If I could turn back the clock I’d say sorry to the female professional at the conference coffee break. It was twenty years ago. My cheeks still burn at the memory. Trying to be conversational about the (I thought) quite advanced bump she wore, I asked ‘so, when’s your baby due’? ‘I’m not expecting,’ she responded. We mirrored blushes – hers was probably outrage, mine was because I was choking on the foot in my mouth. I was so appalled at my mistake I mouthed ‘Oh’ and moved away before I could think straight enough to apologise. I wanted the floor to open and a shute to take me to somewhere, anywhere else. The mention of my name probably still makes her squirm.
I’m still so sorry. The poor woman. I‘ve never asked anyone that question ever since and never will. I don’t care if a woman is in labour at my feet, I’m not going there. I’ll dial 000 and they can work it out.
I’d take an apology, albeit with lots of laughter, from the school yard queen at my primary school. She told a gaggle of us, all aged eight, what sex was all about, where we all came from. I can still remember my bewildered horror.’You put what, where?’ Afterwards, she said, the ‘parents get stuck together and sometimes they have to go to hospital to get pulled apart.’ She claimed, round eyed, to have seen her next door neighbours being carted off in an ambulance that very morning for exactly that purpose.
These truths haunted me for years. She knows who she is. Funny now.
Once, late at night, working back at the office long after the lights had dimmed, hungry to the point of vacuousness, I raided the office fridge and ate a piece of fruit slice. Thinking to do the right thing I left a note in its place. ‘Hi, Jen here. It’s 9.30pm and I still have a couple of hours before I can get out of here. I will replace this delicious slice. Just let me know the cost and where it came from. And thanks.’
Well, the storm that erupted the next morning split the office ranks. The discussion around ownership of leftovers in the communal fridge went on for weeks. The owner of the fruit slice did not accept my apology, even when I repeated it verbally, more than once. It was special slice from a special shop made for people with special dietary needs. Just my luck!
If I saw the original owner of that slice again, would I apologise again? Yeah, probably. I’d like to think she might have grown up a bit in the decade since, and perhaps might offer an apology of her own. The office politicking she created around this piddling matter was deliberate and vicious. She taught me a good lesson. I bet she’s still a manipulative bitch. What is it in the human spirit that makes some people capable of such vindictive spleen? Powerlessness I suspect.
I once, again a couple of decades ago, believed something that was told to me by a woman who let’s say, I subsequently realised, had set me up. Women are not always nice to each other. On the strength of her information I leapt to the defence of someone else – and walked into an accusation of delivering a threat which had been the last thing I’d intended. What followed was a confusing and confronting time, and an accusation I struggled to defend myself against. Awful. I apologised profusely of course, but the damage was done. I’ve never forgotten the lesson. I’ve learned to be grateful for it. Trust can be used against you.
My father was a great story teller and joker. Perhaps that’s where my own trusting nature comes from. Dad was subtle with it too. I and my siblings got sucked in time and time again for varying lengths of time depending on our ages and relative wordliness. Some became family legends. From the age I was old enough to begin a lifelong habit of questioning, I believed a couple of his whoppers. He told me, in response to ‘what are those double lines painted on the road for?’ ‘Left hand side for cars, right hand side for cars going the other way, and the gap between the lines are for bicycles’. Sounded logical to my five year old self and lasted a decade or so. As a left hander he also had me believing in the existance of left handed hammers. Logic again. And tartan paint, for painting kilts. Why not? He said babies arrived on sky hooks and my belly button was where I was unhooked. You can imagine what a shock the baby truth was, via the school yard. Dad said my belly button was a handy left-over because I’d always have somewhere to put the salt when I was a grown up and wanted to eat celery in bed.
I could go on. No Dad, I don’t want an apology. I just wish you were still around to keep at it.
I knew a pilot once. He told me a story of the seventies, when airline pilots were still revered. A senior captain on an international airline, completing pre-flight checks, asked his newly qualified flight engineer on his maiden flight to exit the cockpit, go down the outside stairs and kick each tyre on the aircraft to be sure they were ‘tight and sound’ since, the captain said, ‘I’ve just finished having them pumped up’. The keen fellow did as his boss asked while the captain, first officer and ground staff fell about. The poor fellow returned to his seat in the cockpit, noticed the tears of laughter, and acknowledged he’d been had. That was worth an apology. I don’t know if he got one.
What’s your worst gaff, intentional or guileless? We all get in our own way sometime or other. I think its built into our quest for experience, our curiosity and our spirit. Our bloopers can emerge as incomplete thought-through words or actions that then trip us up. Or we can get sucked in because we trust, our filters don’t pick up the bs and we believe what’s being said to us is gospel. Guilty. Getting wiser.
I hope all is well in your world. Virtual hugs are free. Have one on me.
We aren’t very good at talking about death – until life forces us to. Understandably. Who wants to focus on an inevitability that has no particular predictability, and over which we have no control? None of us knows what lies ahead. We are born and grow up with a set of presumptions around mortality and if we’re lucky, those formulas play out: children outlive their parents: siblings grow old together and drop off more or less in sequence of their birth order. If you’re lucky.
Sadly, life is often not like this. I’ve written before that it puzzles me why we don’t have a special word in the English language for a mother who has lost a child. There are so many of us – still borns, accidents, illness, addiction. It’s against the order of the universe and deserves its own special moniker. The profound tragedy of this circumstance defies our presumptions about mortality.
If I was in charge of linguistic form I’d gazette a new word – ‘motherling’. Like a foundling is a baby without a mother, so the word motherling should refer to a mother who has lost her child. I hereby claim the word. Be my guest and spread it.
But I digress, already. Back to the ‘normal’ order. When we lose our parents, as we all must, the term ‘adult orphan’ takes on new meaning. When the first parent passes, we are often so focused on the wellbeing of the remaining one we set aside our grief for the one who is gone. So when the second one goes, we are tipped into deeper, wider, more comprehensive grief. Other things happen then too. We lose more than the physical presence of the remaining parent. We lose both parents all over again, the concept of parents, and all the things, memories, stories, occasions, celebrations and sharings that are part of our lives with our parents. In addition comes the realisation that we are now the front line in the longevity game, and we have become, sometimes without sufficient warning and preparation, the keepers of the family treasures, secrets, history, values and sensitivities. There is quite a lot written about how to cope with this transformation. I won’t dwell on this any further here except to say it’s real, I’ve been through it, and it’s a journey. If you would like further perspective on this puzzling and often confronting transformation to the front-line generation, perhaps some further reading might assist.
It’s very new but another challenging outcome in this birth-to-death voyage of the unknown and unexpected has come my way: I am without siblings. I was born the fifth of sixth children, into a noisy and thriving household of robustly healthy individuals. As of four days ago I’m the last one alive. My own death, I hope, is at least a couple of decades away. I’m a running, swimming, skiing sixty. My siblings, who I grew up expecting to be around for most of my own life, died aged 37, 41, 54, 59, and 69. Our parents died aged 84 and 87 after long, active and healthy lives.
Is this getting a bit bizarre? Stay with me, walk in my shoes a bit. I stuck close to my parents through their later years and was actively involved in their care. I got the adult orphan sensations and worked them through. When my father died I lost access to his stories and I really felt it. His narratives on life were priceless, valued even more when they were no longer available. Four years later I felt the wistfulness of losing the go-to brains trust for all sorts of family things – memories, recipes, who’s who, what’s new, who’s married, divorced, having babies, and so on – that was my mother. I still had four, then three remaining siblings. The anchors were shaken by the loss of the first two to go, but held firm for two more decades, the family culture tethered to its continuity.
These past years have been cruel. I never expected to have to cope with loss on such a regular level, and certainly not to be the only one left of such a big clan. I struggle to find context for the emotions associated with the emptiness of this space. They struggle for words, which is unusual for me. I have unscheduled feelings of abandonment, which is bewildering. Grief in this setting is disenfranchised. It has no where to go. In losing this sibling, I can’t refer to my other siblings for reassurance. This is love with no address on the front of the envelope. Where are the mirrors for family memories that siblings provide, the corrections, exaggerations and laughter? My lineage feels untethered to its own generation although I’m confident my children and their cousins won’t see it that way, which gives me comfort. They are stepping up and I’m grateful. If the definition of culture is effectively ‘the way we do things around here’, the loss of siblings, all of them, has delivered a disconnect. This is a unique extension of the moniker adult orphan, and one I didn’t predict. I don’t like being the last.
Whilst I know there’s nothing I can do about this – it is what it is. Over time, this new definition of me will settle. My last sister’s funeral is in a few day’s time. I thought she was pure tungsten and would live a long, wiry life. Her death has rocked and shocked me.
I have a loving family of my own, self made and of which I’m proud. As a motherling (yep, it fits, it’s my new word!) I know grief and loss. I am learning and surviving. I have a good marriage too, a precious relationship that has faltered under duress but is strengthening and will continue to do so. Friends I have in ample measure too – I am blessed with some truly epic buddies. So the tent pegs in the abiding structure of my self-created blended family, and its values, have been given a good whack this past week, and are dug in deep, holding strong.
I am now the front line in a way I didn’t predict. My birth family’s influence on me will continue I expect, from beyond their graves. My parents, my siblings and my upbringing remain reference points for a myriad of attitudes, opinions and actions. I wish they were all here to ruffle my feathers in person. We were all born in the post WWII generation of children expected to grow taller and live longer than their parents. It’s sad but undeniable truth that we are statistically abnormal for our generation – healthy parents with a family of premature diers. What happened?
Thanks for letting me share this unique circumstance with you. Responses are always welcome.
I live in Southern climes, and its just past mid winter. It’s wet, cold and windy down South and daylight savings is a distant whimsy both far back and far ahead. Winter is the time I crave carbs, comfort food and lying on the couch. I try to resist all to excess and keep faith with the things I’ve worked out over the years are best for me. Because we all have to do that, don’t we, make up our own minds, know our own body, make our own food choices – the latest fad or research, what your mother taught you, your own pace of life, your unique genetic make-up – all mean you should be in charge. Not your naturopath or medico or mother. Just you.
Some things are good for everyone of course, but if I’ve learned anything in life, we are all different physically and emotionally and what works for one may well be anathema to the next bod. Take fasting. Take it far away from me thanks. My body registers starvation as a trigger for rocketing blood sugar when food is reintroduced, insulin overload and plummeting blood pressure. It suits others though and they thrive on Dr Michael Moseley’s 2/5 regime. If I want to shed weight I have to restrict calories surrepticiously so my control centre doesn’t notice.
I’ve developed my own version of a food alphabet. Overall it’s what’s good for me and is probably good for most of us.
A is for APPLE. What can go wrong? ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ is part of legend. I love apples best in autumn when they’re straight off the tree and crack with almost an echo when I bite into them and the juice runs down my chin.
B is for BONE BROTH. I’m reading we should be getting back to basics with the pure things our food can offer. My mother cooked for her six children on a black monster of a combustion stove that never went out 24/7/365. A pot of stock-soup was a permanent fixture and fresh bones were tipped in weekly as her ‘starter’. We all grew tall. I remember it with such affection. More bone broth for me.
C is for CABBAGE AND CAULIFLOWER. The same dear mother could cook these two gems until they went dull navy blue. I recovered though and brassicas of all types form a central pillar in my diet, raw, stir fried. hot or cold.
D is for Dieting. I’ve done them all over the decades and they all work – for a while. The only mantra I’ve adopted in the last forty years that’s still working is ‘FOOD CAN’T MAKE YOU FAT ON SATURDAYS’. I learned that in about 1980 and I’m still in good shape. If I want something indulgent during the week, I tell myself ‘you can have it on Saturday’. By Saturday I usually want something else. Potato crisps and chocolate are Saturday foods.
E is for Everything … that’s good for me. I love variety. My daily target is eight vegetables minimum, half of them raw. I achieve that about five days a week. This goes in tandem with shopping at fresh food markets – on Satudays so I can pick up a Saturday indulgence too – chocolate or a sticky slice. E is for exercise too. Vital. Essential. No getting out of it.
F is for Fruit...yeah, yeah, yeah. I don’t know about you but I’m not a great fruit fan. I drink a breakfast smoothie about five days a week, and use it to hide antioxidant fruits – blueberries, pineapple, strawberries. And my apple a day. I like white peaches and nectarines in season. One or two bananas a year. That’s enough. All hail to you if you’re a fruit eater. I get bored with it very easily. Give me savoury food anytime.
G is for Goats Cheese. Oh pleeze! Get that stink out of the back of my throat! I’ve been advised to get off dairy and have been trying goats cheese. I’ve found one brand that’s sort of acceptable. My calcium is coming from leafy greens.
H is for hot food. ie chili. I love growing the little fireball red rockets, but unless its just a tiny bit and fresh off the bush I am happy to avoid chili. Gratuitous heat in my mouth means I can’t taste anything else for half an hour. Why do that to yourself? My husband though, is the opposite. That’s life.
I is for Innovation. Our lives are indulged now with constant new and interesting enticements in food. Multi culturalism has given us the opportunity to share cuisines, mix them and come up with new and interesting food experiences. I still like trying new things on my plate. I still like some of the traditional things I grew up with too, although lambs fry and tripe have disappeared into the mists of memories of my childhood where they will stay.
J is for Jam. Not my thing, although I like making preserves from seasonal fruit for friends who slather their toast. Too much sugar for me. The same goes for juice, unless its full of green stuff.
K is for Kale. A fairly recent discovery as I hunted for calcium rich vegetables when dairy went. It’s good stuff, raw or cooked and goes with almost anything from juice to salad to stews. Makes great chips too.
L is for Leeks. A great go-to alternative to onions, sweeter, and can be eaten raw or cooked. I put leeks into frittata and a layer under roasted meats. Great starter for a sauce.
M is for More. Volume is my enemy. I have to discipline myself from having seconds when something tastes good. I always want more!
N is for Nothing. If you want to eat properly, never let there be nothing in your cupboard or fridge. Keep healthy things only. Have no junk there. No biscuits, cake, chocolate lurking to talk to you from behind the closed door.
O is for Okra. I don’t get okra. I know it packs a good punch of calcium and iron, but the slimy texture when its cooked has knocked it off my lists. I tried. O is for opportunity too. There’s always an alternative. I live in an economy of food privilege and choice for which I am grateful. I try new things all the time.
P is for Parsley – and all the other marvelous fresh herbs I use in my salads and cooked dishes. Coriander, basil, thyme and mint are regulars. You tried chopped mint on scrambled eggs yet? Yum.
Q is for quinces. Stewed with lemons and a bit of maple syrup and star anise, I can make an exception to the fruit exemption, once or twice in late autumn. They’re better if they come off my girlfriend Marg’s tree.
R is for Reward. Hence my Saturday rule. It works.
S is for something in your handbag. I eat a small amount every couple of hours. There’s usually an apple in there. Sometimes a little bag of cashews or brazil nuts instead.
T is for tea. Herbal tea, and a bit of caffeine too. Green tea makes me nauseous. My current favourite morning tea is Earl Grey Russian Caravan. Great flavour. Herbals are for afternoon and evening – camomile before bed, pepermint or rooibus earlier.
U is for – I have no frickin idea. Nothing in my cupboard or on my shopping list. I’d welcome suggestions.
V is for vegetables. As I mentioned I try for eight a day, and feel very smug when the tally goes over that, often up to twelve. I’m a celiac. I need a happy tummy. Vegetables do it.
W is for world food. I love trying and adopting cuisines represented by our ethnic diversity. I learned this from my mother. She started out a meat-and-three-veg cook but became an early adopter of new ingredients and methods as she welcomed newcomers into our little country town through a group called The Good Neighbour Council.
X is for xanthum. I have nothing to do with it. I don’t bake gluten free bread. I know where the good bakeries are though. I know it sticks stuff together when there’s no gluten to do so.
Y is for yummy. That’s what food is supposed to be. A dear friend has just spent a week on refugee rations, to raise money and gain understanding. It was humbling to observe.
Z is for – who knows what in the food world.
I’ve had fun with this. We’ve been looking at some heavy stuff in this blog in recent times. Good news is that matters relating to Cardinal Pell will be considered in a court of law. Nothing else to be said is there? Let the democratic forum we have committed to for justice examine the evidence and come to a finding.
Life continues to confront with a pot pourri of unexpecteds. In recent weeks two profound moments have captured my attention. The first has been the sudden and unexpected death of Anthony Foster. I didn’t know him personally but wish I had. If I could, I would thank him for his selfless dedication to truth and accountability and his commitment to the recovery of victims of sexual abuse.
This piece is dedicated to Anthony, to his wife Chrissie and to two of his daughters, Katherine and Emma.
The other remarkable moment was just over a week ago when a State Memorial Service for Anthony Foster took place in Melbourne. Our state government did something wholesome and dignified in offering this gesture to Anthony’s wife Chrissie and their family. It has bolstered my faith in government’s ability to behave with graciousness and humanity. Amongst the oft times selfish power mongering and brouhaha of politics, this gesture helped the healing pathway. It gave those who have deep admiration and respect for this family’s courage through the roughest of cruelty, an opportunity to acknowledge and be thankful that there are humble folk like this who will uphold their values no matter what. It also gestured to victims and survivors of abuse, that they are heard.
The Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews said the following of Anthony Foster: “Anthony campaigned tirelessly for justice from the Catholic Church for the evil done to his daughters and his family. That he was able to take the incredible hurt, pain, and anger caused by this and become an advocate for all child sexual abuse victims is a mark of just how remarkable Anthony was. By speaking out against child sexual abuse, he helped other victims find their voice and gave them strength. Anthony will never be forgotten and the fight for justice goes on.”
Anthony Foster and his wife Chrissie have been tireless in their campaigning in support of the 2012-2013 Victorian Parliamentary Enquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and other Organisations, and the 2013-2017 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia.
The Fosters’ story is heartbreaking. A loving couple with four children, two of the Fosters’ daughters were repeatedly raped by a Catholic priest at their primary school. Abuse ruins and destroys lives. This family was delivered of the worst outcomes of suffering and destruction of innocent lives. The commitment of the Fosters to their family values and their faith has been an inspiration and a reminder of the fortitude and determination protectors of their children can access in their hearts, so that the truth can be known and action taken.
Anthony and Chrissie took up their campaign in the nineties, to hold the Catholic Church to account and the perpetrator of the crimes against their daughters brought to justice. They spoke out, declined anonymity, and refused to be bought off by the Catholic Church in return for their silence. They campaigned for broader uptake of a process of discovery of the facts around institutional abuse, and they attended hundreds of days of hearings of the Royal Commission. Over the years they have offered support and have reached out to hundreds of survivors.
The Fosters travelled to Rome in 2016 to witness Cardinal Pell give evidence to the Royal Commission. Holding school photos of his daughters Katherine and Emma, Anthony spoke with international media in Rome.
“These are my girls,” he told reporters. “A Catholic priest was raping them when this photo was taken. This was my perfect family. We created that. The Catholic Church destroyed it.”
Anthony, aged sixty-four, suffered a major stroke after a fall. Sixty-four is too young to die. I hope he joins his daughters in loving harmony wherever he journeys in his new reality. In pain and tragedy, this man has taught us all a lesson in abiding loyalty and determination against what was a powerful, indifferent giant.
Virtual hugs are free, and precious. Have one from me.
I’ve had a cold so the stretch since my last blog has been longer than I intended. On the couch for a week, now back and strong. Damned 21st century viruses!
I’ve written before and no doubt I’ll write again, on aspects of our responsibility to take action against child abuse. There’s particular reason in Australia just now, as our insititutions and communities accept the realities and face the ramifications, consequences and take up the opportunities that have been delivered by the continuation of the exposures of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It was established in 2013. The final report is due in December this year.
The Royal Commission has examined allegations that sexual abuse of children occurred in more than 4000 institutions across Australia. There have been 6500 private sessions with people who came forward about their abuse, with 2000 more remaining to be heard. By December, the Royal Commission will have sat for 440 days of public hearings, and will have heard evidence from more than 1200 witnesses. By December, it will have examined more than 1.2 million subpoenaed documents.
We now know a sickening amount. Since an Interim Report in mid 2014, and in 2015 a further report making recommendations on Redress and Civil Litigation, there have been fewer places to hide for those who have been abusers themselves, or who have taken part in the cover up, enablers by their silence and protection. The often systematic, arrogant facedowns seen in testimony before the commissioners have been angering to witness. The official record has registered selective amnesia, selective deafness, selective blindess to realities under church leader’s noses, on their watches, in their bailiwicks. The law has caught up.
Victims take a long time to process what has happened to them, to break through the culture of silence and shame around child abuse, and develop the courage to speak out. The average length of time for disclosure can be up to three decades and is often beyond twenty years. We have the Royal Commission to thank for the cancellation of what had been a three year limit of registration of a claim in most cases in most states of Australia. The illumination will continue as more victims come forward.
I know that time and patience are essential to creating pathways to healing. I was abused within my family home at the age of ten. I buried the experience deep in my subconscious, registering only shame, guilt and unspoken insistence on silence. Unknown to me for decades, he abused my older sister over years. He only got me because she swapped beds with me in a game I thought was fun but she, poor desperate thing, created to avoid what for her had become a regular, tortuous, life-destroying inevitable. It took me thirty years to learn, observe, reflect, live beyond my family’s cone of knowing silence, seek help, unlock secrets and finally, to name the behaviour. He died before I put the jigsaw together. If he was still alive, I would bring him to justice in a blink. The damage to my family was and remains, beyond acceptable and may never be healed.
Beware perpetrators: you are never forgotten. Time does not make your acts right or acceptable.
I fear that once the Royal Commission has completed its work, our communities will drift backwards. Once this generation has taken up the challenge to force our representative institutions to actually represent us and not serve their own dark purposes, will we regress? Maybe history won’t repeat itself (as it does relentlessly, without intervention) if we listen and keep listening. That’s why I continue to speak out when I can. One tiny voice, added to other voices. We must know, and continue to know, to face our pain and work together in unison against abuse.
The heart breaking personal summaries brought before the commissioners, of broken lives, horrific pain and suffering from victims, many of whom have waited so long, pains me almost beyond tolerating knowing any more. But I can’t turn away. None of us should, tempting as that can be. It’s almost too much to stomach.
This is our guilt. These are crimes committed in our lifetimes, in our churches, in our towns, to our friends, relatives, school mates and acquaintances. And the perpetrators, these are our people too. Did we turn away? Did we fail to question? There’s a reasonable stream of information that indicates that we let bullies control and overwhelm us. That people who reported crimes were ignored, left powerless or their claims dismissed. There is evidence too that children who sought help from their parents were disbelieved, punished even, for their ‘dirty thoughts’. So trusting, so whitewashed with spiritual subservience, we now know there was another layer of victims – adults who were so bluffed they could not envisage a truth other than that spilt from the pulpit.
These are sobering, harsh realisations now the truth is out. We reinforced institutions so smug, so powerful, so teflon coated in their self righteousness, and so embroiled in their own criminality whether by direct participation or application of the blind eye by their leaders and colleagues, they brushed accusers aside and shamed those who spoke out. Trust has not been abused so profoundly and systematically in any other way in our time.
The Royal Commission has listened and acknowledged, and has offered trust where there was none. We can trust the work of the commissioners. What happens after that is up to us. Trust hangs by such a delicate fibre, a thread that floats lighter than tinsel between leaders and followers. Trust sways in the breeze of dishonesty, and vaporises when undermined by criminality. Sacred trust even more so. Many who have trusted their churches, can never do so again.
Clever, brave Melbourne journalist Anne Manne (my some-time writing professor and I love her) has written two outstanding and informative articles in recent times. I commend her writing on this subject to you. One is ‘Rape Among The Lamingtons’ a Monthly Essay, detailing abuse in the Anglican Church in Newcastle. The other is ‘Catholic Clergy and Child Sex Abuse’ published by Human Rights In Australia. I’ve put links below. Be warned. Anne’s thorough work will break your heart. It is graphic in its honesty. Her integrity as a researcher is second to none. Read, and think. And care. And be grateful it wasn’t you. Or thankful someone is doing something about it, if it was you. And if it was you, feel my arms around you in compassion and love.
Enough. I wish you home, hearth and happiness. And a virtual hug of gi-normous proportions, to warm your heart and make you smile.
More than two years in the concocting so far, my manuscript created from my 700+ kilometer walk along the Camino Frances from Pamplona to Santiago is taking final shape – draft number gezillion is well underway. Not long now, maybe a couple or three months.
Want to take a peek? Here is an opening vignette…
Just Off The ‘Plane. (an except from ‘Nine Sachets’ by Jen Hutchison)
In the softness of autumn dusk I walked Pamplona’s historic cobbled square that balmy first evening. I’d flown 20 hours, straight from Australia to Spain and there I was, almost giddy with fatigue but wide eyed in the immense open space of the Plaza del Castillo of the old city. This atmospheric, robust university town has hosted pilgrims for close to two thousand years. Tonight, a Sunday in October, it was tinkling with the chatter of families taking the air before dinner.
My eyes were drawn to mothers and sons. There were plenty of them around me, strolling with arms linked or seated on benches, eyes and voices intertwined in catching up. There were senoras of all ages and sons of every height. Like a Dickensian urchin, nose to the window of a confectioners, my eyes searched out maternal energy – a hand smoothing a cheek or patting a shoulder, a face crinkled in understanding, a heart on a sleeve, a chuckle or a special smile. My ears tuned into tones of love and notes of laughter.
As I strolled and watched, I was reminded of a flaneur, switching my senses hither and thither to draw in the subtleties, the special mothering energy in the air. My endless ache wrenched my heart. My ache. I had know loss before – sisters and friends, parents even – but this pain, this special, deep, gnawing reminder of love with no home, was the legacy of bereavement only the mother of a lost child can ever know. This much I had learned these past fifteen months. And so I was about to take my first steps on a pilgrimage.
I knew I was stuck in the agony and confusion of redefinition of myself. Jen-as-mother-of-Raif had been forcibly redefined. As the months since his death had unfolded I struggled to know how to relate to myself, to my future, how to be. I hadn’t wanted to die but many bleak mornings I forced my eyes to open to realities I wanted to wish away. I would gladly swap places with my son. The wretchedness of loss is untenable, the cancelation of expectations, the endlessness of absence of my first born stretching ahead to the end of my own life. At times the pain was overwhelming and I took to my bed. This is not how life is supposed to be. Without notice, with no warning of his departure, my natural anticipation of my son’s future had evaporated. He was thirty-one.
I wandered onwards across the wide cobbled square in sad, slow steps. The stone pathways were aisled with shaded benches where family clusters chattered on. I murmured under my breath, as I would continue to do daily on this Camino. I no longer cared if people thought I was a crazy lady talking to myself. I’m Raif’s mother. I was his mother for thirty-one years, almost thirty-two. Am I still Raif’s mother now he’s gone? Am I the past tense mother of Raif, or the present tense mother of Raif?
