2014: A year of lessons and gratitude.

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What I learnt in 2014:

  • Every person is a process, which means that every relationship is a process. We are changing all the time, our dynamics are changing all the time. Every cell in our body is changing in every second, and in every few years, we are literally, physically a different human being.
  • Change is natural. It is the most natural, most certain truth on earth, and of the deal of being alive on earth.
  • If you resist change or hanker after the past, it will only turn you bitter, frustrated, resentful, cynical and angry. You will surrender any power to change; you won’t stop growing, but you’ll be dragged into growth in whatever haphazard, reactive way.
  • The only thing that belongs in the present… is the present. The past and the future don’t belong in the present; they must be dragged, like wraiths out of time, ghosts out of their dimension. That’s why they grate against the present, against us, and cause depression or anxiety or bitterness– because they do not belong here.
  • Very few situations are ever all good or all bad. In fact, situations just are; they’re neutral. We give them meaning and value. And that meaning and value changes over time, our perceptions of those situations change over time, because we change over time. But what we will remember the most, what will never leave us is how we felt at the time. I am suddenly reminded of those lyrics, “In the end we will only just remember how it feels.” Which brings me to…
  • We decide in each moment how to feel and what to think of something. That is an ideal situation, of course, but with patience, mindfulness and time, we learn that skill– the skill of being present and claiming any agency we might have in a situation.
  • Mental illness, like depression (or bipolar, or chronic anxiety, etc.) strips us of this agency, of balanced perception, of choice in how we view the world; it takes over like a huge black cloud and blackened windows, pours tar into your chest and squeezes your ribs and heart and mind and soul shut with blackened twine. It is the biggest waster of human energy and talent on earth; it steals from both rich and poor the ability to feel positive emotions, to act, to care, to feel anything at all.
  • Every story has more than one side. Woe be the person who only listens to one. And bad journalism.
  • A sense of wonder, an ability to be excited, amused and amazed, are conscious choices, and they must sometimes be consciously fought for; sometimes one must even decide if one is willing to face the consequences of choosing to retain these things. In the same way, it is a choice to take the responsibility and consequences of remaining authentic, vulnerable, and loving.
  • Those of us who have the space, access and luxury of knowing or discovering what it is we love best to do, to do it, to live well, and not to be persecuted for it, are the luckiest of all. I hope we all discover for what we are put here, the courage to do it and keep at it, and the luck to be appreciated for it.

Congratulations on what you have all built and survived in 2014, happy new year, and may 2015 be all you hope it will be.

Dawn
xx

Advent Day 16: Random acts of kindness II.

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 Australia says to Muslims: I’ll ride with you

This is beautiful because it started with just a few small gestures of kindness– two people’s ability to empathise and their choice to care about another human being who was a total stranger, and then to act on it. In case you’ve been living under a rock, while a gunman was in the midst of taking a whole Sydney cafe of people hostage in the name of his idea of religion, a young woman sitting on a train in Sydney noticed the girl next to her silently remove her hijab. She ran after her when they got off the train, telling her, “put it back on. I’ll walk with you.” The girl with the hijab, who was Muslim, started to cry and gave her a long hug, and then walked off alone.

Tessa, another young woman who read this person’s account, was moved by this, and simply offered over Twitter to ride her regular bus in the morning between the suburb of Coogee and Martin Place (where the incident was unfolding) with anyone who wore religious head-dress and who was frightened to go alone. Thus, the #illridewithyou hashtag was born.

These moments help me to remember that there exist people who choose to do good in the world when it is easier to simply seal oneself off from the world’s pain and just wallow in one’s own, to be self-serving rather than keep an eye out for opportunities to serve (or, at least help) others. They melt the cynical, hardened, embittered parts of my otherwise squishy, languid little heart. And they stir up the embers of the audacity of hope.

I’m grateful for random acts of kindness, for they start wildfires of compassion in a time where unspeakable evil would cloud our hearts with fear, bigotry and suspicion.

Advent Day 14: I’m grateful for Christmas trees.

Oops. Missed the advent yesterday as was rather busy.

I feel bad for Christmas trees chopped down from their Northern hemispheric homes to be shipped off to, for example, the tropics, to stand dying in pots but bringing such joy and lovely piney smells to homes all over the world. But I do so love them. I love pine cones and pine nuts and Christmas is just not the same without that pine smell.

I’m grateful for Christmas trees.

Advent Day 13: I’m grateful for beaches.

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Beaches do something to our frequencies, I’m sure. Apart from teeming with negative ions pulling away all those pesky positive ions we all apparently generate that make us stressed and twitchy, the waves and wind make these wonderful calming noises. Seagulls. Coconut trees. Soft, crunchy sand.

