Hope and inspiration

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Today I saw something truly inspirational. Today I watched a young woman achieve something really big that she set out to do. Despite challenges. Despite doubts. Despite the things not in her control. Despite the things in her control. She conquered. Today I watched a young woman show herself and the rest of the world what she is made of. I watched her lift everyone around her as she ran the 10km run as part of the Melbourne Marathon. Today we were all awe struck, proud and inspired.

Tes is 24 years of age. She is a runner. She is training to do a triathlon. Even though she isn’t overly keen on the swimming. But Tes is used to dealing with things she does not like. She knows the commitment and persistence you need to give something in order to get through the tough stuff. Her training for dealing with hard situations started at the young age of 16, when life threw her some pretty big challenges.

But I am not going to talk about those challenges. I thought about sharing them, only to give context to the enormity of the achievement she has made today. So you know where she has come from. So you know what she has had to overcome. But you are going to have to come to terms with how big this achievement is without the context. You see, Tes has chosen to write her own story in life. And in doing so, I feel it is really important to honour her story, rather than give time to the challenges and their story. Because Tes has made a decision not to be a victim of the things life hands you, but to be the author of her own journey. To decide what her hero’s story is. And it is a damn good one. She is quite the hero. She is exactly as the word is defined: someone to be noted for courageous action.

Tes is all about hope and inspiration. They are the two best words to sum up this amazing young woman. She is a beautiful musician, who lost her music and reclaimed it. Who plays guitar and the ukulele with a gentleness of someone who knows the fragility of a gift handed down from another lifetime. She has a soulful voice and is a wonderful tender storyteller through song and poetry.

Tes is a teacher for students in the school of life. She is what determination is all about. She is a true example of what self belief looks like. She is persistence personified. And she is human. She has frailties. She has walked the long road of self doubt. She knows what it feels like to give in to fear. And it is her life experience which gives her a unique understanding and empathy. Something she taps into and draws on when working through her degree to become a youth worker.

It was only very recently, my recollection is about 2 or 3 months at most, when Tes decided to join a triathlon training group. To train most weeknights, three times with the group and three times on her own. To set herself the challenge of a triathlon. She cycles. She runs. She swims. She trains. She hasn’t been able to train for the last couple of weeks, or perhaps longer. Regardless, today she ran at her first running event. Ran 10km for the first time in her life. And beat her expected time by over 10 minutes. Setting herself a personal best to work against and towards, for her next one. And we will all be there to cheer her on. Like we were today. With our hearts full of joy and pride, our eyes welling up with tears as she ran by. Looking strong. Looking relaxed. Looking so comfortable as the pavement passed beneath her feet as she made her way towards the finish line. Towards her goal. She was exactly where she needed to be today.

She is pretty awesome. But of course I would say that. I am bias. You see, she is one of my best friends. I love her to bits and am so very grateful to have her in my life. Tes has reminded me many times what hope looks like in life. What it looks like to never give up. She is an inspiration. An inspiration to embrace the reality of life and make something of yourself. She is a musician. She is an athlete. She is going to be a youth worker. She is a girl with a mission. She has purpose. She is a great storyteller. And the best story she has written, is her own.

Walking beside you

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Who we are is determined by who walked before us, and who walks beside us and within us. The generations past are here in the present. Through what we have inherited from them in looks, personality and spirit. We carry inside us the thousands who have walked before us, we carry them in our hearts and souls.

My relationship with history is complex and somewhat strained. I was born to Lithuanian parents in the early 1970s. My paternal grandparents had already died. My maternal grandparents lived far away. The generations before my parents and grandparents no longer alive, and evidence of their existence, birth certificates and such, lost in the war. The thread of knowledge connecting the generations to me was very thin.

Our Lithuanian heritage was robbed by Russian occupation. There was no Lithuania on any map when I was at school. It wasn’t until after Lithuania declared independence from the Soviet Union on 11 March 1990, that day forever known as the Restoration of Independence Day, that Lithuania was a place I could point to on a world map to show people where my ancestors were from.

I felt somewhat displaced growing up. My parents spoke a language no one else did. There was no Lithuanian community in the country town I grew up. We had to travel some distance to visit my godparents and my mother’s parents to get a sense of who we were. To get a sense of our heritage. And it was on these trips I got a little glimpse and a little taste. The beautiful musical language, which was foreign to me, was a joy to listen to. My parents had decided it was best for us children not to learn Lithuanian, so we didn’t have an accent, so we didn’t get teased at school.

On these trips there were songs. Laughter. Card games. Beautiful food, dish after dish after dish of meats, fish, potatoes and sour cream. Cold and bright purple soup called Borsht (which I never liked). Pickled herrings (which I loved). Cepelinais - potato dumplings filled with meat. Kugelis - the biggest potato bake ever, served with caramelised fried bacon in cream. Cabbage Rolls. Dark rye bread, even darker pumpernickel bread. Poppy seed cake. I soaked up what I could of our Lithuanian culture and heritage on those trips, the rest slumbered deep inside me, knowledge passed down through birth and time.

I heard the most beautiful thing today about ancestors and their role in our lives. The poet, Joy Harjo expressed it so beautifully. I was listening to her on a podcast, being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, as the first Native American to be named the United States Poet Laureate. Joy Harjo was talking about our deep connection to our ancestors and the knowledge they bring through the generations.

‘Babies know. I have been at the birth of many of my grandchildren and someone always comes in with them. Usually an ancestor comes along to help them and I watch how they remember everything. They will look at me, like “OK, I remember you”, and they will even smile when they are not supposed to be smiling. And babies sleep so much because they have to adjust and they start forgetting. And every once in a while they remember. I think as you get older you start that remembering again. It becomes more present.’

She is so right. I have come across children who feel like they have been here before. And I am not alone in feeling it. People call these children ‘old souls’ and they are. They are like old men or women, in a 3 year old’s body. Before today I had never thought about it in the way Joy Harjo expressed it. It is a beautiful way of looking at it. To think that someone has come into the world with these children, with all children. Perhaps those that are old souls as toddlers are the babies who did not forget too much. Who did not sleep the knowledge away.

It was this beautiful idea, which inspired me to think about my own ancestors and my connection to them. Which in turn inspired me to write this post, with my beautiful amber ring (Lithuanian gold), a gift from my godmother, smiling back at me as I typed the words. I did not know my grandmother’s mother and the mothers who came before her. Yet, I see them in the eyes, which look back at me from the mirror. And I know, they walk with me.

Hello Mellow

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It feels like, as we age, wisdom permeates through our body, along the superhighway of our veins or hitch-hiking on the electrical currents surging through us, changing us at a cellular level. Transforming us, not just physically but in our very essence. Altering our outlook on life, our actions and our very sense of being. There is a shift in energy. We become less impulsive, more tolerant. Less reactive, more amicable. The rough edges of our youth soften. Smoothed by life experience, knowledge gathered, love and loss.

Some time ago, I was going through some stuff. There was a lot of things going on in a number of areas of my life, which felt hard. Clearly, the universe had some lessons for me, which I wasn’t paying attention to, so things ramped up. It got a little tough. During this time, a friend at work told me that someone had said they were worried about me, that I had ‘lost my sparkle.’ The comment stuck with me. Worried me. Where had my sparkle gone? Had I really lost it? The person who said this sparkle comment, was part of one of the issues that was happening at the time. But I agreed. I certainly felt duller. I shared my concerns with another friend who laughed and said, ‘Man, that is like someone pissing on a fire and then wondering why the flames are going out.’ I was so grateful for her response. Because it made me laugh a lot, at a time I really needed it. And it put things into perspective. And as far as my sparkle goes, it is still there, but something new is there too, something more solid, something a little deeper.

Sometimes we have to go through difficult times to grow. Sometimes, these difficult times also give us knowledge, understanding and empathy we need for later in life, when we are called upon to help others. I have never felt more at peace with my self and my life, than I do now. I am sure I can feel more at peace, as time goes on, but compared to where I have been, I am at my most grounded. I feel exactly as that word describes, like I have solid footing. I know exactly who I am. What I stand for. I also feel more open. More accepting. More trusting to share my heart. To be me.

The saying that we ‘age like a fine bottle of wine’ is a great metaphor. When a bottle of wine ages well, its texture changes. A young wine is full of charged compounds (tannin) repelling each other. Much like a young person with lots of strong ideas, emotions and opinions all full of charge, bouncing off each other. As the wine ages, these compounds lose their charge. They start to combine. They become heavier and larger. This reduces the surface area of the tannin and the wine becomes smoother, rounder and gentler. And jokes aside about me becoming physically rounder, this is what I feel has happened to me as I have gotten older. I have become smoother in that I am more consistent with my thoughts, ideas, opinions and emotions. I have become rounder in my view of the world, I have a much broader perspective. I am not so tunnel visioned, I have more of a panoramic view of things. And my approach to situations is definitely gentler. That does not mean I am a push over. In fact the opposite. I now have a deep resolve. A quiet confidence. A surety about myself I did not have before. The texture of my soul has changed. I have found my voice. I have mellowed.

With this, life seems to have become easier. I worry less about all sorts of things. I still have energy. I am still thirsty for knowledge. My eyes still sparkle with life. But I am more decisive. I am not so hungry to do everything at once. I have less of a fear of missing out. I am more at peace. I am less in a rush to get somewhere. I am not holding on so tightly. My ego has quietened and softened. I choose much more carefully where to place my emotions, my energy and my time. It is nice to be here.

Reclaim the leftovers

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A shout out to all the mothers out there. The mums doing their thing. Day in. Day out. Nurturing their family with love, food, encouragement and care. Mums sacrificing a little or a lot of themselves in more ways than one, unapologetically selfless. You know who you are. I’ve got a message for you.

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in the sunshine having lunch with a friend, catching up and talking about life - our work, study, kids, husbands, projects and stuff. She mentioned at one point in the conversation that there are days when there is so much to do, she doesn’t get to eat lunch, doesn’t have time to make herself anything. I paused, and looked at her a little perplexed. You see, I work with her husband, and I have seen his lunches. They are made from some damn good left overs. I often have lunch envy. I just assumed he took some to work, and she had the same at home. This discovery that she has nothing, required pulsing ‘stop hands’ in the air, as I told her, in no uncertain terms, ‘Girlfriend! It is time you reclaimed those leftovers.’

It is not uncommon for women to place the needs of their loved ones above theirs, or to go to ridiculous lengths to provide what they think their family needs. I have been there. I will go there again. I have been known to rise hours before anyone to make cooked lunches for us all. I did this, almost every day, for a couple of years. I am sure if analysed it could be suggested that as a full-time working mum, I was absolving my guilt for not being around to nurture my family as much as I would like. I was making up for it through food. We all had some pretty good lunches for that period of time.

There have been times, particularly when my children were much younger, when I felt my entire purpose in life was to be a mum. Nothing else. And I loved it. Even while working, I loved being a mum and felt it was all I needed to do in life. Be there for them. Be there for them first. But there comes a time, when you need to not only reclaim the leftovers, you need to reclaim yourself. Rediscover who you are. Find yourself again. And it is so important to do so. For you and for them. For they will take your lead on this. They will watch you and learn from you. And if all you do is sacrifice. Then all they will know is sacrifice.

And chronic sacrifice can all of the sudden become resentment. A resentment which can catch everyone by surprise. As you do the things you have always done, over and over, without complaint, without asking for help until suddenly you just lose it. Like some crazed woman. Yelling about all sorts of things, as they all stand there with blank faces, wondering why you didn’t just ask for help. Or say no. Or suggest they do it themselves. There have been times when in these moments as I am carrying on, a part of me steps away from myself, away from the one consumed with rage, to stand alongside the others, my face also blank as I watch myself over there and wonder how it got to this.