My eyes misted and my hand went to the bum bag clipped around my waist. As though there was a heartbeat nestled within, I patted the flat cardboard sleeve containing nine slim sachets of his ashes. There had been no significance in the number nine. It had just been how many little plastic sleeves had fitted into the box. The point was, I had wanted to have part of him with me, almost as if I could summons the rest of him from the precious particles. It was my plan to scatter or deposit the contents of these precious packets along my way, in places I chose as significant, without knowing what or where they might be. Despite my fear of being separated from this precious cargo, I hadn’t been questioned about them at all en route from Melbourne through Dubai and Madrid. No x-ray operator or security officer asked for a closer look. Human ashes must be transparent.
My bottom lip trembled and tears slithered. My feet had stopped of their own accord. A whoosh of desolation arrived. I stooped, letting the familiar weight settle. I comforted myself with thoughts of a shower and crisp white sheets back at the hotel. I promised myself a fresh tomorrow. Day one of your walk awaits, Jen. Focus on next steps. I sucked air into the bottom of my lungs and lifted my head to banish my uninvited tears. The emotional fog drifted back to its place in my background thoughts.
As I left the square I recited my version of the Serenity Prayer: Give me the strength, Universe, to change the things I can, to respect the things I can’t, and the intelligence and wisdom to know the difference. No one in the plaza had taken the slightest notice of me, crying, walking, stopping and now, chanting gently but aloud. I had never been to Spain before. I liked it already.
I sometimes shorten this prayer to give me the smarts to get smart and stay smart, Universe but that night I said the whole thing.
I decided I would do a short recce of tomorrow morning’s path beyond the plaza and then find something to eat before heading back to needed sleep. Practical distractions always help.
So that’s it for now – it goes onwards for a further sixty thousand words.
I have to get back into the manuscript. Again, welcome to the many, many new subscribers. I’m so happy to have you on this journey.
I am a certain age. I’ve travelled and lived in powerful, self fulfilling countries. I also spent more than a decade in arguably the world’s most complex war torn region, the Middle East. I know fear, pain and loss. I have lived in and been evacuated out of civil strife of the most brutal kind, grateful for my Australian homeland, welcomed home into safety, and guilty for my friends left behind to cope the best they could in their collapsed communities where neighbour turned on neighbour. In the darkest, most destructive moments of human hatred and mal intent I’ve shared tea with humble, powerless women in bombed out villages who had not much left but still managed a smile and shared their meagre remaining supplies and extended warm fellowship. Their children wanted only to sleep at night and go back to school. The women wanted to go home. They didn’t follow politics nor subscribe to extremist views. Neither did I, and I still don’t.
Communities the world over want the same thing – safety for themselves, respect offered and received, reasonable healthcare for themselves, their aged and their young, education, and food on the table. Adults want to come home to harmony, leave home with a smile and return with the satisfaction of a day’s work done for adequate return.
Why is that so difficult to achieve and maintain?
If we continue to let ideologies and the rituals of faith divide us, the extremism of selfishness and prejudice to define us, if we continue to exclude and distain, if we allow the differences between us, our languages, behaviours and cultural proclivities dictate our boundaries and sour our open mindedness and tolerance, the pathway to destruction ticks away like a bomb with a lit fuse. The common denominators are global – loss of opportunity, loss of community, education and self direction, reversal of cooperation, withdrawal of support.
Whoa! Are we working upwards on Mazlov’s scale towards self actualisation or downwards?
Do you wonder how we got to this point? Many citizens whose communities have descended into the hell of civil war, partition, death and hatred, comment that they thought it was impossible in their community, didn’t see it coming, felt helpess in the face of political ranting by slavering, so-called patriotic bullies. In the past sixty years so many countries on our small planet have disintegrated. And for what? How many of them are better off for the decades of strife?
The stories and memoirs of the displaced and disenfranchised ring with tales and imagery of peaceful lives torn apart.
I’m simplifying, I know. We live in complex times and our challenges are worsening as water, fuel, and peace diminish. What will peace look like? It will certainly depend on more tolerance than I’m noticing, even from some quarters in my own country. Bullies and strident voices are instantaneous and often untraceable in our digital world. But their influence sticks and unsettles. We’re not better at facing bullues down than we ever were.
When I look back at my corporate and community careers my rare regrets relate to situations where I turned away from a bully (and I faced a few too). Turning away empowers to aggressor, weakens the victim. Always. Facing takes toughness and courage that we have to dig deep for. It takes longer, too. Lies are often fast and furious. The truth takes longer and requires painstaking attention to detail.
Politics everywhere has bullies, probably too many. It’s the nature of power. It corrupts, always has. Public life also has profoundly committed community leaders. On the world stage and at home in our own communities we know who they are, these hawks and doves, the street fighters and the statesmen and women.
Our role, at community level upwards, surely, is to seek and reinforce fairness, equity, balance, tolerance, opportunity, inclusion and patience. Politicans, despots, dictators and criminals come and go. The abiding innate human instinct to embrace and include is equally powerful but often is unheard, pushed aside and ignored.
So what can we all do about this apart from bleat? Lots. Often and constantly, no matter how many backwardssteps a forward route takes, stick with the positive. Treasure peace and harmony and exercise your commitment to their continuation. Start small – your neighbour, the stranger in the street, a coffee and a biscuit with someone new, someone different, a visitor to your shores. Join in, speak out, LISTEN, and influence those who speak in extremes.
We’ve all got a job to do in this. Don’t watch and wonder. Take part. Keep the balance.
And Hi again, or just Hi, for the first time. There’s another few hundred of you on the subscriber list these past weeks. I don’t know what’s triggering the subscriptions but I’m grateful and humbled. You’re precious and I’ll try to be worthy of you. Welcome.
I’ve been writing some heavy stuff. This reflection has a lighter tone. I hope you find a thought to take away with you.
Here it is…
It’s barely daylight, just a smudge of grey in the murky yellow reflected from the sodium lights above the train station. Charles de Gaulle airport has spat me out without ceremony or incident and I’m here, again, in Paris, taking the train to the city. A baby boomer, returning after thirty years, eager for more of the transformation Paris planted into that earlier version of me.
The pale autumn morning arrives and flits in squares past the train window, cold seeping into the carriage and around my feet. I’m joined by commuters, grim and silent and by the time we reach Gare du Nord the carriage is crammed.
I keep an eye on my suitcase, watchful for the station names while remembering that first arrival, thirty years ago. I was twenty three back then, fresh out of Melbourne, eyes wide open but without a clue. But who knows that, at twenty three? On a hot August night after more than twenty-four hours flying plus transit time in Singapore and Bahrain I’d been wired with exhaustion, cigarettes, coffee and anticipation. Back then, with the money Dad had given me at the airport in an envelope with a rare and treasured note of love, I took a taxi to my pre-booked smoky, smelly hotel in the Place de la Republique.
The puzzling highlight of that first arrival in Paris had been my attempt to buy cigarettes from the stand in the square. I smoked back then – didn’t we all? Kent was my choice. With my rudimentary schoolgirl French I’d convinced myself the language was a breeze. I was intrigued at the tobacco stand man’s huge belly percolating like the coffee pot in Eartha Kitt’s song – with laughter at my pronunciation of ‘Kent’. I repeated, unsmiling “Aves vous des Kent?” I drawled the vowel to sound like ‘Kon’, thinking I was making it French. His mirth doubled him over this time, tears down his face, fat eyes squeezed to a slit. My face was expressionless. I got my cigarettes by pointing to them and it was days if not weeks before I learned I had renamed the cigarettes with the local slang for the female pudenda. Thirty years on, I laugh. Back then my hands covered my face each time I thought about it.
Thirty years in the life of Paris is a mere flick of colour in a kaleidoscope of historical senses and circumstances, memorials and vignettes of French pomp and presence which make up this colourful city on the Seine. For me, it’s thirty years – travels, marriages, kids, love, loss, maturity and a bit of wisdom. I came here thirty years ago an ingénue with wanderlust and more confidence than knowledge, the guilelessness of the inexperienced and a protective aura around me the Universe sometimes awards the ignorant.
This arrival, my French is better although I hear my own accent during my first taxi ride, a harsh Australian twang that will take days to soften. In the intervening years I’ve spent time on my languages and my French is passable, even if much of my practice in Australia has been soliloquy in the shower. I notice this time in Paris how many more French are speaking English compared to thirty years ago. I acknowledge this change in the acclimatisation of the French to sharing their city with a constant sub text of other cultures, some visitors, many newly acquiring France as their adopted home. This time, I can choose whether to speak French or English and often find myself having two way conversations in two languages – I speak French, my counterpart speaks English, each of us making the choice. It’s refreshing.
Parisian ritual morning coffee is the same – then and now I relish it at a corner Brasserie, fresh croissants dipped in my ‘cafe au lait’, an essential habit at the start another Parisian day. The French can saturate butter in flour like nowhere else on earth. Watching the life of the street while I sip and nibble is as Paris as always. I share a characteristic of le flanneur, the wanderer, as I observe and soak up the city’s daily rhythm. The monuments are eternally wonderful, the street life still colourful, elegant and engaging.
I spend as much time in Paris now as thirty years ago, walking, just walking, and watching. I also spend as much time as then not moving but still watching. In the morning it’s with my coffee and in the long, cooling evenings as slow dusk softens the day, it’s at a streetside bar table, savouring a glass of Sancerre and nibbling on olives.
Another of my thirty year old memories floods back as I tuck into a lunchtime omelette and salad, the eggs shirred through with aromatic mint ‘a la Corse’. I made myself wait until lunchtime but my jetlagged system has been hungry for a meal since early in the Parisian morning, matching dinner time at home. On my first visit to Paris too, I remembered craving a morning meal and being given a dressing down by a very French waiter, for the amusement of his local customers. “Eggs young lady?”, he had crowed to the morning air, repeating my tentative request. “You want eggs? Well, we ‘ave eggs alone on the plate, un or deux or trois if you want eggs with friends, eggs turned over, eggs with ham.” He flicked his white serviette over his shoulder as he hissed. ” You don’t ask for just eggs in Paris, you must first know your eggs…” This was delivered in rapid French, causing twittering and murmurs behind newspapers. His condesencion made me shrink, tears welling. A sympathetic local had helped me out but I’d lost my appetite and pushed the food around the plate, paid, and stumbled out. I’d left a tip, too afraid not to. Some of my dignity stayed behind in that cafe too and it took me some time before I got it back. The journey from innocent tourist to seasoned traveller had begun.
This time, Paris is warm and welcoming. Thirty years on, I have no issues getting what I want. I can describe how I want my eggs – two, poached, with ham. The food is delicious as always, the service relaxed and efficient and I can choose my language as smoothly as I select my food.
Thirty years ago Paris and I got to know each other really well. It had taken months and we stood on each other’s toes often as we learned the intimate moves, the visitor blindly following the lead of the resident in a dance known only to Parisians.
The essence of Paris is still there – slate tiled spires and worn balustrades of polished wood, music old and new in smoky bars at the top or the bottom of narrow,worn stairs, political discussion in loud, passionate voices demanding a better world, freer speech and rights for women, migrants, refugees, mothers and babies, families, the young and the old. I still love it and soak it up. Wine for a song, flower boxes dripping rain on my head, strolling the riverbank, lazing in the park under gigantic plane and oak trees, late suppers and a few hours sleep before starting it all over again.
Now, on this return visit, like long separated friends we hug and move fluidly through a gracious waltz together, re-experiencing the music, the food, the monuments.
Their city, my reflections, their timelessness, my memories old and new. I feel thirty years evaporate.
So Hi, to the couple of hundred fresh subscribers who have arrived in this past little while, and are perhaps reading journeystowords for the first or second time. Welcome to our growing band of thinkers and observers of life. You’ll see this is the unfanciest blog in your stable, but amongst the most honest and personal. And no revenue raising, at all. This blog carries my thoughts from the heart. Mindful, not ranting, researched not off the cuff, but all mine. Take it or leave it, but hopefully you’ll find interest and thoughtfullness that compliments your own.
You are welcome and appreciated. You are readers, and many of you are writers. My people. A special hug from me to you this fine morning.
So here we go… Our world seems to be flooded with dirty truths in this day of media scrum, intrusion and exposure – leaks, cover up of political privilege, private citizens off shore tax havens, who said what to whom, who tattled, when, why and how… I am more enlightened, but not always more impressed with the shallowness of us at times. Perhaps human nature has always been like this, but now we know more of it in the age of real time communication.
I have been particularly struck in recent times, by the ugly truths in my country being delivered by the ‘Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses To Child Abuse’. It’s now a mature process with sometimes daily exposure of sustained, horrific physical, mental and sexual crimes against children in the care of churches and charities, children who were powerless to speak out and helpless to protect themselves. Many of them have been irreperably damaged, their lives blighted and unfullfilled. The perpetrating institutions and individuals remain powerful and influential.
We, all of us owe these victims a profound debt. Some of them have bravely spoken out. I applaud them.
There is a sad truth about speaking out. I learned it the hard way. The one who speaks out is never forgiven. It has long kept abused children quiet and whistleblowers under cover. It keeps otherwise responsible adults from hearing or acting. It silences those who know. The path for the exposer is the loneliest.
The day, aged thirty-eight, I was told by one of my older sisters that my older brother was a serial sexual predator, I was so flummoxed and distracted by the reason she was telling me this, I focussed on the mess our middle sister had made of her life, and not the criminal. It was another decade before I retraced this mire and unravelled my brother’s, my parents and my sisters roles in our family dramas. I read research papers on abuse within families and over the years, have faced ugly truths in reworking my innocent and ignorant childhood. I am sadder and wiser. I’ve spoken out and paid the price. No regrets.
There are hundreds of levers and triggers within a family culture that make this behaviour possible and allow it continue. I had been its victim as much as anyone in our family.
By the time I knew the truth, my brother’s primary victim, the middle sister in our set of three, was dead. And the reason my big sister was telling me had nothing to do with my brother. He was dead too. Changes to the law meant that adopted children would be allowed to trace their birth mothers. My dead sister had put two babies up for adoption, two years apart, more than a decade prior to this revelation. My parents knew nothing of these children and my older sister was convinced the young girls would arrive on their doorstep any minute. One did, joyfully, as it turned out, but twenty years later.
Sound messy? Well it was, and it got messier. I had been kept in the dark about what was going on, protected in the name of good manners and buried shame. You wouldn’t submit this plot as a movie script. Too fanciful and unbelievable. But truth is stranger than fiction. And truth takes a particular kind of courage, hard to find and like precious metal, needs care and safe storage.
We are agonising in our modern, self actualised, ethical and morally accountable western communities over the damage dome to trusting children by our churches and charities charged with the care and protection of little ones. Long awaited punishment for some. Newly found voices for some silenced for minutes, months or decades. Food for thought for the rest of us. And the enormous task or repair.
The truth has never stopped me and it shouldn’t stop you. It’s taken decades but forgiveness is not a gift I wait for. I look in my mirror with clear eyes and a conscience at peace. The truth is the truth. Those who speak are assisting others who may not feel empowered to do so. Experience of abuse cannot be erased. It can, though, be acknowleded and respected. Truth is currency. You trust the bank notes you handle don’t you? They’re ‘true’. So it this story.
We do each other no service when we avoid difficult truths rather than face the pain and the consequences. Our churches and charities have not served us. The truthful discussions have been pushed away, buried, backs patted in sly reassurance, the injured paid off, perpetrators relocated to continue their crimes in unsuspecting and trusting communities. Parents have doubted their own children.
I’d like to think we are much better today at listening to truth than in my tight, silent household in the seventies. I like to focus on the positive, and with the exposure we are now facing, the future should be better for generations ahead. I hang onto that.
This is a huge topic and I could write more. But enough.
Be mindful. Listen and think. Follow your truth.
And remember, virtual hugs are free. Have one from me.
WE’RE A GREAT NATION, this downunder place. We punch above our weight in many fields. We’re respected and competitive players in world markets and we live in some of the most liveable cities on the planet or around some of the most beautiful countryside settings, enjoying amongst the best living standards there are. Our babies and mothers survive, our elderly are cared for, and our children have access to the best of health and education. We’re not perfect. I’m not confident we’re doing well enough with climate challenges, or in tackling the causes of domestic violence, or in empowering meaningful solutions for indigenous and disaffected youth. I don’t think we’re complacement about our challenges though. We’re willing to work towards opportunity. We are new folk here in this still young nation, joining with those who came earlier and those who were in this land before, learning new ways, thinking new things, finding new solutions. We’re a nation of innovators and achievers and up to now, the outcome for most of us has been positive. We have created a safe home, lawful, inclusive, a sanctuary that’s fair and responsible, where the rule of law and access to justice, education, medical care, and community is available to everyone. In my lifetime we’ve been tolerant and welcoming, sympathetic and warm.
Am I wrong? The world is an interesting, watchful place just now. Thinkers of all political persuasions are either scratching their heads and wondering what has come undone in the world’s strongest democracies, and how, or are fueling the trend – building walls, digging trenches not bridges, strutting and posturing, spreading intolerance, digging up old arguments. Many along the spectrum of opinion, neither far left nor far right, just somewhere in between like most of us, are just plain nervous and unsure. We see storm clouds ahead. We hear hate and fear, jealousy and greed creeping into official and informal speech. It stings and bruises and causes rupture in the sensitive tissue that is the fabric of a nation, the weft and wove that holds fragile systems of government together.
Democracy is fragile. Always has been, always will be, as much as we are inclined to want to take it for granted. It depends for its existence on the flexibility and tolerance of its participants, their willingness to compromise, to seek ways to agree or accept their differences without resorting to conflict. Without these simple but essential ingredients, democracy fails. Intolerance is a cancer that spreads and poisons minds. Flexibility is a gift that gives and gives, time and time again.
I’m quite convinced that one of the fiercest and most bankable emotional assets a nation can have is its flexibility. From it flows patience and tolerance, essential ingredients in solution-finding that embrace compromise and generate respect for differences in equal measure to the accommodation of variety. This is a blog, not a treatise. Examples and case studies could fill pages. But I’m an 800 word max blogger so I’ll spare you. I will say though, that we are not seeing flexible, empathetically mature leadership coming out of the USA just now. I worry its infectious. Not here thanks.
We can, and we do, mostly, live mindfully in Australia. Let’s keep doing that. There is no place for prejudice and intolerance, hate and meanness, in our nation. We are a multicultural population. We are made up of folk from the four corners of the earth. We all love our children, we all want a peaceful life, want to live in safety and do meaningful work to prosper, independent of handouts. Most of us do, anyway. It’s a democracy, you know. There’s never 100% of anything. Tolerance and flexibility within meaningful boundaries that deliver consequences to those who choose to undermine our systems, are part of the recipe for sustainable democracy.
My plea to you? Make Australia Day mean something in your household, your street, your workplace. Talk about values. Make an effort to walk the talk of democratic inclusion. It will mean something different for each of us. That’s a good thing. That’s democratic free will at work, right there. So long as its positive, the little positives build and build and gain mass and traction.
It was yesterday, the Big Oz Day. I spent the day thinking about this stuff. I hope you had a great day with fellowship, fun, food and friends – and you don’t have a headache today from overindulgence. There’s another issue we continue to address in our healthy democratic nation. Some of us drink too much. I’m into spritzers, don’t look at me! And, if you’re not Australian (because many who read this blog aren’t, and I love that you stick with me) thanks for letting me stand up for fairness and balance.
Virtual hugs are free and readily available. Have one on me.
Oh dear, it’s already the 19th January and although I’m a bit closer to settling into the coming year than I was on the 1st, I’m not far along. My mind clouds over when I try to gel my 2017 aspirations into seminal statements.
You see, I think 2016 was bitch. Wasn’t it for you? Good to hear, if so. Some lovely things happened in 2016 but overall I found it a grind. It taxed me emotionally, professionally and personally in tedious and exhausting ways. I stood on the deck at midight on December 31st, raised my glass of bubbles, and under my breath toll 2016 to f-off. ‘Go wherever shitty years go, and don’t come back around for a very long, long time, beyond my life span, ok?’
Numerologists believe in number sets, and 2016 was a 9. That’s their highest in a rotation of 1 through 9. So, in a 9 year (2+0+1+6=9), things finish off, matters are brought to account, shit happens if its been brewing. Look at the world stage. Plenty of that has been happening. Our global village is under seige in so many concurrent directions, our politicians, philosophers and sociologists are scratching their heads. Me too. Communities, populations, whole countries are polarising into extreme and divided opinion groups. On a micro and macro level we look and sound like we’re becoming less tolerant, more exclusive, more insensitive. Is that what globalisation meant or are these retractions and restrictions unintentional outcomes?
The good news, (I guess), is that for a numerologist, 2017 is a 1 year, a beginning, a fresh start. Thanks for that. I’ll be watching to see if that’s how it unfolds. If so, I’ll give serious thought to adopting counting numbers as a personal spiritual path. I already count swim strokes in the pool, much as I irritate myself by doing so, and I count lines on the footpath, always have, and FitBit with its daily step counter was made just for people like me, the talliers of the world. So why not numerology for 2018 if 2017 delivers? I’ll let you know how it goes, starting with Wikipedia, to find out what its all about. Instant gratification of curiosity via the www, is that another issue in this confronting and disturbing global landscape of ours?
So, back to 2017. Wifm? (what’s-in-it-for-me?) Peace and harmony, please Universe. For the whole world. And opening of more hearts and minds to the realities of climate change and to the stupidity and indignity of intolerance and greed. Not much to ask, surely.
And in my little world? Of all the affirmations and aphorisms that flood the waves at year’s end, I read only one in the closing days of 2016 that has stuck. It said, and I paraphrase; – have three goals as you age.
1. Something you enjoy doing that makes you a bit of money. 2. Something you enjoy that makes you healthy. 3. Something that is creative and satisfies your soul. I’m taking them all – and I’ve added another one. It’s 4. Giving. Give time and supporting energy to your friends and important initiatives you care about.
I’m going to dig out Desiderata. In fact, I’ll do it right now and add it below. It’s been a long time since I read it but I remember it as a recipe the world might benefit from a dusting off. Oh, yes, and I’ll dig out Dr Seuss’s ‘You Have Brains in Your Head and Feet in Your Shoes’. That was great recipe for a good life, as well as a good year. I’m pinning that one on the wall.
So, have a Desiderata and Doctor Seuss year y’all.
Have a hug from me on your 2017 journey. Virtual hugs are free, no strings.
DESIDERATA, by Max Ehrmann, 1927.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble,
it’s a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
You know that slight feeling of desolation you can get when you finish a great read, one you’ve looked forward to every day? I remember well, that regret saturating me when the last chapter of Philip Pullman’s enthralling trilogy ‘Darkest Materials’ was behind me. How I loved the alternative reality of Lyra and Will, how I anticipated their next adventure, challenge, opportunity, twist and turn on their epic journey through reality that looked and felt famliar but was so very different.
Well, arriving home from a month of walking on the Camino Portuguese, striding pretty much the length of that interesting stretch of the Iberian Peninsula has reminded me of that sensation of satisfaction of a great story, finished but lingering, tinged with loss that there isn’t more.
Home is great. It’s there, waiting, and that’s welcoming and reassuring. That’s partially what holidays are for no? – homecoming is wonderful. My familiars are there. It’s my comfort and my place to be. But the life of the wanderer, albeit with a final destination and a sort-of daily plan, is soooo appealing. I’ve been back a month and I still sense the rhythm of my feet in step with my heart beat, my thoughts spinning off into the ether of imagination, fancies and reflections. There is something about the steady plod of pace that releases my brain from its mundane shit and lets it move to insight and intuition that just isn’t as acute out on a daily walk at home. Many have written of the magic flight of the walking mind. Charles Dickens strode miles and miles in the dark as part of his daily creative process. So did many others – Thoreau, Keats, Wordsworth.
Perhaps its the adventure, the sense of separation from all you know, the deliberate release from familiar patterns and boundaries. The meditative release through repetitive stepping is the hook by which the mind seeks and finds release from the everyday and flies off on its own wings to new and uncharted worlds. Whatever it is, I get it.The freedom is addictive.
Some are surprised that I take these walks alone and without forward planning of my bed each night.
‘Oh, I could never do that,’ a friend commented over a homecoming coffee catchup. ‘What if I got to a town and there were no beds?’
This is a common fear; I heard similar comments from walkers hooked up in organised groups, walking point to point, keeping to their schedule, checking in with their guide. Like sheep, the shepherd never far out of sight.
I tried to help my coffee friend understand the personal power and freedom gained from release from our usual constraints. It’s quite deliberate on my part. I responded to her with a string of questions. ‘What if you get to a prettier town, earlier, or you get tired and don’t want to walk as far as your planned town, or you take a nap in the warm sun after your picnic lunch and it’s too late to walk on, or you meet some fascinating individual and want to stop earlier, later, in a different place, talk longer?’
Her pensive look signalled my point had landed.
‘And it feels ok?’ she quizzed. ‘You don’t feel afraid? Nothing goes wrong?’
That’s the second fear, right there – a female persepctive. Personal safety.
‘It feels fanstastic!’ I replied. ‘I never felt afraid. I always had a bed, and most of them were in places of charm and warmth. Choice really freed me up. I never went hungry and I never walked farther than I had the energy to achieve every day.’ I smiled. ‘There is real power in leaving your diary at home, reducing your worldly goods to eight kilos in a backback, adding water and a piece of fruit every morning, and heading out, just following the yellow arrows along ancient pathways. The universe takes care.’
And I miss it. It’s addictive, long distance walking, and not at all difficult to do. Yes, the first six or eight days feel like boot camp as the body wakens and toughens. And then you’re fit and strong and you feel terrific. Alive. The white noise of your life fades to silence. You are you. And you are at one with the outdoors, the air, the birds and the sky.
And yes, its for everyone. I came across young people, older couples, small and large groups of friends, office colleagues, and lots of solitary walkers of every size, shape and nationality you can imagine on this kaleidoscope earth. I saw families walking together too, once a three-generation English span of teenage grandchildren, middle aged parents and ageing but fit grand parents following the same formula, and having an absolute gas of a time. The grandparents arranged a daily mid afternoon pick-up for their ageing legs, and they were in charge of accommodation. The rest of the family, ten in the full group, walked alone or in pairs, in their own time and making their own pace to the texted destination, once Grandpa got it organised. The family ate together every evening, which was where I came across them swapping stories of the day’s adventures. And happy, so happy.
Are you brave enough for this? There is no place nor need for fear. I’m already plotting my next long pilgrimage from Le Puy to Saint Jean Pied de Port in France, just across the Pyranees from Pamplona. It’s part of the Camino Frances and I’m told that the local food and wines are so glorious along the pathways the challenge is to not put on weight, despite the daily walking workout that brings me home leaner and stronger each time.
I’m planning an annual long distance walk until I’m too old to be bothered. The horizon for that is way, way ahead.
