Category Archives: Personal Development

Apache Blessing: 3 Day Quote Challenge.

“May the sun bring you new energy by day,may the moon softly restore you by night, may the rain wash away your worries, may the breeze blow new strength into your being, may you walk gently through the world and know it’s beauty all the days of your life.”

― Apache Blessing

Rainbow Toes at Byron Bay 2015.

Rainbow Toes at Byron Bay 2015.

Many thanks to our friend Melinda from purpleslobinrecovery, who has nominated us for this Challenge. Melinda blogs about her journey from slob to clean queen, and her ongoing battle with the Clutter Fairies, who we think must be related to the Slapstyx Goblins!

Thank you to Annabelle Franklin from https://annabellefranklinauthor.wordpress.com/ who nominated me for the challenge.

Rules of the Challenge

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you
  • Publish 3 quotes on 3 consecutive days on your blog. It can be your own, or from a book, movie or from anyone who inspires you.
  • Nominate 3 more bloggers to carry on this endeavour

I would like to nominate:

Kathy from https://timenomatter.wordpress.com/

Kath Unsworth: from https://timenomatter.wordpress.com/

Trent: https://trentsworldblog.wordpress.com/

I would also like to thanks Joanne from Top of JC’s Mind for this Indian Pudding Recipe. Living in Australia, I haven’t had much exposure to Indian culture but am going to try making this with the kids https://topofjcsmind.wordpress.com/2015/10/13/indian-pudding-recipe/

xx Rowena

Grappling With Fear… the Making of Courage.

What is your greatest fear?

Today, we move onto the second question in the Proust Questionnaire, a tool many writers use to develop their character’s back story. Since I am the main character of the Book Project, I am going through the Proust Questionnaire myself and loving it.

While there are times most of us might struggle with even the concept of happiness (question 1), I’m sure most of us know fear. Indeed, if you’re anything like me, you could be well have your very own A-Z of fears, which you could could rattle off in a jiffy.

“Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean.”

Christopher Reeve

When I first started thinking about fear, I started revisiting those dreadful moments where I was completely paralyzed and clearly an emotional wreck. However, the more I worked through fear, I came to appreciate that fear is an inherent ingredient in its flip side…courage.

After all, without fear we can not be brave.

Consequently, instead of denigrating fear as an emotion and seeing it as purely negative, we can also re-brand it as a positive, uplifting emotion. That through embracing fear, challenge and overcoming hurdles, we find our inner strength and experience personal growth.

Getting back to answering the question at hand, of course, I could easily give you a simple one or two word response but where’s the fun in that? As much as I don’t really feel like exploring fear in all it’s goosepimpled glory, looking fear in the face and really feeling those emotions, that is the essence of writing.Immersing yourself into the character, the experience until you live and breathe through it’s heart, lungs and soul.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

Dale Carnegie

After all, writing, good writing, is not about skating over the top of the iceberg. No, it’s about diving deep and dealing with the unexpressed, the hard to comprehend, those feelings which are so incredibly painful that any sane sole would stay well and truly away. Yet, we plow on. We can’t leave those pages unturned…despite the personal cost!

“Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean.”

Christopher Reeve

While I posted a wide range of photos to show my happiest moments, my most fearful moments haven’t really been photographed and even if they were, they wouldn’t necessarily show the inner mechanics of fear which are perhaps concealed behind a seemingly calm veneer, a nervous smile or talking a thousand miles an hour to somehow calm my nerves.

However, when I truly think of fear, utter panic and all those alarm bells going off at once, there’s no greater representation of that enormous fear than Munch’s: The Scream. I actually have it near my desk, waiting to be framed and stuck on the wall. You see, I know that scream, the freak out very, very well.

Yet, although fear is portrayed as a bad thing and something to be avoided, fear is also part of any new experience, especially one which really stretches and challenges us, taking us out of our comfort zones creating growth.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Nelson Mandela

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

One of my greatest personal triumphs was skiing down Perisher’s Front Valley with my ski instructor despite having a life-threatening, disabling auto-immune disease which attacks my muscles and lungs. I still remember standing at the top of the mountain gripping onto the edge by the skin of my toes, totally overwhelmed by a tsunami of fear. At the same time, I’d joined up with the Disabled Winter Sports’ Association and my instructor was well-trained and experienced at enabling people like me to ski as independently as possible but with support. Probably the very worst part of it was looking over the edge and seeing how small the village was down below and how the car park was full of “ants” and I felt like I was about to fly off the edge of a cliff into abyss.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

TS. Eliot

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”

Vincent Van Gogh

Eventually, after a few falls and needing to stop to catch my breath, we arrived at the bottom. It didn’t feel like the exuberant triumph I’d expected but I’d pulled off my dream. Fulfilled a goal. Moreover, as much as I was afraid, I didn’t let that fear stop me from truly living. From seizing the day with both hands and swinging from the chandelier, even if my joy was, at best, subdued.

At the same time, I must confess that I haven’t skied down Front Valley a second time. That view from the top and the steepness of the slope was too much but I’ve subsequently skied through Happy Valley a few times and this time decided not to look down. Plus, my instructors carried my skis and boots back while I could the chairlift. (So you don’t have to go through fearful situations alone!)

“Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.”

John Wayne

I was also terrified when I was having my first session of chemo. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but it’s pretty scary having toxic stuff pumped into your veins…even if it is in a hospital. I half expected my veins to blow up, which naturally didn’t happen and I didn’t throw up or lose my hair either. I was suddenly somehow “lucky”.