I think that if you grow up near the sea, it sort of works itself into your DNA. I am very uneasy landlocked; I’ve never had an overwhelming desire to visit Switzerland, nor Canberra, and I didn’t really like the claustrophobic feeling of being inland on continents more than an hour from a beach by fast train. It didn’t have to be a swimmable beach, just a beach. A coastline. Somewhere I could dip my feet into the seawater, even if it was very cold water. I can remember every single beach I’ve been to in my life– the colour and granularity of the sand, the temperature of the water, the colour and clarity of the water. I just love them.

I’m grateful for beaches.


Picture from Wikimedia commons.
 

Advent Day 3: I’m grateful for the space to play.

I think the moment we stop playing, stop letting ourselves play, experiment, dance and sing and be silly… is the moment we begin to age, grow old, stagnate, and calcify.

Someone once told me that you have to decide if you want to be an adult or not; but I think the thing that he didn’t understand was that there are many ways to be an adult, many ways of defining “adulthood”, and many ways to be a mature person. It’s all semantic, all relative, all cultural. I think it’s a sanctimonious and silly notion that one person’s or one culture’s idea of what being an adult is, is the “correct” or definitive, well, definition.

Because I think that if all of us were to follow one definition of adulthood, then nothing new would ever be created. Because newness, creativity, crazy ideas, passion, the courage to break convention, to question, to ask, “why”, the clarity of mind and thought to see through layers of conditioning… these things come from the parts of ourselves that are carefree, young, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. It’s when we let ourselves play that we throw ourselves into things with abandon, find our true calling, effortlessly accept our true selves, and connect with each other at a primal, trusting, bravely vulnerable, lighthearted and emotional level that no conventional definition of “adult” could reach.

It’s not to say that they are at odds with responsibility, care, commitment, emotional management, self-discipline, and so forth. No, I’m saying that we should give our childlike selves the space to breathe, sing, dance in the rain and play with kittens and puppies, because that is the source of such divine inspiration. I think that it’s actually our responsibility to care for and commit to letting ourselves play regularly, that self-discipline includes scheduling playtime, and that emotional management begins when we can feel all our feelings, sit with them, hold their hands, play Pat-A-Cake them, listen to what they have to tell us, and then… let them go and let our adult selves handle the big decisions.

Without play, we lose our true selves. We lose childlike simplicity, the chance to develop deep and effortless self-confidence, and we lose the strength, energy, and courage to get up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again with renewed optimism, when life, as it sometimes does, falls apart.

Advent Day 2: I’m grateful for choirs.

Choir

I’ll admit to loving great big choirs with full orchestras, diva soloists, and hot conductors performing big, fat choral works. 🙂 Screeching out some Verdi choral opera (barely) dressed in ecclesiastical gown (the music, not the choir), getting through a Mahler, bashing out the Bruckner Te Deum, trotting through a Beethoven, rolling through one of Haydn’s many Masses, Gounod, Saint-Saens, Mozart, Schubert, picking through some complicated fugue…. mmmmm. I have quite a bit of affection for big choral works.

There is something quite overwhelming about a live wall of sound like that. I’m not churchy and I am deeply suspicious of organised religion, so I discovered choirs late…. which, really, only made me a born-again chorister for at least two to three years. I mean, I sucked up choral and music knowledge the way I imagine a druggie would snort coke. The camaraderie was a bonus. And “getting” all the choir jokes– that’s fun. Heh.

Singing is portable, and choirs are everywhere. And, yes, sopranos do have the swishiest skirts and the longest hair, altos ARE earthy and sensible, tenors are spoilt, and basses are…. well, ok, I don’t know what basses are. Hairy, apparently. There’s something strangely comforting about going to a choir in some city in almost any part of the world, and finding the same… well, choral archetypes, dynamics, and scripts. And, often, shared repertoire to some extent.

And, of course, there’s the carolling. 🙂 Ah, I miss the carolling. Life has moved on and I no longer sing with a choir, but I am grateful they exist, for they add colour, depth and such vivid experiences to life.

Advent Day 1: I’m grateful for an ever-growing to-read list.

 

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If I had to choose an addiction, I’d say “books”; but, also, rather, that they chose me. I don’t even remember a time I wasn’t reading. My first memories consist of torchlight, blanket fort, and stack of books. And, very soon after, prescription glasses. Hey, all addictions have their price. There is something so juicily, exquisitely exciting about a new book by a favourite author arriving in the mail, whether fiction, non-fiction or somewhere in between. I feel all wriggly with delight on the inside.

Mind you, I have never been the fastest reader. I think I might be the slowest reader I know; so much so that I’m convinced I have some undetected attention or learning disorder. In fact, I tend to glare sulkily and jealously at friends with photographic memories who don’t so much read as Xerox pages of books into their minds.

