Dear Adult JTLYK about Identity

Dear Adult

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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…

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Dear Adult, JTLYK about Culture

 

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This may look like a slice of cake but it is so much more than that. Having already eaten everything on the menu at my favourite Istrian restaurant (not in one visit) I finally got around to trying that one thing on the menu I couldn’t properly pronounce. ‘Gibanica’. Usually, when it comes to food I can ‘name my feelings about it’ after the first bite. However, this was different. Very different. It was like a beautiful Turkish baclava but then it wasn’t. It tasted a bit like an award winning Austrian Apfel Strudel but it wasn’t that either. It also had the indulgence of an Italian Tiramisu but without the coffee. With my love of culture, philosophy, politics and food all combined, I came to the conclusion that it was as though the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottomons finally made friends and celebrated with this delicious treat. As you would. Oh and the Italians dropped in with some mascarpone because they heard food was involved and just had to add their culinary excellence.

This one slice of Gibanica triggered a wondering within me about culture and the future of it in a world searching for oneness. It has taken me a very long time to write this post. In fact I have spent more than 150 hours in front of the computer screen trying to piece my thoughts together. God only knows how many hours I’ve spent entertaining thoughts in my mind and yet I still feel that I haven’t been able to fully express the things I have experienced and the way I feel about culture. I do know that these days there are few places left in the world where true and authentic cultural expression can be experienced. Seeing an expression of other people’s existence, their own culture and their way of having a human experience made me think that perhaps we have been confusing oneness with same. In our quest to be ‘one’ are we even asking ourselves the question of exactly who we are conforming our physical selves to? Are we blindly handing our ‘selves’ over to whoever or whatever is requesting ‘same’ in the false name of equality and freedom? If we are, then I’m afraid we may just be continuing the pattern of stripping the human of his/her spirit, culture, language and more. Now we are just doing it differently, somewhat blindly morphing into a physical oneness but remaining divided in heart.

As I began to explore the whole concept of culture, more thought provoking things continued to show up in my physical world. One day I was sorting through some books when a beautiful Mandala by South African artist Lize Beekman just fell out of a book I hadn’t opened for quite some time. The picture had been a gift from a very special woman I met in Innsbruck a couple of years ago. I had removed the picture from it’s frame and placed it inside a hard cover book in order to protect it from being damaged whilst moving between countries. The Mandala interestingly titled, Collaborative Mandala, embraces the ancient form of circles expressing the wholeness within us and amongst us. Something that we have disconnected with entirely as we have orchestrated life in a somewhat linear fashion, ticking things off our list and avoiding the completeness of being. The Mandala, this beautiful symbol of culture, of our human experience whilst staying connected with our selves, our people, our earth and spirit, no doubt would have been close to extinction only a few decades ago. Now, as though the earth, our true mother is calling us closer to hear those secrets again, many people are intuitively searching for greater meaning in life. Yet, the true meaning of life has always been within reach. It is within our culture, our expression of our existence that we truly gain meaning. I would argue that without culture, there is no meaning at all and we may as well surrender our human titles and become robots. At least then our hearts would be protected from the emotional heaviness that stems from the cruelty still present in our physical world. Lev Vygotsky, the early 20th century developmental psychologist states;  “Language and culture are the frameworks through which humans experience, communicate and understand reality”. Maybe this is why we’ve gotten ourselves into such a rut. We’ve lost our ability to understand reality because we have disconnected from our culture and language. Something worth considering.

 

IMG_9772.JPGCollaborative Mandala Artist: Lize Beekman

 

During the past few years, I have re-visted many places. Some in a literal sense and others through music, art, stories and even dreams. I have been on a rather confronting journey down memory lane, which is not something I tend to do often. My strength is being able to move forward, to keep going, pick myself up and start again when I need to. However, I have realised that in order to make all the pieces fit again into a beautiful mandala, a circle of wholeness, we sometimes need to re- visit the past. As many of you following this Blog would know, I have spent a great deal of time over the past 2 years in what I jokingly refer to as ‘the naughty corner’ of Europe. The Eastern block and the Balkans. My love for this part of the world is always bitter-sweet. I hate it as much as I love it. Yin and Yang right there. Yin says, let it go. Your dad sacrificed everything so that you could experience life in the lucky country. You have a passport to the world, literally! Yet Yang says all things can be healed and renewed through the power of love and forgiveness and this part of the world deserves credit for it’s rich culture often marred by political unrest. This love-hate relationship with my culture shows up in real life. It’s not pretty and it may upset the imagined truth people have about the ‘democratic’ world in which we live but I’ve decided to go ahead and say it anyway. In Europe, when I enter into a conversation with someone who doesn’t know me and I enter that conversation as an Australian I am treated very differently than when I identify myself as a Macedonian or even mention that I have a Macedonian background. My husband, a native, yet first-generation citizen of a popular and respected European country who coincidentally also has a background from the ‘naughty corner’ of Europe has the same experience in Australia. We have had many conversations about this over the years and both conclude that we are often guilty of choosing the culture that serves us best even though we know that in doing so, we are turning our back on a part of ‘self’ that also deserves to be seen. This reality of how we present ourselves through social experiences leads me to yet another question. What will become of the beautiful cultures that once existed in troubled corners of the world when generations of children and young adults are forced to hide their background for the purpose of fitting in and being accepted. This is a huge ‘can of worms’ yet no doubt something that must be addressed if we are serious about our desire for equality. If you haven’t already read the acclaimed essay “The Ungrateful Refugee: We Have No Debt, by Dina Nayeri, an Iranian American novelist and a former refugee, I recommend that you do. It is an intelligent, intuitive and honest expression of the hidden and unspoken laws of belonging. Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/04/dina-nayeri-ungrateful-refugee

