Dear Adult, JTLYK about Forgiveness

 

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When we focus on sorry and forgiveness as simply words expressed, we are somewhat misled into believing that the act of forgiveness can only happen in a physical and literal sense. We must say sorry out loud, someone must say sorry to us (preferably with witness) and we must announce the acceptance or non-acceptance of an apology through an act of forgiveness, commonly in the form of a hand shake. Emphasis is placed on the physical act of apology and forgiveness. Our widely accepted and expected practise of forgiveness suggests that we cannot forgive a person who has done wrong unless they first apologize for their wrong. But what if they never apologize? How long must we wait? Do we spend our entire lives full of anger and resent, believing that we cannot free ourselves from such heaviness unless the person (who hurt us so badly in the first place) actually does say “sorry” What if the cause of our anger and resent isn’t even a person, but a thing, a place, an institution, a government, an event or a situation. How does it say sorry? What if sorry appears in the form of an action instead of a word and we totally miss it because we were expecting a word? What if sorry arrives as a more complex emotional cue beckoning us, likened to espressivo in a musical context, where musicians must closely watch and feel the intent of the composer in order to intuitively express that feeling through their music?

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Forgiveness is the action or process that releases a feeling of anger or resent towards (someone) for an offence, flaw, or mistake. I wonder if the someone in this definition may be the reason why so many of us rarely consider the need to forgive the things that cannot say sorry. For example; the storm, the loss, the injustice, the prejudice, the bad timing and so many other things in life that make us angry and resentful because they are the things in life that we label as unfair. Also, this definition of forgiveness involves another person, someone other than self. More often we need to actually forgive ourselves for our flaws and our errors in order to truly be free. It’s not hard to see that forgiveness is much more than just a verbal tennis match between I’m sorry and you’re forgiven. It is actually a process of letting go, releasing and freeing ourselves from a feeling of anger and resent. Forgiveness can and should take place without the presence of an ‘external’ sorry. It is not something owned and controlled by another person who did wrong. Forgiveness is a virtue available to us all.

 

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In my experience as a holistic health practitioner I have found that the topic of forgiveness always brings up the greatest amount of emotion. People’s views regarding forgiveness are so diverse and so intense, that it can quickly divide a group of otherwise like-minded humans. The thing about forgiveness is that we confuse it with justice.   I have asked myself many times, how did this misconception about forgiveness become such a deep-seated belief within so many of us? More importantly, how do we change this belief in order to model to our children that forgiveness is actually the act of letting go of emotional baggage such as; anger, resentment, revenge and disappointment. Feelings that only make us bitter and sick the longer we hold onto them. There is an expression in the metaphysical context that goes something like this; don’t bother asking someone what is wrong with you, you may as well ask who is wrong with you?’ (The Wisdom of Florens Shovel Shinn) This connection between holding onto emotional pain which then shows up as physical discomfort, physical pain and dis-ease, has been made over and over again, yet we still hold onto things that keep us locked in the past or worse still, make us really sick. Why do we do that? Could it really be due to a belief that forgiveness should make things right again and in right, what we really mean is fair.

Our focus should be on owning the act of forgiveness as a tool, a path, a method and our right to release and let go of emotional pain. We cannot expect forgiveness to magically emerge through some sort of righteous and entitled life that we have imagined, waiting for fairness to be made visible through external expressions of heartfelt apologies for all our suffering. To say this is delusional is an understatement at best. This sort of fantasy does more harm than good, waiting for the grand fairytale apology that will release the chains of anger and resent and allow us to finally live happily ever after.

Forgiveness should be embedded within our daily rituals through really being able to forgive ourselves for our human flaws and errors. The act of forgiveness should always belong to the individual because it is an action by the individual and can only live within the individual. No amount of forgiveness will ever make things fair but it will make us free.

 

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Learning to forgive through mind and body techniques such as meditation and tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique) takes us away from all the physical expectations we have about forgiveness and empowers us to really be able to let go of harmful emotional attachment. It doesn’t excuse the wrongs or make them right, it doesn’t make things fair and it isn’t about allowing the person who did the wrong to be free of consequence. Forgiveness without an external apology releases the toxic feeling of anger and resent and it frees us up to experience more LOVE.

I do have to mention though, if you’ve worked out a way to forgive in your life, please don’t shout it out as though it is the easiest thing to do. Forgiveness is not a public competition, it is personal and for some of us it is a very private journey. We have no right telling others that they must forgive when we have no idea what they have experienced. If I have learned anything while working with so many people over the years, it’s that no matter how hard you think your life has been and no matter how many challenges you have overcome and wrongs you have forgiven, there is always someone who has experienced more. Respect that. When you truly know the value of forgiveness you will simply be it and in being it you will light the path for others to begin their journey of forgiveness, however that journey should ‘be’ for them.

 

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Dear Adult, JTLYK about Forgiveness,

I forgave you the moment I met you. I had to, for my own inner peace. You are human after all and it was not your fault you were doing so many things wrong through your fear-driven human habits. I noticed a lot of the human things you did because they were so obvious to me at that time. You had been human much longer. I was in a different place. I wasn’t quite human yet. That’s all.

You had learned and experienced all the unfairness and harshness of being human. I arrived as a complete being; body, mind and soul. I was full of intent, unconditional LOVE and compassion. Forgiveness came naturally to me because I was still able to see and honour the complete being within you.

Making a mistake, hurting somebody or being disrespectful can happen to anyone. Saying sorry is an action and the right thing to do when this happens. Being sorry is a feeling, for children it’s mostly a sad feeling because we are sad that we hurt someone or sad that we made a mistake. Showing that we are sorry is like providing evidence that we really were sorry by making sure that we don’t do it again. It all sounds pretty simple in this very physical and human form, but even when we follow all the steps and do all the right things on the outside, the damage has still been done on the inside. The focus on words instead of feelings is hard for children to fully understand and it separates us from our early emotional instinct to simply know what feels good and everything else that doesn’t.

So as I got older I too distanced my human self from my complete, intuitive self and I became more human like you. I learned forgiveness in the form of a human act of saying sorry and expecting to be forgiven because I said sorry. I noticed that sometimes I could say sorry even without really being sorry. It made me wonder if people were saying sorry to me even when they were not really being sorry on the inside. I often forgave a lot of things and people that I didn’t really want to forgive. Things that were unfair, things that hurt my feelings, things that made me angry inside. I learned that if someone said sorry, I should forgive them and then everything would be okay again. But it wasn’t. The feelings were bigger than words and so the words were not enough to really be sorry or to really forgive.

I noticed that hiding feelings inside of us is a human speciality, as long as you stick to showing the right feelings on the outside. You can hide a lot of things on the inside but eventually the inside shows up on the outside. For children, the inside usually shows up on the outside when we are not children any more. By then we have forgotten what we actually hid on the inside and so when it shows up on the outside we don’t even know what it’s about. If we don’t know what it’s about then it is really difficult to make things better.

Being a child is really our time to practise being a person, being human and eventually being an adult. Childhood is short and it’s not really necessary for adults to be telling us how to be children. No offence, but when an adult tells a child how to be a child, it’s like telling an astronaut how to be an astronaut when you are not an astronaut. Instead of assuming the job of telling children how to be children, adults are more suited to the position of showing children how to be good adults, since they are already adults themselves.

As for forgiveness, it really is quite simple when you recognize that the act of forgiveness is more about feelings than words.

When I LOVE, value and respect myself enough to let go of feelings that harm me I will choose FORGIVENESS.

When I LOVE, value and respect myself enough to know when it’s time to move on I will choose FORGIVENESS.

When I LOVE, value and respect others enough to give them another chance to show that they LOVE, value and respect me, I will choose FORGIVENESS.

When I know that by forgiving I am letting go and in letting go I am free, I will choose FORGIVENESS.

Forgiveness is so easy for young children. I just wish the adults could show us that we can choose FORGIVENESS when we are adults too.

YW

 

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Dear Adult JTLYK about Gratitude

 

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As many of us move through life searching for meaning and purpose and often looking for grand experiences worthy of such definition, it could be argued that the meaning of life and our purpose here exists within one simple virtue –gratitude. Could gratitude really be the true meaning and purpose of our entire human experience? You have to admit that gratitude is quite diverse in it’s expression and it does steer us into the direction of being at peace with our own reality, yet in a somewhat gentle way. Considering that what we are, what we create and how we experience life depends on our own ability to either be grateful or resentful, I think gratitude could be the most important path towards our human realisation of happiness. That is, if we could just fine-tune and master our ability to be grateful. Life purpose achieved. Happiness attained. Harmony experienced. How easy was that! But there’s a catch, being grateful is not as easy as it sounds, especially in the reality of living.

I’m relieved that the concept of gratitude has finally reached the mainstream platform. It was always a little ‘socially awkward’ when responding to expressions of compassion for some of the storms that appeared in my life by stating, “I’m grateful for the experience”. I discovered that when I expressed gratitude for events commonly known as problems, people were often shocked and didn’t know what to say. I can see now that in my own way of dealing with life’s storms through yoga, meditation and other holistic techniques, I was really only grateful for it after I had processed and released the emotions brought up by the storm. Now, I tend to express my gratitude for such things with a disclaimer; I am grateful for the experience, however, I wasn’t grateful when I was in the middle of it. Only after I did the work to process and release the anger, disappointment, frustration etc. I want to help people realise that none of us are born superior masters of emotion and life, always happy, always positive, always grateful. We learn it, over and over again and eventually we become it.

