New Caledonia and Reflections on a Year Before the Mast

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Besides from jotting down thoughts, feelings and dreams in my personal journal, I've been pretty unproductive these last few months, not really keeping up writing my reflections. Somehow all my previous ruminations caught up with me, and I seemed to have come to a point where integration, followed by some idea of application for the future, became necessary. I needed to let it all sit, and trust that some form of inspiration would hit.

It all fermented while being in New Caledonia. What a beautiful place! Perfect for some relaxation and a little vacation. Geographically speaking just at the start of being a truly tropical island, with pleasant weather, shiny white sand beaches, and a blue lagoon. Almost all the comforts of home -with a French touch- to be found in Noumea, the capital. It has also been a time again in which I've felt somewhat part of the greater cruising community. We've met some wonderful people along the way. Some contacts where only short and sweet (Dan and Sandra from Florida on “Mariposa”, Bernard and Emanuelle and their kids from France on “Cyrano”, Nathan and Grace and their dad on “Namagdi” from Australia). Other times we were lucky enough to meet these folks again along the way (Eric and Shelley from New Zealand on “Cadenza”, Mark and “Bags” from Australia on “Hideaway”, and especially Joe and Janice from Canada on “Tegan” and Egon and Claudia from Germany on “Ganesh”. Claudia who bakes the best German bread ever, and who took me hitchhiking to Vao, on Isle des Pins - for the first time in 27 years, when I did that in Switzerland on a school trip. Fun!). This is where traveling is really about: friendships connecting people on this planet of ours!

New Caledonia is showing an interesting combination of Western “civilization” and traditional Melanesian and Polynesian culture. Even though there are still typical villages around, the “old” South-Pacific-Seas way of life is not really to be found here any longer. From what we're reading and hearing, it is slowly disappearing all along the chain of islands in these waters, like so many other indigenous cultures. I have mixed feelings regarding these issues. It is truly sad that this piece of history is fading into the background, but I can not be but happy to realize that with this might come some liberation for women, for instance. The guided tour we took during our visit to the Tjibaou (who's a hero in the fight for Independence, murdered in 1989) Cultural Center was led by a young Kanak woman. It was very clear in her comments that she would never want to live her life “the traditional way”. What aware woman would? On the other hand, having yet another “unfortunate” and unprepared people try to follow into the rat race of consumerism and “modern life” is not an uplifting thought either. One sunny morning on Isle des Pins we watched a garbage truck go around the beach picking up the trash from the top of the wooden platforms that are installed there for that purpose. Two of them where doing the work at a leisurely pace to some music from the radio, the third one was walking along the edge of the water with a fishing line! Puts a different spin on that job, doesn't it? The island life seems so idyllic, and there is everything to be said for taking it easy, hanging out with friends and family, but then there are also the uglier sides of limited medical care, shorter life span, ... Another topic that is very much alive here is the issue of Independence from France. Very complex! Lots of compromising necessary in the future! However, the most important thing I have noticed observing the few different cultures I've come in contact with, is the fact that one finds the same landscape of human emotions everywhere. It matters little where you life or what your conditions are.

“Our existence on this planet is only identified by a plotted position on a chart. All around us is “nothingness”. Just water, and waves and air, an occasional bird, a few dolphins, a little school of flying fish. The chart spread out on the salon table day and night. A large scale chart, encompassing many thousands of miles of territory. Progress is painstakingly slow. Comfort is taken from the familiarity of the Eastern Australian Coastline, drawn along the left side. “Look, we're on the same latitude as Fraser Island now!” - 400 miles off the coast however, in the middle of nothingness.”

This is what I wrote in my journal during a night watch on the passage between Lord Howe (most fantastic and surreal spot, by the way) and New Caledonia. If I already hadn't believed in the interconnectedness of everything, in the fact that we are an agglomeration of molecules interacting with all the other molecules all around us, that we are all One with All, this would have been the perfect time to start believing in this kind of world view. Nothingness becomes “everything-ness”, which truly helps with feeling not so infinitesimal small. Which helps with trusting that somewhere in this all there might be some answers.

