tasting cloud nine

tasting cloud nine

This is a short ode to meditation. If you already have a meditation practice, does this resonate with you? And if you don’t, is it something you might want to try?

Bat your lashes, take a deep breath and count to three. There is magic right in front of you. Jewels hidden in plain view. I swear it by the moon. All you have to do is look and listen, beyond the thin veneer of habituality. There is always something new to discover, something unseen. Like being tourists in our own minds and habitats. Or like children.

This winter I am living on my sailboat far north in the world, north of the Arctic Circle. To most people that sounds incredibly exotic. And it sure is. But this is my everyday life too, remember? It is no weekend vacation. The winter here is dark. No sun for a long, long time. And there are storms. Lots and lots of storms. It is absolutely possible to get used to this reality, and not in the «I could get used to that» sense of something comfortable or fun we want more of in our lives. Just used to, as in « this is my day-to-day life, and I’m used to it» sense. What does that really tell me? Several things, actually. For one, it tells me we can endure more than we think, when it comes to discomfort. But it also tells me we can end up «enduring» and tuning out the good stuff, if we forget how to look for it. Even up here, where it is stunningly beautiful, the eyes can go blind. Up here, where nature sings one day and growls the next. Ouch.

Paradoxically I think the dark makes it easier to see. I hibernate a bit during the darkest winter and let my eyes rest in velvety darkness. That’s ok. But not for too long. It’s an opportunity to really wake up. And if it wasn’t for the dark, we wouldn’t see the stars, of course. Or the aurora borealis. None of this magic is visible if we get stuck in front of a screen. I need to go outside, even if it’s overcast, even just to smell the sea. And I need to go inside, to really open my eyes and see. There is so much beauty on the inside, even when the world is dark. Even when there is suffering. Even when the mind chatters like mad hatters at a tea party.

So, yes, another ode to meditation. I can dig it. And may I humbly suggest that if you can’t really seem to take the time for the kind of meditative practice you think you should have, if feel like you are stuck in a rut, or that your city street looks dull, or you’ve forgotten the smell in your apartment, you simply sit down and get quiet just for a moment every day? Just noticing whatever is there to be noticed, whatever is there to be felt. Like an internal shower, where you wash the layer of grey dust off your senses. Then, perhaps, you can see, really see the clouds during your morning commute. Or smell the frost. The splendour in the grass, the glory in the flower. All that jazz. Maybe you have your own way of coming to your senses. Maybe it involves cabins in the wood or travels to faraway lands. Yes, please, both! May I suggest sitting a bit, anyway, just quietly? A fresh perspective is only a few breaths away. And there is more. So much more.

How to begin? Sit in a way that feels good and focus on your breath, just feeling the flow of air. A minute or five will do, just to start out.

If you need more guidance, I just might cook something up in the near future – involving adventures both inside and outside. Do let me know what you want! And there are plenty of meditation apps out there. Like Insight Timer, with lots of free guided meditations and sound tracks (I love sound baths)! Or, if you want snazzy design and step-by-step programmes, try Headspace or Calm. Calm even has bedtime stories, including nature essays by John Muir. Lots of love right there.

Now, bat your lashes, close your eyes, take a deep breath and count to three. And again. And again. 

Then go outside and play.
towards the light

towards the light

Yogini has gone Bear, quite literally. I am currently spending six months on Bear Island in the Arctic.

Combined with shift work at the meteorological station, dark days lead to a circadian rythm that would put any free jazz ensemble to shame. Waking up at three in the morning and staring at the ceiling for hours. Pancake parties at five. Bodies draped across furniture for impromptu naps at all hours. The presumably mythical state of “Arctic Hysteria” or “Piblokto” in inuit language does somehow not seem too unreasonable.

The darker side of life in the Arctic is the increased rates of depression all across the region during the winter months. It is no wonder, really. We are people of the sun. The sun gives us life. Spending too long in the dark is a bit like having it sucked out, slowly, slowly. Sleep deprivation is a strange side-effect of the polar night. Somehow the lack of light doesn’t always make us sleep more, rather the opposite. At least this is the tendency among those of us who work shifts. Rampant insomnia can mess with the soundest of minds, and I am no exception. After a sleepless or interrupted night my body is out of whack. And unless I make up for the lack of sleep my heart feels fragile too. We tend to live in a bit of a bubble up here, for good reason. During the winter months dealing with what goes on in the world can simply be a bit too much. Even thinking about the state of the planet can make my eyes start leaking. According to a recent estimate there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050. That would get to me on the best of days. On a sleep deprived, cold and dark winter morning it feels like my heart has taken a beating.