While on the topic of gratitude, it is also worth mentioning the importance of acquiring enough common sense and emotional intelligence to simply know, without instruction that while our best friend is deeply overcome by anger and rage due to a cheating partner for instance, the last thing they need to hear is, ‘be grateful for the experience.’ Yes, eventually gratitude leads us to forgiveness and is indeed the only way to truly make peace with life’s tricky situations, but that only comes after the trauma and emotions have been processed and released. Having a constant expectation of gratitude puts people in danger of being publicly grateful while privately resentful and can actually create much bigger problems. It could possibly be one of our biggest human challenges that needs to be overcome in order to truly achieve authentic human collaboration and wellbeing. In our quest to win the game of life and overcome all it’s challenges, we have somehow created an unspoken consensus of taking on all of life with a sense of positivity that may be more of a mask than we are prepared to admit. Personally, I would rather experience a world where our image of self has reached such a point of authenticity and non-judgement that our public, private and virtual image of ‘self’ are identical.

 

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Throughout our travels, we have met people in faraway places who have not been influenced by the global narrative of fear. They truly understand that life is a journey and the journey will one day come to an end. They know this because they never really disconnected themselves from the infinite cycle of life. I am fortunate to have just enough linguistic ability in some of Europe’s ‘other’ languages to have heard stories that may have otherwise gone unheard. Stories that have helped shape my understanding of life’s greatest mysteries. These languages that I can understand and speak a little of, don’t look impressive on a CV and in fact other than being able to communicate with the elderly in remote villages that the world barely even knows exist, my ‘other language’ credentials are more often not worthy of a mention. However, the gratitude I have for the words that enabled me to connect with people who understand the true secrets of life is enormous. People, who have little, yet still give more than they take and have faith in the certainty that after everything planted, sown, reaped and learned, the only way to make peace with life’s storms is not by focussing on what was taken by the storm, but through gratitude for what the storm left behind.

After returning from these isolated villages I always make time to reflect on the whole experience. What did I learn, what did I gain, which beliefs within me have changed, which part of my own reality did I lose? Over the years and through all the people I have met, I have come to realise one very consistent theme; learning from this organic and slower pace of life is actually the easy part. Taking that learning back home and creating a way for it to be expressed in daily life, in a completely different context is the real challenge. And so, this led me to here, to question whether teaching our children empathy and gratitude through comparing to others who have less or face greater adversity is actually enough.

 

 

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As we unpacked these experiences as a family (my husband and our 8 year-old son) we agreed that it did help us to be more grateful for the little things in our lives but there was also another side to the experience. Although we learned a great deal from the simplicity of the people living ‘off the grid’ in remote villages and have immeasurable respect for their resilience and longevity in simply existing, we felt that by focussing exclusively on such examples whilst on our own journey of understanding life can create a false or temporary sense of gratitude. We noticed that we were somewhat glorifying those who stayed in their villages and had dealt with the harshness of nature and life. It made us a bit critical of ourselves as we compared their experience of life to our own and in doing so we were not recognising our own resilience by acknowledging the difficulties we had overcome in our own context of life. “Look how simple their life is, look how grateful they are for the rain, the sun, the harvest. Why can’t we just be grateful for everything and live happily ever after?” It seems easy and logical enough in order to secure a path of happiness and inner peace. However, it is a bit like comparing apples with oranges. The people in remote villages have actually lived their whole lives within their own secluded context. On the other hand, in our modern and more complex life we are processing information and experiences at a much faster pace than those living in remote villages, yet also unpacking the layers of life and the storms, searching for the things that define our existence and our reason for being. To except the same outcome of understanding the complexity of life, through such diverse experiences of life is somewhat unrealistic.

The other thing that this sort of gratitude can ignite is a feeling of guilt. “I’m so lucky, look what I have in comparison but why aren’t I happy?” Not easy for someone dealing with mental health issues and also the reason why I think we need to be careful about using this sort of comparison which demands gratitude, inadvertently dismissing one’s emotional reality instead of reaching out to help them. I am not saying that we shouldn’t use this form of gratitude as it is a powerful way of understanding ourselves through  empathy and compassion for others, therefore, indeed it has it’s place. However, we realised that comparing ourselves to people with less or people who were facing adversity moved us emotionally and made us temporarily grateful for our own situation but true gratitude only flowed through daily practise within our own reality. And so I would argue that in our fast paced 21st century context, developing habits of gratitude as early as possible and within our own life experience is not just a recommendation, it is a matter of necessity because it really does make us happier.

 

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Dear Adult, JTLYK about Gratitude

In this physical world, we learn to be grateful for the material things we get. Thanks (more like ta – try saying ‘th’ when you’re 2) is one of the first words we learn other than mum, dad, yes and no. It forms a pattern, we get something and we say thank you. We mostly say thank you when we get material things, but life gives us a lot more than that to be grateful for.

When I learn to be grateful not just for the thing I see in front of me but for all that happened in order for that thing to exist, then I learn more than ‘thank-you’. I learn that everything in this physical world is somehow connected. I also learn that the little things are just as important as the BIG finished product. In doing so, I become grateful for everything because I understand that without ALL of it, there would be NONE of it.

When I learn to be grateful, I learn to understand the bigger picture and focus on the things I have, the things I am and the things I give. It doesn’t make my problems go away, but it helps me to realise that when I have problems, they are not ALL that I have and they are not ALL that I am.

When I learn to be grateful I understand more about what makes me happy and so then I can think about things that make others happy too. This helps me to be a better friend and to help others, my family, my community and the world.

When I learn to be grateful I understand the true value of things, not just what they cost with money. I can make a connection with the love, time and energy that someone has given in order to make that thing possible, visible, available, to make it exist. This also allows me to learn how to look after what I have, with a sense of responsibility, respect and LOVE.

When I learn to be grateful for experiences, feelings, people and nature, not just material things, I understand that even if I have little, I still have something to give and as long as I have something to give, I will always have a reason to be.

With a reason to be, I have a much better chance of happiness.

YW

 

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Dear Adult, JTLYK about LOVE

 

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Exactly 10 years ago today, I discovered the meaning of an entire universe conspiring to bring two people together.

It’s a long story but in short, I was travelling, I followed an illy coffee sign into a bar, I ordered a coffee and then took a liking to a retro Campari ashtray on my table. I pretended to smoke a cigarette as I tried to steal the ashtray and then erupted into a coughing fit causing the button on my jeans to pop off and roll all the way down the stairs. I tried to retrieve the button and then bumped into the man who I now share my life with. There’s no doubt in my mind that people and situations come into our life exactly when they are meant to. Just imagine if one small event did not take place then the moment we met would never have occurred. For example; if I hadn’t been introduced to illy coffee and Campari by my Italian friend Rosa, if my friend Wendy had not booked the bus trip from Venice to Switzerland for me (with a stopover in Innsbruck that I had no idea about- I really should have read the itinerary she sent me) if the guy all the way across the other side of the world in Preston, Melbourne Australia, actually repaired the button on my jeans properly as he was supposed to.

Obviously I’m telling the story from a very non-romantic point of view. Use the same facts and add a dreamy tone, you have yourself a fairy tale love story. I didn’t choose to write about it in that way because to me, that is not LOVE, it’s just a story dressed up in fancy words. Words that feed our human habit of wanting and longing for something. Instead of ‘forever wanting’ what if we simply aimed to find peace with where we are, with what we have and allow life to unfold more naturally, as it did that night for me and for him. Neither of us should have been at that bar on that particular night but for reasons unknown and situations unplanned, we were.

I purposely did not write about finding the greatest LOVE of all time in one of the most romantic ‘looking’ places on earth because that would be misleading. I didn’t find LOVE that night. I found him. Two average people who simply met and chose to share with one another some of the LOVE that already existed within them. I wasn’t saved from an imagined misery of being without a partner brought upon by popular culture perspective. I certainly wasn’t rescued by a man, finally finding the LOVE of my life. The LOVE of my life is life itself because without a life what’s there to LOVE anyway? A relationship does not fulfil our need for LOVE because LOVE does not need, it simply exists.

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Our understanding of LOVE depends on the lens with which we choose to see through. I can’t help but think that during this physical human experience, our own inner lens have been blurred by images of what we think LOVE and other things in life should look like. We dress up the idea of some grand, life-changing moment and wait for an exclusive event to arrive, which never does and then with disappointment and often bitterness in our hearts, we surrender to the misery of daily life. There’s nothing wrong with wanting things and of course keeping our eye on our goals and the bigger picture, but we must keep in mind that life is mostly a series of small events and gratitude for all of it, not some of it, is key to long lasting happiness and LOVE.