So, I’m home. Thanks for following along with me on this Camino. I’d love to hear stories of your walks too. Just respond and I will too.
How does a writer find apt words for the tumbling sensations the heart registers? I wish I could weave words that would come somewhere close to giving life to yesterday afternoon’s arrival in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
I trudged up the noisy inner city hill after a final gentle morning through groves of oak and beech, the morning’s mist burned off to a warm autumn afternoon. Solitude and contemplation, the delicious day dreaming of the pilgrim gave way gradually to footpath, buildings and ‘oh damn’ – traffic lights. Then there it was, the ancient medieval centre was in front of me, one green light away, across the road. And the narrow streets were thronged with tourists, some of them dust free, washed off and exploring, others still, like me, flushed from the road, grimy, and with a slightly bewildered edge to their tiredness. Up the hill, threading through laneways I went, to the mighty central Cathedral. What a blockbuster it is, still with scaffolding curtaining the ongoing wash off and face lift, as it was three years ago when I last stood in the square staring up at the curlicues and gargolyed buttresses.
I cried. For a few minutes I wasn’t sure why. I’m not religious. I love the Camino for completely personal reasons, for a love of history, a love of the human story down through the ages, for my love of the outdoors and of walking, and of day dreaming. A Camino combines all of these elements in a challenge-to-self. ‘Can you do this Jen? Physically? Emotionally? Can you take a journey to yourself and stick with it? Can you look at your best and your worst moments and reexamine them? Can you learn? Can you reconnect with the earth, the pathways, the sun, the wind and the rain, and do so while you cancel out the white noise of your life, reduce it to its basics and essentials? Health. Calm. Peace. Food. Shelter. Can you set out each day not knowing where you will sleep, and accept that it doesn’t matter, that all will be well?
I cried, there in front of the cathedral because I can, I have done all these things, accepted this challenge – and reached the destination physically and emotionally. And I’ve met lovely people along the way, travelled with a trusted buddy, heard impressive life stories and have been humbled by the brick walls that appear in peoples’ lives and what they go through to climb them. I met two Marks, both thirty- seven, friends since their teen years, who travel together once a year – walks and tandem bike rides. Mark’s eyesight reduced to eight per cent in a two week period when he was nineteen and a chef. A viral disaster. The second Mark broke his body in a motorbike accident. They have got on with their lives. Funny blokes. They’ll come to mind when I think about grizzling. And there has been the delightful American couple, fit and striking out, chewing the path up, she struggling with a progressive mind destroyer, he thinking for two and aiding her every word loss or confused sentence and they, together, making every moment count, knowing they are numbered and time is running out.
Life is very short None of us know what is next for us. These experiences humble me and remind me to cherish and make worthy, every minute.
This Camino has taken twenty days walking, the last twelve without a day off. (Dunno how that happened. It wasn’t part of the plan, just worked out that way). Today my feet -every bone, sinew and nerve ending – ache. My clothes hang loose (that’s nice). My back and my legs are strong (that’s nice too). Walking 30,000+ steps each day using walking poles has tightened my arms into as close as I’ll ever get to ‘guns’. My head is clear, my heart is light and my feet hurt. Not a bad triumvirate.
So now I am relaxing in these charming lane ways for a few days before turning my compass home and my focus back into routine. I’ll try to hang onto this special feeling that long distance meditative walking gives me. I wish I could describe it better to you. Or bottle it.
Virtual hugs are free. Have a ‘Buen Camino’ from me.
It’s day 13 of what will be 23 days walking the Camino Portuguese. And the ‘Camino Effect’ (my terminology for it) has kicked in. Like a welcome guest arriving without fanfare, the Camino Effect has transformed via subtle change from acheing tired, burning feet, clicking hips, whole body begging to lie down at day’s end – to a fitness level I don’t know how else to get. I noticed the transformation yesterday, in the first moments of walking. It was already warm. The Portuguese are still shaking their heads about the continuation of summer long after it is supposed to be gone. The temperature has crept to or beyond 28-30 every day. Dry heat at least, but not the ideal 20-22 I had expected for an autumn walk. So daily distances have been shortened, and my expectations trimmed to fit the sweat soaked mess I have been by mid afternoon. I have walked 18-25 kilometers every day, with a day off every third or fourth.
So I was very grateful yesterday, when physically, it all came together. These past two weeks have felt at moments like boot camp complete with beetroot face, screaming muscles and self doubt spewing through my baked brain, wondering which version of me thought this was a good idea.
Yesterday, same weather, same girl, same body just knew that fitness has kicked in, along with the gentle and precious rhythm of the Camino, of wandering thoughts and review of life, love and self, have become the routine. The worst of the pain is behind me. I’m in a profoundly peaceful and contemplative place. The day’s 20 k’s disappeared under my feet. My worldly possessions are on my back, the weight forgotten except when I reach for the liter and a half of water added each morning, or the banana and apple tucked in daily along with almonds. The blooming lot weighs about 11 kilos.
My traveling companion, on her first Camino whilst I am seasoned on my second, is sharing similar benefits. We laugh. A lot. There have been no wtf moments. We are good pilgrim sisters.
I am struck by the contrasts between this Camino and my first, and grateful for them. Three years back, I walked in homage and grief for my first born Raif who died a year prior. I walked that Camino to save my own life and reflect on his 32 years with me, to find a pathway through profound loss, to understand what ‘gone’ meant, and to heal myself to a point where a future was possible. I will forever be grateful for the loneliness, tears and desolation of that pilgrimage, scattering some of his ashes in special places, writing my thoughts. This current pilgrimage has me thinking of Raif with peace in my heart. I am sorting though other aspects of my life this time, as we all do, and must. I pace along daily, and what is emerging makes me smile. But it’s my business and I won’t speak of it here.
I will though, endorse the effort pilgrimage takes, the discomfort that is faced, and the harmonious and sometimes joyous moments to be had as reward for lengthy daily walking meditation – and the peaceful and fun times along the way when you walk with a buddy. If you haven’t walked a Camino, perhaps it’s time to plan one
I’m struck again and again by the momentariness of things – sensations, sights, insights, reflections, emotions – as I walk this Camino. You’d think that walking all day every day would slow things down. I do believe that our power of observation and insight are improved when we slow the pace of our lives to a pace more in touch with our heartbeat. For me that’s about 4 kilometers an hour.
But no, slowing down physical pace actually opens up a speedway in my mind. And it’s like this for almost everyone along the Camino. Stuff slides in and out of my central attention, on and off my radar, seemingly at random, although I know it’s not, random that is. There is a design to these reflective pathways, a reasoning behind the cavalcade of passing thoughts. My conscious mind is watching my surroundings, walking poles tapping the rhythm of my feet, my backpack with all my worldly goods snug against my spine, largely forgotten. Meanwhile, my inner being tilts back and forth through my life, presenting me with a kaleidoscope of scenes both painful and joyful, what ifs, maybes and why nots from my childhood, my marriage, my children, their pasts and futures, my friendships, my current and past challenges and opportunities .
.. And all the while a here and now commentary continues from my surroundings. Look at that old man’s leathery time worn face, and there’s some of those flowers my mother had in her garden, what are they called again? Crumbs my memory is shot, oh, watch out for the car, another yellow arrow, good I’m on track, need a drink, hot isn’t it Jen, and look over there, eucalyptus growing amongst the holm oak, am I hungry?, yes a bit, have a drink of water, 20k’s behind me, another 5 to go before I call it a day, need to find a bed, hope there’s a good hostel, would love a shower, hydrangeas, that’s what they were, up the side of the house, all shady and blue, look at that old Roman Bridge, imagine the feet, the wagons, the horsemen and soldiers who’ve passed this way, now me, check the map, left or right at the t-junction, still going the, oh good another yellow arrow, crumbs it’s hot…
Get the picture? I find the trick-track of my walk, the peaceful co-existence of my inner and outer selves, the gentle chatter of self to self and self to the world, quite mesmerising. Peaceful. Satisfying. Combined with each day’s end satisfaction of the ache of a whole-of-body workout completed, my sleep on the Camino is of profound and refreshing quality rarely experienced at home. Sometimes my feet hurt. I have no blisters. I’m making new muscles. The wine is great too, rich and inky. Red wine is good for my heart no?
And the kilometers mount up. The full Camino Portuguese is 630ish. I’ve taken a train 190k or so to get north of the heatwave gripping southern Portugal. My interest in self inflicted torture through heat exhaustion is nil, and three days of 33+ and the forecast made the decision easy. The locals are over this relentless summer. It threw 44 Celcius on September 6th, unheard of, I was told. So much for planning an autumn walk.
Now north of Porto, I’ve spent a spectacular day walking along the Atlantic coast, and another through shadow-speckled hills and ancient villages servicing corn fields, cattle farms and hillsides growing every type of root and salad vegetable. Ahead of me are tolerable, milder days, easier on my body and clear autumn nights so far cloud and rain free.
If you haven’t walked a Camino, perhaps it’s time to give yourself a gift of this ultimate time out.
I’m writing on day three of my Camino Portuguese. The daily challenge of 20+ k’s in 30+ heat feels a bit like boot camp. The bones in my feet are tired, my hips ache, my neck and calves are sunburnt, I’m jet lagged and this afternoon what I thought was a wrinkle in my sock has turned out to be a blister on the edge of my heel. Hello body!
I’m happy. This is fun. I don’t want to be anywhere else but watching the countryside unfold around me and feeling my body respond to the challenge. Bit hot but. My Camino was plotted in cooler autumn. But relentless summer has hung around in Portugal. The further north I walk, the cooler it will become. The ten day forecast says high 20’s. Get through it Jen.
I’ve noticed from talking with strangers, as you do when you’re dressed like a pilgrim – smile, walking poles, backpack and red cheeks – that the Camino isn’t as big a deal in Portugal as it is a language and culture of its own in Spain. Maybe it’s my accent. The pilgrimage to Fatima in southern Portugal is universally understood and respected. But Santiago? There have been a few blank stares. There’s an historical reason for this, I’ve read, the church doing its authoritarian thing some centuries ago, but it’s too complicated to set out here. It’s noticeable though.
Day 1: Lisbon to Alpriate. 22k. The landscape was urban, industrial and the surrounding fields dried out, crisped to dusty yellow by the long summer and the completed harvest. I’ll appreciate the wilderness when I get to it. Breakfast today was a ham and cheese puffy pastry thingy (delicious). It cost 3 euros. Lumch was a tuna salad and coffee for 5 euros, my bed tonight 8 euros and dinner, which was taken in a local taverna was a tangy, generous bowl of pippies floating in butter and garlic, soaked up with crusty sourdough bread pulled of in chunks to soak up the juice. This mode of traveling is modest and nurturing. The inky local red wine was perfect. My bed had clean sheets and a blanket and the volunteers running the hostel were a chatty older couple from Lisbon.
Day 2: Alpriate to Vila Franca de Xira. 21k. The intention was to put 30k’s behind me today but my level of interest in personal torture is quite low. The water feature in the park in the centre of Vila Franca seemed the perfect spot to plunge my boiling feet into cool water. The hostel wasn’t as much fun. My room was 17 euros, overheated, noisy on street level and it was rubbish night on the narrow streets. The din of the bins was almost melodic.
I told myself it’s all part of the kaleidoscope of life along the pathway and set off in the cooler morning.
Day 3: Villa Franca to Santarem. 22ks on my feet, 32ks in a train from Azambuja. Stuff it. After four hours of direct sunlight broiling my brain, on flat land, breeze-less, and the pathway (again) making its way through industrial park after park – my smarter self took over and got me out of the sun. I’d drunk two liters of water and hadn’t peed in six hours. So I jumped on the train and skipped forward to Santarem, a charming historic town on high ground. Roman ruins, a cathedral or two and a sense of itself as a place for pilgrims. This is more like it. I’m told the major industrial hub of Portugal is now behind me, the pathways ahead ancient and shady. Aaah! The weather, however, is set to remain hot for at least another week. Bugger.
Still smiling. This is a great adventure. My traveling companion is a trouper about the heat, dust and distances, and loves red wine almost as much as I do.
After the usual scramble to get organized at home and get away, from Australia there’s a long haul across ocean to get to distant shores. Australia is girt by sea, never so obvious as when one plans to leave.
During my last minute preparations I managed a pedicure (feet deserve care when they’re going to slap on gravel and earth pathways for the next thirty days) and a haircut, to control my curly tangles. And I might add, that my backpack weighed 8.8 kilos when I checked it in. Add water and snacks for my daily walk, I’ll have about 10 kilos as my whole world of possessions. Bliss! And let me say, it takes longer to pack a small bag than my usual throw-it-in big suitcase. I seemed to be packing for days, considering the weight and essential nature (or not) of each item.
The Indian Ocean is as big as the Pacific, particularly from within the silver tube of an airborne A380, and the 20 hours of flying to Lisbon via Dubai had me, as usual, impressed by the distances Australians fly, and bleary eyed and fat-ankled from the undertaking. Three days of recovery in Lisbon, and the adventure of the Camino Portuguese begins. Oh yes, there was the glass of bubbles and dinner in the Emirates Lounge before departure.
The pain of farewells, and the joyous anticipation of solitude, are part of the patina of leaving loved ones and familiar places behind. I should be better at it. The chance to let the white noise of life fade to silence is irresistible. Well not quite silent. The twitter of a bird, the cark of a raven, the sprinkling spatter of rain, the whisper of the wind – these will be the companions of my thoughts as I lose myself in mesmerising nothingness. It’s hard to describe the release of the pilgrim, the healing magic of mindfulness. I’ll try, over these next few weeks. I know the flaneur in me will love this walk. I’ll watch, a traveler with time on my hands and an excuse to observe, without judgement, the lives of others, the pace of their days, the small ways our lives might intersect.
Giant virtual hug from me. Tomorrow, from the road.
Yes I am, 620 kilometers, by foot, from Lisbon in Portugal to Santiago in Spain – the Camino Portuguese. I’ll be sharing the journey via these posts, for the next month or so, until the distance is done.
My first very long walk was the Camino Frances, towards the end of 2013, a journey through grief to balance, carrying my son Raif’s ashes, searching through my pain and loss for way to survive. It worked, and I’ve dreamed of more of the freedom of long distance walking ever since.
And it’s nearly time to don my backpack, reduce my essentials to bare minimum, and walk again. I feel the excitement, a spiritual quickening, the anticipation of that expanded sense of being, that lifting of the heart that comes from stepping along pathways well trodden by thousands of feet before me, the white noise of life gone silent, everything set aside to listen to my own thoughts, be my own being. For the next weeks my existence will just be me, my feet, the sky, the birds, the spirits and sprites of the outdoors, and the pathway ahead. I’ll walk twenty to thirty kilometers each day, find a bed, eat simple food, and sleep like a stone. Last time I walked alone. This time I have a companion, a girlfriend on her own journey. We’ll keep each other company.
Peace and harmony please Universe. And clear skies.
Coming along for the virtual journey? Watch this space.
In the past few weeks I’ve joyously reintroduced myself to earlier versions of me. The first occasion took me back to myself as a young mother, reading Roald Dahl’s ‘The Big Friendly Giant’ to my two wide eyed little boys. I relived the memory of the three of us deliciously discovering ‘scrumdiddlyumptious’, their five and eight year old tongues savouring and tripping over their giggles as we laughed our way through whoppsy-wiffling flushbunking gloriumptious piggery-jokery.
Where was I while I reached back into precious memories? At the movies, watching this classic children’s story of the strong and the weak, big and small, old and young, good and evil, kind and unkind.
Those boys have grown and left my nest. One is a strong, big friendly giant himself, a very special and compassionate man with impressive wisdom. The other, my first born has moved on. He too was a giant – in personality, rascaliness, fun and laughter and at giving the best hugs ever. They were his signature. My heart broke when he died but I remain grateful for the privilege of being his mother for thirty-two years. He taught me many precious things about laughter, lighheartedness and the innate goodness in most things.
I digress. In the same week, those few weeks back, I saw the stage version of ‘Matilda’ in Melbourne. Another joy. Tim Minchin wrote the score. His cheeky melodies and rap in childhood phrases delivered with the clack and beat of insight and humour and a sprinkle of satire are magical and the result is enthralling. The stage was full of children-as-performers and they were having a ball. So was the audience, many of them, I’d guess, doing as I was, seeing the story again after decades of other, gorwn-up things.
Do we, as adults, indulge our inner child enough? Probably not. Life in this twenty-first, headlong, doubling, trebling, gazillioning century leaves childish things behind too soon and makes the re-capture process fraught with overload of other things to do, other places to be, other targets to reach. I remain convinced though, that we are refreshed and re-centred when we rejoin the child within, the one we used to be when things didn’t seem to matter so much. We regain some of our childhood guile and innocence and blow fresh air through life’s clogged pipes.
Meditation and massage are the adult tools of realignment. So is yoga. Sadly, drugs and alcohol replace fresh air and a walk in the fresh air for some trapped souls.
Yes, you can reach out to the child within. Climb a tree on your walk in the park. Count the lines in the footpath on your way there and back, and don’t step on the line, remember? Sit on the swing in the park, and think back. Swing high. Move to the slide. Remember that sensation of weightlessness as a kid? Is there a whizzer in your park? Take a spin.
I have a theory that the current adult craze for icecream (seen the queues, every night of the week, winter and summer?) is not just because otherwise disciplined adults crave sugar and fat. No way. If that was true, they’d be eating icrecream in secret. But they head for boutique icecream outlets with buddies. I think it’s because childhood dreams are full of icecream. The first adult lick takes you straight back.
Perhaps you might take a bunch of pals to Luna Park as a way of retracting time and reapplying childhood to your adult self. Go on the crazy rides, the ones that scared the lunch out of you. Feel the adult meet the child in your happy head. Innocent laughter at noone’s expense is the dividend of revisiting childish fun.
What about a jigsaw? Reaching back to the child within you isn’t always about movement – sometimes your inner child is there, waiting for you to sit still. focused on a detail, searching for that missing piece.
I can highly recommend both of the experiences I’ve just had, but you must have childhood favourites of your own. My two boys loved ‘The Jungle Book’ movie (the early 80’s version, not the brand new one). They warbled all the songs in their chirrupy voices, giggling and flapping their wings. One of them played ‘Bare Necessities’ at his twenty-first. I haven’t seen the 2016 version. That’s next.
Nurture your child within. Remember and respect the baseline of who you are. Remind yourself how uncomplicated the world was when you were allowed to grow slowly, to be a child, to feel secure, to learn from stories – and when your life was cushioned from a nightly news dose of the harshness of the human spirit and the awful things humans deliver on themselves and others. I hope your childhood had those elements of delicious innocence. Mine did sometimes, sometimes mostly, sometimes not. Sometimes my childhood home was confronting and confusing. I’m glad my mother read to me. My imagination did the rest.
Off you go, out to play. Rediscover your inner child. Take his or her hand, and walk together in the sunshine. Have a conversation. Ask her – How is it going? Call him or her pal, reassure your inner young one that you’re always going to be there for each other as you walk together through this life.
It’s an uncomplicated technique equal to meditation, massage or yoga, with splendiferous benefits. You’ll see.
I’ve been thinking. Brain hummers. Integrity. Loyalty. Tolerance. And how they apply to friendship, how they map your life, how they shape who you are and how they influence the quality of your friendships.
I need to see my own values reflected in the people around me. I have reached the age of insight where I can move on and away when my values are not reflected back. The people I can pick up where we left off regardless of the length of time we’re apart (my record is thirty years – hi Thelma) are those whose friendship with me is centred around three core values. Life is too short to drink bad wine, or to be dragged down or pulled along like flotsam – by anyone, and time is too short to be engrossed in things and people not on your values spectrum. A friendship gone stale or beyond its use by date is best looked back at. Grace and dignity, yes, sticking around, no.
Here’s “the friendship big three”.
Integrity – is what you do when no one’s watching. It’s your innate moral compass, your individual set of rules around honesty, faithfulness, timeliness, your honour. Do you stick to your values when you don’t have an audience, alone at home? I hope so. It’s the measure of your emotional maturity. And do you stick up for your friends? If they’re not in the room, are they on the menu? Integrity is not about remembering their birthday. It’s about valuing them, and yourself in equal measure.
Integrity is not the same as honesty although they travel hand in glove. Honesty can be brutal, and unfeeling, a poison arrow disguised as truth. Integrity is kind and reinforcing, a patient journey along a pathway of truth, not a slap in the face with harsh reality. Integrity is about reliability. You’re there when you said you would be, do what you promised, and act with honor and within the boundaries of good manners, good taste and good will. You have others’ best interests in mind, all the time. Sounds easy. It has to be sustainable too.
2. Loyalty – is like a two lane highway with energetic traffic flowing in both directions. Loyalty flows your way when you match your behaviour to a friend’s need for tolerance, when you avoid betrayal large or small, and when you practise integrity. With practise, loyalty will flow from you and it will come back, often quadrupled.
Loyalty flows back at you in precious, needy moments. I hope you know who your special friends are, the ones you can call, no matter what, no matter when. The morning my son died, my second son had the ghastly task of calling me. I was two hundred kilometers away, a two and a half hour shocked drive. The friend I called dropped whatever he was planning that Saturday morning and drove the couple of kilometers to my three adult children, to be with them and to wait and help until I arrived. This friend lives a busy life and travels a lot. It’s four years back, and as the years lengthen it can be weeks, sometimes months in between catch ups. But the bond remains, never wavers (hi Jonesy).
Betrayal is what can happen when loyalty evaporates. A loss of loyalty makes it possible for you to trash or damage someone else’s well being – intentionally or without thought.Unintentional betrayal can happen because you’re so self absorbed you’re oblivious to the effect of your own behaviour on those around you. You can change that if you’re getting in your own way and losing friends. Knowing yourself, being mindful, is the fulcrum that swings affirmative, positive, inclusive behaviour into place – action that demonstrates loyalty. Or, maybe you did that intentionally, perpetrated betrayal. That’s dark. No loyalty coming from you and none coming back. Not for this post. You’ve got work to do on yourself.
Betrayal is a tricky outcome. It might be the label applied by the recipient although you, the perpetator, had acceptable intentions. Some people suck your oxygen. They may interpret you activating your right to step away as betrayal even as you see it as survival. Loyalty has left the room. Mindfulness helps you be your own best judge. Maybe loyalty wasn‘t ever there. Only you can know.
3. Tolerance – is what you develop when you remain mindful of integrity and stretch your patience. Maybe a friend is being tedious, needy or neglectful. No matter how challenging the situation, whether created through distance, busyness, illness or misfortune, if you can keep peeling the spuds (that’s metaphor for helping out), or mowing the lawn (metaphor for sharing the load) or sending a word occasionally, or listening again and again, you are demonstrating tolerance. Time and patience are the universe’s great healers; people get through stuff. Friendships can recover from bad stuff when there’s tolerance and loyalty. They might not be quite the same ever again, but can survive.
I have other dear, abiding friends, and these are examples of 1,2,and 3, not a pecking order or exhaustive list.
a writing buddy who sends me notes, comes to stay, invites me to her house, shares laughter and wine and editing, and whose gift of a leather bound notebook became my grief diary and saved my sanity after my son’s death.
another friend I call sis who has been around since school days. Not in each other’s pockets, but kind to each other back then, respectful in the decades since, and now better than sisters. She had no sister. I had three, but dark things were happening in my family home unbeknownst to me, and my sisters were aloof, snappy and unfathomable. Now I have the sister I always wanted, with that sense of shared history right back to childhood that only a sister can know. She does too (hi M).
and there’s my close friend who is one of the best story tellers ever. She’s one of those gifted people who tells you how a clock works if you ask her what time it is. A glass of wine and a lump of cheese, her updates are entertaining and sustaining. She’s also calm in stormy situations, and puts a positive spin on life blows that would deck most others (hi Mik)
and one more, a dear friend who hasn’t had education or the economic opportunities I’ve been blessed with. She’s lived with decades of poor health, unable to work, a single parent of two fine young adults. She’s a tough and willing worker but her world crashes when she’s unwell. And throughout, she remains the most stoic, principled, positive and spiritual person I know. She humbles me and her little cottage is a palace of peace and harmony (hi Lis).
I want to believe my friends get 1,2,and 3 from me. They’re in my tent, at my fireplace. I get 1,2,and 3 from them and my place at their hearth.
The rest of life is white noise when friendship is secure. Nurture your friendships. It’s the most satisfying work you’ll do, your finest contribution. The rest is just stuff. It comes. It goes. friendship lasts.
It’s a long one this time, dear ones. Settle in. Just at a point I thought ‘I know what I know’ along came a mighty storm cloud…there’s a new, creeping, insidious scourge on modern lives – addiction to internet pornography. Don’t believe me? Punch ‘addiction to pornography’ into your chosen server. Read on. Now punch in ‘free porn’ and scan the hundreds of free sites. Thousands in fact. Just click on one…no, you don’t need to. To understand a bit about this scourge, read on.
Set aside for this read, what we know are the exploitative elements of the porn industry – the sex trade, connections to human trafficking, child abuse and drug racketeering and organised crime. Worldwide it generates revenue larger than the GDP of a medium sized nation. The appalling pain and damage for participants is for others to write about.
Let’s take a closer look at the corrupt influence of porn watching on healthy lives and committed, trusting relationships. Using porn is common I’m told. That doesn’t make it right, or safe. And please, let me say this; I’m not here judge you. This is not a moral article. But beware if you are a porn user. Watching porn is habit forming and psychologically and emotionally very damaging when it becomes an ingrained habit, most often for men but sometimes for women too. I’ve researched how and why.
Porn addiction has been made seriously worse by the introduction of the internet. The helplessness and shame of porn addicition leaves the addict (lets use the masculine since most porn addicts are men) emotionally and sexually dysfunctional, often alone, alienated from loved ones, with structural brain changes resulting from the over stimulation of the pleasure centre of the cerebral system so entrenched that recovery is a long, slow, depressing and exhausting process for the addict and for those around him. Brain science tells us these changes are akin to the alteration of brain chemistry seen in addiction to cocaine.
Addiction takes years to overtake a life, whatever the choice of drug. Casual porn watching is a solitary habit, settles in, takes the user to a secret place, a lone activity of voyeurism, masturbation and narcissistic, selfish pleasure. The emerging porn addict doesn’t notice he’s becoming detached from his loving, worried wife who senses she is rejected, not worthy, no longer enclosed in loving intimacy. She notices her husband’s avoidance, his closed eyes, senses him ‘not there’. He doesn’t touch her any more, is critical of her body, her clothes, her looks. She’s lonely in his arms. For the addict, guilty and ashamed, depression may creep in. He loses his joy. Perhaps he’s aggressive or defensive, critical and sarcastic. Perhaps alcohol acts as a prop and social anaesthetic. Alcohol can become a troublesome addictive habit too, weaving its web of social accidents around the dependent drinker. What may have started as a fascinating porn activity at a young age, stealing his father’s magazines or fondling his mother’s lingerie, has become, in the internet age, a raging, ever-ready, endless stream there for the taking, never saying no, always ready, undemanding. He never needs to please, only to be pleasured. He’s hooked without ever noticing or making a conscious decision. Hours every day. He lies and deceives to get his fix. His marriage strains and drifts from confused crisis to sullen resentment. He creates longer absences as he seeks solitude with his loyal companions – his laptop and his wine bottles.
