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!’

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.

Discovering the freedom of writing

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Earlier this year, a dear friend pointed me to a beautifully written article sharing Thich Nhat Hanh’s insights on the art of letting go. Little did I know the power of this gift he had just given me and the transforming journey I was about to start. I had no idea this gesture was about to change not only the way I write, but also the way I live - that it would set me free. But I guess, that’s the power of words - and friendship.

I live to write and I write to live. It’s that simple. Writing and life: these two things are inseparable. No arguments. So, I shouldn’t really be surprised that finding freedom in my writing would transform the way I see the world and how I live. Finding the ‘art of letting go’ when I write has changed me for the better in a noticeable way, and as such my husband, work colleagues and close friends are actually commenting on the difference. And I am feeling that difference, big time.

When I first read Christina Sarich’s article The Art of Letting Go, I really struggled with the concept of detachment but really connected with three of the four forms of detachment described: joy, compassion and gratitude. It has taken me some time to understand the power of the fourth: equanimity.

Joy, compassion and gratitude were easy, they were part of my vocabulary already, they were important to me and part of me. I hold these virtues in my heart, they lead me through life. Equanimity, however, was not as familiar to me. The elements of ‘nondiscrimination’ and ‘even mindedness’ I connected with, but I very much struggled with understanding the concept of ‘detachment’ associated with being equanimous. I am so grateful that this is no longer the case as understanding equanimity has been a critical piece in learning the ‘art of letting go’ and finding freedom in my writing.

I laugh at the irony, that I got so stuck on the very term Sarich’s entire article is about: detachment. And that I struggled because I was finding it difficult to ‘let go’ of my long term understanding of this word. I was finding it hard to move past the fact that what I understood ‘detachment’ to be, was exactly what the article described it wasn’t: ‘a form of aloofness, or emotional disconnect from others’. I was so confused. How could ‘letting go’ mean ‘diving in’? Aren’t they opposites? But more on that later, because I want to point out that working through the things I struggled with in this article, served as a good reminder to me that when making a formative shift in life, the initial struggle we face is a critical part of the journey. Without the struggle, we don’t change. And although those words weren’t written in Sarich’s article, this was its first gift to me, and the first step in changing the way I write.

Embrace the struggle

So, if you are looking to write more freely, my first bit of advice to you would be to make peace with the struggle associated with the story you are working on.

When I write, it starts in my head - long before pen hits paper or my fingers hit the keyboard. Sometimes, like today, I wake up with the words forming in my mind and I have to get up and let them pour out. Other times, I walk around for days, with the story slowly building. Accompanying the ‘slow burn’ internal writing process there used to be a certain level of crankiness. Something my family got used to. They knew to get out of my way because ‘mum was writing in her head again’. And they probably couldn’t wait for it to come out; for the relief and calmness that followed. I also looked forward to the respite. I can’t explain why it was so uncomfortable. Perhaps, it was the fear that the words wouldn’t come out right. Perhaps I was just being impatient. I am not sure, but I do know that once I made peace with the struggle of this internal process, the negative emotions surrounding it disappeared (well, so far in most cases it did - for change takes time and practice).

I found this inner peace by letting go and accepting the struggle as part of the writing process. By finding joy in the struggle, being kind to myself during this process and being grateful for the struggle, trusting it would deliver what it needed, in time. I worked on being equanimous during the struggle: finding calmness and composure even if this part of my writing process felt difficult or uncomfortable. What worked for me was learning to detach myself from the struggle, stop trying to own it, or control it, and just letting it take me where it needed. Trusting the struggle to land where ever it needed to. Seems like Sarich’s article was starting to sink in after all.

Remember the joy

As a young kid, I never placed expectations on my writing. I just wrote with great joy and playfulness. Anything was possible. Rediscovering this joy and playfulness in my writing, has been a big part of learning to write with a free spirit again.

In Sarich’s article she explores the concept of letting go through learning to ‘love more completely’ and explains Master Hanh’s four elements of detachment as the pathway to achieve this. Giving joy and happiness to others is the first. So for me, it was about learning to love my writing more completely, loving it for its imperfections, loving it for what it is. And the first step in achieving this complete love for my writing, was remembering the joy it gives me and noticing how happy it makes me, and through this giving it the freedom to give joy to others too.

So, the second gift from Sarich’s article was Master Hanh’s quote:

‘The first aspect of true love is maitri (metta, in Pali), the intention and capacity to offer joy and happiness.’

