The Power of Now

I need to learn to meditate! My mind races around like static. One thought bounces into another and pushes it out of the way. Is that why I’m getting forgetful? Often, there’s a load of rubbish or dirty washing going around – on the repeat cycle.

I believe this is a common problem; it’s just about universal. But some people achieve the stillness and peace that comes with successful meditating. It sounds appealing!

According to the book The Power of Now by Eckhardt Tolle, you start by learning to be more present, by paying attention to this moment and that’s all. Not the past. Not the future. But Now. He advises that you can start with paying attention to your breath or the nature around you, not broadly, but very specifically, like one flower. He talks about noticing and feeling the space between things and the silence between the noises.

As I’ve revealed in this blog, I’m a nature lover. I like to walk or kayak on my own, admiring the bush and waterways. I also like to walk at night and look at the stars. The following passage from the book resonated with me:

“Presence is needed to become aware of the beauty, the majesty, the sacredness of nature. Have you ever gazed up into the infinity of space on a clear night, awestruck by the absolute stillness and inconceivable vastness of it? Have you listened, truly listened, to the sound of a mountain stream in the forest? Or to the song of a blackbird at dusk on a quiet summer evening? To become aware of such things, the mind needs to be still…

Beyond the beauty of the external forms, there is more here: something that cannot be named, something ineffable, some deep, inner, holy essence. Whenever and wherever there is beauty, this inner essence shines through somehow. It only reveals itself to you when you are present. Could it be that this nameless essence and your presence are one and the same?”

In other words, put down your personal baggage of problems, of past and future, put aside your judgement and running commentary, and just feel the Now. SO EASILY SAID, SO DIFFICULT TO ACHIEVE! Except for Zen masters!

As a writer, this skill would be very useful to me. I’d notice more. And I think I’d be more productive if I made space in my mind by removing the clutter. Also, according to Mr Tolle, “Only if you are able to be conscious without thought can you use your mind creatively, and the easiest way to enter that state is through your body.”

If you want to understand that, you’ll have to read the book. I’m still working on it!

 

I’d highly recommend the App Insight Timer for guided meditations and meditative, relaxing music pieces. My favourites include chimes and nature sounds.

For further study – http://www.EckhartTolle.com

What three things couldn’t you live without?

What are three things you can’t live without? Not relationships, not children, not dogs – things! This was a recent conversation I had with friends and it proved to be far more than superficial. It was a window into each of us: childhood associations, memories, connections and what gives us joy.

Some of the answers were obvious, directly related to what we already knew of each other. And some were unexpected. But each contribution branched off into further conversation.

Mine were sunglasses, sea and strong, milky tea.

Why sunglasses? Because I have light-sensitive, blue eyes and I like to be outdoors for most of the day. Outdoors, especially amongst nature, is where I get my joy.

Why the sea? I love the smell of the sea: the saltiness and the seaweed. I love the sound of the sea: the thundering, the shooshing and the gentle lapping. I love the feeling of jumping into the ocean: the cold, salty water enveloping my face, my hair, my body. And its beauty: the glistening reflections on the surface, the aqua and deep blues, the clarity.

And the tea? The morning ritual, no matter how early, of boiling the kettle, warming the teapot, brewing the tea and sitting peacefully to enjoy the slow sipping. It’s a mindful start to the morning. I do this at the end of day too, to close off the business of the day. I was raised with tea: I’d drink it in bed as a child, lazily drinking while reading books on a Sunday morning. My grandmother introduced me to my brand – Lipton Quality Tips. It’s hard to get nowadays. People are trained to opt for the quicker teabag and many have forgotten what good tea tastes like.

My friends had some other things they couldn’t live without:

– Technology, mostly the iPhone and iPad, precious as a tool for taking and storing photos and for communication with loved ones by phone and Facebook.

– The car because of the pleasure of driving and for independent getting around.

–  the Thermomix!

– Music, a musical instrument

– Childhood teddy

– Pillow

– Photos in albums

– and unable to choose from so many!

As I said, all these led to further conversation as to why those things were so necessary to life. In all respects, the reasons related to lifestyle, comfort, sentimental connection or an innate need that was deep within us that gave us joy. It was well worth exploring.

What would be your choice?

Mountain Devils

Who’s read Wild, by Cheryl Strayed? It starts with a young woman hiking in the wilds of California – the Pacific Crest Trail. She’s young, inexperienced and she’s sitting on a high rock rubbing her feet, looking into the vast forest below. And then one of her boots rolls off!