Research indicates that older men, raised in the print era, pre internet, have a better chance of recovery from addiction to pornography than younger men who’ve only known the internet age. In older addicts depression and suicide are common and recovery is long, slow and a lonely pathway requiring courage and discipline and the dig-deep determination of soul searching. It’s not so hopeful for younger addicts. Early access and saturation exposure to internet porn has fried young brains before they have experience of real relationships. Many young porn addicts have never had sex. The more extreme of these unfortunate young men may only become known when they appear in court charged with a sexual crime. The internet sets no boundaries. These young adults are unable to discern that normal, real relationships don’t include violent, non consensual sex or abberant sexual actions unacceptable to the average female and unacceptable at law.
Research also indicates that a very high proportion of addicts of all kinds have experienced childhood trauma. Specialist psychologists are now emerging in the counselling industry, focused on assisting porn addicts to retrace their pathway from casual porn to addiction, to reshape their reaction to early trauma, to regrow from childhood to adulthood. American psychologist Al Cooper pointed to ‘affodability, accessability and anonymity’ as facilitative factors for porn addiction. But those three elements are available to all of us. There has to be another reason why you and I keep porn in perspective, but you over there fall into a pit of despair and addiction. The link to childhood trauma is giving new hope and establishing new pathways to recovery.
The pathway to porn addiction is not a conscious one. The porn addict habitually convinces himself that he’s not hurting anyone with his little habit. He’s so wrong. Here’s some more expert opinions and facts.
Habitual porn is secretive, disloyal and cheating. It’s infidelity.
Pornography addiction ruins lives.
Porn makes reality boring.
Pornography addiction leads to relationship breakdown. 56% of divorce cases involve one party having “an obsessive interest in pornographic web sites” (Patrick Fagan, ‘The Effects of Pornography on Individuals, Marriage, Family and Children’, Research Synthesis)
Much like a drug ddict, men entrenched in pornography will do anything for their fix, including sacrificing what should be most dear to them. (see covenanteyes.com)
Pornography degrades and dehumanises.
If a man watched porn in his childhood he is likely to be chemically bonded in his brain, to the women and images he sees on the screen. Not a real woman. This bonding predates his relationships and marriage.
Discovering your husband or your partner is addicted to pornography is likely to be one of the most devastating experiences of your life.
So, dear friend of journeystowords, how much porn are your watching? How much is your partner watching? Do you even have any idea? Worried? Put yourself on a learning curve. If you’re not the porn watcher, if you’re a baffled partner, confused by the emotional shut down of your once loving partner, take care of yourself. You are not to blame. If you’re the porn watcher with a blooming habit, accept that it is likely to flower and it will be damaging. Help yourself to health. Get help. There’s a growing volume of evidence based material online to assist the addict, as well as the concerned and hapless victim-partner whose relationshiop is being ruined by this third entity in the relationship, a cruel cancer devouring the goodwill, the trust and respect and hope for the future. Catch it before it’s too late.
It’s been a heavy blog, this one, dear ones. It’s taken me weeks to research and write. I’ve circled and circled. This subject needs oxygen though, and I’ve never shied away from truth. When I started journeystowords it was with the conviction that if, by researching and writing from the heart I can help just one other person…I will.
Virtual hugs are free. Have one from me. And another.
I daydreamed in a coffee shop yesterday, chilling out, sipping my latte and wondering what’s next on this interesting, challenging, ‘what-the’ journey my life is. A very close associate has recently disclosed his addiction to pornography – the personal hell and mess it’s made of his life. His confession threw me down an emotional rabbit hole, twists and turns of horror and disgust mixed with sympathy and concern. I’m part way through researching this little understood but alarming phenomenon, an internet disease with grave consequences and entrapment for the unwary. It’s ruining lives. I’m going to write more on this soon. For now, back to mind-floats over coffee.
A framed aphorism on the cafe wall got my focus. It said ‘The best way to predict a successful future is to imagine it.’
Is it that easy I asked myself? Yes it is, I thought. It’s about energy. I know, because I practise it. Every day, many times. If you pack positive energy around you, it multiplies and what comes back brings opportunity, solutions, ideas, blessings, affirmation, comfort, smiles – the signposts of a positive future.
You have to be ready to receive though. Your negative switch has to be turned off. Your emotional and spiritual radar has to be tuned to pick up signals, and to generate positive thoughts from within. If not, you won’t receive because you won’t recognise catalysts and stimuli. It’s that simple.
Here are six things you might like to set in your daily practice.
Add a positive commitment to your waking moments. Don’t reach for your phone first, or click on the tv. Lie still. Greet the universe. Set your energetic response. Say in your head “Hello world. Today is the beginning of everything, the continuation of what I choose. I choose the positive.” From wake-up onwards, don’t let someone else’s shitty day take you off course. Smile and move on. More than once I’ve used this line; ‘I’m sorry you’re having a bad day. I’m not, by choice.’ Combined with a smile, it’s a very powerful tool, stops all but the most determined badarses from ranting negatives. Set your own tone, and make it your default position, all day long.
Have an open heart, always. All day, every day. What does that mean, you might ask? It’s not difficult. Points 3, 4, and 5 are practices that create an open heart, flexible and ready.
Think before you speak and feel as you think. Be conscious of the connection between your emotional response to circumstances in your day. Be aware when the negatives creep in. Respond rather than react by thinking first and setting your attitude nto your response before it escapes from your lips. This sounds complicated but it isn’t really. Some helpful ‘questions-to-self’ that will keep you mindful and ready for opportunity when things get tough are “What do I like about this?” “What am I learning here?” is also a good one to stay true north no matter what’s going on around you. Also in the kit is “Is this safe for me?” If not, remove yourself. “Can I help here?” Remember, being positive is highly infectious. Once you get the hang of this, the best little helpers for different situations will flow into your mind.
Don’t make ‘no’ a habit. Bad attitudes are as infectious as good ones. So avoid no unless yes would take you in a direction not right for you. I know a bloke who answers no first off to every suggestion put to him. He’s exhausting. But I refuse to match his negative energy. I get out of his way.
However, learn to say ‘no’ when you need to. Not every offer that floats past you in life is good or will make your life better. Many things and some people suck your energy away. Be aware of people who are net takers, and decline their neediness with grace. Be aware. Not everyone along your path has your best interests at heart. Practice discernment. There’s nothing wrong with ‘no thanks’, ‘not this time’, that’s not for me’.
Create your own community. Like-minded folk, living positive lives, tend to find each other. Their energy multiplies. Find your tribe. Spend time with your people. Never underestimate the power of friendship. You want to have a friend? Be a friend. Ask a question, and then listen, really focus on being a good listener.
You were born perfect. You still are. Under the scarred exterior life has graffitied over you is a pure spirit. Reconnect regularly in whatever way works – walking, yoga, meditation, swimming, loving. Feed your mindfulness. Say hello to yourself and be in tune.
And, don’t forget to make time to indulge your creativity. This has a very powerful influence on your positive spirit. Forget about excellence. We live in a sad world where second best has somehow become not good enough. Skip that crap. You are magnificent just as you are. Don’t judge your particular hobby – painting, writing, baking, knitting, bushwalking, gardening… just relax and enjoy yourself.
And of course, never, ever lose your curiosity. A sense of wonder and questioning are the elixirs of a positive future. They link you to joy.
Live it. Take your positive attitude everywhere with you.
Virtual hugs are free. Have one from me. And a smile.
Just a short post to say I’m on a learning curve so steep it threatens to poke me in the nose, and my head spins. I hope you like the new look on the site. There’s more to come as I go from training wheels to a racing suit in web design and content. The future is looking very interesting!
The business planning is almost complete for the launch of Journeys to Words Publishing. Watch this site, and please stick around to share the journey. The special, personalised posts that have been journeystowords.com up to now, will continue. But other aspects will appear – interviews, book reviews, books to buy, guests, – and conversations.
The common thread? Memoir. Memoir and more memoir. Stories from life. Stories of survival, of beating the odds, or working things out, of recovery and triumph through adversity.
Why is memoir so central to our being?
Memoir is the written and spoken record of life’s dramas, large and small. Family history, unfolding, buried, revealed and remembered. Friendships abiding and fleeting, betrayal, treachery and revenge. Peace, harmony and contentment with a spice of tension. These elements of everyday life, large and small, make up the pattina and mosaic of memoir. Captured stories have fascinated men, women and children since oral history began, thousands of years back.
We have gathered and shared stories, memories, interpretations, layers on layers down through time – these are the threads by which we interpret the world around us and the people in it. Those who love us, those we love, those who fool us and who fool others. We look to the stories for guidance, validation and amusement. Memoir is life. Memoir is the real record of our legacies.
I don’t know why it is so difficult for memoir to be published in today’s squeezed publishing world. But this site and this publisher is being established to make a contribution, in a small way (from an acorn an oak tree might grow) for great writing of great memoirs to have a place.
The launch of the whole enchilada is still a few months ahead. But stick around in the meantime, please. The challenging topics, the leaves from life’s notebook will continue in regular posts while I get my aching brain around html, and with some help, get the ecommerce site up and running.
I’ll be back in a week or so with a whopper of a post on a troubling topic. Stick with me.
I’m sitting by a hotel swimming pool, on a two day holiday (this is not my default position, not at all my usual place), in tropical, balmy shade, the swish of the ocean behind me, indulging myself by writing this post. I have always written, all my life. Sometimes scribble, other times buckets of stuff. But for decades I didn’t put my wordsmithing first and I was ritualistic about time and place for putting words together. I always had to be in the right place to write. It was limiting.
Writing came after my day’s work was done, after the kids were fed, bathed and read to sleep, after the kitchen was tidy, the dishwasher full and humming. Then, I’d go to my desk. I might tidy it a bit, check my emails, pay a bill or two. Oh, and the phone might ring. You get the picture? I was the master template for procrastinator.
I wasn’t up to much as a writer either, unsurprisingly. The creative impulse is like a tender, exotic flower – it needs nurture and constant attention or it withers. Given oxygen and energy, it will flourish almost anywhere.
So, promise-to-self, circa nineteen eighty-five: ‘When your corporate life is over Jen, when your super fund is primed to support your dotage if there is to be one, when the youngsters are grown and flown – then will be your time as a writer.’ I promised myself that I would write, that I would learn to write anywhere, at anytime, and I would write for as long as I like and I would get down whatever I feel needs writing.
It took another twenty-five years, but I do indulge my writing personality now. If I’m not writing, I’m reading, or thinking about writing. It’s a delicious way to live. This particular morning I’m by the pool at Waikiki, Hawaii. I’ve just had two peaceful days with sand between my toes, writing, swimming, writing, catching up on sleep after the overnight haul from Australia, writing – and lying by the pool writing. Tonight I will fly onwards to Dallas, turn right, and to Leon in Mexico, then by car to San Miguel de Allende. There, for an indulgent week I’ll talk to writers, write, eat and drink and share stories with other participants in the San Miguel Writers’ Conference, read, write, do workshops, listen to stories, tell a few of my own – and write. I’ll spend the week nurturing the exotic plant that is my creativity. Some days I’m a hack, all volume and fluff, with limited lines I’m inclined to keep. Other days, or more honestly, some moments on other days, I seem to have a spirit guide who swoops down to the tips of my fingers. Words, like magic sparkles flow through my hands into words. Like the perfect tennis serve, the puffiest souffle, a perfect sunset, these moments of inspired purity are fleeting. I follow and follow, wanting more of the magic. I’m patient. I love the process. I keep at it.
So, old writing habits have been replaced with new ones. I can write anywhere now, and I do. Today Waikiki, tomorrow Dallas, then San Miguel. It’s a writer’s life. Yeah!
I do other things. I don’t play tennis and I’ve never baked a souffle but I ski, swim, crochet and love gardening. For always I will have a range of interests. I still have a part time corporate life and I give it a fair share of my talent and experience. But writing comes first. It’s been a long wait to put my creativity ahead of the competing shuttle life puts in my way.
You writing? Got a journal yet, as I suggested in January’s post? Go on, get to know yourself – your best friend and invite the universe to use you as a medium for the ideas that float around in the ether. Cliche? Maybe. It’s a good one though. It’s earned its place. I’ve thought about this link for years – and Elizabeth Gilbert captured it perfectly.
“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all,
It’s January 31st. Are you making plans for 2016? Got your list of musts/have to’s/mights or maybe’s for 2016? I loved the facebook post this week that said “I am reviewing my New Year’s Resolution for 2015, to lose ten pounds, and I only have fifteen to go.” My year has been a bit like that too!
Do You keep a Journal? Now that the fat, sugar and wine phase of Christmas and New Year is almost behind us, maybe you might think about including journaling on your New Year menu.
What’s journaling, you ask? Oh, you’re in for a treat. If you do already, good for you, you’re aeons ahead in the journey to mindfulness and self actualisation. (Read that as the journey to happiness.) You don’t? Well, this is the easiest and most rewarding New Year’s resolution you’ll adopt and achieve.
So, How To Journal, and Why?
Your Journal Is Special. It has a special place in your life, and your house. Keep it in a personal, private place. Its contents are just for you, not for the home help or other sticky beak eyes. Buy a good one – look for paper that you like, lined or plain, and a cover that appeals to you. Some of my satisfying journals are humble, lined exercise books like they used to give us in primary school. I’ve also got a three year, pale blue, leather bound affair with a lock, that has no appeal, although I can’t explain why, and hasn’t got a word written in it. My dear friend Betty gave me a black, fat and squat, leather bound journal when my son died three years ago. I call it my grief journal and it contains my lost heart and soul’s pain. It’s almost full and has helped save my life by letting me pour my torture into words in a safe place. So buy yourself a journal that appeals to you. Pick it up, touch it, feel its energy. And while you’re at it, buy another for a friend. Its a gift that keeps on giving.
Know Your Journal’s Purpose. Your journal is not a calendar, nor is it a diary. Calendars are for fridge doors or spare hooks on the office wall. They are issued by the local butcher, baker or candlestick maker and serve no purpose in our electronic world except if you don’t happen to have their phone number and you run out of meat, bread or candles. Diaries are for appointments, the life of your feet – where you go, who you meet with, what time that happens, and so on. Your journal is for your heart and your head. Know the difference.
Your Journal is for Your Head and Heart (Not feet). So we’re sorted the practical stuff into two categories – calender and diary. The journal? What’s it for? Its for you, your words to describe your thoughts and your feelings, your pain and joy, your fears and aspirations, your courage or lack of it, your spite, your anger, your questions to yourself, your sharing of new knowledge, your practise runs at how new feelings in new circumstances might apply – the list could go on for pages but I think you get my drift. This is the honesty book. No audience except yourself, no judge except the one in the mirror, no spell check, no ticks or crosses, or grading for excellence. Just you, and your thoughts for yourself, your messages to you, your summaries of you. Journaling doesn’t record when you cut your toenails or bleached your hair (unless you are so transformed by either that you think the emotional journey should be recorded). Think in terms of the bigger picture of you, and your integration with your life, your partner, your friendships, your plans, your hopes and fears. Once you start, the thoughts will flow, I promise.
Read Your Journal Backwards. I mean backwards in time. One of the most valuable legacies of journaling to to read back – three months later, six months later, a year later – and see how you’ve changed. What was bothering you back then is very likely not relevant to you anymore, or it may be, and you will gain insight from your hindsight as to why that might be so – and what you might do about it. Remember, you cnnot change anyone else on this planet, but you can change yourself. Your journal can be the key and the moving walkway that gets you to better/wiser/happier sooner and with less apparent effort. Your conscious mind makes you act; your subconsious drives your emotions. Your journal is your window into your subconsious. If you give it time and the place to express, it will guide your hand through the open window of your journal.
Nurture Your Journal With Regular Irregularity. A journal doesn’t need oxygen every day, nor to canvas every little thing in your life. It knows you have a busy life. Sometimes I don’t journal for a week or two, occasionally not for a month. Like meeting up with an old friend, when I get back into my journal with a thought that occurs to me and begs to be written down and expanded upon, I pick up where I left off. And I’m not unique. Many conversations with others who journal speak of the same link back around the loop to themselves, available and waiting, whenever you make the time to pick up your journal and put your feelings down on the page.
Feel No Performance Pressure to Journal better, or longer, or more poetically. There’s no such thing as bad journaling. If you’re a journaling newbie, think of it like learning to knit – knit one-purl one-drop one. Or learning to surf – kneel-fall-stand-fall-paddle-repeat. The journal is the journey, you are the destination. Your emotional health is a vital part of your overall wellbeing. Think of journaling as vitamins for your head and heart, a tonic for your soul.
And finally, give yourself a hug, and get one from a friend, for the year that was 2015, and the year that will be 2016. My free virtual hug comes with my sincere wish that your journaling journey through the coming year will have fair winds and calm seas.
‘Tis the season to be …to be what? I couldn’t approach the end of the year without talking about choices. About now, if you’re lucky, your working life is set for a pause for the end of year break, your office party is behind you (how did it go?) and you’re pondering achievements, and perhaps some not-so-shiny features of the year we’re saying goodbye to. Consider yourself normal if this list of ‘what-the?’ reflections on 2015 is on your mind. And, as to the Christmas Party – you can make a dick of yourself all year in the office and get away ith it. But if you repeat the performance at the office party, you’re dead meat. it’s the most unforgiving environment on the calendar. If you’ve blown it, plan to move on soon (if you haven’t been moved on already). That’s life. It’s black and white. You hit black. It’s a time to be a bit tough on yourself, this reflective time of the year. Life is full of black and white opportunities, or tipping points. Did you stay in the white? Did you opt for grey? Only one shade? Can you look in the mirror and hold your own eye contact as you ask questions about the year you’ve had? (If you’re new here, look back at ‘You want To Make A Change’, Feb 16, 2015) Maybe you’ve looked in the mirror. Maybe you liked your own summary. Congratulations, if that’s the case. You’ve been true to the black and white aspects of choice. You’ve recognised that value based issues, questions, problems, in your life are either good for you, or bad for you – or benign.
Almost every challenge in your life, given enough thought, can be reduced to a single, common denominator. Is this good for you, or not? Is this a black and white choice? Is a shade of grey a true choice, or self delusion, avoidance of a decision rather than clarity.
Let’s continue to equate the dark side of life with black, and the light side of life with white. Call it as you like – the good and the bad (don’t forget the ugly), the wrong and the right, the true and the untrue, – you get the drift? We all know what to do if we find an earwig in our glass of water (unless you’re weird). Not much of a value judgement there. You know what’s good for you. Drinking an earwig is not part of the white side of life. How about this one – a little less clear. What do you do if someone, whether you know them or not, is hurting, injured or distressed – and not putting you in emotional or physical danger (which complicates the simplicity of the example)? I’m trusting you know what you’ll do, that it involves providing help, and that you don’t hesitate. I’m presuming you ‘get’ this, or you wouldn’t be bothered coming back to journeystowords to see what I’m rabbiting on about. These are two examples of the simplest of black-and-white decision making.The second one has a slightly more complex value based proposition buried within it.
Life’s more profound issues aren’t always straight forward at first glance. Every moral or ethical quandary has a variety of aspects, or qualifiers, or extenuating circumstances or situational specialities. Any one of them might slow down or cloud your thinking. But in the end, if you strip away the white noise, the consideration comes back to basics – is it black, or white? Which decision will move you towards the dark, or move you towards the light? What’s good for you? And, what’s bad for you?
It’s the world according to Jen, but I figure, that either pathway, you have a clear road ahead of you. If you choose the the dark side, the wrong decision leads to lies, deception, disappointment (in yourself and from others), loss – and failure. Don’t believe me? Conjure a little story in your head – a problem that requires a decision relating to trust, respect, love, fidelity (or their absence). Maybe something immediate in your life comes to mind, a moral issue of the here and now . Got one? Ok, now apply this dark side sequential logic to the situation. Imagine you make a ‘black’ decision. Imagine the consquences. Are you sighing yet? Can you feel your heart sink? No happy ending there.
Ok, keep that nasty little scenario in your head but set it aside. Now, think of the same issue again. Perhaps your story is of betrayal or trust of a work colleague, what to do with knowledge of a misdeed, or whether or not you should or shouldn’t be part of an activity you know is damaging. Or if you’re mind is blank, just think of yourself facing an opportunity to cheat. We all have secrets and we all hear secrets. Now think of black and white, with no shades of grey and imagine yourself ‘doing the right thing’, moving towards the light and rejecting the dark side, the black of selfishness, capriciousness, of self absorption, of spleen or spite or revenge. Reject. Reject. Think of the good, positive and afirmative sequence of emotions that will follow – trust, gratitude, respect.
It’s not hard to discern the emotional difference between moving to the dark, or moving to the light. Even in an imaginery setting, your attitude is everything – it feeds off your values and your beliefs about good and bad. If you need more on the attitude concept, look back at Posting ‘Attitude is Everything’ from October, 2015.
‘Good for you’ or ‘not good for you’, ‘black or white’, ‘dark or light’ – are simple concepts that have profound impact on your belief system. Your response to them comes from a very deep place in your value system. What have you been struggling with during this year? I’ve had a whopper issue, a life changer, and I’ve had to do a lot of thinking. These helping and healing thoughts are not wisps of smoke that I can’t hang on to. This linear thinking is available to all of us, all the time. It helps. I promise you.
I hope for all of us, a peaceful and black and white process ahead, with the right attitude, and positive outcomes.
Some of life’s journeys are longer than others. Do you know your journey? Some of the arcs time and circumstance throw at you are journeys of the mind, others are of the heart. All are journeys of discovery. Sometimes we reach completion and fulfilment and recognise their arrival and the changes and opportunities they deliver. Sometimes the destination is just plain growing up.
As I write I have nesting swallows on my deck, flying back under the eaves with threads of grass and puffs of seed pods from the cottonwoods along my fenceline. I just watched one of them pulling on a strand of sheep’s fleece caught on the fence, almost falling off trying to unravel it. The tiny swallow kept catching himself before he pitched off the fence wire, and renewed the tugging until the thread yielded. The little swallow is dedicated to its journey.
Last year I visited a Monarch Butterfly Reserve to see the massive balls of clustered butterflies hanging from Douglas fir trees, wintering over in Mexico after flying four thousand kilometers from Southern Canada. The Monarch Buttefly migration is one of the most enduring and difficult natural phenomena in the world. In Spring they fly north again. It takes five generations to complete the loop. There are theories as to how they direction-find. None has been proven. Electro magnetic fields on the earth’s surface? Who knows. They know their journey.
I have some examples too, in my own experience, of acceptance, forbearance, grit, wit, energy and support – my six essential elements of success. I walked the Camino Frances in Northern Spain a couple of years back, carrying my son’s ashes in commemoration of his life, and in search of a way to continue with my own. The thirty one day, seven hundred kilometer pilgrimage tested my resolve. I identified each of these elements, sometimes reaching within myself in lonely desperation, other times in peaceful acceptance and smiling affirmation. I made it to Santiago although there were no guarantees I would – and I’m glad I did. I knew my journey.
I went to an audience with the American writer Jonathon Saffran Foer a few years back. He is best known for his novels, ‘Everything is Illuminated’ and ‘Up Close and Incredibly Loud’. He had a dog earred copy of ‘Everything is Illuminated’ with him on stage. He told the audience that the book took him ten years to write, and he held up his personal copy. Yellow stickers poked out of most pages, marking where he’d change something if he ever got the chance to rewrite it. The audience laughed. I couldn’t imagine a ten year journey with a manuscript. Now I can though, as I embark on a third rewrite of my first manuscript. It started life six years ago as a memoir, and was transformed into a novel three years ago. Its third iteration will turn it into a memoir again. It’s good as it is, but it does not satisfy me yet. This time, it will be better. I get the journey.
SO WHAT ARE THESE SIX ELEMENTS OF SUCCESS?
ACCEPTANCE.It’s a lot easier to get on with or through something if you take a good long look at it, measure it in your mind, and accept it, recognise it for the task that it is, anticipate the journey it requires, and measure its length in your life, the impact it will have, and predict the benefts, threats and strengths the achievement might cost you or bring you. It’s a bit like washing an elephant. It helps if you circle it first, measure it with your eyes, predict its behaviour, divide the task into stages, and collect the right bucket and brush.
GRIT. Is not the same as forbearance (see number 3.) but a cousin, or second cousin. 2. and 3. sort of go together. Grit is toughness, the guts for the journey. It’s finding the strength. Its knowing within, that whatever this takes, you will keep going. It’s reaching into your own emotional and physical resources to walk that extra kilometer, turn that other cheek, find another way, face the pain, learn the lesson, find the solution. You want to measure your grit? Talk to your pain threshold. I don’t mean stick a pin in your finger. I mean the grit in your character. It’s sometimes called ‘spine’. When you have a challenge, ask yourself. ‘What do I like about this? Am I up to the task? Why not? What do I need to do to step up to this challenge? Who are my role models? Set aside your inner sook. We’ve all got a coward in there. Sit him or her in the corner and say youll be back later, you’re busy, you haven’t got time to be sabotaged. Focus on the strong version of you – that’s where the grit lives.
FORBEARANCE.Some folk call this patience, or tolerance. It’s a bit of both. Dedication is an extreme form as is endurance. It’s accepting that the going is often tough, knowing that you have the grit and getting on with it when life makes you grind your teeth and sucks your energy. Forbearance is the determination to get up when you fall, to stand tall when the wind blows in your face, to scrape the egg off your face, to find north and keep your bearings. You get it? Good.
WIT AND HUMOR. It’s very hard to achieve much in life without these. Wit is the conduit through which you can seek cleverness by thinking outside the square. It will take you beyond the conscious mind’s horizon where forward motion and solutions lurk, just waiting for you to find them. Humor is wit’s twin. Humor lets you laugh at yourself when wit acts like a ditz or a clutz, or leaves the room at a vital moment, or drops the ball or loses its marbles. If they leave the room together, you need time out. If not, anger and disfunction can deliver damage. That’s retrograde. Don’t go there. Here’s a couple of scenarios to demonstrate: You might have run out of money but you still have your running shoes. So use your wits. Go for a run. It will clear your head, improve your health and release endorphons to improve your physical harmony. Wit and humor will be restored by the time you get back and your money makng capacity will return. Distraction can help too. Consider indulging yourself. Women know this one. I’ve perfected it (chocolate brownies, milkshakes, potato crisps, followed by a walk or a run). Your mother dropped off a care package. It contains strawberries and cream. Have a big bowl. It will give you something else to think about and not the blockage in your life journey. Then laugh at yourself and get a good sleep. See 5.