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Replica of an Ancient Village on Lake Ohrid, Macedonia
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Going beyond the political aspects surrounding culture and integration, we can certainly see a pattern evolving in our world of ‘becoming’ only after ‘surrendering’. In many corners of the world, not as violently as war, but in essence, we are letting go of significant parts of self in order to belong to others, to a group, a work place, a country, a union. Yet, what if we re-invented the whole notion of belonging as a way of simply existing and expressing our existence here on earth, knowing that each of us has a place and a purpose. Most importantly showing through acts of respect and compassion that we all have a right to be here on this life giving planet regardless of the colour of our skin, gender, or the country or class in which we were born.

 

IMG_5074.JPGExploring life in the village of his ancestors. Recica, Ohrid, Macedonia.

 

Many of you reading this Blog who live in Melbourne would be familiar with the koori mural near the Tram Depot on St Georges Rd Thornbury (Melbourne) My dad used to work at the Tram Depot when I was a child. When the mural was painted, I remember my dad would sigh every time we walked or drove past. It was a really heavy feeling and he would always say the same thing. “It’s not just the colours of our flag we have in common with the Aboriginals.” I never really understood what he meant but as I got older I realised that he was referring to his own homeland, the story of his own people, displaced, unwanted, denied their freedom, language and culture. This all came full circle to me as I drove past the mural recently, I had a memory. I was taken back to a song that used to play on the SBS Macedonian radio station that my parents listened to when I was a child. I loved the song because it always played at the end of the segment and I knew that after the song, my sisters and I would be allowed to switch the radio back to an English station again. Even though I never really sang the song or even understood what the song was about, I always felt the emotion of it and so the melody has obviously followed me around. I wondered why that particular melody had popped into my head while looking at the indigenous mural on St Georges Rd, so I decided to investigate. I googled the song and realised the connection instantly. Translated, the song is about ‘mother earth’ and all the pain, suffering and heartache she has endured. The heaviness felt by the earth because of the heaviness in the hearts of the people suffering, for their hearts indeed belonged to the earth.

Земјо моја

Колку векови во 
Tемнина си била, 
колку tемни сказни
знаеш, земјо мила.
Колку сtрадања на
рамена си збрала, 
колку жрtви tи за
слобода си дала.
Знае сводот вечен,
знае сиоt свеt, 
кога Вардар tечел,
миел ропска клеt.
Колку свеtа сила в
гори tвои се зби, 
колку биваш мила
земјо, мајко tи.

Song Written and performed by Nikola Davidovski (1977) at Skopje Music Festival, Macedonia
img_5146-1.jpgSunset on Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

 

Loosely translated 

My land, how many lifetimes have you been in the dark

How many dark curses/punishment do you know of, my dear land

How much suffering/heaviness have you accumulated on your shoulders

How much life have you sacrificed for freedom

How much universal light shines through your stars

How worthy you are Mother land/earth?

While trying to unpack the meaning of this song and translate it into English I also discovered that the depth and meaning of certain words can never really be translated from one language to another. Perhaps this is why people continue to sing and engage in the language of their homeland even when the homeland ceases to exist. Not because they are ungrateful to the country who ‘let them in’ or because they are refusing to assimilate. Maybe because it’s the only language that can express what’s in their heart.

My dad’s heavy heart of being denied his culture, his language and his identity had always resonated with the heavy hearts of the indigenous men in the picture. Chained and tortured, simply for existing and maybe because they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time – honouring their culture and their life giving mother at a time when man was driven only to take.

The earth holds our stories of existence, of being, evolving and living. In the end, this is all that we leave behind. The stories of the past and the stories being created right now are an expression of our human experience. These stories show us who we are, who we became during our human experience here on earth.

