Have you ever taken to the skies in a hot air balloon?
If so, was it a purely physical experience of softly gliding to a mystery destination at the whim of Mother Nature’s gentle breath – or did you experience something more?
Let me share with you.
It’s still dark and a light frost covers all that the beam sweeps across as we turn into a remote field to join our fellow journeymen already alighting from 4WD vehicles.
Soon we are standing around watching fierce flames bursting from a gas burner forcing hot air into a narrow handheld opening in a flaccid balloon lying flat and lifeless.
The moisture of the frost buffer it from the coarse dry grass.
Within minutes the balloon comes to life – slowly lifting its saggy head skyward.
Then with each burst of fury from the burner, the balloon drags its limp body off the ground – the bright flame radiating reds and orange through the fabric of the ever-swelling girth.
Soon towering above us the balloon is anchored by ropes straining against weight of the vehicles they’re tethered to.
Standing bolt upright above a large wicker basket, the balloon is bursting with energy, regal and majestic, ready to be on its way…off venturing…gone.
With little grace and an abundance of adrenaline, we each in turn tumble into the basket and take our spot. A burst from the burner, a flame reaches high into the interior of the balloon above us, a shout from the rope handlers and…we’re off.
Not fast – not slow – just…magically.
As we rise the world below shrinks in size and becomes a painting – rich colours enhanced by moisture.
The new day’s light reaches into my very being through to my soul as it peels back the cover of the night and reveals an evolving artwork of colour and form being created all around us. I’m in the middle of a 3D sculpture under construction.
Cold morning air, heat from the burner and the sun, all mix to create a feeling of floating weightlessness.
Detachment from the norm – exhilarating.
I peer out. An ever-expanding canvas of colours. Recently planted cereal crops carpet the tiny farming plots below and around us.
It is both overwhelming to the senses and surprisingly calming to the mind.
A big long sigh, not conscious of having held my breath since lift off, I begin to breath deeply.
A patchwork of different shades of green – some separated by narrow walking tracks and others merely the shade of green. Fields of tall crops and short grasses abut and the balloon’s shadow jumps and dives as it passes from one to meet the next.
Narrow pathways that separate tiny farming plots are briefly painted with the shadow as it brushes by. As the shadow skirts over each obstacle it focuses my attention on the dividing lines between them and highlights their changing colours and forms.
Things I’d seen over recent days but not consciously noticed. Hyper sensitive to the detail and beauty unfolding beneath me, I ponder on the lost insights in my daily routine when not focused on the moment.
Are you ever guilty of missing the moment? Too many competing stimuli. The present just a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. One amongst many. No time to reflect on the bigger picture?
The fragile farming lands collide with the barren sands of the Egyptian desert. An invisible barrier draws a sharp line dividing these impossible neighbours.
No gradual transition. Just a fence with grass slapping against one side in the breeze. Sand mounting the other.
To the left the waters of the Nile, below the nation’s food bowl and to right, the arid landscape of the Valley of the Kings looms out of the hazy distance.
A dream – a nightmare – fantasy?
I’m not prone to any of these. It’s real. I’m awake – this is an experience, not a dream.
The shadow of the balloon jumps the divide between the rich and the arid without incident. Above it all.
The moment – a stark reminder of all divides, both the physical and metaphorical.
Man’s daily toil enabled by life-giving water the only barrier to the constant march of the desert. A metaphor for life’s struggles in the first and third worlds. The side of the divide on which each of us has roots determined by pure chance, our place of birth.
I reflect on the potential of countries upstream of the river, damming the Nile to help feed China. I ponder Egypt’s fragile future.
Now it’s the Brothers against the rest of the locals. Wait till it’s the local shifting sands that begin to wage war in an international race for survival as water replaces oil as the Holy Grail.
The mounting threat, beyond the knowledge or comprehension of the locals struggling to feed their families. A stage with amateur actors and no script, the plot obvious to the first world observers. The passive observers and outside participants too self-interested to be motivated to think about the consequences, not to themselves, but Mankind.
Again balloons rise, seemingly attracted to the orange and gold rays appearing over the distant horizon. I venture into yet another world, both physically and mentally.
With my feet barely having left the ground my thoughts immediately attain the dizzy heights of reflection that my Egyptian flight first triggered.
The migrating wildlife, like black ants march in single file in long lines toward a genetically pre-determined destination. The rich grasses of the Serengeti across the narrow stretch of water that sleepily meanders across the plains.