It is important for our children to know we can be vulnerable. It is important for our children to see us recover. It is important for our children to watch us take risks. It is important for them to know we can fail. And it is equally important for ourselves to be vulnerable, recover, take risks and fail.

So catch yourself before the sacrifice becomes a habit, have a word to yourself and start nourishing yourself. It is time to reclaim the leftovers, just make sure it isn’t the burnt chop!

Happy Birthday my dear friends

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Today, the 10th day of October (the 10th day of Blogtober) is a birthday festival. I have three of my closest friends celebrating their birthdays today. So, I thought it might be kind of cute to write them a birthday blog! I bet they never got one of those before. I love birthdays. They are super special. The day we celebrate our coming into life as we know it. And of making it this far! I am going to do this alphabetically, so there are no fights later about favouritism.

Greg

Just because it is your birthday Greg, does not give you permission to wear your birthday suit indiscriminately around the house, in the garden or in public. Don’t subject your family to anything unnecessary, even though it is technically your special day. Well actually, your special day you share with your beautiful wife, because she has the same birthday. You know, if I was the limerick writing kind of girl, I would write you one. What the heck, it’s your birthday, let’s give it a go! (Remember, limericks are meant to be rude, and this is the first limerick I have ever written, and perhaps the last! Ingrid, I apologise in advance.)

There once was a man from Humpty Doo
A place so warm, your shoes turn to goo.
Met a lady so hot,
He loves her a lot.
Which is why, all they do is rumpy-pumpy ooh!

But jokes aside Chewbacca, I hope you have a wonderful day. No doubt you will be out and about creating and building more fabulous stuff, and thinking up amazing designs, and having a good laugh, while making us all giggle at yet another hilariously inappropriate post on social! Thank you for always believing in me. For your support. For understanding who I am. For loving me, regardless.


Ingrid

“We should consider every day lost, in which we have not danced at least once.” Friedrich Nietzsche

You, my beautiful friend, are special. I have never met someone so kind, loving and positive about life. You have taught me so much about self worth; how to stand with dignity and grace in suffering; and how to have fun in every moment. You make a mean cocktail. You are a sly poker player. And I love how you can dance the night away with such an abundance of energy. I feel blessed to have you in my life. Grateful to know you. To have the honour to grow old alongside you as a dear friend. You are a giving soul, who helps people every day to be their healthiest and their strongest. So, my birthday wish for you is long lasting love and joy. May you never lose your sparkle. May you always hold your grace. May you dance every day, even if only on the inside. May sunshine always rest gently on your shoulders along your journey in life (and may their always be a beach nearby and a cocktail in your hand).

Nikki

“What a joy, to travel the way of the heart.” Rumi

Ms Community. Thank you for being you. For knowing the value of bringing people together. Whether it be for book clubs, dinners, drinks, bike rides, a walk, a holiday or simply a cup of tea. Your door is always open. Your heart is always open. A wonderfully talented artist, with much to share with the world. Your lighthearted nature always present in the way you skip along the path of life. A smile for everyone. A hug if needed. Wise words of counsel too. Often taking the time to pause along the way to notice and enjoy the beauty around us, in every moment. What a delight you are to be around. The depth of your friendship is always felt, your generosity of spirit always the first to greet us. A traveller through books and a traveller in life. You bring colour and texture to ours with the stories you share. Fearless. You follow your heart. Loyal. You are the pearl of a friend we all hope to discover in this deep sea dive called life.

So, happy birthday to each of you my friends. I hope you have a glorious day. This, the anniversary of when you first welcomed the world with your cries as newborn babies as you each filled your lungs and took your first breath. And, from that moment on, with each breath you have brought light to our lives. Thank you.

I lost my wife to blahtober

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If I could make myself tiny. Like Alice in Wonderland. And I was small enough to crawl into my loving husband’s ear. Into his head. To make myself comfortable sitting on his brain. Like sitting on a bean bag. I imagine it would be like a bean bag. And I would use my hands to manipulate it, to make a comfy chair and then fall into it. Sinking in as it surrounded me. I would sit there, silently, just hanging out and listening to his thoughts. I imagine I would hear him think, ‘I have lost my wife to blahtober!’ And I would laugh.

Yes he would have a nickname for my latest project. And then I imagine I would hear, echoing inside his mind, his thoughts about Blogtober, a daily blog post challenge for every day of October, a challenge I have chosen to take on board to stretch my writing self. And man, am I loving it. But, I imagine he would be thinking something like...

‘Where the hell has she gone? She was here last week. And now. We have lost her. I have lost her. To her writing. To her thing. Yeah, I have my thing. I make bikes, recycled bikes. Alongside my photography. But today, I came in, my hands all greasy and it was clear I couldn’t make myself lunch. I worked my eyes, made them big puppy dog eyes, they were good ones, but she didn’t even look up from her computer. Didn’t even notice them. It was like I wasn’t even there. I know! What the hell is going on?

And the other night. I got into bed, on my own. Yep, that’s right, she wasn’t there. I fell asleep before she came to bed. I missed my hug. It felt really lonely. Although, the dog did give me some company. But the dog is way grumpier, and if I moved in bed, she growled and let me know she wasn’t happy. I fell asleep, my arm outstretched onto the other side of the bed, the vacant side. Waiting for her, my wife, to return. I think I was snoring by the time she stumbled into bed, after posting on her blog, just in time to make the deadline.

If that night wasn’t bad enough, this morning the alarm went off at some crazy time. I think it was 4am. She had it set to radio, and some head banging thing woke us both up with a start. She jumped out, turned it off, and was gone. The corner of her dressing gown waving to me, as I lay in bed, dazed, and watched as she disappeared out the bedroom door on a mission to write.

There is definitely less food in the house, and I have definitely had to do more than my share of dishes. She gets lost in her writing, and has ruined more than one dinner. She does seem happy though. Satisfied. And I am supporting her. I am liking her posts on social media. Making sure she knows I have noticed them. That I appreciate her art. Although, I don’t click on the link and read them. She caught me the other day. She wrote something about me, apparently, and I failed her test questions to work out if I had read it. Damn it. Might have to find some time to read that one. But I did use all my social media accounts to like her next post and was the first to do so, I am hoping that made up for it.

There is only 22 days to go. I have put it in my calendar. Alongside her period. You can never be too careful. Pretty sure I can make it. Pretty sure I can survive this “latest thing”. Just gotta be patient with her. Not long now and I will have her in my arms, all mine to enjoy. Blogtober a distant memory. The burnt tacos never mentioned.’

The sweet smell of oranges

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Ever since I was a young teenager I have been fascinated by Aromatherapy. I love the potion-like characteristics of the essential oils: the tiny dark-glassed bottles they come in, their potency and their delicate nature.

I am always amazed that three little drops of an essential oil can hold their own in a bath filled with steaming water. How those tiny drops dance defiantly on the surface of the water, change the aroma of the steam and transform the entire experience. As a curious, young person I was fascinated by the special qualities of the oils, and as a gentle rebellion, I appreciated aromatherapy as a natural practice and an alternative to modern medicine to enhance my wellbeing.

Aromatherapy is the therapy of smell, using aromatic plant extracts, such as essential oils, as the main therapeutic agent. The essential oils are extracted from plant resins, flowers, bark, leaves, peel, stalks, fruit and/or roots. The word Aromatherapy is self explanatory “aroma” “therapy” but I was always confused as to why the oils were called “essential” oils. The answer made my heart swell. According to a number of sources, it stems back to alchemists in medieval times bouncing off the concept introduced by Plato and Aristotle. The fifth element: the element of spirit, soul or life force, which sits alongside the other four being fire, air, water and earth. The element of “quintessence” - the purest essence of life. Magically, those little dark-glassed bottles hold the spirit of the plant.

The spirit of plants have been used for thousands of years by humans through both Ayurvedic practices in India and by the Ancient Egyptians to enhance our mind, body and spirit; treat certain conditions; alleviate certain ailments; and create an overall state of harmony and wellbeing.

The forgotten fifth sense

In a world that is so visual, oral and tactile, it is easy to forget about the importance of your sense of smell. And, yet our sense of smell is, at times, the most dominant sense, it just does it in a humble way. A recent study published by Nature, the international journal of science, found evidence that what we see is influenced by what we smell. You don’t need a research study to convince you of the connection between taste and smell. Anyone who has lost their sense of smell, say through a bad cold, knows it has an impact on how food taste. Although separate senses, the neural messages of taste and smell converge for us to detect food flavours. Without a sense of smell, our sense of taste is diminished. Hearing and smell are an unlikely pairing but do collaborate together according to a recent study, where music was shown to influence what we smell. An aromatherapy massage is the perfect example of smell and touch working together, where the benefits of the massage are enhanced by the smell of the oils as you breathe them in and they affect your limbic system, the part of your brain which is responsible for motivation, fear, pleasure and processing your emotions.

The power of smell

It seems you cannot underestimate the power of smell. Smell can influence how well we sleep and what we dream. It’s been proven, through a study which has shown the scent of rose will result in more pleasant dreams, compared to rotten eggs. I am not surprised!! We also use our sense of smell to identify fear and find true love. Pretty powerful stuff. Smell can also help you relax, reduce your anxiety (even during childbirth) energise you and help your concentration.

Want to reduce your coffee intake at work? Put a few drops of lemon or sweet orange oil in a bowl of hot water, or diffuser. Or eat an orange and leave the peel on your desk. Your workmates might think you are a bit of a slob, but the smell of oranges can help boost energy and alertness. Sweet orange oil also settles a stomach or two, can tone skin to reduce breakouts, is a fantastic oven cleaning agent to remove grease and is said to lift your mood. A pretty good all round kind of oil if you ask me!

I’m doing a one-day aromatherapy course in a couple of days time. I’m really excited to learn a few more things, and hope to get to make my own potions, oops, I mean oil blends! No doubt I will come home with a few more bottles of oils, and a few more ideas for using essential oils, and aromatherapy, the ancient and magical craft of scent for well being and life. Hey, who knows, maybe I’ll deliver on Christian Dior’s request to ‘make me a fragrance that smells like love.’

Miss you Dad

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Yesterday afternoon, your favourite son-in-law (because he is your only son-in-law) was mowing the lawn of our backyard. I went outside to tell him I was taking the dog for a walk. The smell of the freshly cut grass in the warm afternoon air hit me as soon as I walked out the back door. And it instantly took me back in time. Back to the days when you, Dad, would cut the front lawn of our family home on those hot summers days, while all us kids hung out in the pool around the back. The nostalgia wrapped around me like a big blanket. I miss you Dad.

You’ve been gone, in the physical sense, for nine long years. And although I know you are here with us in other ways, hanging out, watching over us, I miss being able to give you a big hug. I miss feeling the stubble on your cheek as I would kiss you hello or goodbye, miss that sparkle in your eyes you would get, when you would be saying something mischievous, knowing it was about to get a reaction out of someone, usually me.

Miss your sarcasm. Miss you laughing and patting your beer belly and telling everyone it was ‘no laughing matter’ and it ‘cost a lot of money’. Which it did. Took a lot of beer to get that belly to what it was. Miss watching you with your grandchildren. You, their GrandJoe, which was the most perfect name for you, from them. It makes me laugh to think about how it came about. Mum all those years ago, with her first grandchild in the pram, running from the swarm of bees shouting ‘Joe! Joe!’ so you would come out of the house and save them, which you did. And from then on you were called ‘Joe’, until it morphed into a more appropriate ‘GrandJoe’. And you were so grand, so physically grand. So tall, with wide shoulders and enormous hands. Those enormous hands that would gently hold your grandchildren’s tiny little ones. Pat their heads. Lift their tiny bodies high into the sky. Those hands, fixing your Santa hat at Christmas time as you handed out the Christmas presents while they watched on with anticipation and delight, waiting for their turn, for their gift. Only to run to you and place their tiny arms around your neck as they reached up to kiss you on your cheek.

