Life Line in Orkney

As teenager in the 70's I spend a lot of time alone in my tiny 2x3m bedroom studying and pretending to be studying. If I didn't and would be spotted by my parents doing something else, I would be ordered to do chores for the family bakery which I hated. This self-imposed isolation was only broken by secretly listening to my favorite radio station; Radio North Sea International.

The station was radio pirate station, housed on a ship located in international waters off the Dutch coast. There were a few of such stations between England and The Netherlands that became very popular in no time. In those days there were no mobile phones or computers. My transistor radio was the only lifeline to the outside world.

After a few years laws were passed that made pirate stations and supplying them illegal. I still remember the day that the station was shut down. For days I still tuned in, just in case... but it the airwaves remained silent, dead silent. It felt as if my Titanic had gone under...

A few days ago as I passed through the small Orkney village of St. Margaret's Hope, I spotted a ship with an unusual tall mast that looked like a radio mast. No... it couldn't be! I had to check it out, so I cycled over to the far end of the harbour.

When I got closer I the ship's flaking colour scheme on the hull became clear: red,white and blue, the colours of the Dutch flag. My mind was trying to mute my growing excitement by reminding me that those were also the colours of the Union Jack. As I rode my bike around a shed behind which the ship was moored there were more clues and all doubts were squashed when the rear of the ship read; Communicator, Rotterdam. Bingo, what a treasure and that here in sleepy St. Margaret's Hope of all places!

The ship is being dismantled here. The man in charge raised the possibility that this ship may have housed a few stations in it's life time. We are not quite sure which ones at this stage. This remarkable coincidence is an amazing opportunity for me to shoot footage about a part of my life that I was writing about only a few days earlier.

Catching up with myself.

It is fascinating how a new location provides a different view of oneself, leading to new discoveries. That is the most rewarding part of this journey for me. I am not always happy with what I see or discover. Coming to terms with that is a healing process that I hope will provide the growth and transformation I seek during this journey.

Since my arrival I focussed on filling in the Syria-Orkney gap on my blog. So much happened during that time, so many interesting experiences, coincidences and meetings that I wanted to share but time has caught up with me and it is time to be in the here and now rather than places that, by now, are far away again.

I have begun a challenging part of filming here on Orkney, recording myself. This throws many challenges at me. I have to get comfortable with the image I have of myself, which no doubt differs from the image others have of me. In doing so I am forced to face my self-confidence (and lack thereof) and my fierce inner critic.

I have found a round window in a small lighthouse at the harbour entrance of Kirkwall, the tiny capital of these islands, that I have been using as a mirror. The window has been weathered by the elements. Scratches and dirt create a reflection of a, well, maybe damaged self-image. I seek a pure, crystal clear image of myself, but this blurry one is just perfect at this time, not too overwhelming.

The little lighthouse has become a listening post, a mirror, a beacon. It is guiding me to a safe haven, guiding me home. Home to myself rather than any particular location.
Funny, I was often called 'lighthouse' in a derogative context as a kid, because of my bright red hair. I love lighthouses.

Catch-up Syria-Orkney part 3: Deir Mar Musa

Image: The path to Deir Mar Musa (Mar Musa Monastery), Syrian Desert.

Some parts of my journey are smooth, some are rough, some are rough AND tough. Yet I would not want to miss any of the 'rough parts' for anything in the world as they often hold the greatest rewards. Walking up the steep path to Deir Mar Musa, with a fever in 35c heat was worth the effort. Mar Musa is one of those amazing places on earth where one is welcomed without questions, allowed to just be. What a gift!

Image: Deir Mar Musa (Mar Musa Monastery), Syrian Desert.

This ancient place was "rediscovered" by Father Paolo, an Italian priest,in the 80's and given a new lease of life. It is a stop on the Abraham Path Initiative, a concept as interesting as the Monastery itself. I spend a week at Mar Musa, enjoyed the solitude of a cool cave room, great company during the delicious shared meals with the residents and the many visitors, the meditative quality of the old church and the unusual experience of witnessing a catholic mass being conducted in Arabic.

Image: a Syrian Catholic contemporary icon. Interesting to see an icon with text in a language associated with Islam, uniting the two just like that!

My time there provided much needed healing time. I healed the fevers and even better the underlying emotional baggage. I sobbed, old sobs from deep within my being, they did not need any tears, they were silent, yet I felt the power they had over me all those years. As I was able to let them surface and release, with that my fevers were released as well and I was able to continue my physical journey through Syria in good health.

