing a disservice to the humans of the world by trying to protect my own heart from pain, by looking away and trying to avoid going into the CBD. How then, to see the pain of the world, but not get engulfed in it? How to witness it, to hold it, to use the pain as a prompting to do more good in the world, without falling over and getting trampled by it, until I’m just crying mush and can’t do anything at all helpful?

That is a question/s I don’t currently have an answer for, and I’m working on it. So far, all I’ve gotten to is this: just love. Just do as much as possible from a place of love, as often as possible. Put out more love into the world.

Working on it!

Big love,

xx

Ps – I’m anticipating some people might encourage me to volunteer. I have thought about this, and for some reason Im not sure about it. Mostly, although I see that volunteering to help serve (for example) a hot meal to people might be helpful to the person on that day, but would it contribute to a solution to the greater problem? Im not sure.

PPS – I originally copy-pasted this from a word doc, and all the formatting went weird. I rewrote the whole thing, and still wordpress insists on inserting some random characters into the preview and deleting other important bits – like apostrophes – even though it looks normal in the editor section. If you see some random characters that look like they shouldn’t be there, or apostrophes that are missing, please use your imagination to fix them and carry on.

The biggest gift you can give someone (plus three easy steps to make it happen)

I was at a small gathering of peeps last night, a very diverse bunch all brought together by a common interest. Most of the people there knew each other and had a history, and I (and my significant other) were new to the crowd. We were sharing some food and drink, and chatting a bit.

One of the people there talked a lot. About his experiences, travels and life. His stories were interesting and sometimes entertaining. However, when I left the gathering I found I was feeling a bit empty and even frustrated. Discussing this frustration with my significant other, I suddenly burst out “there was no CONNECTION!” and he responded with a resounding “YES!” We realized no one had asked us questions about ourselves, in an effort to include us or to know more about us. I’m still thinking about it this morning. To have the awareness and selflessness to feel comfortable directing the attention to others when in a group – not out of shyness but out of a desire for everyone to feel heard and included, is no small thing.

In the workshops and retreats I teach at, a common exercise we do is a three minute empathy swap with a partner.

This is where one person talks, for three minutes, and the other person listens – really, properly listens, paying attention the whole time – and tries silently to guess what the person speaking might be feeling or needing. In our exercise, as we are practicing identifying feelings and needs of others (otherwise known as empathy) we pull out cards which have the feelings/needs listed on them and put them down as we think we hear them expressed.

Have you ever tried to listen to someone, to give them your full attention, for three minutes?

Or even one minute? Without responding with advice (‘oh, what you should do is….’), or a story about your own life (‘that reminds me of when I….’) or even sympathy (‘oh your poor thing, that sounds so bad’). It’s actually really hard, as it goes against the way many of us have socially learned to ‘do’ conversation.

And on the other side –have you ever experienced someone just listening to you – really listening to you – for three minutes? Or even one? Without interrupting, without asking questions to clarify parts of the story, without offering advice? I’ve been the person who is doing the listening before – and I’ve seen firsthand the incredible connection and understanding that people can get when they are given the space to just go there, be listened to, and have that space held for them.

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I’m a human. I still struggle with this.

When I’m listening to my friends, I get so many ideas about what they could do to change things, what I think is the right course of action, wanting to tell them about the time that I suffered too, wanting to ask questions because I don’t understand a part of their story. But when I manage to hold onto these thoughts of mine and just give people the space to speak, that’s where the gift is. When they stop speaking and instead of telling part of my own story, I can say “Tell me more about how that is for you” and allow them the space to keep going, that is generosity.

You can do this for people you love (or like! Or don’t like!) too. Three easy steps:

1) ask someone a question (how are you? How do you feel about that? What’s been going on recently? Are you ok?)
2) Let them answer, and really pay attention. Try to guess what they are feeling, whether they explicitly use feeling words, or whether you are trying to guess the feelings underneath their words. Do this silently.
3) When they stop, reflect back what you heard, (‘wow, sounds like things have been really stressful/scary/fun/challenging/exciting/ for you’) then ask them if there’s more (‘Is there more that’s been going on?’ ‘how do you feel now we’re talking about it?’)

And maybe that’s it. Maybe the person doesn’t want to keep talking, maybe they’ve had enough. But giving them the space to keep going is such a beautiful, simple (but not easy) gift.

A warning: it can be really frustrating if you regularly offer this space to someone time after time but don’t ever get the space reciprocated.

If you want to try out this listening technique, and really want to be listened to as well, perhaps try asking someone to listen to you in this way – or offer to do a swap – one person gets three minutes while the other listens silently, then swap. You might be surprised by how much understanding you can get of yourself by just talking for three minutes without interruption.

I’d love to hear how you go trying this out. Let me know in the comments below!

Much love xx