Teaching our children an animated and glorified version of LOVE is dangerous and only leads to disappointment and confusion later in life. We need to show them LOVE instead of presenting them with a brochure about LOVE. After all, LOVE certainly doesn’t look anything like the brochure. In fact, life doesn’t look anything like the brochure. I once had the pleasure of being present in a school office when a student came along demanding to see the principal. His problem, in his words, “this school is shit, it’s nothing like the brochure”. He went on to point to a poster on the wall of some happy children and stated, “who even looks like that anyway!” Bless him, that dear boy, for his bravery and honesty at a time where he was clearly feeling the frustration of not being able to measure up to the happy children in the brochure. Contrary to popular belief or should I say popular judgement, the boy was not horrible and disrespectful. He was unhappy and longing to find LOVE and comfort in his experience of school life. Yes, a conversation about how to express ourselves in a more gentle and appropriate way was indeed necessary with that particular student, followed by an apology to anyone he may have offended through his choice of somewhat harsh vocabulary and a promise to choose better words and better ways in the future. However and more to the point, to have approached the situation with anything other than LOVE would only have escalated it. Luckily, the principal was open to the student’s feedback and most importantly, the situation was met with LOVE and therefore it was quickly resolved.

To say I learned something that day is an understatement. I used that experience to transform my own habit of high expectations followed by disappointment and claimed, “this brochure is shit, it’s nothing like the real thing”. Thus, the real thing isn’t so bad after all. It’s just that when you compare it to the brochure, well . . . I think you get the point here.

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When it comes to LOVE, adults tend to dream a little and view LOVE through an invisible, inner telescope at a safe distance from it instead of actually feeling it the way that children naturally and intuitively experience LOVE . We talk about LOVE instead of opening ourselves up to experience it. We search for LOVE in all the wrong places and then we are met with unnecessary levels of an absence of LOVE. This is generally the reason why so many people are unhappy. We think that love is about finding the right partner, having the perfect life, the latest fashion, car, house etc. but LOVE is so much more than that.

 

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What scares us most about love is that we are actually aware of the fact that the only real choice we have other than fully embracing the complexity of LOVE is to live a life in opposition of LOVE. The opposite of LOVE is fear and fear brings with it enormous regret. Regret for the LOVE that we couldn’t feel, regret for the things we never said, (or the things we did say) regret for the things we didn’t do (as well as some of the things we did do) and ultimately, regret for the life we didn’t live.

I would argue that the whole tone of the past decade to just ‘be positive’ all the time is actually exhausting and somewhat delusional. Again, another brochure that does not live up to it’s promise in real life. Please don’t judge me when I say this but when I hear warm and fuzzy stories about LOVE it makes me cringe. When I hear up beat positive mantras I run in the opposite direction. However, show me LOVE when the shit hits the fan and I’m all yours ready to learn! The turning point in helping our children become resilient adults will not happen by showing them that life is perfect. Rather than trying to be perfect we should be aiming for real and authentic. Raising children who have a deep understanding of themselves, their strengths as well as their vulnerabilities so that they can be better prepared for life’s ups and downs. In addition to this, giving them tools such as mindfulness in order to take action and get through life’s challenges in a healthy, nurturing and loving way.

We should stop the constant judgement of our current generation of children and young adults and we really need to stop the nostalgic ‘good ol days’ and ‘back in my day’ mantra. To say that the current generation of teenagers are weak compared to generations before them is totally ignorant and irresponsible. I challenge any adult out there to turn back the clock and return as a teenager in this current world we live in. I don’t think we would last a day in their shoes, constantly being compared to images of perfection. Having our most vulnerable and confusing young, adult lives played out under the watchful and often harshly judging eye of social media is not something I would willingly sign up for.

In order to really understand what is going on in our child or teenager’s life, we should  just listen to their favourite songs instead of following them around on social media. I guarantee that the words of those songs resonate with some, if not all of their own inner dialogue. Artists are the real therapists of the world as they willingly throw their pain and stories into the wind so that we may hear, feel and understand our own vulnerabilities.

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In his book, Conversations with God, An Uncommon Dialogue, 1995, Neale Donald Walsch points out something very simple yet powerful regarding how we approach every situation in our lives. He presents this question. “In every situation ask yourself; what would love do now?” I’ve worked with this concept for many years and I have to warn you that this is where I really learned about the less romantic side of of LOVE. It makes you do some difficult things and you need to embrace the unknown, the unpredictable, the mystery of letting life unfold without being in full control. When we choose LOVE, it can take us to some pretty scary places, but I can confirm through my own experience that the concept of taking action from a place of LOVE instead of a place of FEAR is the only way to get through this life alive!

For now, my current understanding of LOVE is that LOVE is either present or it’s not present. It is either everywhere or nowhere. It is either forever or for a certain time. Wherever, whenever and however depends on whoever. Whoever chooses to feel LOVE will. Whoever chooses not to feel LOVE will not. And so, LOVE depends on me and only me. It’s that simple. As adults, we just need to choose LOVE and our children will practically raise themselves because LOVE makes better choices than FEAR ever will.

 

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I once overheard a group of children asking each other questions about their favourite things. The children asked the most common ‘favourite thing’ question; what is your favourite colour? The playful giggling and chatting that had accompanied the previous questions was silenced abruptly as one of the boys in the group proudly announced his favourite colour.”Pink!” he exclaimed. The silence was then met with loud laughter and the boy looked at one child, then another, searching for clues that could help him work out what had gone wrong. Up until that moment they were freely expressing their favourite things, they were connecting, they were all but one and then in just one random and unexpected moment he was on the outer. “Pink is for girls” shouted out one of the other children. No doubt this story has happened many times before and in many places but it wasn’t the story itself that captured my attention, it was the way the boy handled it. After thinking for a moment he cheerfully yet with a hint of a newly developed self-doubt proclaimed; “but pink is the colour of LOVE”. Oh how I savoured that moment, I breathed it in as though it was the last bit of fresh air I may have access to for the rest of my days on earth. He knew it, he felt it, he lived it and he owned it. He saw pink and connected the feeling of LOVE with it. Sadly, he learned that day that the world he lived in had claimed the colour pink as a colour for girls. His favourite colour of all the colours visible in his physical world was taken away from him in just one moment. The hidden messages that the colour pink is a colour for girls would slowly reveal themselves to him throughout his life and he would learn that only girls LOVE, boys need to be tough, boys need to be strong and LOVE is a weakness. In one context the world would be telling him that it is safe to be himself and in another context he would learn that he is only free to be himself when it fits in with popular culture.

Imagine if children could learn to choose colours based on how the colour made them feel instead of what the colour represents in this physical, consumer-driven world. They would have access to yet another tool to manage themselves and their emotional wellbeing throughout their whole lives. Wouldn’t that be wonderful.

 

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Our biggest problem with LOVE in our consumer-driven world is that we have fallen in love with things. It’s hard to know if we really LOVE things or whether we just feel like we need them, either way we have fallen in LOVE with wanting and having. LOVE doesn’t live in wanting and it certainly doesn’t exist is needing. LOVE is present in ‘being’ because it is energy, a feeling, emotion that we can only feel as it moves through us, through all living things.

If we keep searching for LOVE in things, instead of allowing ourselves to feel it within us, we will never be able to create anything truly satisfying in our lives.

We’ve been playing a little game with my family at the beach every day. It’s called the generation game. We noticed that the older a person was, the less ‘things’ they carried with them to the beach. It has been a real eye opener to see how ‘things’ have been accumulated at such a rapid pace. Through our daily observations we discovered a massive difference between the 60+ generation and the 40’s. It seems that in just one generation, the whole consumer addictive cycle reached full bloom. As for the 30’s group, they totally win the prize for most beach accessories, loaded with carts full of  toys, inflatable giant floating unicorns, snorkels, flippers, tents, sun lounges, umbrellas, the list goes on. Yet, only one or two generations before them, other ‘humans’ sit humbly under a tree, with a towel, newspaper and sun hat. Totally owning the moment without having to attend to all their accessories and in sync with the simplicity of the sea before them.

 

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Another thing we learn about LOVE from our current world is that real LOVE is rare, so it is hard to find. If we do find it we must hold on tight and never share it. As though LOVE is a singular expression from one person to one other person only. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I saw a young couple walking through the old medieval town where I live. It is a very charming and romantic place, easy to experience feeling nostalgic and dreamy. The man (really a boy no more than 20 years old) stopped to take a photo. As he positioned the camera (really a phone – I refuse to tell a story where a phone takes a picture because the meaning of a phone is to make calls and the meaning of a camera is to take pictures and I just cannot get past that, semantically that is) Anyway, back to the man (boy) positioning the camera (phone) as he did this, his girlfriend aligned herself in front of the building, flicking her hair back, creating the correct angle for her face, shoulders, hips and feet and then smiling in preparation for the soon to be taken picture. However, there was a sudden an unexpected twist, the man (boy) turned to another building and took a picture of it without even realising that his girlfriend had been posing in preparation for that moment when her beloved would capture his LOVE for her in a photograph that would last forever. There was a feeling of slight awkwardness once she realised that the LOVE and admiration was not being directed towards her. Similar to when you try to shake someone’s hand but they don’t know you’re trying to shake their hand so your hand is just there all alone as you attempt to figure out a creative way to move your hand back towards the rest of yourself. The girlfriend was awkwardly attempting to position her body back as though she had just been walking casually the whole time. The boyfriend unaware of what had just happened.

