Hope and inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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