Posts by Renee Martyna

Five things I have learned about food

Photo by Peter Wall

Popular psychology teaches that food behaviour tells you a lot about a person. For this failed foodie, that is certainly true.

I have read a million books and experimented a mil- lion ways but it all comes down to this: People are funny about food, but we are not all funny in the same way.

Your relationship to food is your relationship to life.

Try this trick: ask yourself what your relationship to food is, then substitute the name of whatever higher power you subscribe to (Love, Life, God, Gaia) in place of the idea of food.

This is what I got: I love food! But often, I am not discerning enough. I will eat what’s there instead of what I know fills me up.

I lack balance too; I eat too much or too little, and I eat irregularly. If only I had more time to spend making good food.

I love variety and hate leftovers. There is no greater hell to me than a mono-diet. I steer away from people who are dogmatic or controlling about food – they scare me.

When I cook, I find the best results don’t come from following someone else’s recipe, but are made up of the scraps I find in my own fridge…

all the things I have tasted and loved on my travels that are delicious only to me (and which my parents probably hate).

I used to fear other people looking at my food; their judgment, their unsolicited advice. But thank God, now I don’t give a toss.

I know what food makes me feel good, even if I don’t eat it as much as I would like to.

Food fascists are no fun, unless you are fine dining.

People who balk when you use a marinara sauce on fusilli instead of penne or choke when you try to pair a nice merlot with a mahi mahi are a bore.

They might make great food critics, but they can kill the creativity of an aspiring cook and send him sulking back to pre-prepared, packaged foods.

Don’t let the food fascists get you down. Follow your heart, get experimental and feel your food. Cook what you love.

And remember: perfectionism is the worst sort of sauce. I enjoy my signature fridge soup (lovingly reconstituted from the leftovers of previous meals) every bit as much as gourmet amuse-bouche with parsley foam any day.

And there is nothing I love better then my husband getting creative in the kitchen. The love that he puts into the preparations is far and away the best flavour.

Eating one Oreo is okay, eating the whole packet is not.

There are all manner of boundaries we can set around food. How much/how often, 80/20 rules, vegan/vegetarian, high-protein or fructose free, halal and kosher.

But in the end, there is no such thing as eating perfectly 100 percent of the time. One thing I know for sure, though, is that guilt will kill you quicker that any diet transgression will.

Whatever wagon you are on (and I trust you are on it for a very good reason) it helps to remember that you can climb back on whenever you fall off.

Those poor perfectionists would do well to save them- selves from the wild and lonely ride on the high-horse, too.

Little slips don’t need to bring any of us down. In fact, they can be kinda fun.

Don’t f#*&k with breakfast food.

In all these years of living abroad my tastes buds have changed considerably. I used to be horrified at the thought of eating anything other than ‘regular’ fare for breakfast (cereal, its sister carbs, maybe eggs).

But now I can happily eat as the locals do wherever I happen to be (fried rice, fermented fish fillets, innards soup and even yak butter tea).

I have noticed, however, that my guests from home, even the most adventuresome, are not quite as food hardy.

Let’s face it: people are vulnerable in the early morning and they need to be grounded in comfort. So if you can help it, don’t rob them of what they know.

They may be happy to see the sights and get experimental with lunch and dinner, but for early morning menus, don’t try to feed them anything other than what mommy did.

The only dieting advice that applies to everyone is simple: eat, wait, feel.

For all we think we know about food, the ‘freshest’ advice seems the simplest. Everybody is different, and a dieting industry that posits that we are all the same is bogus.

We all know people who pig out on corn chips and vodka and live to be 100, and others for whom being in the general vicinity of an un-organic, deep fried potato puts them into convulsions.

Socrates had it right for food and life when he said: know thyself.

Most of us engage with food at least three to six times a day, so why not defer to the ultimate expert and experiment on ourselves?

Figure out what food makes you thrive physically, spiritually, and emotionally and eat that.

