Six years ago, I was three months from finishing my ‘A’ Levels in Hunstanton, Norfolk – my homelands, where I’d lived since eight years old (and, before then – just 45 miles down the road).
I held no aspiration towards studying further. In fact, I was completely repulsed by the idea of studying ever again in the future. Freedom called. I didn’t have any idea, really, what the future would hold for me. I needed to go away, as so much had happened over the last few years. I felt drawn to discovering myself more intimately than I ever could without the deep sense of independence that I ended up venturing out for.
Calais, on the first hitch through France, 2008.
It was a rebellion, when I fired myself out of Norfolk, by the power of the thumb. I felt that hitchhiking would give me the liberation from everything that I had been tied down by. I felt that living without money would be the only way I could create a new world around me. I saw a map, and Morocco became my planned destination, sometime, that I would hitch to, and then after I’d hitch over to India. Money would not dictate anything in my life – for I could not allow it to. I had no money. But, that wasn’t the point. I had to prove to everyone, everyone, that there was a very different way of living. That, this mainstream, this wasn’t ever going to be the way for me. I could get out of Norfolk, and I could experience the wonders of the world without ever having to fall into that system.
What followed was a summer and autumn of travelling without money, mainly in France. There was so much energy going into it. It was the thing to be doing. This lifestyle – there wasn’t any other possible way. We’d sleep under the stars in fields that took our eye, get food from skips, and aim for the most beautiful of places. My map of France showed us which roads were beautiful, or ‘scenic’. I remember one road that we took. Cliffs screamed out, and rivers streamed, glistening, and everything was poking out at us. It was brilliant. But, there were these moments when things stilled, and it kept shocking me as I realised that, despite this liberation that I was living by, this was not everything that I’d wanted. Freedom from money, somehow, was not free enough. There’s a great paradox in this, in my opinion.
I went back home at the end of the autumn, after some of the thicker frosts had already come. I kind of crashed out. My energy had ran dry. The winter had come, and the drive to travel in this way had finished.
I began HelpXing – volunteering on farms, a building project, a youth hostel. The determination to do something different made it all easy. I was 19. Other than my friend that I brought along one time, I never met another HelpXer that wasn’t at least a few years older than me for the whole time that I was HelpXing. I found security in staying in places for longer times. I liked that my life was slowing, and I didn’t mind that I was only travelling around England. But, it was always hard to kick-start each new journey from home. Norfolk is a very difficult place to travel out of. For whatever reason, the energy to leave just wasn’t there. I always had to force myself out of the comfort zone that I’d got into when back home.
And this, really, is where this writing is guided towards.
A friend, who died a few years back, told me at a party when we were about 20 that I was a ‘bloody legend’ for having travelled. And, he meant it, well and truly. There have been a lot of people who have encouraged me with things, especially over the last few years, but few who have had their words sink so deeply into the core of my being. They might have been some of his last words to me – I can’t remember if we met up again after.
Norfolk is a bloody hard place to move out of. When you live there, it can seem like as if the things that happen there are a reflection of the whole world that is around us. But, through my experience of having lived, now, in lots of different places, I am adamant that the world is founded upon the environment that I am living in. This world, this world is an internal projection. Through these eyes I see love and I see pain. But it changes all the time.
I went to Indonesia for a month from September to October 2009. It warmed me a lot. My heart weeped harder than it had in years, as news came of a friend dying. Everyone was together, and everything was brilliant in being so much closer to death. There was a fire-y-ness in Indonesia that I haven’t experienced anywhere since. I am intentioning to go back there, for sure, whenever another opportunity comes.
When I got back to England, I almost immediately made plans to move to Norwich. I found a very comfortable and cheap room for rent, and moved into it. I had £100 to my name, and rent was £65 per week. But I knew that it would be okay. Things were telling me that it was the right thing to be doing. And everything was okay. I borrowed money off my mum, that I paid back within a couple of weeks. I got myself a job in a small cinema, working about 20 hours a week on minimum wage. I normally had about £30 spending money each week, after paying for rent. I was dumpster diving most of my food, so this money didn’t really get spent. There was a gig I went to, I met up with Nat at it, Polar Bear Club at The Marquee. I would hang out at lunch time outside The Forum on most days, feeding the pigeons. The Forum had so many interesting exhibitions on, every week. And there was this homeless guy – he called himself Wolf – that I became good friends with. His story is a real sob-story, and this is not the right place for it. But, I cherish the friendship that we shared.