I always used to say I wrote for me, no one else. I would explain that my writing ‘falls out of my head’, it just needed to come out and that it ‘wasn’t about others’. But what is a piece of writing without a reader? What is a piece of writing that does not think about its audience? As a Communications Manager in a business setting, I always think about the audience. Why wasn’t I doing this with my personal writing? When I used to say, ‘Sure, I write a blog and I write poetry, but it doesn’t matter who reads it, because it isn’t about that.’ I was missing the point. The fact is, people will read it, and regardless of how many people read it, or what people think of it, someone will read it. I realised that even if it is only one person, it is a valid audience. Even if this person is the writer herself, it is a valid audience - when rereading your work, you shift from being the writer and you become the audience.

So from now on, I always start my writing with the intention to offer joy and happiness. Joy and happiness to myself and to others. I embrace my inner child, and remember the joy of writing and allow myself to be playful when I write. That doesn’t mean I can’t write about serious topics or write in a serious way, it means to enjoy what I write, enjoy the process of writing and, just like free-play, to be flexible when I write, embrace change and let go of any rules and expectations.

It is through this that I have become a better friend with my writing and learnt to truly love my writing. Inspired by a poignant quote of Master Hanh’s from Sarich’s article:

‘We have to use language more carefully. ‘Love’ is a beautiful word, we have to restore its meaning. The word ‘maitri’ has roots in the word mitra, which means friend. In Buddhism, the primary meaning of love is friendship.’

So, be a friend to your writing. Truly love your writing. Write with the intent to bring happiness and joy to others, including yourself. Find the ‘maitri’ in your writing.

Show compassion

During this journey of self discovery, I realised how nasty I was being to myself about my writing. How I would put it down and make excuses for it. I would write a piece, share it on my blog and when someone said to me what a great piece it was, I would sometimes say how much I hated that particular piece of writing, or how it was OK but it didn’t say what I really wanted to say. And I would say these things because I believed them to be true. I felt the disappointment, for the writing I had produced, deep in my heart. Ridiculously, I would apologise in advance for my writing before others even had a chance to read them.

My previous blog post was introduced in this way, in my Twitter post: ‘This doesn’t even touch the surface of what I want to say but here it is, a mere wondering about Nietzsche and Eastern thought.’

‘Doesn’t even touch the surface of what I want to say’. Why did I introduce my piece of writing this way? Why did I put it down in the same moment I was sharing it with others? Because it was true, it didn’t touch the surface of what I wanted to say and I was focused on the outcome. I was also frightened people wouldn’t understand it, and that they would see it as a poor piece of writing. Judging my writing is judging me. If my writing is no good, I am no good. I write to live, I live to write. They are inseparable.

Letting go of this fear, showing compassion for yourself as a writer, and showing compassion to your pieces of writing is so important. Learning Master Hanh’s art of letting go, is understanding that after ‘maitri’ comes ‘karuna’ (compassion), which Sarich describes as the ‘next form of detachment’ and beautifully brings to life in the words:

‘The Buddha smiles because he understands why pain and suffering exist, and because he also knows how to transform it.’

I write more freely when I smile with the Buddha.

Be grateful

Sometimes my writing makes me laugh. Sometimes it gives me peace. Sometimes it makes me cry and other times my writing surprises me. I am really grateful for how my writing makes me feel. Whatever the emotion may be. I have also learnt to be grateful for each piece of writing, no matter what it turns out to be. Helping me understand gratefulness in relation to my writing is the third gift from Sarich’s article and came from her words where she explained:

‘In truly letting go you practice gratitude. Mudita, or joy arises when we are overcome with gratitude for all that we have, such that we no longer cling to some other longed-for result.’

I didn’t realise how much I was clinging to a different outcome for pieces of my writing. I wasn’t aware how attached I was to my own definition of what it is to be a writer, until I read these words and let them sink in a little.

As well as finding happiness in whatever I have written, and for the writer I am today, I am also grateful for how my writing makes others feel and for the joy it gives to me and others. I am grateful for the conversations my writing starts and the connections it has given me. I am especially grateful when my writing inspires others to find their inner writer and when they share their stories with me. Stories which then give me great happiness and joy leading to a cycle of sharing and enjoying each other’s creations. It is a delight.

I get the same sense of happiness when reading the pieces of writing my friends write, which are completely independent of me. It is lovely to be part of a community of writers.