You may just find the pop-psychologists are right: you can learn a lot about who you are through your food. ,

What knowmads should know about: The four hour work week

YOU may be among the many millions who read Tim Ferriss’ book “The 4 Hour Work Week” and felt it changed your life.

You are not alone! Bali is teeming with people who dropped traditional careers for the promise of better work-life balance.

Some of them are now discovering, however, that designing their lives on Ferriss’ 80- 20 premise was not quite the balance they were looking for.

FACT: Among the many corporate refugees who flock to co-working spaces in Bali every year, ultimately, very few end up working less than they did before.

Many work even more! But the good news is, most of them don’t mind. And here’s why: they do work differently.

The American dream revisited

Despite the advances of mass technology and hyper mobility, the holy grail of career management does not seem to have changed much through the ages.

Same ethos, different flare for the era. Ferriss’ refashioning of an old American dream—“work hard” (albeit smart) “so you can make enough money to retire early” (as in now)—misses the point that many people actually like working.

Or they can, if they do it well.

It’s ironic that just as financial planners are peddling the idea of early retirement, governments worldwide are being lobbied to raise the retirement age;

not just because of dwindling pension funds but because too many people still want to work.

Depression in retirement and old age is a concern, and many psychologists feel that the loss of meaningful work—that which gets you up every morning—is the main culprit.

As unfashionable as it may sound in these days when self-development gurus preach that it is no longer couth to ask what people ‘do’ the minute you meet them, work is still where most of us draw our sense of identity, community and purpose. So why pretend otherwise?

What if the real quest was not to work less, but work better?

Beyond the 4-Hour Workweek

We don’t all aspire to a perpetual vacation. The ‘location independent movement’ often hawks the dream of life with a laptop in one hand and a margarita in the other.

While the fantasy is not always off the mark, for many people, it may be a short-lived one. The beach gets boring.

What most Knowmads actually want is something much deeper, something the beach points to, but decidedly isn’t: freedom, freshness, play, nature, nurture, and spirited creativity.

A chance to do your work in the context of expansiveness. A place to be inspired.

Work-life balance is a decoy

As appealing as this HR innovation sounded to people slaving away in cubicles across the corporate world, we now know that it was a red herring.

It conjured the illusion that your life will be happier as long as you scheduled it right; as if there was some magical formula between time spent in and out of the office that would balance you out and have you humming along at Zen.

While no one would argue that balancing your hours of work and play is important, the science of human productivity and happiness (and the relationship between them) points to a much more compelling question:

What would work look like if it had more life running through it?

It might mean being able to bring your kids to work when they want to shadow Mommy and Daddy for a day.

It might mean working from home when the kids are sick— or when you just need to avoid engaging with people for a while;

Meditations mid-morning or yoga in the after- noon when you don’t feel that productive anyway;

Lots of connecting with human beings: at the water cooler, at beer-o’clock or at a fabulous health-food restaurant;

a place where your private life does not have to be so rigidly divided from the work you do;

taking conference calls in your underwear—if that’s how you think better (without the video, of course!).

Imagine yourself working sporadic hours, on demand, with no time clock; job-sharing and job shifting.

And yes, taking the laptop to the beach on occasion, if that’s what inspires you. It could even mean working round the clock for weeks at a time, then switching off for a month.

But these suggestions distract us with details, so the real question is: What does the ideal work-life balance look like for you? Have you ever really asked yourself?

The New World of Work: Is this where you belong?

Community co-working spaces—also known as hubs— are membership-based shared offices at the cutting edge of a movement that goes beyond work-life balance, and aims to put more LIFE in your work.

These are places where hierarchies are flattened, dress codes and working hours are interpretive, and the potential for spontaneous and creative collaborations are intensified. Hubsters are the patrons of a new world of work.

They are highly mobile—literally and figuratively—because they will consider working with anyone, anytime, anywhere.