ENERGY.As you can see from 1. through 4. this stuff can keep you pretty busy. I’m not good, let alone outstanding at anything when I’m tired and I’ll guess you’re much the same. Adrenalin is not an element of success and if you’re running on empty, full only of caffeine and mindlessness, you’re failing. Success is not in that direction. Anyone who tells you otherwise probably needs a nap themselves. Take one. You want success? Team up with rest and recreation. They will keep you on track to achievement.
SUPPORT. No man is an island, no woman either, although I must say, women are better at finding and accepting support. Please guys, don’t do the cave man thing. Very, very few people on this earth have achieved major breakthroughs at work or at home, on their own. Help is there. You might only have to reach inside your own head for a metaphysical support network amongst those who have gone before you, standing by in your sub conscious – a grandparent who was your role model and who continues to whisper advice when you hit a wall perhaps? I’ve got one. I hear my father’s voice whenever I’m working with my bees, getting a bit nervous (I’m stealing their honey after all), hearing my breathing increase, feeling my heart rate gather to race pace. Dad speaks to me in calm and clear tones, reminds me to take my time, move slowly, work with the bee’s energy, not against it. He’s been dead for twenty years. Beekeeping was his hobby, I learned it from him. And external support? The menu is huge. Support networks exist for almost every imaginable physical, emotional, or spiritual journey. Choose well. And if the help you’ve got doesn’t sit comfortably, choose again. Add some of number 3.
This has been a longer posting than usual. Thanks for reading it through. I love responses. Leave one?
The ‘go somewhere’ or ‘go anywhere’ urge has got us. On any day of the year, 10% of Australians are out of the country. Ninety percent of the absentees are on holiday. Trekking. Lazing by a pool. Exploring cities and laneways. Dining. Drinking. Cruising. Whatever happened to the holiday in a local city, by a local beach, up a local mountain, down a local laneway, in a local restaurant, visiting a local friend? Are we all so caught up in this, and so ‘accessed’ (to travel, to being pampered, to having what we want, first choice, me, me me) that we’re bypassing some fundamentals here?
It’s time to break free.
Here’s the thing – holidays are part of your life – to recover, recuperate and relax. I’m ‘fessing up – I look for deals, watch the weekend papers, subscribe to on-line sites that promise me better navigation through the travel smorgasbord. But I’m ready to change. I want to change. I’m missing out on something important.
My answer to the lemmings-to-the airport-syndrome, the go-anywhere-but-here-phenomenon? Do something different.
Stay home. Yeah. Right there, in your own home.
Have a holiday at home. Declare it on your ‘away’ status. ‘I’m Holidaying At Home. Do Not Disturb Unless You’re Invited’.
Think of the money you’ll save. And think of the rest and relaxation you’ll get, the meals you’ll enjoy, the places you’ll explore, the new things you’ll do.
Here are some ways to make the most of your decision to give it a go. You got a partner or a friend? Do all of these things together. You on your own? Do all of these things on your own. The benefits are universal, not head-count-dependent.
Sleep in every morning. Turn your alarm off, and turn your phone to silent. No work-day prompts. Here’s the tough part, right up front: leave your phone in another room, with your iPad, laptop, pager – whatever glows at you in the night and reminds you you’re ‘connected’.
When you wake up each holiday morning, bring your tea/coffee/loved one/newspaper back to bed. Stay there longer. Longer than what? Longer than you would usually, on a ‘normal’ working day or a ‘usual’ weekend morning. You’ll work it out.
No late nights. This holiday is about physical rest and mental recuperation. It’s not an excuse to party ‘til dawn or sit up all night watching the whole series of some tv junk then move through the next day like a zombie.
If achieving 2 is a challenge because of rug rats and their routines, plan ahead and send them to your parents, or your inlaws. Never let school interfere with a child’s education. Do some homework yourself, and send a list with the kids, so Grandma and Pop have suggestions for local expeditions they might get the best out of being in charge of their precious grandchildren. Being with trusted ‘others’ is great learning – lots of life skills by collaborating and negotiating around another’s kitchen, bathroom and remote control.
Got a neglected garden? Fix it. Good exercise too. Good for your soul. Plant some vegetables and colors, to keep you coming back for the bounty when your holiday is over. Or buy a couple of pot plants, with herbs already growing. However – here’s the thing about ‘jobs to be done’. The summary of your holiday must not include ‘I had the car serviced’, ‘I finally got around to re-plumbing the leaky toilet’, ‘my dentist did those two root canals I had to have’ – or any such. Nope. Nope. Nope. No tedious chores this week. Make a list and ‘park’ them for a schedule to be arranged some working night soon. You are away, on holiday-at-home.
Choose a restaurant or two you haven’t tried. Go for a long lunch. Don’t rush. Enjoy a glass of wine if that’s your thing. Take a nap back at home and use up the rest of the afternoon with whatever other sort of afternoon delight occurs to you. Again, you’ll work it out.
Catch-up with someone you love but haven’t seen for ages. There’s never time if you leave the country. This is your chance. Combine it with 6 or 9.
Refuse to count calories for your sojourn at home. Shop accordingly. Tell your gym you’re away. Because you are.
Give yourself a spiritual, mental and physical gift every day. (and a counter to 8). Is that yoga? Meditation at home? Go for a brisk walk every day. Take your dog with you, or arrange to take someone else’s dog. Walking with a canine is a great opportunity to see the world around you differently – like the mutt does, alert to everything, sniffing, looking, ready for anything, having a great time. Try it. If you can’t borrow a dog, go to the park and watch dogs at play. They live a great life.
For your daily walk, choose your own suburb, or even better, one you don’t know well. Drive there, and walk their streets. Or check out a walking path, rail trail, riverbank pathway that’s new for you. Notice the trees. Sticky beak at other peoples’ gardens. Make eye candy of their flowers. Put ‘coffee money’ in your pocket for a latte break along the way. smile at strangers as you walk, and say hello. Good cheer is free, and it multiplies and comes back to you. It’s the cheapest therapy around.
Enjoy your own city. Go to something that you haven’t had time for – a concert, a stage play or musical, an art exhibition, a museum, a bookstore for a good, long browse and a purchase, a market, a festival, a park or a lake you’re not familiar with. Think like a tourist in your own town – read the tourist guide.
Turn off your electronic devices. Go on, I dare you. You think I’ve left the hardest until last? Maybe. You’ll be the net beneficiary though. Before you do, browse the net and look over the medical opinion about what’s happening to your brain, hooked into canned buzz so many hours a day. Give it a break. Read a book. And another. Talk to someone. Real talk, not text.
Australia is my ‘holiday-at-home’ example,and Melbourne is my ‘at-home’ playground. I know though, dear people who are reading this from other parts of the world, I’m thinking about you too. This recipe for a great time at home, with long-term benefits to get you through your next block of work, applies anywhere you live. Let your imagination take over. So far, sunshine, air, a positive attitude, and walking are free. This plan is for every budget and every destination.
And one last hint. At the end of your holiday-at-home, make a list of all the positive things you’ve done – and adopt them as part of your commitment to a healthier, more balanced you. Happy holiday.
I used to have a home made paper cut-out I stuck on the fridge.It said ‘Attitude Is Everything’. My children remember it well. If they grumped into the kitchen mumbling about quitting, spilling negative thoughts into words of defeat and hopelessness, I’d hug and support, and point to the little sign. I’d ask something like, ‘so, have we got a bad attitude here, or a real reason for needing to make a change?’ It worked, mostly. There was always a pathway to positive thinking, to re-set the negatives so they became oportunities, to assess whatever-it-was that had overwhelmed – and to find a useful, productive way through. I used it on my kids, I used it on myself and my friends and professional colleagues, and I still do.
My children tried lots of things – I encouraged them to have a go at almost anything they expressed interest in, to sort out for themselves whether their interest was abiding or fleeting. Some of them became challenges – whether to continue learning French, the violin (oh, save me), judo, and baseball. Some of the sort-outs included what-about-my-maths, overdue or forgotten school projects or ones due tomorrow and it was already eight o’clock and bedtime. And some of the successes included football opportunities, rugby opportunities and academic competitions that needed to be prioritised in already busy weekly routines. That little sign stayed on the fridge for years, tattered and smudged but still sending its powerful signal.
What was it’s legacy? It helped us know that what it means to live by ‘attitude is everything’. A positive attitude can transform your thinking from defeat to success, from confrontation to compromise, and from a miserable feeling of defeat and helplessness to a comfortable feeling of acceptance and an appealing way forward. It’s so much easier to avoid being stuck, when you focus on your attitude as much as you focus on your problem. It helped all of us in my growing family sort out whether we were quitters, and if we were quitting, to be at peace that it was for the right reason. There’s no shame in quitting when it’s for the right reason. We all try lots of things as we grow up, as we grow through life. Not everything will gel. Growth comes from having a go, and from knowing why you’re quitting, and from being at peace with that, knowing that whatever it was, it it not for you – and moving forward to the next positive opportunity. And, what is the right reason for quitting ? Well that’s different for each of us, and different for each opportunity or challenge. Anything or anyone that harms you, is an obvious ‘next’ for quitting.
On a long walk through Northern Spain a couple of years back – The Camino de Compostela – I met many people, some of whom were walking through substantial pain. Life pain. Physical pain. I met a very obese woman who’s tiny feet were carrying her one hundred and forty kilograms more than seven hundred kilometers, ten kilometers at a time. She made it too. Her sunny temperament and her ringing laughter will remain with me forever, as testament to the power of a positive attitude. I carried some of the ashes of my dead son, leaving them and commemorations to his short life, in special places of my own choosing. I wanted to find a way through my numbing pain, to reestablish my ability to notice the world around me, to think outside and beyond my awful grief, and to re-find a positive attitude to help me heal. It worked. Like the big lady, not easy, but it was worth every painful step.
One morning, I went, as usual, to the plaza of the still-sleeping Spanish village to find the open bar and the coffee machine. A cafe con leche was my morning ritual, a heart lifting set-up for the walk ahead. Sitting in the slice of sunshine outside the cafe was a number of pilgrims I’d met the previous evening, around the dinner table. Caroline the Canadian still had a sore ankle this morning. She had joined up with Maria the Frenchwoman, an older lady with a hard face and iron grey, wiry hair. Maria had woken up with back pain. They’d already been to the local hospital. Maria had been given anti-inflammatories and was told the best thing for her back was to walk on. I could hear her defeat in her voice, and I could also, sadly, hear young Caroline leaning into the negative attitude, soaking it in. Caroline decided to walk on with Maria that morning although I offered to walk with her. I was sad but unsurprised to hear later that day, that they had both quit. I filed the anecdote in my memory bank, thinking about how faiure can be as infectious as success and that one negative can multiply and take over other people, as quickly as a positive attitude will gather other positives around it. Later in the walk, I heard of an American woman who walked for three days only, of her month-long Camino. She went home because she missed her husband. I wonder what she learned from solitude.
I thought so much about that little sign, still on my fridge back home, as I trudged along the pathways on the Camino. Attitude certainly is everything. When it’s positive it can empower you, help you conquer your fears, clarify your pathway, lead you in the right direction, open up gateways and experiences you never thought were possible. The opposite is also true. A negative attitude will deliver you your worst expectations, and will multiply them with equal speed that the positive might have done, if you’d focussed on that instead. It’s your choice. Always.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou, American author, poet, dancer, actress, and singer. 1928-2014.
Have you ever felt like quitting? Have you actually given up for a day or two, a week or month or two, thrown the goal out the window, ignored the target, denied the forward path – and taken time out, time off, or reverted to a previous behaviour that you were trying and remain determined to re-route, but just not today? Well, if so, welcome to the human race. I suspect you’re like me, human, normal, with the usual concoction of human frailties that make us so special and so precious.
My journey right now is to improve my health and wellbeing through yoga, pilates, a bit of jogging and lots of walking – all designed to get some lard off my backside and improve my blood markers. I’m not aiming to look like a catwalk model and I’m not obese by a long shot. However, my cholestorol would benefit from more mindfulness, my bone density and my thyroid need me to pay attention, and my energy levels are connected to my fitness level. Everything has just drifted in the last few years. It was time to pay attention. I’m making progress too, these past three months, or I was until this week. Then I got a bit of a cold, got a bit overtired from workload, had a couple of late nights, a few days racing around like a winged bluebottle – and the target slid off the fridge door, a bit of comfort eating kicked in, and here I am, reflecting on where all that determination evaporated to. How am I going to recapture it? I’m more than half way to my goal for goodness sake!
Well here are some leaves from life’s notebook, as always, according to Jen.
While you’re beating yourself up for a lapse in the pathway to whatever it is you’re trying to achieve, if you, like me, identify with the yo-yo of life goals, remember that overnight success is a myth. Most achievers – actually let’s say allpeople who achieve a goal, wonder if they’ll ever make it, have almost given up at least once, and if they’re honest, (which most are, after the twists and turns of a life journey) will proudly share that the prospect of failure and their reaction to that prospect, is part of their success.
That’s underlined for a reason. Read it again and personalise it. “The prospect of MY failure and MY reaction to that prospect, is part of MY success.” Hold the thought and look back at the Journeystowords post ‘You Want To Make A change?’ from February this year. Are you prepared to look in the mirror? Do you still want to achieve that goal? The inner you, the absolute essence of yourself is the only one who can answer the question. Your heart may be seared with scars, your determination may be knocked around, and your spirit a bit fatigued. That’s ok. That’s life. Circumstances might have got in your way, distracted you or pushed you off course. Maybe it is time for a short break. Your best companion, the one who gazes back at you from the mirror, holds eye contact without drifting away, is the champion on your team, knows the way forward. Repeat the goal and ask. ‘Are we doing this?’ Respect the answer. That’s you in there, the real you, the no b-s version.
Smile at yourself, while you’re in front of the mirror. Tell the saboteur who lurks in the back of your mind to leave you be. Better still, invite her (or him) to become your ally, to cross over and help you achieve. Congratulate yourself for understanding that the pathway to success is not always a straight line. Smile at the genie, the ally, the friend, abiding confidante and mentor – your best team mate on the ‘A’ team of ONE.
And then? Head on out into the world, my friend. Give yourself permission and a limit to your ‘time out’. Or, if you’re ready, pick up the pieces, reshape the target and continue on your pathway to success – health, wealth, peace, harmony, a better, stronger you, wellbeing, mindfulness. You just learned something really important about yourself. Facing the prospect of your failure and your reaction to it, harnessing the problem, respecting it, giving it air, letting it breath, then sorting it and absorbing it or setting it aside, has become part of your success.
Does this sound like corny phaff? Do yourself a favour. Try it. You will find that the energy around you, both whatever you project out there in the world around you and what comes back, will be more positive and supportive. Achievement will flow to you and from you. Don’t waste your time with negatives whether that’s energy or people. Step aside, go around, leave behind anything and anyone who pulls you backwards. Move ahead and take your positive energy with you.
Journeys to Words continues to grow. 26 Subscribers, 103 registered users, and the most recent post, ‘7 Steps to Improved Happiness’ reached 1100 readers on Facebook and almost 400 on LinkedIn. Hardly viral, but I no longer feel I’m talking into a void after 16 months and 20 posts. Thank you. You make me glad I’m sharing. If you like what you read, please pass it on.
No one knows who originated “you need three things in life to be happy – something to do, someone to love and something to look forward to”. It’s one of those pithy aphorisms that has become so embedded, the originator’s copyright has evaporated and the whole world owns the wisdom. It’s a good recipe, that’s why it survives. Maybe you need more than three. Recipes are made for improvement. Good cooks do that all the time. Happiness is not about a partner, it’s not about being alone or hitched, not about where you live or how, or what you do all day or how high you climb. Nope. None of those things will of themselves, make you happy. Happiness is about your thoughts within, and how you put them into action. Attitude is Everything. (Make a poster and pin this on your fridge!)
So how come seven suggestions? Well that’s how many I got to when I pondered what I might suggest to good friends as pathways to happiness. It could be seventy. All recipes are flexible. You add your own ingredients. You might add them to the note on the fridge.
So, here are mine, straight from my own journey:
1. You cannot change anyone else on this planet. So stop trying. But you can change yourself. That’s the best influence on others you can be.
2. Slow down and notice small things. In your environment, in yourself, in your friends. There is great opportunity to learn, to reflect and to be inspired by aspects of life that our busy selves gloss over. Go for a walk. Look around. Look down. Take a photo. Make a note. Share it with a friend.
3. Pick one thing in yourself you’d like to change. One thing at a time. Develop a plan. Activate your plan. Look at you, the real you, in the mirror. Hold eye contact (no drifting off!) and make the deal with her or him. You’re looking deep into the eyes of the only one you can influence, the one who will be the most joyful at your success and the most forgiving if you need another try. Make the deal.
4. Commit to the Positive. Disallow negative influences in your life. This is the most powerful of them all. In every aspect – work, play, leisure, responsibility, opportunity – make a conscious and deliberate decision that you will interpret, speak, act and feel everything from a positive point of view. You will LOOK for the positive in everything. Even in the face of the most abject and immediate challenge, you will ask yourself “What Do I Like About This?” – and you will pause, take a deep breath, and allow the answer to guide your next thoughts, words and deeds. Watch out for this. You will experience the most fundamental shift in your happiness (and those around you) when you use this simple yet nurturing tool in all areas of your life. I’m talking about a fundamental, paradigm shift in your well being. You’ll be healthier too. And a much nicer person to be around. You’ll bloom and flourish. This works.
5. Be flexible. With people. With tasks. With conflicting priorities. Every waking minute of your day provides an endless cackle of interference. Don’t stress when what you think you’re doing next is not what you do next. Remember the question “What Do I Like About This?” Let the answer influence your next actions.
6. Respect Your Health. Your body is a temple. Keep it shiny and strong. Don’t put junk in a temple. And don’t poison it either. The pathway to enjoyment and sustainable happiness is about moderation and balance, not benders and binges. Check with the guy in the mirror you met in number 3.. He knows. She knows. Excess is just that – too frickin much. Self correct. In this aspect of your happness, don’t be as flexible as number 5 suggests. Some of the damage you can cause your body is healable and reversible. Much of it isn’t. You have one life. One body. Handle with care. This way up. Fragile. Live the labels.
7. Live a Good life. Hugh McKay, sociologist is big on this last one. He believes we stress too much and put too high a priority on “happiness”. He makes the point that extreme happiness is actually dysfunctional and unsustainable – like being in love, or winning a lottery – and that aspiring to constant happiness is likely to lead to disappointment. To McKay happiness is a fleeting sensation that rises and settles in a life of steadiness and commitment to positive relationships, satisfying work and emotional balance. It makes sense to me. It sounds like the recipe, doesn’t it? – ‘something to do, someone to love and something to look forward to’.
I have cobbled this list together from my own joys and heavy landings, frustrations and proud moments. You’ll have your own special directions-to-self, developed from your own experiences. I’m certain of that. We’re all in the same boat here. We’re all working on our stuff.
If you’d like to add one of your own pieces of wisdom, I’ll share it. Although the JourneystoWords Subscriber list says 25 of you are watching, the User List has 85 registered and growing every post, and from the Facebook and LinkedIn connections there are hundreds more. Thank you, all of you. Keep sharing and passing the post on. Please.
Virtual hugs are free. Have one from me.
Heavy Things Not to Carry Around In Your Life:
*A Black Heart. It will poison you. Whatever has turned you toxic towards a someone or a something, work on it. Detach. Leave it or them, behind you. Let your heart be light. It loves you. You love it. You’re linked together for your mutual benefit.
* A Sourpuss Face.It’s the mask in front of a black heart. What you think and feel on the outside comes from within. Negative thoughts can change your brain chemistry and permanently damage you. Don’t deny your problems and keep looking within for solutions, but don’t let them take you over. You are a better, purer essence than anything that is imposed on you from the outside world.
* A Niggling Doubt.One of these can be become a sourpuss face or, worse, a black heart. Doubts fester. They grow out of proportion really easily, then they take over and oops, a black heart on the inside and a sourpuss face on the outside is you. Give your doubts oxygen to solve themselves or make you take action. Think them through. Remember, you were born with instincts because there will be times your life might depend on them. Listen to your niggling doubt. What is is telling you? Is that real?
*Fatigue, fat and unfitness.This gang of three just loves to mess with you. Don’t let them join forces, ever. If you’ve got one, work on it to keep the other two out of your life and right out where they belong – on another planet. Fatigue is the ringleader. Keep it under control. You know how.
* Oxygen Hackers. These are usually people, not things. Some people are net energy-takers and make a lifetime practice of latching on to their next support system as soon as the previous unlatches them. If it’s not you, it will be someone else. Think about your ability to help. Limit your exposure. Consciously barricade yourself from those who know only how to take. You cannot change them, ever. You can change yourself though. Do it. Pack your life with positive people.
* Guilt and Shame. These two are a tag team too. If you are guilty, face it, make amends, apologise, explain yourself and how and why you got in this mess, and made this mistake. Change your own behaviour no matter how diffiuclt or how long it takes – and move on. Do not feel shame. Just don’t take it on. Don’t let it in. Do not let shame silence you or shut you down. Know that shame comes from fear and secrecy. Know that shame is imposed on you, is not part of you. Be proud of every step towards health and wellbeing . Every. Single. Step.
A Blase Attitude To Your Healthy Body. Take a multiple vitamin pill everyday. Don’t fool yourself you eat a balanced diet all the time. Very few people have the time and energy in a working life (unless they’re foodie gurus and even then, I’m suspicious) to self-manage the intricate decisions and knowledge required to make this claim. Let the water authority take care of the vitamin residuals leached through the sewers. We all know only some vitamins are needed by our body some of the time. Accept that you’ll never know which is which or when its vital. No one eats a balanced diet, if we ever did. Just take the pill and do your best. And remember, there’s no such thing as a recreational drug. They are drugs. Bad for you.
A short post this time…because what else is there to say? After watching this CNN clip celebrating the contribution to her community being made, day in, day out, by Anuradha Koirali, I’m inspired to do more. There is so much bad news.
My advice? Ignore it. Recovery is a journey of a million tiny steps. Humanity is so threaded through with small and large acts of dignity, grace and thoughtfullness, a better future comes closer when we focus on the positive and lock out the negative. Our media is bound in a culture of sensationalist tragedy. Ignore that too. Turn the damn television off. Focus your thoughts and your actions on your next, positive step for yourself and for others. The multiplier effect around you is quite remarkable.
When I was a little girl I had a doll called Rosemary. Her blue gingham dress matched her eyes. Her curvy black eyelashes were so long she’d out-flutter contemporary Bourke Street Mall maidens if I still had her. It’s more than forty years since Rosemary disappeared.
Rosemary and I spent many afternoons perched together on the worn back steps in the shade of the apple tree at our back door, talking about being somewhere else. In a dream place. There, no one would tell us lies, no one would shut us out of their secret conversations. We would know what was going on, all the time.
By the time I was six and had Rosemary for a year I had worked out her secret. She had a ‘yes’ button on her tummy that nodded her head in agreement, and a ‘no’ button in the middle of her back that disagreed, or confirmed my negative if I said ‘We don’t like that, do we Rosemary?’ ‘No we don’t,’ she replied. I was the youngest sibling in a troubled household keeping secrets around abuse, locked down in silence. I knew nothing of it, was told nothing, an unwitting player in a scenario that literally, was spun way over my head. My time would come.
Rosemary was my friend. I didn’t know why my older sisters were not my friends or that they should be. When I was old enough to put all the pieces of the family jigsaw together, I unlocked the secrets and joined them all together. It took a long time but in the end, I knew most of it.
Back then, Rosemary answered my innocent questions about why things were so. She always gave me the ‘yes’ or the ‘no’ I longed for. Together we went to a dreamy harmonious place, another sun filled back yard, a place where our big brother wasn’t watchful and brooding and our big sisters were kind.
When I was eight, Rosemary disappeared. Just. Like. That. As I did every day, I had propped her up on my pillow before leaving for school. It was going to be a cold day so I’d tucked her pink plastic legs under the edge of my quilt. I’d kissed her cheek and told her to be good while I was gone.
When I came home, dawdling my tired little girl legs along the passageway, she was gone. I learned that from my mother that afternoon that the stringy wail of a desolate child mourning the loss of treasure was not to be tolerated. There was no comfort there. She made staccato statements, the cumulation of her mothering. ‘You’re almost grown up. Big girls don’t play with dolls. Forget about her.’ She did not say where Rosemary had gone nor volunteered any explanation of her role in Rosemary’s disappearance. I knew though. There was a clear message in her last word on the matter. ‘Enough of the day dreaming lass. Stay with reality.’
I never forgot Rosemary. I don’t know if she could have helped when I was abused two years later. I had no one to talk to. The culture of silence in the family had me locked down too. I knew the rules by osmosis. I didn’t know I was not alone in the family in this circumstance. I felt alone though. Very alone. Would I have told Rosemary? I still imagine I would have. The shadowy spectre of abuse had removed my childhood forever but my faith in my friend remained. She was me.
I grew up and found my own way. My dream place remains, a heritage of the place of safety and security I knew how to reach with my doll. My adult strategy is to take my troubles to a calmer place. It has a perfect emotional climate, dappled sunlight and soft winds blowing through an apple tree, and trustworthy friends. My pathway to get there is via meditation or through walking outside. Long walks have become my daily healing headspace, created by the rhythm of stepping along. Walking allows the worst memories and circumstances, betrayals and confusions to be faced, processed and replaced with peace of mind.
Did you have a Rosemary? I hope you did. I also hope you didn’t need to have a Rosemary,but had a trusted ‘other’ anyway to share your confusions and imaginings with.
Recovery has many pathways. Rarely is the journey smooth. Our culture has encouragement to comfort and guide us. ‘Hang in there kiddo’, ‘take the rough with the smooth’, ‘one step at a time’, ‘two steps forward, one step backwards’. Some of them help, some of the time.
You know, don’t you, if this is your journey, that there is no one thing that acts like a magic wand. Recovery takes time and patience, and determination to get back up, grow strong and stand tall, to move beyond, to activate the best outcome by living a better life after calamity.
Alone or supported, the work happens within, in your heart and your soul, in your head and your hands. You are your best friend and your strongest ally.
Look at that magnificent, scarred, tall and strong Redwood. I looked up at it, a dot at its foot, and saw the marks of time and the straight youngster protected by its bulk, reaching for the sky right next to it, most likely its own seed. Nature demonstrates profound lessons in simple truth.
I salute you on this bitter-sweet day – whatever your journey. From loss, from abuse, from illness, from disadvantage, – or joyfully with none of these to weigh you down. Today, three years ago, my son died in his sleep from mixing prescription and recreational drugs. He was recovering from addiction. The legal drugs were to aid him on the panicky pathway. Mixed with the illicit substance he weakened for, his heart gave out. He did not know the consequences of the fatal mix. Death by ignorance. From what I have read, Heath Ledger made the same mistake. I hope wherever they are, they’re sharing stories.