Sarich describes the Bhudda’s definition of ‘mudita’, the practice of gratitude, as ‘unselfish joy’ where ‘we don’t only find happiness when something good happens to us, but when others find happiness’.

‘Joy arises when you find happiness even when others find joy–and it has little or nothing to do with you.’

Set your writing free

A conversation some six months ago (although not word for word):

Friend: “I read your latest blog post, I loved it. There was so much in it, I actually printed it out to read it.”

Me: “Really? Oh, I so hate that piece. It just….I don’t know (big sigh). I don’t like it, it wasn’t what I was hoping for. It doesn’t say what I wanted to say.”

Friend: “Well, it’s not yours anymore…”

Wise words. Letting go means it is not yours anymore.

It took me some time to get there. I felt something the moment I heard those words, but didn’t truly understand their sentiment, but thankfully those four words ‘it’s not yours anymore’ kept running over and over in my head after this conversation until they landed and I got it.

Driving to work one day, the things percolating in my head collided. Ideas I had read, Sarich’s article and all its gifts, memories from my life, stories and poems I had written, the recent conversation about my writing and other conversations I had shared all fell into place as I discovered the meaning of the fourth element of letting go: upeksha (equanimity). I was standing on the metaphorical mountain top, the fourth gift from Sarich’s article:

‘Upa means ‘over,’ and iksha means ‘to look.’ You climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other.’

From this psychological vantage point - standing under blue skies in the bright sunshine on top of the metaphorical mountain - I had an epiphany. The words I would use to describe the emotions I felt in that exact moment are, ironically, the four elements of letting go. I felt great happiness and joy, I was full of kindness, I was bubbling over with gratefulness and was suspended all of the sudden in a deep sense of calmness.

I felt maitri, karuna, muditi and upeksha as I realised it was these very four elements I needed to apply to my writing, and as I realised equanimity was to become the fourth pillar to guide me in life - alongside the intent to bring joy and happiness to myself and others, to be compassionate and kind to myself and others and to be grateful in the moment.

Writing more freely is about detaching from your writing. That does not mean being cold and distant from it, but truly loving it. Diving in. Letting it go to be whatever it will be to you and to others, in whatever form it is in. Knowing, it is not yours anymore. Not owning it. Not attaching your ego to it.

My writing is not mine to own, any more than my children are. I have birthed them from my body, I have loved and cherished them, I have guided them, but they are their independent selves, they are their own beings. They may have my genes, but they are unique, we do not share the same fingerprints.

Detach from your writing, let it have its own life and purpose. Accept it is what it is, and had to be written. Don’t put your beloved writing in your pocket.

‘We try to put our beloved in our pocket and carry them with us, when they are more like the wind, or a butterfly, or a stream, needing to move and flow, or risk dying. This is not love, this is destruction.’ Christina Sarich, The Art of Letting Go, May 2018.

My favourite piece of writing, which I have loved since I was 19, captures the very essence of not owning the things we love. Sylvia Plath’s beautiful poem, Morning Song, which she wrote after the birth of her first child Freida, expresses it beautifully in the third stanza.

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

Rain from inside a cloud form a puddle. The puddle is not the cloud. It exists in its own right for children to playfully dance in, with their gumboots on.

Words from inside my mind form a story. Get your gumboots on!

Making friends with the writer within me

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For years I have shunned her. Pretended she wasn't there. The writer within me. Embarrassed to call myself a writer because I felt like a fraud if I did. Yet, she has always been me; and I have always been her. The writer. 

I was born to write. This is not a bold statement. It is the plain truth. A simple fact. My earliest memories are of me writing. Writing stories in my head as I watched the world unfold. Singing my stories at the top of my lungs as I stood on the compost bin in the corner of our back yard, the autumn leaves falling to the ground around me. Acting out my plays on 'the stage' - our front porch - a thick concrete platform raised to look out at the span of our front yard and the passing cars. Writing in my little spiral notebook on the swing, the sun warming my eyelids. Fully engrossed in my writing as I sat on a tiny chair randomly placed in the front yard under a tree. Writing furiously in my exercise book as it poured out of me under the covers of my bed with my torch as my only light. Writing in the heat of the tent, which Mum and Dad had set up in the back yard. Writing with delight in the privacy of the top level of our cubby house. Writing stories in my head as I fell asleep at night. Typing up my poems, first on Mum's typewriter and then later on our Acorn computer. Waking from my dreams, inspired, grabbing a notebook from my bedside table and, regardless of the hour, writing out whatever was in my head again and again and again - as a small child, as a teenager, as a young woman and now. I was always writing. I am always writing. I am a writer.

