The Ending is a New Beginning

A photo by Ben White. unsplash.com/photos/4K2lIP0zc_k

“God Smiles When You Be You.”  – Rick Warren

As we approach the end of another year, I was tempted to do a review and re-examination of the past year, but this time I resisted the urge.  As a chronic over thinker, I tend to review each waking minute of every day, and for once I decided that this practice was no longer necessary. It appears that the merry-go-round of examining outcomes, cost/benefit analysis and trying to extrapolate valuable data so as to prevent future mistakes was finally coming to an end. Why? Because I decided it had to stop.

Years of analysis, doctors, naturopaths, acupuncturists, homeopaths, not to mention nutritionists, eating plans, exercise plans and hundreds of books on the mind and spirituality, all helped me gain an understanding and awareness of how my thoughts impacted my health. However, eventually you reach the pointy end of your journey where you choose to stay stuck or to step out, usually into unknown territory.

My foreign land is in the realm of feelings. I am unfamiliar and unaccustomed to letting go. Letting go of what I thought I was and how I defined myself, which was usually through  the prism of work and/or the praise worthy demonstration of some unique talent. Chronic illness allows you to do neither of these. You loose your work and as for gaining lavish praise for your unique talent? Forget it! Some days, the best thing you can do is get out of bed gracefully. Believe me, when you’re sick, it’s a huge achievement.

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Photography is one way I am experimenting in creativity

And so, with identity stripped away, it seems there is little left but skin and bones and this is where the yucky void is to be found. Many of us avoid it like the plague by indulging in too much liquor, drugs, sex, food, worry, extreme sports, anything that keeps us from ourselves.

The point of no return

But I’d had enough. I wanted out of my old and battered life and to embrace something different -to try on a new coat, something technicolour and funky. It was my point of no return. Once you’ve seen a glimpse of your true self, you can never return unchanged. It’s like trying to fit into your old size 8 jeans when you have outgrown them by 3 sizes.

So what I glimpsed was an understanding about how I’m wired. I am a left and a right brainer. That means I have equal capacity to analyse (left brain) and to create (right brain). This is normally a good thing, except when your brain becomes unbalanced. I unwittingly let my left brain run my life. While the left loves knowledge it also loves to analyse, normally a handy skill, except when this is coupled with low self-esteem. In this case, the analyst can become a harsh critic and judge whenever a new activity is attempted. In my case, the critic became my ruler in all its definitions; both dominating, and in the way I measured myself and my work against others. My right brain has been trying for YEARS to restore the balance, seeking even the smallest crack in the wall that I’d built around my self-esteem to find release. It constantly sought opportunities to allow my creativity to spill forth and be expressed, but the harsh critic always shut me down. Any attempts at artistic endeavours were quickly abandoned because my first attempts were naturally never perfect. Sadly, it was through illness that I became aware of the imbalance. It’s the main reason this blog exists. I hope others will take heed and learn to honour and express all aspects of who they are.

So with this insight, I realised this imbalance was the result of hearing a few too many criticisms and not enough praise as I was growing up. No blame here. I know my parents had endured the same which is why they parented the way they knew how. So, knowing all this, where to from here?

Well, I know I have a kick-ass, pain in the butt critic but it’s my choice whether I listen or not. Perfectionism is an impossible master to please. In a recent attempt at a sewing project I made the same mistake twice. Truly a first world problem but to me, it triggered all the old feelings of shame and incompetence and I wanted to quit. But I dropped an arm into the ugly place of despair and pulled myself out before I hit the bottom.

Here’s what worked for me.

I call this process, “Project Hello Me”.  I took a deep breath, reminded myself that I was a beginner and began to hum a jolly tune as I unpicked the work. I repeated the process when I made the same mistake and actually had enough awareness to realise that I was being given a wonderful gift, an opportunity to really test my new commitment to change. Repetition builds new neurones and brain pathways, and I wanted a major highway in my brain that built loving acceptance of both my mistakes, and my achievements.