Just a few minutes later the young couple were long gone and the beauty of the building photographed by the man (boy) stood tall, it’s historic charm on full display. I stared at the building for a brief moment and couldn’t help but wonder if the young girl would spend the rest of their romantic summer holiday doubting the depth of his love and comparing herself to a heritage listed building. I wanted to run down the street and tell her it’s not you it’s the building! LOVE is everywhere and LOVE is so abundant for those who choose and those who can feel it that your boyfriend can LOVE the beautiful building without using up any of the LOVE he has for you. The fact that he noticed a beautiful building and stopped to capture it is evidence of the LOVE that resides within him. That is wonderful, it will enable him to LOVE you more because the more LOVE he has within him the more LOVE he will have for you. It is only when the LOVE within is overwhelmed by other emotions such as fear, anger, jealousy, frustration, disappointment, bitterness, grief and despair that we forget how to LOVE. It’s not that love is rare and hard to find. It’s just that the other feelings get louder and stronger.

 

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Dear Adult, JTLYK about LOVE,

This will be brief.

I really hope you get it.

I have nothing to say about LOVE because children don’t talk about LOVE.

We just show it.

The problem is adults often cannot see LOVE because it may not look the way adults think LOVE should look.

That’s all I can tell you about LOVE.

You really need to work the rest out for yourself.

I will give you a hint though.

Don’t share your soul with the likes of Lord Voldermort.

YW

 

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Dear Adult, JTLYK about Perception

 

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Nothing sums up the difference in perception between adults and children as this illustration from the famous story The Little Prince. We all see what we choose to see based on where we are with our own understanding, what we know and what we have experienced. What we see as adults can often be very different to the reality because our habit of judgement often stands in our way.

When I think of perception, I am always taken back to a story about our family pet cockatoo. I was born to first generation migrant parents in Melbourne Australia. We lived in a small, single-fronted weatherboard house until I was 9. The house was set beside a ‘block of flats’ (now known as an apartment complex) in an inner city suburb. Back then it was not inhabited by open-minded artists and latte drinking hipsters but a complex mix of working class migrants. The flats attracted all sorts of people and unfortunately we had a neighbour who drank every night and then stood out on his balcony threatening to kill our beloved pet cockatoo. I remember this as a very frightening situation, mostly because my parent’s English was not so great and they felt very stressed being threatened by an English native in a country that was still so foreign to them. They didn’t know their rights and they didn’t have anyone who could help them.

One day my sisters and I woke to the news that we would be driving across town to visit our cousins who lived in the west. We were thrilled about a spontaneous visit to our cousin’s house, until my dad started to tie our pet cockatoo’s cage onto the roof racks of our car. I wasn’t even curious at that stage, I was just worried. I knew that something was happening and I was certain that I wouldn’t like it. It was then that my dad informed us that our pet cockatoo would have to live with our cousins so that the neighbour didn’t kill him.

 

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As we prepared for the drive, our pet cockatoo was freaking out inside the car and the only way my dad could calm him down was by putting him back inside his familiar cage. Since the cage was too big to fit inside the car, the cockatoo made the journey across Melbourne on top of our family car. We drove very slowly with all the windows down, my dad talked to him the whole way so that he knew he wasn’t alone. The drive from Northcote to Newport was possibly the longest drive we had ever taken as a family.

I was the youngest and so I was the only one of my sisters who was still thinking like a real child. I was actually envious of our pet cockatoo because I had a thing about climbing on roofs and I thought that our cockatoo was up on the roof having a real adventure. Wind in his feathers, enjoying the scenery and all the attention. Until my oldest sister, a very fashionable teenager at the time, sunk into the car seat and sighed, “how embarrassing! Obviously, my perception of our cockatoo on the roof of our car was very different to hers.

To this day, my sisters and I often wonder what people around us must have thought. There we were, a family of five in an old ford falcon, which my dad had proudly yet terribly painted himself, driving across Melbourne with a cockatoo in a huge ‘DIY-welded’ cage on the roof. I mean, you could have written a fictional children’s story about it but in reality we were there, in it, for real. What were people thinking? What judgements were they making about us? Cruelty to animals, that poor cockatoo, those poor children, if that’s how they treat the cockatoo how do they treat their children. Continental Europeans! Barbarians! 

Imagine if it happened now, in this current fear driven, Instagram life of ours. There would have been snapshots of us posted on social media, people would have shared their perception and judgement based only on what they saw with their eyes, without knowledge of the full story, without feeling our pain of having to say good-bye to our pet and without understanding our lack of knowing that we had other options. Our family could have even featured on the TV news and been shamed forever as migrants who had no respect for the law and values of the country that had so kindly given them a chance for a better life. Surely the whole story would have surfaced eventually but by then, the damage would have already been done.

As scary as my ‘Continental European’ dad looked, he was just a gentle man, full of unconditional love for our pet cockatoo, protecting his children from the potential trauma of losing their pet in a violent and drunken rage of unjustified anger towards a helpless living thing. In my child mind, my dad was a hero and we were on an animal rescue mission to save our pet’s life. It just looked different to an ordinary animal rescue mission. Driving him across Melbourne on the roof of our car was the only way we could.

On the other hand, if one of the judging onlookers was brave enough to just ask what was happening, to clarify their perception of the situation, my dad could have learned that in Australia there is such a thing as the RSPCA and we could have called them for some help. Our cockatoo would not have had to live in exile until our drunken neighbour moved out of his flat and out of our lives.

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What if we were to replace judgement-driven perception with these three things;

  1. If it is something perceived as offensive, dangerous, cruel, unfair, racist, sexist or harmful then stand up to it, take action or report it.
  2. Figure out a way to help.
  3. Close your eyes, take a deep breath in and as you breathe out, lovingly send energetic compassion towards the person/situation trusting they are acting from a place that is obviously different to yours.

 

I saw option two executed perfectly a few years ago at a school assembly. A young mother was in the audience waiting for her daughter to receive an award, clearly wanting to be present for the special moment. The mother also had a toddler and a baby in a pram, her eyes looked like they were about to pop out of her head, her hair was a mess and she looked like she hadn’t slept in days. The toddler was screaming, the baby started crying and the whole situation went from bad to worse in seconds. Most people around started looking at the mother in a way that says; get your kids under control lady! She knew all eyes were on her and the harder she tried to control the situation, the worse it got. “Why wouldn’t you just take your screaming baby outside?” I heard a parent say to another parent. Yes that would be logical but the mother knew she had an excited 6 year old who would soon be standing on a stage, receiving an award and no doubt looking for her mother’s face in the audience. As the minutes passed, the baby and toddler became so loud that you could barely hear the principal speak. The mother’s face had turned bright red and she had tears in her eyes, yet people continued to stare at her.

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I’m sure that there were people in the room who were not judging her because I know that I wasn’t but like many, I just didn’t have a clue about what to do. Then, someone showed us what to do and I will never forget that moment. One of the teachers went over to the mother, distracted the toddler with a funny face and then offered to hold the baby. It worked, the toddler loved the attention and the baby who was clearly feeling overwhelmed by the noise and energy in the room was soothed by the gentleness of human contact. Someone was brave enough to take action and it worked. Not only did the action help the mother, toddler and baby and save the whole assembly, it also showed the rest of us how to help instead of judge.

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I used to think that we become more compassionate as we get older because we have experienced more of life’s ups and downs. I’m not sure if that is true. Through observing children I have realised that they come into the world without judging others and they are always ready to help. I think we un-learn this natural reaction towards helping others because our perception becomes influenced by judgement. Adults apply compassion based on their own perception and often after they have assessed or judged the worthiness, sometimes even benefits. A child’s perception is based on their senses, feelings, imagination and curiosity. That’s why they are able to show compassion without judgement or influences from negative life experience. They apply their compassion to the current situation rather than bringing up the past. This is what makes children so forgiving. They do not perceive someone as horrible forever based on one event.

We should try to mix up our own habits of perception every now and again. Not only because it will help us show more forgiveness and compassion to ourselves and to others, but it will also help us become creative again.

I wonder what else may be hiding in that hat?

 

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Dear Adult, JTLYK about Perception,

I see, I hear, I feel, I touch and I smell in order to understand the world around me. This is how I first perceive things. I use my senses, my imagination and curiosity to make sense of my world. Later, when I am able to talk, I ask questions to help me form a deeper understanding of what I see, hear, feel, touch and smell. As a child, my senses are very important in helping me form ideas and perceptions.

My senses are also linked to my intuition. I can feel safe without having to know why. I can hear sounds that make me happy without really needing any logical reason and on the other hand I can feel afraid or sad without being able to explain it.

Adult perception is based more on what you see with your eyes. A child’s perception is based more on how we feel and what we see in our mind’s eye. Our imagination. For example, an adult can look at a stick forever and all they will ever see is a stick, but a child can see so many things in a stick.

Children are better problem solvers because we use our imagination to think of things that do not exist. A solution is something that does not exist until you make it exist. You make it exist by thinking of an idea and then testing the idea to see if it works. If the idea does not work, usually it doesn’t, you have to think of another idea and sometimes another and another. You can see why being creative and having a good imagination is very important. An adult can look at a problem for a very long time and only ever see a problem, but a child would use their imagination to create a solution.

A solution cannot exist when a problem is perceived as a problem in the first place. Children do not have problems until they learn about problems from adults. Very young children such as toddlers know that a problem is only a challenge and a challenge is just something that you cannot do based on your perception of the situation in the present moment. The situation is not fixed, it is temporary yet timeless because young children have no concept of time. We don’t care about how long the perceived problem will last because our focus is to overcome it or simply move on to something else if we lose interest. By moving on and letting go of fixed perception, the problem often fixes itself in ways we couldn’t think of.

