I stretched my arms towards the sun through the spiny branches of the tree to reach for the ripe, shiny, sunkissed pomegranates. As I twisted each fruit into the palm of my hand, I was unexpectedly filled with childlike playfulness as well as a mysteriously familiar ancestral memory, as if my body remembered a time where gathering fruits was a natural, necessary pursuit for survival. I placed the pomenegranates carefully in a bag and carried them to the courtyard. Sitting in the shade of the balcony, I chopped each fruit into quarters and extracted the arils. Next, I placed the arils into a manual juicer and pressed them. I added sugar, brought the juice to boil and poured it into the glass bottles. This entire process took me the whole day (leading to a huge appreciation for the taste of the juice when it was finally ready!).
This day, shining with simplicity, was one of the many highlights of my trip to Cyprus where I’ve just spent three weeks volunteering in exchange for board – based at Aperanti Agrotourism in Pera Orinis, a tiny picturesque village in the Cypriot countryside.
When I first arrived in the village (having left Cambridge and my job at BirdLife International to dedicate myself fully to Mindfulness of Nature), my mind was extremely restless like a shaken snow-globe struggling to settle.
When I set off with my rucksack, friends and family had enthusiastically waved me off to “have fun”, “enjoy yourself”, “have a great time”… why wouldn’t they? We all want that for those we care about.
Yet, for some reason, I didn’t feel that things were fun and great. I was excited, but a little lost and scared. I now had no permanent job or home, no clear routine or structure and I was far from friends and family – out of my comfort zone. I’ve travelled many times on holidays, but I’ve never set off like I have now, for an undetermined amount of time.
For many years, I’d been dreaming of experiencing “freedom” – it’s something I’ve always longed for and deeply feared at the same time. And here it was…. but how do you navigate freedom?
My mind had so many questions and judgements to make. Why did I decide to put myself in a scary situation? How did I get here? How do I go about my days without the structure of a full time job? How do I feel at home if I am moving around all the time? Where will this adventure take me? And most of all, how can I feel so unsettled in this truly beautiful, sunny, peaceful village?
Have you noticed that sometimes when we experience or create change in our lives, the mind takes a little longer to catch up with the ‘heart’? It’s just what the mind’s narratives do – always working hard to analyse, control and protect us against uncertainty, novelty and risk.
I figured that perhaps my mind and its habitual patterns needed time to adjust, and remembered that it was my heartfelt inspiration to spend more time exploring and sharing wild places with others that had taken me onto this path. So, I decided to see if I could allow the mind’s activity to be there, welcome it and accept that this fear was likely par for the course . An integral part of the aliveness of the adventure. Of course, as well as being fun, exciting and enjoyable, it was also going to be scary, right?
Meanwhile, I went for evening walks every day near the village, enjoying impressive autumn cloud formations, night herons, owls, kestrels and big flocks of jackdaws. I sat on top of hills taking in the landscapes and tuning into the incredibly special silence and stillness of the Cypriot countryside. I watched the changing colours of the countryside in the evening light. And gradually, something began to remind me that despite the restlessness of my mind, this was where I was meant to be – an inner trust I couldn’t quite explain seemed to return (or perhaps was always there). This is what I had chosen. So, instead of dwelling in the realm of my fearful mind, I began to pay attention to what was around me and begin to come back to my senses.
During my stay at Aperanti Agrotourism, my volunteering work involved helping my friends (the owners) Tassos and Sara to make (and taste!) organic jams, juices, liqueurs and fresh halloumi. I’ve never been a natural with practical skills but cooking, baking and gardening were the perfect activities supporting me to tune out of the mind and into the presence of the body and the senses. And there are few better places than a Mediterranean island to melt into our sensory experience… impossible not to be enticed by the scents of jasmine, thyme, myrtil, lemonbalm and sage – blended in the soft, warm breeze.
Of course, I also led my Mindfulness of Nature events – including a workshop for BirdLife Cyprus (exploring how we can use Mindfulness of Nature to inspire more people for nature conservation) and a 3 day retreat at Aperanti Agrotourism during which we experienced heat, sunshine, hail, thunderstorms and the return of the rivers to the island’s gorges and valleys (more on these events in upcoming posts!).
My experiences in Cyprus turned out to be a perfect sensory stop-over tuning me back into the flow of my adventure before I fly to Chile this weekend, where I will be leading my next event in Huerquehue National Park!
So here’s a thought for you all: if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed with thoughts, worries, questions… perhaps it’s time to come out of your mind and into your sensory, bodily experience? After all, this is where true aliveness originates…THIS IS IT!
Why not embrace this beautiful time of year to take a mindful walk through the countryside, fruit picking, baking or gardening? The autumnal wild weather, colours, light, flavours can be wonderfully invigorating for the senses.
What helps you tune out of the ‘radio station’ of your mind and into that of your bodily, sensory, direct experience? What are your favourite sensory experiences?
Meanwhile, I’m sending lots of Cypriot warmth, stillness and fragrant aliveness to support you on your way…
PS. We are likely to be holding a spring Mindfulness of Nature event at Aperanti Agrotourism in Cyprus in 2019 – more details soon!
PPS: THANK YOU to my friends Sara and Tassos from Aperanti Agrotourism for hosting me in beginning this new chapter.