But it aint all bad. Feeling the hurts can be a good thing. This is the season to embrace vulnerability and to shed any layers of cynicism. Literally spending some time in the dark can be a great way of tapping into what really matters, of taking the time to feel the feelings. There is nothing wrong with that. The only danger is of succumbing completely to waxing and waning emotions, without the ability to step outside and just observe with non-judgemental compassion. Are you feeling the winter blues too? I believe practicing self-care and especially mindfulness can be a way of turning the tender ache of winter into something fruitful. My first recommendation – always – is to just sit your butt down and observe the breath and the passing thoughts and sensations with an attitude of compassionate, spacious awareness. Feel whatever is there to be felt. It is already here. Let it be. Also, try some of these winter survival tips.

Truly feeling the hurts of the world instead of turning numb is also the first step towards dealing with it. If we tuned out, became numb and closed our eyes and hearts to the not-so-ideal situations, would we care enough to actually do anything about them? I am spending a lot of time pondering alternatives to plastic these days. Because there has to be something we can do. There always is. Simple acts go a long way, and they start with awareness. If we are just aware of it, reducing the amount of plastic we bring into our lives becomes easy. If we tune in and really see and hear the people around us, lending a helping hand to someone who needs it comes naturally. I understand the paralysis often felt when facing seemingly impossible challenges, like the current refugee crisis. I guess one place to start is by not voting for people who deport asylum seekers to Russia in -30°C without the right to a hearing or an appeal. Just an idea … The sooner we realise that we are not seperate from one another, but parts of the whole, the sooner we can create a sustainable world.

Spending time in the dark makes me appreciate the return of the sun all the more. And it will return, inevitably. On February 4th, to be quite precise. Spending time in the dark also makes me feel the shadows more intimately, and thus get to know where to direct the light.

A reminder, for dark and sunny days alike:
“We must accept our pain, change what we can and laugh at the rest.”
Camille Paglia

the road goes ever on

the road goes ever on

Setting goals and reaching them. Having ambitions. Going for the finish line. That’s how it is supposed to be done, right? It is so ingrained in most of us that we take it for granted. But does it make us happy?

As a recovering perfectionist I would like to provide a defence for “it depends”. I’m not saying that dreams, ambitions and goals are a no-no. I wouldn’t have moved onto a sailboat if I didn’t first dream about it. I wouldn’t have created this blog if I had no ambition to reach people. Creating anything at all would be exceedingly difficult without the ability to dream it up first. Flow psychology provides a clear correlation between goals, challenges, feedback and the enjoyable state of being in flow or “in the zone”. But there are times when the scale tips way over on the other side, and ambition becomes toxic.

When you feel guilty or pressured, when ambitions become more important than compassion or when reaching the goal makes you lose sight of what goes on right here and now – that’s when I’d suggest picking up the scissors and cutting it the f… out. That’s when I’d challenge you to take up the noble art of being idle, really savouring the moments when you do nothing at all. It’s easier said than done, dealing with the “but I really should…”-situations. When do we need to keep going and when do we need to stop and smell the flowers? Perseverance is crucial when we’re going through the bumpy parts of a ride that will take us somewhere we really want to go. But sometimes it’s just plain nonsense to suffer or struggle needlessly. Life happens here and now, in the process, while we are on the way. If we forget to enjoy the ride, we miss life itself. And all those goals and ambitions are really just tiny hilltops where we might get a better view of where we are, anyway.

Think big to think small. Space is vast, and we humans are really not all that significant by ourselves. There is a grace in insignificance. We are like the grains of sand that make up a beach. Whether or not we, as individuals, have reached every goal by the time we get washed back out to sea, is of no matter. None whatsoever. I don’t find that demoralising, I find it liberating.

