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.

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.

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.