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

However, another important aspect of going through fear and surviving those nasty experiences is that we develop resilience and we start developing the skills and attitudes which enable us to overcomes adversity not just now and then but every day. After all, life is all about tackling ups and downs and standing only makes you stagnant.

“By adversity are wrought the greatest works of admiration, and all the fair examples of renown, out of distress and misery are grown.”

Samuel Daniel

So, even when fear is completely and utterly justifiable in a situation, the monstrous picture your imagination paints is often far worse than reality and you somehow manage not only to survive but feel a bit victorious…a real sense of achievement.

“To him who is in fear everything rustles.”

Sophocles

Phobias are a different story. A phobia is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. Phobias come in all shapes and sizes but spiders, snakes, mice, heights are a few classics. While it is good to have a healthy respect for deadly critters(trust me Australia has more than its share of these!!), being terrified of these things and letting them get in the way of living is a different story.

“There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them”.

Andre Gide

Jaws...even the theme music inspired dread.

Jaws…even the theme music inspired dread.

At the same time, fear can also be protective and what might be a phobia can also be a real and very life-threatening. It’s not something to simply shrug off and ignore. I’ve never been scared of sharks but lately there’s been a string of shark attacks on Australia’s East Coast. Indeed, there’s been 13 shark attacks in New South Wales in 2015*. We’ll be off to Byron Bay again soon, which is right near a few of these attacks and it really is questionable whether we should swim in these shark infested waters. Do we love swimming that much? I don’t think so but I will seek local advice when we get there. To me, this is just being sensible…the same way I would go swimming with croco9diles in the Northern Territory.

“Let us not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless when facing them.”

Rabindranath Tagore

The more I considered fear, the more I came to realise that fear was also coupled with courage, especially when we face our fears, instead of fleeing to the hills. Being prepared, having some training, tools etc obviously increases the likelihood of victory and a good outcome.

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”

Louisa May Alcott

What are your thoughts about fear and the interplay between fear and courage?

xx Rowena

Sources:

https://taronga.org.au/conservation/conservation-science-research/australian-shark-attack-file/2015

The Acorn

You walked through
the school gate with hesitation:
a blank page with your name scrawled
crookedly in the corner.

An acorn planted in fertile soil,
you germinated.
Bursting through that constricting shell
too small for you to grow,
you poked through the soft earth,
a tender shoot reaching for the sun.

As your shoots headed for the sun,
your roots tunneled deep
towards the very centre of the earth
soaking up the spring rains
and you flourished.
Anchored to the ground,
reaching for the sky,
you were firmly planted.

At least,
that was in my dreams.
Sadly, even a fruitful journey
is full of storms and contradictions
and even blue skies burn.

I watched your leaves
change colour with the seasons;
their illuminated palette glowing
like stained-glass windows
backlit by the glorious sun
and bare sticks persevering
through another winter’s chill.

I shielded your tender stems
against those howling, winter winds
and quenched your insatiable thirst
all summer long.

At first,
I always held on tight,
holding your hand,
paving the way
trying to teach you
everything I knew.

But then…
little by little,
I let go…
just enough
for you to grow.
For I knew one day
you would have to stand alone.

DSC_8646

II
I don’t know who played
cruel tricks with the clock
and even meddled
with the very hands of time
but you’re no longer a sapling.
You’ve become a tree,
even growing acorns of your own
and I don’t know where
all those years have gone
or how to get them back.

Oak Tree, Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Oak Tree, Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Anchored to the soil
through your enormous trunk,
your mighty branches now
stretch right across the sky
with strength, persistence and endurance,
through sunshine and rain,
providing homes to the multitudes.
Birds build their nests
singing great morning choruses
as ants march up and down
carrying bulging loads with great intent.
Children build cubby houses
climbing towards the sun
laughing and having fun
while you smile proud,
oozing with life and love.

I am so proud
of all you’ve become!

III

DSC_8650

Now, it is I who needs
your strength
as my leaves change colour
falling to the ground.
Slowly but surely,
the colours wear away
until only the veins remain
and you are helping me
across the road instead.

DSC_8711

I don’t want to go
but we each reach
the end of this road.
and as the cycle goes on,
the oaks need to leave room
for the acorns to grow.

IV

You entered the gate a boy…
a blank page
with your name
scrawled crookedly
in the corner
but now you’ve emerged…

a man.

On 17th December, 2009 I wrote the very first version of this poem. It was the day after our son finished his first year at school and he was still only 5 years old. I had been struck by how far he had come in that year. When he arrived, all he could do was scrawl his name in the corner of a big, blank sheet of paper but by the end of that year, he was writing tentative sentences and was reading quite well, even if sitting still and concentration weren’t his thing.

I have reworked the poem many times since then and have even extensively reworked it today.

Mother & Son played by actors Ruth Cracknell & Garry McDonald.

Mother & Son played by actors Ruth Cracknell & Garry McDonald.

The relationship between mother and son weaves its way throughout the poem, which reminds of of a favourite show: Mother & Son, staring Ruth Cracknell and Garry McDonald. I don’t kno whether you’d describe it as a comedy or a tragedy but Mum in the story has dementia and Garry McDonald plays her middle-aged divorced son who is still living with Mum but probably not by choice.

