Joy.

The world is a big place, with many chances and opportunities, but our path is woven in the stars, and the best we can do is to gather up all the silken shining strands, and make a big fat braid out of them, and swing the hell out of the damn thing.

I’ve made mistakes and I’ve made good; and I feel sometimes as if I have lived several lifetimes. But it’s in those lifetimes that I’ve learnt that joy lies in giving your limited time, energy and emotions to the people who know you and love you; who have faith and confidence in you; who have fought battles with you and walked with you through the storms that have come. We can’t choose everything, but what choice there is, we should learn to take and make and bake the crap out of!

Joy lies in knowing what you love, deep down, and then finding the courage and developing the skill to chase it– chase it hard, chase it everywhere it leads– chase it down rabbit holes deep into the ground, where every single one of us will eventually end up.

It’s in taking the time to do what evokes happiness in you. Because, you know, nothing and no one can “make you happy” or “bring you joy”. Everything we feel is what we have cultivated in ourselves. We can only give as much love as we are capable of, though the well deepens with empathy and compassion; we can only feel as much happiness as we have taught ourselves to feel and let ourselves experience; we can only give as much as we know how to give, and in the way that we know how to give. All that things outside of us can do is bring out what we already have.

Most of all, joy lies in deciding what to fear; if to fear. Every moment spent in fear of things beyond our control is a pitifully wasted moment. None of us knows how much time we have here. I have seen and heard and experienced and witnessed lots of things that should make me hesitant and cautious and frighten me. And it has, in the past. But, you know, I have been given much for which to be thankful; and from that, I’ve earned and learned and built other things, for which I am also thankful. And fear would make me waste all of that; everything that I have dived into, heart, body, mind and soul– the way I have always and ever done anything and everything (is there any other way?). Fear would make me waste everything good I have ever done with my life.

So, I will not fear. I will spend time on people and activities I love. I will find my courage and develop my skill. I will mend what I can and accept what I can’t. And I will gather up all those silken threads that weave my life, and make a big fat braid, and I will swing on it, and enjoy the scenery, and be happy and grateful and the best damn version of me.

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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 Days 23 and 24: A good sense of humour….

… and an easy laugh.

The non-blogging can be explained, I swear. I have spent the last two days paying with my sanity and composure for being in denial in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Toys R Us is NOT a place for timid souls in the week leading up to Christmas, as I discovered recently– too recently for me to have forgotten the high-pitch cacophony of, “this Daddy! Mommy! I want this I want this I want THIIIIIIS!!!”.

But I have a reasonable sense of humour, so I managed to float through the place in a kind of slightly bewildered haze with a beatific smile frozen on my face. The bewilderment came from the sheer number of choices… But! I really must express my profound dissatisfaction with all this cotton-woolly over-cautiousness. Where are all the chemistry sets of old, with real chemicals and things that can go bang if you mixed it up right? Or the little paper-wrapped pellets filled with sand and gunpowder that went SNAP! when you threw them on the ground?

Everything is so tame these days.

I also managed to elbow my way through each aisle, then keep my spirits up in the Very Long Queue To Freedom Beyond the Cashiers, because I am easily amused. I have never before seen a bunch of parents so frazzled and wild-eyed.

I should say that I’m grateful I didn’t have my own screaming brat to deal with, but I was a lot more grateful that I could witness this pre-Christmas phenomenon from the outside with an easily-tickled sense of humour.

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Advent Day 15: Idealism and the audacity of hope.

So, The Newsroom ended. *lower lip trembles* And aaaaallll the retrospective commentaries tumbled out. Some people hated it, some people hated it even more, and some, like I, loved it so much it was like saying goodbye to a fantasy, alternative workplace with colleagues you’d go to jail for contempt trying to protect. Or whom you’d follow to a war story in Equatorial Kundu.

I think that the people who most vehemently disliked The Newsroom were those that… well, just didn’t get it. I know critique is an art, and I strongly believe that everyone is entitled to their opinions, and that that should be respected. Nonetheless, I think that panning it for its delusional idealism, its “preaching from a pulpit”, its sanctimony… takes away from the vicarious deliciousness of getting a “do-over”, or a do-better, or even the warm-and-fuzziness of empathising with that colleague, or that moment. Not to mention its crunchy moments and timing, snappy scripting (not always, but most of the time).

I loved almost every episode of The Newsroom right from the get-go. Mind you, I think I might have fit the perfect audience profile for it, given my professional background and personality… but I think the reason that I most “got it” was the in-between time in which I went to J-school.

