Extreme Start to 2020

I was in India when the bushfires were ravaging Australia. Even in an ashram in a tiny village in Rajasthan, news reached me that the coastal town of Sussex Inlet, where my beloved river house sits, was in danger. Fires were out of control throughout the South Coast of NSW devastating bushland, National Parks, and towns.

Over December and January, at least thirty-four people and a billion animals died; 186 square kilometres of tree-covered land including 5900 buildings, were destroyed; people lost possessions and livelihoods; wildlife lost their food.

It’s depressing to think that some things won’t recover. The fires were too vast and hot. That which will recover, will take a long time.

But feeling depressed doesn’t help. There’s too much to do.

People are rallying to help. Communities are growing and bonding over the effort. Solutions are germinating, just as plants will.

Ironically, I was in the ashram to talk creatively about the environment. Despite the huge environmental problems in India, it is a place of such spiritual energy at its core, it’s inevitable that seeds of recovery are sprouting there.

The ashram was the location of a conference-like festival called Utasava Maa, ‘a transformative all female festival, uniting extraordinary women from across the globe to share, inspire and collaborate in response to the ongoing international repression and violation of the earth and her daughters.’

Women, the traditional carers and protectors of the communal environment, joined heads and hearts to create ideas about change, starting with ourselves and the most basic of local levels.

Like many of the other Western women, I was attracted to the festival by the passionate motivator, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic. This woman’s capacity to inspire and rejuvenate others is at goddess-level. To be in her company, and of others like her, for nine days in a soul-stirring environment, was life-changing.

On the eve of the end of 2019, Western and Indian women danced together. It was barefoot and free. We sat around the campfire wrapped in thick, woollen shawls, and listened to the guitar and the tabla, and the voices of those who sang or had something to say. We wrote things on paper, things we wanted to let go of, and burned them in the flames. We said goodbye to unhelpful things. It was a ritual that closed off the past and wiped the slate clean for the future. It was cleansing and uplifting.

Except, at home, the fires burned. The contrast was poignant.

I’m concluding that getting back to the ancient ways is a good place to start restoring health. But I’m not going to turn this Post into an opinion piece.

Despite the euphoria I felt at midnight on the other side of the world, reality is problematic. Since I’ve been home in Australia, the positivity I felt coming into the year, has been attacked several times.

Issues that lay dormant over the Christmas/summer holidays, have seeped through the cracks and emerged, persistent. Normal life is uncomfortable. It’s bills and emails, shopping and cleaning, responsibilities and duties.

Reality has a way of slapping you in the face if you get too carried away with dreams. A very dear friend, a passionate, loving, shining light of a woman, lost her struggle with cancer and died last week. Her light has gone out and she didn’t want it to. She had life to live.

It’s important that we live knowing that time isn’t endless. Not only is our time here on earth restricted, but it can be extinguished way before we’re ready.

My point is, that we should use each day well. Be positive and step forward. Do the things that you plan to do, despite the difficulties, the fear and obstacles; despite the chaos of real life. Think about the future, yes, but live each day with vigour, concern for others and care for the natural environment.

In National Parks, the motto is, leave nothing but footprints. But a national park is like an ashram. It’s the ideal. Ideas grow into deeds like seeds grow into trees. In the real world, leave your mark. Even on the smallest level, do something to make the world a better place. Raise the children to be community minded, grow a garden, lend someone your strength.

2020 is going to be another life-changing year for me, starting with moving house and ending with a publisher for my book. I do more than hope. I do something each day towards my goal; despite the everyday hassles and drama; despite what anyone says. My dreams mix with reality. They merge and flow and continue to grow with any fertiliser thrown at them.

Be uncomfortable. Be active. Do what you need to, to make 2020 a good one.

In the words of my guru, Liz G, Onward!

 

What will you do to thrive in 2020?

 

 

Shedding

It’s the end of the year and that’s a great time for shedding. I’m not suggesting you slither out of your skin. And I’m not saying you should go build a man or woman cave. I’m referring to letting go, leaving or removing ‘things’ that are no longer good for you.

Those ‘things’ can be objects in our homes that no longer have purpose or give joy; or clothes we no longer choose to wear because they don’t make us feel good.

They can be actions we take, mindlessly, because we have always done them. They are patterns of behavior that don’t serve us anymore and keep us from moving forward. If there is no reward, why keep doing it?

Some habits are detrimental to our health. My weakness is for sweet things: cake, chocolate, ice cream. And crisp white wine. Neither are good for physical well-being and professional advice is to cut them down. I need to shed the habit of such indulgence, and make it a treat now and then.