Miss your stories. Of your time as a child growing up in Lithuania, during the war. The story which stays with me more than any other, is the one about the time you were playing on the frozen lake and you fell into the water, through the ice, as it broke under your feet. How you were pulled out. Survived, you thought, only to be scolded. But to your great surprise you were hugged and kissed by your mum. She was so relieved you were OK, you weren’t in trouble for being on the lake. You weren’t in trouble for falling through. For being all wet. For ruining your clothes.

The story of when you arrived in Australia, at age 16, with your parents but without your sister, and how you thought you had arrived in hell. Because of the heat. The dryness. How you described travelling by train from Melbourne to the camp at Bonegilla, as you looked out at the vast dry land, and felt heat like you had never felt before. You arrived in Australia by boat, the Protea, at the start of summer, just before Christmas, 22 December 1948. It would have been hot. You departed Genoa, Italy on 16 November 1948, the journey took 36 days. There were 782 passengers. From Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Germany, Hungary, Russia, Ukraine, Romania and what was known then as Czechoslovakia.

I wonder if your trip was as bad as the trip which took place three years later in 1951, the details shared in a newspaper article I found. Journalist, Colin Prosser, reported in The Argus, a morning daily newspaper in Melbourne, in its 25 June edition, that the ‘Trip was a nightmare’ and described over 1000 migrants swarming the Protea’s decks, where they were, according to one passenger ‘forced to live like animals’. With filthy conditions, lack of sanitation, cage-like dormitories crammed with people, and a grossly insignificant number of toilets and showers for the amount of passengers and the length of the trip, particularly given rough seas and sea-sick passengers for the majority of the voyage.

I will never know if it was like this for you, as you never spoke to us about the boat trip. You did speak about other trips though, of the night as a young boy you had to flee your home with your family, in horse and cart; and the time you had to carry a bag of salt on your back across Lithuania, through Poland to Germany, some 1300kms. Showing us on a map, the Atlas open on our dining table, as you traced the journey with your finger.

Despite the hardships in your life, you managed to have a wonderful outlook and brought great joy to ours with your wisdom and humour. For this I will always be grateful. You taught me, that tomorrow is always a new day. That no matter what happens today, tomorrow is a fresh start. You reminded me of this often when I was a young child, you always said it with great tenderness as you wiped the tears from my young face. You taught me that a person is a universe. Something you often said. Similar words I heard from Ekhart Tolle recently in a podcast. And I laughed, you were always a philosopher. And you were right, a person is a universe, and as you always said, ‘when that person dies, their universe dies too’. I wish I had spent more time with you to hear more of your stories. I wish I had recorded more of them, to have a more detailed memory of your universe to share.

You were a great thinker. A great reader. A wonderful mathematician, who I have missed many times when I have been helping my children with their maths homework. Wished you were nearby. Just a phone call away to ask how to work out the sum. Wished you could enjoy with us the pickled cucumbers we make, the instructions from the video of you making them, the one your favourite son-in-law recorded, so we would have your recipe forever. Or when we renovated our house and chose the stonework for our fireplace, in honour of the beautiful fireplace of stone you put together in my childhood home. Wished you were there to build our fireplace too. To give it your personal touch. To have it made by your hands.

Thank you Dad for teaching us to be kind to people, to be gentle to animals, to use our imagination, for introducing us to some of the greatest thinkers of our time, and some of the funniest TV shows I have watched. Thank you Dad for giving us our love of nature. For calling us all outside to watch a wasp drag a huntsman spider across the lawn. Explaining this is why we should never walk outside at night in bare feet. Other times you called us outside to watch the night sky, to see a comet, or work out the constellations. Thank you for taking us to the channel to go yabbying and fishing, and to the paddocks of surrounding farms to go mushrooming. Thank you for your beautiful bedtime stories, the ones you made up about the owl, the fish and the turtle. A family fable. With a beautiful life lesson for us to think about as we closed our eyes to sleep. Thank you for the beautiful water colours you made for me for my year 5 camp booklet. Thank you for fixing our bikes. Thank you for setting up the pool. Thank you for taking us canoeing and on picnics. Thank you for teaching us all to drive. Thank you for our love of music. For playing the piano accordion and the piano to us. Thank you for our love of memories, for the family film nights to watch those Super 8s. Thank you for building the best cubby house for us. Thank you for the evening snacks you would surprise us with for us to enjoy with our movie. Thank you Dad for being you and helping us become who we all are today.

We miss you Dad.

The lost hour

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I slept in today. Not a huge sleep in for a Sunday, but a sleep in nonetheless. And I was OK with this sleep in, and the time I got out of bed, until I realised an hour had been stolen from me. And then suddenly and ridiculously, I had a psychological shift in my perception of time and the anxiety started and the panic set in. How was I going to get everything done today? I couldn’t possibly, now I had lost an entire hour of my life!

My phone said it was 9.20am when I sat down to do my morning meditation. As part of my meditation teaching course I have shifted my practice away from guided meditations and I am meditating on my own for as long as I need, for as long as it goes for. Whatever that may be. Today I surprised myself by doing an hour meditation. Although for a second, when I looked at the clock on the oven, it appeared I hadn’t meditated for any time at all. You see the oven clock showed 9.20am, the exact time my phone showed when I checked it as I got out of bed to go do my meditation. I was confused. How could that be? I know I started at 9.20am. Did I read the time wrong on my phone? And then I realised. Daylight savings had hit. Daylight savings was here. Even though my friend last night on the phone reminded me it was coming, I had clean forgotten. It was now 10.20am, as my phone confirmed. I went around the house and changed the other clocks, feeling the tightness beginning to build in my chest as my mind started going through the list of all the things I need to do today.

I have a lot to do today. I need to write two blog posts for Blogtober, or close to two. One for today and one ready for tomorrow as there is little time tomorrow to write given a full day of work, pilates for an hour in the evening followed by my meditation teaching course for a couple of hours. I also need to go and pick up some groceries from the Source Bulk Food Store, where we are buying non packaged food, and I have to go as I have run out of flour, and I need to make home made pasta today, as we aren’t buying prepackaged pasta either. At some point I also need to pick up my daughter from her post party sleep over, and I was planning to take the dog for a walk, as I really need to walk today. I really need to get outside. Being Sunday, it is my day to make Kombucha and do the second bottling of last week’s batch. And I have homework to do for tomorrow night’s meditation class. I can’t possibly get all this done now!

Reality check. I know all of these things will take more than an hour. And so, it really makes very little difference if the time is 9.20am or 10.20am. And, I looked at my phone when I got up, not any other clock. The change of time was already taken into account. I was OK about getting up at 9.20am when I first got up. Nothing had changed. I didn’t see 8.20am. I hadn’t really lost and hour. My panic was illogical. But acknowledging this did not help dispel it. No matter the reality, my day suddenly felt completely out of control and I felt I was facing an insurmountable problem. The irony, of feeling this way not long after writing a post about our perception of time, was not lost on me.

There was nothing else to do but give in to it. So, I sat down and ate breakfast. With food in my belly, my brain was much more logical and despite having three or four ideas for today’s post, I decided to write about my ridiculousness, to share my illogical reaction and anxiety about daylight savings because I know I am not alone. Somehow the ‘fading of the curtains’ during daylight savings gets to us, the feeling of an hour being stolen from us offends us. Until about day three, and then we are good with it, particularly given it signifies the start of summer coming and more daylight after work, more time in the sunshine, more playtime. And hey, it will be lighter longer today, and I can walk the dog during the extra daylight time in the late afternoon.

It is so much nicer to walk home from work with the sun a little higher, and it being daylight when you get home. And if there are no evening commitments, you get to sit in the sun for a bit on the deck enjoying a nice beverage or two. And yes, to begin with the mornings are hard, particularly the first Monday (grateful the first day of daylight savings is always a Sunday). It is a little darker when we rise to go to work to begin with, but eventually, it gets lighter and lighter.

I welcome with open arms the season changing to summer, the days becoming longer, the evenings a little shorter. I thrive on sunshine, I always have. Like a flower needing the sun to grow, to blossom and to open. In second year university, I was hit with an extreme fatigue for most of the year, the doctors suspected Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and possibly Seasonal Affective Disorder, aptly named SADs. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was a relatively unknown condition by the general public in the late 1980s, and at that time it was one of those conditions where people raised an eyebrow when you told them about it. With that look on their face like what you were describing was all in your head. SADs was even lesser known. The year I was told I might have either of these conditions, or a combination of the two, was the year after the first definition of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome had been published. So it was something very new to most people, although looking up the history of it for this post today, I had no idea it had been around since the mid 1930s, just under another name ‘myalgic encephalomyelitis’.

Whether I had it or not, I will never know. Regardless, after the suggested diagnosis I considered some of my lifestyle choices and slowly made changes to recovery. At the time there was no clinics, no specialists in the area, so I just went back to the basics. I drank less alcohol. I changed my diet. I had previously decided to cut out all meat, but my vegetarian diet was insufficient as I was not eating enough of the right foods to provide me with my protein and energy needs. A bowl of rice and corn, doesn’t really cut it as a nutritious dinner. I removed wheat and then gluten from my diet. Something confirmed, much later in life, as necessary, not long after the release of the Coeliac gene test. As well as changing my diet to overcome the extreme exhaustion and malaise, I started, very slowly, a regular exercise routine and when strong enough I joined the gym and began going to aerobic classes (it was the late 1980s), eventually becoming a bit of a gym junkie, doing three classes in one night. But the most significant change was making sure I got enough sunshine. I opted not to take up the artificial light therapy offered, but made the effort to be outside as much as possible, particularly in the colder months, and took Vitamin D supplements regularly.

I don’t hate winter like I used to. But even so, when the warmer weather starts, when the sunshine and bright blue skies welcome me in the morning as I wake up, I instantly smile. It does lift my spirit and change my mood for the better. And I see it have this influence on other people too. Over the recent couple of days of great weather, I have noticed people look happier, smile more, have a spring in their step. So, despite the initial (and unreasonable) panic about everything I need to do today, I am grateful daylight savings is here again. And I feel OK now about losing an hour today. I hope you do too.

The art of forgiveness

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We all have something to forgive, or someone. And often the person to forgive is ourselves. It is not unusual for forgiveness to be a journey, and sometimes, it can be a long one with winding roads and obstacles born from an unwillingness to release the person (or yourself) from the offending act. It doesn’t always take a brave soul with an open heart to forgive, sometimes it just takes a little practice. And when you reach forgiveness, it is not just rewarding, it is liberating. A freedom worth the work. Worth learning the art, to shorten the journey.

I used to think that to forgive was to excuse someone’s behaviour to the point you were saying what they did was OK. Acceptable. Right. To say it didn’t matter. To exonerate. To condone. To absolve. A while ago, in order to try and come to terms with my own need to forgive, I wrote a journal piece about a particular incident from my past, the hurt, which I had carried for many years. It had become a heavy back pack full of pain I had been dragging around. Weighing me down. I wrote about it, to see if I could write my way to forgiveness and healing. I decided the logical staring point of my writing was the definition of forgiveness. I felt I needed a solid foundation. A concrete base to build my house of forgiveness. I was shocked to discover the definition of forgiveness by psychologists was not what I assumed it to be. It was not in line with my understanding of the word. Not at all.

According to the Greater Good Magazine forgiveness is defined by psychologists as:

'“…a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.”

They go on to explain that forgiveness is not condoning, you can still consider the action as wrong. It also does not excuse the person from what they have done. They are still responsible for their actions. Nor does it involve forgetting what has happened. To forgive is not to give your pardon, or wish the person an official pardon. Nor does it require any form of reconciliation or restoration of a relationship. It simply means, you do not hold any ill-will towards this person. You do not wish them harm and you have decided to release yourself from any bitterness or negative feelings. You may still not like what they have done, but you don’t wish vengeance on them. You may still feel what they did is wrong, but you do not wish harm to come their way. You may not forget what they have done, but you will not let it define you. Also, you do not have to have them back in your life, after you forgive them. These last two were big for me. I realised as I read the definition of what forgiveness was and wasn’t, that these last two parts of the definition were the two things standing in my way of forgiveness. Blockers which lifted the moment I read those very words. But let’s come back to that in a little while.

