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

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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 22: Lego and princess tents

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Up until recently, I didn’t really know how to play with small humans. They’re quite a mystery to me, having been quite a serious, thoughtful, worried small human myself, prone to spending hours reading, building a sandcastle complete with moat and dams to protect it against the encroachment of the sea, concentrating on slowly forming very tall drip-sandcastles, or playing Lego in a blanket fort.

So, I did not become the child-friendly variety of adult.

Until recently…. when my aunt set up a pink princess tent for my very small, still-portable goddaughter. The little ankle-biter started putting all her fat-Lego pieces into the fort, so I went and sat inside and started making random things. That’s when the small human crawled inside, emitted a screech and a giggle…. And we ended up sitting there in amicable silence for the longest time– I clipping pieces together to make things, she pulling them apart with a satisfying “click”.

I even ended up having a wonderfully calming and entertaining time. She finally likes me a little more.

Yup, I’m grateful for princess tents and Lego.

[Mind you, if my “biological clock” (pffft, please; I question its existence) ever starts ticking, I won’t just press the snooze button… I’ll throw it out the window onto the pavement downstairs.]

Advent Day 21: I’m grateful for curiosity.

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The last time I made a list of things I wanted to study at university or learn at a good school of some kind, this is how it looked (in no particular order and following no particular logic nor, in the case of economics, sense of aptitude whatsoever):

  • Creative writing (poetry and creative nonfiction)
  • Disaster preparedness and recovery
  • Crisis management
  • Epidemiology and viruses
  • Economics
  • Languages (modern and Latin)
  • International relations
  • Patisserie
  • Jewellery-making
  • Music
  • Food studies/Nutrition

Even then, I felt that a few somethings were missing from the list.

I also want to learn classical European sword-fighting (not just that prissy, skittish rapier fencing in a tailored Darth Vadar suit, real full-on Lord of the Rings go-full-tilt-and-fight-an-Orc type metal-clashing sword-fighting), aikido, archery, Krav…. and be excellent at meditation, too. Oh and shooting! I’ve never held a gun before… I’d rather like to see how good I am on a shooting range, and learn how to reload a magazine of a pistol. Just because.

I love new things; they just fire up my brain like little synapse sparklers. I’m just as happy curled up on a couch for weeks with a stack of books, though.

Ah, thank you dear creator of the universe, if you exist, for bestowing me with terminal, pathological curiosity. (Let’s assume you didn’t accidentally drop the whole bottle on me on the production line). Mind you, it must be guarded against jadedness and depression and what society expects from a “grownup”. I’m grateful for curiosity!

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.

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 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.