Juggling many balls is the way I run my life. It is often not conducive to a calm state of mind or a good night’s sleep, and I have tried to juggle less to achieve both, but I am an addict for cramming as much in as possible and so I always go back. Lots to do is the stuff of life.
If the world operated according to my plans (that is, my diary schedule), if external events, and people, could be controlled, there would be no problem with this, but as much as I try, the world goes on around me following its own agenda and my control extends no further than myself. In truth, even that is unreliable!
I am writing a book, planning renovations, and trying to stay socialised and healthy.
That’s quite a lot but with proper scheduling, it should be possible. After all, I have all day! It’s just peculiar that all day goes so quickly! And everything takes longer than a day!
Writing a book requires the discipline of sitting on a chair in front of the computer for hours each day, in my case split between morning and evening. Health requires exercise – a trip to the gym, walking 10,000 steps, a swim – which also takes a couple of hours. Social health means lunch with a friend or dinner with the family.
Then there’s self-care, cleanliness, and chores, all consuming more time, repeatedly each day; the background of our lives.
In my case, I am also a sucker for travel. I love to discover new places, have experiences and adventures, on my own or with friends. This is the final ball that can unbalance the flow and set all the balls falling. And yet, it is irresistible to me.
But creating something, having a purpose, doing the things we need to do for an emotionally and physically healthy life, doing things that excite us and challenge us, that fulfill us, and make us joyful, are essential, in my opinion, for a well-balanced and full life.
And if that means, occasionally, that I am juggling too many balls for a calm, Zen state and a good night’s sleep, then I can live with that.
We only get one life. Stuff it full. Push the boundaries. And try not to drop the ball.
Forgiveness is a gift that we bestow upon ourselves.
This concept, for me, was the first step towards understanding how essential forgiveness is for a happy life.
Originally, I thought forgiveness just meant excusing or pardoning an offender and argued that some acts could be forgiven, and some could not.
I knew that people forgave on grounds of religious beliefs, or compassion, or in order to put some horrible thing behind them without necessarily delving in too deeply.
I knew that self-forgiveness was important in order to accept our own shortcomings and mistakes, to enable us to live without debilitating self-criticism or guilt.
I knew that forgiveness was more effective in rehabilitation than punishment.
None of these ideas were complicated. And none of them went deep enough.
Discussing forgiveness with my friends, I realised there was so much more to it. Opinions and feelings varied, as did the experienced circumstances.
But a common reason for forgiveness amongst those with the most cause to be offended, was to dispel their own pain.
What I had neglected to consider was that other component of forgiveness: ceasing to feel resentment.
Ceasing to feel resentment is a choice made entirely by the person who is hurt and is nothing to do with the perpetrator. Releasing the negative feelings enables us to realise that our minds are not determined by external circumstances, that no matter what anybody does, we are free to choose our emotions.
Consider what it feels like to be resentful; it is unpleasant and makes us sad and angry. Isn’t it better to feel pleasant, peaceful, and calm? Why keep a thought that is hurting us?
Harbouring resentment is detrimental to our lives. It creates emotional conflict and even health issues, affecting our minds and bodies, causing digestive issues, skin conditions, and more. It is like taking poison and hoping that the other person dies.
To forgive does not mean overlooking the offense and pretending it never happened. Forgiveness means releasing our rage and our need to retaliate, no longer dwelling on the offense, the offender, and the suffering, and rising to a higher, more pleasant state. It is an act of letting go so that we ourselves can go on.Sue Monk Kidd.
Forgiveness is not only important for major offences. On a day-to-day level, forgiveness enables us to live a more peaceful and pleasant life. Forgiving road rage, rudeness and lack of consideration, frees us from anger and an agitated state of mind.
Letting go of hurts in a loving relationship, enables us to maintain a peaceful state. Forgiveness opens us up to understanding, and therefore, to loving more deeply. It is the foundation of a deep, meaningful relationship.
Siblings, or children and parents, or best friends, or couples, sometimes don’t speak to each other for years, over some perceived or real offense. They miss out on opportunities to be supported, to be included, to be joyful and to be loved, and often regret it, wondering too late, how they could have been so stubborn.