I hope this attitude can provide an antidote to the yoke of perfection a lot of us carry. I used to be very driven myself. And I still am, just with a tiny, yet monumental difference to my approach. I have tons of ideas and projects and things I want to do! The way to balance it out, for me, is by tapping into what’s really important – a.k.a. the ride – and not getting too hung up on the outcome. If I had decided that the most important goal with my sailing adventure this summer was to get all the way to Lofoten (and especially if I had assigned a specific time frame), I would have missed out on so much! I would have sailed past places I wanted to explore and potentially gone out in weather conditions that could have been fatal. I would have run the engine a lot more, instead of learning how to sail properly. And I wouldn’t have ended up finding a wonderful winter home for SY Pyxie by pure serendipity.

I did have many, small goals on the way, giving me many small victories.  Getting out of the Oslo Fjord was a victory in and of itself … And I had a longing for north. I longed to really feel north. So it was with joy and elation I crossed an invisible line, only seen on maps and somewhere inside, as I sailed into the county of Nordland on a clear, crisp September afternoon. I could smell autumn in the air. I could smell north.

With autumn in the north come storms. I felt a tingle down my spine as the air grew colder and I could see low pressure areas homing in on my weather map. I could feel a change coming. Brønnøysund was a necessary stop for bureaucratic reasons; I had to renew my passport in time for the Nepal trip. And while I was moored at the guest harbour, an old salt stopped by to have a look at Pyxie and we got chatting. We talked about boats and engines and he showed a keen interest in my electrical inboard. He told me about someone in the process of installing one, a boat builder called Sigurd Siem. The name had a familiar ring, and I recalled that I had just read about him in a guide book for sailing spots along the coast. His boatyard was on the list of recommended places to leave a boat over winter.

I phoned him as the rain was starting to drum on deck, and he promptly came to pick me up so I wouldn’t have to get soaked. Karma points right there. He showed me around the boatyard, where the sailboats were positioned in accordance to dominant wind directions and secured to 700kg cement blocks. No sailboats blowing in the wind if Sigurd could help it, I could tell. In the main building was a wooden schooner under construction, and there were various workshops where I could use the space and tools for repairs and upgrades come spring. Heaven! Oh, not to forget a shower, a washer and dryer, a kitchen, a sleeping loft and plenty of storage space. Way more facilities than me and Pyxie have had or even dared to dream of so far. So, yes, after a quick chat with sailing kitty First Mate Poesi I decided to make it Pyxie’s winter haven. Two days later she was on dry land, and the first real storm of the autumn hit. I was endlessly grateful for my decision to stop and go no further. And right there, as I had closed a chapter, I made the most amazing discovery. My “boat neighbour” was an 85 year old (or, rather, young) salty dog aptly nicknamed SjøBjørn. He had wanted to buy Pyxie back in the eighties, and even had the original advertisement for the Centurion 32. We spent several nights sharing sailing stories and cups of tea. I did most of the listening, mind, being short of a few decades at sea. He had visited over 150 harbours in just the northern part of Norway, where I had barely entered.

The best is yet to come. Obviously. Helgeland and the coastline north to Lofoten is considered the best cruising grounds in Norway by aficionados. Why miss all that by hurrying past in a gale? If I had a rigid finish line, I would have had to. But for me the end of the blue road is nowhere near. Right now I’m having an intermezzo enjoying other adventures in Nepal and on Bear Island. Then it’s me, Poesi and Pyxie again – and the horizon. Where we’ll sail next is an open question. Choosing to be a vagabond is to voyage with no set destination in sight.

Because the road goes ever on and on, and always leads us home.