Shedding relationships is much more difficult. And sometimes a relationship is the most important thing we can let go of. Whether it be parent/child, husband/wife, friend/‘friend,’ if it makes us feel bad, drains our energy, generates self-doubt or keeps us from being ourselves, it should go. It can be almost impossible to divorce ourselves from a relationship, but it can be most liberating.

Being true to ourselves is one of the hardest things to be. Social norms insist we’re polite and behave according to rules of our culture, family or social group. We’re all brought up to be ‘good,’ and it can be challenging if we discover that being ‘good’ doesn’t serve us well. We learn to wear a mask, even with our loved ones. But how can someone love us truly if we’ve disguised our true natures and desires? Shed the mask and we might lose a few friends, but we might also gain truer friendships.

Let unfavourable things go at the end of the year. It makes psychological space for the entry of more favourable possibilities in the new year. Shed, and put fresh skin in the game.

PS. On a personal note, I was the successful bidder, last month, on a small house (see the Take a Chance blog) and therefore I have begun the shedding of things, with enthusiasm! It also means that I will be thinking of new things next year. All that I keep and all that I gather, will serve a purpose and give me joy.

2020 will, for me, be a fresh start. I hope it will be for all of you too. What will you shed now to make space for good things in 2020?

Take a Chance

I’m a chance-taker. It makes life more interesting. It changes life and takes it forward. Sometimes, taking a chance can take all my courage. Sometimes I get my fingers burned. And sometimes, I fly. Today I’m taking a chance. Today may be a life-changer. Today, I’m bidding on a house!

Is that all? you might say. That’s no big deal. Been there, done that! Ah, but this is different. It is a big deal! It’s the first time I’m making a major life-changing decision since I’ve been on my own. I’m planning to purchase before the sale on my current house has settled. That’s the chance. That’s the tricky bit; the unsavoury, scary, thorny bit. I could lose my deposit if fate turns bad.

Leaving my marriage a few years ago, a relationship of thirty-seven years that had started in my teens, was the biggest chance I have ever taken. It was complicated and I was fearful that ‘taking a leap of faith’ so dramatic, could be devastating. But I could also see how I might thrive, instead.

That’s the difference in taking a chance over a risk. A chance has possibility. It incites, carries with it feelings of hope, anticipation and excitement. Risk has a negativity. It warns, threatens, forebodes. It screams, stop, don’t do it, run! The consequences of taking a chance and a risk may be the same but taking a chance enables us. The idea of taking a risk can scare us so much, it stagnates us.

I could fail. I could lose money. But thinking that way will shackle me. Chances are, I won’t fail. Chances are I’ll win. I’ll go into the next stage of my life in a home of my own by the sea. I see myself there. A little bungalow in a quiet suburb with a yard that backs onto a clifftop golf course. Not a fancy one, but a scrubby, natural kind of one. Just how I like it. A bit rough around the edges. A place I can walk with my dog at dawn or in darkness. A place with a yard where my future grandchildren can play. There’s a lot to win in taking this chance. I see myself winning.

And sometimes, that’s all you need to make life worthwhile.

 

What chance are you going to take to improve your life?

Relationships Change

It would be helpful in all relationships if we reflected on how we change over time: as an individual and as a member of a relationship.

Our needs and our deeds are different at various stages of our lives.

When we are young, we are incomplete, still feeling our way: exploring, experimenting, discovering. What do we like, dislike? What do we want, not want? What and who inspires us to develop within? Some relationships that we build will bond forever. They become part of our foundation – cemented by who we essentially are at our most basic. Some, we find, are not of the same material, and these will fall away like bark from a tree.

Between young and middle age, we are building our lives along with ourselves: our careers, our homes, our families. These external pursuits bond us to those in the same position: peers, neighbours and other parents, joined by commonalities. Activities, struggles and achievements shared, tighten these bonds. But as we develop and commonalities pass, only those that have grown together and have respect for the emerging differences, will survive.

The relationship with one’s child and the relationship with one’s intimate, “romantic” partner undergo the largest changes and strongest stresses.

The child needs to be nurtured to grow well. Each child requires our individual attention for it to be the best it can be. We give our children everything, until we feel sapped of nutrients ourselves. We must take time out to replenish ourselves. We need space, time and pursuits of our own. We must continue to look after ourselves in order to look after our children, and in the process, our children learn to be independent. The relationship changes and if we resist, it will break. We need to release our children for them, and our relationship with them, to thrive.