 

220px-St_Georges_Road_Aboriginal_history_mural_2.JPGPart of the Northcote Koori Mural on St Georges Rd Thornbury, Melbourne Australia.

 

As I began exploring the stories of the past, I was taken back to the European villages I had visited, places that at some stage in history had been burned down entirely in man’s quest to take, own and ‘assimilate’. Again, this reality from our past made me wonder about the current context of assimilation. In our physical, cultural and spiritual expression of existence, do we really need to be the same? I think we have that wrong and unfortunately we are still getting it wrong. That part is ego, control, power and greed. We are not the same because we have all experienced life differently and we have a plethora of cultural differences through history that prove it. Culture, whether it be specific to country, religion, spiritual, community based or the work place, should not be forced. For anyone who believes that it can, you’re right. It can and in this current world it can even be bought. But should it?

During times of war, armies invade and wipe out villages and territories. Human instinct for survival is a natural response, but history has also shown us that survival is only one aspect. Humans, unlike animals are also strongly aware of their ‘record of existence’. They hide their children and women not only to protect them from danger but also in the hope that their culture and mother-tongue would survive and live on long after the battle is over. And it does, it has, spoken and passed on through whispers. Spoken and passed on through stories, through love. Indigenous people around the world truly know that stories of existence are passed on through the calling of our ancestors who live within the heart of the earth and therefore within the heart of us all. We could certainly learn a thing or two from the people who have managed to keep this tradition alive.

I speak a language that should not exist, but against all odds it does. I have always been motivated by this and as I pass this language, this gift from my ancestors onto my son I do so not to be patriotic and dismissive of other languages and cultures. I do it to honour the spirit of my ancestors, many who lost their lives in order for that language to exist. I also recognise and value the language and culture experienced by others. I don’t need to assimilate or force my culture onto others because I really don’t want the world to blend into one culture. I love and appreciate diversity and all the stories that express our human experience. Our time here on earth. The earth does not hear or even know the details of our stories, she simply responds to the emotions attached to each story. Giving all people the freedom and opportunity to express the joy of their culture, their language and spirit is what will raise the vibration and energy of the earth. No we don’t all need to become Buddhists or do Yoga (not that there is anything wrong with doing that if you choose to and I’m saying this as a yoga teacher myself) but it is not the only way to evolve and awaken the soul. Culture, expression, art, music, friendship and relationships can also enhance our human existence. It is love and joy that allows us to fully align our hearts to the centre of our earth and feel one with all that was, is and ever will be. This is what makes us rich. Knowing this I wonder, how long must the women, children and the marginalised hide in their villages whispering their language and culture as though the words they speak are poisonous? Though we may not be able to change the stories of the past, we are certainly able to express stories that come from a place of love and respect today.

The language of respect from one living thing to another most often does not require any words at all. It’s a simple gesture, a knowing that I honour and respect the life in you in the same way as I honour and respect the life in me.

I think these guys do it pretty well.2018-04-20-GIF-00001026.gifOne of my favourite scenes from a Wes Anderson movie (and I literally have hundreds)
This is from Fantastic Mr Fox.

Many years ago I was drawn to a picture story book about a hedgehog. It wasn’t in a language that I was familiar with at the time but I bought it anyway, mostly because of a picture of the hedgehog smoking a pipe which I just fell involve with instantly. I thought it was pretty cool because Australian picture story books were going through a process of censoring any ‘inappropriate’ themes. I’m pretty sure that smoking a pipe would have been a no-go zone for a children’s book so of course I bought it. I felt as though I had just rescued a form of creativity that was soon to become extinct in our politically correct and overly-censored world. I carefully studied the illustrations, trying to work out what the story was about and where the story was from. It turned out, it was a popular poem published in the then Yugoslavia in the 1950’s. In the story, the hedgehog is invited to the fox’s house for dinner and at the end of the evening, he thanks the fox for his hospitality and prepares to leave. The fox and his friends (a wolf, a bear and two boars) are curious about why the hedgehog is in such a hurry to go home. They imagine a scenario in their minds where the hedgehog has something they don’t such as a grand home. The group of animals I like to refer to as ‘forest scavengers’ follow the hedgehog and are rather disappointed to discover that the hedgehog lives in a small cave, hardly a home to be proud of. I love this book, it goes beyond the concept of home is where the heart is or home sweet home etc. The other animals become so obsessed with the hedgehog’s home as they imagine it to be so much better than their own. They want the hedgehog’s home even though they know nothing about it. They simply feed off their desire to take something that belongs to someone else. Greed vs gratitude is so cleverly expressed in this story. It also explores the concept of what are you willing to give up in order to receive or become something else, something that may not necessarily be better than what you already have, it is more or less just a perception of being better. In a more current context, it makes me think about the FOMO concept. (Fear of Missing Out) Even though they had no idea what they were actually missing, the fear of missing out itself drove the other animals into the deep, dark forest with their willingness to surrender all that they had themselves. I could go on forever as there are so many layers of meaning, typical during this era of intellectuals and artists, many of who had strong political views at a time of uncertainty after the second world war. On a final note, I just love this story mostly because of my interpretation of the pictures at a time before I was able to understand the text. It reminds me that when the world gets all crazy and complicated and politically correct, I can imagine in my own mind, somewhere in the woods, a hedgehog quietly smoking his pipe and not giving a ‘%^&* about anything. He is content in his humble home and in that home he is at peace. The hedgehog was well before his time, quietly expressing his own existence without needing to sabotage the existence of anything else. Protecting his home and his way of life from the scavengers who had no respect for the little things that meat so much to the hedgehog.