Grief is a mongrel. Loss is a monster. The challenge to live around and beyond, to function in a thoughtful and contributing life, the challenge to capture negatives before they engulf me and stick me to the couch – has made me a better person. I’m both more and less empathetic if that makes sense. I knew not much of real trouble in my youth. Adulthood brought a few curved balls, mostly of my own making. The biggest whack to the side of my head came when I was grown up (or pretending to be). I had to reevaluate my childhood when I learnt that it was not as it had seemed, certainly not for siblings around me who had suffered in awful ways I had no referencing for but which had influenced my sense of myself. To learn how to live beyond a dishonest childhood has been a mighty challenge.
Grief has given me the opportunity to learn a lot of things about myself. I’m less self absorbed, and both less tolerant of self absorbtion in others and infinitely more tolerant and attracted by even a hint of self determination. No manipulative, victim hang wringing and whining – I can’t stick around for that. I’ve grown beyond some friendships, and have made new, profoundly satisfying ones for better reasons. The journey is still offering me opportunities to make the most of a new mindfulness. This web site is one of them. A changed outlook, for sure. I’m ok with that. You should be too if there are similarities in your journey. It’s not always comfortable for people who think they know me, I suspect. Others are surprised in the nicest way, with the additional layers I have grown.
That’s life kiddo. Hang in there. I can’t have my son back. I long to have him around, always will. I will always grieve. I long to put it aside. I wish I had known my family contained dark and horrible secrets. I long to have known and to have been able to help. All things will pass, all things will find their place. That’s life kiddo.
I’m sharing these thoughts for this special reason today. Thanks for your indulgence. And on your journey, I wish you every fair wind and calm sea the voyage through life can give you. I write from my heart – scarred and pitted like that Redwood, but holding me tall, face to the light. The journey is the journey, the opportunities are there, no matter how dark the materials or how dim the light.
Virtual hugs are free. Have an extra big one from me.
This post is the first of a series where writers and thinkers on the journey to their own fulfillment have agreed to be Guest Contributors to ‘Journeys To Words’. I call them ‘life warriors’. They’re at heart, ordinary folk like you and me. Along their life pathways, all have faced their fear and have found ways to turn their challenges into opportunities. A new guest will appear every few weeks. In between, my pot pourri of leaves from life’s notebook will continue. You’ll be able to click on ‘Guest Contributors’ on the top bar and browse all guests as the file builds.
Growing beyond our own monsters (and we all have them, large or small), clearing physical, emotional or spiritual debris from our lives, harnessing our angels and helpers, changing our circumstances – takes personal courage and focus, and generous doses of time, the great healer. The search for personal truth may take us through pain and loss before safer horizons appear. Often this effort is neither acknowledged nor celebrated. I’m grateful to our inaugural Guest Contributor, Sian Prior,for her willingness to share her journey with this growing on-line community of life travellers. So often we cannot ‘see’ what’s within. Even if we think we know someone, they may share a personal journey that surprises and humbles us. Sian’s and poise and professional success is a testimony to her journey beyond her childhood.
Please leave a comment – and of course, subscribe if you haven’t done so already. One of Journeys To Words aims is to not ‘hack’ your life (been watching many ‘happy puppy’ clips on U-Tube recently?) but rather to leave you with a pebble in your journey pond, the ripples inviting your own thoughts.
Sian Prior’s first work of non-fiction ‘Shy’ was published by Text Publishing in May 2014. If you want to source the book, go to https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/shy Sian is a freelance journalist, well know to Australian readers. She contributed a weekly column to The Age newspaper and writes opinion pieces, travel features and theatre, opera and book reviews. I hope you enjoy Sian’s contribution. As always, a virtual hug from me.
Welcome to Shyworld
I have thought of myself as a shy person for as long as I can remember. As a child I hid behind my mother’s legs and couldn’t bear to engage with strangers. I had to be bribed to go and visit my closest friends. Sleepovers were a nightmare of separation anxiety. Yet every professional job I’ve had as an adult has involved showing off. I have presented radio programs, sung in operas, given speeches to large crowds, lobbied politicians, and taught classrooms full of mature-age students. But I will still cross the road to avoid having to do small talk with an acquaintance. Why?
In order to try to answer this question I started writing. First I wrote a 700 word newspaper column about a fictional place called Shyworld. Then I wrote an 800 word nonfiction essay about having an anxiety attack at a party. Next I wrote a 4000 word essay called Shy Young Thing about trying to understand the causes of that anxiety attack. Then I wrote another newspaper column, this time about former PM Julia Gillard admitting to being a shy person. Still I couldn’t leave it alone.
Now I’ve writing a 65000 word memoir called Shy about a life spent battling with an irrational fear of other human beings. I had hoped that when the memoir was finished the battle would be over; that by understanding shyness (or social anxiety, as the psychologists label it) I could eradicate my own shyness. Of course I have discovered that I can’t stop being a shy person – it’s too late for that – but I do feel more able to accept the contradictions of having this particular temperament trait. Talking to psychologists about shyness, I discovered that it usually comes with a bunch of positive character traits, including empathy, reliability, helpfulness and conscientiousness, and those are qualities I value highly.
Investigating shyness led me to investigate the genetic inheritance that made my shyness almost inevitable. In turn, that led me to confront the absence of my father in my life, the emotional consequences of his absence, and the manner of his death. My shy father’s death was a dramatic event – his was a heroic death – and a death that seemed to contradict the stereotypes of shy people as timid and fearful. In acknowledging my father’s courage I also came to understand that perhaps shyness had forced me to act courageously at times as a way of overcoming my natural inclination to avoid taking risks. Once you start unpeeling the layers of your own identity, sometimes you find there are more reasons to be proud of yourself than you previously thought.
Many people will no doubt be surprised when I ‘out’ myself as shy. They may have seen me performing with apparent confidence in public, expressing my opinions to strangers, talking to strangers on the radio, singing art songs for strangers, teaching rooms full of strangers. Those things have come at a cost – my nervous system has given my digestive system quite some punishment over the decades – but in researching and writing this book I’ve also come to understand some of the strategies I’ve used to cope with my social anxiety.
Professional roles have been a form of protection for me, something to hide behind. I’ve always worked for organisations whose values and goals I could fully subscribe to, and those jobs have provided me with a cloak of confidence that has sometimes been lacking in my personal life. Judy Davis is famously shy – excruciatingly so – and yet she has won many awards for her acting performances. Perhaps she finds respite in hiding behind the roles she takes on. I’m sure many other shy people have found similar strategies to deal with their fears, and it is a reminder about how adaptive and resilient humans can be. In spite of my shyness I’ve always had a strong ego and always wanted to make my mark on the world. I must have decided somewhere along the way that unless I found ways to get around my shyness, that would never be possible.
The most important discovery I made in writing this memoir was that at the heart of shyness is a fear of negative evaluation – in other words, fear of rejection. Then in the middle of writing the book I suddenly and without warning experienced the worst rejection of my life – rejection by someone I loved very deeply. So as well as being an exploration of the causes and impacts of shyness, this book also became a record of how I survived the shy person’s worst fear. Needless to say it was an extremely painful process. There is a paragraph in an essay by Jorge Luis Borges that I found quite comforting in the midst of this stuff. He was reflecting on what he had discovered from a life of writing, and said he had realized ‘that bad things and some good things would happen to me but that, in the long run, all of it would be converted into words. Particularly the bad things, since happiness does not need to be transformed: happiness is its own end.’ I have experienced long periods of intense happiness in my life but those are probably not the times that I will ever spend much time writing about. Writing about surviving deep unhappiness, though, has definitely been cathartic.
When I told people I was writing a book about shyness, the shy people seem enthusiastic about the idea, even grateful. They wanted to talk to me at length about what I had discovered, and compare notes on the (apparently) idiotic behaviours shyness had inspired in them (and in me). At least forty percent of us would describe ourselves as shy, and a smaller percentage of those people suffer from a form of social anxiety so severe it’s been labeled a phobia. So as you can imagine, I’ve had a lot of conversations like that over the past three years.
The people who didn’t consider themselves to be shy, though, often looked nonplussed. For many of them, it seemed, shyness was a form of self-indulgence. Shy people simply weren’t trying hard enough. (Trying to do what, I wondered?) In my most anxious moments, I worried that working on this book was a form of self-indulgence. Why on earth should shyness be an interesting enough topic to sustain a whole memoir? After all, shyness is rarely life-threatening. If I was writing a misery memoir, surely shyness wasn’t a miserable enough subject. If I was writing a self-help book, surely I should try to offer people a ‘cure’ for shyness.
Shy is neither a misery memoir nor a self-help book, even though it contains some misery and I have found the process of writing it quite helpful. It’s the record of a quest for reconciliation with the self. Carl Klaus, the author of a book called The Made-Up Self, calls this ‘the tyranny of a single image, idea, memory or problem – and the compulsion to understand it. A mind in the self-absorbed process of seeking the grail of insight’. Writing Shy has given me some valuable insights and I do hope other shy folk will find them useful.
After 65,000 words maybe I can finally let it go now.
‘You wouldn’t trash a temple, would you?’ asked Michael Carroll, motivational healer, during a retreat I attended, raw with grief from the sudden death of my son four months earlier. Twenty others were on their own journeys. Some were seeking clearer life pathways, career clarity, relationship truths, better health, stronger conviction – the pot pourri you’d expect on a reflective retreat. ‘Sorting out your baggage,’ Michael called it.
I had been daydreaming,looking out the window, reflecting how profoundly my life had changedin one shocking event. I had no idea how to live on, only that I had to, no matter how lost I felt. How bleak was the prospect of a future without my rascally, smiling first born. During the first awful week before the funeral, an empathetic friend said as she put her arms around me. ‘I can’t imagine what you’re going through.’ ‘That’s ok,’ I replied. ‘Neither can I.’
Michael’s challenge brought my attention back into the room.
No, I wouldn’t trash a temple. Of course I wouldn’t, I thought to myself.
‘Well your body is a temple, and your mind is it’s centre, its altar,’ Michael’s cheeky choice of words cut through the reverie. ‘So respect it. What goes in your mouth, what thoughts come into your head, what energy you take in, put out, the company you choose within the temple of your body and your mind – these things are your future.
I kept a journal through the first year of my ‘new’ lifein the exclusive club no mother ever wants to be forced to join – those who have lost a child. Now, when I read those first entries, my heart clenches with pain, recalling those nightmare days.
Nine days into the journey:“How can my body register hunger? To sustain me to feel the horror of the loss of my son with more energy? Are there cells in my body missing the knife’s edge pain? I don’t think so. I feel. There’s no relief from desolation, in taste. Ashes in my mouth, ashes in my soul. My heart is not cold though, not dead – all too alive, raw, bleeding, pumping lonely blood through hollow veins, scraped bare with emptiness for the one who took life from these pathways, grew cells from this body, life support to form a heart from a heart. Joy from joy. Gone. The order of the universe has been reversed. Forever.”
Twelve days into the journey: I have a new companion, attached to me for life, without notice. We circle each other. I don’t know how to behave, how to walk with this shadow. Who will speak first? Who will listen? Who walks ahead, who follows? Who will set the tone, which one of us will withhold or allow the emotions that define us? Yet I am accepting of this new friend, an unfamiliar but permanent presence. We are to be together forever. The joint pathway will get easier in time, I’m told. Just now, our elbows bang. I am surprised and overcome by the power she has over me. Me! I’ve always known what to do next. I know nothing of this new journey. Together we must learn a new, safer place to coexist.
The retreat began the respectful recognition of the temple we all carry within us, and the powerful gift of reflection, given to us for life. It’s an interesting word REFLECTION. By definition, it’s what you see in the mirror. Have you read my earlier post ‘You Want To Make a Change?’ It’s about the power of reflection – using your physical reflection in the mirror to access the other meaning of ‘reflection’ – to apply respectful, non judgemental inner thought and consideration of self. ‘You’ working on ‘you’.
Reflection leads to change. We can all change. No matter what befalls us, no matter how tough it gets, we can all reflect and use our truths to move to a safer place.
In many aspects, living through grief from the loss of a loved one, shares pathways of recovery with recovery from abuse, from self doubt, from harm. The knowledge of how to go forward will be stored in the temple of your mind and body forever, just for you, a ‘call a friend’ resource that will never fail you, no matter what the future brings.
I wrote myself a letter at the end of that three day retreat, to be posted to me on a date of my choice. I chose a year. By the time it arrived I’d forgotten I’d written it. I stood by my letterbox, confused by the familiar handwriting.
‘Dear Jen,’ I’d written. ‘ A year has passed. Congratulations. In this past year you have found a way to accommodate the massive change in your life. A smile is now your first response when you think of Raif. Gratitude is your first emotional response for the shared memories and for the gift of his time in your life.
And it’s true. I do smile, I am grateful. My companion grief and I walk together more comfortably now. She lets me lead most of the time. The tools for reflection and restoration of balance are stored in my temple.
Next month will be the third year of longing for my son. I’ll cry. I’ll smile. I’ll find a temple and light a candle. I’ll go for a long walk. I’ll hug my abiding husband and my other three beautiful young adults. I’ll feel gratitude.
And I’ll register an unrequited longing so intense it will, just for a minute, take my breath away and threaten to stop my heart.
Whatever your journey, virtual hugs are free. Have a giant one from me.
I am sharing today, from a Facebook post… A young woman, Cheryl Sandberg in the USA has written a powerful piece. She has lost her husband and is struggling through the unplanned and fundamentally changed landscape of her life. This is not about religion, or faith. It’s about grief and the pit it creates in your life, the healing that is possible but often so elusive. The common thread in this loving space is loss – recovery – respect.
I’ve said it before – sometimes, somewhere, someone shares their heart with such profound honesty, our honour of their truth by reading and sharing is our gift in return, of gratitude for the gift of their experience, and empathy for their pain.
I share her words here, with a few of my own. In one month it will be three years since I lost my son Raif. I know the void Cheryl speaks of. It is my companion, sometimes distant and benign, other times beckoning and insistent. I try to live Option B although I ache to my bones for Option A. Three years of trying to understand what ‘gone’ means, day by day, sometimes minute by minute. I don’t like birthdays either – his or mine.
Heartfelt thanks to Cheryl Sandberg, a stranger on the other side of the world, but a true friend in the ways that count. Because of your words Cheryl, I’ll try harder this year.
The journey to recovery is long and hard, and endless.
Give someone you love a hug. None of us know what is around the corner.
Virtual hugs fom me
Here are Cheryl Sandberg’s fresh and painfilled, wise words:
Today is the end of sheloshim for my beloved husband—the first thirty days. Judaism calls for a period of intense mourning known as shiva that lasts seven days after a loved one is buried. After shiva, most normal activities can be resumed, but it is the end of sheloshim that marks the completion of religious mourning for a spouse.
A childhood friend of mine who is now a rabbi recently told me that the most powerful one-line prayer he has ever read is: “Let me not die while I am still alive.” I would have never understood that prayer before losing Dave. Now I do.
I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past thirty days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well.
But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning.
And this is why I am writing: to mark the end of sheloshim and to give back some of what others have given to me. While the experience of grief is profoundly personal, the bravery of those who have shared their own experiences has helped pull me through. Some who opened their hearts were my closest friends. Others were total strangers who have shared wisdom and advice publicly. So I am sharing what I have learned in the hope that it helps someone else. In the hope that there can be some meaning from this tragedy.
I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser.
I have gained a more profound understanding of what it is to be a mother, both through the depth of the agony I feel when my children scream and cry and from the connection my mother has to my pain. She has tried to fill the empty space in my bed, holding me each night until I cry myself to sleep. She has fought to hold back her own tears to make room for mine. She has explained to me that the anguish I am feeling is both my own and my children’s, and I understood that she was right as I saw the pain in her own eyes.
I have learned that I never really knew what to say to others in need. I think I got this all wrong before; I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer. A friend of mine with late-stage cancer told me that the worst thing people could say to him was “It is going to be okay.” That voice in his head would scream, How do you know it is going to be okay? Do you not understand that I might die? I learned this past month what he was trying to teach me. Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not. When people say to me, “You and your children will find happiness again,” my heart tells me, Yes, I believe that, but I know I will never feel pure joy again. Those who have said, “You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good” comfort me more because they know and speak the truth. Even a simple “How are you?”—almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with “How are you today?” When I am asked “How are you?” I stop myself from shouting, My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am? When I hear “How are you today?” I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.
I have learned some practical stuff that matters. Although we now know that Dave died immediately, I didn’t know that in the ambulance. The trip to the hospital was unbearably slow. I still hate every car that did not move to the side, every person who cared more about arriving at their destination a few minutes earlier than making room for us to pass. I have noticed this while driving in many countries and cities. Let’s all move out of the way. Someone’s parent or partner or child might depend on it.
I have learned how ephemeral everything can feel—and maybe everything is. That whatever rug you are standing on can be pulled right out from under you with absolutely no warning. In the last thirty days, I have heard from too many women who lost a spouse and then had multiple rugs pulled out from under them. Some lack support networks and struggle alone as they face emotional distress and financial insecurity. It seems so wrong to me that we abandon these women and their families when they are in greatest need.
I have learned to ask for help—and I have learned how much help I need. Until now, I have been the older sister, the COO, the doer and the planner. I did not plan this, and when it happened, I was not capable of doing much of anything. Those closest to me took over. They planned. They arranged. They told me where to sit and reminded me to eat. They are still doing so much to support me and my children.
I have learned that resilience can be learned. Adam M. Grant taught me that three things are critical to resilience and that I can work on all three. Personalization—realizing it is not my fault. He told me to ban the word “sorry.” To tell myself over and over, This is not my fault. Permanence—remembering that I won’t feel like this forever. This will get better. Pervasiveness—this does not have to affect every area of my life; the ability to compartmentalize is healthy.
For me, starting the transition back to work has been a savior, a chance to feel useful and connected. But I quickly discovered that even those connections had changed. Many of my co-workers had a look of fear in their eyes as I approached. I knew why—they wanted to help but weren’t sure how. Should I mention it? Should I not mention it? If I mention it, what the hell do I say? I realized that to restore that closeness with my colleagues that has always been so important to me, I needed to let them in. And that meant being more open and vulnerable than I ever wanted to be. I told those I work with most closely that they could ask me their honest questions and I would answer. I also said it was okay for them to talk about how they felt. One colleague admitted she’d been driving by my house frequently, not sure if she should come in. Another said he was paralyzed when I was around, worried he might say the wrong thing. Speaking openly replaced the fear of doing and saying the wrong thing. One of my favorite cartoons of all time has an elephant in a room answering the phone, saying, “It’s the elephant.” Once I addressed the elephant, we were able to kick him out of the room.
At the same time, there are moments when I can’t let people in. I went to Portfolio Night at school where kids show their parents around the classroom to look at their work hung on the walls. So many of the parents—all of whom have been so kind—tried to make eye contact or say something they thought would be comforting. I looked down the entire time so no one could catch my eye for fear of breaking down. I hope they understood.
I have learned gratitude. Real gratitude for the things I took for granted before—like life. As heartbroken as I am, I look at my children each day and rejoice that they are alive. I appreciate every smile, every hug. I no longer take each day for granted. When a friend told me that he hates birthdays and so he was not celebrating his, I looked at him and said through tears, “Celebrate your birthday, goddammit. You are lucky to have each one.” My next birthday will be depressing as hell, but I am determined to celebrate it in my heart more than I have ever celebrated a birthday before.
I am truly grateful to the many who have offered their sympathy. A colleague told me that his wife, whom I have never met, decided to show her support by going back to school to get her degree—something she had been putting off for years. Yes! When the circumstances allow, I believe as much as ever in leaning in. And so many men—from those I know well to those I will likely never know—are honoring Dave’s life by spending more time with their families.
I can’t even express the gratitude I feel to my family and friends who have done so much and reassured me that they will continue to be there. In the brutal moments when I am overtaken by the void, when the months and years stretch out in front of me endless and empty, only their faces pull me out of the isolation and fear. My appreciation for them knows no bounds.
I was talking to one of these friends about a father-child activity that Dave is not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, “But I want Dave. I want option A.” He put his arm around me and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”
Dave, to honor your memory and raise your children as they deserve to be raised, I promise to do all I can to kick the shit out of option B. And even though sheloshim has ended, I still mourn for option A. I will always mourn for option A. As Bono sang, “There is no end to grief . . . and there is no end to love.” I love you, Dave.
On Wednesday night about 11.00pm I stood in the entrance of Holborn Station, London, waiting while my husband and son figured out the ticketing machine. We’d been to see ‘The Book of Mormon’ I’d laughed so much tears had washed my makeup off. We’d had a bite to eat and were now heading back to our tourist digs. I was tired. I stood patient, sort of daydreaming at the late night passengers coming out through the turnstiles. So many people, all going somewhere, so late in the evening.
A young man stepped up to me. He was perhaps thirty, maybe a couple of years more. He towered over me, well dressed in an open necked shirt, long navy blue cardigan, designer jeans, dark hair, handsome square chin, brown eyes.
Here is the conversation:
‘I don’t want to alarm you, I’m not accosting you.’ Was I looking alarmed? His smile was open and gentle. I didn’t feel uncomfortable. ‘And anyway, I’m gay.’ This was delivered with a lovely grin that lit his entire face. ‘I just want to tell you that you are absolutely beautiful. And I hope you’re enjoying your evening.’
I beamed at him. Of course I did. Why wouldn’t I? Who wouldn’t? I’m about twice his age, for starters. ‘Well thank you for saying that. What a lovely thing to do! I was just thinking I must look a mess, I’ve laughed all my makeup off. We’ve been to see ‘The Book of Mormon’. It was so irreverant and hilarious I laughed ’til I cried.’
‘Oh that’s on my list too,’ he said. ‘But I haven’t seen it yet.’
‘Well do,’ I responded.’ It’s very clever.’
We wished each other a pleasant evening, exchanged a smiling, spontaneous, hug and he was gone, striding off down the street.
‘Did you see that?’ I asked my two men as they turned, Underground tickets in hand. ‘See what?’ they asked. The whole interchange had taken maybe sixty seconds. They hadn’t seen a thing. The memory is just mine, all mine.
I felt blessed. And beautiful, whether I am or not. A random act of kindness from a complete stranger had made my day and my evening, more than all the laughter, satire and ribald humour of the creative genius of the stage show.
A magical flood of well being had dropped into my consciousness and would stay with me. Now, three days later, it’s still with me.
We don’t do it often enough. Well I don’t. Random acts of kindness I mean. Our lives are so contrived. We are stimulus junkies. By the clock to perform, by schedules to comply, by rules to behave, by social standards to fit in. We are stimulated by advertising to spend, by charity appeals to give and give – until we risk compassion exhaustion, individually, at community level, even nationally. There are problems so profound I wonder how we will get through them. Drug abuse, sexual abuse, family violence and breakdown, national disasters, religious intolerance, the international explosion of the number of refugees unsafe in their own homes, homeless by circumstance. Oh glory, there are tasks ahead.
In my little world,on my journey, I’m going to be more conscious of opportunities to generate random acts of kindness. No contrivance. No hook. No tag. No reward. No mitigation. And no fear. Just heartfelt openness and the gift of a random act of kindess – a compliment, a coin, a gesture, time, a question, an answer…
Who knows where this may lead?
Virtual hugs are free, take one from me as a random and hearfelt act of kindness.
I’m in North Eastern Greece, on holiday, for a week or so living a calm and uncomplicated life on the beach at Ofrynio. I’m far enough from the big Greek cities for the lazy rhythm of life to bypass the raggedness and economic pain obvious in Thessaloniki, and I’m told, is even more obvious in Athens. In Thessaloniki I see homeless people in the in the park, whole families, not blending into the background as permanent wanderers tend to. These folk are newly disenfranchised, unemployed, wandering in hope. They stare into the distance, blank. They do not beg. I’m thankful its summer. The night is warm. I notice also, the broken pavements, the fractured street signs, crumbling drains. The ity is full of the marks of crumbling dreams and uncertain futures. The telltale signs of a government in the wilderness, communities falling apart.
I’m on a privileged journey. At the end of two weeks, I go home. I’m in Greece as Athens and Brusssels struggle to propose fresh deals to avoide greece defaulting on its crazy debt level. How to shift massive accumulated debt? Forced but very late honesty regarding the hidden lies and deception in financial accounting has only made the problem bigger. Much bigger than ever imagined. The diminishing likelihood that collegiate nations will offer a bailout is obvious. Pehaps there is compassion exhaustionacross Europe as the enormity of the deception carried forward by the Greek government is understood It’s ugly.
There are problems elsewhere in the Union; the stronger are frazzled to frustration by the weakest links and the failure to embrace reform. The gap between now and a sustainable future is the subject of all-day television debate in Greece – and goes nowhere. My host, a Greek retiree homefrom the USA after thirty-five years of paying his taxes here and there, watches as these two knife-edge weeks take the discussion around and around. Will Greece default? Won’t Greece default? How can it not? Is there any more money to be borrowed? In the meantime, outside the window, the newly cemented pathway along the beach finishes a hundred metres from its surveyed end point. There is no more money to finish it, although the full streth was budgeted. Electricity wires poke out of the ground like lost worms. No money is left for night lighting. Go figure where the funds went, into whose pocket.
I read an article in Vanity Fair written in 2010 by Michael Lewis ‘Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds’ Holy greek salad! It’s bad, really bad, worse in 2015 than the all-day techno babble from Greek experts and politicians pointing the finger at each other would ever have me imagine. Michael Lewis wrote of the Greek citizen: “the epidemic of lying and cheating and stealing (in Greece) makes any sort of civic life impossible; the collapse of civic lfe only makes more lying, cheating and stealing possible. lacking faith in each other, they (the Greeks) fall back on themselves and their families… Ofthe Greek government, Lewis writes ‘Aafter systematically looting their own treasury in a breathtaking binge of tax evasion, bribery and creating accounting spurred on by Goldman Sachs, Greeks are sure of one thing; they can’t trust their fellow Greeks.
Greeks it seems, and has now been demonstrated, have no inclination to pay taxes, haven’t for decades. They also have no appetite for change. To be caste adrift by their European colleagues now seems to be an inevitability. Time is the only remaining variable. These two weeks in Greece, I feel witness to an historical meltdown.
We all have to deal with our own shit, go on our own journeys, individually, collectively, nationally – or live with the consequences. Greeks aren’t quite yet stuffing their matresses with their savings. Not far off though. Banks are teetering, government is struggling, the national psyche is jointly and collectively cross-blaming – and no group or individual wants to take ownership of the problem or embrace the necessary pain that will provide a slow pathway to solution. This mess will take decadesto fix and a substantial shift in civic and civil compliance – in every Greek heart and head. The Greeks face the biggest challenge to the maturity of their ancient culture. Can they rise to the challenge?
