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

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.

Life sucks…..I don’t think so!

My writing journey has involved many sweet indulgences: writing courses on Sydney Harbour, workshops in Tasmania and retreats in Ubud. I love meeting other writerley people, talking writing and doing the work set. It’s challenging, rewarding and fun.

My current experience is an online course run by the Writers Studio at Bronte. Called Unlocking Creativity, it’s designed to help loosen me up, shove off the perfectionist-nag on my shoulder, get the flow of thoughts going, and get me writing every day. There’s daily homework and feedback to give and receive. It’s hard work.

One of last week’s writing prompts was Life sucks! I had successfully written on Standing in the rain, Coughing fit and Love hurts, but when it came to putting pen to paper on Life Sucks, I was stumped. That doesn’t say much for my imagination, does it? I thought about various hardships like the farmers struggling with drought or living in war-torn Syria, but they didn’t fit with the flippancy of the term. So I struggled with various catastrophes like losing your pack while hiking in torrential rain. That was the best I could come up with. Wow, what did that mean?

Fiction may be made-up but it comes from truths, and obviously my truth isn’t Life sucks, it’s life doesn’t suck!

I’m a very lucky girl. I was born in Australia, so I have an advantage. It’s pretty hard to say life sucks when you live in a country with this climate, beauty and level of safety. The culture is generally to look after your mates and be kind to animals. We love the great outdoors and barbeques. Every day, I feel blessed to call Australia home.

I have health, the love of friends and family, shelter and sustenance. These are the foundations for a happy life.

Of course, there’ll be shitty days, months, or even years. Things will go wrong. Life is chaos and we can only try to control it. Have you noticed that when you have bad luck, it happens in threes? I’m not sure about that but I can say, once something goes wrong, there seems to be a clump. Maybe that’s purely attitude. If you get the shits, you often notice the negative.

I have bad things happen to me like everyone else. My car breaks down, I’m going through divorce and my dogs got old. But that’s not life – that’s stuff! If you have the necessary foundations, the key to never having to say life sucks is attitude.

We alone are responsible for our responses.

‘Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.’                               Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning.

Next time you spill coffee down your white shirt, miss a plane connection, have a washed-out holiday or get a pimple in the middle of your forehead, don’t think life sucks, think that sucks. But if you have tales to tell that can prove me wrong, please do, because my imagination sucks and I could use them to do better writing.

‘Things always seem to turn out best for those who seem to make the most of how things turn out.’ Rod Junkins The Art of Creative Thinking

 

 

Facing Life’sChallenges

Springtime isn’t always easy. It’s a time of chaos, struggle, change and growth. There is violence in this. It’s hard. Renewal, any change, can be uncomfortable, disorienting, even tumultuous. But it’s worth it. It’s likely that the flowers will bloom and summer will be fine.

A butterfly’s metamorphosis from caterpillar to the fluttering, delicate, flying creature of beauty that it is, involves various stages of hard work, evolving and risk to life. When it first emerges from the chrysalis, its wings are soft and wet. It’s at its most vulnerable and can’t fly. But to be a butterfly is to be a marvel of nature.

Improving ourselves is a similar process. We must work hard, accept being bad and persevere, to improve on a new skill. Golf and Writing, my little shoulder companions (angel and devil) sing out in unison.

“I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never going to keep me down…” as the song goes. This is how I like to approach life. And I’ve been lucky. I haven’t had many knock-downs.

But it’s a truth that altering our life’s trajectory can be hard. It’s a journey of obstacles and challenges. If we’re at all spiritual, we’ll believe that they’re there for a reason. Each obstacle corrects our path. Each challenge makes us stronger. If we let them!

Maybe if the path is too easy, we forget to notice; we take our surroundings and interactions for granted and stop appreciating them. If we stop caring, trying and feeling, we’re barely living. Striving to improve allows us a bigger capacity to enjoy. It takes courage to face the challenges of change. We need to be brave to get around or over the obstacles that life might throw in our faces. But without bravery, life will remain small. An obstacle, a knock-down, might just be the catalyst needed to correct our path. So, accept it. Embrace it.

I’m glad to be driving a 4WD on my journey at the moment. The road is gravelly and there are pot holes. I can’t see the end yet but I know there’s a smooth bitumen highway after this.

I’ve lived the life of the caterpillar and the butterfly. I’ve lived through a Spring, a Summer, an Autumn and a Winter. Spring is in the air again. It’s a bit rough but it’s promising.

Bring it on!

 

A good Series is like a good book

Since I started spending swags of time in my house down the south coast of NSW, I’ve adopted the habit of watching DVDs of TV Drama Series. This is a far more satisfying way to spend an evening than trying to find something to watch on TV.