Mother & Son
: “The Funeral” clip: http://aso.gov.au/titles/tv/mother-and-son-funeral/clip1/

Time has certainly flown past. He is now 11 years old and is in Year 6…his last year at Primary School. Next year, he’ll be passing through a different gate when he goes off to High School. His journey hasn’t progressed as smoothly as the fairly idealistic path depicted in the poem and life hasn’t been smooth sailing but he is finding real maturity now and growing up inside as well as in terms of height. We are very proud of him!!

This poem remains a work in progress and I wonder if it will ever be finished.

However, I wanted to share it with you.

Moreover, today is 1st April and the beginning of the Blogging From A-Z Challenge which takes place in April each year. This is the first time I’ve participated and I’m a little bit daunted about tackling the technical side of it all but sometimes, you just have to hurl yourself straight off a cliff and keep running!!

Love & Best wishes,
Rowena

I am participating in the A-Z Challenge.

I am participating in the A-Z Challenge.

Diagnosis: A Rough Week!

Just because things could always be worse, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be better! Or, that you haven’t been through some kind of traumatic “Beam me up Scotty” experience where only bits of you have returned back down to earth. You’re feeling strangely fragmented and more than a little bit shell-shocked.

You should never have to apologise for these less than spectacular moments just because they don’t turn out to be something major. You are still having to go through the same hoops and they aren’t usually much fun in themselves either.

At the same time, these stresses can create post-traumatic growth because even though you might feel dreadful at the time, you are actually becoming “Tonka tough”. Through building up resilience, hardship adds new whiz bang state-of-the-art equipment to your personal tool box so you can fly and literally soar beyond all the crap and off into the blue yonder. That is, once you’ve cleared the ground.

“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body.The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (somewhat chauvinistic but still a good quote.)

We’ve had a pretty grueling week taking our 9 year old daughter to have a Barium Meal and an endoscopy to test for things like coeliac’s disease and other gastric nasties  So, it’s no wonder I’m feeling awful and I’m left wishing I’d snatched the anaethesetic mask off her face and breathed deep, so deep that I’d still be asleep. Not that I want to make it permanent. It’s just that after all this stress,  a good dose of anaethesetic is just what the patient’s mother has ordered.

“Name…Date of Birth…” Asks the nurse.

Damn! It’s pretty obvious I’m not a 9 year old girl.

Neither of these tests were nice or something you put your child through unless you’re pretty sure there’s  a problem. After all, they’re not an ice cream taste test challenge. In the case of the Barium Meal, it involves feeding a little person who is quite the non-eater  yucky, chalky tasting stuff. In the case of the endoscopy, they’ll be shoving a camera down into her stomach on a long tube. On top of that, there’s also the scariness of going into hospital and her terror that if she’s coeliac, that she’ll have to be gluten free and “never be able to eat party food ever again”. I don’t think the whole thing of having a camera fed done into her stomach had even sunk in and we certainly weren’t pressing the point. She was being so brave and courageous but she did want it over and done with.

As I said, you don’t put your child through all of that without very good reason. Our Miss is quite underweight and has trouble eating more than just a sparrow-sized meal. I have written sagas about sandwiches returning home untouched. That’s annoying and wasteful. However, the real gripe with all of this, is the shocking bad moods as her blood sugar plummets and Miss Jekyl returns home. These mood swings alone justify a swag of medical tests as they can be very draining.

By the  way, I should also mentioned that I’ve been through these tests myself. I can’t really remember the Barium Meal and I just remember the post-anaethesetic haze when I woke up from the endoscopy. I’ve been through much worse and they really are relatively minor tests but it’s very different watching your 9 year old daughter going through it than doing  it yourself. Indeed, so much worse that I really could have used that anaethesetic.

“for there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.”
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Anyway, the tests began with the Barium Meal swallow on Monday. Needless to say, I worked myself up into quite a frenzy, wondering if she’d actually swallow the stuff or stubbornly refuse or even throw it up? I expected tears, protests and the biggest tantrum ever recorded and was truly bracing myself for the worst.Consequently, Geoff took the day off work and came with us and I’m sure that helped to maintain the peace because she was fine and handled it all like her mother.

Then, we had to wait for the results..

Stick any sort of probe into your body’s dark and mysterious innards and you have to be prepared that they’ll find something you might not want to be found. Now, I’m not talking about that secret pot of gold you buried in there years ago or other forms of hidden treasure. I’m talking about all those potential nasties which could be lurking in your body that you don’t want to know about. You have to be prepared that one of these has moved into your body and may not be willing to leave. Of course, Google fuels all these fears better than kerosene hurled on an open fire, lading to all cyberchondria is all it’s numerous mutations.

For our daughter,  the Barium Meal test was looking for structural anomalies such as a twist in the oesophagus. I quickly decided that we didn’t want this…especially when I read that the appendix can also be in the wrong place and need to come out as well. All of a sudden, I pictured our precious baby girl being carved up like a lamb roast as they seemingly rearranged and extracted her insides. My goodness. I quickly exited that diagnosis. Yes, we were definitely not having that…not that you can pick and choice your diagnosis or its severity but we all like to think illness is like a shopping list and we can have some degree of choice about which diagnosis we put in the trolley. Ha!