The bottom line is that I am choosing to change records. I want my life to a play to a different tune.

woman records.jpg

I won’t lie and say that I’m cured. This is like learning to walk. It’s just the first step. My other Achilies’ heal is comparison. I see the brilliant work of experienced artisans and feel pathetically inadequate compared to them, but again, I refer myself to Project Hello Me and repeat the pattern of demolishing the old and creating the new.

Uncovering the Real Me

But what I’m really doing is not so much creating the new me, but rather, uncovering the “real me”. Looking through a clearer lens. Stripping away dusty old walls that have kept my true identity hidden from myself and others. Like most children, I built up walls to protect myself. I realise now that when something means so much to us, we feel we cannot risk having it destroyed by unaware adults whose criticisms, although well intentioned, can be completely misinterpreted by young children. I never wanted to risk trying something creative in case it was a complete failure, hard to swallow when it means everything to you. But that’s a scared child’s interpretation. A loved and secure child will make and create just because they have to. And now, so will I.

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I wanted to set up the change even before the new year is welcomed in. I wanted the river to begin flowing now, I’ve wasted enough time. So I’ve begun to dabble, explore and investigate new possibilities. Always with what the Buddhists call, ‘The beginners mind’.

So as we leave 2016 behind and allow the events and memories to be added to the cache of the collective experience, I say thank you to you wonderful readers and followers for listening to my rants and raves, to my highs and lows and providing me with a forum in which to share my experiences and insights.

New years are often a great opportunity for change.

How can you embrace a more authentic version of yourself in 2017?  What new experiences can you try your hand at to help you to find your true self?

My wish for you in 2017 is that you rediscover and reconnect with your authentic inner magnificence. And to remember that we are all a glittering facet of a greater cosmic diamond, that Divine force that creates all there is.

Wishing for you a safe and happy holiday and many joy-filled blessings in the New Year.

Namaste.

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Wisdom Elements

The not so hidden Christmas gift


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Christmas has come and gone again, leaving in it’s wake a temporary happiness that comes with giving shiny new things, until they fall out of favour and end up in landfill, only to do it all again next year. For me, each passing Christmas has evoked a gentler longing for a simpler gift, like a scented candle, some wool to crochet with or just a sense of peace.  This year however has borne it’s own unique and surprising gift, and not the kind you’ll find in any store.

Like many people, 2015 for me, came with health challenges, ongoing Irritable Bowel Syndrome, the kind that you hope will be resolved with a magical Christmas wish, like the gifting of that elusive key that will unlock the mystery cure .  This year my unique gift wasn’t from a medical diagnosis but from a sudden knowing and insight into what might be the actual cause, and surprisingly, it’s not a physical malfunction, but more of a spiritual and emotional one.

Image courtesy: egoopportunity.net
Image courtesy: egoopportunity.net

You see for the past two years, I’ve been studying a post graduate course that has felt less like I was learning something worthwhile, and more like I was bashing my head against a brick wall. It’s not that some of the material isn’t interesting, but it’s deeply theoretical with few ‘real life skills’ that I really want and need as a spiritual mentor and counsellor. To make things worse, the course is now only available online, with a measly two day workshop mid semester, not ideal when studying counselling, which is all about human interaction and communication.

So, if this course ticked  none of my heart’s boxes why was I doing it? Well because I’d fallen into the “Title” trap and therefore, the only box it ticked was my head’s box, the home of our ego, that insatiable and dominating part of me that said, “Don’t do the holistic diploma course your heart really wants, do the higher level degree instead, because more people will be impressed by this one, and if they’re impressed, you’ll feel special!”

Image courtesy: quotessays.com
Image courtesy: quotessays.com

And I fell for it.  Ego convinced me to trudge my way through this course because it convinced me that when I finished it, I’d feel more important, more “special”, all those sneaky little tricks it uses to make us feel less than.  It didn’t matter that I’d already been working successfully as a counsellor and that my clients were happy to refer their family and friends to me. No, for ego it wasn’t enough, and despite me often telling my clients about the ego trap, I myself had fallen in, hook, line and sinker.

