words ona abelis| images jessica brookes
In 2011, Jessica Brookes was a mid-twenties, white-collar professional working in advertising when she decided to give up her desk job and take a "creative sabbatical." The plan, at first, was to travel until her savings ran out.
"I stayed with nuns in the Everest region of Nepal, studied with yoga masters in India, slept in caves, temples, boats, hammocks and couches," Brookes explained to The Telegraph. "I launched a Himalayan recycling campaign in India; volunteered for Tsunami emergency relief in Japan; sailed across the Atlantic as a chef; raced in the Antigua Classics Regatta; and even presented online TV."
A few months later, she was still on the road and still living out of a bag. But, something had changed. Brookes had encountered The Dream Flag Project while staying in the Nepali Himalayas, and had interviewed the co-founder, Jeffrey Harlan. "My heart just exploded," she said. "Since then, I've done little things now and then to support Jeff's beautiful vision to bring children's dreams together from around the world while empowering them to dream a better world."
Currently, Brookes is a Dream Flags ambassador and teacher, and has run children's creative workshops in Philadelphia, England, and Colombia. "Seeing first hand all the suffering in the world—while overcoming my own fears of insecurity, lack and self-worth—I realized how important it is for us to create spaces devoting to healing, revealing our passions and igniting our creative spirits to make the world a better place," she told The Telegraph.
In early 2012, while still on the road, Brookes founded The Shanti Space, a community that inspires, heals, and creates spaces "where you can tune in, reflect and rejuvenate as you step out of your comfort zone and become deeply alive in the world." This year, there have been retreats in France, Bulgaria, and Indonesia—with a two-week retreat in the Himalayas scheduled for May 2017. "It's primary purpose is to help restore villages in the Himalayas following the earthquake," says Brookes.
Four years after quitting her job, Brookes is following her dreams—"something I wish 'grown ups' didn't lose touch with as they get older"—still living out of a bag, but also pursuing new careers as a photographer, massage therapist, and restorative yogi. "Life can be a meditation," Brookes says, and she hopes to help others find their way.
where do you live — For the last four years, I have "lived wherever I am." It's a common feeling among travelers. I have a few light houses around the world where I have family and can visit and take refuge, but otherwise I live wherever I lay my hat.
favorite neighborhood dinner — I went on a lovely street food date with a beautiful Maltese guy I traveled with in India. We walked along Pahar Ganj, asked the sellers about their food and their lives and ate a mix of everything that smelled delicious.
luggage — Varies, but mostly a rucksack or two. I am still yet to master packing light. I do a very good job of giving things away that I no longer need and every now and then a sister will give me a nice garment to add to my travel wardrobe. I still have my girlie moments.
gadgets — My camera, without a doubt.
favorite charity — I don't really have a favorite charity; however, I am an ambassador for The Dream Flag Project, a children's project that encourages little ones to tune in to their hearts' desires and visualize their dreams through poetry and art.
favorite hotel — I love AirBnB for city stays. If I had to choose a hotel, it'd be The Brookfield in Devon, which always makes me feel like part of the family.
favorite apps — Eurgh. I have recently got an iPhone, and it may be the biggest mistake I have ever made. I recently deleted Facebook because I realized how distracting it is. I really appreciate Maps.
favorite airport — Bangkok airport.
favorite airline — Singapore airlines.
home is...where I am happy.
where would you like to live — I don't know. I guess that's part of the problem. I have lived in the mountains of India, in a hut in Antigua, and in a beautiful apartment in Palermo, Buenos Aires. I've spent four months based in New York which was so cool, and I miss Sydney where I lived for four years before I hit the road.
where & when were you happiest — I feel like we don't laugh because we're happy, we're happy because we laugh. I have had some of the most uplifting and jolly times with friends everywhere. I do even make myself laugh a lot. I think it is necessary.
My biggest burst of euphoria was when I was 19 and had just arrived in New Zealand. It was the first time I'd backpacked solo and had the most incredible sense of joy and freedom. I remember calling my Dad to share my excitement only to learn that I'd forgotten the time difference and woke him up very early in the morning. Oops.
what do you consider your greatest achievement — Being alive. It's been one hell of a journey this far, quite literally at times, but to be happy with myself and all my life experiences is a wonderful accomplishment. I was the child that always wanted to be "good enough" and pursued academia and a whole world of extra curricular stuff in order to feel "good enough." I would never stop and take stock of what I'd achieved. This still plagues me so I try to just appreciate the process of accomplishing things and the learnings and huge mistakes I seem to make along the way while being okay with okay.
what is your current state of mind — I am feeling very peaced out. I've just spent the last week or so in the wilderness at a friend's wedding in New Hampshire. It was next to a lake and by a beautiful indigenous sacred mountain. I felt so inspired and relaxed swimming in the lake, hiking, and appreciating the reset after a stint in the NYC craze.
how many trips do you take a year — I don't know; I feel like I am on one big trip!
how many of those are vacations — Hardly any, although I took a month off and spent it barefoot on the "Bay of love" in Thailand. I was feeling like a bear who'd been tucked in a cave and coming out of hibernation after spending a ski season managing chalets in the French Alps. I hadn't realized how much the traveling had affected my digestive system so I took the time out to cleanse, connect, and ground again.
without traveling, you relax by — Breathing. Long deep breaths. I don't feel travel relaxes me but my friend said recently that "it takes off the crust." I like that.
won’t board the plane before/without — A boarding card and passport.
indispensable in your carry-on — A pair of earphones that work better than the airline's!
take off routine — Eyes closed, breathe, and rest. Maybe even sleep.
first thing you do after landing — Sometimes I clap and, often, I smile and say hello to wherever I have just landed. If it's England, I get a yummy "Oh, but of course" feeling when I see the grey skies and airport crew in layers. I never thought I'd find myself appreciating the relentless grey of England but, in a strange way, it has made me appreciate the sky more.