My first year at university, the computer labs had dos-based dialup internet connections and text-based forums. My cohort still had to look up journals for our Psychology major via CD-Roms, and then physically locate them on shelves and photocopy pages and pages of text. We learnt from brilliant, sharp old-school journalists for whom their role as the Fourth Estate was not a debate but a job description, and who would have understood Mackenzie McHale’s “speechifying” that, “there was a time when journalism wasn’t a career– it was a calling.” We took ethics training and obligations as par for the course; there was a code of conduct. Of course there was: in a functioning democracy, power came with responsibility. I wrote essays on the what the rise of the internet would do to or for the “gatekeepers” of information, on what it would do to personal identity. I worshipped at the doors of broadsheet newspapers. By the time I finished my first studies, I was reading my news entirely on the web.

It was another lifetime, with many lifetimes that came after it, but our first degrees shape our first frameworks, the first filters through which we understand the working world. (Ok, if you’re a liberal arts student, the world itself). So to this day, like Sloan Sabbith, I don’t believe in the term “citizen journalism”, because, to me, “journalism” is an institution that involves checks and balanced coverage and accountability and culpability. It’s citizen-something, but it ain’t journalism.

Almost everything that I’ve done in my career up to this point has been driven first by passion and idealism (sometimes bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and outright delusional). So MacKenzie slapping down the novel Don Quixote in front of Jim Harper to bring home the point that there was someone who was ready to fight windmills to build something extraordinary and that he wanted them to be a part of it, was one of many heart-leaping moments for me. As was Will’s “America can be great again” speech, and, one of the many that really resonated within me:

“The Greater Fool is … a patsy. For the rest of us to profit, we need a greater fool, someone who will buy long and sell short. Most people spend their lives trying not to be the greater fool; we toss in the hot potato, we dive for his seat when the music stops. The greater fool is someone with the perfect blend of self-delusion and ego to think that he can succeed where others have failed. This whole country was made by greater fools.” (Sloan Sabbith). 

I’m grateful for the continuing existence of idealism and whatever fires up the audacity of hope. 🙂

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 6: I’m grateful for choice.

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Choice. We take it so much for granted, we who choose each day our outfits, what to eat and with whom, how we want our tea and coffee, what to watch on the TV or Apple TV. We choose our universities, schools, government representatives, where to take our holidays, where to rent or buy a house, what car to buy. But it’s a privilege that we were accorded by virtue of where we were born, into what circumstances, and sheer dumb luck.

One just has to look around the world not just at those who live under the poverty line or at its margins, but also at those running from conflict zones, from totalitarian regimes and dictatorships… just for a moment… to realise that external choices are afforded to the privileged of the world.

So, needless to say, I’m grateful for external choices. But I’m also grateful for lessons that came with learning to recognise and make internal choices. Older, wiser souls might not have to earn these habits, but I did, and I was pretty frikkin’ irritated about it too… because turning inwards tends to happen only when you’ve run out of places to run, so to speak, when you’re exhausted and when the old way just wasn’t working any more and you’ve really milked it dry.

It’s choosing how to feel at any one particular time. Choosing your emotions and thoughts. Not pushing them away or controlling them or twisting them into the shape you’d prefer them to be. Just choosing which ones to entertain. You know, like you’re the popular kid and you decide to whom you deign to give more attention.

On a related note, it’s also the power to choose your story, your narration. Like in the movie A Beautiful Life, only sans the sheer effort that would have required in concentration camp circumstances. It’s as Viktor Frankl said, that you have to have meaning, and you can choose your meaning, craft it (I am very broadly paraphrasing here).

Finally, I am grateful to have had enough confrontation, enough opportunity and enough freedom to choose myself. That means both choosing who I want to be at any given point (and the attendant failures and successes) and choosing to stand on my own side.

It can be as much of a burden as a privilege, because choice, like power, comes with great responsibility. But I wouldn’t have it any other way, because learning to bear that responsibility with grace, integrity and compassion in a world where nothing is sacred any longer is a worthy life goal. And I’m grateful for it.

 

Advent Day 5: Lessons in when to walk away.

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If you don’t have the courage or strength to walk away when a situation isn’t good for you,
you will always be someone’s doormat. 

These aren’t mine. These are from other people who learnt their lessons earlier than I did. I think, this year, I’ve finally learnt these lessons, too, the hard way.

  • Never lose yourself while trying to hold on to someone who doesn’t care about losing you.
  • Knowing when to walk away is wisdom. Being able to is courage. Walking away with your head held high is dignity.
  • One of the hardest decisions you will ever face in life is choosing whether to try harder or walk away.
  • When someone treats you like an option, help them narrow their choices by removing yourself from the equation. It’s that simple.
  • The moment you feel like you have to prove your worth to someone is the moment to absolutely and utterly walk away.

I’m grateful for the lessons in knowing when to walk away. They were awful and humiliating sometimes, but they were largely my own fault (and who hasn’t listened to their own gut instinct or dismissed their own needs at some point in their life?) and they were necessary. Because they were part of my learning to let things go.


Picture attribution: Modified from Elephant Journal.