I just spent the weekend with my mother in the Blue Mountains. Nothing catastrophic or even challenging happened. But the rim of the Megalong Valley and Grose Valley offer similar views to those Cheryl experienced: the tall, sheer sandstone cliffs, the carved, immense space and thick woodland as far as the eye can see. To stand and look is to be in awe. The imagination wanders far back in time, long before aboriginals were the only tourists here. I could imagine dinosaurs rustling through the trees below, as if it was grass. I could see them flying through the air, much closer than aeroplanes that now dot the high sky.

Getting away from the main lookouts is essential to feel the enormity of what is. Govetts Leap and Evans Lookout are great but there are quieter ones, like off the Fairfax Heritage Walking Track. Mum and I walked several tracks, carefully reading the track descriptions first, and found ourselves admiring Spring wattles, grass trees and scribbly gums, enormous termite mounds and tranquil pools. We were wearing our hiking boots and we got a lot of exercise, but we didn’t try anything as strenuous as what that madly wild Cheryl did.

Which brings me to the other sensory pleasures of our weekend: eating and sleeping. Leura is full of great restaurants and cafes that provide modern, fresh cuisine that looks pretty and tastes good. However, the highlight of our weekend getaway was staying at the Hydro Majestic in Medlow Bath. This grand old, white building is full of history – and it’s all fun! Built, mostly, back in 1903, it’s been renovated with a new take on it’s first owner’s dream.

But for mum and me, it’s nostalgic because we stayed there when I was about seven and eight. I remember running up Cat’s Alley, the long sloping corridor with arched views over the Megalong Valley. I remember the relief work on the huge oil heaters that lined the walls, the stage on which guests and professionals got to perform, and the little dolls made out of pipe-cleaners, tulle and mountain devil pods. Of course, they were called Mountain Devils and I loved them dearly.

Our weekend away in the Blue Mountains ticked all the boxes: fresh air, nature, scenery, comfort and a little bit of sentimentality. It’s suitable for tame bush-walkers and wild, adventurous types as well. I’d highly recommend it. Have any of you been there?

https://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/blue-mountains/katoomba-area/accommodation/hydro-majestic-hotel-blue-mountains

https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/walking-tracks/fairfax-heritage-walking-track

 

The Waiting Game

Is there anyone who likes waiting? It’s my least favourite activity. It’s not even an activity. It’s passive. Although sometimes I put so much effort into it, it might be active!

Waiting in queues, waiting for tradesmen, waiting for human phone assistance – they’re all irritating! Unfortunately, if we’re waiting, it’s likely there’s not much we can do about it! It means that something is out of our control. No-one waits by choice. Were you told as a child, Wait your turn, Wait to be asked, Wait ‘til I’m ready and Wait ‘til you’re older….? We couldn’t wait to grow up so that we could stop waiting do things!

Waiting is a part of life that never goes away, even when we grow up! When we’re young adults we’re busy cramming in life. When we’re parents of young children we’re busy juggling several lives. Waiting in these years is painful. I remember receiving traffic violations, yelling at children, and cutting short the wash cycle, all because there wasn’t enough time in the day to wait!

As an older woman, I have more time to wait. Gone is the road rage, yanking on the dog’s lead to walk faster and use of elbows to wiggle ahead in a queue. If I need wait, I try to do something else, or just be mindful of what’s around me. I step back if someone looks like they’re in a hurry and let them go first. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely calm! I still don’t like waiting but I try to breathe and smile through it.

In fact, in the last year, I think I’ve become a waiting expert. I’ve had to learn the art of patience on a major scale. In my personal and financial life, I’ve had big issues that I have very little power over. In the last month, I’ve had issues with my health that have disrupted my plans and had me sitting in doctors’ surgeries multiple times. There is no other waiting as bad as waiting for a doctor, but worse is when you see them they refer you to another doctor and more waiting! Oh, the frustration!

I’m thinking this year is a bit like hibernation. The world around me is doing its own thing. I’ve had to slow down, breathe deeply, let go, be patient. The waiting game is like winter and I’ve been zen!

‘It’s always darkest before the dawn.’ I’ve been waiting. And I now see that dawn is near.