I’ll go home in a week or so, to my ‘nanny state’, taxes and collectively accepted order and compliance. It looks sweet just now. Greece has taught me to respect just how fragile our systems of government are. And how prevalent and destructive greed can be.
Meanwhile, the Spring wild flowers make every walk in the craggy hills around Ofrynio a wonder. The Mediterranean is sparkling blue and crystal clear – and so far in Greece, sunshine is free. I step along the broken boardwalk to the sand, avoiding eye contact with the beach-dwelling abandoned dogs lest they break my heart.
I try to remain hopeful for Greece. Clutching at straws? We’ll see. I’ll bring my tourist dollars here again. I read that Spain and Portugal lurk in similar territory and in time, will bring more problems to the table for the strong to solve.
The solution is in the heart of every individual. We all know that. Stop the blame game, read the signs, take the medicine, look within for strength and support, reset the pathway, get on with it.
I’m in Istanbul, proud land of tongue tingling dark roasted beans in thick, short head-punching wake-up slugs of rich caffeine. I’m off caffeine. Saying no is part of a de-tox program to get my thyroid working more effectively. Fair call on behalf of my body.My timing sucks. I’m in Starbucks, the only place I can find decaff. Ersatz is better than nothing. The morning ritual comforts me even though there’s no magic in my cup. I sip my latte and dream of full robusta. Beggars. I’ve seen a few. On the street, under bridges, selling tissues, playing bad accordion. I ‘fell’ for the cheap Chanel trick yesterday. I guess these young boys need the money more than I do.
I read there are refugees in Turkey, fleeing from current events in Syria and Iraq. I can’t tell who they are. Sipping my latte, I’m approached by a black shrouded, swarthy faced arab woman, her hand out, her eyes sad. Most people in the coffee shop ignore her. I give her the coffee change, a few coins, and hold eye contact. She nods her thanks.
I remind myself that abuse comes in all forms. To be broke, hungry and displaced in your own country must be bad enough. To be so as an unwanted ‘guest’ in another country is beyond my imagination.
I look around me, a pot pourri of nationalities and ages, languages and cultural markers. I think I can spot the Westerners touristing in Istanbul, just like me. Sadly, we’re fatter, certainly rounder, not fit or lean – although I know I’m making a generalisation. We’re taller. The Turkish, by my observation, work hard, and long hours. It shows. They’re lean, stringy and muscled. Alert to opportunity, this is a nation of shop keepers and traders with thousands of years of tradition in their handshake and casual way of engaging, a sale always peppering their charming conversation. Life is not so secure perhaps?
I sip my latte again, make some more notes on the languages I hear, and wonder if Starbucks has found a way to sneak sugar into the milk in my non-coffee. Am I getting a secret sweet hit? Maybe my taste buds are picking up other flavours now. I’m two weeks caffeine-less. The non-coffee is suspiciously sweet.
I think about sugar and fat, and nations of fat people, as some western democracies are becoming. Australians are amongst the most rapidly fattening of populations, if not the fattest. We’re making ourselves sick on sugar and fat, the good life of security , peace and prosperity.
At what point does the ‘pushing’ of sugary drinks, through advertising and promotion, hiding sugar and fat and other chemicals in sodas, hamburgers, and the reconstitution of hitherto benign foods with poisonous chemicals, become abuse? (tried Macdonalds fries recently? Have a look at the list of chemicals they contain?) At What Point do we declare these hidden processes the grooming of the innocent, the promotion of such products abuse, and those who peddle them abusers? A while back, I propose. A while back.
We accept that the company that continued to embed asbestos in housing materials, and failed to protect workers who mined and handled asbestos after they knew of the death sentence hidden in the substance, was guilty. That was long term, sustained abuse. We know that cigarette companies that continued (and still do where they can) to peddle tobacco after they knew and covered up the death warrant in a cigarette – are guilty of abuse.
I’d like to raise all of our awareness to the many subtle and not so, ways in which our environment and those who would have us believe they are doing us a favour, might not be.
I heard a radio national broadcast three weeks back. I’m a bit of an addict to radio national’s commitment to broadcasting research based expertise, rather than locals calling in with their say. Open line freedom of speech has its place as a community forum but not all day, or everyday for me. I like knowledge as the catalyst for point of view.
An expert sociologist was speaking of his most recent contribution to policy formulation. His proposition is that the cost of keeping criminals in jail is too high. We are locking up the wrong people such as white collar criminals. There are other ways to make their lives difficult, better ways to remind them of the power of the law. The clincher – WE SHOULD ONLY BE LOCKING AWAY PEOPLE WE ARE TRULY AFRAID OF. And who might they be? Rapists, child molesters, pedophiles, the violent, murderers and the criminally insane.People who do us the most harm. People who harm our children, our women.
That program has stayed with me. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. It makes sense, particularly in the recent commnity landscape in Australia where we are in national meltdown over two unnecessary executions in Indonesia, but not shouting loud enough about the more than thirty women killed THIS YEAR in our own country from violent acts at the hands of partners, ex partners or random male attackers. Think of the children of these families, a mother killed in this way. Think of their trauma, their future, their prospects. The epidemic of violence is in our own back yard, not across the water to our north.
I’m in Bangkok, on my way to Greece for a long promised visit with a dear friend who now lives there. This layover en route is slow-down time and a chance to have another look at a sprawling city I haven’t seen for more than a decade. In the seventies, when I first visited, Bangkok was a poor and dirty city with a seedy, desperate feel to its mean streets. Ten years ago I could readily see progress. It had translated though, into too many vehicles. The smog and congestion was distressing.
Today Bangkok is clean, busy, and servicing its community better. I rode the Skytrain from one side ot the city to the other. There are now massive freeways, new schools, more hospitals, massive open air markets, parks and greenery, cleaned up canals – so much progress has been made, demonstrably and visibly. Yesterday was Sunday. I went to a local market. Young people and young couples with little ones did too, in their thousands. Happy citizens, (iphones in hand!) out for the day with friends and family.
How dismaying though, on an asian-english television network last night, to watch a program interviewing a senior police officer in Cambodia, his face heavy with sadness and frustration. He spoke of the prevalence of foreign predatory males in Cambodia operating local orphanages, abusing children. Children who are often not orphans but victims of ‘deals’ made with impoverished parents in return for money, to ‘educate’ and ‘care’ for youngsters. Two little boy, brothers were featured. They had been groomed and lured in this way. Heartbreaking. Often these are identified and convicted criminals from other countries, some Australian, who are allowed, somehow, to leave their own countries. They have set up base in Cambodia where they continue their abuse uninterrupted. The program noted that evidence is difficult to collect because these are smooth operators. The accusations were quite clear. The photos of perpetrators also clearly identified them. Because they’re not in our backyards anymore does not diminish our responsibility.
These are precious children. Precious children are everywhere.
My heart is heavy this morning. I will continue to try to help the recovery process from abuse. Of course I will. My spirit sags sometimes, when I come across evidence of how widespread childabsue and trafficking is. I know of two wonderful orphanages in Cambodia. Both are founded and run by women. I’ll focus there.
It’s almost three years since I lost my first born adult son, Raif. The pain and shock of loss threatened to drown me. As part of the journey through grief, I went to a weekend retreat called ‘Inspiration and Freedom’. The retreat was not about grief management, although it helped me profoundly. It was about what I call ‘working on your shit’, getting more out of life and giving yourself the best chance you can to live positively and a fulfilled, contributing existence for your time on this earth – whatever that means for you.
It was a powerful weekend. It taught me a lot – about myself, about energy, about harnessing the positive, about quantum physics and how to tap into energy that is helpful, affirming and intelligent. I’ve been back twice.
During the retreat I was given gifts of thoughts from philosphers and thinkers, spirit guides and inspirers from all ages, continents and faiths. One I was ‘introduced to’ via film clip and audio, was Esther Hicks, an inspirational speaker and intuitive thinker. Esther said some things that stuck. One of them I’d like to share with you.
When you’re in strife, things aren’t good, you’re losing your temper or your patience perhaps, you’re not sure what to do next, a situation is getting you down – get my drift? – your energy will become negative. That in itself is very likely to attract more trouble. Esther calls it ‘The Law of Attraction’. She wrote a best seller with the same title.
If you’re in trouble, or troubled, ask yourself one question. ‘What Do I like About This? Ask yourself again. Aloud if you like. And combine it with another of my humble suggestions, from five posts ago (‘You Want to Make a Change’) – ask the person in the mirror.
Can you feel what just happened? It was so easy. Feel your attitude lighten? Feel your spirit lift? Your energy has changed. Negative just became positive in your brain chemistry. You feel better already.
You just went from problem to opportunity, in one small question. It wasn’t even difficult.
Keep going with the positive thought. Even if the answer to your question ‘What do I like about this?’ was – ‘This is the bottom of the pit and I’m never going here again’ – That’s a positive thought. Go with it. What’s next? What’s the next thing you are going to do to move yourself out of the pit? Remove yourself from the situation? Get someone out of your space? Make a plan? Make a list? Get moving? Put the icecream back in the fridge?
If you ask the question ‘What Do I Like About This? ‘ I promise you, a positive thought is just sitting there waiting for the opportunity for you to let it in, the opportunity to breathe positive energy into your life. Go with that. Even if the answer is to recognise that you can do nothing about your situation just now, your subconscious will be aware, waiting for opportunity. Make the question a mantra. Ask it all day if you need to.
It’s magic! No it’s not really. Think of it as a tool, always waiting and ready, sharp and fast. A roundabout that gives you a new direction, gets you off the track you’re on. The tool is equally there for small problems as it is for big ones. It keeps you calm, focussed and moving in a positive mental and emotional framework, with easy access back onto your chosen pathway if you get sidetracked. And it has a snowball effect. The more you harness the positive, the more positive opportunity will appear in your life. You can trust that.
If you want to know more of Esther’s thoughts, just search Esther Hicks or Abraham-Hicks.
Look at this amazing tree. It lives near my house. One strong tree hit hard times and fell down in the wind. One very small part of its roots remained in the ground. Before long, recovery started. Eighteen saplings now grow from the original trunk.
Now that’s perseverance and determination. Life’s like that for survivors. We can learn to bend, to flow, we can grow around and beyond, learn to turn negative into positive, trouble into opportunity, learn to reach for the sky.
Sunshine and air are free, there for the taking. Take a deep breath. Take another one. Life is there to be lived, to move beyond adversity to fulfilling spaces and peaceful places of our own making.
Reach for the sky, grow new leaves, branch out stand tall, be proud. Your past is just that. it doesn’t define you. Leave it behind if you don’t want it around you.
Put your hand on your heart. Feel that? It’s your purpose on earth, to make every one of those beats worthwhile.
Journeys To Words is now on Instagram, if any of my fellow travellers are into quick photo messages, almost daily, but no promises. @journeystowords. Another journey through ‘What the’ to ‘Ok, I get it’, to having fun with a new way to communicate. Not doing Twitter though. Ever. I promise. Me and one hundred and forty characters and no time to think? I don’t think so. That’s when trouble happens.
With absolute acknowledgement of the writer of this, F Scott Fitzgerald who, like most of us, lived an imperfect life, but one of creativity, mindfulness, insight and ever constant fight against his own demons. That makes him pretty normal really, doesn’t it?
“FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH ITS NEVER TOO LATE, OR … TOO EARLY, TO BE WHOEVER YOU WANT TO BE. THERE’S NO TIME LIMIT. START WHENEVER YOU WANT. YOU CAN CHANGE OR STAY THE SAME. THERE ARE NO RULES TO THIS THING. WE CAN MAKE THE BEST OR THE WORST OF IT. I HOPE YOU MAKE THE BEST OF IT. I HOPE YOU SEE THINGS THAT STARTLE YOU. I HOPE YOU FEEL THINGS YOU NEVER FELT BEFORE. I HOPE YOU MEET PEOPLE WHO HAVE A DIFFERENT POINT OF VIEW. I HOPE YOU LIVE A LIFE YOU’RE PROUD OF, AND IF YOU’RE NOT, I HOPE YOU HAVE THE COURAGE TO START ALL OVER AGAIN.”
F, SCOTT FITZGERALD.
…Makes your skin tingle doesn’t it? Start right now. The journey is the journey. Find a helping hand. Live well. It’s the best revenge to the past.
Virtual hugs are free. Have one from me.
And, see you at @journeystowords on Instagram. Every day! Every single day! You’ll still see www.journeystowords fortnightly. With gratitude to my friend Alison von Bibra of @Cotton_Factory for her patience in teaching me how to spread my wings in the social media space. I’m getting there! Flying!
The year Julia turned ten there was a burglar. A few months before, her sister Denise invented a game she called ‘Bed Swap’. Sometimes Denise wanted to switch around before lights out. Sometimes she was in Julia’s bed with her in the morning. Julia thought it was fun. Denise was twelve.
The year before, their father threw their big brother out. He was seventeen. Father and son didn’t get along but their mother told Julia to stop being nosy when she asked questions. Julia didn’t care much or for long. Denise was Ray’s favorite anyway.
Lights off. It was a ‘Bed Swap’ night. From Denise’s bed everything looked the same to Julia, only different, fantasy spun with reality. Julia wriggled down and looked towards her own bed, farthest from the door. Denise was a lump under the covers. The door was just beyond Julia’s feet, the double windows next to her head, parallel single beds against each sidewall.
The house creaked as the roof tightened in the cold. The wind buffeted the windowpane, making the tassel on the half drawn blind jiggle against the glass. The streetlamp cast a feathery shadow across the floor its yellowy light filtered through the branches of a tree. On ‘Bed Swap’ nights Denise toppled into sleep within seconds. On other nights she whispered from her own bed, rambled imaginings of a dream world. She was going to be an astronaut when she grew up, fly far away.
Julia heard the sprinkle of arriving rain. Her eyelids fluttered.
Long after, she exploded out of deep sleep. Her eyes gaped in the dark. She couldn’t move. Her blankets were pushed back. Her pajama pants were down past her bottom. She had wet myself. A big person blocked the light. She felt hot breath on her face. Pain, sharp and raw, rasped high up between her legs. Thick fingers drilled into her, rough and relentless. Her private skin had torn, creating a burn like acid and a smell like wet metal. Julia grasped for reality, slow to absorb the right way round in the room, the way things were supposed to be.
She knew she was awake. There was nightmare and there was this.
The grinding fingers paused, their owner stilled by her awareness. Rasping breath, too close to her face, slackened a little.
‘Who is it?’ She was a gurgle more than a voice.
Out of the dark came a whisper. The tone was supposed to make it ok.
‘It’s all right. It’s only me.’
The fingers probed again. Julia screamed, a feeble and cracked search for oxygen. She got control of her lungs. A real scream. The hand jerked away. The bedclothes were shoved up.
Within seconds, her mother flicked the light switch. She squinted from child to child, taking in the reversal of daughters – Julia in Denise’s bed, squealing, Denise in Julia’s bed, rigid, wide-eyed, silent. Arms encircled Julia’s shaking little body, hushing her insistence that a man had been there. She wiped teary tracks off Julia’s cheeks.
‘It’s a nightmare, that’s all.’
‘No, no.’ the child hiccupped and clung. ‘It was real.’
Julia’s mother shivered in a draft and left the room, following cold air to the back door. It was open wide. Muddy footprints tracked down the back steps. She called to her husband and went to the telephone. It was five am.
Julia looked across at her sister. Denise was so pale she looked luminous. She hadn’t moved and didn’t speak.
‘It’s too late now,’ their mother said when she returned. ‘The police will come in the morning’.
Denise had wet the bed too. Their mother’s clucking tongue oscillated between irritation and reassurance as she told them to don fresh pajamas while she fetched clean sheets. The little girls were returned to their own beds. Julia did not go back to sleep. She knew from her breathing that Denise slept.
The next morning, Saturday, a policeman arrived in time for morning tea. For Julia, shame had already created a screen around the crime. She had no name for what been done to her anyway and her subconscious had hijacked the identity of her attacker. Julia was aware though, of her dread of speaking out. She sensed her mother’s vanilla household would somehow implode if this secret were spoken aloud.
‘Yes, he touched me.’ Julia demonstrated, her fingers tracing tickly lines across her cheeks and throat. She created the untruth like an invisible tattoo she would wear for decades. Around sips of tea and mouthfuls of fruitcake, the constable jotted notes onto a form pinned to a clipboard. No, nothing was missing. No damage done. No, she didn’t recognize the voice. No, he hadn’t touched her anywhere else.
Julia’s mother watched her as she spoke. So did her sister. They oversaw her lies, closing the door on help. Julia wanted to believe her mother’s trivializing summary of Denise’s recent night games– swapping beds, nightmares, sleep walking. Julia was desperate to feel safe.
Her mother strolled the policeman to the front gate. A copy of his report lay on the kitchen table. It said ‘UNLAWFUL ENTRY BY PERSON UNKNOWN. TEN-YEAR OLD FEMALE DISTURBED. ACCESS AND EXIT VIA UNLOCKED BACK DOOR. NO ASSAULT. NOTHING REMOVED’. Her mother’s elegant cursive script had signed the truth away.
In the days and weeks afterwards, Julia’s paleness and quietness was brushed over. ‘She’s had a fright, is all,’ her mother said when Julia appeared to struggle to recover her sunny temperament.
Julia tried to leave the event buried. The phrase and the tone ‘it’s all right, it’s only me,’ haunted her for three decades. Until the threads unraveled Julia thought how lucky for Denise she had been in Denise’s bed that night. Poor withdrawn Denise, so shy, a shadow in her own life. How awful if that had happened to her.
Julia never played ‘Bed Swap’ again. Denise asked, but it wasn’t fun anymore.
Late last year my dear young friend Tania took me to a play. The theme was domestic violence against women. I’ve forgotten the name, but the plot and the acting were spectacular and the take-out, for me anyway was brilliant.
The Message? THIS CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE.
I’ve never been hit by a partner. I’m tall and solid, and I’ve joked that ‘No one would ever hit me twice’. Seeing that play reminded me that domestic violence of any degree, is no laughing matter. I have reason to be grateful – I chose badly once, and was tossed around emotionally by a narcissistic manipulator. I took a while to recover. The stage performance reminded me how lucky I had been. Lucky to have not completely lost my sense of myself, lucky to get away and grow beyond – and naive to have got into the relationship in the first place. From my position now, a couple of decades along life’s pathways and journeys, I feel pretty normal, whatever ‘normal’ is. I learned some lessons, got away. My manipulator wasn’t violent, or did I leave in time? Now, it doesn’t matter. I’m in another place altogether, stronger, wiser, older – but increasingly concerned by the prevalence of domestic violence in our communities.
Let’s say the pathway to violence has five steps. Psychology 101 according to Jen! Grooming (narcissism) , control (intellectual bullying), undermining (degrade and demean), self doubt (emotional bullying) – violence (hitting out). 1,2,3,4,5. I look back at the version of myself in that relationship. I was living at step 4.
If you are somewhere on 1,2,3,4 or 5 – please let someone know. Start with a friend. If you don’t have a friend, try an acquaintance, make them a friend. Take a tiny step.
I sat with a group of six friends of mixed ages at dinner a week ago, talking about this. Only one knew someone who has been a victim of domestic violence. Her sister was beaten by her boyfriend. The big sister relationship got her away.
Are you reading the papers, watching the TV, and following the social debate?
The statistics are off the chart! How has it come to this? Is this buried as deep as I suspect it is? Are victims not alerting their friends about their situation? Is the shame around victim status so powerful a barrier? Have we buried violence against women so deep in our vanilla households that the casual or not-so-casual observer can’t ‘see’ it until step 5 when bruising and lame excuses signal that something is very wrong? ?
There are women are on steps 1 through 5 in our neighbourhoods, in our clubs and networks, perhaps even amongst our friends.
In this week of celebration of International Women’s Day, celebrating noteworthy women doing amazing things for others, spare a thought for an ordinary, nameless someone who may be suffering in silence, and fear – an unnoted women whose day is a success when she manages to breathe through it – without being put down, jerked around, called stupid, ignored, – and who tolerates abuse in order to stay beyond the reach of swinging fists.
I’m thinking of women on that 1-5 continuum. My thoughts on International Womens Day, and beyond, are with them. I’m keeping my eyes, ears and heart open. If each of us can help just one…problem solved. Yes, men who consider abuse of women ‘normal’ need to work on themselves. Yes, they deserve assistance on the journey. Yes, women may need to learn about themselves so they don’t repeat the pattern; so do men. We don’t have to learn anything new to get to the solution on these community matters. We have the knowledge and the tools. What’s missing then?
Today, I’m hollering to the women out there…
WE’RE HERE FOR YOU SISTER. WE’RE YOUR FRIENDS. WE WANT TO HELP.
GIVE US A SIGN YOU NEED HELP, YOU’LL GET IT.
Virtual hugs are free, and plentiful. Have one from me.
Have you had a tickly issue you’re not sure about, but you really want to make a change, rise to a challenge, make a difference in your life, or to your life?
Half a lifetime ago, on a trip to Thailand, I received an unexpected piece of treasure, a precious tool I have used so many times since, I know it works.
The gift was an instruction from a saffron-robed Bhuddist monk, seated at the entrance of a temple, north of Chang Rai, way up near the Burmese border.
‘You look troubled, young one,‘ he said as I climbed up the worn steps, shuffling past him to light a candle.
I am, I guess.’ I replied without thinking, responding faster than my usual reserve with strangers and touts.
‘Sit with me,’ he said. ‘Tell me your thoughts on your problem.’ He patted the dusty stone next to him, and seeing my hesitation, smiled and added, his voice softening. ‘I want nothing from you, only to listen.’
So I folded myself onto the step next to him. I told him about some confusion in my life, my lack of resolve regarding a troubling relationship, my indecision as to next steps, my unhappiness with my current situation, my fears – my strengths and weaknesses. I talked for close to half an hour. All the while he nodded his head, his lined cheeks crinkling from time to time, his wrinkled hand patting the back of my freckled one when I faltered.
‘So that’s it, really.’ I finished off. ‘What shall I do?’ I’d opened my heart to this wise listener. I wanted answers.
‘Oh that’s for you to decide,‘ he chuckled, smiling wider at my crestfallen visage.
‘But I think you should start by shutting yourself in your bathroom.’ He laughed at the stunned look on my face at this unexpected advice . Don’t make your journey and your decisions harder than they need to be.’
I was so stunned by his instruction, I did the listening. He talked on, and set out below is what he instructed me to do. And I have done it, as I said, so many times, sometimes again and again until I get to ‘myself’ and my true feelings – and the best decision for me.
I’ve never seen that elderly monk again. He’d be long gone from this plane of consciousness by now. But he lives on in my memory of that very special afternoon, and in my lifelong gratitude for his gift.
I recommend this method to you, and give it to you, as a way of passing on the gift.
You feeling compromised? Want to make a change? So, get into the bathroom, talk to the one in the mirror.
Virtual hugs are free. Have one from me.
LIFE FORCE DECISION MAKING: Shut yourself in your bathroom. (Your own bathroom works best. Dont try this in public!) Stare at yourself in the mirror for a minute or so. Say hello, silently or aloud, it makes no difference. Send your greeting eye to eye, to the real you, the one in there always, watching out for you, the one who knows you and what’s best for you better than anyone else. Smile, right in the eyeball, first one eyeball, then the other.
Maintain your direct eye contact and ask your question, the difficult one, the one you’re not sure of the best outcome for you. It might be ‘Is this relationship good for me?’ Right for me?’ or ‘Do I feel ready for —?’ – whatever it is in your life. Hold your gaze, keeping the question in your mind. Repeat the question. Hold the gaze. Wait for the answer. It will come to you in thought – either clarity, or another question. The answer is in your eyes, leading you to how you really feel, what is best for you – without external influence, without outside pressure, without coercion, without confusion. You might need to ask a second, ‘smaller’ or ‘follow-on’ question. You can ask as many questions as you like, stay in the bathroom, undisturbed, all day if you need to.
Here’s the rub – IF you are lying to yourself, misleading yourself, succumbing to some external influence that is getting in your way, you will become aware that your eyes have floated away and without being really conscious of it, you’ve looked away from the mirror. It happens. Don’t be afraid. Realising that you delude yourself from time to time, ilike everyone on this planet, is part of the learning and the magic of this worthwhile tool. If you realise you have looked away, and there has been no answer yet, you can fix this and help yourself through. Whatever you consciously think your answer is, your subconscious is not as confident.
Start over. Re-establish your gaze, say hello again, and repeat the question. If the question is ‘too big’, break it into smaller ones. You will know how to get adjust your questioning, until you get to where is best for you.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THE ‘INTUITION AND FREEDOM RETREAT’ scheduled for March 2015 has been postponed until later in the year. Go to www.innerpeace.com for details.
I attended this retreat two years ago, and have been back twice, to help out, cook love into the food, and to help others on their journey to inner peace and happiness. I’ve said before, I wish this experience could be mandatory – no drivers licence or passport until you can tick the ‘Intuition and Freedom’ box.
The outcome is up to you, but the help is all around you, amazing, skilled and caring facilitators, the processes are simply magical, and the results are binding, lasting, and the tools remain with you forever, always there for you.
Go to www.innerpeace.com.au for the full story and contact details to sign up.
I’m making progress with my WordPress tutorials! I’ve got the SUBSCRIBE HERE button up where it is supposed to be, and activated. You can see it here, on the right hand side, at the top of the list. Please subscribe if you would like to be alerted to new posts. It might expand your mindfulness of recovery and journeys to health and happiness, just a little bit. And don’t forget to leave a response too. The Leave A Reply button is just here, above the post.
So much is happening in the area of recovery from abuse. Really good things. www.journeystowords.com.au will continue to talk, share, discuss, complain, invite, cut and paste, discuss and link you to some of the encouraging inititatives on a community and individual basis.
It seems our community groups and leaders, our thinkers and speakers are listening and taking note:
:We are to have a Royal Commissioninto Domestic Violence in Victoria. Following on from the examination of institutional abuse, this is very, very welcome.
:Rosie Batty has been named as Australian of the Year. She’s a survivor on a particularly painful journey, and yet she’s willing to assist others facing peril at the hands of a current or past partner. A mother grieving for her lost son, yet still willing to take part in the wider debate, is deserving of our respect and support.
:And have you seen Anna Lee Gruenwald’s brave Facebook posting? https://www.facebook.com/anna.l.gruenwald Honour her by reading it. Perhaps you might leave a note of encouragement. It makes my skin crawl to think what this young woman has been through. Such courage. Repost it too, please, to show our respect for Anna’s courage. It might assist others, give them confidence, get them away from an abusive situation.
:Have you seen the ABC’s ‘One Plus One’ program on Geena Leigh or read her memoir and her journey to words in recovery from childhood abuse? I’m reminded by this brave memoir, of Kate Holden’s book ‘In My Skin’ released a decade or so back. The link below is a twenty-eight minute interview with Jane Hutcheon. It’s well worth the next half an hour of your time.