Milling, the herds line the banks of the Mara for as far as you can see. The Mara river, that narrow winding divide separating the herd from its next grazing site, the greening plains of the Serengeti.
The nervous agitation of the herds stomping back and forth along the banks of the river contrast the lazy slow moving waters of an insignificant looking divide.
A leader breaks rank and plunges into the waters, followed by thousands in the crossing. Movement on steroids, leaping animals build churning waters into a whirlpool of frantic activity. And then it begins.
From those sleepy waters appear countless numbers of hippo and croc, a killing and feeding frenzy erupts.
The whirlpool turns into a blood bath, a beautiful migration crossing morphs into a chilling insight into the cycle of life. Survival of the lucky.
Crocs yearn food. They lunge – jaws lock- twist – roll… Large fragments still kicking are gulped.
Largely herbivorous, hippos furiously protect their territory. Powerful jaws snapping like a chaff cutter kill and kill and kill again. Invaders maimed, the crocs rejoice.
I reflect on the line that divides here from there, and the consequences of passing from one to the other.
Life calls and death stares down the passing.
Like my observations in Egypt from my lofty eerie, I see things I’ve known before – but from a new perspective.
Observations of the obvious, but unobserved – the thought ‘how’d I miss that?‘ on a continuous loop.
Freshly processed data sparks new realisations, new realisations spark fresh data, and old perceptions are relegated to the obsolete bin.
All because of focus. Stepping back and seeing the bigger picture how things are linked, interdependent and co-dependent, a different perspective.
The relationships constantly evolving through the impact of natural and man-made events.
What was that?
My thoughts fading as quickly as they appear, some recaptured some not. Trying to retain each thought, like trying to recall details of a vivid dream. On awakening the memories and messages are mixed, confused and easily lost to daily routine.
Beauty and the beast, nature running its natural course, the cold reality of life in the raw and its mirrored beauty collide to evoke raw emotion and a glimpse of insight into life, the reality beyond our comfort zone.
The brutality of the natural – a reality many of us don’t experience.
But on the daily news we witness the brutality of power driven, man- generated aggression, fuelled by greed and a place in history as a hero, the justification for acts of infliction of unimaginable human suffering carried out in the name of God or some higher order, or perhaps just narcissistic satisfaction.
On the ground again. Torn between my choice of coffee or champagne I natter amongst my fellow travellers. Exhilaration – nervous energy – raw joy. Our visual experiences shared – our inner thoughts retained, sheltered.
So what did I take away from these experiences?
Realisation that I need to make time to live in the moment…well at least more of them. To capture and savour the insights a moment can generate. To enjoy all that each has to offer.
I’m reminded of extracts from the first chapter of the book ‘Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff – for men’ by Richard Carlson. The chapter is entitled ‘Have an Affair’. No…not that type of affair. He was talking about a love affair with life.
“…It seems that many of us have lost that sense of wonder and awe for the incredible gift of life…..It’s as if we’re doing nothing more than putting in time and going through the motions……Life is slowly passing us by…… The idea is to reignite your passion for living, and see the extraordinary in the ordinary“
How would you like to spend your next holiday eating mush in a nursing home canteen with the odour of urine protecting your taste buds from the taste (if any) of your dinner?
Research by the Summer Foundation and Monash University has found that more than 6000 disabled Australians aged 18 to 65 live in nursing homes because they have no other option. They are largely without visitors and rarely if ever get to participate in regular activities let alone leisure activities.
The research pointed to a young 18 year old man admitted to a nursing home after an unprovoked assault resulted in a brain injury. It is “…a sad reality for young members of the community with a disability. It is here where their lives become melancholy. They have low self-esteem and become despairingly miserable.”
The introduction of DisabilityCare will not reduce the number of young people in nursing homes. There is a massive shortage of appropriate accommodation. This remains an exposed and weeping wound not only for the public and private sectors to address, but we the broader community. Not unlike those members of our community recently ravished by fire, these people require our support.
An article recently published in the SMH argued that “In 2008, Australia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. These include the right of all people “to choose their residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others, and not be obliged to live in particular living arrangements” . It’s time to turn this right into a reality.”
Having worked with a number of disability groups over the last 20 years I have no doubt that there is an urgent need for a significant increase in the scale and range of accessible and affordable housing for people with disability. Group homes, when affordable, have a place but are not the answer for everyone.
The Summer Foundation has launched a new model of housing for people with disability providing flexibility and an opportunity to maximise independence within a safe environment.
Lets hope their efforts snowball.