As a young kid I wrote stories about ghosts, death, murder, mystery and UFOs. My parents and siblings couldn't understand how their cheeky, happy, fun-loving young girl could have such a fascination with such darkness, such ugliness in the world. These were also the stories I loved to read. An insatiable young reader, I could not get enough of what Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Agatha Christie, Dad's copies of The Reader's Digest and the National Geographic, the UFO books, the books about astral travelling, the books about murder, the newspaper and the novel Jaws had in store for me. If I wasn't writing, I was reading. For me they have always been inseparable. When you write, you read. When you read you write. My reading as a young child wasn't all bleak, I loved the library's copies of Tin Tin, my birthday books - Snoopy, Fred Basset and Garfield. I also loved my sister's Archie comics. But I did not like her Sweet Valley High books. I preferred Virginia Andrew's sad tale of The Flowers in the Attic. 

We lived just outside a small country town. In a house on the corner of a gravelled avenue, with the river a short bike ride away. I wrote many stories on the bank of that river under an old rickety bridge. That bridge once became the greatest source of worry about my writing for my parents. I was around 11 when Mum pulled me aside to have a serious conversation. Immediately, I could tell something was wrong looking at Mum's stern face as she took me into my parent's bedroom to have a private conversation with me. My mind was racing as we walked in and I sat on the bed as she shut the door. What thing was I in trouble for this time? What had she found out? It could have been a number of things. I was shocked by the gentleness and concern of Mum's voice as she asked me about a piece I had written. The relief was enormous, I was not in trouble (this time). Mum was just worried about me.

She was asking about a piece I had written for school. My teacher had rung her. Worried. The piece was about a young girl who, tormented by life, hung herself on a rickety old bridge that crosses a river. Mum was really concerned. At the time, I couldn't understand why. 'It's just a story,' I told her, laughing. And it was. It was simply something that fell out of my head. A story I wrote. Nothing more. Mum took some convincing, but was relieved when she finally came around to see it for what it was. She then shared with me a family secret which she had not told me before, because I was too young. A piece of my family's history. Dad's mother. My Grandmother. Tormented by the war. Mentally unwell. Hung herself. In her garage. In Albury. I was shocked. I had never met my Grandmother, she died before I was born. As did my Grandfather, Dad's dad. But they always felt special to me. A mystery. Then, I was mad. How could Mum and Dad not tell me this before? I would never have written that story had I known this. My story must have been so painful for Dad to read. How horrible for him. And it was in this moment that my resolve for the truth was born. No secrets. Ever.

Except for the secret of self. As I grew up from a young girl into a teenager I learnt, painfully, that to be accepted there were things you should not say, and a way you had to act. Pretending. Surviving. Or risk being deemed odd, crazy or too intense. My creative writing became a place I could go, and be the real me. The me hiding in the centre of the maze. The maze I had to create around me, in order to be acceptable in this world. A maze of pretence, of social norms and protective walls. My writing became very private. When rarely shared, I felt naked. Exposed. Vulnerable.

As a teenager I wrote passionate poems about unrequited love alongside the essays I had to write for school. Often I wrote poetry in the inside covers of my school text books if something came to me in class, or while doing my homework. This was an OK thing to do, since I was the only one to read the text books. Until the guy who turned up and became one of my best friends, started tutoring me in Year 12 Biology after he asked me to tutor him in English. The fringes of our friendship were already laced with sexual tension. He had a long term girlfriend, we were just friends - despite his family telling us on many occasions we were made for each other. We were just friends. Despite our feelings. One day, sitting lazily in the sun on my parent's back verandah, flirting between biology questions he casually grabbed my biology text book instead of his. My heart stopped as he discovered my poetry and read it. Most of it was about him. Although he was not named, I was sure he would know. Our friendship was deeper from that day forward, but as our story played out the heartache became too strong. And with a broken heart, I hid the writer within me a little deeper.