It is a real shame that adults have invented the perception that moving on and letting go is ‘giving up!’ Letting go is actually the solution to many of your problems. 

Giving up is actually saying; “I cannot do anything about it, I’m helpless”. Whereas letting go and moving on is taking action.

 

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Problem solvers will be the entrepreneurs of the future because the world has a lot of problems (fixed perceptions). However, if the adult’s perception of problems rubs off too much onto the children then the problems will continue.

Please help our perception stay true to our senses, our feelings, our intuition and imagination. Please show us how to separate perception from judgement so that our compassion for others is not compromised and so that we can work in collaboration with others NOT in competition.

We need to be nurtured in a way that shows us how we perceive the world forms a  starting point for everything we do or don’t do. If we learn to perceive problems as problems and feel helpless to fix them, then this will form the basis for a ‘nothing I can do about it, poor me, victim-like inner dialogue’. On the other hand, if we learn to perceive problems as opportunities and have the creativity and skills to find solutions, then we will be able to help ourselves, help others and create jobs and wealth for ALL of us, not just some of us.

If we perceive the world as a safe place where we belong and feel free to apply our pure and innate desire to help others, use our individual talents and abilities and are driven by our interests and passion, then we will experience the kind of success unknown to adults in this present world and time we live in. We will be able to solve problems and make positive contributions to our community, local, global and universal. On the other hand, if we perceive the world as a place that only values certain types of skills and only cares about some people and that we are all in competition with each other, then we will continue to do things that benefit ‘me and only me’, my CV, my bank balance, my ego, my appearance and my likes on social media.

Just in case you missed the message in this story;

The purer our perception, the greater clarity we will have in our ability to take action. 

Let us see the world from our perspective of LOVE, compassion, excitement, hope, beauty, kindness, community, forgiveness, simplicity, equality, sustainability and creativity amongst other wonderful and positive qualities that can be successfully found in children if you were not so busy drilling for the ‘commodities’ on your list!

P.S When you choose to listen close enough, those qualities are likely to live inside you too.

 

YW

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**IMPORTANT**

The concept of ‘drilling for commodities in children is not an original idea by the author Biljana Stavreski. This idea comes from the famous TED Talk, by Sir Ken Roberston, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” During the talk, Sir Ken Robertson makes reference to strip-mining in the following way.

“Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won’t serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children.” Sir Ken Roberston TED Talk (February 2006)

 

 

Dear Adult, JTLYK about a 200 year old pear tree.

This post was inspired by so many people and events but it wouldn’t be fair to write these words about the environment and sustainability without first acknowledging the influence from my first ‘real-life environmentalist friend’.

When I met her more than 15 years ago, I wasn’t ready for recycled toilet paper, plastic-free shopping, boycotting corporations that exploit the poor and totally avoiding food and products that harm animals. However, she did not judge me, instead just quietly disagreed with many things I ate and purchased but always remained my friend. In doing so, she chose to lovingly and respectfully plant seeds of ‘sustainability’ within me. She knew that screaming out in anger and rage would have made me turn the other way. I write this post with thanks and heart-felt gratitude, not only for the seeds she has planted but also for her tireless work to educate and inspire others. I wouldn’t be writing this story in this way had it not been for her ‘environmental’ influences.

Louise Petherick, you have planted many seeds in your life and although you may not see them all grow, somewhere, someday, someone is reaping the reward. You are a true example of working and giving not only so that you may eat but also ensuring that others do too.

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We took some time out from school this week and spent a few days on a farm. Our intention was to provide our son with an opportunity to experience life on the land and see how food is produced. As always, we learned more than we could have ever imagined.

Yes we learned some pretty awesome things about life on the farm and ate some wholesome home-grown food. However, the farm-stay turned into a story about love and life, the cycle of sustainability and interestingly a story about migration. Our experience could be summed up into three categories; those who stayed, those who left and those who went back. We learned that not all of us are meant to stay where we are born, not all of us need to leave and that some of us will always have the urge to go back.

Those who stayed often wondered if they should have left, those who left wondered if they should have stayed and those who went back often questioned why? However, it doesn’t really matter if you stay, leave or return. Everyone has their own reason and their own path to follow. What really matters is finding peace where you are.

Our place and our time in the world is more about what we do and the energy we send out rather than what we have and where we live. Knowing that the seeds we plant do not belong to us, they are merely an expression of our existence, our time here. Life isn’t a competition of who gathers the most fruit. It is an opportunity to plant seeds that will provide possibilities for tomorrow even if those possibilities are for people we may never know.

 

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Those who left.

Whilst driving to the farm, we found ourselves exploring small towns and villages. The drive through the abundant fields and beautiful colours of summer presented an image of this part of the world very different to the reality. Between the beautiful fields of nature were hundreds if not thousands of abandoned farms and houses. Where did all the people go? Our son asked. “I guess the people moved to the cities and to other wealthier countries so that they can earn more money.” I replied.

Now if you still think that we have nothing to learn from the children in our world then just wait for this reply.

“Why can’t they earn more money here, the trees and the rivers and the fruit is just the same as in the wealthier countries”?

How do you explain to an 8 year old that the lure of wealth, possessions and status has removed the people from the land with a promise for a better life?

How do you explain to an 8 year old child that farmers are robbed of their right to earn a decent living due to ‘below’ bottom-line margins that maximise profit for the few greedy pigs at the top whilst a growing number of the world’s people go without food.

How do you explain to an 8 year old that the world is set up in such a way that poor countries and poor people are needed so that corporations can exploit them.

How do you explain to an 8 year old that this is an age old problem and in fact it is such an old problem that we have simply become used to things being this way.

I must admit that the conversation did get to the core of me and in that moment looking at so many abandoned farms, I felt a range of negative feelings about the current state of the world. However, as always, something happened to make me notice that somewhere in the world, seeds of hope for tomorrow continue to be planted. If you look close enough, even in the darkest hours, something always shows up with a little flicker of hope. My favourite quote about this is by Fred Rogers.

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Hope for tomorrow was found in this beautiful and abundant land, just as rich in its natural beauty and fertile soil as the wealthier countries surrounding it. We found the helpers amongst the abandoned farms. There were only a few and they were largely out numbered but the point is they were there, working tirelessly to bring life back to the land. We discovered that this time, the seeds of hope for tomorrow were not just a metaphor but reality and I will share that story next, but first I want to talk about those who stayed.

 

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Those who stayed

As we drove through the streets we stopped at a house with a ‘for sale’ sign on it. We met an old woman who lived across the road. She was the only one left in the village. The old woman was so persuasive that she could’ve been a real estate agent. I felt so sorry for her I just wanted to buy the house, plant some flowers and bring life back into this forgotten place. She begged us to buy it, she begged us to live in the house and let our son run in the fields like so many children had done in the past. That was another time though, a time before they all disappeared into the arms of consumer giants only to work for their ridiculous profits whilst divorcing themselves from the land that once fed them.

The old woman walked us through every plant, every tree, every material used to build the house as though it was all something she had created herself. “Look!’ she said while pointing at a pear tree. “The earth is so rich here not even this pear tree wants to die, it’s so old and nobody has ever pruned this tree yet it is still giving fruit whilst crawling on the ground refusing to die.”

As we drove away from the house and the old woman I realised she was one of few who had chosen to stay and I wondered if she was at peace with that decision. There she was in a village all alone with nothing more than a pear tree refusing to die. In her eyes and in her soul there was a deep knowing that the rich soil was reason enough to stay but the reality of her loyalty to the life giving land had given her a lonely and difficult life.

 

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Those who went back

The other pear tree in this story was planted almost 200 years ago and although the family left, the tree stayed. In this story the tree slowly lured the family back to the land where they now run a small eco-farm for tourists and school groups. In a twist of several events all happening at the same time, we found ourselves (the adults) drinking a home made liquor made from the fruit of that tree to celebrate the arrival of a baby in a city far away. Literally, the family were celebrating the birth of their grandson that very day we arrived. The tree and the baby were far apart in distance and in age but not in love. The seeds planted by the baby’s great great great grandfather were still the source of fruit, love and life. We had the pleasure of sharing a very special moment with this family. A family that took a chance on nothing more than a pear tree and a strong feeling to go back to the homeland. A family, content with who they are, where they are and what they have. A family, grateful for the opportunity and possibilities given to them because someone, many years ago, lovingly planted seeds for a family he would never know.

To have been randomly part of that moment was no accident. It was a timely reminder for us to never give up on planting seeds of hope for tomorrow. Gratitude for now may be for things planted by others and the cycle of giving more than taking should continue so that tomorrow can also have something to be grateful for. We don’t plant seeds for our own tomorrow because there is no guarantee it is ours. We plant for the unknown of tomorrow even when we know that it may belong to someone else. We should do it with love and kindness in our hearts and we should all get into the habit  of only taking what we need. Leaving more not less, for those who we will never meet.

 

 

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It was under the same pear tree that we also met another young man living nearby, making organic pumpkin seed oil on the land in his grandfather’s village. Another sign of life and of hope that some are choosing to return to this abandoned land. Hopefully the old woman we met may live to hear the laughter of children running through the fields in her village yet again.

In a different way to the family on the farm and the guy making pumpkin seed oil, we are also the ones returning to the land. Maybe because we want to or maybe because something inside of us is saying that we have to. One thing is for sure, whether we go back to stay or only to visit, we each have our own reason. For us, even just a few days on the farm has changed the way we decide what to buy and what to eat.  After all, walking to the next village to milk a cow in order to have milk makes one feel the true value of it.