When it comes to medical test results, there’s the good news, the bad news and the inevitable inconclusive question mark. Obviously, we all want the good news but if everything was fine why was there a need for the tests in the first place? As long as there’s effective treatment, the bad news may not be quite so bad as it first seems if the problem can either be fixed or managed. However, the more I think about it, the inconclusive question mark might just be the worst result of all. Being neither good nor bad, this can easily fall into the rare disease category where you start hearing phrases like: “we don’t really know” and “I’ve never seen this before.”

Trust me! I know all about that!!

Anyway, the Barium Meal test went well and was relatively uneventful, although she did complain about the taste.On the other hand, she said that the x-ray equipment was great fun because it twirled her around. That was an unexpected joy so you can’t predict how these things are going to pan out!

The results were great and came back without a glitch!!

With Thursday being the endoscopy down in Sydney and a hospital admission and all, I just wanted Wednesday to go smoothly without any complications and for everything and everyone to leave us alone so we could be prepared. Of course, this is almost like an invitation for all those nasties concealed in Pandora’s Box to suddenly fly free and attack and that’s exactly what happened.

Our daughter was feeling sick and so she stayed home from school. Our son, who is notorious for being unable to find his shoes, was missing one shoe and saying he couldn’t go to school. What’s more, he was really starting to rev up with something of an Oscar- winning drama performance  and was refusing to look for the absent shoe  and was leaving me to do all the hard work, while throwing out incendiary devices such as: “You hate me!” Did I mention that he was still playing Minecraft through all of this? I was fuming!!! I was pulling out every trick in the book to get him to budge and eventually he moved. Found his shoe in a completely different room to where I’d found the other shoe and he was off to school. That drama was frustratingly stressful and very, very draining.

After a recharging cup of tea, the day was proceeding well and we were mentally psyching ourselves up for the big day.

That was until the phone rang. It was the school. I don’t like it when the school rings because they obviously never just call up for a social chit chat. There’s always a drama involved and while sometimes it’s simply a one Act play. More often than not, we’re talking the full four acts and an encore performance.

Mister had been hit on the head with a didgeridoo and wasn’t feeling well. Could I come and pick him up. What the @#$%?!!!! What were the chances?

It could only happen in Australia! Moreover, it could only happen to our son and at the most inconvenient moment. We specialise in statistically rare disasters in this house.

When you think about your child’s head doing battle with a didgeridoo,  being a hollowed out lump of wood, you don’t need much imagination to start seeing stars, concussion, a fractured skull, emergency brain surgery and,,,and…and…Oh yes! There’s also missing the signs of all of the above and we all know what that means.

I didn’t need to be thinking about taking our son of to Emergency with a suspected skull fracture not to mention bleeding on the brain the night before we’re taking our daughter off to hospital. I understand that parenting often involves a lot of multitasking but seriously this is all a bit much for even us to handle at once. We’re only human. Dear Lord, please remember that. We’re only made of flesh and blood and we can only take so much.

However, he refused to go to the doctor and perked up and went off to the cafe with my mum and Miss, while I went and had my blood test in preparation for my specialist appointment. Then I was off to my violin lesson and a talk at the high school. It was a very busy night…especially when, as I said, we just wanted peace..peace almost at any price!!

But this is my life we’re talking about and it is heavily influenced by Mrs Murphy’s Law. That’s right. Mrs Murphy says Murphy was an optimist.

Staying up way too late again writing on the blog, I was just getting out of my chair to go to bed when my good ankle crunched and I was in agony. Not as bad as when I broke my foot but certainly up there. I started to wonder what the chances were of breaking the 5th metatarsal on the left foot while the right foot was still healing? Then again, there’s odds and statistics and then there’s me.

My mother often says we were born underneath an unlucky star and as much as I try to prove her wrong, sometimes I succumb. Putting my good foot out of action the night before Miss goes to hospital…this was no conspiracy theory. Bad luck not only follows me. It eats me on toast. Not that I’m complaining or whingeing. The situation is what it is but as much as I have rotten luck, I’ve had so much experience fighting back and overcoming all this crap now, that I’ve developed a fight back routine which not only puts me back in the box seat. It also makes me better prepared for the next round.

So, after somehow getting through Wednesday, it was Thursday and we were off to Sydney to take Miss to hospital for the endoscopy.

By this stage, I’d all but decided our daughter has coeliac disease and I’ve been trying to get my head around becoming gluten-free. She has been very upset about the possibility of having to be gluten free and had a complete meltdown over never being able to eat party food again. These are big things for a kid and not easily dismissed with the usual Australian cop out: “she’ll be right, mate” and I didn’t try either.

Rather, I suggested that she try not to think about it too much and get busy doing something else and if she’s gluten free, we’ll deal with it then. I also reminded her that other people we know are gluten free and they still have yummy foods. It’s not the end of the world. Actually, coeliac’s disease can be quite serious but I didn’t want to stress that. From my experience, coming to terms with bad news is a bit like trying to eat an elephant. You’re best digesting it one mouthful at a time and not in one, painfully large gulp. This, of course, is the danger of Googling your symptoms and doing a selfie diagnosis. You can read the very worst cases and swallow too much information at once and even make yourself terminally ill!!

We are still waiting for the final results. So far they haven’t found signs of coeliac’s  but it seems her stomach may have delayed emptying. We’ll just have to wait and see, which I hope means whatever it is, it isn’t too severe.

Meanwhile, although I’m not superstitious but it’s Friday 13th today and of course the bad luck didn’t leave me alone. I might not have seen that wretched black cat cross my path but I know it was there. Otherwise, how would you account for yet another nasty fall this week and my right  foot back in the boot?