But I love rollicking good fiction and well-written non-fiction. I love having my mind and ideas and fixed points twisted and pulled out of shape and entertained and squashed… I love being carried on new ships and seas and rivers and someone else’s dreams. I think it is one of the easiest ways to come out of ourselves, one of the laziest, one of the kindest.

So many books to get through! All the miles to go before I sleep, to borrow from and paraphrase one of my favourite American poets.

I’m grateful for amazing friends.

I don’t know what I did to deserve them; my best friends in the world are just the most wonderful, solid people, from whom I have learnt, and continue to learn, much about love, life, loyalty, survival, friendship, beauty, courage and wisdom. Thank you, Universe/Life, for my BFFs, one of the foundation stones of my life, without whom life would mean much less.

I recently wrote this for one of my best friends (you know who you are!), who has allowed me to put it up here:

You are shiny pastel powder-coated steel
from the forges (fuelled by broken love and wings)
that turn to ash the petty weaknesses and peel
back the gauzy childhood layers to reveal
rare liquid diamond crazy-angel heart-strings.

Yet Life glazed you with a heart upon your sleeve
and set you on such winding, wondrous paths
which you tread with an ancient grace and ease–
and yours was such a complicated weave!–
with no bitterness or helplessness or wrath.

Old soul, you bring a light into the lives you touch;
generous of spirit to a fault, and gentler
than those spoilt by more, beaten by less– such
defines your unshakeable core. You give so much
love, time, and trust; you own the things that matter.

I’m grateful for experience and perspective.

It has taken a long time to learn to stand on my on side, and be proud of who I am. I was always “too” something: “too sensitive”, “too emotional”, “too shy”, “too talkative”, “too busy”, “too dreamy”, “too careless” (which made me terrible at mathematics, apparently), “too scattered”…. but along the way, one learns that any judgement that begins with “too” really is completely semantic (a liberal arts education can either screw you up or transform your consciousness… it usually does both).

Because every human being is a process; and in every minute is the potential to change. Sometimes it’s a sudden shift in one’s consciousness; sometimes it’s something someone says to us (See I’m grateful for wise bosses for examples… they may seem obvious or inconsequential, but they changed the way I did things, the way I was, the way I made decisions in one single instant), sometimes something tragic happens (a loved one dies, someone gets critically ill)… sometimes, all our little, collected, stray bits and wisps of experience, learning, secondhand learning, etc., all come together and fit, like a little Tetris puzzle. And then everything clicks and becomes clear as Gorilla Glass. And you know, suddenly, you just know, that there is no going back to the way you were just a minute before. Because that you is just an empty place now, where the Tetris rows have zapped and disappeared.

I could not have written a poem that conveys a classic growing up story very simply and poignantly (one day, I may get there!), so I shall use someone else’s words. This is one of the poems I found in my much-loved, well-worn ‘O’ Levels poetry compilation, that I loved very much when I was 15, and as much now:

NURSERY RHYME OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE

Charles Causley (1917 – 2003)

I had a silver penny
And an apricot tree
And I said to the sailor
On the white quay

‘Sailor O sailor
Will you bring me
If I give you my penny
And my apricot tree

‘A fez from Algeria
An Arab drum to beat
A little gilt sword
And a parakeet?’

And he smiled and he kissed me
As strong as death
And I saw his red tongue
And I felt his sweet breath

‘You may keep your penny
And your apricot tree
And I’ll bring your presents
Back from sea.’

O the ship dipped down
On the rim of the sky
And I waited while three
Long summers went by

Then one steel morning
On the white quay
I saw a grey ship
Come in from sea

Slowly she came
Across the bay
For her flashing rigging
Was shot away

All round her wake
The seabirds cried
And flew in and out
Of the hole in her side

Slowly she came
In the path of the sun
And I heard the sound
Of a distant gun

And a stranger came running
Up to me
From the deck of the ship
And he said, said he

‘O are you the boy
Who would wait on the quay
With the silver penny
And the apricot tree?

‘I’ve a plum-coloured fez
And a drum for thee
And a sword and a parakeet
From over the sea.’

‘O where is the sailor
With bold red hair?
And what is that volley
On the bright air?

‘O where are the other
Girls and boys?
And why have you brought me
Children’s toys?’

I’m grateful for joy.

we drink so deeply of our Sadness
but are never as indulgent with our Joy
whether fleeting or hard-won
we fear that the return of darkness
will seem darker
after revelling in the sun

but it’s in our revels that we gather
growing lungfuls of light-filled air
that clear the cobwebs or damp
so when the darkness comes
again, we treasure
the space that we can spare