Other times we might need to say sorry, even if we are not the ones in the wrong. Saying sorry means that we value the person and the relationship more than being right.
A friend, Chris Brown, made a speech at his daughter’s wedding. Tears came to my eyes as I listened. It was one of the most loving, touching pieces of advice I have ever heard:
Think about what is strong in the marriage, not what is wrong.
The first to apologise is the bravest.
The first to forgive is the strongest.
The first to forget is the happiest.
A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers and forgetters.
There is no healing without forgiveness. We cannot be happy in a resentful state. To have a pleasant life, to be in control of our minds and emotions, to grow spiritually, to be our best selves, we need to forgive.
Forgiveness is a most valuable gift. And each of us has the power to bestow it; to others and to ourselves.
Spiritual teachers all talk about forgiveness. Here are a few worth listening to:
Forgiveness gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. Thich Nhat Hanh.
Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on. Eckhart Tolle.
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. Lewis Smedes.
The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. Mahatma Gandhi.
Relationships don’t thrive because the guilty are punished but because the wounded are merciful. Max Lucado.
3 Life Lessons on Forgiveness When Feeling Hurt | Lessons from Bhagavad Gita
Sadhguru – How to Forgive Someone Who Hurt You [ An Insight on Forgiveness ]
I don’t believe in a male God who sits on a throne in the kingdom of Heaven, and I don’t like religion other than the stories and the arts.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in the existence of something – the Universe, the Infinite, the Spirit – that is greater than myself; something that is genderless and formless; something that can only be sensed, initially, with silence and stillness, meditation and a certain introspection; what I think of as, Big Energy.
God, to me, is the feeling that something big out there is connected to something small within me.
That small thing is like a black hole. Sometimes I ignore it, and its pull is missed. Life goes on. But there is a feeling of limitation. There is no depth. Other times, I notice it and allow myself to drift towards it, like going with a rip, past the shallows, to the open sea. It gives a sense of expansiveness, of greater possibility, of another dimension, that anything is possible. It is energising.
When I was young, I attended a Church school. I enjoyed the stories and the singing but having atheist parents, did not think too deeply on God. Then in my teenage years, full of angst and romance, hormones and emotion, I found that sitting alone in my local church, I could get relief from inner turmoil. I concentrated my thoughts, felt a connection to God, and poured out all my troubles. I prayed.
My church attendance was brief. At seventeen, I met a young man who answered my prayers. He was strong, smart, and scientific. Another atheist. I needed no other god.
Occasionally throughout my adult life, when I was distressed or conflicted, I would call to the stars on my evening walk, but that was the extent of my spirituality, my connection with any type of god. Until I went to India in 2014.
India buzzes with spirituality. Eighty percent of Indians are Hindu, and they are not quiet about it. Gods and rituals are numerous and noisy, colourful and scented. They cannot be ignored. And in my case, the energy in the air could not be unfelt.
I had been in India only a few days when I walked into a big barn of a store, with my husband, in Kochi, Kerala. The array of gods, statues made from wood, brass and marble, from palm sized to car sized, was seemingly infinite. I wandered around, smiling indulgently, until I found myself standing face to face with a tarnished brass, elephant-headed, four-armed, big-bellied statue of compelling magnetism. His long lashed, elephant eyes engaged me, and I did not move on. The shop keeper came up behind me. Lord Ganesh. Remover of obstacles, he said.
In another culture, you could say that Cupid’s arrow hit my heart. I fell in love with the elephant-god. I was sold on Ganesh and he was sold to me. I had an obstacle in my life and Ganesh promised to remove it. So, when I got him home, I placed him where he could be seen, a vantage point from which he could see all. I placed flowers at his side, making a kind of alter. I put my palms together and said, Namaste, in respectful greeting. I spent a moment passing him my thoughts. A ritual was begun, one I continued for many years. I felt listened to and supported.
Recently, I have let this ritual slip. Life is good and there is always much to do. As I rush past Ganesh, I barely acknowledge him. Sometimes I feel guilty and stop for a moment, think appreciative thoughts and thank him. But lately, I have tried to justify my inattention by trying to convince myself that a connection to an elephant-headed, four-armed, big-bellied statue, is silly. I have not quite succeeded. The feeling is still there. And so are the flowers.