Perhaps the intimate relationship with one’s partner, is under the most strain. It experiences the greatest external pressures: work commitments, finances, household chores, dedication to children, influence of parents, siblings and friends, the minutiae of life. It changes constantly with circumstances. Our responses and feelings ebb and flow. The demands we put on the intimate relationship – predictability, stability and consistency – can be so great they are impossible to achieve.

The intimate relationship begins in a state of perfect compliment. We cannot get enough of each other’s eyes, thoughts, bodies, company. It is a self-enclosed world of perfect unity.

It eases off into a companionable sameness; two separate people heading in the same direction, reaching for the same goals. Loosely hand in hand, supporting each other, learning from each other, admiring each other. This relationship can build a life together; a family, a business, a mature self-sufficiency in an ever-expanding membrane.

In middle age, when we have built our worlds, raised our children, reached or given up on dreams, there is, inevitably, another change. There is opportunity for growth. Without clinging nostalgically to the past, we can adapt to the new circumstances and reach for possibilities. Our goals may differ, pursuits diverge, viewpoint shift. If we allow freedom rather than restriction, growth rather than stagnation, respect rather than criticism, our intimate relationship can thrive in a state of ongoing friendship. For this to happen, we need to understand and accept ourselves and our partners.

External and internal circumstances cause everybody and every relationship to change. We need to hold loosely, dance lightly and be generous to ourselves and of ourselves, for any relationship to thrive with these changes.

The inspiration for this blog came from reading, Gift From the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

“The light shed by any good relationship illuminates all relationships.”

The novel I am writing explores these changes in relationships. I would be interested in your thoughts.

Novel Commitment

Today’s blog Post will be short and sweet, and a notice that, until the end of the year, it will only be published on the last Friday of each month.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m writing a novel. I am also doing a one-year course called Write Your Novel with the Faber Academy Sydney at Allen and Unwin. Currently, the stakes are high, and the writing needs to be produced. The novel has become my priority: apologies to my blog readers, friends and Toastmasters.

My mantra has become – Just write the damn book! ­Through discipline and perseverance, and also joyous enthusiasm, I shall. Its working title is The Rest of Their Lives. I plan not to let the writing of it take the rest of mine!

The words of wisdom I will pass on to you today, come from The Scottish Himalayan Expedition by W.H.Murray.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy…The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never have otherwise occurred. A whole stream of events raising in one’s favour…unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.”

Hesitate no longer, my friends. Commit. Persevere. And Providence will provide.

Territory

The road off the highway was red-brown dirt and bereft of signs. The driver steered the mini-bus, sixteen of us on board, through the scrubby bush that lined both sides. Sticks and leaves hit the windows, and rocks clunked off the chassis. We entered a Darwin backwater.

Our host, Patrick, stood in a broad opening, waiting for us to disembark and gather near him. He was wearing Hard Yakka gear: faded navy shirt and drill shorts; ripped Akubra. A gun in a holster and knife in a sheaf, sat on his right hip. His heels were as cracked as drought-dry earth; his toenails as grey as ash, just like his long beard.

When we were silent before him, he greeted us sternly. ‘You’re here by invitation. Do what I say, and you’ll be safe. You’ll learn a lot about crocodiles. Up close. These crocodiles are wild and it’s not like a wildlife park or TV show, which is just entertainment.’

Patrick marched us up to the mangroves. ‘Never look for crocodiles,’ he instructed, checking our eyes were on him, ‘because if you don’t see any, you’ll think they aren’t there, and then you’re in danger.’

We crossed the gang plank, under order, two or three at a time, ‘in case something happens,’ and climbed onto the rectangular, aluminium boat. We sat, peering out through steel mesh which fenced us in. We were shown the holes where we could hold our camera phones. ‘Don’t stick any part of you outside the boat; not a finger!’

Ten minutes down river, we were chugging over to the muddy shore, Patrick having noticed a ‘small’ croc in the water. It followed us, knowing there was a chicken carcass linked to that chugg. ‘I know all the crocs in this area! This is a female,’ said Patrick. Her skin was the colour of rotting autumn leaves: beige and brown and grey; quite beautiful. She thrilled us as she launched herself from the water up to the flying carcass, dangled from cotton thread and a bamboo pole. Our cameras and fingers stayed behind the mesh as we were awed by the insides of her mouth and the number of teeth. Snap. The sound was sharp and definite. ‘She’s got reflexes five times faster than any human,’ said Patrick in his stern voice. ‘Two point four metric tonnes per square inch is her jaw closing pressure; that’s two thousand four hundred kilos per square inch!’ he drawled. Clearly, an inch was a preferred measurement for Patrick. Abruptly, our girl turned and scampered onto the mud.