As a university student I wrote poetry about existential suffering alongside the analytical pieces I was writing for my degree. I discovered philosophy alongside literature at university, thanks to the most inspirational thinker who taught one of our literature classes. It was at this time that I discovered writing from the body. Writing from the Anima. The unconscious woman. Writing without the Apollonian form and structure generations had dictated on centuries of writing, since the fall of the matriarchy. I remember in second year uni, receiving criticism on a piece I had submitted for lack of form and structure. Ironically, the piece was about writing from the body, and in writing the piece, I had to be true to what I was writing about and actually produced the essay by writing from the body. Without form and structure. I had to explain this to my linguistics lecturer, post him marking the piece. He regraded it after our conversation. I walked away, please with the high distinction he gave me and with a shift in perception of how things work. Suddenly realising, for the first time, that teachers sometimes learn from their students. 

I started writing with freedom. Writing like I had never written before. The lecturers loved my writing. My classmates loved my writing. And then, perhaps I took it too far. I am not sure. I just remember, one day, walking up to my favourite lecturer's office and hearing her chatting to my linguistics lecturer. As I got closer to the half opened door I realised they were talking about me. I heard one of them say, 'I wonder what is going on. She has lost it as a writer.' And then the other replied. 'I know, her latest piece is terrible. She doesn't make sense anymore.' I turned and walked away. And with a broken heart, I hid the writer within me a little deeper.

I got through university. But no longer with a dream to be a writer. Or a teacher. 

Turning my back on her. I wrote for business. I wrote for my job. And although I wrote poetry and short stories as they continued to pour out of me, they were now just for personal consumption. My public writing was brochures, websites, ad campaigns and business cases. I began to change. I was no longer a writer, or so I thought. I was a marketer. A communication specialist. A manager of a team. For many years the bulk of my writing was for business purposes and it changed me as a writer.

I let her go as I had my children. And fooled myself into believing that I did not have to be a writer to be fulfilled in life. That my creations were my beautiful children. My success in life was my family. The writer was no longer needed. She became the void inside me. Not long after the birth of my second child, I stood in our back yard, the recycled bin beside me and collected all my writing from the past. I spent the hours my baby slept, shredding by hand the pieces from my past. Reducing them to tiny bits of paper and watching them fall into the bin. Broken and disjointed words. I only kept a few pieces that would not let me let them go.

But as those of you who have a writer inside you know. She cannot be silenced. She will not be still. 

One day, after presenting at a conference about digital branding. I started this blog. Because people asked me to share the ideas I had presented that day. A blog for sharing my ideas. I thought. A blog about brands. I thought. A safe place to be. But over time, my blog has become a place to share my writing. Not the poetry and short stories I collect in notebooks beside my bed or the pieces I write in the notebook I carry with me in my bag (incase, inspired on the train or in the car, or at work I have to write). They are still too private. But the pieces about the things that inspire me and the things that often start in my head as I slowly wake up, pouring out of me at the kitchen table as my family make their breakfast around me. Lost in the writing. Not being able to type it out fast enough. This blog has given me the confidence to believe in myself. And today, I am writing about me. The writer.

It has been an interesting journey getting here. I noticed a shift happening a year (and four blog posts) after I started writing my blog. I bravely began sharing poetry with my friends on Instagram and Facebook. A safe audience. A safe place. Sharing with friends who love me. And who will still love me. Despite my writing. The second piece I shared on 6 November 2016 was, ironically, about the writer within me waking up. I wasn't yet ready, at that time, to name her as a writer. So I called her my Gypsy soul. 

Good morning
my Gypsy soul
good to know you are still there

You lay dormant
in domestic bliss
sleeping while dishes were washed
floors vacuumed
and during the kid's 'sports run'

It is nice to have you back
to know you did not disappear
completely

You make me brave
think outside the square
do things I would never normally do

Wide awake during university
questioning the world
throwing out new ideas

I thought the mortgage killed you

Until you bumped into another
I felt you stir
and remembered what I liked about you

Gypsy soul
dancing in my toes
bubbling in my laughter
Hello

Surrender...and watch your inner blogger grow

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I always read my blog posts a day or two after I publish them - man is it a humbling experience. If ever I needed a reminder that I am a mere human who makes mistakes, this is the moment I get it like a slap in the face. Whack!

There is a beautiful satisfying feeling of accomplishment when you hit that save and publish button. I did it. Somehow another blog post has fallen out of my brain. Yay! Time to share. Next, I log onto LinkedIn promote my post and then I do the same on Twitter, Facebook and even Insta (my poor friends).