That’s right. The boot is back on the right foot.

Yes, I am feeling annoyed about it all and just because these falls are frequent, it doesn’t mean they don’t hurt even if I’m smiling. That I don’t need a hug or a bit of TLC. I might be strong but I’m still human and I bleed.

Do you have any experiences you would like  to share? Living with ongoing, resistant adversity isn’t easy though we triumph and inspire. If you are also traveling in this boat along with us, we send you our love, compassion and understanding. Take care!!

Love & Blessings,

Rowena

PS: BY the way, I just found out that it is ironically National Coeliac Awareness Week in Australia 13=20th March. See here for more information:

http://www.coeliac.org.au/

The Unspoken Language of Love.

On Sunday, when we celebrated our son’s 11th Birthday, it was about so much more than cake, presents and even the much anticipated party. It was a golden opportunity to show our son how much we love and cherish him and for him to sparkle like a diamond in the candlelight. There’s nothing like your birthday!

If you read my last post, you’ll understand that celebrations have become quite a production and I wouldn’t be surprised if it soon finds its way to Broadway or London’s West End.

I’ve already dealt with the cake.

Now, we’re onto the presents…or THE present, in particular. You see, I gave Mister a second-hand Australian Army uniform, which I chanced upon at a local opportunity or thrift shop.

Choosing gifts is something I take pretty seriously. I really do try to slip inside someone else’s skin, walk around in their shoes, see the world through their eyes and their soul to find that “Wow thing”. That thing which makes their heart sing. Not only because they love it but also because they know I understand. I get them. This gift, therefore, somehow reflects that very special, often concealed inner self or perhaps the seeds of that very precious dream, which are just waiting to germinate, flourish and grow yet are still so tender, tentative and so very embryonic.

To put it simply, gift giving is a great way to show empathy, which is such an important component of love. It is the life-giving force which enables us to grow and reach for the stars.

After all, don’t we all know it when someone gives us something which misses the mark entirely or when our significant other gives us something so impersonal that it could’ve come from a stranger? These gifts affect us in a different way, so often stabbing a knife through the heart. Quite bluntly, they clearly don’t understand you at all!!

A happy birthday boy!

A happy birthday boy!

Although I don’t always find that perfect present which fulfills all these hopes and expectations, I did find the perfect gift for Mister and I couldn’t wait to see his response. As I mentioned, I bought Mister an Australian Army uniform I chanced upon at the op shop. Mister wants to join the army when he grows up and although I’m not keen, I pushed my own feelings aside and supported my son. Of course, the uniform is  way too big but dreams are like that at the start. We have to grow into them.

Having children is my greatest achievement. It was my saviour. It switched my focus from the outside to the inside. My children are gifts, they remind me of what’s important.

Elle Macpherson

More than just being an army uniform, this was a very special birthday present from me to him. It said I can put my values and desires aside to respect and nurture his dreams and encourage him to grow up and be himself, rather than trying to shape and mold him into who or what I think he should be and, in effect, turn him into a bonsai…a pruned and shrunk down version of who he was meant to be.

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

You see, in my youth I was pretty opposed to armies, war and battles. I even took part in protests against Australia’s involvement in the Gulf War and marched through the streets. I wouldn’t describe myself as a pacifist but I’d definitely be of the view: “Make love not war”.

Miss is dwarfed by the army pants.

Miss is dwarfed by the army pants.

I’m also a person who, at least I hope, has principles and have built up something called “character”. This means having values and standing up for what I believe in. Before the kids were born, for example, there were going to be no Barbies, no guns and definitely no signing up and joining the army. But as much as you bring up your children, they also modify you and seeing pure happiness and joy glowing on your child’s precious face does tinker with these values a bit. Or, at least, it does for me.

Hate to admit it but a persistent campaign of incessant nagging by your kids can also make an impact on all you held dear as well!

Mister was thrilled when he opened up his present. He was so happy with such an enormous smile that he was grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat. I was happy too.  Both kids held  the uniform up against themselves and it looked ridiculously big, reminding me of a comedy sketch from Wallace & Gromit: The Wrong Trousers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pW6gj2n51sU

Watching the kids with the army pants reminded me of Wallace & Gromit in the Wrong Trousers.

Watching the kids with the army pants reminded me of Wallace & Gromit in the Wrong Trousers.

I’m sure Mister didn’t appreciate what giving him that army uniform represented. Of course, he doesn’t know just what a seismic shift it is for me to embrace his love of the army. While I love any form of history and honour our ex-service people and collect memorabilia and books from WWI and WWII, that’s very different from having your one and only beloved son go and sign up. That possibility, though still a long way off, does trouble me a bit because I was also his age once and that was when I decided to become a writer and I’ve never veered off course. Writing is like breathing and I even write in myself. Actually, truth be told, I’m often writing when I should be asleep!! I knew that’s who I was when I was 10 and it was set in stone.

However, as much as I have marched and protested going to war, I also felt it was important that I support my son in how he sees himself and in pursuing his dreams. Recognising who he is as a person and empowering him to walk in his own shoes instead of trying to impose me or my values on him like an iron on transfer. Just because someone is young, it doesn’t mean their dreams and values aren’t precious and worthy of recognition and respect, even if we would rather they pursued a different path. Our children need to know they can trust us with their dreams and aspirations. After all, they come from the very heart of the soul and are so very, very precious and need to be handled with kid gloves … certainly not ridiculed or rejected. That, would be like stomping on the precious wings of a beautiful butterfly which, having just emerged from its chrysalis and waited for its tender wings to dry, is about to take its first tenuous flight…and this is your child who is so much more worthy than that.