 

Unknown-3.jpegThe smoking Hedgehog. Source: Jezeva Kucica by Branko Kopic

 

IMG_9022.JPGAn artist we met in Zagreb, Croatia who invited us into his studio and showed us how to paint on glass in mirror image. The artist was so thrilled to have a child in his studio and share his craft with what he referred to as ‘the future’. A very common theme throughout this part of Europe and the Balkans  regarding the importance of children as a continuation of life and culture.

 

IMG_3358.jpgPula Arena, Croatia. “Looks like the Italians were here mum”.

 

d95ceca1-4c14-468f-adb7-d346c510f459.JPGA couple of humble people we met on our travels. Expressing their existence, their joy and their culture and sharing it with us.

 

To complete my exploration of culture and the future of its existence, I am reminded of a statue of Bruce Lee in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina of all places. After the war and at a time when the country was forming, questioning traditional symbols and identity in what is one of the most ethnically diverse parts of the former Yugoslavia, the local youth group at the time came up with the idea that Bruce Lee could be a suitable symbol of unity because he was admired by everyone. Those of us visiting from the west may be amused by their choice of symbolism, however during the communist regime anything from the outside, the west, was idolised in a cult like fashion. Pirated videos of Bruce Lee became an unspoken form of inspiration for the region’s youth. And so, in a ‘I have no answer to the question about the future of culture’ kind of way, I conclude this topic of oneness, culture and our relationship to earth with this proposition. When we cannot find a way to agree or to move on and heal from our past, the pain, the injustice and our stories, maybe Bruce Lee could be the answer? A neutral symbol of unity. Or, maybe, we don’t need any symbols at all but to simply breathe in the light and the love that the earth continues to grace us with no matter how much heaviness we burden her with. In doing so, we may just be able to let go of our obsession to control and instead create an existence worthy of our time here on earth.

 

Unknown-4.jpegBruce Lee (the Statue) by sculptor Ivan Fijolić on display in the City Park of “Zrinjski Mostar

 

Dear Adult, JTLYK about Culture

Mother earth gives us all a home.

We don’t need to go around collecting other people’s homes, including animals, trees, oceans, lakes, mountains and rivers.

They don’t belong to us.

Human problems created by humans will never be solved if humans aren’t prepared to step outside of their gender, religion, country, class, status, titles and stories.

We need to step into our heart to find the answers.

The earth is our mother and she can hear our whispers.

She feels the beat of our heart.

We too can feel the beat of her heart.

This is how we stay connected.

The earth was given to us as a home.

A safe place for physical living things to express our existence.

The earth feeds us.

It nurtures us and keeps our human bodies alive.

The earth’s beauty is here not for us to take but to inspire us to create.

All that we create and express becomes our culture.

Our stories.

Surely this is worth more than money.

We all know that money only exists here, on this physical platform.

You’re not here forever so don’t forget to enjoy yourself as well.

Your joy and love will be felt in the heart of the earth long after you are gone.

YW

 

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These guys. A group of talented yet shy musicians we spotted in Novigrad. A little town on the Istrian Peninsula.

 

 

Dear Adult JTLYK about Hope

 

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I used to really hate the word hope. Maybe it’s because I don’t like wishes, hopes and dreams. It feels vague when people say I hope you feel better soon or I hope you have a nice day. I’d rather make it a nice day than hope for it. I know that people mean well when they say hope but I just can’t help thinking that in such a context, hope resides in a space of wanting rather than being. When we are in a place of wanting we are absent from all that we ‘hope’ to attain. Hoping for something has an element of uncertainty, indecisiveness and lack of clarity. I have always felt that the word hope is just something we loosely use to make ourselves or others feel better in times of stress, challenge and difficulty. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t hope. Hoping is fine as long as there is real expectation. But let’s face it, most of us hope for something and then secretly believe it won’t happen or we won’t ever receive it. I think we spend way too much time hoping for things instead of having hope and being hopeful. Also, we shouldn’t confuse hope with faith . . . . they are certainly two very different virtues.