Firstly, let’s apply this definition of forgiveness to ourselves. When you do something wrong, something you are deeply ashamed of, you may not like what you have done but there is no need to wish vengeance on yourself. You may still acknowledge what you did was wrong, but wishing harm to come your way is not helpful and will not change what you have done. You won’t forget what you did, but it does not have to define you. If you do not like what you have done, or who you are, you do not have to keep being that person, or acting that way after you forgive yourself.

I have said to my children, since they were very young, ‘It is not the mistake you make that counts, but what you do afterwards that matters.’ Humans make mistakes, it is how we learn. How we find out what we need to change in our lives or to change in ourselves. How we need to adjust our behaviour to live in harmony with others. After making a mistake, apologising or making it right in some way is much more important than the mistake itself. This is where the energy needs to be. This is what matters. This has seen me, and my family, through difficult and sticky situations. It has also helped each of us, when feeling helpless by the fact we cannot take away our words, or change something we have done, which has hurt someone. It has helped us all to move beyond what we cannot change, and focus on what we can. To make the difference. I should point out that making it right is sometimes to commit to not repeating the mistake, to simply learn not to do it again.

I am not sure how, but somehow along the road of life, I locked into my sphere of understanding the idea that how someone treats you, defines who you are. That someone else’s action, someone else’s choices, make you act in particular ways. And it made me change who I was. Be who I was. For a long time. I blamed my failings on how someone else had treated me in the past. Rather than taking responsibility for my actions, I let someone else’s actions define and drive my own. It took a long time for me to realise how ridiculous this was. And, thankfully, I no longer do this. I have forgiven, separated my responsibility for my actions from their responsibility and moved on. Let go. Forgiven. I also thought if you did not let the person, you needed to forgive, back into your life, you weren’t truly forgiving them. I was stuck on this one for a long time. And frustrated it was blocking my path to forgiveness. Discovering you can forgive people, while you walk away from them, was equally as liberating as discovering that my actions are totally my own. With this combined knowledge, I have a found forgiveness and the associated freedom, to live a happy and fulfilled life full of love and joy.

This realisation of not letting how someone else treats you define you, was reinforced when I stumbled on Elizabeth Smart’s Ted Talk. Well worth the 11.36 minutes she takes to shake your perception. To make you rethink things. If you haven’t watched her Ted Talk, do so, those 11.36 minutes are some of the most valuable minutes you could choose. Her story is nothing like mine. I have not been physically or sexually abused. I have not been abducted. I have not been held captive. Yet her story, and what she has chosen to do with it, has helped me come to terms with my own journey and cleared the path to forgiveness like no other. That is the power of stories.

At 14 years of age Elizabeth was abducted and this resulted in a horrific nine months, before she was rescued. One minute she was in bed asleep, just an average school girl, the next minute she was held captive in a tent, at the mercy of others - a newly claimed ‘wife’. She was physically restrained like an animal, so she could not run away. Her story is beyond heart wrenching. Today she is a child safety activist and missing persons advocate. The day after her rescue, and reunited with her family, her mother gave her advice which Elizabeth has chosen to follow in life. With great wisdom, love and tenderness, her mother, Lois, said to her:

‘Elizabeth, what this man has done to you is terrible and there are not words strong enough to describe how wicked and evil he is. He has stolen nine months of your life that you will never get back. The best punishment that you could ever give him, is to be happy. To move forward with your life, because by feeling sorry for yourself, by holding onto the past and dwelling on what has happened to you, that is only allowing them more control, more power and stealing more of your life away from you. Don’t let that happen. Justice may or may not be served. Restitution may or may not be made. But don’t you dare give them another second of your life.’

Elizabeth uses her story and her mother’s advice to help people realise they have a choice in what their lives look like, despite the past, despite circumstances. To encourage others to live their lives as they want to, without it being defined by the actions of others. And she is awe inspiring as she talks about how, despite her horrific experience, despite the fact she would not wish what happened on herself or anyone else, it is to her something she has, astonishingly, chosen to be grateful for. Because she has chosen perspective and empathy, over pain and anger. Because she has chosen to speak out and encourage others to have the courage to speak out. To share their story. She believes we all have things to overcome. She does not hold her story above anyone else’s, but chooses to use it, make it her own for preventing this happening to others, and for healing. She has chosen not to be consumed by what was done to her, but to take her circumstances and do what she wants with it. For her to define who she is, not others. There is no doubt that Elizabeth has a brave soul and an open heart. That it has taken great courage for her to be who she is today. To forgive the world for what happened to her. There is also no doubt that she continually practises forgiveness. Find out more about her work at the Elizabeth Smart Foundation.

Elizabeth’s story is a reminder that to heal, we must first forgive. And that the art of forgiveness starts with a choice. And that choice is ours to make. No one else’s.

The wonder of joy

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I have often wondered how we have found ourselves, as a society and as a species, in the situation we are in. A situation where one of the most primal emotions, something we are born with, which comes so naturally in our youth, is hard to locate in our daily lives as we become older. Joy.

What happens to us in life as we grow? Why does joy diminish, dilute, become elusive or unnoticeable? Joy is there when we first start out. In abundance. It is there in us instinctively, pulsing through our veins, our bodies, our hearts, without any limitations. Think about a recently born baby and the joy on their little face, in their entire body. The joy they express, and spread, time and time again as they see things for the first time. The joy in their innocence, the joy in their wonder.

The joy in their wonder.

There is a symbiotic relationship between joy and wonder. Joy feeds wonder and wonder feeds joy. And there is the answer. What happens to us in life as we grow? We lose our sense of wonder. What happens when we lose our sense of wonder? Joy diminishes, dilutes, becomes elusive. We don’t notice it anymore.

So, to rediscover the joy in your life you need to rediscover the wonder in life. Rediscover the mystery, dial up your curiosity. It is not just our brains which thrive on novelty and on new discoveries, our souls thrive on it too.

Rediscovering the wonder in life can be found in learning to play an instrument, learning a language, embarking on a creative adventure, meeting new people, travelling to new places, starting a new career or helping people. But it doesn’t have to be so big or so formal. There is great joy in rediscovering the wonder in the moment, whatever the moment holds.

Look at the world through the eyes of a child in everything you do. When you brush your teeth, do the dishes, walk the dog, or sit on your back deck. Pause in the moment, open your heart in such a way you are entwined with your inner child, allow the inner child to lead what you perceive. See the toothbrush for the very first time. Really see it. Like a child would, with wonder and curiosity. See the details, think about why and how it came to be, how the bristles work, how many there are, why they are the colour they are, the shape, the texture.

Next time, you are walking to work, to a friend’s place or simply taking the dog out for some exercise, take time to notice the things around you. The light of the day. The shape of the clouds. The leaves on the tree. The petals in the wind. The colour of the houses. The flowers in the gardens. The texture of the path. The sound your feet make as you walk. The messages carved into the pavement. The smell of the jasmine. The smell of rain coming, of freshly cut grass or perhaps someone baking bread or cooking in a house somewhere nearby.

You can also appreciate and notice things when you are gardening. Pay attention to the texture, the smell and the weight of the earth, as you dig or weed or plant your garden. Notice the finer details of your garden, the intricacy of the plants, where the ants are coming from and where they are going, even what they are carrying. The birds around you. The trail of the snails. The scents, textures, colours and movement in your garden.

Take time to notice. Pay close attention to what is around you, in the moment. And choose to dwell on the things which make you feel good inside. Watch the joy return to your life, through your day to day activities, through every step of your being. Focus on being in life rather than the doing of life. And when you start noticing and you allow yourself to be curious about the smallest things in life, it becomes a habit you transfer to every other layer of your life. And joy will be with you, throughout everything you do.

At the heart of the matter

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I have been thinking a lot about the heart lately - what it does, what it symbolises and what moves mine. With an unusual flutter now and then, mine tends to draw attention when I get too wrapped up in the world.

Over 10 years ago I found myself at the doorstep of a an electro-cardiologist. After I underwent a number of tests and hung out with halter monitor for a while, my cardiologists explained I had a couple of rogue cells in my heart. I was told these mischievous cells were causing around 22,000 ectopic heartbeats a day. To give me a sense of this number, it was explained to me that the average person has only a handful a day, like maybe 5.

Ectopic heartbeats are when the heart skips a beat or the heart has extra beats. In my case I had cells in my heart that wanted to be the ‘big beater’ and so they would jump in with a beat, putting the big beater out of sync, creating lots of additional heart beats - tens of thousands of them a day. Seems these rogue cells were working hard to win the fight to be the boss. When my cardiologist told me what was happening, I couldn’t stop laughing, of course I would have a heart that would go rogue! But not for long, I had a procedure called an ablation, where they burnt those naughty little rogue cells away, and other than the occasional ectopic beat or flutter, my heart now beats to a more acceptable rhythm.

Recently, I had to have an echo-cardiogram, an ultrasound of my heart. Lying there chatting with the specialist sonographer, while the inside of my heart was being examined, I glanced up at the screen briefly and was astonished to see what looked like two little hands inside my heart clapping. The sonographer explained to me it was a valve opening and closing, and he did agree it looked a lot like hands clapping.

I haven’t been able to get this beautiful image out of my head. How delightful to discover that inside our beating hearts are hands applauding us through life. Clapping a rhythm for us to dance. Clapping a rhythm for us to live by.

Pondering this image, got me thinking about the significance of the heart, above and beyond its physical role to pump blood around our bodies to keep us alive (as if that wasn’t enough). I got thinking about what moves my heart. What makes it swell inside with emotion, so much so that it brings tears to my eyes. And I realised when I went through the list of things, they tend to correspond to some of the virtues Aristotle put forward, for people to ‘live well’. Courage. Temperance. Kindness. Joy. Pride. Honour. Equanimity. Friendliness. Honesty. Wit. Friendship. Not necessarily the words he originally used. But you get the idea. I have taken the time to elaborate on a few which stand out for me at this moment in time.

Kindness
An act of kindness will always bring a gentle smile to my face and a long sigh of appreciation. This may sound a little odd, but next next time you notice someone being kind, pay some attention to your reaction, the gentle smile and the long sigh. A particular act of kindness in my memory banks, which sprung up as soon as I typed the word ‘kindness’, was one from about three years ago when my then 11 year-old daughter was running a cross country race. It was a hard slog of a race. Cold, wet and muddy. As she cross the finish line exhausted from the gruelling race, a girl running not far behind her slipped on a muddy patch of grass just before the finish and fell. She was done. She lay there unable to get up, only a few steps from the finish line. It was heartbreaking to watch. She lay there, defeated, with no more in her. She couldn’t move. She was emotionally spent. Beaten. My daughter saw her fall, so she walked away from the finish line, walked away from her own exhaustion. From the promise of water and rest. She walked to this girl on the ground. My daughter bent down and spoke to her and encouraged her to get up. And when she did, my daughter helped her cross the finish line. Walking with her. Guiding her. Holding her arm. Supporting her across the finish line, together. Helping her drag her muddy limbs and face across the line. My heart swelled at my daughter’s act of kindness. At her care. Her generosity of spirit. And as I share this story right now my heart swells, alongside the tears in the very corners of my eyes.

Courage
I am always moved when people are vulnerable enough to be brave. The most recent example of courage that I have come across is the story of Tara Westover. I could not put down her memoir, Educated. I read it with such desperation to turn each page, to find out what was going to happen. So incredibly thirsty for her story. As I collected it from my library just now, and took it to my computer so I could find a quote to share, I notice I was holding it close to my heart, such was the impact of this beautifully written story of a young woman finding her true self at the expense of the love of her family. The book should always be carried beside your heart. When you buy it from the bookstore, walk out with it, cradled to your chest.