the mousehole cat

the mousehole cat

Ohai. That’s how cats say hi, or so the internet claims. I’we watched lolcats when the skipper wasn’t looking. Don’t tell.
Just wanted to give you my version of this sailing adventure so far. I am liking it. The adventure and the fish, especially. I like the wind a bit. It smells good. But I don’t like the waves so much. Everything moves and I have to run and hide. I mean, things actually fly around inside the boat. Now I understand why the skipper attached both my food bowls and litter box with bungee cords. Also, I’m not sure if she notices, but water actually gets inside the boat sometimes when the waves go all the way over. I don’t like to be wet! And I don’t like that feeling in my tummy when it moves too much. But it passes quickly. What I really like is being holed up! Then I get lots of good food and cuddles. I get to stay the whole day under the duvet if I so please. And she bakes things that make the boat smell nice and tells me stories. Like the other night, when she baked an improvised Stargazy pie from my favourite story. It’s about a cat in a place called Mousehole. That’s in Cornwall. She says she’s been in Falmouth, which is nearby, and that it’s very lovely and we will sail there next year. Then I want to go to Mousehole and taste the Stargazy pie they make, to know if it’s as good as hers. Some humans find it weird with a pie that has fish in it. I find it logical. And it’s called Stargazy pie because the fish poke out of it, looking at the stars. The main point of the story, apart from the pie, is that Mowzer, a very brave cat who didn’t run and hide when everything was moving, purred and sang to calm the storm cat. I purr a lot, so I should be good at helping out with that. But I do prefer that we stay holed up if a storm ever comes. Because we won’t starve even if we don’t go out to catch any fish. With all the food the skipper has dragged into the boat we will be fine for a long time. I’m not touching the dry pellets just in case, and only eating the yummy pieces in sauce. It’s my contribution to rationing, and I tell her so every time I’m by my food bowl. Not sure she gets it, but I usually get my way anyway.
there and back again

there and back again

… and there again.

A smooth sea never made a strong sailor and all that. Well, the sea has been pretty smooth and so far the biggest issue has been getting enough wind in the sails – and not just from the direction I’m going. Southerlies prevail as the dominant wind direction in the Oslo Fjord. I can imagine why the vikings decided to just settle at the bottom of the fjord, or Viken (yep, that’s the origin to the word “viking”). I mean, when you’ve sailed (or rather, been blown) up the fjord it’s damn hard work getting back out of there. Especially with the sailing technology of the viking era. The ships back then were excellent downwind, but not so great the other way around. As a matter of fact, the first time I sailed up the fjord – at what I thought was a pretty decent 7-8 knots – I was outsailed by a copy of the Oseberg Ship. Going back out means tacking against the wind. That’s not what the viking ships were best at.  And it takes a while with my boat too. But I did make it outside the Drøbak Sound in the end. And a fine sail it was. I caught a cod for my cat, and saw a dolphin! Well, it was actually a harbour porpoise. Swallows were circling my boat as I left and now this. Good omens? And what about phosphorescence in the head (that’s the toilet, for those of you who don’t speak sailor)? It’s got a wonderful name in Norwegian; “morild”. And a bit of research tells me that it’s called “mareel” in Shetland dialect. I wonder if that’s influence from the vikings again, or if that word has other origins? Any linguists out there to enlighten me?

I’ve spent a couple of nights in Son, an idyllic town that had been a natural harbour since – you guessed it – the viking era. My boat neighbour through the winter is possibly the only other Wauquiez Centurion 32 owner in Norway. We’ve become great friends and he keeps his boat here at the moment. And by chance he hauled out just as I was sailing in, so I got to use his berth. Lucky me! It felt great to visit a friend and celebrate that I have departed.

Well … Here comes the reason for the title. I had to make a quick return to Oslo. Pretty annoying, but it had to be done. I ordered stuff for the boat on ebay and asked that it please be shipped in a way that didn’t require ID to be collected. Guess what? It required ID to be collected. Meaning that my brother couldn’t go get it and forward it to one of my destinations. So I made a quick decision to just hop on a train now, before I got too far away from the city. It felt really weird, almost unreal, to be in Oslo, even just for a few hours. I wasn’t supposed to be there. It felt a bit like skipping school. What if someone saw me? Well, someone did! I was inhaling some pretty decent pizza at Østbanehallen while waiting for the train back when a couple of the excellent 4 Gringos guys walked past. They looked very confused to see me. I mean, they had been there making delicious tacos at my farewell party! We talked a bit and had a laugh about it. Which reminds me to say thank you once again, guys! You rock! Having the taco van parked right by the beach really made a difference for the farewell party. And what a night it was! Gorgeous weather, the boat moored just across from where we did yoga, some of my favourite people in the whole world within arms reach for a hug or two. I couldn’t have asked for more. It makes me feel so damn lucky. And now I’m out on my big adventure. Haha, two days of sailing out, and still only an hour away by train. Sailing is not fast. But, then again, it’s not just travelling. I am moving around with my entire house. Like a snail. I’m calling it snailing (I know, not very original). How long would it take you to pack up all your stuff and get settled into a new flat in a different town? Longer than hopping on a train for sure, and probably longer than sailing there too, right?