Personally, I believe that we create and attract things into existence through intention and action, not hope. Here’s an example that might help clarify what I mean. When a friend or relative is sick, we visit them, we send them a card or buy them flowers and then we hope, wish and want them to feel better. Then, in our mind and because of our innate human condition to sympathise, we feel sorry for them. We hold them in a place of ‘illness’. We may hope them to become well again but our hope is wasted when our image of them is one of being unwell. Of course, one’s image of self will always override the image that others have but in truth and in a collective state of ‘hope’ the power of healing would be amplified through imagining our friend or relative in a state of health rather than illness.

After the Paris terror attacks in 2015 the Dahla Lama responded with some very practical advice. In an interview with the German Welle, he stated that “We cannot solve this problem only through prayers. I am a Buddhist and I believe in praying. But humans have created this problem, and now we are asking God to solve it. It is illogical. God would say, solve it yourself because you created it in the first place.” One must admit that it’s all good to pray and hope for peace but realistically when the world is ‘collectively’ being imagined as a place of terror and fear, no amount of prayer and hope can manifest peace into reality. Our efforts are better spent on creating images in our mind of the world we intend to create and then use those images to guide us into action.

 

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Imagine if we learned to transform our mindset and human habits of sympathy to that of true empathy followed by an ability to see ourselves and others in a state of health and vitality. I know through my own experience when moving from a fixed place of illness or lack, to that of health and abundance, the transformation was profound when those closest to me also held a vision of health and abundance rather than illness and lack. This is why I am now very careful about what I share with others. Like anybody going through a difficult time, I don’t need a sympathetic friend holding me in a place of pity and then (intentionally or unintentionally) comparing themselves to my situation in order to find their own place of gratitude, or worse still – gossip. You may be reading this right now and say well I don’t do that, I am genuine and I really care about my friends. That’s great, but in order for me, you and all of us to become better we need to acknowledge that there are patterns and behaviours that we all just fall into sometimes without even thinking about it. How many times have you heard the words, “did you hear what happened to ….” I have, many times. I’m happy for someone to share their problems with me and I feel honoured when they do because it is a sign of trust and comfort, but I’m not comfortable talking about other people’s problems. Firstly because when we do that it’s just gossip and secondly by talking about the problem we are energetically attaching ourselves and them to the problem instead of working on a solution. At some stage, we all get lemons in life. Turning the lemons into lemonade is a great idea but in reality a difficult journey. The lemonade making process is messy and we may not want to share that mess with everyone, especially if we intend on getting ourselves out of it. And we do, when we surround ourselves with people who can empathise and help instead of sympathise and judge. An important distinction for one to be able to make.

Not long ago, something random yet profound took place that challenged my fixed idea about hope. It started as an ordinary day on my way to the market. However, things changed into one of those days when you’re almost certain that an invisible zen master is following you around to ensure that you meet a particular person in order to have a specific conversation that enables you to see something old in a new light.

First of all, none of this would have ever happened had it not been for the Italians. I know right, not what you were expecting straight after the zen master, but here’s the deal with the Italians. Had I not been in a town where it is possible to simply walk into an espresso bar, order, drink and pay for a coffee in 30 seconds without even sitting down, I would not have been drinking coffee at that very moment. I was on my way to the market and had no time for anything other than a shot of espresso. I quickly drank my espresso, called the waitress over so I could pay and then realised that the invisible zen master had used my love for Italian coffee to lure me into a conversation that I was destined to have.

You may need some background information before you hear what happened next. Personally, I was at one of my lowest points in life. I was actually in a state of despair. Triggered by a series of events that I won’t discuss publicly in order to respect the privacy of others, experiencing a sense of utter disappointment, anger and hopelessness. For months I had been waking up every morning, going through the rituals of wellbeing that I have lived by for many years, yet feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders. Totally concerned about the future, the future of our world, our people, our lives. Feeling as though all my years of selfless giving, sharing, caring about others and speaking up against those who take advantage of their positions of power, were all in vain. Regardless of the positive affirmations I was telling myself, I was really feeling that the world was a horrible place for caring and sensitive people like me. At that time, my reality was showing me that only the selfish survive and only the greedy thrive.