When in Norwich…..
In Norwich, I decided that I needed to become a student. I needed to do a degree. I kind of felt that I needed to get my brain active again, but mainly I just knew that I needed to find young people. I couldn’t find people my age anywhere in Norwich. Or anywhere, in fact. They’d all stayed in the institutions – just followed through with university, after finishing college. Noone was travelling. Or, if they were travelling, they weren’t travelling where I was travelling. And noone was working a small cinema job in Norwich, or any kind of small job, for that matter. They’d all stayed in the institutions.
I remember my first night as a student. Mum had driven me over to Bath, moving me into my room in Halls, where I’d be sharing a building with thirty other people that were mostly younger than me. I was knackered, and fairly dehydrated, from the long drive and moving in. I remember Tara holding doors open for Mum and myself, helping us to move me in. I was completely out of it. I went up to the kitchen and told everyone that I was going to take Mum to the pub, and buy her dinner, then go to bed. I’d see everyone when the time came, when I wasn’t so tired.
The pub wouldn’t serve food to us for 45 minutes, we were told, so we just got drinks. Mum had to drive home without having eaten. I was very worried about her. She’d accidentally left me with her radio, and so she didn’t even have any tunes to keep her company. I was really upset. It was so, so overwhelming to be in this situation. There were hundreds of people my age that had just moved into this housing estate. There were parties all the time, for the first week. I remember meeting Chris Kowalewsky and his new friends at an event in the daytime in the SU, I think on the second day of Fresher’s week. Chris is going to be coming over to France to live with us in a few weeks time. ‘Friends for life’, so they say.
The first year sped by. I loved it. As did I love the second year – though got a bit frazzled in projects that I was running, and being involved in. I camped for a month at Occupy Bath, going against the stream of what the organisers of the camp had wanted. We, myself and Rob, had taken over, and made it into a real community project rather than a publicity stunt. And, what decamped me was my Study of Religions placement: staying for a week at Skanda Vale, a multi-faith ashram in Carmarthenshire, Wales. It’s all I ever talk about, sometimes. Skanda Skanda, Skanda Vale.
Guruji Samadhi at Skanda Vale
I went there with Sam and Tash. I became better than best friends with Sam some time after, but this was my first real encounter with her. And, Tash was lovely. There’s something really unique about spending a week at an ashram with other people that had also never experienced anything like it before. I still don’t think that either of them knew how close to having a break-down I was, after becoming completely exhausted from my time at Occupy Bath (a 4-hour sleep at night there was a good night’s kip).
The third year was something special, as the energy that I was pouring out came suddenly to connect with other energies. Things started happening, whenever I poured energy out. I had a students’ union position, under which I was putting on events about spirituality and running a meditation group. It’s very easy to just say that I was putting on events, and that lots of people were turning up. But, more significantly, there was the general feeling throughout the whole of the year that everything was perfectly connecting. One person I met would introduce me to another person, who would introduce me to another. The energy was so very high, throughout the whole year, and many beautiful things happened. We went on our own with activist demos, doing sit-down meditation stunts at high-profile demonstrations. And the rituals….well, we had some spectacular things happen to us, especially towards the end. La la lala la la lala lala la la la la.
I left Bath after I finished my degree. I graduated with a Second-Class degree in Study of Religion and History, and with the ‘Bath Interfaith Group Prize for Outstanding Contribution to the Community of Students and Staff at Bath Spa University’. I went straight over to my dad’s place in Suffolk after graduating to witness the welcoming of my newly-born second sister, Iona Jilley. A little while later, I was in Balcombe for the summer of anti-fracking demonstrations, where I meditated in front of police and protesters, on my own in my field of Christmas trees. Then I went up north and saw some friends, came back home to crash out for a little bit, and followed off to France.
in La Rochelle, France. Love.
I joined a yoga community in central France for two months. I was told beforehand that I would be doing building work whilst there, but no previous experience was necessary as I could pick it up as I went along. I didn’t realise that, for a little while, I would basically become the head builder. The projects I was told to do were exasperating my complete lack of experience. I was using tools I’d never used before, and receiving no support. It was a really harsh environment, for the first couple of weeks of me being there. I came fairly close to trying to leave, but I was too grounded to do so. Then a group of Russians arrived. I had spent about three hours preparing a special soup for them, a nettle soup made just for them, with much grechikha mixed in. They arrived half an hour late. I was exhausted. It was half 9, and I’d normally be getting ready for bed by then (how times change…). When they emerged through the door, I was greeted by huge smiles, and much laughter. I received hugs! The first real hugs since arriving! And, I knew that Love was real and pertinent and had come in force to this community in France. And, of course, everything became hugely magical. The next 6 weeks were mostly wonderful. Still, it was a harsh community to be in, but in loving solidarity with the others in the community we made unimaginable things to happen. I feel incredibly blessed for the experiences that we shared there.
