2014: A year of lessons and gratitude.

131

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

Advertisements

Advent Day 22: Lego and princess tents

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/ad7/62246168/files/2014/12/img_7377.jpg
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.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/ad7/62246168/files/2014/12/img_7367.jpg
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 20: Four things for which to be grateful.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/ad7/62246168/files/2014/12/img_7334.jpg
Swimming pools. When it’s scorchingly hot and sunny, and humid as a jungle.

Teletubbies. I am a young godmother to a small human, whose mother seems to have some kind of misplaced optimism in my child-minding (non-)skills. I don’t know what to do with a crying baby except to find the Sesame Street baby-equivalent on YouTube and desperately plonk it in front of it, gasping, “here! Here! Look! Teletubbies! You like Teletubbies, right??!!”.

IKEA’s small-things-I-never-knew-I-could-live-without section. Because Christmas and acquaintances.

Craft skills. Not drawing a regular pay check has its downsides! But it certainly prods out any artistic and creative craft skills….

Advent Day 11: La langue française.

16609db32fc62f8b2a591a27df760908

I hope any Francophone reading this will forgive my terrible grammar and anglicised turns of phrase:

Je suis convaincu qu’on est nés pour aimer chaque certaines langues. J’ai essayé aimer les autres langues: chinois, allemand, espagnol…. et j’ai aimé le son et les sensations du roumain, italien et russe. Mais, la langue avec laquelle je n’ai pas seulement tombé en amour, mais me suis retrouvé pris dans son étreinte, était français.

Un de mes désirs de cette année a été d’atteindre un niveau de français assez avancé pour écrire un poème en français. (Ok, on a déjà établi que je suis un peu trop ambitieuse).

Eh bien, je ne suis pas encore là. Mais, j’ai assez du français maintenant pour être en mesure d’écrire une courte blog en français. (C’est probablement incorrecte et plein d’anglicismes, et ma grammaire pourrait être mieux, mais je suis toujours prêt à essayer. Sans Google Translate, naturellement.)

Essentially, French is the second language of my heart. I’m an Anglophile first, but since I was really quite young, I’ve been fascinated with the French language, probably because of all its similarities to English. These days, I get a deliciously exquisite wriggly feeling whenever I find French turns of phrases that sound like old or formal English, or that translate directly, or even the false friends (because that in itself tells interesting stories).

I started learning French properly at a time when I needed a new language in which to feel anew and think anew. It was one of the things that took me out of my head and helped me sit in my heart. I’m grateful for the French language.


Picture attribution: Paris/French Culture by Sarah Benson.

Advent Day 6: I’m grateful for choice.

IMG_0882.JPG
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.

walking-away

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.