They rank lifestyle and experience at a level that is, if not above, than at least on par, with churning capital because they see work as much more than just making a living. It IS living.

Conscious careers are the new collateral

Who and what do we see in these spaces?

In this new world, work is an integrative exercise, where who you are, what you believe, and what you feel called to do on this planet blends seamlessly with the work that keeps you waking up each morning.

For some people, this means developing a heightened sensitivity to previously over- looked aspects of being in business, like bringing emotional, spiritual and even Kinesthetic intelligences to bear on business practices.

It could also mean being eco-literate; giving back; collaborating freely; and feeling like the people who work beside you are not just colleagues, but part of your community.

It’s different for everyone, but the point is this: these are spaces where it’s okay to experiment with the options.

Forget work smart. Work well.

Bali now offers a number of co-working venues for you to choose from. Check out LineUp Hub on Sunset Blvd. (, Hubud in Ubud ( or the Salty Volt at Echo Beach (

The international network of Hubs is growing across the globe. You can learn more about them here

If you want to learn more about how to leave conventional work behind, Turnpoint offers courses and retreats in Bali on how to do it.

Renee Martyna is a perpetual Knowmad, a Conversation Curator with, mother to two Third Culture Kids and partner to a serial social entrepreneur. She has lived in Bali since 2009.

Knowmads You Should Know

Marianne Elliott: Storytelling under Fire

When Marianne Elliott published her revealing tale ‘Zen Under Fire: How I Found Peace in the Midst of War in Afghanistan’, she feared that people might think she was self-indulgent.

Knowmads like Marianne-who want to change the world but are also deeply changed by it-are generally wary of the criticism that self-reflection like that can invite.

She fell prey to the assumption that so many caregivers are prone to make: that self-care is somehow unscrupulous when there are others who suffer so much more.


After getting to know Marianne and reading her candid accounts of the pressure, isolation and uncertainty facing aid workers on the front lines, selfish is the last word that comes to mind.

But l tell you what does: grace, grit, honesty and humility.

Marianne is a remarkable woman, not least because she is willing to tell the truth about something that many aid workers, military personnel and political operatives might worry is professional suicide.

You might wonder why Marianne, a bright and beautiful woman in her early forties who left behind a lovely life in New Zealand, chose to work in a war zone in the first place.

The answer is familiar to Knowmads: it was in her blood.

There is a long history of existential migration in her family with at least a dozen relatives who were missionaries in Africa, Latin America and the Pacific.

By the time she accepted a job with the UN mission in Afghanistan she had already lived and worked in East Timor, Papua and the Gaza Strip.

Her Brethren upbringing emphasized hard work, community, humility and what she calls “ordinary everyday service”.

Her human rights career, she believes, was merely a secular re-imagining of the same ideal.

She wanted “to have an adventure, to explore the world and to learn but, at the same time, to do something good and useful”.

She may have got more than she bargained for.

Being selfless is how Marianne got into hot water, as do many people in the helping professions.

Sacrificing their personal well-being for the service of others, many caregivers suddenly find themselves unable to do their job effectively.

Or worse, they completely collapse under the weight of vicarious trauma.

The signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which the World Health organization estimates may be affecting as much as 4% of the global population, were subtle at first:

I had trouble sleeping and had strong emotional responses in unusual situations… a constant sense of elevated anxiety. Your hearing, your eyes and your nervous system are always on alert.

Months of hyper-vigilance eventually led to complete burnout.

The mostly troubling aspect of the disorder was simply not feeling like herself. “I was worried I was going crazy.

I did not recognize myself anymore.” But with the benefit of time, wise counsel, and a healthy dose of self-compassion, she realized that her body was merely sending her a message: It’s not you, it said. It’s the situation you’re in.

She fell prey to the assumption that so many caregivers are prone to make: that self-care is somehow unscrupulous when there are others who suffer so much more.