And then I had an epiphany; that my Ganesh statue is an expression, a representation, of the expansive and supportive feeling that I have; that all gods and their images are an attempt to make palpable the invisible.
Spiritual beliefs through the ages, have always been represented by symbols and forms. They create a universal, spiritual language, used to communicate, to express, to understand.
Every civilisation has had spiritual beliefs, whether to explain the existence of all things, or because of a feeling that we are connected to all things. The Australian Aboriginal’s spiritual beliefs are expressed in rock art. Hinduism also, in paintings and sculptures.
So now, my connection to Ganesh does not seem silly after all.
In Hinduism, it is said that you attract the god you need. It turns out that Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles, was the god I needed, but now he is much more. I have discovered that he is also the Lord of wisdom and success, fortune and travel, and that he will place obstacles to redirect. His large ears listen, his belly holds problems, his hands reassure and reveal the right path.
His was the avatar I was attracted to. I feel like what he represents is right for me. My connection to Ganesh is simply a physical representation of what I feel spiritually; he is the thread, the conduit, the middle-man, the stepping-stone to whatever is out there, that Big Energy.
There is nothing else I would want in a god. What is God, to you?
I would like to start a revolution, one that would reconfigure the giving on birthdays. Instead of receiving gifts, we could have the pleasure of giving a gift to someone or some organisation that really needs one!
If we could quit the trend to buy an object just for the sake of a birthday gift, we could: save money, save time, and save the planet!
That’s a good start, but here is the revolutionary part: once a year, on our own birthday, we could shout ourselves a gift – the gift of GIVING!
We could give to whatever charity has our attention at the time. It could be one we donate to regularly, a new one, or one that due to current circumstances – like drought, Covid-19 or bushfires – needs extra help NOW.
I am not suggesting we ignore other’s birthdays; if there is that perfect thing or lovely experience we could give, then give it. Make the phone call, visit, write on the card, just don’t buy something that’s not needed, or even wanted, just because of a tradition. Once upon a time, that tradition would have been a simple gesture, an acknowledgement, or perhaps a home-made meal.
The necessity of a bought gift is a commercial trick that encourages materialism. I am suggesting going back to basics, with a contemporary and outward looking slant.
The money you have saved not buying superfluous objects could go towards coloured pencils in a poor child’s school bag, rehoming a mistreated animal, or training a guide dog. It could go towards disease research, or educating disabled children in India, or reforestation programmes. You might prefer activism and like to help stop mining near the Great Barrier Reef, or live animal exports.
Whatever it is that touches your heart could be your chosen beneficiary! It is, after all, your birthday!
By breaking with tradition, we can save up for that one day a year when it’s all about us and give whatever we want.
Wouldn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Wouldn’t that be a great thing?
This is a call to action. Come join the revolution! 😊✌
What have you received from well-meaning friends or family that you wish you hadn’t?
Have you got things stored in your cupboards that you don’t want, just because they were gifts? Perhaps regifting them to Vinnies or the Salvos could be the first step in breaking with tradition and someone less fortunate would benefit from the transfer. Also, the resources taken to produce the product would not be entirely wasted.
Have you ever been asked to contribute to a charity instead of giving a gift? How did you feel about that? Did it sit well with you or make you uncomfortable?
Contributing ourselves for our own birthdays, would avoid telling others what to do. My birthday has just been and it felt good to me!
Just for your interest:
The featured picture is of boys outside a slum in Mumbai sitting on parked bikes. I had just given them coloured pencils and notebooks, which I take especially for this purpose when I travel there. The kids are always delightful. My thanks, is a great photo and a feeling of gratitude.
The following are a few charities I support. What are yours?
This time last year, I was in Delhi, India. I woke on Christmas morning, having arrived the night before, and felt as excited as any child waiting to see what Santa brought. What would Christmas in India be like? There was a red, felt stocking hanging outside my door, full of sweets and silliness. Gold baubles and tinsel decorated the hotel lobby and breakfast room. ‘Happy Christmas, Ma’am,’ was said with a nod and a smile as I passed any of the staff. By the time I got to Jodhpur later that day, Christmas was forgotten. I wasn’t sad.