Spoiler alert!! Please go to the subhead ‘tenderness’ in order not to ruin your upcoming reading of this fabulous book, as I am about to share something of it from close to the end. A poignant memory Tara shares at perhaps her lowest point.

The moment in the book that broke my heart (which can happen when it swells way too much) where I ended up with my tears falling from my eyes, down my temples and along the edge of my cheek bones into my ears (I was reading in bed, my head in my pillow, and could not get out until I finished her book, and gravity has a way with tears) was the moment she reads the letter from one of her brothers, Tyler, expecting it to be a rejection, but instead it is a moment of acceptance and support, and love.

‘I clicked on the mouse, the attachment opened. I was so far removed from myself that I read the entire letter without understanding it: Our parents are held down by chains of abuse, manipulation and control…They see change as dangerous and will exile anyone who asks for it. This is a perverted idea of family loyalty…They claim faith, but this is not what the gospel teaches. Keep safe. We love you.’ Educated, p363, Tara Westover.

Keep safe. We love you. After I read these words. I sobbed and sobbed for Tara. I know no courage like hers. I was so relieved she was rewarded with love, and not rejection. So relieved that staying true to herself was met with love.

Tenderness
Before my husband became my husband. He was a friend. A photographer, my then boyfriend, who was a graphic designer, hired now and then. I remember the moment I fell in love with him, my future soul mate, although I did not realise that was what he was at the time. We were in Fitzroy, at a rooftop cafe for an opening for something, I can’t remember what. All I remember was it was night time. There were young children there. There was light. A wall. And my then friend, who would one day became my husband, was giving the children attention when no one else was. Entertaining them, with what seemed like a magical trick, but was actually simple hand shadow puppetry. A rabbit. Brought to life on a graffitied brick wall, on a Melbourne evening, on the rooftop of a radio station. The light, behind his hands, bringing to life a rabbit. A rabbit met with wide eyes, gasps, awe, the biggest smiles. The delight of young children. To me, this was an act of tenderness. My heart swelled. Almost to bursting. And I knew in that moment that I was destined to love that man. That man with his shadow puppetry. And I did. And I do.

Creativity and Beauty
Music and art will move my heart. Every time. The beauty of nature, will always expand my heart. The way the sun hits the deck. The way the water glistens from the sunshine. I have spent the day at the beach today. The sunshine, the different hues of blue in the water, the light greeny-blue from the shoreline, the deeper hues of green and blue in the breaking waves, the almost purple blue of the sea where it meets the horizon. The sky blue of the sky from the horizon to above our heads and beyond. It was glorious.

But when I think of creativity and beauty which makes my heart swell, I think of my son playing his guitar. Something he started when he was just 7 years old. Something over a decade later he still loves to do. Sitting in his room or on the couch in our dining room. Playing with such feeling. The guitar almost an anatomical part of him. Not a separate instrument at all. The beautiful blues he plays. The beautiful Spanish guitar songs. The jazz pieces. His favourites. Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely’. And Eric Clapton’s ‘Tears in Heavens’, with it’s lyrics inspired by the death of Clapton's four-year-old son. When talking matters of the heart, of what makes a heart swell with emotion, with tears to match. I couldn’t think of a better way to finish, than with these lyrics. Thank you, Eric Clapton.

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on
'Cause I know I don't belong here in heaven

Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?
I'll find my way through night and day
'Cause I know I just can't stay here in heaven

Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart, have you begging please, begging please

Beyond the door there's peace I'm sure
And I know there'll be no more tears in heaven

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on
'Cause I know I don't belong here in heaven

Sitting with uncertainty

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We live well planned lives. It is pretty much mapped out way in advance. Start preschool or kindergarten at 3 or 4 years of age. Start school after turning 5 or 6 years old. Stay at school until between the ages of 15 and 18. Expectations follow. Graduate. Defer. University. Job. Fall in love. Buy a house. Have children. Know where you are heading. Plan your life. Save for the future. There isn’t room for uncertainty. There isn’t tolerance for uncertainty. Certainty is king.

It certainly is. Shops will be open every day at their set times. The supermarket will have in stock their regular items. Your clothes will gradually wear out. A sock will always go missing in the laundry. Summer will follow Spring. The birds will sing. The dogs will bark. Lunch is around midday. Dinner around six. You will get tired. You will sleep. You will get hungry. You will eat. People will die. Babies will be born. The world continues to turn. And we feel comfortable and safe.

When uncertainty peeks around the corner, there is often no patience for it. We have no relationship with uncertainty other than to scorn it, or try to ignore it. We are shocked when the unexpected happens. When someone treats us in a surprising way. When a friend dies before her time. When illness befalls us. When the weather changes suddenly, or does not match the forecast. When our words fail us. When the TV show is not the one listed in the TV program. When we are confused by the way we are feeling. When we don’t understand why something happened. When there is no logic. When we lose, at a time we thought we would win. When people walk away. When people turn up.

We rely on people to stay with the herd. Follow the herd. Stay within the boundaries of the paddock. Do what others do. Do what we do. Do the accepted. Do the expected. Don’t stray. Don’t be too individual. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t push it. Get a good job and pay your bills. Be at the train on time. Be home on time. Don’t drink too much. Don’t laugh too loud. Act like the herd, or you will be an outcast. Know what your purpose is in life. Run after it.

But a hell of a lot of people seem to be running away from life, rather than after it. Maybe it is time to make some room for uncertainty. To be, as Eckhart Tolle puts it, ‘at ease with not knowing’. Perhaps all this planning, this rigidness, the map of life, the order of things has created an imbalance. Perhaps it is time to let a little chaos in. A little unknowingness. A bit of throwing ‘caution to the wind’. A ‘maybe’ or two. Are we caught up with feeling like we always have to have the answer? When did the words ‘I don’t know’ lose their value?

As young children we run around and play like free spirits, ‘without a care in the world’. Our lives are not dictated by knowing. By expecting. By the plan. The map. We play. Eat when we are hungry. Cry when we are sad. There is chaos. There is unknowingness. There are lots of ‘why’ because we are comfortable in not knowing. Because we are curious, and we like finding out stuff about the world around us. We are pretty fearless. We are open to possibilities. Yet as we grow older, this fearlessness and openness is diluted as certainty cements itself around our hearts.

The relationship between possibilities, fear and uncertainty is beautifully articulated by Eckhart Tolle in his book ‘A New Earth’.

‘When you become comfortable with uncertainty then infinite possibilities open up in your life. When you become comfortable with uncertainty it means fear is no longer a dominant factor in what you do, and no longer prevents you from taking action to initiate change.’ Eckhart Tolle

So much of our lives is driven by fear. The fear of loss. The fear of rejection. The fear of failure. The fear of not quite cutting it, not being good enough. The fear of not doing it right, not knowing the answer. The fear of not knowing. We think of certainty as the hero, saving us from our fears. Certainty fights with the mighty sword the fear of loss, rejection and failure. But with all its action and heroism it leaves no room for possibilities. Too much certainty is more the villain, locking us up in a high tower, to protect us from our fears, but leaving us a prisoner of our own circumstances, where the possibilities of our life are out of reach.

Perhaps it is time to free our hearts from certainty. Maybe the forgotten hero is uncertainty. Perhaps it is time to take a seat on the bench next to our old friend and sit for a while. Sit with uncertainty. You never know what might turn up. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Blog your heart out

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Some people do FebFast, some do Dry July. Raising awareness. Changing habits. Then there are those who love to grow some fur on their top lip for Movember (for some it is a lot of fur) and suddenly we are surrounded by Tom Selleck look-a-likes for 30 days. They do it for charity, they do it for fun. Others do a 12-week body and lifestyle transformation program with Michelle Bridges. Me, well, I am doing Blogtober. I am taking up the challenge to write one blog post a day for the month of October. No moustache or rock hard abs for me anytime soon!

Today marks day one of Rocktober, a month celebrating rock music. It also marks day one of Blogtober. Both of these things I hadn’t heard of 12 hours ago. What a difference a day can make. Although to be honest, I still don’t know much about either of them. Other than Blogtober is about taking on the challenge to write a blog post every day for 31 days. Crazy I hear you say? I know.

My dear friend and beautiful writer, Lisa Wylde, inspired me this morning, when she told me she planned to take on this writing challenge. I was excited for Lisa but my immediate reaction was one of relief - better her than me. As I explained to another dear friend not long after my conversation with Lisa. ‘I don’t write like that. I don’t write my blog to a deadline.’ You see, I have posts collecting inside my head, kind of like, I don’t know, let’s go with chicken eggs in an incubator. They are all lined up. Warming, growing, transforming and waiting to hatch. And when they are ready, when they are first in line, out they come. It is time. I wake up and write. Perhaps I should have thought of a more elegant metaphor, no matter, you get the picture.

But just because I have always written my blog this way, doesn’t mean I always have to. Armed with the words from my wise and encouraging friend that it ‘might be a good exercise to do the challenge and write to a deadline, to see if writing more often makes me want to write with equal pleasure, or if it makes it a burden’. I decided I would give it a go. Run the experiment. See what happens. Make myself the lab rat.

I announced to my family that I plan to join Lisa and participate in Blogtober. My son raised an eyebrow. Elvis style. My daughter’s response, ‘Bye mum, see you in a month!’ My husband, ‘October is my biggest month, you know you will need to do some running around with the kids.’ My daughter’s words are accurate. Damn her! I do tend to disappear when I write and become somewhat myopic. I can’t see much beyond the keyboard and screen. My husband’s response is typical. Bless him and his rational and reasonable thinking. Not one of my strongest points. So, it should be no surprise that my response to them was, ‘Bring on Blogtober!’

Sometimes it is good to commit. And, like any form of exercise, exercising commitment is easier when others are doing it too. This is one reason why Febfast, Dry July, Movember and the Michelle Bridge’s program work. Because people do them together. They don’t face it alone. Curiosity has also got me on this one. I am intrigued to see what I might write over the month. How it will feel. Although, after doing some research I am a little worried. It might be a mountain of a challenge. And it appears some people are a little more organised than me, they have prepared for Blogtober in advance, some as early as July! I have read the tweets, one person has six posts ready to go already! I don’t have any. Preparation, it would seem, is also not one of my strong points. Well, who cares. Let’s see how it goes. Give it a go. This might be my first and last post for Blogtober, or it might be my first of many. We will just have to wait and see. But already, I feel like it has stretched me as a writer. This post was not in the incubator!

What I love about the idea behind Blogtober is that it is about community. A community of writers. A community of bloggers. And it is a way of bringing us together. Yep, nothing like a tough challenge to bring people together. So if you are a writer, or a blogger, or if you are an inspiring writer or blogger, come on board. See what you can write in October. No matter when you find out and if it has already started. There are no hard rules (as far as I can tell), other than - just write! Write your heart out!

I listened an interview with Dr Dean Ornish today. So much great stuff. But one thing that stood out and resonated was when he spoke about what hell would look like to him.

‘If there is a hell it would be to see what my life could have been and not being able to do it.’ Dr Dean Ornish

And although I might in thirty-one days, rewrite his definition of hell to ‘committing to write a blog post each day for a month’, for now it is an inspiration. His words and Blogtober. Another reason to write. Another reason to do what I love every day.

My family have just returned, and are asking why I am sitting in the dark with a possessed look in my eyes. My response. ‘Welcome to Blogtober!’

Perception of time

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Humans are permanently linked to the concept of time. Our lives, driven by the ticking of a clock. Our actions determined by the movement of the second hand. Our patterns and habits guided by the rising and setting of the sun. Our biorhythms influenced by the waxing and waning of the moon.

