Experience life in all possible ways
Experience all the dualities.
Don’t be afraid of experience,
because the more experience you have,
the more mature you become.
I headed for Cappodocia knowing full well that it is one of the most visited and touristic regions of Turkey, due to the geological phenomena of the fairy chimney valleys and its rich historical importance. There is, of, course always a reason why places become mythical and when you spend time in this incredible landscape, you can only wonder at the ingenuity of mankind. The rock-cut caves within this landscape, hewn from the mountains are a wonderous sight to behold.
But there was something else that occurred here, far more personal, and completey unexpected. It was a time of deep inner conflict, an intense period when I unexpectedly found myself face to face with every emotion, exploding from deep inside myself – I was at all sea in a world of rocks.
What could I do but continue on the road and try to work through everything?
The art of living… is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.
Alan W. Watts
My first stop was Hacibektas, on the North West edge of the region. The town itself holds little for the visitor – you come to Hacibektas to visit the the tomb of the Sufi Saint Hacibektas Veli, who lived and taught between 1209 and 1271. Within the compound of the tekke (nowadays it is a museum, but in the past it was a dervish lodge), there is an atmosphere which invites the guest to be at ease. This comes as no surprise when you look further (since childhood, I have been familiar with words such as sufi, esoteric and mysticism, and yet when it comes to explaining, this is not the place for it. I will therefore not go into too much detail, but for those who wish, here is a link for more information on the Bektashi order and Hajibektas Veli).
It is an order which has ceaselessly preached peace, love and brotherhood between all – “regardless of language, religion or color, a good human being is a good human being”. Also, when you consider the time in which Hacibektas Veli was living, some of his ideas were most unorthodox. For example he said: “educate your women, a nation that doesn’t educate its women cannot progress”. This is an issue which is covered in all its aspects in modern day journalism, and barely even considered in the Islamic world, at the time he was preaching.
The Bektashi order also seems to be somewhat famed for its dry sense of humour. Here is a taster:
One day, a Bektashi decided to go to the mosque. Not having found a place to attach its donkey or somebody with whom he could entrust it, he left it in front of the mosque saying: “My God I entrust my donkey to You.” When he came out of the mosque, he could not find his donkey.
“Alright!” he shouted, “who just prayed for a donkey? Cause Allah gave him mine!”
Sometimes we encounter moments so very unexpected, where words cannot even begin to explain everything that we are feeling. There is a sensation, a spark which is ignited, a sense of peace and a connection with something unseen. Once, in Greece, when I was staying in a monastery for the night, I had a conversation about this with one of the monks – Father Gregorio. I have stayed in many monasteries – they are filled with history and wisdom, and I love the silence, the peace and the warmth from the monks and nuns. I explained to Father Gregorio that since I started travelling by foot I can sense the energy in a place as soon as I arrive, and I know almost instantly if I want to be there or not. Within the monasteries, I told him, I am always at peace. His reponse was simple: that is because a monastery, from the moment the first stone is put in place, is made with love. Therefore everything here is embibed with love.
As I sat by the tomb of the saint, I sensed an energy – an unseen force all around. It was in the huge smile of the caretaker, who looked at me with such joy through his bushy moustache, that for a moment I felt like a child with his grandfather. It was in the tears of the visiting women, praying on their knees in supplication. And it was in the generosity and welcome of the people of the town, who looked after me. It must surely have been love.
If the path appears dark, know that the veil is in your own eyes.
Leaving Hacibektas was strangely difficult and I felt like I was tearing myself away. I was already feeling a little under the weather from a dodgy meal the day before and the rain poured in a torrential downpour. Along the road there was no shelter in sight. It was a bad decision and began my travails for the next few weeks.
Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.
Often when I’m travelling I am racked with self doubt and uncertainty, and inevitably find myself in situations where the only thing I can think is why, why, why? Why, for example, did I have to take that path, which I knew deep down was a bad idea, when there was a perfectly good trail I could have followed? Or why did I have to leave at all when i knew I was going to get soaked to the bone and be miserable? Why could I not simply enjoy the moment or accept it, without the constant urge to keep on going? Why was I unable to listen to, or even to hear my heart?