In France, I got on the phone to Rosie. We decided to set up a retreat centre at her holiday home in Brittany, France. This would be my next step. I said it should be donation-only, and not about the money but about giving in love and appreciation to the world around us. And, I was unsure about committing to something long-term, but knew that I needed to put a lot of energy into such a project. So I said six months. After the six months, I’d see where I’m at. But six months is on the cards.
I got back to England, had an incredible week staying with a couple of friends in London, and then chilled back home. It was good to be home, and especially to meet with one such friend that I hadn’t met up with in a while.
I went to Bath for a few days, and then hitched with Alex to Skanda Vale, where we were due to spend Christmas with Mum and some other friends that I’ve made at Skanda Vale over the last couple of years. We had an absolutely epic journey getting there. We stayed in a shower block of a caravan park for the night, because it was pissing it down outside and we were both getting ill. I think it was the closest I’ve ever been to experiencing either pneumonia or hypothermia. I had to have a nasty luke-warm shower just to slightly warm up my core temperature.
I stayed at Skanda Vale for three weeks. It was an incredible journey. I saw ghosts, and made friends.
Then we came out to France. I haven’t told too many people about how bloody difficult it was. I have reasoned that it was because of the lack of other people around. It has been just myself and Rosie for almost all of the time so far (we have been here for two months now). It has, really, only been over the past few weeks that either of us have been beginning to get our own personal lives happening. Before then, we had isolated ourselves, and it came as a huge shock to the system for me. I was questioning many things, and was very unsure about my decision to begin this project. But, especially over the past couple of weeks, things have really started coming together for me. We’re coming close to the time of hosting our first formal retreat, which my mum will be leading at the end of the month. Animals have been a huge thing for me. We brought in three ducks, then two days later got given a homeless cat. One of the ducks disappeared after a dog attack, so we now are down to two ducks, but I really adore them. They have wonderful energy. And the cat is a healer.
I think that I will be leaving here in the summer. It seems likely that I will be moving back to Bath, as I feel that I have a calling towards something in that area. I feel it may be the rugged spirituality of Avebury and Glastonbury more than anything, in fact, and will probably spend much of my time back in the area travelling over to find the spiritual circles.
This writing has been triggered by finding something yesterday, over the internet, that shocked me a fair bit. I won’t reveal what it is – but it was strongly suggestive to me that there are still many people that are not moving onwards in life. We get stuck in the past. We look on our school days, or uni days, with nostalgia. We look back, and think that, maybe, that was the prime time of our lives, and now we’ve just got to live with what we’ve got. This goes against my understanding of the universe, and of the world that we live in. This world is creative, and immersive once you step into it.
Once you step away from the comfort of home, you step into the warmth of unpredictability and adventure. Adventure, I have found, is not made available just by picking up a backpack and putting a thumb out. In fact, I feel like it is very easy to become very narrow-minded towards adventure, when we become set in the idea that adventure must be moneyless and must involve this idea of ‘self-sufficiency’. Through my time of living in Bath, I have found that there is a huge amount of adventure in sharing experiences with other people, no matter what those experiences may be. Since being in France again, the adventure has been in just being here, and allowing whatever needs to happen to happen. Importantly, for me, I need to be allowing things to flow. I need to distance myself from the past, to move on from everything no matter how beautiful it all has been. Once I get stuck in the past, I take myself away from my spiritual practice of present-centredness.
Phil’s inspiration is strong, in my life. As is Tom’s. Often, I think of them and do think that a lot of it is being done for them.
sunset by the old lady well, Sedgeford
And, I may come back to Norfolk sometime. I may come back to live in Norfolk, maybe even in Dersingham, or King’s Lynn. But I certainly won’t be coming back empty-handed. These experiences that I have been living through over the past six years – these have given me fuel for miracles. There is no doubt, for me, that if I do return to Norfolk some very special things will be happening. And there is no doubt in my mind that, for anyone who is thinking of venturing out of their homeland, there is a whole world out there to discover – both around you, and inside you.