Our son yesterday had his wisdom teeth taken out. All five of them. Yes, he got an extra dose of wisdom, and we got an extra bill from the surgeon. Taking him to the hospital and caring for him afterwards made me realise how inextricably linked we are to time; and how the passing of time is dependant on your perception of time and your relationship with it.

The countdown began from the moment we booked him in for the operation. The days passed with new meaning, each day closer to the day he was having his procedure. On the actual day, we were completely at the mercy of time. He had to fast, no food or even a sip of water, from midnight. We had to arrive at the hospital at 10.30am for his admission. We complied with the fasting and turned up on time. And then the wait began. A patient before him became a complicated case and the surgery took extra time, a lot of extra time, which for us meant a three hour wait in the hospital’s waiting room, no food or drink allowed.

The time passed, but not without some level of discomfort. And the more we watched the time, the slower it passed. Luckily for me, I had a book with me to read, one I have been reading over the last couple of days and really enjoying. Therefore, the time passed quite smoothly and often I was shocked when I lifted my eyes from the pages to check the clock, shocked to see how much time had passed, how long we had been sitting and waiting. My son didn’t have a book, there were no magazines, he didn’t have his headphones with him, and he was anxious. So began his wrestle with time, as he wished it to pass and for it to be his turn. For his operation to be over and done with.

Eventually his turn arrived, and they took him, looking very special in his gown, booties and hat, off to surgery. And then for me, the waiting ramped up. Waiting for their call. To say it was over. That he was OK. Which he was.

Coming home our routine was dictated again by time. Four hourly medication. Applying ice to his cheeks in twenty minute intervals for twenty minutes. Our lives for the past 24 hours have been in blocks of twenty minutes. Dictated by the beeping of the timer. Ice on. Beep. Beep. Ice off. Beep. Beep. Time to ice. Beep. Beep. Ice on. Beep. Beep. Ice off.

Measuring time

The timer got me thinking of the instruments designed to measure time. I began thinking about clocks and what came before them. Before the invention of any mechanism to count time, our ancestors would have seen the passing of time and the day through the lengthening of shadows and the movement of the sun. It makes sense then, that one of the first time-tracking devices we know of, is the sundial. An ancient Egyptian sundial, dated from what is thought to be as early as 1500 BC shows that they divided the space between sunrise and sunset into 12 parts. A numerical division which stayed and is the basis of the analog clock. The Greeks improved on the sundial and the Romans adapted it to incorporate the water clock, in order to be able to record time passing even when the sun was not shining. The water clock measured the passing of time through the flow of water. Similar to a sand filled hour glass, which followed. Time recording devices became more sophisticated after Galileo, in the 17th Century, noticed the regular motion of a swinging lamp in a cathedral, where he was studying. From there, John Harrison developed the marine chronometer because a swinging pendulum is no good on a vessel floating on a body of water for obvious reasons. From there the atomic clock of the 1950s and the invention of lasers in the 1960s, changed our ability to measure time to the degree of accuracy we know today.

The definition of time is based on the physical concept of time. The bit we can measure. That which has been tracked by sundials, water clocks and the swinging of pendulums. The time Plato measured as he watched the stars move. The time Issac Newton defines as mathematically true. The concept of subjective time, the psychological concept of time, the philosophy of time, however, is not defined in the dictionary. Yet it is equally as important. 

Philosophy of time

In Buddhist philosophy, time exists only if we are conscious of it. The three hours in the waiting room affirmed this for me. I lost time, when I was consumed in my book, unaware of time, it disappeared. My son, on the other hand, was very conscious of time, watching the clock, feeling the time drag. For him, time existed almost to the degree of torment.

The philosophical notion of time has been a human obsession before we started measuring it, or perhaps because we started measuring it. Measuring time is our attempt to put a frame of reference and a linear sequence around the physical movement of time. But we have failed to be able to measure the psychological concept of time. This is something which cannot be boxed neatly into a nice neat ordering of numbers.

Redefining our relationship with time

Writer and thought leader, Deepak Chopra believes everyone has a gift, and when ‘you are expressing yourself in that unique way and giving out your gifts, you lose track of time’. This is reflective of the idiom ‘time flies when you are having fun’. And although it is blissful not to notice the passing of time, time passing is somewhat anxiety-inducing for people in a society obsessed with youth, a society that has turned its back on elders and no longer respects them as the wise teachers of life (something I feel strongly we should reclaim).

Deepak Chopra speaks about our need to redefine our perception of time and ageing. He believes you can, through a variety of ways, alter your biological age. One way, being to change your relationship with time.

‘If you are always in a hurry, your biological clock speeds up. People who are always saying “I am running out of time”, their blood pressure goes up, their heart rate speeds up, their platelets get jittery, and then they suddenly drop dead of a heart attack. They have literally run out of time. So change your perception of time and your perception of ageing. Say to yourself every day, “in every way I am increasing my mental and physical capacity,” because you can. You can increase your mental capacity by being aware, and learning and being curious. There is a saying “people don’t grow old, when they stop growing they become old.” Keep growing all the time.’ Deepak Chopra

So stay curious people, and keep growing. Respect and learn from your elders. Age is a wonderful thing. Not something to run from. Enjoy what your doing and let time pass without consideration, without trying to hold onto it. Without worrying about it slipping through your fingers. But don’t waste your time. Remember we all have a gift, each and every one of us, a purpose for being here. As Shakespeare eloquently put it:

“I wasted time, and now doth time has wasted me.” Shakespeare

Lost in my writing, time has passed without me noticing. But I gotta go, because I can hear the beeping of the timer. Beep. Beep. Twenty minutes has passed. Beep Beep. Its time to take the ice pack off. 

Meditation, my friend

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I meditate because it puts me back together. Makes me whole again and nourishes my heart. Meditation is like the centuries-old Japanese art of repairing, the golden joinery, Kintsugi. Meditation is my lacquer, dusted with gold. Gently, firmly and beautifully it fills the delicate lines on the surface of my soul, where I have split without breaking apart. It leaves me strong, with a little bit of sparkle between my toes, to face the world.

Growing up in central Victoria, a five minute drive from a country town, and a short bike ride to the forest and the river, I spent a lot of time riding my bike, barefoot and in bathers. Pedalling on the gravelled road, over the rickety bridge and along the motorbike tracks, up and down the ‘big dippers’ to go for a swim and hang out with my brother, sister, and friends. We had a lot of fun in the sun and water over the summers. Equally, there were many times I went and sat in the dirt under the trees by myself and just watched the birds and listened to the wind dancing through the leaves of the trees, mesmerised by the flow of the river. Just hanging out in nature. Noticing things. Letting the world wash over me, while the sunshine warmed my feet. Contemplating. Just being. Thinking back on those memories of solitude, I realise they were my first memories of meditation. Although at the time, I didn’t know, that was what it was called.

My first exposure to the term meditation and what it was ‘traditionally’ all about, came a little later from the most unlikely TV show called ‘A Country Practice’. There, one of the characters, Shirley Dean Gilmore from the Wandin Valley Bush Nursing Hospital, would sit after work at home in her lounge-room under a pyramid, meditating. She was seen by her fellow characters as a bit ‘whacky’ and ‘out there’. But there was something about the serenity in her face, the laughter in her eyes, that inspired me to sit after school on the carpeted floor of my bedroom, legs crossed, hands resting on my knees, eyes closed. Meditating. Minus the pyramid. Nervous my siblings or parents would walk in and catch me, and perhaps think of me as weird, like Shirley. But enjoying the deliciousness of doing something for me that others around me might not understand.

The first time I meditated with other people was in Year 10 at school. Our drama teacher introduced our class to meditation and we would practise it collectively before each class. This was the first time I meditated lying down. This was the first time I was taken through a body scan, encouraged to let my feet, then my ankles, then my legs become heavy and sink into the floor. To work your way to the tip of your head and then worked your way down imagining every part of your body is light and floating into the space of the room. It felt amazing. And I was hooked. It was during these meditation practices that my 15 year-old self came to the realisation that I was part of something much bigger than myself. That we were all part of something bigger than ourselves. There had been a lot of sadness and death that year. Meditation was healing our hearts. It helped me come to terms with the loss, grief and the harsh reality of life.

As a young adult I got my meditation fix at the end of each yoga class. I suffered through those beautiful poses, holding my body awkwardly in space, stretching my limbs beyond their limits, challenging my mind and my belief in what I was capable of, only to finally be rewarded with the sweet delight of lying down, under a blanket on my yoga mat, finally in Shavasana. Dead Man’s pose. Where life and death comfortably entwine. Coming out of Shavasana I always felt reborn. And for many years my meditation practice was linked explicitly to my yoga practice. It was the full stop of my yoga practice each night. The satisfying close bringing it all together, each time.

Later in life, through my reading and curiosity, I unpacked Buddhism, neuroplasticity and wellbeing to land on the idea that meditating for half-an-hour, twice a day, each day was the ultimate period of time to realise its benefits. So I started using a guided meditation app, and meditated for half-an-hour every morning and half-an-hour every night. And I felt the shift. I saw the shift. I felt that gold dusted lacquer doing its magical work on my soul. Over time I let go of being so rigid on how long I meditated, and just let each day decide when and how long, and where I would meditate. My favourite place and time is on the beach, in the early morning sunshine at Kennett River, the salt air on my face.

Exploring the benefits of exercising your muscle of attention, on the impact it has on our collective mental health and wellbeing, has led me back to my love of mandalas; to the discovery of Zazen, the Japanese art of seated meditation; a meditation course; and the joy of discovering mindful movement, meditation on the go. And now, at this time in my life, with some trepidation, I start my meditation teaching course. To maybe one day pass on the gift of meditation to others. For meditation to become their Kintsugi, to make art of their brokenness and illuminate their repair. To make their history part of their story, rather than their disguise. For them to feel the work of the gold lacquered dust between the lines, cracks and wrinkles of their souls. To heal their hearts. To sprinkle their toes.

So when asked what inspired me to meditate. What gets me on the cushion. I realised, on reflection, that meditation has always been with me. By the river, by my side. It is, perhaps, my oldest and dearest friend. It is, a gift. I am grateful for this gift, handed down the generations over thousands of years, a gift for us to make our own. A gift where everything lifts, allowing an escape from the joy or pain of the past and the worry or excitement of the future. To be in the moment. But to be everywhere. A place where my mind and imagination can run free. Where I have felt the most at peace, and the most creative. Where the answers I have been seeking find me. Where exciting new ventures, and pieces of writing have been born. Where fears, worries and doubt have died. Meditation, where life and death entwine.

Permission to feel

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How have we found ourselves in the ironic position, where we feel bad about feeling? Why do we feel shame or discomfort for having emotions? Somehow, our feelings have become the bad guy. The villain. And rational thought the hero. Our emotions have become undervalued. The head has become the victor of the heart.

Friends of mine are making a really big life-changing decision. One involving lots of money. One involving lots of change. Talking with them about it, as they shared their plans, I shared my joy for where they were at, ‘How super exciting!’ I said. Which was met with, ‘Yep, but we are trying to keep the emotion out of this decision, and go through the steps logically.’ What the hell? Why? For any decision to be made, emotion and thought have to be in tandem. You can’t actually make a decision on intellect and logic alone. It isn’t possible!

Phineas Gage taught us that. If you haven’t heard of him, look him up. He lived in the 1800s. Was a railway worker foreman. Just an ordinary bloke until one day he had a significant accident and miraculously survived. And in doing so, changed the course of history and how we view the workings of our brains today. On the afternoon of 13 September 1948, Gage was overseeing the blasting of rock and the preparation of the road bed for a railway line in Vermont. Distracted by his men behind him, he turned to look at them, opened his mouth to speak and in a freak incident the powder in the hole he had been packing down with his tampering iron, exploded. The tampering iron shot out of the hole and through Gage’s jaw, past his eye and out of the top of his skull, to land bloodied some 25 metres away. Gage survived but his frontal lobe was seriously damaged. He lost his ability to feel emotions and this not only impacted his personality and behaviour, it also stopped him from being able to make decisions. He no longer had a preference, only apathy.

