Category Archives: Spirit

The thing about a broken heart..

The thing about a broken heart is you never know when it’s going to strike. You may get an inkling; storms cloud gather, the sky turns a strange shade of green, birds fall silent and retreat, but still you think that the lightning will pass you by. You’ve weathered storms before and emerged unscathed. You reason to yourself that you’ll just lay low for a while and wait for it to blow over. But it doesn’t. It hovers directly above and you’re frozen with fear. In that split second you know it’s coming and you know there’s no escape. Time stretches to draw out the arrival of that certain agony. Why is that? Is fate so cruel that it has to underline its arrival by slowing time to a trickle in order that we feel every nuance of impending doom?

But that is nothing compared to what’s about to follow. The lightning, that you swore would leave you be, cracks your world apart. Things you thought you’d hold forever are gone. Precious, cherished moments of joy turn to ashes and worse. Jagged, broken, bitter bits of dreams catch your clothing and tear your skin. Everyday there are reminders that render you unable to think or reason, let alone speak.

We are all capable of great love and that is in itself the danger. There is so much to lose; a marriage betrayed, a job annihilated, a child lost, a home destroyed, a friendship defeated, a belief shattered, a sense of belonging destroyed. Everything from your football team losing the Grand Final to a massacre in your homeland.

Helen Keller said that security is a superstition. It does not exist in nature. And when lightning strikes, as it always will, there may be some comfort in those words.

Buddhism says when the lightning strikes we are forced to look at the places where we are most stuck, our suffering shows us what we are most attached to. Therefore we should welcome such experiences, because it’s only by facing the sadness, the loss, the sense of betrayal and the grief that we can be free of these things ruling our lives.

Although I understand that to be true and have experienced the change it brings, sometimes I am made of softer stuff and need something more. So I turn to what sustained me as a child singing myself to sleep, as an adolescent suffering the usual humiliations, as an adult struck by the lightning of betrayal and bereavement. Music. And if I ever I lose that precious sense of hearing, I’ll lay my head on my pillow until I hear the music of the spheres.

The Unexpected Adventure of Writing

It was explained to me, by a more experienced writer than myself, that saying, “I felt sick,” when asked how I felt when I landed a publishing deal, was best avoided, even if it was the truth. She said most people, who haven’t been published, expect you to say, “It was fabulous, I was so excited, over the moon,” and if that wasn’t the case then I should practise saying it until it sounded natural.

Trouble is I did feel sick, and she understood why. She’d been through it herself and talked to many other first time authors who felt the same. It’s about letting go. Letting go can be tough, especially when you’ve nurtured your manuscript for six years. The realisation that my brutally and beautifully honest meditation memoir was going out into the world to have a life of its own was a tough jump to make, even though I’d wanted it to happen for years. Dreams and reality are two very different beasts.

I took a deep breath, jumped, and signed the much desired contract. Reality rushed to meet me head on with a touch of dreaminess to soften the blow.

My publisher told me it was one of the most complete manuscripts she’d ever read. There wouldn’t need to be many changes, she said. I met my editor and my publisher – and how good does it feel to say that when you’re a first-time published author – and we talked about time-frames and covers. Bliss. They told me they were both going to read the manuscript again and send me their suggestions, but that there wouldn’t be much to do in that regard.

When the manuscript was emailed back to me with comments and suggestions my reaction was extraordinary. And I say reaction in every sense of the word. It was chemical, physical,emotional and totally illogical. I was angry, defensive, hurt and full of fear. I started scrolling through the suggestions and my chest clamped up. How dare they? How dare they challenge my work, my bravery, my art? How dare they want me to change any bit of it? I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I was not capable of doing it. I swung between fear and fury. I decided, within half an hour of receiving the email, that I wasn’t going to go through with the deal. I was going to email them and tell it was all off. I’d had enough. It was too hard.

Crazy woman. I watched myself go through this agony. I watched my insane, terrified mind writhe and twist. Two things became apparent. I’ve always hated being told what to do. I’ve resented every boss I’ve ever had. My publisher was just another boss at that point, telling me what to do. The other realisation was that I was just plain scared because I’d never done this before. I’d never had to revise a manuscript for a publisher. I’ve done plenty of writing courses and been given feedback. I’ve been in a writing group for years and accepted suggestions from my fellow members. But this was on a whole new level. I’m a professional now, a soon-to-be published author by a major publishing house. This was totally different. I was out of my comfort zone and in outer space somewhere, spinning and lost.

