Travel: Sydney from an insider

I thought it might be fun to share some thoughts on my home town, Sydney. I am traveling home later in the summer to walk on the beaches of my childhood, to fill myself with the sights and sounds of home.

Sydney Gardens
One of the best things about Sydney is the gardens with views of the water. The Botanical Gardens can be entered from the St James station end, across from the New South Wales Art Gallery, or from down near the Opera House. It is a lovely planned garden, with a plethora of interesting and brightly colored flowers, wandering Ibis, shelters and follies. You can see fabulous views of the water from the gardens. Other fantastic views are just around the curve of the walk. Locals wander the gardens too; it’s a favorite place for lunch in the middle of the city.

SydneyGardens

Beaches of course
No trip to Sydney would be complete without a visit to a beach or two. One of my most favorite memories is taking a ferry ride over to Manly (a passenger ferry, boarded via a plank, I kid you not). Along the boardwalk, on the way to the beach, get some fish and chips to eat out of the paper bag, hot and fresh, on Manly Beach. Another treat is to take a train out to some of the Southern Beaches. If rivers are more to your liking, the National Parks are accessible by train from Central Station, and you can rent a row boat for an easy afternoon on the water.

ManlyBeach2

A trip to the zoo
It’s true that we have the wackiest animals on the planet. Among them are kangaroos and koalas. Locals who rescue roos will tell you that the little blighters do kick, as I learned when I was in high school. A friend rescued a wallaby, and when it had grown a bit, we got kicked if we got in its way. The cuddly looking koalas sport wicked claws, all the better to climb the local gum trees. Find both of these animals at Taronga Park Zoo. Catch a view of the emu, the crocodile and the lyrebird with its fabulous plumage too. You can also get up close, though behind glass, from some of the worlds most poisonous critters, if that takes your fancy.

AustralianAnimals

Hyde Park – green belt through the city
Hyde ParkHyde Park is a great lunch spot in the middle of the city. Visit the Archibald Fountain, with its classic Greek figures Apollo, Diana, Pan and the Minotaur, right across from St Mary’s Cathedral near St James railway station. St Mary’s is a lovely spot, and interesting for being a north facing cathedral, instead of the usual east-facing architecture. Bit of a novelty. It even has a lady chapel all the way to the north, behind the main altar. Not something you’ll find on the tourist information sites.

WarMemorialThe War Memorial in Hyde Park has a figure of the fallen soldier, draped across his shield, and mothers carrying the fallen. The contemplation pool outside the memorial reflects all the moods of the Sydney sky. A walk across the street finds you at the Sydney Museum where you will find dinosaur bones and more rocks than you can poke a stick at. Along the way, stop to enjoy the enormous Morton Bay fig trees that are a feature of the park. Sit under a tree and watch the birds and do some people watching. When you’ve had your fill, find a café for some tea and scones, or latte served in a glass cup.

If you get lost, chat with a shopkeeper, or some of the locals. They’re friendly, I promise.

Children’s stories in the Australian Bush

Australian animals by Ria Loader

Billabong Flats animals by Ria Loader

These are modern fables, tales of the ordinary acts of kindness and friendship, of discovery and adventure. Purely invented, they come from memories of childhood. They occur at the intersection of seeing the animals in the wild, and imagining what their lives would be like if they could tell us stories.

Billabong Flats is a mythical place in the Australian Bush. It is somewhere on the Eastern part of the continent, in the hills, between Sydney and Melbourne, thereabouts. It is also in another fictional world at the same time. Billabong Flats shares virtual space within my love affair with other imaginary places like the Five Acre Wood, the Peace Rock, and the abode of Ratty and Mole. It is just as real as you’d like it to be – no more, and no less.

In my stories, the animals dream the world, as much as the world creates them. The Land speaks through them. They welcome all, no matter how different they may be, or what native languages they may speak. When they come together, they can all speak the same tongue. The voices become that of friendship and accord, where all can have adventures together.

“Each according to their nature,” says Flying Fox, who likes to have fun.

“Each according to their means,” says Koala, who is wise in such things.

The first adventure occurs when Koala organizes the First Billabong Flats All Creature Race. The letters are all in capitals, because it’s a Very Important Thing.

There is a sense of fair play at Billabong Flats. Friendship is as important as winning, though winning the race would be a fine thing, if only there are not too many distractions. It’s an opportunity to get together and have fun. Koala is the organizer. She is a busy and industrious being, when she is not sleeping, which is most of the time.

I wrote this first story during the American election in 2016. My sweetie was annoyed at the shenanigans of the election, and the story was written for his internal eight year old, the child inside him. He loved fairness and justice; this one is for you my Raven.

When the world gets too noisy, and there is discord and strife all around, come visit the world of Billabong Flats and have some fun.

THE BIG RACE LINK

Meditation and Mindfulness

ng-60686Over the years, I’ve tried various kinds of meditation, and some of them have been more fun than others. I think we all discover the ways that work best for us individually. I thought I’d share some of the techniques that I’ve tried, over a few blog posts, and what I got from them. That actually sounded a little odd; the purpose of meditation is often to get beyond purpose, to reach a place of relaxed awareness, beyond desire for result. Never mind, some of us like to know what we’ll get from something before investing the time and effort required to get there.

Meditation using breathing

Where to start? To satisfy the intellect, I’ll say that messing with the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide results in a change of consciousness. The number of breaths, how long the in-breath lasts, and how long you rest before exhaling has meaning in various esoteric traditions. However, if you want to play with it, start with the basics.