Turning emotions off to make a decision is a bad idea. Particularly if you are making a big decision. Imagine trying to use logic alone to decide if to marry, to have children, buy a house, move house, quit your job, take another job, relocate your life or any of the myriad of big decisions that make through the course of our lives. You need your emotions to help you make those decisions - you need to feel love, fear, excitement and trepidation.

Our issue with emotions is not isolated to decision making. It goes much deeper and much further. Our emotions are important. They guide us, keep us safe and motivate us. They help us navigate between right and wrong. To fit suitably and appropriately into our social constructs. Without them we would be at best robots, at worst psychopaths. And yet, throughout life we are taught to suppress our emotions. It starts from the very beginning. As a baby, our cries are met with a ‘shh’, ‘shh’, ‘shh’. As a young toddler if we are boisterous in play showing great joy we are told to ‘calm down’. As a teenager if we are sad, we are told to ‘cheer up.’ By the time we reach adulthood the script is set: having emotions is bad. And they have become taboo. And there is shame in feeling our feelings. Show passion and you are at risk of being considered too intense. Show fear and you are at risk of being seen as cowardice. Show tears of frustration or sadness and you are at risk of being called unhinged. But what are we meant to be instead? Without emotions we are nothing but big cold lumps of clay.

Without emotion music would not move us. Without emotion poetry would not exist. Without emotion we cannot be in awe of significance, grateful for the mundane, or appreciate what is before us. We rely on our emotions to heal. We need them to make connections. So, give yourself permission to feel. Give yourself permission for others to see that you feel. That you really feel. Show the world big love. Show the world big fear. Show the world that you are an emotional being. And show the people around you how to feel.

Allow the children around you to feel their emotions. Let’s make sure the next generation and those to come, have deep respect for their emotions; and understand how powerful they are in shaping our lives. Lead by example. Embrace your emotions. Trust them. Celebrate them. But whatever you do, don’t bury them. Don’t hide them. Don’t bottle them up. Allow yourself to feel excited, at the risk of feeling disappointed. Allow yourself to feel happy, at the risk of feeling sad. Allow yourself to feel hope at the risk of feeling despair. Listen to your heart. To feel is to know you are human. To feel is to know you are alive.

Hello, goodbye

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When I was growing up as a kid, growing taller in my body and longer in my feet, there would always be, at each growth stage, a pair of shoes, a favourite t-shirt or pair of jeans I felt very sad to have to say goodbye to and let go. Sad because I had outgrown them.

I would pack those clothes in the cardboard box set for storage for my younger sister, and fold them with great care. They were comfortable, held fond memories of some fun times. I was grateful for their service. I was grateful for their witness. With shoes, it was often that I just loved them for how they looked and wished I could squeeze my feet in them still, without squishing my toes into deformed prunes in order to make them fit. Because I knew I couldn’t get that same pair ever again.

The hand-me-downs from my older sister, two years my senior, would fill my side of the cupboard. In perusing through them, there would always be one or two items, usually a dress, which would give me a sense of relief that we would no longer look like twins. My set of whatever two-some outfit my mother had chosen to make for us packed away, and my sister’s version now in my possession. My pair of our twin-set sandals resting in a storage box, her pair now sitting neatly at the base of my cupboard waiting for my feet to place themselves to fit within the grooves she had worn into the shoe’s sole. Grooves reflecting her growth, her fun times.

Brandology Mama

Today, I am grateful for the service of Brandology Mama. She has been a part of me for four years, four years and two weeks to be exact. But with my writing self growing taller, her feet growing longer, it is time to gently fold Brandology Mama up, with great care and send her on her way. I am grateful for her witness. She has served me well. The archetypal sage and nurturer combined. She sought to teach about the science of branding and encourage people to love and care for their brands. The love of your business-type brand or the love of you as a person, being your personal brand. And for the first year or so she did. And then after a pause, a slumber, she woke different. Her voice had changed, and now she is in need of a new name.

I have always loved the greek myth of the phoenix, the giant and powerful bird born from the ashes. But this is not a phoenix rebirthing. I have not had to obliterate myself to nothing, I am not dusting ash from my metaphorical feathers. Nor is this a transformation born from suffering. I have not had to hide away, disintegrate into a gooey mess and force myself from a cocoon in such a way the blood can flow in my wings so I can fly. No. This is more a snake shedding her skin moment. Shedding skin, to allow for further growth. It is a little uncomfortable to shed your skin all at once, in one piece. Wriggling out of it like a giant long sock. Leaving behind, a piece which still holds the form of you even after you have moved away. Its delicate lace-like structure, an external skeleton of your former self. Lying in the long grass, discarded. I am sad to leave her. But it is time.

Curious Muse

My new skin is made from wonder. It is curiosity which drives me to write. It is curiosity which leads you to read. Being curious binds us together, the writer and the reader. And so it seems fitting to call my writing self, the Curious Muse. She is the archetypal innocent and lover combined. She has faith and optimism. She is intimate and authentic, trusting and vulnerable. She is passionate and appreciative. She is the Curious Muse.

And as she comes to life through the words on the pages here. She comes to life also through the symbol of the hummingbird. The smallest of birds. With delicate wings. And a suitable beak to feed her curiosity. The only bird to fly forwards and backwards, up and down, or sideways. To hover in sheer space. A bird who feeds on the sweet nectar of life.

As a spirit animal, the hummingbird represents love and happiness. The miracle of life and all its wonder. The hummingbird flies great distances. Adaptable and resilient, the hummingbird endures long and challenging journeys with joy, playfulness and a lightness of being. In her wisdom, the hummingbird opens her heart to the richness of life.

She is fitting. I am intrigued by what she will have to say.

Life of a fraud: on deceiving myself

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I have been living the life of a fraud. A trickster, an imposter. I have been disingenuous. Lying to myself. Dishonest and deceitful.

This hard cold fact, hit me with full force as I was walking to work and listening to a podcast. Completely engrossed in the story being told, I did not realise what was going on deeper in my mind, behind the scenes. My subconscious was processing a story so completely distant from my own. Yet from the words came a pain for me so great, I almost double over on the spot, onto the pavement, as cars drove by with parents inside; people rushing to drop their children to school.

The instigator of my own undoing in that moment was the incredibly talented Janet Mock, her podcast is one in a series I am obsessed with listening to at the moment: Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations. I have been listening to them in order, working my way down the list from the most recent to older ones, until a new one pops up and then I listen to the latest. I have given myself over to the order and release of new podcasts. They dictate what I listen to. I have let the universe decide what I need to hear that day, and try to be open to whatever lands. On this particular day it was Janet Mock, the director, writer and producer of one of my favourite shows Pose - which I love for bringing to the world the reality and the stories about ‘New York City's African-American and Latino LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming ballroom culture scene’ of the 80s. In the podcast, Janet talks about ‘The Path to Authenticity: Embracing the Otherness.’ When I started the podcast I did not make the connection that she was the director, writer and producer of Pose. Even though, I was excited to listen, because of the title, because I have been thinking deeply for some time about how people find their authentic self, and I believe we are all on this journey throughout life, on the path to authenticity. I have come to the realisation that it is the journey that we must cherish: the moments of wondering lost, the elation of discovering, the peace in finding a checkpoint, the anticipation and excitement of moving on again to continue the search. And I have come to terms with the fact that the destination - authenticity - is simply the pulley wheel or axle designed to support our movement, our change in direction along the taut cable of life.

On a fresh winter’s morning, walking at a steady, rhythmic pace to work, protecting my ears from the cold with my headphones, keeping warm in a scarf and enjoying the soft winter sunshine on my cheeks, I lost myself in Janet’s story of otherness. Her story of being born a girl in a boy’s body; of having her parents ‘express her gender for her’ but knowing from a very young age that the expression of her true self did not align with ‘what those around her deemed normal.’ Janet’s story and her words of wisdom are inspirational. Janet tells her story factually, but with profound emotion. You know a good storyteller when they crack something open deep inside you; where you find yourself sobbing or laughing out loud as you read a book or listen to a podcast. Or when you feel that kick in the guts, the seismic shift in your soul, the fog clearing from your perception, as you suddenly come to a realisation about yourself - through their story, through their words.

‘Telling our stories allows us to connect with one another, but most importantly, it allows us to connect with ourselves.’ Janet Mock

Sliding doors

Perhaps it was her words ‘turned out different’ that held me as Janet spoke about being different to what her parents expected her to be. Perhaps it was Janet talking about her otherness that made me think of my own otherness during my childhood; as a child of parents who were Lithuanian immigrants. Of feeling separate from life at times, almost like I was an observer of life, not a participant. Maybe it was hearing Janet talk about the moment she realised for the first time there was a disconnect in herself, when she took a dare and wore her grandmother’s flowery muumuu, perhaps it was her words ‘it wasn’t funny to me, because it was the first time that I realised that the me I knew myself to be was not right’. Maybe it was hearing her talking about learning to ‘hide who she really was’ which got me. I didn’t have her incredible journey, or anything comparable. But listening to her story, I reflected on how I felt my life had ‘turned out different’ to what I expected it to be; and I felt something familiar when she said ‘the me I knew myself to be was not right’. I knew I was hiding ‘who I really was’. Although her story is her story, Janet doesn’t let you escape your own and tells us we must ‘turn up the frequency of our own truths’.

‘We all do this, we all put up fronts to protect our unspoken and unexpressed self. Sometimes it is easiest to conceal our truths by blending in.’ Janet Mock

It was on Janet’s last line in the podcast, that I felt a sharp physical pain in my chest. A pain which stopped me walking. It sounds so ridiculously cliché, but I felt a ‘stab in my heart’ and it ‘stopped me in my tracks’. There is a reason for clichés, they are often accurate. Standing stiff, grabbing at my chest I felt the grief of a regret spill out of me. A regret and a sadness I did not realise I had been carrying for nearly a quarter of a century. The regret of my 24 year-old self applying for a respected professional writing course, a difficult one to get into with limited spots. Of having to submit pieces to get into this course. Which I did, getting an offer of a place. Published writers have come out of this course. Novels and memoirs have landed on the shelves from this course.

What came home to me, and for me, listening to Janet’s story, was that often we are ‘too afraid to say out loud what we secretly know’ about ourselves. Too afraid, no matter how big or small those truths about our identity might be to the world. Janet’s is big, hers is about gender identity and embracing her otherness. Mine is much smaller. It is about identifying your true calling in life. For me, it is about identifying as a writer. Sitting comfortably with the fact that I was born to write, and I will die writing.

In that instant I felt, physically, the regret of making the wrong decision all those years ago. Of not accepting that course. Of choosing an editing and publishing course instead. Because it was the safer thing to do. Job prospects were better. Because I was too afraid to embrace my true self. My writing self. It was much safer to hide her behind an editor. Or a communications manager or a marketing manager.

I paused, breathed and started walking up the hill. I was surprised at this revelation, which felt like it came out of nowhere. I had no idea I had been carrying the grief of that decision for so long. And it was in that moment that it lifted. And I laughed, with lightness, as I realised I had been living the life of a fraud. I was a fraud. I had been pretending to ‘not be a writer’. I was pretending to be things which allowed me to write, but which did not allow me to call myself a writer. I was not owning my true self. I laughed because in that moment I realised that you cannot run away from yourself, from your calling, from what you are here to do. It follows you. The writer inside me has alway been there, she has been stalking me ever since that day I turned my back on giving it a go because I had already made up my mind that I would fail. That I wouldn’t become a published author. But she didn’t care, she has been incredibly patient. She created this blog. Which was originally about branding, until I came to terms with who she was and the fact she wasn’t going away. She was happy to sit in the back seat while the communications manager and marketing manager sat in front holding the steering wheel of life. But she is here and she is not letting me get away with it. Twenty four years later, she is looking back at me in the mirror. The writer.