Being selective about what I watch means I don’t waste time scrolling through what’s on offer and then settling on something that isn’t very satisfying. That isn’t a great way to relax. Enjoying what I’m watching, especially a Series, means I’m engaged, entertained but also invested in a story.

A good Series is like a good book. Each episode starts with a CONFLICT, some obstacle that a character has to overcome, and that means ACTION. We are engaged most when we become involved with the CHARACTER, whether you love them or hate them. The personality of the character affects how we feel about them, as in real life. Great characters have multiple facets: they have good traits, interesting quirks and flaws. We relate to them and want to know what happens to them. We watch the interactions with other characters. We feel more engaged if the stakes are high. We want some resolution but to keep watching we need another conflict or complication to lead us into the next episode. What will be the character’s reaction to this dilemma? Sometimes we can’t wait to find out.

The visual also needs to be captivating. The SETTING, the time and place, adds to the entertainment. It needs to look good. In a book, we create pictures in our heads, but on a screen, the visual is there for us to see. Costume for me is also important. What are they wearing? Is it fabulous or awful? Of course we’re all judges!

Exploring THEMES is essential too. I love a point for discussion. My own opinion can be broadened or firmed up by watching a discussion between the characters or watching how they behave. Which brings in DIALOGUE. It’s essential that this is engaging, real and succinct. One-liners that catch my attention, whether hilarious or poignant, can make my night. Downton Abbey’s Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) made me laugh out loud on many occasions but she was also full of good advice like: “You are a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do.” Sex in the City has shocking one-liners flying out like corn popping.

My current Series-watching is the Australian Drama, A Place to Call Home. This ran from 2013-2018. It’s set in pastoral Australia in the early 1950’s. The characters are all multi-faceted: they are complicated, loveable, sickening and joyful. The setting is a magnificent house full of antiques, countryside that makes you want to run out and buy a farm and an arty apartment in Sydney. The costumes are gorgeous and appropriate to the characters. The young Anna Bligh (Abby Earl) in later series has the most fabulous dresses but manages to look like an angel even when riding a horse. There is a lot of visual appeal.

But it’s the themes that are the stand-out component in this show. The lead character, Sarah Adams (Marta Dusseldorp), is the catalyst for conflicts, complications and resolutions. The spin off from this character displays and explores the prejudices of the time including fear, hate and misconceptions towards Jews, Gays, Italian immigrants, experimental farmers and Aboriginals. Each episode reveals issues of the time: women’s health issues, ‘ownership’ of women by men, Bohemian lifestyles, assisted dying and unmarried mothers. It’s also about giving people a second chance, learning, changing, and the journey of self-improvement. It’s full of insights and like all good fiction, especially historical fiction, based on a lot of truths. Watching the show reminds me that we are evolving and becoming better people, but also that tension and prejudices lie just beneath the surface and should be remembered. It’s not a light or funny show but it’s entertaining nonetheless. The issues are often deep and therefore the insights are commonly earnest, like this one from Sarah Adams to George Bligh: “Loving children is not a quid pro quo transaction.”

So don’t waste your relaxation time. Get into a good Series. If it’s lasted past a few, it’s likely to be a compelling story with interesting characters and thought-provoking themes. It’s likely to be a world you can immerse yourself in, an escape from your day to day reality and an enjoyable experience.

Who knows, you might even learn something!

What TV Drama Series do you watch and enjoy?

Aussie Road Trip

My Blog covers four categories: Matters of the Heart, the Creative Well, the Writing Journey and Take a Trip. This Post is going to cover all four.

My most recent adventure was last weekend when I took four days to drive 1200km in regional NSW. I stopped in Goulburn, Gundagai, Leeton, Cowra, Bathurst and Lithgow before returning home to Coogee.

Firstly, I’m in love with Australia so my heart was feeling warm and full as I drove past bone coloured grasses, cereal crops, green-manure crops and woodlands. Iconic  gum trees, bark hanging off their trunks in long strips, lined the roads. When I was close enough, I watched the funny antics of the sheep, terrified, as my vehicle slowed, into a mass migration of a field, tiny lambs in tow. I felt sad that these sweet creatures have had to suffer so much on the live-export ships and glad that my voice has joined with so many to stop the barbaric practice. Obviously, I feel the same way about the cows; Black Angus’s dotted green hills, calm and still as a Gruner painting. Somewhere between Gundagai and Leeton I had to stop to let cattle cross the road: not in a frantic bunch but one by one, as they grazed by the side of the road, looked at me as if to say, ‘What are you doing?’ and casually stepped in front of my car.

