If you hang upside down long enough, the trees become your friends and the sky becomes something you might consider walking on. H.D. Artemis
How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go? from, What the Bleep do We Know? (award-winning movie)
Right away, there were so many things that seemed familiar. I’ve seen that shimmer before, the way the sun danced across the harbor on the morning we arrived. I’ve basked in that same shimmering glimmering sparkle of light from the shores and in the waters of the Atlantic in Maine and in the bays and harbors and coastline of Lake Superior. And the modern buildings that shot skyward toward that brilliant sun, they could have been planted in any modern city in this shrinking world we live in. There were the hotel chains, Hampton Inn and Four Seasons and the Hilton, that we’ve come to know, and the stores that we recognize when we find our way into any urban environment. In fact, within an hour of landing in Sydney for our six-day stay, just a few blocks from the hotel that would be our home for the rest of the week, we found my favorite store. Lululemon. I love Lululemon! It is a business based in Vancouver and founded on the philosophy of living and playing well in clothes that are creative and last for years and encourage us to stretch and strengthen and jump for joy. And, I jumped for joy at my discovery, not only because there might be something cute waiting for me inside that store, but also because I knew that the people working in a Lululemon could help us, that they were on the same wave-length and would lead us toward hikes and restaurants and markets that we would enjoy.
And help us they did. It was a young woman who had grown up in Sydney who created the list. She jotted down the names of outdoor markets and a warehouse in Darling filled with fresh fish caught that morning and served by a variety of vendors. She told us about Manly Harbor, that the ferry to Manly was the cheapest and best way to get a thirty-minute tour of Sydney from the sea, and the open-ocean beach was magnificent, she said, and the hike along the cliffs by Manly was two and a half hours of pure bliss. And then she paused a moment to remember the names of her favorite restaurants, ones she thought that we would like. “You must make your way to Surry Hills, through Hyde Park,” she said. “It’s my very favorite part of the city, filled with cafés and coffee houses and little boutiques.” Even the names in Sydney were familiar: Surry Hills, Hyde Park, Darling Harbor. Names that had sailed the seas on the tongues of the British colonists, that had made their way not only to my neck of the woods in New England, but, as I discovered on this first day in Sydney, to the shimmering shoreline of Australia.
That’s what made it all the more strange, that it was so familiar, more familiar than many of our adventures, that we could understand the language of the people – and the streets, they weren’t, for the most part, cobblestone and ancient and constructed in maze-like puzzles. This was a new thriving American-seeming straight-forward city. That’s what sucked us in, nudged us right down that rabbit hole. Or maybe it wasn’t a rabbit hole at all, but something even more exotic and strange. First, it was the sea gulls. They flew right over to us, landed at our feet as we sat on a bench by the docks later that afternoon. We knew the ways of gulls. These gulls were another touchstone of the familiar for us. Or were they?!? As we looked closer we noticed that their legs and feet were not the familiar shades of yellow and orange worn by the gulls back home, but instead a bold bright red color, and, wrapped around their gull-familiar eyes was a circle of bright-red make-up. And when they opened their mouths to cry, the gull-cry that I knew by heart from a lifetime of living with gulls on coastal land, it wasn’t what came out at all. They squawked, a jittery not-quite-crow-like squawk like we’d never heard before. It didn’t add up, these birds we thought we knew so well singing such a different tune.
And later in the early evening, as we set off for Hyde Park and Surry Hills and those cafes and restaurants promised to us by our new Lululemon friends, it got even more strange. There were those wide city sidewalks on either side of those wide city streets, just like in the cities back home, and yet the cars were all driving on the not-familiar side and we pedestrians, we were following suit. It was all mixed up as we headed for the park. We kept bumping into people, kept trying to figure it all out, to train ourselves into this new not-familiar rhythm of walking on the wrong-to-us side of the sidewalk. And that’s when we noticed that the sun, that beaming brilliant ball of light that had lit up the Harbor and the Sydney Opera House and had felt like sparkling diamonds on our eager skin, was nowhere to be seen. It had disappeared all together and dusk was settling in. We had known that we were flying into a different season, that it was autumn in Sydney, but we had forgotten about the daylight, that this was like November at home in the northern part of the northern hemisphere, that days would be short and nights would be long.