Don’t get me wrong, I love studying and formal qualifications of all kinds have their place, as long as we do them for the right reasons.  If spending all that time and effort brings us a sense of joy and accomplishment and satisfies higher goals, then we know it’s the right path, but if it’s filled with dread and resentment, and importantly starts to affect our mental, physical and spiritual health, then we really need to examine our motivations.

Image courtesy: leadchangegroup.com
Image courtesy: leadchangegroup.com

And so my Christmas gift this year was the gift of clarity, the ability to see that I’d been putting my heart’s desire aside, because my head made it all about perceived ego value, not heart value.  And, whereas my old course took so much time because my heart wasn’t in it and therefore resulted in chronic procrastination, doing a course I love will be it’s own motivator, helping me complete the course quickly, giving me another gift, the precious gift of time, time to pursue my other creative interests like writing, crochet and design.

The silly thing is, I really don’t “need” any more formal qualification because my clients always leave feeling better than when they arrived and that is aim of successful counselling and mentoring.  Plus, not once have they asked about my academic credentials, it was my own ego trying to sabotage my hard-won sense of self worth.

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Sadly in our culture, it’s too often about BIG trophies and about having the most impressive qualifications, the biggest office and pay packet etc. and less about truly loving what you do, even if it comes with a smaller, quieter office, and a more modest pay packet.

Image courtesy: forumbodybuilding.com
Image courtesy: forumbodybuilding.com

So my Christmas gift this year was the magical key of clarity, helping me see that rather than pursue the ego path that has been toxic to my health, I can choose the heart-path.  As a bonus, it frees me to pursue my creative interests, those that nourish me and help foster good health.  So if you are grappling with a battle between your head and your heart, take a moment to breath and see which option feels like you are losing oxygen, and which one fills your lungs with joy and a sense of lightness.

Image courtesy: puputnopitasari.blogspot.com.au
Image courtesy: puputnopitasari.blogspot.com.au

Like me, you may discover that the magical key you were hoping to find to solve your dilemma was in your pocket the whole time.

Image courttesy litaburke.com
Image courttesy litaburke.com

The Imperfect Experiment

 

Image courtesy: lifepurposematters.com
Image courtesy: lifepurposematters.com
I am careful not to confuse Excellence with Perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; Perfection is God’s business.  Michael J. Fox

Today, I begin my experiment.  It’s about taking a risk, taking a chance, not knowing all the possible permutations but having a go anyway without knowing about the outcome.

As a perfectionist, I need to know everything. But as a reforming perfectionist, I’m learning that I don’t really need to know “every thing”.  And the universe is helping me in my quest. You see even this post has started off as imperfect. I made many attempts at centring the image below, the text size changed and I couldn’t see how to fix it, and you know what, it didn’t matter. Despite my mind protesting, I just gave in and left it imperfect, because I realised that this imperfect post would not caused a major earthquake, or other similar calamity.  Funny thing is, when I gave in to imperfection, the faults magically corrected themselves!

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Our beloved dog Star

As for the Imperfect Experiment, well, since my beloved rescue Greyhound passed away recently, I’ve been in a complete state of sadness and despair.  I couldn’t imagine getting another dog ever, because I felt she was the “perfect” dog.  My family adored her too, and they also miss her but also wanted to honour her by rescuing another Greyhound, which I know is a wonderful thing to do.  Problem is, there are so many dogs that need rescuing, that need homes but as always, I managed to narrow the choice down to 2. I just couldn’t choose the next  “perfect” dog. I flipped a coin, I used a pendulum, I meditated but I got nothing, no guidance, no inkling, just a big fat zero, and now I know why. I’m being guided to just choose.  Either dog will be perfect and imperfect at the same time.

Image courtesy: bandt.com.au

So today, I thought, ok, let’s look at this as an experiment. Let’s just choose one, and go with it.  Let’s see what it feels like to just make a selection and be ok with that.  Even if the dog we’ve chosen turns out to be somewhat imperfect, perhaps it may dig up my garden, or hide all our socks, does it really matter?  No.  There is joy to be found in saving any animal.  There is joy to be found in having a playful dog, even if it does cause mischief.  There will be joy in knowing that I’ve made a decision, that will make a huge difference to at least one animal’s life. In fact, being able to be imperfect means I will help save another dog’s life. Surely that is the only kind of perfection worth striving for.