When the waitress started talking to me, it was as though she was expressing all of the feelings that I had been battling with for the past few months. Metaphysically speaking, I know that the world is a mirror in which we see ourselves. Who we are is presented to us in someone else and I just thought this was one of those moments that the universe was showing me that I was becoming an angry, helpless, grumpy old woman. This was my chance to see myself in someone else in order to let go and move on from the painful experience. But something felt different this time. It wasn’t just the mirror. It was more than that. As I listened to her tone of despair and hopelessness, I somehow managed to point out in my own mind that there was actually a significant difference between us. Twenty-five extra years of life experience that I had and she didn’t. In that moment and as much as I agreed with her, I had a duty of care to be a bridge of hope. I knew for sure through life experience that all feelings are temporary. I’m adult enough to know that nothing lasts forever and even though I was battling my daily dose of negativity I knew that once I had processed the events that had led to such despair, I would be okay again. Although I myself was in a place of nowhere at that very moment, I had to present an authentic version of somewhere. It seemed that I still had hope after all. Life had indeed taught me that the ‘wheel is always turning’ and no matter how dark the night, morning always comes. I learned the true value of hope as a bridge between nothing and something, nowhere to somewhere, nobody to somebody. I also discovered that the market closed at lunch time and after 3 espressos and nothing to eat I was able to home-deliever a pizza to my hungry family faster than our usual delivery guy on his vespa.

 

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Dear Adult JYLYK about Hope,

I noticed that you do a lot of hoping whenever you are unsure about something.

I’ll give you some examples.

I hope there’s parking at the shopping centre.

I hope there’s enough bread for breakfast.

I hope you’ve done your homework.

I hope you don’t lose that new hat I just bought for you.

I hope you behave yourself at the party.

This could go on forever so I’ll stop right here. I hope you got the point.

Kids hope better than adults. What we hope, wish and dream of is realised through our ability to see it in our mind’s eye, our imagination.

This is one of the super powers we have as kids but unfortunately we lose it as we get older, as we become more like you. We begin to hope, yet fear and know that it won’t be as we hoped it to be.

When hope is centred around doubt then it’s destined to be empty.

It makes more sense when we learn to hope, wish and dream through intention and action, so that we don’t get locked into a cycle of wanting. Instead, DEVELOPING a habit of CREATING all that we hope for.

Sometimes hope is all we have to hold onto to.

Please show us that you actually believe in what you hope for.

YW

 

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Dear Adult JTLYK about Relationships

 

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Could it be possible that relationships are nothing more than a balancing act between reasons to stay and reasons to leave? Recently, I made several visits to the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia. My interest in a museum dedicated to broken relationships may seem unusual and even raise a few red flags, so please allow me to explain. I certainly don’t feed off other people’s misfortune and despair, it’s just that I understand things in greater detail when I am faced with it’s opposite. I know what something is when I realise what it is not. Duality is an important aspect of how I learn. I discovered that visiting a museum devoted to broken relationships provides valuable insight into the complexity of LOVE and our expression of self whilst exposed and vulnerable aboard the ‘relation-ship’. No doubt the ship has many layers and it’s not always smooth sailing as we attempt to somehow hold on to ourselves whilst understanding and empathising with another. But in order to hold on to who I am in relation to another, I must first know myself.

 

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Ancient philosophy from many corners of the world has brought attention to the need to know ourselves before we can understand another or anything else for that matter. Oscar Wild took the notion of knowing thyself further by expressing the need to not only know thyself, but to be thyself. It makes me wonder, if we ‘be what we know’ and then ‘know what to be’ we may actually have a better chance to create a life of purpose while maintaining positive relation to self, others and all that is. Put simply, we should know first and be later. But there’s a catch. Often, we know without being it and as much as ancient philosophy can teach us about life, it’s what we ‘be‘ and who we become that matters the most.

 

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Children come into the world knowing who they are and therefore can truly ‘be’ from a place of knowing thyself. It’s only later, that their version of self becomes distorted through direct impact from the environment in which they live and their whole experience of life and self in relation to others and all that is. Therefore, environment is essential to our wellbeing and to our ability to develop a positive relationship to self, others and all that is. This is a huge topic that I will cover in another post but in order to illustrate the impact that environment has on our ability to form who we are in relation to others, I would like to mention an important social experiment by psychologist Zimbardo (1973) Zimbardo was interested in finding out whether the brutality among guards in American prisons was caused by the sadistic personalities of the guards or if it had more to do with the actual prison environment. Was the brutality dispositional or situational? In the experiment, volunteers were given diagnostic interviews and personality tests to eliminate people with psychological problems, medical disabilities, or a history of crime or drug abuse. 24 male college students were selected from 75 volunteers and were paid $15 per day to take part in the experiment. The study was supposed to run for two weeks but was terminated after only 6 days when the emotional impact on the participants quickly intensified. The study concluded that “people will conform to the social roles they are expected to play, especially if the roles are as strongly stereotyped as those of the prison guards. The “prison” environment was an important factor in creating the guards’ brutal behavior (none of the participants who acted as guards showed sadistic tendencies before the study). Therefore, the findings support the situational explanation of behavior rather than the dispositional one”. (Source:simplypsychology.org)

Just like a small plant growing in a garden, the right elements must be present in order for the plant to grow. No matter how much desire and intention the plant has to grow, it still relies on it’s environment. Therefore, I would argue that understanding the environment in which we are attempting to make our relationships work could be just as important as knowing ourselves.