Memo to a Younger Self

Toastmasters has been a fun activity for me for the past few years. I tried it out because I’d heard great things about it from friends and I thought it might help my writing – you have to write your own speeches. Speeches are essentially stories about how you feel (an opinion like wildlife conservation), an experience you’ve had (like travelling solo), or something you know (like floristry). Quite often you end up researching something you’re curious about and becoming even more interested.
There are lots of other opportunities too. This week I’m presenting the Salute to the Theme. For two minutes I’ll talk about the theme, What advice would you give your younger self? There are plenty of ways to tackle this and I could talk about studying more, listening to your father or backpacking through Europe. Maybe don’t get a perm. But I’m going to talk about doing things that build self-confidence and self-reliance and being part of a group or team.
Learning new skills gives you a sense of achievement which makes you feel good about yourself. Mixing those skills with other people makes you feel integrated, useful and joyful. Toastmasters includes all these things.
The group encourages you in every task, whether it be a speech or preparing morning tea. Everyone has a role on the day. There’s plenty of praise and evaluations involve the sandwich technique: point of praise, point for improvement, point of praise. So, you get better all the time.
I’ve read that one of the key indicators of longevity is sociability. People who talk to their neighbours, volunteer in community activity and join clubs, live longer.
My advice to my younger self would be Join in! Have a go! Learn something, don’t be afraid to make mistakes or worry what people will think. If you’re mixing with like-minded people, they’ll want you to succeed as well. Not being reliant on others, emotionally or physically, but being happy to give, share and accept help, as in a team, means you’ll be a stronger happier person; one who’s achieving what they want in life and who others are attracted to.
When it comes down to one line, I’d say join Girl Guides.

Conversation and Music

Once a month, a bunch of wise old birds, girlfriends of mine, gather to talk philosophy! Sort of! There’s a lot of eating of cake, as well. And the philosophy is on a minor level – our own! We talk about things that interest 50+ women: issues that need a bit of thought over the month before the next meeting.

It’s intriguing to find out about our earlier lives, what we believe affected our values, paths and decisions. Once, we brought in a photo of our young-self and asked, What was your dream and how did that go? Another time, What did your parents try to teach you that you ignored? There’s often a lot of laughter.

We might talk about something more current like, How does Procrastination affect your life? We’ve also handled big issues as a group. One month, we discussed and filled in an Advanced Care Directive, helping each other think through our answers.

I’d highly recommend this kind of gathering to anybody with a group of friends. To me, it’s like a more personal kind of book club.

Sometimes we just have fun with it.

This month’s topic was, What music did you listen to and love in your youth that makes you feel young again now? It was the most animated meeting we’ve had. Everyone had a list of music and it gathered volume as we took turns around the room. In the end, we were throwing names into the space and they were bouncing off the walls. We had playlists and vinyl records to show. Ladies were telling stories of father’s taking them to rock concerts, dancing with first loves, crying over special opera moments and driving through Europe with three cassettes.

Commonalities had us breaking into song with music from the sixties to eighties winning in our hearts. However, it was the seventies that reigned supreme. Was it our age or was it the music?

I’ll share my list and then throw in some of the others. See what you think.

Mine: Carole King, Janis Ian, Fleetwood Mac, Bee Gees, The Jacksons, Michael Jackson, Leo Sayer, Bread, America, Melanie Safka, Roger Daltrey, Neil Young, Meatloaf

Others: Dire Straits, Split Enz, Maryanne Faithful, The Supremes, The Beatles

And so many more.

What was your most loved music from your youth?

My phone was Japanese

Have you ever been conned?

I wrote a little story on this blog, titled Trials and Tribulations, on 10 July this year. In it, I mentioned the drowning of my phone in a Galway toilet and being ripped off purchasing a new phone in Donegal Town a day later. I have more to tell and it’s so ridiculous that, instead of being furious, I’m nearly insane with merriment. Is that hysteria?

So, to remind you, I bought what I thought was a new 128GB iPhone and got a 32GB used iPhone. As impossible as this might seem to a tech-savvy young person, to a panicked solo-senior (well, nearly), it’s understandable. It was like watching a magic show where a coin turns into a rabbit! The magician (mobile phone repairer-salesman con-artist) was so kind and helpfully offered me the phone at a good price, cared about what colour I had, threw in a protective cover and set up the basics for me. Relief and gratitude flooded over me as I clapped wholeheartedly.

And then the truth was unveiled. The rabbit was a mirage and the coin had devalued!

I had to learn to use the iCloud for storage, the only up-side of this story. But my phone storage was still showing FULL, so it was with some frustration that I went along to my local Apple store in Sydney and asked why. They were very helpful. Apparently, I have an excess of music and it was suggested I get rid of some if I want to free up some space. No way! I then proceeded to tell the twenty-year old girl the tale of the Great iPhone Rip-off. And she offered to look up the phone’s history. In just a minute, she had it.

The phone was was full of Japanese writing and she asked, does the camera make a shutter noise even if on silent? Yes, I said. That’s so annoying when you’re trying to take a sneaky photo! These two things told her it was made for the Japanese market. (It’s illegal to have the camera silenced in Japan.) Ok, interesting, right? But wait, there’s more! The phone has been exchanged in Japan twice before turning up in Ireland to be bought by a gullible Australian in June. The last time was in April 2017.

So, the phone wasn’t remotely new, spoke a language I didn’t and had been intimate with two others before me! I was shocked, hurt and flabbergasted. Ultimately, I was utterly entertained.

What a story! What a show! I’ll never believe in magic ever again!