So I gave him the army uniform and made him happy.

So happy that he took the army uniform to school on Monday, particularly to show his teacher whose son is in the army. He was as proud of punch and he truly respects all that the uniform stands for and what it means to fight for your country. Well, as much as you can when you’re an 11 year old kid and war is on the other side of the world and it’s not in your own backyard.

So I managed to get it right.

Or did I?

After all, was it just coincidence that I strayed across that army uniform in the op shop or was it meant to be? Serendipity? God? Destiny fate?

This isn’t just an erroneous question. I am an op shop addict and I have never seen an army uniform for sale in an op shop before and yet there it was just a couple of weeks before Mister’s birthday. As much as I might have decided to stretch myself well beyond my comfort zone to encourage his dreams, I also suspect I was nudged.

Interesting!

Our mothers give us so many gifts. They give us the precious gift of life, of course, but they also leave treasured lessons that can guide us along our journeys even when they are no longer with us.

Maria Shriver

By the way, I should point out that while I was protesting, Geoff’s brother was actually in the Australian army and Mister has grown up with Uncle Terry’s slouch hat in the house. Geoff’s Great Uncle Ralph French died in France during WWI and we have been down to the Australian War Memorial as a family to honour him and we even participated in a special memorial service they hold each day and we laid down a wreath. Another Great Uncle served in Gallipolli and went on to serve in Beersheba in the Australian Light Horse. So it would seem that joining the Armed Forces are in my son’s blood.

xx Rowena

PS A week after Mister’s birthday while I’m sitting at Palm Beach, I stumbled across this song Forever Young by Rod Stewart, which I wanted to send as a post birthday present to my son: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgiLWNgpXiQ

Why Stay Calm, When You Can Really Panic???!!!

Keep Calm and Carry On might work well if you’re a rock or the proverbial brick. However, if your passions are somewhat more easily aroused and your blood starts to boil and explode despite going to your happy place or bathing in the Pool of Siloam, welcome to the club. Feeling rather aroused, agitated and more of an Incredible Hulk than a Bruce Banner, I have tried going to my happy place of calm. Indeed, I’ve tried locking myself inside and throwing away the key. However, I keep returning to turbulent seas, which are much better depicted by  Munch’s The Scream. Indeed, if only I could scream, I’d feel better.

The reason I’m feeling all wound up and tense is that our daughter will be having tests next week to investigate some issues with reflux and being underweight. She will be having a barium meal and endoscopy to check things out. These tests aren’t difficult, traumatic or life-threatening and neither are the potential issues we’re investigating. Miss is largely well and energetic but she barely eats and is about half the size of many of her average-sized peers. If this is who she’s meant to be, that’s great. I would love to be almost that lean and she can be the real fashionista. However, there are a few ripples that concern me…as well as my gut intuition.

Dr Suess

All the same, I’m still wound up and agitated about it all and feel like something sinister is running after me and I just want to whack it on the head and destroy it completely…a bit like Basil the Rat in the final episode of Fawlty Towers.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mv0onXhyLlE

I'd love to put an ad in paper and get rid of my health issues.

I’d love to put an ad in paper and get rid of my health issues.

Where is a good cannon when you need it?

Of course, it didn’t help when the doctor’s secretary called out of the blue offering me an appointment “tomorrow” and then the doctor telling me he can do the endoscopy next week. I know I said it was urgent before Christmas but after being in the deep freeze for so long and not thinking about it, suddenly it’s all systems go and I’m struggling to defrost. Despite my best efforts to self-calm, I am well and truly freaking out!!

You would probably imagine that after all my medical issues and treatments, that our daughter’s tests would be a walk in the park. I’ve had brain surgery twice, chemo, an arterial blood test. I have lung function tests where they even block off my breathing for a second or two. Hey, I’ve even given birth to two children, albeit via the zip. I also had blood transfusions every 3 weeks for 5 years where they probed around through dry river beds and often had a few jabs before they found a decent vein…ouch! I also had my teeth cleaned at the dentist lately, which was probably more painful than any of this. My teeth, like the rest of me, are over-sensitive.

Oh yes! When it comes to medical trials, I’ve definitely earned my stripes. I am very, very resilient!!

However, there’s a huge difference between being the patient and being the patient’s Mum.

No parent likes seeing their child experience any kind of discomfort or pain but for me, there’s also this sense of responsibility. An awful, sinking feeling that I’m leading my precious, baby lamb to the slaughterhouse, especially as we’re not even 100% sure that there’s a problem. Of course, that would be the ideal outcome. We don’t want them to find anything. However, that also raises the question of whether the tests were needed in the first place and whether I’m putting her through all of this for nothing.

If only I could add this to the barium meal, Miss might drink it.

If only I could add this to the barium meal, Miss might drink it.

I mean getting a child to swallow the barium meal when she’s been known to refuse to chocolate cake is going to be no mean feat. Indeed, Dad will be coming with us for moral support. It reminds me of an old ad for Quik we had as a child: “Drink it Freddy! Drink it!” www.youtube.com/watch?v=-P-OFW3ZDB4

Am I just being an overstressed, over-anxious Mum? Am I so used to being overweight that seeing ribs on someone else seems odd and verging on starvation just because I’m so well padded?