 

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Dear Adult, JTLYK about a 200 year old pear tree.

Seeds are never ending. What you plant will always pop out into the world. A tiny seed can grow into something enormous. Be careful what you plant. An enormous tree filled with delicious fruit is good for everyone but an enormous, prickly weed makes it hard to run freely through the grass. I wish that more trees are planted than there are weeds. Besides, I don’t think anyone will thank you for prickly weeds.

I liked sitting under the 200 year old pear tree and I’m glad that the guy who planted it did it with love and with care. Not only because I could sit in it’s shade, eat the fruit, watch the curious cat climb it and listen to the sound of the birds resting on it’s branches, but also because sitting under that tree made me think about what I could plant and who might one day be sitting under the tree that I plant.

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Adults, please STOP feeding the children with all of the fruit. Those who planted it in the past did it so that we may eat but they also did it to show us how to plant. The cycle will end if we eat more than we plant. Show us how to plant more seeds not only so that we have food for tomorrow but also hope, LOVE, truth, respect, value, kindness and support for each other during our time here on this life giving land.

Show us that experiencing a life of giving more than taking is what really makes life full.

What are you planting today?

Not just in the soil but in our world and during our time here, through your thoughts, your words and your actions?

 

YW

 

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Dear Adult, JTLYK about authenticity

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After a whole month of reading through, talking and thinking about this post, the person who it mainly involves has finally given me permission to share it with the world. In his words; including the Australians, New Zealanders, people on those small islands if they have Wifi, Africans, Americans, Hawaiians if they are not just relaxing at the beach all the time, the Europeans who can can read English and the Chinese, Japanese, Indians Russians and Mexicans. Did we forget anyone? I’m sure that we did, there must be more countries than that. At least I know he really understands that sharing online means  anyone can see and read it.

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If there is such a thing as a ‘homeschooling’ closet then today marks the day of me coming out of that closet. It has taken more than four months to write this post and I hope that those of you reading it will appreciate the angst and uncertainty I had about putting these words into writing. Every morning for the past 4 months and the many months before making the decision to homeschool our 8 year old son, I have woken up and felt rather overwhelmed with this burden of knowing that one day I would need to come out and explain it all. I have mostly felt waves of guilt, as though I am some sort of traitor. After all, I am an educator myself and taking my child out of a formal education system is making quite a massive statement. Yet not talking about it made me feel like I wasn’t being authentic and true to myself, family, friends and those of you following this blog.

After some unexpected changes to our son’s schooling options, we decided to take a year or two out of the daily grind and are currently living in a quiet sea side village. We are enjoying the slower pace so much that it may just turn into a life in an off-grid bunker, full of books, art and music in a village surrounded by nature and all things authentic. Well that’s the plan if the world doesn’t start getting real again, but I know it will. It has to. I know that at the moment we are seeing a rise in ‘fake everything’ and that’s good. The more unauthentic we become, the more driven we will be to find our truth again. I am excited about the changes we will see in the world and in education systems but acknowledge that change does have some bumps and challenges along the way.

 

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Unfortunately many schools have also become caught up in the unauthentic and perfectly presented version of our time, striving to be the best school on the block. Not intentionally, but passively and maybe without even realising it as they cater to the fears and anxieties of parents to provide our children with the best. If there’s one thing I would like to see phased out sooner rather than later is this whole hype about the best school and the worst school. Seriously, are we happy to send our own children to the best school knowing that other children are at the worst school. Does this make us feel superior as parents that we can give our children more than other parents can as though our love and intentions are greater than theirs. Shouldn’t we all be wanting the same for every child. After all, when school ends, the children from the best schools will still be living in a world with the children from the worst schools.

The best school is not the one with the best results. That only shows that the students are good at tests. Often, ‘the best schools’ have a selection process that allows them to choose the most academic students ensuring high academic results which says nothing about the quality of teaching and learning. The best schools are actually schools that have a culture of building confident students. Students who have a voice and who are decision makers in their own learning. The best schools create students who are not afraid to walk straight up to a 6ft something principal, take a hold of their tie and say “nice tie”. (That is a true story and some of you reading this post may know exactly what I am talking about) So when you take away academic results as a way of determining which schools are the ‘best’ then every school has the potential to be the best school and every school should.

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I am forever grateful that I have been part of such schools and so I know they do exist. This is what gives me hope. I know and trust that there are more teachers and leaders out there fighting for what is right and what is important for student learning in the 21st century than there are teachers and leaders who are addressing their own egotistic needs and demanding full control. Giving teachers a voice in the staffroom is just as important as giving students a voice in the classroom. One person or a leadership team or worse still, a government, should not be driving the tour bus without allowing everyone on it to take part in writing the itinerary.

Eventually we will be back at school again because nothing can replace the power of peer learning, collaboration, sharing and being part of a vibrant learning community. For now, we are enjoying less routine and structure, more exploring, travelling and real life learning. An adventure and time that we will reflect upon and cherish as wonderful memories.

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So you may want to know what happened? What was the the drama, the story, the failure. What was it? Well there was no drama, it was nothing really, other than my belief as a parent and an educator in 2017 that children should have daily access and opportunities for 21st century learning, including 21st century social and emotional learning such as mindfulness. Now if the 21st century was something in the future then maybe I wouldn’t have such an expectation. However, we are now 17 years into the 21st century and to be educating in this time without having any understanding or even willingness to open up student learning into the 21st century is unacceptable.

To see our curious, enthusiastic, creative, inquisitive and ‘thinking’ child turn into a worksheet zombie doing hours of homework every night on meaningless and random worksheets was very hard to watch. To see him hate learning, cry and stress because he didn’t have time to play with his friends due to mountains of homework was heart breaking. Knowing that the teacher was working tirelessly to find, copy and correct worksheets and homework instead of having an opportunity to plan and work collaboratively with other teachers made me feel extremely guilty for hating the ‘work’ that our son was doing.

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I learned that everyone hates it but nobody says anything and people just keep doing the same thing, afraid to share their views because the judgement and perception would be that their child cannot cope. This is the story, this is how it goes. Some people can cope and work the system and others cannot. Those who cannot are labelled as failures. In fact, my son could cope, he was receiving A’s and 1’s, if that even means anything because it didn’t mean a thing to me. But coping came at a cost and that cost was losing his own way of thinking, his own problem solving strategies, creativity, making connections and really, just thinking.

I do know that many well-intended parents are so set on the academic results that they ignore the signs and indicators that are showing them that those results do come at a cost. In one way you can argue that parents are just preparing their children for a world that operates in such a way. They are giving their children a head start. After all, success in our world is not measured by how happy we are or how authentic we are. Success is measured by titles, money, positions, assets and wealth. Success is measured by being better than others. I have discovered that having expectations that are centred around happiness and saying them out loud puts you in a box labelled ‘crazy lady’.

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Instead of choosing to prepare our child to ‘cope’ in the world the way the world is, like it or not, we are simply choosing to prepare our child for a world that can be through imagination, creativity, curiosity, collaboration, community, LOVE, skills that are adaptable, learning that is autonomous, life-long and meaningful. We are helping him to be a true expression of his authentic self by being true and authentic ourselves.

But still I am left to wonder; how do we teach our children to be authentic and real in a   world that has become complacent and comfortable with being fake. I am yet to find the way.  Although I do not have an answer or any instructions, it doesn’t mean I cannot  take action. It isn’t easy, in fact it is harder than just staying on the path most travelled even if that path is a daily dose of stress, frustration and all things other than joy. But somewhere, deep in my heart I trust the process of life and of learning in such a way, I know all that I need will be revealed to me just as I need it. I also know that nothing will be revealed nor will anything change if I don’t at least take that very first step. So it is with our children. It is not the job of teachers and parents to fill children’s minds with facts and knowledge. Our job is to inspire, encourage and believe in our children in such a way that they are jumping at the chance to take their first step and never want to stop. This can only take place in a learning environment that supports teachers. There is so much evidence of this. Every child deserves to be educated in a setting that truly provides teachers with all the support they need so that their energy and creativity is going into the direction of student needs rather than ‘school outcomes’. The same can be said for any workplace. Imagine the quality of work and joy that can be achieved.

Knowing what I know about the future which is basically not knowing anything at all about the kind of future we will be sending my son and other children into, makes me know for sure that they will not be prepared. If all that students are learning is to do their work quietly and be good, make the teacher happy by letting the teacher present his/her lesson according to his/her plan, not asking any questions, not talking to anyone in the class, finishing the work as fast as they can, remembering things so that they can pass a test, then no, students will not have the skills needed to make it in a fast changing 21st century world. They will continue the process of . . . do the work, don’t think, keep working, don’t question, keep working even if you hate it, keep working even if it’s making you sick, forget learning, forget dreaming, this is life, this is reality, get over it. Do we really want a world full of unemployed and unfulfilled young adults who are being judged as ‘lazy’ as if it were all their fault. After all, they just did what their parents and teachers advised them to do. Go to school, get good grades. The pathway to success.