As a way of honouring my quick “there and back again” I also picked up my illustrated copy of Tolkien’s works at my brother’s place before taking leave once again. At the pace I’m going I should be able to read it before arriving in Lofoten. Heh.

support nepal yoga trek

support nepal yoga trek

This trek is now over, and was absolutely wonderful! I am planning another one next year.
Get in touch if you are interested in knowing more about it.

About the trek in October 2015
If you’ve ever wanted to explore Nepal, this is the moment to do it. It is actually one of the best ways you can help the country and people recover. The Annapurna region has not been destroyed by the earthquake, and it is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

The trek will last 17 days (19 if you’re counting in flights to Norway) with the possibility of flying back after 14 if you’re short on time. Or you can extend it if you have more time on your hands! We will wake up to soft yoga, pranayama and meditation in the fresh air, trek through lush rhododendron forests, visit beautiful terraced villages and experience the magnificent mountain vistas of the Annapurna mountain range. The ecological and cultural diversity and hospitable people of Nepal is enough to fall in love. And then there’s the sunrise … One of the highlights is to stand on Poon Hill and watch the sun caress the snow-capped mountains with golden rays. The photo at the top is from my first trip there in 2010.

There will be rest days where we stay at a lodge, do yoga and meditate in the grassy meadows, a dip in natural thermal springs and several days to explore both Kathmandu and the lovely lakeside town of Pokhara. You can read more and book though Høyfjellspesialisten (in Norwegian). Send them or me an email if you’re joining from a different country or have any questions!

Quick facts
Duration: 17 days (count 19 with your flights)
Trek distance: 90 Km approx.
Maximum altitude: 3 210 m (Poon Hill)
Accommodation: Lodge/ tea-house
Yoga classes taught by Kari Petronella Finstad

05. Yogini goes bear
Photo credit: Carsten Aniksdal

Departure Oslo or elsewhere a day before.
Day 1. Arrive in Kathmandu (1330m), getting settled at the hotel, possibility of going for a massage.
Day 2. City tour around Kathmandu Valley and trek briefing. Special welcome dinner.
Day 3. Fly to Pokhara (980m) and trek to Australian Camp (2060m)
Day 4. Trek to Tolka (1700m)
Day 5. Trek to Jhinu (1780m) thermal springs
Day 6. Trek to Chuile (2309m)
Day 7. Rest- Yoga & Meditation
Day 8. Trek to Banthanti (2700m)
Day 9. Trek to Ghorepani (2850m)
Day 10. Morning hike to Poon Hill (3210m) for sunrise views and trek to Tadopani (2600m)
Day 11. Trek to Ghandruk (1951m)
Day 12. Rest- Yoga & Meditation
Day 13. Trek to Nayapul (1010m), drive to Pokhara (890m)
Day 14. In Pokhara. Sightseeing in the morning, afternoon at leisure.
Day 15. In Pokhara. Sightseeing in the morning, afternoon at leisure.
Day 16. Drive to Kathmandu
Day 17. Departure
Arrival Oslo or elsewhere the next day.

Price 17 days: NOK 21.900 (includes one domestic flight)
Price 14 days: NOK 18.900 (includes two domestic flights)

Prices include
All trekking permits and fees
Accommodation in lodges (full pension) on the trek
Guides and carriers
All local transport
Hotel/b&b in Kathmandu and Pokhara
Welcome dinner
Sightseeing and entrance tickets in Kathmandu
All yoga lessons, of course

Prices do not include
International flights to Kathmandu. Talk to Høyfjellspesialisten for good deals
Visa ($25)
Tips to carriers and guides
Lunches and dinners outside the trek
Single room
Other activities in Pokhara, such as paragliding or just a quiet boat trip on the lake …