I love starry skies. I love that the more you look the more you see.
And it was there, stood outside the Dhamma meditation hall beneath an indigo blanket of twinkling pearls that I welcomed in the new year with a moment so incredible I will never forget how it felt.
I was looking up at it all, those other worlds we know nothing about, my body comforted by the warmth of a blanket and my heart comforted by something somebody said to me the week before.
“It doesn’t matter where we are, we’re both looking up at the same sky”.
As I gazed at galaxies that were sprinkling magic over everybody I know, I took a deep breath and said a proud goodbye to a big year of change. And then, just as I was wishing him a Happy New Year with my thoughts, at that exact moment, a shooting star flew through the sky.
I smiled and gently shook my head from side to side as though I’d been expecting it – nothing surprises me anymore, you’ve just got to accept it as the magically mysterious mystery of magic.
VIPASSANA DAY SIX & SEVENGOOD YEAR
I’m not quite sure how, when I went to sleep at nine thirty on New Year’s Eve without a single tequila passing my lips did I wake up feeling so groggy.
Oh yes I do.
It turns out the hills of Mandalay really are the place to be. I felt like I was trying to sleep next to a firework factory test site where they also happened to be doing sound checks for Glasto.
There were bells and drums and chants and singalongs. A vehicle of some sort kept driving around blasting what can only be described as a Burmese version of The Cheeky Girls. The same song on repeat.
Dogs were howling, people were shouting at the top of their voices and at midnight the loudest procession of fireworks made me sit up straight with fright thinking I was smack bang in the middle of a war zone.
I’d barely slept more than an hour and it’s not as though those sixty minutes were tucked up in a lovely warm bed, but I knew it was the start of a new year so I still managed to drag some sort of smile to my lips as I fumbled my way into the bathroom.
Lights on I looked in the mirror and my smile grew a little. I was in the right place, doing the right thing and I knew my morning routine would sort me out. I’d soon be revelling in that new year feeling.
I hung my towel up on the rail about to throw a bucket of ice cold water over my head when I was blinded by a miniature beacon of light.
I moved my head side to side to work out where it was coming from and noticed a little holographic sticker on the towel rail was trying its best to blind me.
My eyes were still barely open and not yet awake so I peered in closer to see what it was. And when I read what it said I started grinning like a deranged Cheshire cat.
I almost felt like crying with relief, clinging to the hope that this wasn’t just the name of a bathroom appliance manufacturer, but was also a sign from the universe that 2019 really was going to be a GOOD YEAR.
These were the first words I’d read, surely it was a sign. It has to be a sign. Well, technically it is a sign.
When the first meditation of the New Year was over, we poured out of the hall and down the steps as the 6.30am gong chimed loudly. The vibrations were more special than usual; not only was I about to get my hands on a warm cup of chai, but they chimed in unison with the clocks at home striking midnight.
I pictured myself there amidst the celebrations with a sparkly party hat on and wished everybody a happy new year, a Good Year.
After two cups of magic, I headed towards The Cake with a third. I was wearing a impish grin; it was day six and I was about to commit yet another minor misdemeanour.
We were supposed to have handed in all devices on day one which I guess does include battered old 1970s polaroid cameras, but I’d managed to keep it tucked deep inside my backpack as I knew this experience would definitely be worthy of a Slow Snap.
In a world where we take almost two billion photographs per day, 93 million of which are selfies, my Slow Snaps are pretty special to me.
They’re a considered and purposeful photograph, a frozen memory that carry deep sentimental meaning in every single pixel. They don’t just capture what I see in that moment, they capture how I feel.
So in the hope of getting myself a New Year’s Day Slow Snap at The Cake, I’d had this enormous and relatively heavy black box tucked into the waistband of my trousers, pressing into my hip for the whole of the two hour morning meditation.
I’d stood up and walked towards the dining hall slowly and cautiously, trying to keep it hidden underneath my white raincoat and the blanket which I’d strategically draped around my shoulders, praying it wouldn’t slip out and smash.
And I’d made it.
HERE COMES THE SUN
Over the past year, one thing that really stands out to me as part of all my lessons and learnings and observations is the sun.
It’s no longer an oversized streetlamp I take for granted. Its presence is what keeps my senses alive, what keeps me conscious of everything around me and what reminds me to be conscious of everything within.
It’s energy, it’s light, it’s life and at every moment of the day it’s there, changing up the hues of our world.
When I’m travelling, especially alone, I love nothing more than watching new places wake up and watching them fall asleep.
The sunrise drenches us in the hope and promise of a new day. We leave our dreams behind and come to life. It’s opportunities and adventures. Anything could happen. Then at the end of it all, the sunset soothes our senses and sends us into a slumbery state of calm.
This wasn’t just the start of a new day, but the start of a new year. As I picked up the polaroid and got myself into position and all of a sudden, without thought or intention, I started singing.
I was singing soft, raspy souled up voice I didnt know I had and smiling because I know I only sing when I’m happy.
I stared through the lens, admiring how the powdery blue icing of The Cake was blending in with the morning skies, the trumpets started. Then the ivories. Then the bass.
I carried on my illegal singing quietly but in my head I was on stage in a pale rose gold floor length gown covered in a trillion diamonds sparkling under the stage lights and I was blasting out the vocals from the bottom of my heart as I clicked the button and froze that very special moment in time.