So I did what I always do. I emailed my editor and my publisher and said, “Sure, that’s fine. And yes I can make the changes by the dead line.” And then I didn’t do a thing. I would slide through the manuscript and drift over their notes from time to time, like a tongue seeking out the aching tooth, but that was it. As the deadline grew closer I read the notes more carefully. They weren’t as bad as I’d first thought, in fact some of them were complimentary. My confidence returned just enough to read some more. The suggestions made sense, ah yes why hadn’t I noticed that, and oh, that would make it easier for the reader to follow. By the time the last weekend before my deadline arrived I was feeling as if I could possibly, maybe do this and not stuff it up too badly.

I allotted myself four days. The Hubby was away for two and a half of those. I’d have the place to myself, except for the dog. The first day and a half I did everything else but work on my manuscript. There were too many distractions. Everything was more important than my book. Finally, when The Hubby was gone, the dog was walked and everybody else was taken care of, I got down to work. I didn’t leave the house, except to walk the dog, I survived on what ever food was in the fridge. Slowly the pages, changes and suggestions started melting away. In the midst of it I had major realisations about the core message of my memoir. I made subtle changes that made the story sing and sob. I felt a whole new energy vibrating through the words. I cried and laughed, and howled with the dog. By the afternoon of day three I knew I was home. Right in the middle of my own life. Doing what I was destined to do. Doing what I loved. And it was working.

And I knew something else. I had conquered my fear, I had done something I’d never done before and my book was so much better for it. Clever publisher, clever editor, clever me.

Oh the pain, the pain!

One minute I was fighting fit. I stood in front of the bathroom mirror tying my hair back in readiness for a walk with the dog. It was a beautiful morning and I was looking forward to striding out through leafy streets, past creeks and canals and then back home again for breakfast. I had planned a day of cooking, gardening and writing. The Hubby was away and I was free to do as I pleased.

I finished putting my hair in a pony-tail and as I did my entire right shoulder went into some kind of spasm. That’s the only way I can explain it. One minute I was pain-free, the next I was in incredible agony. All my plans for the day dissolved as I came to grips with this sudden reality. The pain was dramatic. I couldn’t turn my neck and, when only a few moments ago I felt invincible, I now felt small and vulnerable, close to tears.

I managed to walk down to the park at the end of the street with the dog sniffing and pulling at the lead. I even managed to throw the ball for her with my left arm and the help of one of those ubiquitous plastic ball throwing devices that almost all dog owners own these days.

At home, on the couch, I reviewed my situation. I could still write and that was a blessing. I usually avoid pain killers but in this instance I succumbed and with the help of heat packs I got through the day.

The next morning I went to see the chiro. Sean, the massage therapist warmed me up before the chiro came to do the cracking.

“Do much computer work?” Sean asked.

“Oh yes.”

“That’ll be your problem then.”

It was puzzling though that tying my hair back had brought this on. I had had a lot of trouble with my right shoulder but the pain was usually lower down.

“Something, somewhere, at sometime will complain,” explained Sean. “It’s cumulative and that’s the action that triggered it.”

“Okay,” I said. “I make a pledge here and now to make a change. I’ve tried before and given up because it’s so darn hard, but from today I will use the mouse with my left hand.”

And here’s my challenge to you. Try using the computer mouse with your non-dominant hand and see how long you last. Especially at work, under time pressures. There have been times when the stress, tension and frustration of doing so seemed counter-productive but I have persisted. I am determined to become adept at using the mouse with my left hand. My body has demanded change and I am delivering it. I’m not alone with suffering shoulder pain from mouse usage, here are some tips that might be useful if you’re in the same boat.

I also bought and downloaded some Feldenkrais mp3s specifically for shoulder pain. I first encountered the Feldenkrais Method when I was at acting school and it has come back into my consciousness recently. The method is all about awareness through movement. The founder Moshe Feldenkrais said, “With awareness everything is possible.” That appeals to me enormously. It also got me thinking about the pain and my body. What was right about this pain that I wasn’t getting? What was it about this situation that I was pretending not to know? And the answers that came to me were all about awareness. I am guilty of treating my body like a machine. There are certain tasks, often very repetitive ones, that I demand my body do without me ever being aware of how they’re affecting it. I used to have one of those timers on my computer at work that buzzed every 20 minutes to tell me to stretch or to get up and take a little walk. It got so annoying I turned it off and kept ploughing on through, as usual. I was denying my body. So this shoulder pain is my body saying to me, “You can’t ignore me anymore, something has to change.”

And let me tell you this, if you do try using the mouse with your non-dominant hand it will be a revelation. I can no longer take my body for granted. I am no longer a machine. I am acutely conscious of every time I use the mouse, I know exactly what my body is doing and what is involved with getting that cursor where I want it. Awareness through movement? You betcha!