There often comes a stubbornness within the traveller, a refusal to look at the whole situation, and to be very stuck within the confines of ones own mind. “The journey” can become a concept which alters ones perception of reality, and the tendency to be caught up in this can lead one down a dangerous, difficult, or challenging road. It can also drive you on blindly, unable to appreciate what is around you.
My experience has been that when this happens I become heavy in spirit, and all my certainties become confused and the questioning begins. Perhaps this is just simply, as Socrates once said, that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. And so after a complete sense of loss and loneliness it also tends to end with moments of intense self realisation – coming back out of the rabbit hole.
Remember: the time you feel lonely is the time you most need to be by yourself. Life’s cruelest irony.
Douglas Coupland, Shampoo Planet
Every strong emotion, whether positive or negative is created by something deep within us, which makes us who we are. The ability to recognise these moments and to try and learn from them so we do not repeat them, must be one of the most difficult parts of life. This is not a bad thing. For it is also this challenge that comes with travelling non stop, and I realise that these moments of difficulty are necessary in order to reflect on all the reasons, (and to recognise the unknown true motives), for waving goodbye to the comfortable world I knew 2 and a half years ago.
In Cappadocia, despite the beauty all around, I reached the lowest point in spirit, where I felt completely and utterly lost and alone. What was I doing wandering here with no real direction? Of course the real question was entirely different, and I think I answered this in one of my last blog posts (part of the picture). But at that time, in Cappadocia, I was so inside my own head that the veil blocked everything and I was unable to find the answers.
Watching all the people in groups with eager and excited faces, and the smiling couples, sharing this land together, I felt a huge sense of loneliness. Why it happened here, of all places, I cannot say. Perhaps it is the culmination of 2 years travelling alone, and the realisation that although this makes everything special, it also becomes tiring mentally – the same questions, and the increasing feeling that the eyes and mind can only experience so much. The intensity that comes from newness every day is both wonderful and exhausting.
What we have to discover is that there is no safety, that seeking is painful, and that when we imagine that we have found it, we don’t like it.”
Alan W. Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety
It was a land of the strongest contrasts: this strange melancholy was tempered by the sweetest moments, where the magic of the landscape left me speechless. These were the days of feeling that rush of exhilaration which comes with travel.
After a day wandering through the valleys outside Goreme, I found a suitable cave to sleep in. This had been one of my first ideas, although it proved more difficult than I expected to find a comfortable cave. Many of the best are old abandoned churches, while others are actually owned by local inhabitants, or home to pigeons (in Cappadocia they have been using pigeon droppings as fertiliser for the land for centuries). Then there is the prospect of finding the perfect spot, only to have an enterprising tourist peak into your new bedroom. At any rate, I eventually found a suitable hovel, and was able to settle down to watch the magic of the starry night sky before closing my eyes. Then in the morning, I was awoken by a strange whirring sound at 5am. I looked out to behold a most wonderous spectacle: hot air balloons (I counted around 75) rising high above the fairy chimneys of the red valley, as the sunrise began to illuminate the rocks all around.
Since a gathering of hot air ballon enthusiasts some 10 years ago, seeing the sunrise from has become “the thing to do” in Cappadocia. I am sure it is a quite incredible experience.
The other option is to do what I did: I jumped up, packed rapidly and made my way to a vantage point to witness this truly beautiful scene, with a breakfast picnic,
There are other stand out moments where I realised I was in a truly unique place. The natural beauty left me speechless and my ideas of walking were replaced by the urge to just sit still and take in everything. I had in my head the idea to try and reach the south coast of Turkey but Cappadocia, I feel, is not a land for fleeting visits. It should be appreciated in all its glory, through exploration away from the tourist trap that it has inevitably become in places.
Of course I am aware that I am in a unique position to have time, whereas the majority of people are only there for a week or even just a few days. To travel in this way means that I experience both the high and lows, often in the most unexpected of places.
The wound is the place where the Light enters you.
My journey is changing. After 2 years of solitary travel I am perhaps beginning to realise what it is that was missing. The great balancing act of travelling comes around full circle every year. But really it is the inner voice of the human soul, crying out to the seasons that change, and the inner nomad which speaks from my heart: go on, forwards towards the Unseen and the Unknown, to the challenges that await. The sun is shining and there is a world to be explored. Go forth and do not stop until this yearning is assuaged. But when it is, take heed. For the body and mind are one and the harmony is complete only when you truly listen.