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

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 the hurdles. [Or, How to Build Your Bones. (In my opinion, anyway.)]

1. Live in different countries. There’s nothing like building your identity through embracing and rebelling against elements in a few different cultures, including your own– but the only way to see your own culture and conditioning clearly is to get out of it.


2. Make huge mistakes. Fix them. Decide not to fix them. Realise that there are some you can’t fix. Learn to move on from them. Allow yourself to make mistakes.

3. Have huge fights with your friends. Make up. Decide not to make up. Learn to forgive yourself. Learn to forgive other people. Learn to let go. Understand that you can outgrow people and places, or they can outgrow you.

4. Be disliked, slandered, hated, gossiped about, and stabbed in the back. After a while, you realise that you are still standing, or that you got back up again, or that in the end, you must just be you, follow your own convictions, and stand on your own side. Yes, you must consider other people’s opinions, but yours must count the most to you– even against your family’s, friends’, partner’s and parents’. Nobody else knows what is best for you. There is no endeavour in the world worth pursuing that will not have its critics and backseat drivers.

5. Take risks you are uncomfortable with. That’s how you learn that not all risks are suitable for you. Learn which risks, which kinds of risks, and what level of risk is best for YOU.

6. Violate your values once in a while. There’s nothing like having the rug pulled out from under you and having to consciously DECIDE on which values you want to live by, not simply accepting what you’ve been conditioned, trained and brainwashed to believe.



7. Be a part of seeing your organisation through at least one professional crisis or three– a health crisis, an environmental crisis, a plane crash, a failed, public negotiations round, a bank crisis, an Enron. That’s the fastest way to understanding your professional worth.

8. Have at least one deeply personal crisis. That’s the fastest way to understanding just how strong and flexible you are.



9. Have ideals in love and romance. Watch Disney, read Mills and Boon, immerse in the old classics. That way, you have three things: something to aspire to, something to dream about, and something to tear down one at a time and replace with standards. When ideals collapse, in their place stand boundaries and standards, particularly for those of us who do not emulate our own parents’ unions.



10. Confront your fears head on– the fears that hold you back from doing what you want to do in the world. Afraid of public speaking? Do a course in journalism, volunteer to host stage shows, take acting and drama classes. Afraid of heights? Bungee jump, freefall out of a plane, stand on a glass floor hundreds of feet in the air, abseil 100m into a lush tropical cave. Claustrophobic? Go on caving trips and expeditions. (yup, done ALL that.)

11. Be ugly. Be jealous, be bitter, be angry, be frustrated, be weird, be stupid, be “blonde”, be all the dark and erupting emotions that society has taught you were “bad” or unacceptable”. Be ok with that. Whether we want to acknowledge them or not, they are a part of us and each of our unique stories– part of the paradox that is all human beings– strong and vulnerable, generous and selfish, big-hearted and guarded, intelligent and autistic, crafty and stupid, optimistic and depressed, pessimistic and idealistic, and so on. Whether we fight them or not, those emotions are there, and the more you fight something, the more solid you make it. A dear Finnish friend, Tina, once put it this way, “they’re just emotions. Look at them. Watch them. Let them play. Then go on with your life.”

12. Stick your foot in your mouth many times and in different contexts. That’s how instinctive diplomacy and grace in unfamiliar contexts come to those of us not born with a silver spoon in our mouths. You learn to recover, you learn to listen carefully, you learn that sometimes it’s ok to stay silent and be thought ignorant than speak and confirm your ignorance. 🙂

13. Travel until you’re sick of travelling, until you’re so stuffed and spoiled and fat on travel that you go to any city and begin to recognise familiar patterns. Find home that way. Find your best self that way.



14. Eat and be interested in what you put into your body. It is the most primal need we have, goes directly into our system and bloodstream, and we have given over the right to choose what to put into our bodies to corporations, politics and franchises. It is also one of life’s purest joys. Caring about the food you eat is caring for yourself.

15. Experience obsession. Ballet, choir, classical music, rock-climbing, travelling, an organisation, a person, a cause… it shows you the extent of your own ability to be passionate and the importance of passion, and your own capacity to come alive, to breathe and live what you love, and to know what– deep down– you need, you want and you crave, what is important to you. It will also show you what you lack, what you are running from, and what you are covering up.



16. Demand that which you desire. If you get it, well and good– you learn to live with the responsibility of getting what you want, you learn that humans are seldom satisfied with that, you learn to become better at loving what you have. If you don’t get it, you learn to deal with lack and loss. Either way, you learn. But demand it– demand it of yourself, demand it of others. And learn that you are not perfect, nobody is perfect, and therefore that there are no perfect systems in the world, whether that applies to organisations or economic theory or relationships. That way, you slowly begin to understand and put together the best imperfect life for you.

17. Be lonely at least once in your life. Bone-achingly, soul-draining-ly, desperately lonely. So lonely you shiver in the cold because there’s nothing left inside you to keep you warm. You’ll look at the homeless, artists, poor little rich kids, expats and so many other people with so much more compassion when you see them. It’s different from being alone. It’s loneliness. Learn to appreciate how important it is to be ok with yourself and take care of yourself. The only constant in this life is you.

18. Have your heart broken at least once (once is enough, but for some of us, apparently it is not). Learn to internalise and apply all the theoretical good stuff that never got beyond the intellect.

Done all that.

April 2013.