At the museum of broken relationships, there were several common themes, such as love at first sight, long distance relationships, one person not committing as much as the other, broken promises, infidelity, shared interests at the beginning that changed over time, disapproval from extended family, lack of communication and also people just leaving without an explanation. Reading through all of the reasons why, I couldn’t help to wonder if the reasons would have been the same, had they been told by the other person in the relationship. Each of us tell our own story, our own version, the personal impact to self and often overlook the important aspect of recognising who or what we became in relation to the other. Even though the nature of each relationship and the reasons why it ended all differed, there was one thing that every one of them had in common. At some point, every relationship ended with a single decision, one that was not always joint or amicable. It made me think that outside the museum of broken relationships, there were decisions like that being made every day. Hearts and minds flowing between reasons to stay and reasons to leave.

 

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Without a doubt, relationships are a big part of our lives and it is no wonder that in our current context of separation from self, others and all that is, we struggle to keep relationships alive. The future of relationships is an area of great discussion. In this fast paced world and through the ever-expanding platform of social media, it is impossible even for experts to predict the form in which relationships will take. Most of the predications are not positive, suggesting that today’s children will lack the ‘soft skills’ to positively interact with each other in a human way, hence the need for really powerful and authentic social and emotional wellbeing programs in schools. However, we need to acknowledge that it’s not the existence of something that makes an impact. Impact is made through action and so instead of asking schools “do you have a program for social and emotional skills?”, we should be asking “what does your social and emotional health and wellbeing program look like in action and how are students given opportunities to know thyself in relation to others?” Just to put it more clearly, if somebody came along to my house and asked me if I had a pasta making machine my answer would be yes, a really good one, Italian import, top of the range. However, if they asked what it looks like in action I would have to admit that I took it out of the box (once) read the instructions, decided it was too complicated and put it back in the box where it still lives.

After thinking about my pasta machine I decided that the three main factors blocking me from using it were; lack of skills, time to develop my skills and an absence of will. However, being a philosopher at heart, my thinking didn’t stop there, I wondered if perhaps the real reason for the lack of use was neither time nor skill, but will. These days, time is blamed for everything, yet it may just be the biggest excuse for something greater than time can ever be and that is, personal will, determination, desire, drive, passion, reason etc. Time, is nothing more than a concept, a physical calculation of our human experience. Time is a fixed concept, something we cannot change. Will on the other hand is another story, albeit, a story that can only be written by ‘self’ and that is the part that is most confronting. It brings the responsibility back to the individual. ‘Making excuses mindset’ is something that we are rather skilled at. How much of our lives and our relationships is dictated by our apparent lack of time? Maybe the future of relationships has nothing at all to do with the increasing amount of technology. The future of relationships and the future of anything could in fact come down to just one simple factor. Will. We may only need to consider whether or not we have the will, to allow the time needed to not only develop the skills required for nurturing our relationships, but to simply be present in them.

As much as I am a very passionate advocate for student wellbeing in schools, I must admit that having great programs in schools in just not enough. Building a culture of wellbeing and positive relationships can only happen when we embrace it as a way of being. As adults we must be willing to accept that when we show our children that we have time for everything else except relationships, we cannot blame technology for lack of ‘people skills’. Teaching children about relationships cannot be condensed into a lesson plan. It should be a culture embedded into everything we do ‘together’ and made visible in our environment through action. More importantly, the desire to build positive relationships with others should be at the centre of what we do and not a chore or just another job to add to the list.

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Now that we do have social and emotional wellbeing programs in schools, I worry that it could make us somewhat complacent over time, a bit like having a pool fence. Our obsession with ‘safe-guarding’ instead of being present and ‘available’ in the moment, has the potential to strip us from our natural human intuition and ability to feel, to just know what is going on emotionally with ourselves and the people around us.