Image: my reflection in the door handle of the gate of Deir Mar Musa.

Bardo (Tibetan) means intermediate, transitional or in-between state. Usually it refers to state between death and (re-) birth. In the west Bardo refers to times when a usual way of life is suspended such as during a retreat or as I have done by going on a long journey. It is a way to remove external constraints of daily life to free up time to focus on the bigger picture of one's life. It can also be a time during which one will be presented with challenges because habitual patterns do not always work in new situations or different cultures, so one is forced to review and change. This often leads to new insights and growth, accompanied by 'growing pains' or maybe 'healing pains'. I like to call it spiritual growth as I regard each challenge and the insights gained from such challenges as a step towards the blueprint of my Soul.

Catch-up Syria-Orkney part 2: Damascus

Image: demonstrations Damascus, Syria.

You can't discuss politics in Syria and it will be difficult to find people willing to discuss politics with you. That did not stop me observing and being in the midsts major political demonstrations in Damascus. The political reallies added God knows how many extra decibels coming from distorting loudspeakers and honking cars to the city's already hectic sound scape.

Enduring the noise was worth the experience though. It was interesting to observe this passionate expression of a people-ruler relationship in a Middle Eastern context. I have witnessed a great variety of events that give expression to the relationship between a ruler (king, queen or president) and the people: the cremation of the assassinated Royal Nepalese family (2001), the burial of the Maori Queen in New Zealand (2006), the demonstrations in Damascus and the annual Carnival celebrations in Maastricht, and Queens Birthday celebrations in Amsterdam. They all relate to the 'king archetype' which I am exploring as part of one of my video projects.

Image: roaming the back streets of old Damascus revealed a beautiful surprise in the form of a small family run cloth dyeing business. The machines used, the actions performed and the setting were fascinating and provided a visual feast.

Image: bridal mannequin with missing hand, jewelry and a local woman in traditional black dress in the souk or market of Damascus.

Catch-up Syria-Orkney part 1

It has been a while since I have published anything on this blog and not without reason. It is time to do a catch-up. I choose to do that through a series of images which hopefully will speak to me and allow me process and understand the experiences of recent weeks.

It has been a challenging and confusing time, like this bit of knotted rope. I haven't quite understood the lessons contained in it. Once I do I expect to be ready to continue my journey without the confusing baggage of recent weeks.

Image: Abandoned rope in the harbour of St. Margaret's Hope, Orkney Islands, Scotland.

With the images I intend to connect Syria, from where I last published, with Orkney, Scotland, the place I am now. It was a journey that was neither planned nor anticipated, it kind of 'just' happened, and of course I allowed it to happen. I am still kind of surprised about how I got here.

Image: broken stone in the Syrian Desert.

This stone serves as a fitting metaphor for the period of my journey that I will document in the following catch-up series. It was a challenging period that raised many questions and created many doubts.

Is the fact that this structural stone is broken a bad thing or a good thing? Is it less beautiful or more beautiful as a result? Should this stone be fixed, should such a thing be possible or is there nothing to fix? Interesting questions to which I know the 'correct' answer, yet I am not quite ready to fully accept the answer at all levels. So I note and acknowledge the resistance and choose to spend more time with the 'broken stone'.

Image: Boat in the harbour of St. Margaret's Hope, Orkney Islands, Scotland.

It is funny how people and objects can become messengers and signposts along a journey, such as this stranded boat in the harbour during low-tide called KIA-ORA, which is Maori (the native language of New Zealand) for 'hello/welcome'. I have felt stranded for a while in my journey, yet the flow of life has carried me safely to this harbour, where, with the tide being out, I have no other option but wait for the carrier of life to return and enable me to continue my journey. Of course being stuck in a harbour is as much part of the journey as any 'sailing' on currents that circle the globe. I will use this time to reflect and digest. Hehe!, interesting that the word 'digest' popped in my head as it high time to get my digestive system back into shape with a healthy diet after too much food that clogs my system (wheat, gluten) or throws my sugar levels out of balance (cookies, yeast, alcohol and chocolate, -lip!).

I have received a very warm KIA-ORA indeed from the locals I have met so far. I am very happy to be 'stranded' in this outpost of Europe, a tiny island north of Scotland. It is very peaceful here. All I hear are birds, the wind, the sea and sheep. I am looking after a mansion with 27 rooms, 2 dogs, a cat and 5 chickens for the next three weeks, so 'shipwrecked' in full comfort.