I had a festive lunch with my family, the week before I left. To me, that was Christmas. I had the fun, the feast and the frivolity without the queues, the exorbitant seafood prices and the angst of sharing the day by time slots. I would prefer to do this every year.
I was hyped by the thrill of adventure, of a journey through parts of India I had not been before. I was on my way to an ashram 28km north of Jodhpur on the edge of the Thar Desert, for a women’s festival celebrating shakti, sisterhood and spirituality, plus teachings on the environment – past, present and future – and what we can do to enhance our creativity and heal nature.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic, invited me – personally, I felt – on Instagram. I could barely wait!
A few days later, I was at the ashram and had made friends already. We were women of all ages from many countries, and thrilled to be there.
I saw films made by young, Indian women about seed banks and the Bishnois who were the first tree huggers. I learned about the school for kids with disabilities, run by Sneh Gupta, founder of Indiability, and the support offered by Urmi Basu’s New Light Kolkata for women and their children in the red-light district. I had the honour of meeting these women.
My eyes were wide open and my mind, highly receptive.
The food was pure, organic and vegetarian. Also, delicious. There was no alcohol but plenty of milky masala chai.
I watched Liz Gilbert interact with other learners, volunteers, activists, leaders, high achievers, the broken, the fragile, creatives, village women and festival organisers, and was moved by her grace, compassion, and insights. She was one of us and it was empowering.
I was okay. I was an observer and a participant in something that was much bigger than me but felt easy and right. I was part of a team. Whenever something made me sad, I went to the dogs – literally. The female ashram dogs were sweet and gentle.
I got Ayurvedic health advice from Shreejan Sita, the programme director and Ayurvedic Yoga Therapist. I discovered enneagrams and TRE (tension, stress and trauma release exercise) and had a tarot card reading, which was surprisingly accurate. I listened to women’s stories.
Apart from the cold and austerity of the ashram, I had a ball.
On New Year’s Eve, we partied. We danced in the vast red tent – friends and village girls – while Guruji and Shree looked on. We chanted around the fire, burning words on bits of paper to dispel the unwanted leftovers of 2019. No champagne. No mind-altering substances at all. We were high on the sisterhood and the freezing cold desert around us.
The year 2020 was not what I expected. The massive devastation left by the bushfires in NSW Australia was heartbreaking. A close friend died. The settlement on the sale of my marital home was difficult. Covid struck. Relationships became strained. My father’s health deteriorated and he died. Family and friends had challenges. All around me, I witnessed stress, heartache and adjustments.
And yet, I had many good times too: a new home and successful renovations; progress, albeit slow, on the writing of my book; friendships were strengthened; my sons’ lives developed, and their relationships grew stronger. I made new friends and found a new community. I have proved to myself how capable I am. And am learning to be more comfortable in my own skin.
This Christmas will not be as joyful as the last. There will be fewer loved ones at my table. Covid 19 has broken out again in NSW and state borders have closed. The virus plagues the world and India is unreachable and suffering more than ever.
But I am lucky. I have family. I have friends. I have health, a comfortable home, an abundance of fresh food, clean air and sunshine. There is much to be grateful for.
I will drink champagne on New Year’s Eve with a friend or two. I will remember last year’s NYE and the year that was. I might light a smudge stick and set some intentions. We’ll see! I have learned that plans need to be fluid. One of my intentions is to not be so hard on myself when they are.
I wish you a safe and gracious Christmas. May you maintain a smile throughout 2021 and infect the world with it.
If you are a busy type of person, there is never enough time in the day.
Have you ever found yourself unable to say what you did all day, simply because your day was so full you just can’t think? I have.
I wonder if a busy type of person attracts more tasks. I used to be a busy homemaker and now I’m a busy retiree. I am a busy type of person. Sometimes I feel like I’m a magnet and all the jobs are iron filings.
I never fail to have a plan for the day. I get up early, pre-alarm. I start the day well, with a cup of strong tea and my bum on the seat in front of the computer, and I write for an hour. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m writing a novel and when you’re writing a book, you need discipline.
With discipline, I write schedules; I allocate time for writing, exercise, reading, social engagements, appointments…
The schedule starts to deteriorate at about 8.30am.