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Now I know this post may strike a nerve with some and this is really just an opinion based on my own experience, but please hear me out. I am not saying that my son is so amazing and special that he needs some sort of exceptional education. For the record, what I want for my son is what I want for all children. An education that develops an understanding that learning brings joy, fulfilment and empowerment rather than pain, suffering and a feeling of being judged, compared and controlled. I want with all my heart that we can say schools are amazing platforms for collaboration and inquiry. That schools build confident, happy, responsible, respectful, emotionally healthy and capable young adults who are ready to make positive contributions to their world, whatever that world may look like.

Expecting teachers to engage 21st century learners in a system that operates in the same way it did 100 years ago, is the same as expecting a surgeon to perform an organ transplant with nothing but a blunt knife.

 

 

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Taking our son out of school which meant having to say goodbye to his friends and familiar settings was not easy, especially after having recently relocated from Australia to Europe. In fact my heart still aches just thinking about it. In real life learning however, we are showing him that there are always options in life and you should never resort to being ‘stuck’. Learning in an environment that is obsessed with testing, grading and working silently is not a place where we want our child to be educated. What children experience is what they become and I can say without a doubt in my mind that after 18 months in such a setting our son disappeared into his environment and we could barely recognise him. So with heavy hearts, disappointment and frustration over having to create a solution for a problem that came upon us unexpectedly, we took him out of his ‘new’ school. With nothing but a deep feeling of trust that some short term difficulty will one day all be forgotten in the benefits of long term gains. It didn’t take long, slowly we got him back and this is how it unfolded.

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As we started with an inquiry approach to learning, he was unable to articulate his thinking because he was afraid that it wasn’t right. He couldn’t ask any questions without being prompted. Instead, he kept asking if this was a test. He constantly wanted to know which ‘subject’ would be next and how long it would go on for. He was never really  present in the moment. We had to do a lot of breathing, relaxing, lowering the shoulders and reassuring him that making mistakes is a wonderful part of learning. This was not easy for a child who had learned that making mistakes was bad.

He kept referring to himself as dumb which was heart-breaking.

The first month was really all about building self-confidence and reintroducing him to inquiry learning, thinking skills and taking risks.

Convincing him that learning is fun, interesting and empowering in that it gives us skills to take action was a very difficult task but eventually through experiencing it, he began to really own and feel the learning in such a way.

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By the second month he was singing daily. Oh this was so nice. He would just whistle, hum and sing.

He was more relaxed than ever before and always happy.

He started asking questions again and making connections through real-life learning.

He could slow down and experience being bored, even inventing his own play.

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His reading improved as he began reading what he was interested in.

His spelling improved without any spelling tests, spelling homework and those awkward spelling sentences.

He learned his 2, 4, 3, 6, 5, 10, 11, 12 times tables through playing games, making connections, using concrete materials and finding patterns. Most importantly he halved the work himself by discovering that 2 is half of 4 so if he knows his 2’s then he doubles them for the 4’s, same goes for 3 and 6, 5 and 10. He learned the meaning of multiplication and with prompting began to articulate his thinking.

 

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The third month continued with more moments of wondering, exploring, questioning, finding out, making connections, creating, using new knowledge, skills and understanding to take action, do something with it, apply it, use it, make it real, flaunt it!!

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Now into the fourth month, he is planning to start a business selling drinks to the tourists who pass our house every day. He even suggested that it would be better if the customers paid in euros instead of the local currency so that he could choose when to convert the money and maximise his profits when the exchange rate is higher. Although it is illegal to accept a foreign currency for goods and services, not bad for a child who was labelled as ‘slow’ at math. Which he is, if you’re judging him on his ability to complete a worksheet in a set time. However, we are raising a child and not a calculator so that didn’t bother us too much.                                     

Let kids be real and authentic versions of who they are meant be so that they can be happy.  So that they LOVE and respect themselves in order to be able to LOVE and respect others. 

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Dear Adult JTLYK about authenticity,

Authentic means real. Living things are real. People are living things so we should be real. Real things grow, live and die. Living things need to be cared for. Living things need water, food, love, rest and shelter from bad weather.

Living things always give something to the world. Even a worm gives the world good soil so that more living things can grow but a worm can only do that by being a real worm. If a worm was trying to be like a snail, the worm would not be giving the world it’s gift of making good soil.

A lot of things happen to living things when they’re alive but one thing stays the same. The living thing is always what it is. A living tree does not become a dog, or a person does not become a tree, unless you are doing yoga. But you’re not really a tree. You are still a person. Even when you are wearing a mask, the real version of yourself will always be behind the mask .

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Some animals can mimic other animals. This is how they protect themselves from predators, but they are still the same animal. Humans are lucky, they don’t meet any predators when they are at the market buying food so they can just get their food without having to mimic other humans.

Sometimes I make animal sounds to an animal like a dog or a cat. I noticed that when I do this the animal gets tricked with it’s ears but then it uses other senses like sniffing to find out for sure. That’s pretty clever. It must be very hard to get away with being fake in the real world.

Unless the real world living things dig the parts of their bodies that have the most senses, e.g. their head, into a big hole then I would say it is impossible to trick living things.

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Even a tiny ant knows the difference between real food and material things that you cannot eat.

I know what I am and I know who I am. I knew this when I arrived into the world.

In my first 7 years I was so connected to my inner-authentic self that I was free to be me. Later I started to become a reflection of who the world was showing me I had to be.

As I became more like the world and less like me, I didn’t feel so real anymore.

The more I tried to be like others the less I knew about me.

The more I learned to want what others had the less I knew what I really wanted for myself.

The more I tried to do what others were doing, the less I could do things myself.

The more I tried to look like someone else, the less I started to look like myself.

The more I searched for approval from others, the less happy I felt about myself.

The more I listened to what others thought, the less I could hear my own voice.

The more I surrounded myself with non-living material things, the less space I had for things that are natural and real.

The more I followed other people’s dreams, the less dreams I achieved for myself.

We start life as real living things, we should just stay real until we die.

Then we can say we were really alive.

YW

 

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Dear Adult, JTLYK about Time

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There was once a time in our lives before we had met Bruno. When we did meet him, it was only for a few short minutes. Those few minutes would be the only time we would spend with him and it is almost certain that we will never see him again. Yet Bruno has made a huge impact on my family and we will forever be grateful for our short encounter with him.

What started as an ordinary evening, winding down after a busy day of exploring our new neighbourhood and sea side village, turned into an evening of wondering about a life and a time, long ago. As we were relaxing on the couch, there was a knock on the door. I opened the door to discover a neatly dressed, older man in his late seventies. His face was bright, eyes wide open with joy and excitement. The man looked at me and was rather surprised, caught off guard. He managed to say, hello, my name is Bruno, who are you? Where is ………. ? It occurred to me that he was referring to the previous owner of this old sea side cottage that we now call home.

The excitement on his face started to clearly fade and his expression changed to that of curiosity, maybe even worry about what had happened to the previous owner. He told me that his friend used to live in the house. They had grown up together as young boys in this little fishing village. His friend had moved to the city for work but he always came back every summer for the past 60 years. The man at our door had noticed that the shutters were open so he assumed that just like every other year, his friend was back for the summer.

We talked a little more and then he apologised for troubling us. With tears in his eyes and less excitement than when he arrived, he left. Just like that. He would never return to this house or drink another coffee or summer beer with his good old friend.

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I returned to the couch, my son was still sitting in the same place with absolutely no idea about what had just happened. Who was at the door mum? he asked. I told him about Bruno. I thought that my son would be satisfied with my explanation about an old man looking for his friend who used to live in this house, but he wasn’t.

Why couldn’t Bruno just call him on his mobile mum? How old was this Bruno guy anyway? Can he drive a car? Do you think he can still swim? Can he walk up that steep hill because it’s even hard for you and Bruno is twice your age. What did they play together when they were kids? Did he speak German, English or just Croatian? Were they born when the Italians were in charge of this place? I wonder if they ate spaghetti. Maybe they did when the Italians were in charge. Anyway mum, where is his friend?

And then it sank in, that feeling, that deep knowing that we all have but avoid by staying busy and distracted.

Life is a journey that doesn’t go on forever.

I was certain that Bruno would have spent his evening thinking about where all the years went. Wondering if not regretting that maybe he didn’t do all the things he thought he would.

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Dear Adult, JTLYK about Time,

I’m 8.

My mum said Bruno was maybe 78 or 79 so I just made him the age closest to the next 10 which is 80.

I know that 8 x 10 = 80

Bruno has been alive for 8 years 10 times. I have been alive for 8 years once. That means I need 9 more lots of 8 years to be the same as Bruno.

I know that 8 x 9 = 72

I also know that 80 – 8 = 72

Bruno is 72 years older than me.

In my first 8 years, I learned to crawl, walk, eat, drink, talk, play, read, write, add, subtract, use technology, be a good friend, pack my school bag, make my school lunch, make breakfast, tie my shoe laces, make my bed, avoid vegetables, draw pictures, build towers, tell funny jokes, swim, dance, sing, make things, ski, kick a ball, catch a ball, bounce on a trampoline, make jelly, lock a door, un-lock a door, fold a towel, brush my teeth, use Netflix, count money, cross a road, climb trees and so many other things.

I wonder what else I can do by the time I’m as old as Bruno?

Please let me.