4/4 breathing
In this pattern, you breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, breath out for a count of four, hold for a count of four. And then you repeat. As you can imagine, at first, those are going to be kind of quick breaths; the notion is to extend them until you are making around 4 breaths a minute, without stress. Counting helps as it keeps the conscious brain occupied. This pattern is one that became very popular in the 60’s and 70’s, especially when you add a mantra (a small verse)that has meaning to the person meditating.

meditationSilhouetteThe general idea is to allow thoughts to pass through your mind, but not to pay much attention to them. Think about day dreaming with your eyes closed, without falling asleep. Often visions arise, solutions to things you’ve been thinking about, and sometimes you just fall asleep. That’s not wrong, just not the point. Keep practicing until you can be comfortable being in the moment, noticing your body, being in it, and being mindful, without paying too much attention to it.

One mantra that goes with this is “OM MANI PADME HUM”, where each of the words corresponds with a count. The words are most often translated, perhaps not entirely accurately, as “the eternal jewel in the lotus” along with the visualization of a lotus blossom opening up and revealing a hidden mystery in its center. Incidentally, the OM is A-U-M and all 3 sounds are chanted / subvocalized.

Use your own words
Please do not feel constrained to using just the count or the OM MANI PADME HUM chant. Try out things that are meaningful to you, personally. If you are following a particular spiritual path, perhaps there are words from there that will work for you, or you could simply pick four personally meaningful words, like:

  • love, friendship, peace, understanding
  • laughter, play, joyful, bliss

Be playful; it is more important that the words correspond to things you can visualize and that have personal meaning. I’ve heard some odd things at times; one friend picked the four Norse figures who mythology tells them hold up the world (Austri, Vestri, Nordri and Sudri). Some folks pick the elements in English or Latin (Earth – Terra, Air – Aer, Water – Aqua, and Fire – Ignis). Use whatever works for you.

What is this good for?
It is good for relaxation, and I noticed that it has a good impact on memory. Doing it before memorizing a speech, materials for a presentation, or attending a workshop where you will learn some complex new material, tends to result in recall being easier and more complete.

  • Do the meditation for 5 minutes
  • Read the study materials from start to finish
  • Do the meditation for another 5 minutes

Just before a presentation, go to the bathroom and take 1-2 minutes to go through the meditation again, knowing that the materials will be recalled both quickly, completely, and easily. You will be surprised by how successful this is.

Other impacts
Breathing meditation is good for your general wellness, according to most traditions that use breathing techniques as part of meditation. We mostly engage in shallow breathing, depriving ourselves of oxygen, and the deep breathing gets oxygen to the brain. That may be some of the reason it helps memory. The more often you do breathing meditation, the more relaxed you will feel, and the easier it will be to focus your attention. Sometimes, just a few deep breaths will be enough to center your attention in the moment.

Copyright 2018 Ria Loader. All rights reserved

Writing process: Top 10 ways of finding grammar errors

Grammar errors are one of the most pesky things to eradicate in the writing process. Scrivener doesn’t find grammar mistakes, and while MS Word is pretty good at finding normal passive errors, it fails to recognize idiom. Language is changing. Sentences can and often do start with ‘and, but, or, though’ in colloquial use.

If you’re like me, when you write the first draft you don’t pay any attention to the rules. Well, truth to tell, rules are hardly ever my best thing. I tend to think in fragments; that means some of my characters share this trait. Enough said.

Even in a blog, the sentence construction is not a slave to the Oxford English way of writing. Be a bit boring if it was. However, the unintentional grammar error is the bane of a writer’s existence. It’s just fine to break rules on purpose, so long as you know your purpose. Richard Morgan stood the grammar rules on their collective head in Altered Carbon. His more stream-of-consciousness writing included sentence fragments much of the time. None of that made it difficult to read. Instead, it made his protagonist much more sympathetic. So how do I find those errors in the editing process? I have a few tips and tricks to share.

  1. Walk away from the writing for a couple of days to give yourself some distance
  2. Print it out and keep a highlighting pen handy to mark the pieces to come back to
  3. Read it out loud to a friend. The tongue will trip over phrases that aren’t quite right
  4. Do an editing pass with track-changes on
  5. Try turning it upside down – for those of us who can read that way, the comma and grammar errors jump out
  6. Do an editing pass just for dialog.
  7. Use Find / Replace to fix issues like quote plus period (“. wrong) rather than period plus quote (.” correct)
  8. Write with a manual of style handy – look up stuff that you know you get wrong
  9. Replace instances of passive voice (often uses words that end in y) with active voice (often ends in ‘ed’)
  10. Relax about it. No matter how many times you edit, someone will disagree with your choices

I hope some of these prove helpful. Please share the tips and tricks you have found work for you.

Meditation and the month of May

 

Hawthorn, Washington

Hawthorn – the May

Here, as the May, or Hawthorn, has finished blooming it is one of the times in the year that I pause and think about where I am and who I am becoming.  While some think of May 1 as May Day, I prefer to wait until the Hawthorn acts as a signal to re-establish my center in relationship to the world around me. There is also a little meditation about approaching my birthday later in the year; May is the halfway mark to my birthday in November.

The passing of the May seems to coincide with spring cleaning, gardening, and all the renewal projects. It also signals that the time for outdoor fun is here, at least if the weather cooperates. Here’s hoping for a bright and renewing summer for my friends and family.

[Part of this article has been sent to another post, if you saw the original version that talked about Cycles of 7 years.]

Ria