So we've been cruising for a year. A year with its ups and downs, beautiful moments and moments I've luckily already forgotten. I think I've learned some things along the way. Most of all I've learned that there are always more questions than there are answers, and that one question will always open up a whole treasure chest more of them. It took Scott a while to understand not to take it personal when I asked for the hundredth time: “Why is it put together like that?” “Why is it not working?” “Is it supposed to do that?” Kidding aside, I would like to share some of realizations I've had along the way:

  • never look back, your destination is in front of you, looking back to see the familiar shoreline fade out of sight only makes it harder to look forward to the delights that new times can bring
  • recognize and enjoy every moment of a perfect situation, every instant of a beautiful time, because conditions could change before you are expecting it
  • don't despair during rough times, because conditions will change (although in all honesty it feels that this time it may seem to take a little longer than you're expecting)
  • positive thinking: as Colin says in “The Secret Garden”: “Of course, there must be lots of Magic in the world, but people don't know what it is like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say that nice things are going to happen until you make them happen.”
  • if you leave the side hatches open during the night, you can be sure you will have to get up in the middle of the night and run around like crazy to close them all during the unexpected rain shower which will last only as long as it takes you to close all of them
  • it is wonderful to spend every minute of the day with your children, but it is equally wonderful to drop them off at the beach for a couple of hours while you two go for a little hike (“Aagh”, you're going on a hike again, do we have to come?”), and it will be even more wonderful to once again be among friends and family to send them to for a visit
  • some books really have a voice
  • it is too cool to be friends with your kids. Souls creating something together and teaching each other. Nikki's teaching me the value of believing in oneself and one's abilities, and in the value of standing up for oneself. Tristan's teaching me the importance of playfulness, the importance of seeing the fun and humor in situations. Each reminding me daily of the healing power of a warm hug.
  • it's a thrill to have “discovered” Eastern philosophy and medicine, a piece of my puzzle that fits as perfectly as Intuitive Medicine does
  • it is OK to accept the daily luxuries that western life has to offer, and to look forward to enjoying them again: a house that doesn't float, that you don't need to anchor every night, that doesn't need a motor that can malfunction, that's close to a familiar grocery store, where you can buy a bag with salad greens that are already cleaned
  • the longer we're away, the more clear it be comes that friendships are incredible valuable, the creative and compassionate energy that is created when among soul-friends is unequaled
  • we all need to become feminists –yes, that old word- in the sense of how valuable female values are and how they are still not recognized as such. Cooperation, communication, intuition –my three favorite words-, introspection and compassion. We've tried aggression and dominance. “What many people want to see in the world now is a more idealistic spirit, almost a reverence for life, a sacred feeling about each other, a sense of wonder and curiosity – in place of the cynicism that passes for sophistication and verges on hostility most of the time” (Shere Hite)
  • our lives in our Western world are too busy. “Self reflection can foster the same Qi of awareness to manifest as benevolent concern for the other”, is a line out of my “Chinese Medicine” book, by Ted Kaptchuk, worth pondering
  • adventures are absolutely fun and mind and horizon expanding, just give them to me in smaller doses next time, please
  • a fresh Baguette a l'Ancienne with some fine smelly French cheese and a glass deep red wine can make the day
  • there are so many different ways in which people live their lives, for better or for worse, with elegance or love or with indifference or anger. It's been good to have been out of my familiar and sheltered little world to be able to actually see this in all its extremity from mansions in Sydney to little huts on the islands.

Now where do I go from here? Did anything come out of all those ruminations that were sitting around? Some of you know that I very seriously considered studying Acupuncture. I am tremendously interested in and compelled towards that kind of approach to healing and “making a difference”. I've read some books about Chinese Medicine, and it all feels so right. However ... yes, here is the “however” ... the flash of intuition that came one morning pointed me into a different direction. I received a strong message that my talents will be better used in a different kind of setting. I've decided to start checking out a degree in International Diplomacy/Global Communications (whatever it is called these days). See where that will lead me. Combining this with my background in child psychology, management, and Intuitive Medicine might lead to the realization of some long held dreams.