The sobering lesson in Marianne’s story is that, for most of us, the resilience required to shoulder trauma is not innate. It has to be learned.

That’s why she joined with others to introduce a “more systematic approach” to aid worker wellness which emphasizes “not just technical, but also psychological preparedness”.

She leads an online 30 Days of Yoga For Aid workers to help people on the ground cope with the “relentless exposure to suffering, violence and injustice” without sacrificing the sensitivity that attracted them to aid-work in the first place.

Her advice is simple and age-old:

Physical self-care – good food, adequate sleep, moving your body every day

Contemplation – time to reflect, process and release what you have seen or experienced

Human connection – regular and healthy social interactions

Creativity – expression through the arts

None of this is especially easy to achieve on the front lines but Marianne hopes to make it easier for others through her mentoring.

Since this issue of Inspired Bali is on the theme of communication, I asked her to ‘tell the story behind telling her story’.

It was hard, she said plainly, but it helped her heal.

Writing is the practice that calls her to be fully present with her pain, though she admits that it is emotionally exhausting to drop the make-believe so that you can truly see yourself.

Sometimes you see what you don’t really want to see but you peel off the various versions of the story until you get to the truth.

The word Zen is in the title of her book because “It’s about being awake and clear-seeing. To see yourself as you really are.”

Marianne is fully aware that her writing is also a medium for communicating her agenda.

Helping other people tell their stories – whether it be through a UN human rights report or coaching them through the writing process in one of her online courses – has been an effort to convey the value of human dignity.

To help people a voice they might not otherwise have. Despite all the turmoil she has endured she still seems grateful for her time in a war zone, especially for the kindness she was shown.

“Being a Knowmad is a privilege because you get to become a part of someone else’s community.

You may not share a language, religion or culture with them and yet they look at you, in all your strangeness, and open their doors to you… into their home, their family, and their professional life.

I have been to weddings and family celebrations all over the world, and I often wonder, do we do that in New Zealand?

Do we open our doors to people who don’t speak our language or know our customs and say ‘come to Christmas, or my sister’s wedding?’ It’s incredibly generous.”

…I often wonder, do we do that in New Zealand? Do we open our doors to people who don’t speak our language or know our customs and say ‘come to Christmas, or my sister’s wedding?’ It’s incredibly generous.

When asked to describe what being a Knowmad has meant to her, she replies: “It has changed how I see myself.

It’s given me a new perspective, a chance to question my own assumptions and to re-examine the things that I think are normal or I take for granted.

” Does one need to leave one’s culture and country to achieve this? “The same shift might be possible through reading and watching documentaries”, she argues, “but there is something so dramatic and direct about the lived experience.”

There are trade-offs, however, to leaving her land of birth. We conducted the interview from her sister’s house in Auckland where photos of every major milestone – graduations, birthdays, weddings, babies being born – were displayed on the walls.

The photos told the story of a close circle of friends: “They have been together since they were 15 and have incredible friendships.

Every once in a while I look at that and get a pang because I don’t have that. I graduated university and took off to Gaza.

I made incredible friendships there too but then we all scattered in different directions.

I did the same in Timor and then in Afghanistan. I loved those friendships but I’ve missed the consistency of having friends who have seen me through all the different phases of my life and who know all those different parts of me.”

Like many Knowmads, Marianne has had to find her sense of home within herself.

After the challenge of recovering from PSTD and discovering her inner resilience, she may well know herself than most.

For a knowmad on the front lines, that’s not indulgence: that’s survival.

By Renee Martyna

If you would like her to curate a conversation for you, please contact her at [email protected]

by icon-2-2

Grappling with gratitude | Inspired Bali


When I first came to Bali, ‘practicing gratitude’ was the spiritual discipline I probably felt most resistant to; the idea of writing a daily gratitude list reeked of an anesthetizing self-help culture, or worse, pollyanna-like denial.

I scoffed accordingly.