So, our brains, our jet-lagged brains that had already flown over a dateline and a southern sea, worked hard to compute this new piece of information, worked hard to fathom that, while the world back home was swelling with springtime newness, we were settling into a week of waning, of leaves falling to the ground. (Except we were noticing that it wasn’t just the leaves that were falling in this mixed-up-to-us-world, but the bark that was also falling, peeling right off these autumn trees.) And, by the time we were traipsing through Hyde Park twenty minutes later, it was nighttime and dark, and we were picking up our pace, gaining some confidence, admiring the wide-rooted wide-trunked trees that lined our Hyde Park walkway. And that’s when we noticed that something was lurking in the crook of one of those trees, something that wasn’t just another bump on a bumpy branch, something that was moving, that was staring right at us. Our brains said squirrel, that it must be a squirrel, while our eyes said, no, that this was no squirrel, that it was too big and it had funny ears and a long stretched out torso. Our eyes said that we were no longer on familiar ground.
It was like this all week, this dance between the familiar and the upside-down-to-us, a dance that had us spinning in the opposite direction, in the opposite season, in the opposite time of day. The sky at night didn’t quite look the same. Where were our stars? The animals, the trees, the bats as big and furry as good-sized rabbits, all of this stretched our sense of what was possible. Five days into our trip, we took the Country Train west two hours to the Blue Mountains for a day of hiking in land that was ancient aboriginal canyons and eucalyptus and turpentine and tree-fern forests. We climbed down one thousand feet into one of those canyons, on steep stairs and windy paths, and followed those rooted trails along the canyon’s floor for hours past waterfalls and huge moss-covered boulders. Something settled for me on this many hour hike. Even as the bird call, the frog call, the sounds of screeching and peeping and cheep cheep cheep filled the air, even as I smelled eucalyptus and turpentine, even as I sensed the Maori who walked this land eons before those ships sailed in from the British Isles, even in the middle of the new and the strange, something settled. It felt good to hike; it felt good to hike here on this canyon floor on a cool autumn day with the sun flickering through the canopy of tall strange-to-me trees, with the world spinning in its opposite direction.
For years, in yoga, I’ve guided us in a qigong movement that I learned from my teacher, a pose for the seasons where we move our bodies and breath in a poetry of motion, as we spread the metaphoric seeds of springtime and gather the fruits of summer, as we offer it all up in autumn thanksgiving and settle into the quiet of winter. As we do this with body and breath, I say that it is all in us, the spring of possibility, the fruits of our labors, the appreciation and thanksgiving, the quiet of winter, that it is all in us, all of the time. And then when we have moved this pose through us, we bring our hands back to our hearts, back to the center, the center that can hold it all.
I wonder if that’s it. I wonder if it’s when you climb down deep enough into that rabbit hole, when you stop trying to figure it out and make sense of a world that is spinning you in an opposite direction, when you say, “Screw it. It’s too much for me. I have no idea what time it is or what day it is back home. I don’t even know what season it is anymore,” that you find it, the center that holds it all. I wonder if it’s when you surrender and breathe and go down deep enough to feel your feet on the canyon floor, that you begin to sense that it can be bigger than you thought, that you can still hold the spring that is blossoming new inside of you, and you can enjoy the autumn with its sounds and sights and smells as well. That is what happened. After our glorious all-day hike, we climbed back up again, one thousand feet, up to the late afternoon sun and the blue sky and a several-block jaunt to town on sidewalks. It was easy for us now to walk on the left-hand side of the sidewalks. It was easy to shuffle our feet in the crisp autumn leaves. I felt it within me, an excitement for pumpkins, a warm cup of tea, an autumn-hearty meal. And I’ll be darned if we didn’t find it, just blocks from the train station, in a corner café that smelled like home, all co-op and healthy foods, a café with the name Common Ground.