Journeying to the soul


How far do you have to go before you find yourself?

It’s a question that turns into a quest for many, a soul quest and that’s exactly what you get with the latest book I’ve read, Claire Dunn’s ‘My Year Without Matches. Escaping the city in search of the wild’.  


Soul Journey One.


The first time I escaped from my own city, well, town/life was when I was nineteen.  I tried to go the year before, had made all the plans and set everything in motion only to be hit with a sickness that had me questioning my own mortality.

Sadly (for a nineteen-year-old with a taste for adventure) soul journey number one began and ended in the attic bedroom in a house that I shared with my family.  A bedroom that took all of my weary-boned strength to climb up to-night after night. I kept my dreams of  adventures overseas alive by reading ‘on foot through Africa’ by  24 year old Ffyona Campbell hoping that I would soon shake this disease and be back on my feet.  A year later my dreams came true.

The setting for Soul Journey number two was one Camp Chunder, a hap-hazard teenage-and-military-leader-littered base in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.  A camp eight hours by boat from the nearest town, past stilt houses,  virgin rainforest, crocodile dens and peat bogs.  I had packed light, so light in fact that I’d forgotten my torch and mozzie net. My heart was with the adventure but my head was all over the place – I quickly realised that unlike the others I actually had no real idea where I was or what we’d signed up for. To me that was just pointless detail when all I wanted was the bigger picture. In spite of this it all worked out and it was here that I learned how to stop apologising for myself, that I learned I was strong, very strong.  Here that I realised I was made for this, this physical work,  lack of home comforts,  team-work and getting-on-with-it.  I decided while banging soft nails into hard wood that I was not ready to go home as previously arranged and that instead I’d go off to Australia alone and spend a year there.  And that’s what I did.

Soul Journey Three.

Australia hit me smack in the face.  I got off the plane in Darwin and onto a bus to the town centre. Got off the bus and walked head long into a ute whose occupant was enjoying my company a little too much and had his member in his hand.  I realised that it was time for my brain to well and truly meet my body.

Travelling around Australia alone and with very little in the way of money or a plan wasn’t easy but it wasn’t supposed to be. It was here that I learned what it felt like to be nobody. To have the wrong clothes, to have work references that nobody cared about, to be un-qualified, un-connected, un-liked even at times – the one and only time I’ve been ‘sacked’ from a job was here’.  I put on 10Kg and spent a lot of time wondering what I was doing but knowing that I just had to keep on doing something.

If Indonesia made me feel invincible, Australia made me feel like nobody. Both were lessons I needed and welcomed albeit with a few tears.

I grew up a lot in that year but now, 21 years on I can tell my 21-year-old self that if I thought I had it all worked out then, I had no bloody idea but that it wouldn’t matter as the lessons would find me. I’m also confident that the 64-year-old me will probably write the same – ‘you had no idea young lady’.

Life pushes and pulls you, either sweeping you off your feet or pummeling you into rocks. One thing that I am more sure of now than ever before is how the physical journey is NOTHING compared to the journey of the mind and that one doesn’t have to move a muscle or spend a dollar to initiate that.

Like Claire Dunn, author of the book I’ve just read, I was a young girl who turned into a woman who ran, who was addicted to ‘busy’, who thought deeply but became frequently overwhelmed and paralysed by her whirring mind.  I don’t know Claire personally and may have got this all wrong but I felt from her book that she was an intellectualiser whereas I’ve always been more sensory focused which is odd as I’m not one that likes to be touched too much and can easily become overwhelmed in crowds – too much sensory stimulation probably.   So while  Claire seemed to be trying to remember and map intellectual detail, I’d have been wrestling with my feelings and trying to fit into the flow of things.  The net result being we  would both try, and fail many times.

Different strokes for different folks.

I know that but I’m not the worlds most patient of people and that’s something that I’ve come to embrace – it is what it is. I’m aware of it but I let it flow anyway just (hopefully) away from other people’s feelings.

So I didn’t technically ‘enjoy’ reading this book because Claire’s approach to her year came across to me as the polar opposite of what I’d do and while I can appreciate that this is about her journey and unapologetically so I found myself wishing that she’d stop talking herself round in circles and just test her physical self. As well as being impatient, I can also be impulsive!

I found myself saying ‘good grief woman,  shouldn’t you be past this by now?’ before coming to my senses and realising that a soul journey is deeply personal, has no rhyme, reason or time-frame and can be as annoying as it has to be. So sorry Claire.

The book did spark thought and for that I’m glad I read it. I am excited about the idea of tanning my own leather – probably from roadkill Kangaroo.  I got that from the book.  I’ve also realised why I don’t remember the names of the plants and birds I ‘study’ on my walks – because the name is only of value when I know the nature of a thing and not the other way around.  That for me name-first-detail-later is like watching the film instead of the book. I never realised that before now.  That I ONLY crave the name of things so that I might more easily track down the things stories and secrets. The name for name’s sake means nothing.

My final thoughts on the book. 

If I’d have read this when I was sitting in my sick-bed as a 19-year-old in England I’m sure I’d have felt suitably inspired and gone on to see Claire as one of my all-time-hero’s but reading it today I just feel that I’m thirsty for something more, something deeper, something a bit more dangerous in a way that only the 42-year-old me with the struggles and problems that I’m faced with today can relate to. I’m glad I read this and I’m glad that opportunities like the year that Claire took are becoming more and more main stream. My wish for the future would be that every 20 year old experiences a year without matches as I feel that’s probably when we need that type of experience the most.

Claire’s physical journey finished two years ago but I’m sure that like me she is still travelling and appreciating every single footstep of that journey.

So how far do you have to go before you find yourself?

That, my dear is up to you x





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