An enormous male was heading our way and since crocodiles can’t tell the sex of one another in the water, she had to get on shore to lift her head and open her mouth to show her feminine submissiveness. If he’d met her in the water, he would have assumed her to be male and fought her off his territory.

As he took over the chicken carcasses, and the show, she hung back in the shallows. Patrick commented on them both being a bit distracted, and he looked up river. ‘This’ll be interesting,’ he said.

The small female thrust herself into the water, swimming quickly toward an approaching crocodile. Patrick chuckled as the newcomer twisted back and raced in the opposite direction, both crocodiles scooting on top of the water. The big male croc looked back at the boat, more interested in chicken. Patrick answered our questions. ‘He doesn’t care; she’s scaring it off her territory, which is around one hundred metres. It’s probably a female. He’s got anywhere between twenty and fifty females in his area,’ he said, smiling. ‘She’ll ward off small males too; she only wants the alpha around.’

As we watched, the first female disappeared under the water, and just like a cartoon, the surface one sped up. They both emerged, as if stopped by an invisible fence, and engaged in mouth-to-mouth combat. ‘That’s the border line of the girls’ territory, a bit of a no-man’s land,’ Patrick informed us.

We moved further along the river, coming to another bank, this one sandy and edged with thick scrub. Another female, lolling in the water, took to the chicken, and gave us another chance to see deep inside her mouth as she jumped up to meet the unpredictable, flying carcass. Suddenly, she aquaplaned onto the bank, the same male having followed us. The females obviously felt fear, despite Patrick’s comment that crocodiles had no emotions. ‘They might know the sound of the boat and associate it with the chicken, but if I fell in the water, I wouldn’t be spared. There’s no attachment, no love. If they bite the propeller it’s because they’re testing it for eatability. They let it go. Anything organic, they eat it; your bones, your teeth, but not your knee replacements or your fillings.’

Good to know! Crocodiles are only interested in territory, feeding and mating. There’s no happy, no sad; just pissed off, hungry or horny! Any similarity to man is coincidental, and if you know a man like this, unfortunate!

 

Have you ever met any pre-civilised creatures who fight over territory, mates or tucker? Be careful who you smile at!

 

Persevere: One step at a time.

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.” Walter Elliot.

This piece of advice recently popped up on the Facebook Page of Australian Writers Centre, on a day I really needed to see it! ‘Perseverance’ has been my ‘go to’ word for the last couple of years, whenever I’m faltering, tired, fed up, impatient or losing heart. It’s a Post It note on top of my jumble of thoughts. So, when I saw this reminder, on a day when I felt like giving up – in this case, the writing of my novel – I thought, ah, that reminder is for me. That’s serendipity!

When things are difficult or unpleasant in our lives, we tend to put them off. Doing the easy things first is a good option: we clear our environment, our schedule, our minds, so that the difficult task can be focused on. This is my favoured technique. The problem with it is, we can keep putting off the difficult task. That’s procrastination! That’s when we need to persevere!

What I like about this quote is that it’s a reminder that perseverance itself, can be broken down into achievable chunks. If we keep going until we reach the next step, we’ll get through to the end. Think of perseverance as a journey with many stops, not just destination. Reach the step, enjoy it for a moment, breathe, and carry on.

Anything worth doing is worth persevering for. Make the struggle count. Make the most of it. Success will taste so much sweeter in the end. But pause along the way and enjoy the steps too. Make it a lifestyle.

Writing a novel is a mammoth task. 90,000 words is not the only task: they need to be the right words, in the right order, to make the right story. It’s daunting, to say the least, especially with the demon, Doubt, sitting on the writer’s shoulder, whispering – or yelling – who do you think you are? Or, your writing is rubbish! The only way to get through it, is to break it down, scene by scene, paragraph by paragraph, word by word. Persevere until the demon, Doubt, gets the message!

Life is also a mammoth task. It also needs to be stepped through, broken into chunks, lived in scenes! Perseverance is required for each stage, each goal, each battle. Don’t race to the end without stopping to appreciate the passing of each one, the beginning of the next one, and where you are right now.

Perseverance requires patience. It requires stamina. And it requires the ability to appreciate each step before we move on to the next one.

 

More brilliant advice:

“Don’t rush through the experiences and circumstances that have the most capacity to transform you.” Rob Bell.