Even though I have proofread my post several times before publishing it, a day or two later I check the post again - when I have some distance and when I can see things a little more clearly. It might be a good idea to get into the habit of holding off on promoting my posts on social until I have done this distance check, as all those funny little mistakes that make me cringe, laugh and almost cry need ironing out before anyone sees them. Or do they?

I was talking to my husband about my ridiculous errors. 'I cannot believe I can call myself a writer and spell beta blockers wrong! Even with spell check my spelling sucks! I used "undermind" instead of undermine.' 

Yes, that is correct I actually did this. Undermind - you can't unsee that! 

He kindly said, 'It's just because your brain is moving too fast.' Then he made the strangest suggestion. 'You should do a post on your bloopers.' Of course, my first thought was, 'He's crazy!'

And then, it got me thinking...

At the recent Teach Tech Play conference (which was fabulous by the way) I went to a session on blogging with Kathleen Morris . A conference by teachers for teachers, I felt a bit of a fraud being there (not being a teacher) but I am so glad I went to Kathleen's session. I got so much out of it.

Kathleen shared a lot about the basics of blogging with students. The set up, things to look out for, the pitfalls, copyright, quality of writing and how blogs can enhance learning. But the bit that resonated the most was when Kathleen talked about giving students an authentic audience for their writing. She shared a story about a classroom where students were producing a blog and creating it without realising their teacher was going to get them to publish it. When she announced it was time to share and open it up to the world the students panicked with many saying things like 'but it is not right yet' and 'it is not ready to be shared'.

Why are we so worried about things being so 'right' before we share them with others? I get that sometimes it may feel its too early to share your writing, but really, it never is. You can share in a narrow way - showing early drafts to one or two people close to you (my family are subject to many requests to read my posts before I publish them). When your work is more complete you can share more widely. Gosh, even publish it! The process of sharing your writing is what helps you improve your skill as a writer. It doesn't matter if there are mistakes, show people. It doesn't have to be perfect.

The value of an authentic audience cannot be underestimated. Writing with an audience in mind, letting go and throwing your writing out there for an audience to critique and/or compliment is part of the writing process, which is never ending. Writing doesn't end with publishing, writing is perpetual. And writing in a digital format means you can edit or recreate it, if you want to. Other than on Twitter, where you have to delete your Tweets and Tweet again if you see an embarrassing mistake.

Why are mistakes embarrassing? Why don't we celebrate our mistakes? Our failures? Why do we try so hard to hide them? They are so intrinsic to our learning. Mistakes give us a sense of where to focus our improvement, or what Hunter Maats and Katie O'Brien call 'deliberate practice' in their post Teaching students to embrace mistakes. I won't ever use 'undermind' again or spell 'beta blockers' wrong again (beater blockers - yep hilarious). I grew today (after I had a really good laugh at myself).

‘If you stumble, make it part of the dance.’

Mistakes can also lead to surprising creations. Andy Warhol made mistakes which some call his best work. Some of our biggest blunders in science have been our biggest successes. Like the telephone, which came about as the result of Alexander Graham Bell's bad German skills when he misread a book by a German author, misinterpreting a word for 'wire' and, therefore, mistakenly believing you could transmit sound on a wire. Fabulous mistake that one, and shows the power of belief.

The fear of mistakes is what stops people from sharing their work. But as Kathleen said in her session:

'A private blog is like going to a party with a paper bag on your head'

It's time to take the paper bag off and share - even before your work is ready.

Kathleen's session was clearly inspiring to others, not just me. I saw a blog post from ponderingdan today (great name for a blog by the way). Dan ponders in his latest post about his motivation for blogging.

'This is my space to be curious, and share with others'.

So true Dan. Blogs are spaces for us to be exactly what the definition of curious says: to be 'eager to learn' and to be 'strange'. 

I used to tell myself my blog was just a place for me to capture my ideas. Even though it was never a private blog, with that mindset I was basically walking around with my ideas behind a big fat paper bag I had over my head. My blog is not just for me, it is for my audience, whoever they may be. And it is through writing with my audience in mind that makes me a better writer.

So if you are a closet blogger, it is time to stop resisting. It is time to let go. Celebrate your bloopers. Surrender to your imperfections because they are the things that make you lovable! 

By the way... this post will no doubt have some edits in a day or two, after I proofread it with distance and grow from the mistakes I find scattered among these thoughts that spilled out of my head a little too fast.