Moreover, while we’re on the subject of overly anxious parents, Munchausen by proxy syndrome (MBPS) comes to mind. MBPS, which is also known as “medical child abuse,” involves the exaggeration or fabrication of illnesses or symptoms by a primary caretaker. It was named after Baron von Munchausen, an 18th-century German dignitary known for making up stories about his travels and experiences in order to get attention. “By proxy” indicates that a parent or other adult is fabricating or exaggerating symptoms in a child, not in himself or herself.

However, when it comes to attracting medical attention, I don’t need anymore.

I don't think hospital was on Dr Suess's list.

I don’t think hospital was on Dr Suess’s list.

Moroever, I’m with Dr Suess. When he wrote: “Oh the places we can go!”, he wasn’t talking about hospitals or doctors’ waiting rooms!

All these things aside, our daughter’s refusal to eat does put quite a lot of added strain on family meals. Under duress, she’ll eat a Weetbix for breakfast. For years, her sandwiches have come home from school untouched, day after day, year after year. She eats an amount of food the equivalent to two match boxes for dinner and often complains about feeling full or sick. Even as a baby, she refused to eat and her weight has hovered around the bottom 5-10% most of her life. The fact that she has remained on the same trajectory and is relatively healthy and active are very encouraging but there’s still this nagging doubt.

I just need to make sure. Know I have covered the bases but not put her through exhaustive, unnecessary testing. Despite my uncertainty, I do think that when you have concerns as a parent and that uneasy feeling in your gut, you need to put some trust in your own judgement and intuition. Investigate. Ask questions. My daughter’s doctor also thought there was enough evidence to take the next step and refer us on. After all, these symptoms are concrete, measurable and aren’t the product of my over-active imagination…the stuff of a medical, fantasy novel published by Hypochondriacs Anonymous. To be honest with you, I’d much rather be a hypochondriac than really be sick.

To some extent my approach, has been informed by my own experience. When I was around 25, I was diagnosed with Dandy Walker Syndrome (DWS), a variation of hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain and had brain surgery to insert a shunt to treat it. Our best guess explanation for DWS was my difficult birth. There were times where I’d had various tests and we came close to working things out but we always missed the next definitive step, which would have given us the answers.

I have often wondered how different my life would have been had the Dandy Walker been diagnosed as a child. Growing up, I always felt “different” and I think I always knew there was something and I really did try to work out what was going on. I turned to psychology to try to unravel these inner mysteries when in fact, the problem was organic, structural and all in the plumbing. I was teased and bullied and all but destroyed at times and it would have been helpful to have understood what was going on. Since I had the surgery, my coordination also improved and I could have been spared a lot of heartache.

On he other hand, I was very independent and  I traveled quite a lot with that harbour in my head. I traveled quite a lot within Australia, usually travelling on my own but meeting up with others on the road. All this travel culminated in a trip to Europe in 1992, after my parents gave me a 12 month open ticket for my 21st birthday. I stayed in Europe for 9 months, mostly living and working with a family in Heidelberg in Germany. To be quite frank, I doubt my parents would have funded that if they’d known about my head.

No! No! No! That would never have happened. I would have been way too precious. Wrapped in more layers of bubble wrap than a fragile porcelain doll, I would have been protected, sheltered and to be honest…as stunted as a bonsai. Not that all parents of children with disabilities closet their kids and when they do, perhaps not without due cause but having a shunt in your brain is a fairly major thing for a kid and they are renowned for blocking and being temperamental…particularly in years gone by. We’re not talking about having a broken toe. Brain stuff is at least potentially major.

I know my life would have been very different.

Perhaps, it is this awareness that even serious medical conditions can bubble along seemingly under the surface for many many years while only causing intermittent trouble, that has caused me to be vigilant with my kids’ health. That’s not to say that intuition is always right and that your worst fears will turn into reality but it is a reminder. Serious health complications can have relatively subtle symptoms (at least at the start) and prevention and early diagnosis can be life-saving.

That said, as I head towards our daughter’s medical tests, I am hoping that it’s all nothing or just something simple and easy to accommodate. I’d much rather be an anxious mother than having a sick child. Wouldn’t you?!!

By the way, thank you so much for listening and I would welcome your thoughts.

xx Rowena

PS I’d like to share Ronovan’s post on boosting your positivity. I need to revisit this myself: https://ronovanwrites.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/positivity-negativity-be-gone/

 

 

 

 

Compassion: Should you carry their load?

If you have been following my blog over the last couple of days, you will know that I have been participating in a global blogging movement 1000 Voices Writing for Compassion and it went live on Friday for the United Nations Day of Social Justice.  So, I have been spending what time I could over the weekend immersed in compassion, love but also a fair amount of cynicism and hurt..

I have uploaded a few posts but my main contribution was a somewhat humorous post: Compassion Fatigue: A Light Bulb Moment: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/compassion-fatigue-a-light-bulb-moment/

In this post, I warned about the signs of compassion overload, which could leave you at risk of compassion fatigue (which isn’t something to joke about, by the way):

“if you are watching ants lugging heavy loads with more than just a casual eye and indeed considering learning ant language so you can help them more effectively: “Hey, can I give you a lift?” Then, perhaps you have taken compassion just that little bit too far.”