Connection

I was in need of some time out. The stress levels were on the rise and my ability to cope diminishing. Ten day silent meditation retreats may not be everyone’s idea of a holiday but that’s what I chose. I’d done a few before and knew they worked for me. I also knew what I was in for; eleven hours of meditation a day, no talking to, or even looking at, any of the other meditators, and some physical pain.

The retreat was held at an old holiday camp on top of a cliff. The ocean crashed against the rocks below making a mockery of the so-called silence. The waves were a loud and constant soundtrack during those ten days. In the hours of meditation sometimes my mind would wander to the sea and as I practised observing my breath and observing the sensations I felt my body dissolve and become one with the ocean. During one of those hours a character formed in my imagination. An energy being who came to Earth to make amends for a mistake she made in the long distant past. The only place where she can take her true form is in the ocean, like golden particles suspended in the water. In the place where she comes from connection is the most important thing but because of her transgression she has been dealt a cruel punishment, the worst possible for those who depend on being connected. Separation. Exile.

After the retreat The Hubby came to collect me. He took me to the beach and as we dived through the waves I told him about this character and how I would write a book about her. I opened my eyes under the water and saw her suspended there, golden motes dancing in the water.

True to my word I took six months leave without pay and wrote my first novel. I called her Maggie and she was my constant companion day and night for those six months. Maggie can do things with space and energy that quantum physicists can only dream of. But it is the Little Blue Planet she loves, and the oceans that give it its name. After being cast out by her own she searches for connection wherever she goes and finds it here on Earth.

They say all first novels are autobiographical. Perhaps it is my love of the ocean that shines through in this book, my fascination with energy and how it works that determines Maggie’s form. And if it is true, is it my desire for connection that colours her actions, her motivation? Or was it simply that Maggie was imagined into being at a meditation retreat where I was not allowed to connect with anyone but myself. And there’s the key. Connect to self and all else will follow, including imagination, creativity and companionship.

Opinions? Who needs them.

I have made a recent addition to my list of people to avoid. From now on, along with those who use our beaches as an ashtray and able-bodied types who park in disabled spaces, I’m putting a big black mark against people with opinions.

How many times have you been trapped by a loud-mouthed obnoxious bore? Once is one time too many. I’ve done my time smiling and nodding politely, knowing that trying to get a word in edgeways is useless. People with opinions don’t want to have a discussion, they just want you to listen awe-struck to their dissertation, which is why they always talk so loudly.

I was with a group of people recently, one of whom was a very opinionated man. There’s a reason why “opinionated’ is used in a derisive fashion. He was a supreme example. Everyone else had been beaten into silence but I took advantage of the fact that he was a smoker. When he took a pause to drag on his cigarette I seized my chance.

I pointed to a nearby waterway. “Are there eels in that river?” I asked, looking at everyone except the opinionated bore. “If you went for a swim would you find an uninvited guest up your bathers?”

The result was amazing. Everyone had a story about eels; catching them, being frightened by them or eating them. I even found out that eels can travel over land, a most unsettling discovery. As we swapped stories and anecdotes, I noticed Mr Opinion shuffling uncomfortably. Once he was no longer the centre of attention he didn’t know how to interact. Eventually he shuffled off, probably to go and park in a disabled spot and stub his cigarette out on the beach.

Don’t get me wrong, I love ideas and I love discussion but it seems to me that having an opinion and having to tell everyone about it is a very alienating hobby. Macramé would be much more useful.

But then again that’s only my opinion.

The Four Fundamental Questions

My friend Maggie asked me if I’d like to go to the Hay House Convention. I’d only heard of two of the speakers, Louise L. Hay, of course, and Neale Donald Walsch. I’ve seen the movie about him and I’ve even read the book, Conversations with God. I said yes and met up with Maggie in Sydney. What a weekend. I kept an open mind and an open heart and learnt a lot.

Neale Donald Walsch was the last speaker and the only speaker to come down from the stage and walk amongst the crowd. It was in keeping with his message which was: don’t believe those who would tell you that you and God are separate. If you believe that, then you will believe you are separate from everybody else, that your society is separate from other societies. You will believe in us and them and it follows that you will feel free to treat them in ways you would never treat yourself.

Neale believes that God is within us, that there is no separation. He also asked us to ask ourselves four questions, every day, three times a day for ninety days:

1. Who am I?

2. Where am I?

3. Why am I where I am?

4. What do I intend to do about that?

Neale’s answers:

1. I am an aspect of divinity.

2. I am in the realm of the physical.

3. Only in the realm of the physical can I express who I am.

4. That’s up to you!

For myself, I do believe I am an infinite being. I believe that that which some call God is within me, and in you. I believe that my reality is shaped by my thoughts, and that I am here to have fun. And as for question four..that changes moment by moment. But I will tell you what I did in one of those moments.