The other potential problem is having an expectation that the relation ‘ship’ will always sail smoothly because we have given our children and young adults opportunities to develop social and emotional skills. But life doesn’t work that way. We can build the ship but we cannot predict the uncertainty of the water. Canadian-American folk-rock singer- songwriter, Martha Wainwright in her song ‘Don’t Forget’ expresses the discomfort of an aching heart by comparing it to the seasons. Adjusting to change, to the cold, by wearing warmer clothes. However, as Wainwright suggests; “But there are no hats, gloves, scarves for the heart, just a cold wind which leaves its frosted mark”. (From the self-titled album 2005) These are the life experiences of love and loss and heartache that are timeless, forever present, in every culture, era and corner of the world. Again, I will argue that emotional awareness is vital but an environment that continues to judge all our emotional experiences as either failure or success, instead of allowing time to heal, robs the individual of an opportunity to grow and learn.

One particular story at the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb really stood out for me as a parent and an educator, highlighting the responsibility we have to give children ‘tools to take action’ in order to process the emotional side of life. The museum displays items that people have donated as a significant symbol of a relationship that has ended, followed by a brief explanation. At first, I was a little surprised to see a large axe displayed in a glass cabinet and wasn’t ready to process a story involving any violence. The explanation beside the axe was one of the more detailed ones and I’m glad that I read through right to the end. In summary, someone was left heart broken after going away for work for a few weeks and upon returning home was informed by their partner that the partner had fallen involve with someone else. To add to the already emotionally intense situation, the partner would be going away on a 14 day holiday with her new found love, leaving her furniture in the home she once shared with her now ex. The person in the home was in such a state looking at the ex’s furniture, knowing that the ex was on holidays and in love with another, did not know what to do with her pain and so she went out and bought an axe. “In the 14 days of her holiday, every day I axed one piece of her furniture. I kept the remains there, as an expression of my inner condition. The more her room filled with chopped furniture acquiring the look of my soul, the better I felt”. (An ex-axe 1995 Berlin, Germany. Displayed at the Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb) I stared at the axe for quite some time after reading the description over and over again,  it occurred to me that having a physical outlet for emotional pain is an essential human need. Yet, in our modern and civilised version of our human experience, we have an unspoken social obligation and expectation to show that we are holding it all together. However, we only need to look back to our indigenous communities around the world, to understand that healing through movement, dance, shouting aloud, pounding the chest etc, although primitive to look at, plays an important role in our our ability to process our human, emotional experiences.

 

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Relationships, regardless of their nature or of time, age, culture, technology, power, seduction, networking, contacts, followers, haters, likers, etc. will always boil down to how we express ourselves in relation to another, to others and to all that is. Our expression of ourself matters more than our interpretation of the other because it is our self that is made visible through our own actions. Likewise, the other is made visible too, but not as who we imagine or interpret them to be but as they are, in that moment. A momentary expression of self in relation to another. And that’s okay, when we learn to say thank you for showing me who you are, who you really are. We don’t have to like, hate, agree, disagree, judge or condemn. Rather, we learn who we are and that’s the really confronting, yet totally transforming and empowering part about relationships.

 

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In the mainstream world though, it is reasonable to suggest that our focus is mostly and often only, on the other. Yet, what if the focus on relationships actually shifted back towards self, towards understanding who I become in the company of others rather than constantly evaluating another.  No doubt, much time and energy would be saved. It would also help us to understand that relationships, like everything else in the physical realm are not fixed and many relationships are not intended to last forever. But then again, what is the true definition of forever?

Who did I become in each relationship and situation that I have experienced in this life?

That really is the only thing we can control.

 

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Dear Adult JTLYK about Relationships,

I didn’t come here to be alone, trapped within my own insecurities, searching for my own self worth in a world that demands me to be something that I never planned to be.

I came here to be me, not who you imagined me to be.

To be me, I need to allow the different versions of me to surface, good or bad so that I can always get better at being me. The parts of me that are expressed in response to others, to my environment, to the culture and timing of my being, they are the parts that show me who I am. I need to accept who I am so that I know who I want to become.

I can only be the best version of me when I learn how to be myself, not on my own and not by being silenced or controlled. To be a responsible, respectful and authentic version of who I am wherever I am and with whoever I am. To stay true to my inner self because that is the only way I can really be me.

If I learn to be me and if I understand that all others are being themselves then there is no need for competition and no need to control others.

If I learn to value and respect myself, then I can value and respect all others.

If I learn that it’s okay to make mistakes then I can learn, grow and become better at managing myself in relation to another, others and all that is.

If I learn that all people matter and that all people have feelings just like me then I can think about how my actions affect another.

Nothing lasts forever so make each moment count. Even if you try to go back to yesterday, you will only discover that what you’re searching for doesn’t exist there anyway.

Everything, everywhere and everyone is a collaborative expression of NOW.

We don’t control how or why everything happens. We simply choose what we become in that moment and essentially, in every moment.

 

YW

 

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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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