I never once considered that I was actually ungrateful.

I had all kinds of other adjectives to identify with instead, my favorite and most flattering being that I was a “realist”, who prided herself on being “discerning” and “rigorously honest”.

My lack of discernable gratitude was partly due to where I had come from.

In the time before Bali became my home (which my husband and I now lovingly refer to as the ‘pre-salad days’) I was an aid worker who spent much of my 10 year career in countries devastated by economic collapse, civil conflict or natural disasters.

There was a lot to be cynical about in those years, and like most of my colleagues I wore my world-weary sarcasm like a badge of honor;

it showed that I had done my time in the proverbial trenches of a fallen world… and by the way, what are you doing about that from your meditation mat, mister? You may wonder where, and what, that attitude got me in the end (if it’s not already obvious).

And the story is not unusual for those of us who have recently immigrated to the island.

By the time I came to Bali I was burnt out; emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausted, battling a mind that was obsessively self-critical and nursing a stomach that had been raked over with multiple rounds of anxiety and antibiotics.

Many of my relationships– where they existed with any degree of true intimacy– were strained.

And while my bank account was full (oh yes, those were the financial days too!)

my heart… that place that once harbored more than it’s fair share of dreams… felt empty.

What was there to be grateful for in that? I could hardly imagine how appreciating the color of the flowers or the taste of a well-ripened mango could turn the tide on a history of hard knocks.

But it did, and here’s how.

First things first: I stopped letting gratitude-filled people make me feel like beefing grateful is easy (you know the ones, obsequiously prancing around smelling the sweet air and opining about sunsets)

because even the neuro-scientists will tell you genuine gratitude is hard work. Like most people, grand sweeping vistas and financial

windfalls will make me happy— no problem there. It’s recognizing the smaller victories in life that proves most challenging; so patience, and the stolid determination never to compare myself to others, has paid off.

Here’s another trick: start with something real. If I don’t actually feel grateful, I don’t pretend that I am.

If that means that the only thing I am truly grateful for is taking my sweaty bra off at the end of the day, or flipping my pillow around to the cold side, so be it.

I doubt I am the first person who began their journey into gratitude with the thought that I survived another day.

Lastly, I learned to appreciate the subtle difference between denial (oh dear! I am stuck in a pile of sh*t, let’s play around a bit, it does not smell that bad!) and choosing the most empowering interpretation of the truth (wow, I am stuck in sh*t, but complaining about it won’t do much to change it, so I will save my energy for the shovel and look forward to a shower).

I discovered that even the worst situations had something worth appreciating… like friends who believe in me when I can’t, or a random Balinese motorist giving way to my car after I have been stuck in traffic for an hour.

With time I became grateful for the tragedies in life too.

For me, these moments are still hard-won, and demand a special combination of time, humility, and a willingness to surrender my directorial position in life for a seat in the back row of the film called “How things should turn out for me”.

Accepting a chronic illness as a way to heal my past, for example, is not something I invited into my life, but I can see how it makes me better able to help others, and the dividends for that are priceless.

When I can suspend my judgment just long enough to remember that gratitude is coming (eventually!) it gives me the breathing space to be curious instead of self-righteous.

That makes me happier, healthier, and a whole lot easier to live with—just ask my kids! I still can’t make sense of civil war or the travesties of modern slavery, but now I know that lamenting them ritualistically does nothing to change them either.

Much better, methinks, to focus on the solutions rather than the problems, and preserve my energy and sanity in the process.

I recently accepted a 30 day challenge to stop complaining—zero tolerance!– and am still stuck on day one.

But I am counting the fact that I finally realize just how frequently, and uselessly I actually complain, as progress…. And I am grateful for that.

Renee Martyna is a recovering aid worker cum global Knowmad married to a serial social entrepreneur.

Together they are reinventing their lives and their work in a way that better reflects their values while raising two Third Culture Kids in Ubud, Bali.