5:45 am is not my best time, especially if there’s no coffee around. But that’s the time I was groggily awaiting a tour bus to take me from my desert hotel to a sacred site in Australia, a very large rock in the middle of the Outback called Uluru.
Without an International driving license, a professional tour was really the only way for me to see an Uluru sunrise — a spectacular daily event as the light comes up on the red /pink/ yellow sandstone. After the sunrise, I would have an opportunity to get up close to the historic sacred site on a guided (gulp) 8-mile walk around its base, learning about the origins of some of the ritual sites and markings on it.
I was dismayed to discover that, instead of the smaller white, cozy vans parked outside the hotel, I was to board a big bus. And even more dismayed to find an announcer, in a sunny mood, making lame, tour-bus-guide jokes in the dark of the early dawn (“In the case of the emergency, break the windows to escape, but if you don’t feel like it, you can always pop open the sun roofs and feel like a real rock star”). I don’t like tour guides that try to make me laugh at six in the evening, so you can image how I felt at dawn.
See, I wanted the event to feel sacred. And a jolly attitude and joking cuts into my image of sacred. As they herded us onto a platform for sunrise viewing, I tried to ignore my less-than hoped for surroundings. I put in my earphones to block out the chatter around me (“Ha, ha! I’m still drunk from last night!“) and tried to watch in peace.
I experienced a profound beauty which was dampened by an inner fight against what I had hoped and expected the experience to be. A fight to be present and okay with what is, and to delight in the incredible display of nature in front of me.
Contrast this experience with two mornings later. We had booked in advance another sunrise tour, and I thought, after the two sunrise experiences that were attached to other tours I’d taken, I might sit this one out. But I was awake at 5:30, and while debating whether or not to fall back asleep and start the day better rested, I heard a voice inside: “Just show up. I may never be here again. Let’s do this.”
The first bonus of this choice was that my dear friend who I was traveling with was the only other person in our group who was up for it. We got to have special, sacred alone time in saying goodbye to this place together. And what an event it was.
First, we parted with the crowds to go for a walk, and got a special picture of us with the rock in the background. Then, I decided to walk the land by myself, I was in touch with a peaceful feeling of connection and centeredness. And then looked up and saw this:
I burst into tears at the sight of it, and through blurry eyes, I began to realize it was the other end of this:
A Rainbow in Oz. How beautiful, other worldly, and perfect. As I witnessed it take shape before my eyes, I was truly awed and humbled.
Although Australia offered many wondrous life lessons, here are three distinct take-aways from my experience in the Outback. They are reminders of lessons we all know and hear daily.
1) Expectations can really get in the way of a good time.
2) When in
Rome Australia . . . Just show up
3) Humility is something we learn and experience incrementally.
In leadership, we place great value on humility as a character trait. But you can’t learn leadership, or humility, from a book. You can’t say, “From now on, I’m going to be humble.” It doesn’t really work that way.
But nature, nature can bring you to your knees.
I love how you shared how vulnerable you felt while travelling to unfamiliar territory. I could relate to that so well but it’s something that I found trickier to articulate.
Haha! I laughed at that poor Australian tour guide – that’s so funny. I don’t know why, but it seems to be the Aussie way “If you don’t know what to say, crack a joke – she’ll be right, mate!” I find it a little awkward! 🙂
I also love how you shared the power of overcoming your expectations to enable you to fully experience a greater gift that a place of natural beauty had to offer. Not only were you able to see this rock that Australia is so famously known for, but you saw beyond that to gain pleasure and appreciation for things that may have been perceived as more familiar. That gratitude and recognition in something constant and reassuring is a gift in itself.
This is such a beautiful post, your a great writer and meeting you (and Ally) in Sydney, Australia was such a pleasure. Your visit also expanded my vision and I’m pleased I could welcome you into my life as one of my greatest mentors!! 🙂
Much love and big hugs,
Sarah! So nice to connect with you here. Thanks for reading and responding so fully.
I don’t think the tour guide was an Australian thing . . . “entertaining” tour guides are everywhere! Most people really seem to like it, and in some circumstances, like the tour I took of the Panama Canal earlier this year, it worked.
I feel compelled to say that not all the guides were like that! The Australian people were one of my favorite things about the trip. Many, including your bright self, made me feel right at home and as if we had known each other for a long time. Meeting you was a highlight of my trip, and I am grateful.
Wow. I loved this post Blair. I had chills as I looked at your beautiful pictures.
In October, I spent time in Machu Picchu. With that experience still fresh, I related to everything you said about showing up and being with nature. When I honored the sacred space and opened to what it offered me, I felt the much larger system I am a part of. Powerful!
Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Terri! I get it!!!
Very beautiful, Blait. Nature and the sacred are so close there!
Hi Dan! Thanks for chiming in.
Uluru at dawn is a magical place. We walked around it at 5:30 in the morning and sat and had a packed breakfast on the lower edge as the sun rose in the sky. Fabulous and mystical!
Glad you had such a wonderful time with Alli and I know exactly what you mean by the stories you’ve shared.
I hope your return to ‘civilisation’ has not bene too huge a jolt!
John, Thank you for your comment. It feels good to share the experience with another who’s “been there.” Return to civilization has been pretty great because the spring weather in the Hudson Valley has been magical!