Neale’s talk was the last one at the convention and people began to leave to catch trains, plains and buses. He made jokes about it as they tried to sneak out the door. Two women left from the very front row just as Neale asked if there was anyone else who needed to leave. I turned to Maggie and said, “Let’s go sit in their seats.” As I made my way to the front Neale assumed I was leaving too.

“No way,” I said and sat down in the front row. He came towards me, those big arms of his outstretched with a smile on his face. Neale Donald Walsch was asking me for a hug. What did I intend to do about that?

Let me say for the record – Neale Donald Walsch is one of the best huggers on the planet. Did I feel separate? Absolutely not. Did his whiskers scratch? Not at all.

So, who are you, where are you, why are you where you are, and what do you intend to do about that? And, if given the opportunity, would you hug Neale Donald Walsch?

 

 

Success with Each Step

I used to have a very fixed opinion about success. I knew what it looked like, how it would arrive and, once I obtained it, I knew my life would be perfect. My plan was to become famous. I studied acting and performed on stage and screen. Unfortunately I wasn’t particularly good at it and I didn’t like hanging out with other actors. They were all completely self-absorbed. So instead I decided I would become a famous singer/songwriter. I played in bands, I toured, I wrote songs, I recorded. I was even offered a recording contract. But bands break up and recording contracts disappear. When all was done and dusted I didn’t have the energy or desire to keep going.

Then along came radio. It was the perfect combination of acting and music. After years of banging my head against closed doors, all the doors swung open. It was a miracle. It was meant to be. I landed my dream job. Success at last. And here’s the thing about having a fixed opinion of success; the goal posts shift, life is fluid, everything changes. In other words my dream job turned out to have warts. I did discover, after much resistance and then acceptance, that I could still love it, warts and all, but it no longer fulfilled my definition of success.

Perhaps a successful relationship would do the trick. I achieved the required standard by getting married. But, you guessed it, I found out there is no such thing as the promised happy-ever- after. My job might have had warts but my marriage had bunions. However once again, after much resistance and then acceptance, I learned to love it, bunions and all.

Years ago I started writing. A quiet pursuit, never in the spotlight, unlike my other attempts at fame. Most people wouldn’t think I was a success because I wasn’t published. But my definition of success had changed by the time I took up the pen. Finishing eight drafts of my novel and finally completing my meditation memoir after six years, these were successes to me. I sent them out into the world and they returned with kind suggestions and notes about revisions, most of which I took on board. Each small compliment was another success. I did the work and sent my manuscripts out again. A process of growth and refinement.

And now, success. My meditation memoir will be published by Pan Macmillan next year. A cause for celebration. But I know this is not the end. This is just another step on the journey. A journey where every step, no matter how many warts or bunions, is a cause for celebration, is a success.

***You can also find this post in the latest edition of Holisitic Bliss 

 

 

Paradise

Paradise is a place where the sun always shines and the rocks are red. I know this to be true because I’ve been there. It was my five-year old nephew who led the way.  Elliot had been to paradise before and was keen to show me the beauty he’d discovered. He described a magical, secret place where the grass was green, there was a waterfall and sparkling waves lapped gently on the shore.

I was spending the day on Bruny Island, a smallish isle just off the coast of southeast Tasmania. One of my brothers had a weekender there and it was the perfect place to get away from the hurly burly of mainland Tasmania.  We’d been to the southern most part of the island where the lighthouse stands proudly looking south. The only thing between it and the Antarctic are a couple of small islands that look as though they’re covered in snow but no, it’s guano.

On the way back we headed off the main road, where we’d seen a total of three cars all morning, and veered down a rutted road towards Jetty Beach. It is here that paradise lies. Elliot led the way down to the end of the beach where the ruin of the old jetty leans lazily against the rocks. We had to clamber over difficult terrain and avoid the foul stench of rotting seaweed. Sometimes we came perilously close to slipping and plunging ankle-deep into slimy weed and algae. The road to paradise is never easy. But the result was worth it.

Almost at the end of the point, Elliot stopped and said, “Here it is, this is paradise where the sun always shines and the rocks are red.”

I looked at the muddle of rocks stained red by algae and half covered with slimy
sea grass. I examined the wreck of weathered wood and hand-made nails that was the jetty. I saw the trickle of tannin brown water seeping through the matted undergrowth. And I watched his young face full of joy, taking in the wonder of this little patch of heaven that he’d discovered all on his own.