Our perfectly imperfect new rescued Greyhound, Storm.
Our perfectly imperfect new rescued Greyhound, Storm.

So this morning, I’m off to collect our new family member from her foster mum, and I look forward to seeing what alchemical process will take place as I try on a new idea about what it means to be perfectly imperfect.

Shopping for Enlightenment

Image from http://www.sheknows.com

I always thought spiritual enlightenment sprung itself unannounced during long meditative retreats, drum beating workshops or arduous vision quests, but for me, it was the fluro-illuminated isles of a supermarket that lit the light of insight.

I used to hate supermarket shopping, the repetitiveness of it dulled my brain.   While I love food, the thought of having to push a cold metal basket with directionally opposing wheels frustrated me, it seemed like a time waster, a chore and a bore.  Something you just had to tolerate.  One day, life gave my own trolley (body) a heavy push in the opposite direction to which I thought I was travelling.  The push was a gift in the form of a sudden bout of very poor health, and with it, my view of supermarket shopping, and other similarly “mundane” tasks suddenly changed, they became highly coveted chores.

The Gift of Illness

How is being ill a gift?  Because being sick for almost three months straight, helped me learn  the art of appreciation. I know three months is nothing compared to the long-term illnesses faced by many, but it wasn’t the duration but the severity of the confinement that had me take notice. Bed and house ridden for weeks on end, I was unable to do more than sit up to sip soup and wait for the sun to set on what I thought was another empty, and completely wasted, precious day;  where nothing was achieved other than being able to say I made it through another 24 hours.

Image: galleryhip.com
Image: galleryhip.com

It was during the darker moments, you know, home alone while the rest of the world buzzed away in never-ending hives of activity, that I had my own buzzy Aha! moment.  I suddenly coveted  those previously dull and repetitive activities like ironing, washing and yep, the once dreaded supermarket shopping.

Small achievements are important milestones

When getting out of bed is the greatest achievement of each day, a simple, previously annoying activity like supermarket shopping suddenly becomes a highly desired goal.  A sign of progress, little signposts showing you’ve made it from bedroom, to lounge room, from indoors, to outdoors, from home, to shop.  Progress, no matter how small, is progress.

Image: healthblog.dallasnews.com
Image:healthblog.dallasnews.com

Forget visualising sitting on a tropical beach eating coconuts, all I wanted was the familiarity of a visit to my local supermarket, a place where I could be “normal” and not that sick woman, hidden from the world.  A place where I could smile at the friendly checkout staff, and know that when asked how my day was,  I would reply with an overenthusiastic, “Brilliant!” and really, really mean it.

Suddenly, I felt joy at the prospect of gliding down each aisle, marvelling at the 20 plus varieties of crisps, or the ingenuousness of Banana flavoured milk, which contains only 1% banana and yet, can still be labelled Banana Milk. I would nod approvingly at the precision with which heavily laden shelves are stocked with the useful and the useless. I’d smile like an idiot at other robotic shoppers, carrying out the “dreaded chore”, but wanting to stop and say, “Hey, you should enjoy this because you don’t know how awful it is to have it  taken away from you”.  I’ve realised that to be able to do even the most mundane of chores really is a privilege.

So my first return visit to the supermarket called for some skipping past the pasta and a twirl into the table salt, ending with a backward twist and the skilful throw of a cereal box, landing smack in the middle of the trolley.  OK, it landed in someone else’s trolley but the look of bemusement on the shopper’s face made it all worth while.  At least, I’d awoken them temporarily from their dreary, repetitive chore. It made me realise that with appreciation, our everyday tasks, even the seemingly mundane, can be as precious as those more eventful moments in our lives.  It’s all about perspective.

Image: idonotno.com
Image: idonotno.com

So what did I learn in the supermarket aisle of enlightenment? I learnt that a chore need no longer be a bore when you think you will do it no more!  And finally, my advice is next time you go supermarket shopping, give thanks that you can, because there are so many people who simply can’t.

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