YW

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Dear Adult JTLYK about Comparing

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My family and I are in a little fishing village on the Istrian Peninsula in Croatia at the moment. We walked past a row of fig trees in between the ruins of forgotten stone houses and I couldn’t help but think that in Melbourne, the fruit of these trees would probably have a net worth greater than the current balance of my retirement fund.  As I stood there admiring the fig trees I noticed a little granny who I assumed owned this bit of land. My first thought was, what a lucky lady, she gets to eat all these organic figs, she actually knows where they came from and who touched them and she’s not even paying $50kg for them. As I walked off I had another thought. Maybe the little granny was looking at me in my neat clothes and also thinking, lucky lady, she’s had an easy life, working in an office, a clean, non-strenuous job. By assuming so much about the village life and those fig trees, I was actually feeling like I had missed something, like something was lacking in my life because I didn’t own 10 gigantic fig trees. Up until that moment, I was unaware that I even wanted 10 fig trees. Had I forgotten how to simply admire something without wanting it for myself?

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In the same village, I spotted a group of five unsupervised children led by a three year old on a battered balance bike. The children were talking amongst themselves and I could work out that they were planning an expedition in search of wild asparagus. I was there with my son and as I looked at him I realised that he was wearing three items specifically designed for safety even though he wasn’t going anywhere particularly dangerous. In fact, he was on a supervised expedition with his mother in search of a safe place to play with his soccer ball. I looked back at the group of children then at my son and sighed. I can give him so much but I cannot give him an unsupervised expedition into the forest in search of wild asparagus. The children in the village, looked over at my son. They could tell that he wasn’t a local. They probably thought that he had come from a better place than there’s because he had greater material worth, yet they were totally unaware of their own fortune. All the money in the world cannot buy you an unsupervised expedition into the forest with your friends, especially when you’re 3!

As long as we look out and see what they have and we don’t, we will never find true happiness, gratitude and joy. Without even realising, comparison by comparison we have filled our minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years and in essence our whole lives with discontent and a deeper connection with lack and want instead of gratitude.

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Oh Mr Roosevelt, you had no idea back then that joy would be replaced with an obsession for things, approval from others, likes, haters and followers. Joy went out of fashion a long time ago.  Comparison and it’s close friend judgement are indeed the thieves of joy and life!

When we compare ourselves to others, our relationships to other relationships, our clothes, our homes, our bodies and everything else, we miss the whole point of knowing who we are, what we have and making the most of it. Sometimes it takes a new perspective to see the true value of things. We often think that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. No, my son cannot go on an expedition into the woods with his friends and I don’t have access to 500kg of organic figs, but we have other things to be grateful for.

Don’t get me wrong, not all comparison is bad. If we can see, experience, compare and learn from each other without connecting to a feeling of lack then this is healthy and allows us to grow. But this kind of comparison can only reside in a person who is experiencing life authentically. A person who is at peace and in sync with themselves and the life they are creating. Seeing the group of children planning their expedition into the forest made me think that perhaps a helmet, elbow pads and knee pads was a bit too much for my son.

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Dear Adult, JTLYK about comparing,

Dealing with comparison is hard when we are growing up and learning so many new things every day. We need to make lots of mistakes while we are young. We need to learn who we are, how we feel, what we like, what we dislike, what we are good at, what we need to improve, how to be happy and proud of who we are. We need to learn from young that everyone has a place in this world. Your time was different to now. This is a time of creating like never before. Every one of has something to give, to do, to be and experience. Stop worrying about us and stop fussing about all the little details of what you think we need. Love, nurture, support and believe in us so that we can learn to believe in ourselves.

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Comparing us all the time to other children isn’t helpful. It places too much attention on good, bad, better, the best, the worst, the fastest, the slowest. Save your comparing for when you’re choosing your next car or internet provider. We are human and comparing us all the time hurts. What if the adults were being compared the same way as us. Imagine, every adult in the world had to bake a cake and then receive a grading for the cake. What if they were told that if they didn’t receive a high grade for the cake then they wouldn’t succeed in life? When you set a list of conditions as a way of measuring success, not everyone can be successful.

After all that measuring and comparing, you tell us to love and be proud of who we are. You tell us not to compare ourselves to others and yet that is all we know.  Is it just another adult created, artificial platform of what you call life? As if we cannot see right through your well-intended words of wisdom and feel their lack of authenticity. Please give us more credit than that.

Imagine a world of happy, confident, flexible, life-long learners with an open heart and compassion for all living things. This is the future we want to create. So please, please, please, stop making us remember things so that we can complete tests for you to compare us. Teach us useful skills so that we can create!!!!

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When I feel good, I do good. When I do good, I see good in others. (dearadult.com)

YW

Dear Adult JTLYK about Identity

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I have to smile whenever I am asked the very common question about my identity. “Where are you from?” This question amuses me beyond words. I am always tempted to say something like; I come from an infinite space not visible in the third dimension. But I want to have friends, so I don’t say that.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could tell people where we are from in adjectives instead of nouns. Just for fun I would say I come from beautiful, I used to live in disgusting and evil but then I moved to abundant, I didn’t stay there long. I got a job in average and then travelled through happy and now I have settled here in exciting. I’m planning to retire in relaxed.

What if we told our stories of where we are from in emotions. I come from bliss, I lived in fear, I worked in misery, I travelled through anger, frustration, loneliness, grief, happiness, joy and excitement. Now I have settled down in content. My husband and I have bought a little villa in hope where we plan to retire.

Or food! I was born in pasta, I moved to cheesecake when I was 5, then travelled through goulash, fried rice, noodles and salad for about 5 years and now I live in sushi. I work in watermelon. I’d love to retire in mango.

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Oh the fun I could have, stories of our identity without a mention of country, city, suburb, school, community. All of which tell a story of their own.

Why should I tell you where I am from? Why should I help you form a profile of my existence. If I tell you where I am from, where I used to be and what I have done then I open myself up to your preconceived ideas about me. In an instant we would have lost the possibility of connecting in the ever so important space of now. We would have missed an important opportunity to learn more about each other by discovering where we hope to go and what we hope to achieve regardless of where we have already been.

In this world and in this life I am lucky. I come from many places and I can choose my identity according to who asks me. I am like a chameleon able to camouflage myself into many settings, well maybe not as a ballet dancer on a stage with other ballet dancers, but in general I am adaptable. This is an absolute luxury in a world full of judgement. It also helps that I am white, english speaking, middle-class and educated. In addition to that, I have good teeth, which gives a positive impression about my background. I can easily navigate through western world cultures without having to work too hard to prove my worth.

However, from a 3-D physical world perspective, my family comes from one of the poorest countries in Europe and I grew up in the northern working class suburbs of Melbourne. I wouldn’t even have to tell you that, as soon as I utter the name of the country and the name of the suburb you would have made the connection. If I presented myself first as a country or as a suburb before I showed you myself, then you would have placed me in a box before you even got to know me. It is not that I am ashamed of where I am from, in fact, it is the opposite. My goal is to challenge your ideas about where I am from, so that you may one day speak in defence of my home and my people. “Hey, I once met a woman from  ******  and she was nice, she was smart, she didn’t steal my car 🙂 ”

I want people to get to know me first so that their experience of where I am from is based on the exchange of energy with me instead of preconceived, old and out-dated views of the place I am from.  In that experience, we have the ability to ignite a new reality into existence instead of repeating old patterns, old judgement, old fears, old hatred and old divisions. I want this now more than ever before, not even for me but for the generations of children who will be the adults of the future, so that they can all say;

I come from the same place as you do, mate!

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Dear Adult JTLYK about Identity,

I am not a country. I am not a place. I am not a colour. I am not a religion. I am not a flag. I am not a shape. I am not a condition. I am not a feeling. I am not an action. I am not the past. I am not the future. I am not a version of you.

I am me and if you get to know me you will see who I am.

When you know who I am, then you can help me become the best version of me.

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I come from an infinite place of pure potential. However, when you build a profile of me based on the physical place from where I come, you are doing a disservice to yourself and to me. You are creating a compromised version of me built from limiting ideas of who you really think I am.

Once, I got angry at school. I was angry because something happened that was unfair. My teacher saw my anger as something ‘in my blood’ because of where my family comes from. My friend also got angry but his family did not come from an angry country.

I could have learned to deal with my angry feeling that day, instead my teacher showed me that anger is who I am because of where I am from. My teacher’s judgement did not help me, it did the opposite. It formed a reason, a narrative, a profile and most dangerously, an excuse for my anger as though it is something that is in-built and I have no control over. I didn’t even know that my family came from an angry country and that anger was in my blood. Which leads me to the question. Are the adults building profiles of children in order to help us or are they simply making excuses in their own defence when we don’t respond the way they had planned?

If my identity is formed through belief systems about me, how will I ever form my own?

I want to show the world that I am a version of me that I have created myself with the loving guidance of the adults in my world who chose not to judge me.

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And, just for the record;

If I were a country, I would be a progressive one.

If I were a place, I would be a peaceful one.

If I were a colour, I would be a vibrant one.

If I were a religion, I would be one that is free.

If I were a flag, I would be a colouful one.

If I were a shape, I would be an interesting one.

If I were a condition, I would be a fair and equal one.

If I were a feeling, I would be LOVE.

If I were an action, I would be a helpful one.

If I were the past, I would be content,

If I were the future, I would be hopeful.

I can choose progressive, peaceful, vibrant, free, colourful, interesting, fair, equal, LOVE, helpful, content and hopeful regardless of where I come from.

Can you please choose that for me too.

YW