He was right, it was paradise.

A Laugh of Your Own

I know what it’s like not to know the sound of your own laugh. Some people have distinctive laughs; the snorters, the guffawers, the gigglers but I was never brave enough to have a laugh of my own. I used to try on other people’s laughs to see if they would fit. I’d choose people I admired, copy their laugh and practise it till I got it right.

Sometimes I still hear the echo of a long ago friend or colleague in my laugh.These days it makes me smile but back in those days my own laugh sounded like a cynical shrug. I was too scared to laugh in case I was wrong to think something was funny, or in case a trick was being played on me and I’d look foolish. In such cases cynicism is by far the best attitude to take. But if I copied someones else’s laugh I had no need to feel vulnerable. I could hide behind it.

It seems that I’m not the only one who’s been too scared to express myself in my own unique way. I was listening to an album called Poet, a Tribute to Townes Van Zandt. Townes has been described as a self-destructive hobo saint and the greatest American songwriter of his day. His day ended in 1997 at the age of 52. He was a poet and a drunk, and fully committed to both.  I put the album on and without having to look at the cover I could identify the singers; Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Nanci Griffith and Lucinda Williams. All of them with distinctive, individual, brave voices.

What’s happened to brave voices? Where are the Janis Joplins and Van Morrisons of today? Frank Sinatra’s voice was beautiful but it was still distinctly his. Even with the onset of age and toupees he still sounded like Frank. Now there’s just a bunch of wannabes who try to emulate Old Blue Eye’s vocal chords. Why don’t they find their own voice? Too scared or perhaps too cynical, wanting to go where they think the money is.

And what of the endless stream of popstars and idols? Where are their voices? They blend into one homogenous vanilla ice cream soft serve. None of them have enough face or faith to front up and be themselves. Where are the voices that will be remembered, that will travel through time because of their strength and their truth?

Ray Charles tried to sound like every other artist of the time before he found his own voice. It wasn’t until he was brave enough to be himself that he became truly successful.

I can understand that, I can relate to it. When I stopped being scared of what other people thought, I found my own laugh. And funnily enough, I started laughing a lot more.

Dreaming

Have you ever watched a dog dreaming? Some say animals don’t have souls. Others say the dog you’re watching while it sleeps could be your great aunt. In which case the dog could be dreaming of knitting tea cosies and baking Spotted Dicks. Souls or no souls I don’t know, I’ll let you know the answer when I get to the other side. But I do know that watching a dog when its dreaming can be a very amusing thing. Feet scampering, nose twitching, is it chasing a cat in its sleep or dreaming of a big juicy steak?

I wonder if ants dream. I don’t even know if they sleep. Do they just keep working till they drop and become fodder for other ants? If an ant dreamed I wonder what it would dream about. Picnics from paradise spread out on a checked table cloth within easy reach of six busy little legs perhaps. Nightmares of big solid soled boots descending from above. Or peaceful slumbers containing kindly Buddhist monks brushing the pathway before walking.

Philip Dick posed the question “Do androids dream of electric sheep?” and his book was turned into the very fine movie, Blade Runner.

I love dreams. I have a lot of them and most of them I remember for a while before they fade like stars in the morning sky. Look too closely and they slip away as fast as you try to cling on to them. A woman had a lot of violent dreams, in her dreams she set about killing just about everyone she knew. She was going through a huge change in her life. Her yoga teacher told her that these were yang dreams and that when she’d resolved the issues in her life she wouldn’t dream at all. She would have no need to dream. She may perhaps have ying dreams but these would leave little impression on her mind and she wouldn’t remember them in the morning.

I know someone who never remembers his dreams. He’s done a lot of personal work, resolved a lot of issues. I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that he doesn’t dream or if he does he doesn’t remember them. Being such a big dreamer myself I though there may be something he was repressing that was stopping him from remembering his dreams. Now I know that he’s just more evolved than I am and in fact it’s me that needs the therapy.

But I don’t want to lose my dreams. I love waking up and feeling reality change from the dreaming world to the every day world. I love remembering the places I’ve been in my sleep and the strange things that have happened. I enjoy having that different dimension in my life. I feel tempted to keep some angst and a little unresolved guilt in my life just so I can keep having my adventures in another reality. Not that I want to dream of murder every night, and I very rarely do. Most of my murderous thoughts arise during the day! But in a day to day life where bureaucracy is burgeoning, fear keeps us more and more regimented, and safely cocooning our lives away in front of plasma screens is the thing to aspire to, the wild unpredictability of dreams can be the spark of imagination and daring in a cotton wool world.