Because I’m busy. Jobs appear like spot fires and I run from one to the other, fixing, solving, extinguishing. Between appointments.
Appointments are the time markers of the day. I have booked in the PT at the gym, the Pilates session, the doctor, the hairdresser, the whatever, just to keep my feet on the ground and vaguely on course.
Between those appointments are the tasks that are of such priority they have made it to The List: Bunnings seems to be my second home but there’s also the Two Dollar Shop, the supermarket, the Aquarium…
At home, there are the daily crop-ups: the usual things – the washing, the gardening, the rearranging; and the usual unusual things, those jobs that you did not plan but suddenly shine bright as a beacon as the thing that needs to be done next – cleaning the pond, weeding the front path, painting the wall…
Because I have only been in my house seven months, I am still in a frenzy of getting it set up the way I want it. It baffles me that I think it will be done if I just do that one thing, but as soon as I’ve done it, another one appears as imperative. Electricians, joiners, locksmiths, tilers, builders, handymen, plumbers… all march through my house doing their job and making a mess. I always think it will be finished next week and then I’ll have more time.
My life resembles an Aboriginal artwork; the landmarks in circles, are the appointments and priorities; the many dots flowing in lines around them, the paths, are the pop-up jobs that begin and end the day.
The day that doesn’t have enough hours in it.
I publish this blog on the last Friday of each month. That’s today. It is 7.25am and I’m typing. I got up at 5.30am to do it because I’m disciplined. I just had to pay one bill and answer one email before I started.
But it’s done now.
I’m off to Toastmasters. Today is another busy day.
I had never written one before and was unsure about how to approach it. Do I just say a few nice words about Dad’s life from my perspective? Anecdotes of moments I shared with him hardly seemed enough. Dad was eighty and he had lived far more moments than those I knew.
A person’s child, even one as old as me, has a restricted view, even if it is intimate. Siblings and friends also have limited views. We only really know aspects of someone that are relevant to our relationship, and few of us know the story preceding us.
My father’s wife, his life-partner from the time he was thirty, was happy to share heartfelt words about their lives together. That freed me up to share my perspective – memories of being my father’s child – and the knowledge I had of his childhood.
Fortunately, around five years ago, I took an historical interest in my father’s story. I asked him about it and took notes. It was a tough story. How much was appropriate to tell in a eulogy? What was important for a good understanding of who Dad was?
What should be known?
Within the confines of people’s attention spans, I chose to reveal his harsh realities in order to communicate what a success Dad had made of his life. I was not sure about the ethics of this decision.
I knew I could upset some people in the room, both family that were connected to my father in childhood and anyone that prefers euphemisms to bitter truths. My father had an unhappy childhood, would be correct but it would be unclear. It would not explain his base line enough to convey the heights of his achievements.
Dad was motherless at eighteen months old. He was mostly raised by his mother’s mother, which started out okay but became a problem as she became unstable and preferred to keep him home rather than send him to school. His mother’s youngest sister still lived at home and disliked him, depriving him of toys and friends and taking to him with a rope strap. He lived with other relatives for short spells when he was fourteen, some good, others bad. By fifteen he had left to make his own way in the world. At twenty-two he was married with a baby – me – and along with my mother, worked hard to put food on the table. This marriage only lasted seven years and was tempestuous.
In the eulogy, I gave details that made Dad’s story real. I wanted people to know the improvements that Dad made in his life; achievements that reflected on his character. Dad did not dwell on his childhood, but his experience did shape who he was. He was not a victim and he did not become toxic. Instead, he was responsible, ethical, capable, and loving.
Despite beginnings that included little love, he learned to love. He met a young woman who became the love of his life, whom he considered first and foremost, whom he adored for fifty years. Despite no education, he learned a skill and went on to develop his own financially successful business. Despite deprivation, he had an eye for quality and beauty, and collected art and antiques. Despite not having an active father, he managed to become a good one.
He died, loved by many.
The eulogy I wrote took six minutes to say. It was a brief history but a true one. Some people may have been upset or offended, but those that spoke to me afterwards, said they appreciated my candor. I knew I had done the right thing when my own son said he had learned things he did not know before, things that explained some of my father’s character to him.