All these images fill my creative well, giving me inspiration and recharging my delight in my surroundings. One of the three characters in my novel-in-the-making is an Aussie woman who derives great joy from exploring her Australian environment and captures it through the lens of a camera. I wonder who she takes after! I’ll be doing more of these trips – in the name of research – so that I can develop this character in full.

There was another reason for this trip: this same character loves the show McLeod’s Daughters. She’s watched every episode, laughed as the girls fell in muddy dams saving a calf, cheered as they sheered sheep through the night and cried at the breaking of their hearts. So, when I discovered that some of the actors were gathering for a reunion at the Roxy Theatre in Leeton, I felt I had to go and check it out. It had very little to do with Aaron Jeffery the man, and a lot to do with my character being in a fantasy romance with Alex Ryan, the character!

Following your heart and your curiosity, exploring outside your normal field, and going on a trip anywhere, opens your mind to look outwards, learn and expand your view of the world.

I learned on this trip that Gundagai has a whole lot more history than a bronze dog sitting on a tucker box. The sculptor, Rusconi, was gifted in masonry work, developed and promoted the marble industry in the area and made a model Italian Palace that stands 1.2m tall. It sits in a room in the Tourism Office and is an astonishing masterpiece. I also learned that the aboriginals, the Wiradjuri people, warned the early settlers not to build on the plains near the river as they were prone to flood. The settlers ignored the advice and in 1852, the town was swept away overnight by a huge torrent of water. A group of Aboriginal men in their canoes, saved about forty people from the branches of giant red rivergums and roof tops. I’d recommend Gundagai as a place to stop for a day.

I learned that Leeton, a place I’d never been to, has a wetland that is important to the Wiradjuri people and is an essential stop for birds that migrate all over the world. Leeton is also full of citrus orchards.

Driving from Leeton to Cowra I discovered that you can drive for hours in regional NSW without passing through a town big enough for a coffee shop. I was glad to have my emergency thermos full of hot water and my own tuckerbox, Aussie traveller essentials.

I learned that I’ve been to Goulburn so many times that when I arrived for lunch at my favourite café (Harvest – next to the park) it felt like home and I was reminded that I love staying in country motels and having breakfast in bed, something I did with friends’ families as a child.

In summary: I went on the trip because I LOVE regional Australia (and maybe Alex Ryan). Also, because to be more creative, I need to step outside normal life. To develop more ideas for writing I need to research, and to go on a trip is to wander and wonder, and that’s one of the most rewarding parts of life.

And then to write about it, is to add to the joy. Writing a Blog means I get to re-live my journey and think about some point to it all. The point is, to suck every skerrick out of the life you’ve been given. And to have a reason to keep going.

Perfectionism, Procrastination or Research

When is RESEARCH just another form of PERFECTIONISM or PROCRASTINATION?

“Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity,” says Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic. It’s been said by many different writers, motivators and teachers. It’s the writer’s biggest obstacle to getting anything done. The fear of the work not being good enough prevents it from flowing and growing. Perfectionism is the little tyrant that sits on your shoulder saying, the work is crap, so you better make it better before you move on!

‘Making it better’ can demand a lot of editing along the way. It demands that you stop what you’re doing and Google that idea or go to that place or do that thing. Research. The only thing is, it doesn’t make it better because it interrupts the flow of the idea and stops you from ever getting to the end.

Research is obviously important for authenticity and detail but there’s a time to do it and that is not in the middle of the writing. Fiona McIntosh, masterclass teacher and author, says do all the research first, then sit down and write from start to finish. This makes sense when you’re trying to get the story down. It also prevents the research from becoming a form of procrastination.

The first draft of my first novel has been smattered with research. Word choice has me reaching for the dictionary. The suggestion of a place has me sucked down the internet tunnel. Both, most definitely, are the combined forces of Perfectionism and Procrastination.

And then I downed tools and went to Ireland, to research a County, a culture and a nursing home. For a chapter of my novel! Of course it was useful. Of course it was enlightening. Of course it will make my novel better. But was it necessary for what I was writing? Probably not! It was the Perfectionist and Procrastinator that made me do it!

Procrastination will find us an endless list of things to do before we can possibly start that important project. Whether it’s washing the dog or writing a blog, we can rationalise that it was essential before we get onto the task. Make sure that research isn’t just another excuse.

Research becomes another form of perfectionism and procrastination when it interferes with the writing. Do it before you start the first draft. Do it before you start the second draft. But don’t let it be the excuse that stops the flow. Don’t let it be the scene on the side of the road that slows and jams all the traffic.

Let research be interesting. Let research be fun. Let research take you to places you’ve never been before. But don’t let research gobble you up. Don’t let it be the wolf in sheep’s clothing!