Ask yourself the question

My journey to come to terms with my true self as a writer only started when I had the courage to come out of hiding from behind ‘the brand specialist’ and start writing about things I really cared about, and what just spilled out of me. It took speed when others saw me as a writer. When people I knew started calling me a writer. When people reached out to thank me for my writing. When recently, someone asked me not to stop writing. That was when the back door and the front door opened and my writing self had the opportunity to take the front seat. I had to see myself through the eyes of others, in order to give myself permission to be able to see myself as a writer through my own eyes. For those people, I will be forever grateful.

However, I am perplexed by the fact that something which gives me such great joy, I have not embraced proudly. Something which comes so naturally and pours out of my fingers from a source I cannot identify, I am shy about. That I almost feel ashamed to say it out loud. That I need permission from others to own it. I know as I write these words, there are people out there, who will read them and identify with them. They too will realise that they have been running from their true self, from their calling in life. They too are ashamed of saying out loud their childhood dream, the thing that brings them most joy. They too have become lost in the easiness of being someone else. They too are waiting for permission to get into the front seat of life.

Don’t wait for the permission of others. Give yourself permission to be who you truly are. Give yourself permission to be your authentic self. Listen to the voice within you. Set yourself free with a simple question Janet asked herself in order to find her true self. A question we should not shy away from, no matter where we are in our lives, no matter how much ground is behind us.

‘A question we should ask ourselves, whether we are twelve or twenty, or in the twilight of our lives. Who am I? Who am I to me? That is the question.’ Janet Mock.

Your true self

I listened again to the podcast, and Janet Mock telling her story, in order to write this piece. A piece I hope will encourage people to listen to the stories of others in order to find their own truth. For people to have the same experience I had - to be slapped with the reality of the importance to ‘unapologetically embrace ourselves’. In my second listening, I heard consciously the words that spoke to my subconscious that day. Words, which primed me during that half hour to Janet’s closing statement. Words which set me up as they placed themselves somewhere deep inside me, ready to support an awakening, as I walked past the park, along the shops, across the crossing, over the railway line, down the hill, under the underpass and onto the pavement by the school. Janet says it perfectly.

‘My hope is that in hearing my story, you are propelled to excavate that part of yourself that you have been hiding - and you allow others to see you for who you are, without doubt, without shame, without apology. My hope is you step outside the comfort of your boxes, and holy and boldly be your truest fiercest self. ‘ Janet Mock

Making the trek

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Life is a journey, not a destination. And it comes with ups and downs as we climb our metaphorical mountains in search of our purpose: to find meaning in our lives and to create meaning in the lives of others.

‘The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.’ Fydor Dostoevsky

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about what I might regret on my death bed. Perhaps it is the mid-century birthday creeping up on me that’s doing it. Or perhaps it is because of the fresh loss of a friend, and other recent experiences, which have reminded me (with a slap) that life is fragile and precious.

Regardless as to why, thinking about potential regrets on my death bed has been the motivator to clock off work on time to get home to my family. It has reminded me to pause and be grateful for the people in my life, and to sit back and enjoy the moment. Projecting myself forward to face my future ‘death bed self’ has helped my ‘self of today’ think more carefully about what is important in life.

In 2009, palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware, recorded the regrets voiced by those she was caring for during their last weeks. Honouring their requests she shared their wisdom. It should come as no surprise, that the number one regret of people dying was about being brave enough to live an authentic life, honouring their true self and their dreams.

‘I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.’ Top regret of the dying, Bronnie Ware

Having something to live for, something true to the core of who we are, not only helps us stay alive, it helps us feel alive - and improves the quality of our lives. A 2017 study published in Jama Psychiatry reported that having a purpose in life reduces the decline of physical health. The participants in the study who had goals, or a sense of meaning, had stronger grip strength and faster walking speeds than those without a goal. Important, given a weak grip strength and slow walking speeds are signs of declining physical health and an increased risk of disability in older adults. Another study, from the same year, published in BMC’s Sleep Science and Practice Journal, reported that better sleep quality is related to having a ‘higher level of meaning and purpose in life’. The link between surviving life and having a purpose is found in the Forward of Victor Stretcher’s beautiful graphic novel ‘On Purpose’, where medical physician, researcher and author Dean Ornish MD, reminds us of Viktor Frankl observations in his classic book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. Frankl speaks of inmates in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany and how he found ‘those inmates able to find meaning even in this dire situation were much more likely to survive.’ A truth echoed in the amazing interview on Super Soul Sunday I listened to recently. A podcast where Dr Edith Eva Eger - holocaust survivor, psychologist and author - shares her incredible story, and how having meaning and purpose in life was critical to her survival.

No point in arguing with the great philosophers and psychologists of our time, research studies, medical doctors and people like Dr Eger. To have purpose is to have life.

Lost

It was with a shock that I realised I had become lost earlier this year, and in a state without purpose. I couldn’t understand it. I have family, a loving husband and beautiful children. Surely they are my purpose. I have extended family, my dear mum, my dad who lives in spirit now, my brother and sister, my in-laws and more. I feel loved. I have dear friends, who care for me deeply and are a joy to hang out with. I have all the material things I need. I have security. I have a job I love. A book project. And yet, despite all this and more, life had lost its meaning for me. Despite all that was in my life, I could not shake the feeling I was not living my true life, as my authentic self. ‘Midlife crisis’ I hear you yell? Perhaps. Painful, nonetheless. I felt like I was wandering aimlessly, day to day, in the wilderness of life. Without an anchor point. Drifting. ‘Life doing me’, bumping me this way and that, instead of ‘me doing life’ and choosing my path, my direction.

Enter stage left: Bob Proctor and Sandy Gallagher’s Thinking into Results. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was lucky enough to be invited to this course, facilitated by Georgia Ellis from BlueChip Minds. This course is a culmination of decades of research and reading by Bob Proctor, alongside insights and learnings from his conversations with change agents, philosophers and people shaking up the world in some way. All cleverly designed to take you on a journey of self discovery. And that is exactly what I did (once I got past my preconceived ideas - which rose quickly to the surface, that this was some ‘get rich quick’ philosophy where the definition of success is all about money - and opened myself fully to the experience).

The ABC of Goals

In our first lesson we learnt about the importance of having a goal, about the different types of goals and we were asked to come up with a personal and/or professional goal. A key learning for me from this lesson, and from this course, was the difference between an A-type, B-type and C-type goal.

An A-type goal is something we know we can do. It is something we already know how to do. It is often something we are already doing. Unfortunately, in professional development discussions in our workplaces, we often settle for A-type goals. There is no satisfaction to be gained in doing this, as there is no growth associated with A-type goals. A-type goals are often about doing ‘more of the same’. At work it is often the A-type goals driving us. I am going to deliver this project, or that project. Which, of course I am, it is what I know how to do, what is expected of me, why I am hired to do , where I use my expertise (with my eyes closed). Doing something you know how to do, and know you can do, does not give purpose and meaning. A-type goals can also be ‘I want to do more of this or more of that’, but doing more of something we know how to do doesn’t give us purpose and meaning either. All this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have A-type goals, but we should not have them, alone. An A-type goal for me is to go with the family to Peru for my 50th birthday. I know I can do it, I know how to do it. I just now need to save for it and organise it. A nice goal, but not one that anchors you to life, if you get my meaning.

B-type goals are those we think we can do, but we don’t know how to do. Like learning a language. My B-type goal is learning Spanish. I am lucky enough to have had an introductory course at work, and have recently joined Duolingo and I am really enjoying learning a language. Especially Spanish, as it is something I have wanted to do since I was in my early twenties. Learning a language is really satisfying, but isn’t necessarily something giving purpose to my life. Yep, a B-type goal for sure.

C-type goals is where it is at, according to Bob Proctor. These are the big ones, where you dream big and ask yourself the big question ‘what do I want…what do I really want?’ It is a fantasy, taking you out of reality and it is meant to scare the hell out of you. Yep, you know you have chosen a C-type goal when it gives you a sick feeling in your stomach. When you palms start to sweat. When the fear of failure immediately is upon you. To find your C-type goal, you sit down, relax, close your eyes and let your imagination lead. You let it run wild and see what comes up, see where you land. You don’t think about how you are going to achieve it, or if you can, you just put all your attention into working out what it is that you want. And it hits you. My C-type goal: to find a cure for mental illness. ‘Are you crazy?’ I hear you say. ‘That’s damn impossible.’ I hear you shout. Affirmations. It really is a C-type goal.

Attention Gym

And so I woke up with my C-type goal and to begin with, although it felt completely right, I was a little scared to tell people. I imagined them saying exactly what I was thinking. ‘Who the hell do you think you are? You don’t have a medical degree. You don’t have any expertise in this area (other than some life experience of your own, and of those around you). You can’t do this.’

Despite my doubts. I let the goal sit with me. I began to share it with others in the course. I began to share it with those closest to me. The fear of being judged by this goal disappeared when I focused on the fact that some of the biggest discoveries and breakthroughs in life could not have happened unless someone had a crazy idea they just would not let go off. Why can’t we have a world free of mental illness? Why give up on this before we even start? Why not just hold it as the thing I desire most and see what comes of it. See what finds me.

And this was the beginning of my unfolding. A gentle but beautiful awakening and an opening of my mind of what could be.

Holding this goal in my heart, led me to start the Attention Gym. A little side project I have started, where I am on a journey of discovery. A journey exploring how exercising your muscle of attention can impact your wellbeing. This has led me to podcasts, books, websites, blogs, research, a meditation course, ideas, aromatherapy and working towards a meditation teaching qualification. This has also led me back to myself. Back to my love of philosophy, of Jung, his mandalas, the collective unconscious. Back to my love for Ayurvedic medicine, which has fascinated and intrigued me since I was a teenager. Back to my creative self. Playing with an Instagram blog and building the idea of social media being about community. Developing a website to share my journey, my learnings. Experimenting with animations. This led me back to my writing. Back to giving back to others.

My second mountain

Holding this goal in my heart has led me to my second mountain. New York Times columnist, David Brooks puts forward this concept in his book aptly called ‘The Second Mountain - the quest for a moral life.’ In his book he explains how in life we trek up our first mountain - to a career, marriage, family, a life we planned - only to reach the summit and feel unfulfilled, lost, without vision (it is cloudy up there). With this realisation we fall, roll down the mountain into the valley of our self and our suffering. A place where he encourages us to take firm footing and learn, discover and grow.

‘The right thing to do when you are in moments of suffering is to stand erect in the suffering. Wait. See what it has to teach you. Understand that your suffering is a task that, handled correctly, with the help of others, will lead to enlargement, not diminishment.

The valley is where we shed our old self so the new self can emerge. There is no short cuts. There’s just the same eternal three-step process that the poets have described from time eternal: from suffering to wisdom to service.’ p38, The Second Mountain, David Brooks.

So I stood in my suffering. As erect as I could stand in that valley of murkiness, darkness and messiness. And I found the path to my second mountain. And I am now making the trek.

Found

‘Not till we are lost do we begin to find ourselves.’ Henry David Thoreau

My suffering taught me that my purpose in life is to be a student of life. That I was made for learning. That I am here to share my learnings. That I should prepare myself for the long journey up the second mountain. Make sure I have the supplies I need. Those around me, a team of like-minded people. Those that believe in me. And to make sure in my back pack of life, is a good supply of self belief and generosity of spirit.

The joy is in the journey up the mountain. The discoveries I make along the way. Which I will share, as a writer. The first mountain was for me. The second mountain is for me and my community. For our collective mental health.