I’ve changed the tag on the header. It now reads ‘Leaves From Life’s Notebook.’ I’m the author of every clutsy step in this website. Every error is mine. The leaves are from my life’s notebooks. I’m proud of my journey and I’ve grown to be thankful for my mistakes – they prove I’m willing to have a go. When I share anecdotes, memories, suggestions, and so on, they’re mostly mine. If they’re not, I acknowledge the owner, always. You can accept, reject, comment, contribute, smile, grimace, laugh or cry. I’m fine with it all. I am learning this web and blog technology because I want to help others – to heal, to encourage others on their journeys, and to facilitate where and if I can.
And, finally, you might notice a slightly changed look on the Home Page background photo. It’s now repeating itself behind the text. I like it like that. I love that misty pathway. I’ve walked it, physically and metaphorically. Many journeys of survival start from murky places. Escape is not obviousstraight away, forward direction is not clear, the safe, sunny destination may be clouded in fog. Step after step, just keep going. To healing, to respect, to validation.
Virtual hugs are free. Have a great big one from me.
So where are you in January? On a Journey To Words? On a beach collecting vitamin D, letting your mind wander? Reading? Thinking? In a hammock, day dreaming? Hiking? Riding? Skiing on water or snow? Sipping a glass of something scrumptious while watching a sunset fade into blue velvet? With friends? Alone? Alone by choice, or by circumstance? Or are you working while the rest of the world seems to be on holiday? Are you one of those who are ‘holding the fort while the rest take leave’, or ‘have to work through the holiday season to payformystudies/paytherent/payoffmydebt/saveupformydream ? You have my respect if you are on this category. In Australia, that often means sweaty shirts and swollen feet, perhaps tossing and turning and broken sleep on hotter nights, followed by groggy early mornings on barely-cooled footpaths. I’ve been there and done that, and I’m grateful I can call January holiday time. You have my respect, if you’re working through January 2015. I hope you’re doing it by choice and if not, that the commitment gets you where you need to be.
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, let ‘The January Effect’ get to you. I call it ‘The January Effect’ because on low volumes of input (reflection) , you can get large volumes of output (new thoughts and ideas). That is, a smaller input of thinking and reflection, can give you a much larger, by proportion, achievement of inspiration, determination, mindfulness, readiness – you name it, January can give it to you if you let it.I pinched the term ‘The January Effect’ from the share market where in January, on low volumes of trade, high price swings are often achieved.
Why, you ask? How is this January minfulness possible? Well, it’s about life’s white noise – or the absence of it. If January gives you the privilege of a slower pace and the even greater advantage of a change of routine, you’re looking at one of the year’s best opportunities to create change for yourself, or consolidate success. You can review your progress, spring clean your brain, sharpen your motivation, and self direct to solutions. This leads to better opportunities for yourself – and greater happiness. Happiness. Isn’t it the most meaningful measure of your life? And of the lives of your loved ones?
What down time does, is it cancels out a large part of the bustle and over ventilation modern living spins around us. If you let it be, January can be a quieter, reflective, watchful time of the year. Are you ready for the achievement of a better place in your mind? Have you filled your January with eating, drinking and partying that replaces one level of white noise with another version of distraction,equally intrusive and exhausting? Oh well pal, maybe next year hey?
It doesn’t happen by itself. Here’s how to make it happen. You can take up the opportunity, or you can ignore it. But why not, as you hammock or float, or wander – why not do a little exercise. Think of your biggest problem or your greatest challenge right now. Turn it over in your mind for a minute, not longer. Don’t let it throw you around, just bring it into focus. Now, ask yourself the following question, applying the question to that challenge. ‘What Do I Like About This? Ask it again. ‘What Do I like About This? And one more time, aloud this time. ‘What Do I like About This?’
Now listen to your mind answering you. See what happens? Is happening? Your mind, that direct link within you to the universe, will take you from the negative, to the positive. Boom! Just like that! Your mind takes you to opportunity. Keep a pen and paper handy. Jot down the ideas that will flow. Don’t rationalise them and let your negative self get in your own way. That’s your self-saboteur – tell him or her to piss off. There’s no place in this exercise for squashing original thought. Just let the gorgeous flow of positive energy engulf your thinking. Let your mind roam through the possibilities, and write them down. You might find yourself asking the question ‘What Do I Like About This?’ again and again. You can repeat the process with another problem or challenge until you run out of them, and your notepage is full of amazing solutions.
Perhaps you’ll find yourself starting a new list for 2015. A new list, of achievables, of go-gets, of ‘look what I can do!’ The organiser in your mind will work out your next steps. Break them down into little ones, do-able pieces of your life’s glorious jigsaw that will move your thinking, then transfer to your feet and hands in logical, achievable steps. Think of what 2015 might become for you. Can become for you. Will become for you.
Want an example? Want help with the exercise? Respond by either hitting on the Response tab at the beginning of the post, or by filling in the form at the end of the post. The Response tab at the start is public, the form below is private. It’s up to you.
Happy January Effect!
Virtual Hugs are free. Have one from me. And another.
I have. Seen it, read it, I mean. I haven’t read ‘Not That Kind of a Girl’ but I’m going to.
I’ve been both encouraged and dismayed.
Encouraged? Yep, it feels good. Here’s a young woman, finding her way to self realisation via a journey to words. She is facing the spite and name calling, putting the truth and her opinions out there, gathering allies – and getting beyond the shame and pain to peace and a clear heart.
I salute you Lena Denham.
Dismayed? Yep, because her journey to words has taken her through the judgemental and sometimes ignorant wilderness of social comment, as she shares her truth.
Lena has shown courage, and determination to break through – break through what?
If you scroll through comments beneath the post, most are about breaking the shame, breaking away from the shame. And there’s comment about the sub text that somehow the victim was responsible, that sexual aggression is somehow inevitable. Contributing factors are mentioned – the length of a skirt, the consumption of alcohol or drugs. There is, I was pleased to note, acknowledgement of the surreal, shallow and implausible excuses these are for behaviour that just doesn’t cut it in a civilised society.
However, the most remarkable aspect is that no one, including Lena, speaks of what causes the shame.
Shame is an outcome.
What’s the cause?
The cause is silence and secrecy.
One in three women will be sexually assaulted or abused. Most of them remain silent. Shame and dysfunction are outcomes, consequences. Silence, generated by a culture of silence.
Breaking the silence is a vital step along the pathway to healing. Justice is not a track to healing. Justice is a track to justice. The likelihood of a conviction in our culture of silence is remote, and the satisfaction of success is fleeting; the healing still has to begin.
Why are we silent? Why do we keep the secrets? Where did our silence come from? Who taught us to remain silent, generation after generation? How did we become so compliant? Why do we remain so? Why continue now, in an age of empowerment?
I’m not referring to the power of secrecy generated by perpetrators. They peddle silence because it enables them. They need to perpetuate silence, must have it. They create fear to achieve it. We assist them when we comply. No, I mean silence generated by women, amongst women, reinforced by women over time.
Silence; I’m convinced it’s an important key – to lock away, and to unlock. If we disempower those who would have us remain silence, the skin of shame victims wears, and the pressure to remain silent, will be weakened so much, many who have been unable to speak out, will no longer be silenced by mothers who are rendered helpless, sisters who are afraid for themselves, cousins, friends, neighbours, who are embarrassed, or afraid, or have their own secrets, who are victims elsewhere.
For every victim, adult or child there is a special set of circumstances which enables the continuation of secrecy – and guarantees the outcome of shame, which in turn guarantees the continuation of the secret.
And it will go on and on, unless we stop the cycle. Let’s embrace those bound and controlled by secrets they are unfairly taught not to disclose. Did you know that the average length of time a victim takes to disclose is around twenty years? That’s awful. Let’s acknowledge the courage, every single time someone speaks out. Let’s shorten that length of time to minutes.
Girls, women, mothers, grandmothers, cousins, aunts; we are groomed to silence, carry the silence with us, coerce others too and not always forced into secrecy by men. And our silence, a silence that goes way beyond those directly involved in abuse, in itself, enables abuse to happen, again and again, generation after generation.
Let’s change the dynamic. Break the silence – steadily and systematically, supporting each other as the courage is found and acted upon. It’s a journey to words we can all assist in. Words spoken, or words written, we can assist.
If we support each other, the behaviour will change. Female behaviours. Male behaviours.
Again, I salute you Lena Dunham.
To anyone, anywhere, who has lived with the weight of silence, still lives with the weight of silence –
Please leave a reply – the little tag is at the top, at the beginning of this post. Or, you can use the form below.
And, virtual hugs are free – have a big one from me.
Lena Dunham: Why I Chose To Speak Out. The ways I’ve been attacked for sharing my story show how far we have to go when discussing sexual assault.
posted on Dec. 10, 2014, at 10:56 a.m. Lena Dunham BuzzFeed Contributor
Mike Marsland / WireImage / BuzzFeed. t has been almost a decade since I was sexually assaulted. It took me a long time to fully acknowledge what had happened and even longer to discuss it publicly, in the form of an essay in my book Not That Kind of Girl. When I finally decided to share my story, it had ambiguities and gray areas, because that’s what I experienced, because that’s what so many of us have experienced. As indicated in the beginning of the book, I made the choice to keep certain identities private, changing names and some descriptive details. To be very clear, “Barry” is a pseudonym, not the name of the man who assaulted me, and any resemblance to a person with this name is an unfortunate and surreal coincidence. I am sorry about all he has experienced.
Speaking out was never about exposing the man who assaulted me. Rather, it was about exposing my shame, letting it dry out in the sun. I did not wish to be contacted by him or to open a criminal investigation. I am in a loving and peaceful place in my life and I am not willing to sacrifice any more of it for this person I do not know, aside from one night I will never forget. That is my choice.
Like so many women who have been sexually assaulted, I did not report the incident to my college or to the police. Even when I visited my gynecologist complaining of pain, afraid I had contracted a sexually transmitted disease, I could only mumble through a description of that night. After all, I had been drunk and high, which only compounded my confusion and shame. And I was afraid. I was afraid that no one would believe me. I was afraid other potential partners would consider me damaged goods. I was afraid I was overreacting. I was afraid it was my fault. I was afraid he would be angry. Eight years later, I know just how classic these fears are. They are the reason that the majority of college women who are assaulted will never report it.
When I finally chose to share my story, I did not do so in a vacuum. I was inspired by all the brave women who are now coming forward with their own experiences, despite the many risks associated with speaking out. Survivors are so often re-victimized by a system that demands they prove their purity and innocence. They are asked to provide an unassailable narrative when the event itself is hazy, fragmented, and unspeakable. They are isolated and betrayed by people close to them who doubt their reality or are frustrated by their inability to move on. Their most intimate experiences are made public property.
As I was deciding to write about my assault, I was given deep strength by the viewers and readers who support my work, by my friends and family and feminist role models, and by my partner who is a man of incredible kindness and sensitivity. I was ready to admit to the ways being sexually assaulted has shaped my sense of self as a woman entering adulthood, compromised my emotional security, and haunted me even during the most joyful periods of my life. I hoped I might inspire others to share, and that forming these connections would assist us all in healing.
I was not naïve enough to believe the essay in my book would be met with pure empathy or wild applause. The topic of sexual assault is far more inflammatory and divisive than it should be, with tension building around definitions of consent, and fear ruling the dialogue. But I hoped beyond hope that the sensitive nature of the event would be honored, and that no one would attempt to reopen these wounds or deepen my trauma.
But this did not prove to be the case. I have had my character and credibility questioned at every turn. I have been attacked online with violent and misogynistic language. Reporters have attempted to uncover the identity of my attacker despite my sincerest attempts to protect this information. My work
has been torn apart in an attempt to prove I am a liar, or worse, a deviant myself. My friends and family have been contacted. Articles have heralded “Lena Dunham’s shocking confession.” I have been made to feel, on multiple occasions, as though I am to blame for what happened.
But I don’t believe I am to blame. I don’t believe any of us who have been raped and/or assaulted are to blame. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what is written about me individually. I accept the realities of being in the public eye. But I simply cannot allow my story to be used to cast doubt on other women who have been sexually assaulted.
I have a certain empathy for the journalists who asked me questions like whether I regret how much I drank that night or what my attacker would say if he was asked about me. These ignorant lines of inquiry serve to further flawed narratives about rape, but these people are reacting to the same set of social signals that we all are — signals telling us that preventing assault is a woman’s job, that rape is only rape when a stranger drags you into a dark alley with a knife at your throat, that our stories are never true, and that lying about rape is a way for women to enact revenge on innocent men. These misconceptions about rape are rampant, destructive and precisely the thing that prevents survivors from seeking the support that they need and deserve.
Speaking out about the realities and complexities of sexual assault is how we begin to protect each other. I do not want our daughters born into a world that reacts to sexual violence against women in this way. This reaction, which ranges from skepticism to condemnation to threats of violence, is something I have been subject to as a woman in a position of extraordinary privilege. So let us then imagine the trauma experienced by low-income families, women of color, the trans community, survivors with disabilities, students on financial aid, sex workers, inmates, foster children, those who do not have my visibility, my access to medical and mental health care, or my financial and legal resources.
Prevention and response on campuses is only a small part of the problem with how we as a nation are handling sexual assault. But it’s a good place to start. Educational spaces must be made safe, so that we leave them stronger and poised to enact change.
Since coming out as a survivor I have gone from an intellectual sense of the ways in which victims are doubted and debased to a bone-deep understanding of this reality. I hope to apply that understanding to art and advocacy. I am deeply grateful for the support I have received. I am deeply grateful that this dialogue is taking place. I am angry but I am not alone.
Survivors have the right to tell their stories, to take back control after the ultimate loss of control. There is no right way to survive rape and there is no right way to be a victim. What survivors need more than anything is to be supported, whether they choose to pursue a criminal investigation or to rebuild their world on their own terms. You can help by never defining a survivor by what has been taken from her. You can help by saying I believe you.
Each year I swear I’m not going to be caught up in the madness of December. It’s as if the world will end on December 24th. And then I swear at myself, as my clothes tighten and the pre-holiday diary is overcrowded with eating and drinking opportunities that I can’t resist.
December is a time for reflection too. It’s the month I get around to making some modest donations to organisations I care about. I wish I could donate a stack of gold – to each one. Plus most of my time. And, in particular, December is the month, that I reflect on the year that’s been. How far have I come? What have I achieved? What sort of a year did I have? What sort of a state is the world around me in? What will next year add, or subtract?
By the end of December, on yellow ‘post-its’ messing up my desk, my random observations, ideas and imaginings will become a list for 2015. New Year’s Resolutions? I don’t believe in them. If I did, I’d have to fail myself for the annual promise to lose five kilos. It’s been on the list for a decade. Might sneak back for 2015 too. More likely though, there’ll be a commitment to the Melbourne Half marathon next year. Someone has to own the slowest time. Back to the jogging, girl!
My lists are updated and ‘morphed regularly through each year as life adjusts to changed circumstances, ongoing days offer new opportunities, and each year delivers achievement, experience, and a fair dose of reality, if not disappointment. ‘What do I like about this?’ I ask myelf, no matter how awful a circumstance might be. That question will take you to opportunity every time. I promise you. Try it. Life, death and taxes are for sure. So is the need for flexibility if you’re going to experience the others, too. Remember. ‘What do I like about this?’ You’ll see how empowering, helpful and clarifying this one little question is.
I spent a delicious slice of Saturday afternoon, yesterday, with the weekend papers. The steady patter of the afternoon rain was just perfect for a good reading wallow. Usually it takes me all week to plough through Saturday’s journalism, but yesterday I stayed put on the couch until the light faded. The press this weekend has made a particular feature of articles highlighting the reported increase in violence against children, and against women – and actions and intitiatives to address this. There’s a government enquiry in Queensland being led by Quentin Bryce, andthe prospect of a Royal Commission in Victoria. A well researched article by Phil Cleary is compelling. Welcome moves. Violence against children is sickening, and is woven throughout with sexual violence and abuse. Let’s tackle these matters and our fear of them with renewed energy, and make a difference.
I’m not going to bore you with my 2014 list, or my 2015 list. Only to say, both reflection and plotting are underway. 2015 will be a year of transition for me. www.Journeystowords.com.au is part of the transition. So is learning more about WordPress and how to improve the site. And as well, I’m determined in 2015, to outline and nail an academic pathway of research into “secrecy, its role as a control mechanism in the establishment and maintenance of familial sexual abuse intra and inter generationally”. I expect my new journey to transform my days. If only there were more than twenty-four hours a day.
It’s going to continue, the business of December. So have a great break if you have one scheduled. Pause, reflect and re-charge. And make your list. And please add www.journeystowords.com to your regular peeks. And leave a comment. And have a safe and peaceful time in the company of loved ones.
Your brain is your most powerful muscle. Keep it toned with good food and (a little) good wine, and good thoughts.
Virtual hugs are free and plentiful. Have one from me.
There are two ways you can leave a comment – by clicking on ‘Leave a Reply’ at the beginning of the post to leave a message on the post itself. That’s public. Or you can fill in the ‘Comment’ form at the end of the post which sends me an email. That’s private.
No, I’m not being lazy. This is my post for today, November 7th. I couldn’t say anything better than the piece below, published on Upworthy. It brings attention to the long term, wrenching damage caused by familial abuse, the hijacking of the self, the obliteration of the right to a childhood of innocence and carefree imaginings.
I don’t know who “C” is – or was, since she may have left us by now. But her telling of every day, the grind of survival, the fight against anger and desolation that those who look back at abuse must confront – these elements may be familiar to someone reading this.
“C” demonstrated remarkable courage, and her ability to forgive is breathtaking. It can be an inspiration for all of us. The choice to report familial abuse is difficult, and for some, impossible, I hope her brother took himself into treatment.
Please leave your thoughts in a response. All of our journeys to words are valid and valued.
Sexual and physical abuse affects far too many children, and it haunts those children as they become adults. One dying woman’s last wish is for her brother to see her letter so he might forgive himself, or at least know that she forgave him. While in this case she chose not to report him, that is clearly her choice and not suitable for every situation.
TRIGGER WARNING: This is an open, personal letter from a woman who experienced ongoing sexual and physical abuse as a child. It doesn’t delve into graphic detail, but it may still be upsetting to readers. Please use your judgment before reading.
It has taken four years to call you my brother. In my 7383 days of existence, I have lived through 2920 days of calling you monster. Do you remember? Do you remember how it began? It was a game. You invited me into your small blanket fort and told me you were going to protect me from monsters. Little did I know that you were one of them. I played the charade of “show me yours and I’ll show you mine” only to be poked at as curiosity struck through your mind and body. Gradually your game became more and more complex. I can still remember being told, “shhhh, this is our little secret.” 2920 days of my life gone.
After 365 days I remember being told that kissing was something kids do. 2920 days of my life gone.
After 730 days it became laying in a dark corner as you felt some sort of pleasure in seeing me bare. You enjoyed my shame and found some sort of sick happiness in your idea of a game. 2920 days of my life gone.
After 1095 days I was 11 and began to have older friends who had boyfriends and this was when I knew you were wrong. I felt wronged and told you it wasn’t right. From then on you blamed me and said it was my fault. You accused me of somehow starting it all. I can remember countless days of being locked up in my closet. Countless days of being hit in the face whenever I didn’t listen. Countless doctor appointments with the excuse of “I fell.” Countless broken bones. Several dislocated joints. Everyone thought I was just clumsy. If only they knew. 2920 days of my life gone.
On day 2898 I became sick. I was throwing up every morning. I began to feel different. Mom thought it was strep. Dad thought it was a bad case of the flu. Oh, but you knew. You walked me to the clinic and that was that. On day 2920 you left and never came back. You disappeared. No one knew where you were.
On my 17th birthday I saw you in Chicago. I followed you for quite some time. Thought about all the ways I could hurt you back. You were with another woman and oh my heart wanted to rip to shreds because she didn’t know the agony you put me through. I could have hurt you but I chose to walk away.
It has been three years since I’ve seen you. And there’s something I’ve gotta say.
Because of you I lived. I survived. I am a fighter. I made it through. All those times you felt strong because I looked weak. Well look at me now. I made it to nearly hell and back. Here I am. I am not a victim anymore. I am a victor. Those 2920 days taught me to be brave. To do hard things. To not run from harm. I am who I am today because of who you were.
I know who you are. I have kept tabs on you. You don’t have to drink or do drugs. You don’t have to harm yourself because of the guilt you feel. You were my monster but the game is over. You can be my brother. You don’t have to be a monster for your whole life. You can be better.
I could have reported you but I chose to forgive you. So here I am. Forgiveness is yours if you take it.
Life is short. I am sick. And for me, my timespan is shortened. But I am fighting to live, each day fighting my disease because that’s how 2920 days of my life made all the difference. I will not give up. The dark days in dark corners only give me more motivation to fight.
I’m getting more sick and weaker each day but I wanted to forgive you now and I hope this reaches you. I want my brother back and only hope you can forgive yourself enough to move past the guilt in order to have your sister back in your life.
Did you see the paste-up of the article from the newspaper, (hit on ‘Articles and Learning’ on the Home page)? Go have a look and come back here if you have a minute to think about the stats.
Did you see? Perhaps you read the newspaper that sunny Spring weekend? I did. There was an accompanying article too, entitled ‘Ending The Silence: Encouraging Children to Speak Up – A First Step to Justice’, written by journalist Nino Bucci. Brave man. I’m going to ask him if I can post the complete item on ‘Articles and Learning’.
What a sad reflection on our communities and our times, that the rate of child sexual abuse is climbing.
Is it a good sign perhaps, that reporting is rising? Does this mean that more people are reaching out for help? Does it mean that the veil of silence is lifting, the exercising of sinister power and control is diminishing? I hope so. It probably means both – that more victims are reaching out, and also, that the rate of abuse is increasing. We live in complex and challenging times.
When children are at risk, we are all at risk. Children are our future. Children are our precious treasure. If you aren’t already thinking about ways to assist, do so, please. There are many organisations that need our assistance. Follow the links on this site’s home page.
If each of us ensures the children around us are safe, an important step on a fraught journey may be put in place for a child at risk. The person who may be a life line for an abused youngster may be a neighbour, a relative, a friend of a friend, a teacher, a coach, or some other adult who is trusted. It’s rarely a stranger, and if so, not for long. It might be you. Or me.
If you are helpless, trapped in a secret you can’t share from the present or from your past, consider your next steps. Think about your pathway and how it might open up a healthier, happier and safer future. Steps to safety. Steps to trust. Noone deserves to be locked in life-long secrets that protect and enable perpetrators, and create rooms of pain and silence in the heart, isolate and separate. I hope you’ll look for, or that you’ ve already found, that special someone – someone who has listened and understood, and protected, and acted to help you, built a bridge to safety, left your awfulness behind you. The best revenge is to live a better life.
I’m thinking, thinking, thinking, and my heart goes out to all who have, or are, or are contemplating, taking the journey to words, words that open a new world up to you, validate and heal.
Virtual hugs are free and plentiful. Have one from me.
The self taught WordPress lessons continue and I’ve managed to stumble my way around journeystowords, adding, deleting, trying things out. The language of technical web building is like I’m thinking in my native tongue, English, reading in Greek, listening to Chinese, and trying to write in French – all simultaneously. None of which I can do, or ever could.
Still, I’ve made some progress – the first post hasn’t disappeared or exploded, the comments section works, and I’ve added some good and helpful links to organisations that offer formal assistance to those in need. And, there’s content in ‘About’, which offers some background into why this journey is taking place at all. Not bad for a seasoned lifer in so many ways but a blogging newbie.
So, here’s the invitation: If you have something you’d like to offer and share, please feel free to do so. As promised, this site is open hearted, inclusive, open minded, embracing and kind. The rules of engagement were set out in the first posting. They’re simple and will be respected. I’m not a clinical expert and this is not a rescue site nor a referral service. But journeys to words – yours – can be part of this journey to words if you’d like.
Along the journey, there are good days and bad days. None of us are in 100% control all the time. Like you, I’m humble and fallible. I have happy days and shitty days. Grieving and soul searching days and yell-my-joy-to-the-universe days. They’re all part of how I get to where I’m going, how peace and harmony comes back into my life, or leaves a thread for me to follow back to calm, like ribbons on a walking track
Hello. I’m Jen Hutchison and this is my sharing site. If you can see and engage with this page, I say PHEW! I’m new to web building and new to WordPress – and new to blogging. This is quite a journey. Thanks to WP Hosting – no question has gone unanswered, and there have been plenty, and will be plenty more.
However, I’m not new to journeys to words. I’ve written all my life. And, I’ve been on an intense journey of discovery and healing myself. The journey has changed me forever. For the better.
This blog is about life journeys – through words. Our journeys to health and smiles. The process often starts from a dark place, from tears and pain caused by abuse. I’ll focus on recognition and respect. Journeys that lead to hope, to acceptance, and to validation. The pathway may have trudged painfully through guilt, self harm and loneliness, rejection or frustration to get to a more peaceful place where life is sweeter and trust can reestablish itself. This might be your journey. It might be the journey of someone you know. You may have been an innocent bystander in a toxic process you could do nothing to prevent.
Thoughts and feelings are words in the prep room, the science lab in the brain where experiences are mixed with observation and new learning. Sometimes the experiment results in explosion and bubbles over. Other times reflection leads to new discoveries, new ways of thinking about opportunities and pathways in your own life. We all have choices in life, but when you are abused as a child, activating choice can become almost impossible. Secrets, the pressure to be silent dominates your way of engaging in the adult world. Looking back, your choice is to either bury the past and in a way become its victim – or engage with it and let it go to a place you can no longer be harmed by it. Does that sound difficult? It is. So is getting an oyster open without the right tool.
There’s no single guaranteed pathway to healing from childhood abuse.
I am not a clinician. But in my own lay experience, I’ve tested and proved the following to be a reliable truth : when thoughts can be put into words in a safe environment, reflection can flourish and healing can take place.
You might be the only person who ever reads what you write. For all I know, you might be the only person who reads what I’m writing here! I’ve got decades of stored thoughts! The audience is not the point. The journey is the point. You are your best friend. Trust your best friend.
Those amongst us who have grown up in families where abuse – physical or sexual or emotional – has poisoned the family culture, can be validated by being heard. It’s part of the pathway, taking the journey to resolution, even if that is solely within your own heart. It’s gold. We can’t change the past, but we can leave it behind.
There are no guarantees in life but my commitment to you, if you decide to pop into www.journeystowords.com.au from time to time, is that I will make every endeavour to ensure that this is a safe environment to share your words. You see that Akismet symbol on our home page? That’s for screening unwanted content. Spam. Junk. And I reserve the right to moderate comments. Trolls aren’t welcome.
You can expect to see a new posting each week. As I learn my way around the technology, I’ll do more – some reflections, some links, some interesting guest contributors, some stats…more photos, more smiles.