Which begs the question, do we share enough truths while we are living? Are we too scared of upsetting or offending people to reveal ourselves fully? Do we live too much shielded by euphemisms?
Why wait until we are dead to have our stories told and appreciated?
“Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds, and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.” Rabindranath Tagore. 1908.
These words stopped me from reading further. I read them again. I could tell they were important, that they resonated with me, that they were revealing something about my values. I was confused.
I have always been patriotic. I love Australia. Its landscape is my aesthetic: its salted-vanilla beaches, its honeycombed cliffs, its red dirt and woody scrub, its life-filled ocean, its tiny Spring flowers, are all beautiful to me. I am grateful for the freedom I have in Australia, the feeling of safety, my ability to choose how and where to live. I believe patriotism is positive.
“I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.” The message reverberated through me like the sound of a didgeridoo and its meaning became clear incrementally, as water seeps into a sponge.
Patriotism is national pride, the feeling of love, devotion and sense of attachment to a homeland and alliance with other citizens who share the same sentiment. Patriotism inspires citizens to assist one another in a crisis, rise to a common goal, or celebrate a win.
But if patriots believe they are superior, and their country is superior, patriotism becomes nationalism and humanity is neglected. I believe nationalism is negative.
This is what is happening now in Australia with around 1500 refugees looking for shelter, asylum, or just a chance, held in detention centres.
These detainees are desperate, not inferior. If they arrived in Australia by boat, they saw no other way. People who cross deserts and snow-covered mountain ranges in other countries, are also desperate. They are breaking the rules because there is no other way. If I was subjected to torture, starvation, or utter deprivation, if I saw no possibility for change unless I risked my life for a chance, I would probably break the rules too.
It makes sense to protect ourselves and our environment from human, animal and plant threats; terrorists, rats and bugs should all be weeded out! Logical self-preservation and protection of each other should remain, but shunning the common, less fortunate man? I am not so sure there is any justification for that.
Imagine if all the money spent detaining refugees was spent educating and integrating them. Would that not be the humane option? What is it we are so afraid of that we need to subject our fellow man to such suffering? I object to making or letting animals suffer, so how can I support treating humans so harshly?
My good fortune landed me here. It was my birth. Pure luck. It was nothing I did, and I do not deserve more than a person who was not born here. I will look after Australia, appreciate its attributes and be grateful for what it offers, until the day I die. I will remain patriotic. But I will not choose patriotism over humanity. “I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds.”
Ref: Rabindranath Tagore was the first non-European winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was anti-nationalist. The meaning of patriotism and nationalism has changed since his writing (these words were interchangeable). It is appropriate to replace ‘patriotism’ with ‘nationalism’ in the quote.
Today, I walked on the headland at Long Bay. The sun shone and the sky was unblemished blue. The cold wind swept the surface of the rolling sea, sending salty dampness over my face, the only exposed skin. I breathed it in. This was a place I had not been before, and curiosity guided every step. I knew the steel wreck of the Malabar was somewhere here, so I climbed down onto the rocks at sea level and kept walking towards the point. The roar of the crashing waves made no other sound possible. I concentrated on each step, not wanting to end up a wreck myself.
Rusted steel is intensely beautiful; its colour is a blend of orange, red and burnt-wood grey; its texture is multi-faceted, layered and holey. Large pieces of the wreck sat askew the rocky platform and I found myself so mesmerised, I had to go and sit with it. The sea splashed within metres of me bringing its story to life. 1931 and the ship’s engines were not strong enough to keep it off the rocks. No one died. Only the cat, who refused to get off!
As I returned along the base of the cliff, my attention turned to its worn surface, the cream and caramel streaked sandstone, forever clean, with honeycomb holes, ridges and grooves. This too drew me to it. I would have been in trouble if this art was in a gallery; I touched it. The coarse surface was curved, and a few grains of sand dislodged. I placed both my palms flat against it. Was this what the aboriginals did? I felt connected and thankful.
I will leave you with these images and an idea I had as I climbed back up to the track; what if the universe was like this rock? Every grain of sand that made the solid, was an individual. As they came away, from my touch or the wind’s, they still existed. They would end up somewhere else or something else. They would never be lost.