Jen, from Driftwood Gardens http://driftwood-gardens.com/ suggested: “As far as the ant is concerned, my philosophy would not to be help him carry his load, but rather to leave him to his business instead of squashing him underfoot.”

That was a very insightful comment because there is that delicate balance between helping someone and dis-empowering them, which ultimately achieves what it describes. It takes away their independence leaving them unable to look after themselves, even when they might be quite able. Psychologically-speaking, this is known as “learned helplessness” but in everyday speak we call it: “use it or lose it”.

In the Unexpected Journey-Life”, Ameena from Ramblings of a Random quotes:

The best day of your life is the one
on which you decide your life is your own.
No apologies or excuses.
No one to rely on, lean on, blame on.
The gift is yours-
it is an amazing journey- and you alone are responsible
for the quality of it. This is the day
your life really begins. – bob Moawad

You can read more here: https://randomsbyarandom.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/unexpected-journey-life/

All this thinking pressed even more buttons inside my think think think tank  and I remembered this excellent pearl of wisdom;

Education: a form of compassion.

Education: a form of compassion.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.
-Maimonides

Of course, my daughter looked at this quote and pulled it to bits: “What if their fishing rod breaks?” “What if they have nowhere to cook it?” “What if they wanted to eat something else?”

Gee, I wonder why I’m going grey?

After reading the many posts which were uploaded for 1000 Speak , I am rethinking how we help others and whether we should be providing long term, intensive assistance. Instead, shouldn’t we be educating and empowering people to find ways around obstacles through education, lateral problem-solving as well as finding ways to draw out and develop their strengths, instead of only seeing weakness and what they can’t do? This way, we can all extend, stretch and become ourselves in every conceivable way instead of being stunted like a bonsai. An oak is meant to be an oak stretching its branches right across the sky. It was never meant to be a table ornament!.

Speaking as a person with a disability and when my auto immune disease flares up, I can become severely debilitated while my meds get increased to sky high levels. I sometimes get angry when I get stretched too far, especially as I have been doing this while parent two young, very active children . However, if I was never stretched, I wouldn’t grow and find out what I’m made of.  In the last few years despite these health issues, I’ve learned the violin and now play in an ensemble and I have also learned to ski. While this seems like a miracle, it was actually the result of incremental small steps, perseverance and persistence.

This seems to point to being stretched enough to challenge but not so far that we snap. Unfortunately, given the lack of support for people living with severe chronic illness or disability (by the way, anyone in the “severe” camp you could well have both) many are currently living in dire straights where even basic food and cleaning requirements are sadly lacking.

When it comes to helping people with perceived weakness, we should never assume they can’t do something, although it might be considerate to politely ask if they need a hand. I’m forever leaving my walking stick behind and am very thankful when people chase me to give it back. I have tripped, injured myself and dropped handfuls of things and appreciated assistance and lauded the “Good Samaritan”. A friend of mine has given the kids lifts to and often from school and friends have also minded the kids when I’ve had medical appointments (I have lots of these). We appreciate meals from friends or Church particularly during rough patches but I am also training my kids to cook and I am adept at cutting corners as well as doing the gourmet thing. I just choose my moments. Meanwhile, I try to give back and I photograph events at the school and write press releases to help out where I can.

After spending time with people with fairly significant physical disabilities, I have been quite surprised by what they can do both in terms of the everyday but also through incredible feats like climbing Mt Everest or completing the Kokoda Track. These achievements actually make me look twice at able bodied people wondering why so many are glued to the couch.

Moreover, when we step in and carry someone else’s load, we not only stop them from growing and reaching their God-given potential but we also stop them from developing resilience. I’m surprised that more people haven’t heard about resilience because from where I sit, it’s that  magic ingredient that allows empowers us to roll up our sleeves and get through adversity.

I loved this definition of resilience:

1.the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
2.ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.

However, encouraging and nurturing people to reach their potential doesn’t mean we should cut people who are struggling off without a safety net. Without the financial means to lead a dignified life, which for many people living with chronic illness or disability means a pension. We should never be left to fend for ourselves out on the street. Some of us can’t. We might be able to find ways around hurdles or pull off significant physical challenges for some one-off quest but that is different to what it takes to maintain a full-time job day in day out…especially while juggling medical appointments and procedures which I’ve heard so many describe as “a full-time job” in themselves.

Perhaps, what I’m suggesting is that we offer a hand without taking over or accepting a gracious “no” if our assistance not required. We can also share our resources, I guess through the village which Lizzie Rogers wrote so eloquently about here: . We all have different strengths and weaknesses and by pooling our resources, we can all benefit: T.E.A.M: Together Everybody Achieves More.

At this stage, this post is very much a work-in-progress and me thinking out loud in a bloggy kind of way and so I would really appreciate your ideas and feedback as these ideas are rather complex and probably something that requires more stewing but I wanted get it posted before 1000 Voices for Compassion finally clocks off in an hour’s time.

After over-dosing on love and compassion over the last couple of weeks. Actually, I’ll rephrase that. you can’t overdose on love. Anyway, after all of this good stuff,  I’m feeling 10ft tall…a tree which has outgrown so many, many expectations.

Year after year, the cleansing rains fall and the rejuvenating sun shines through my leaves and warms my soul. My leaves change colour, fall and decay recharging the soil and feeding the worms working unseen. Children climb my twisted branches while their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles shelter under the shade of my lush, green leaves. Families of birds nest in my leaves and sing each morning greeting the dawn. Possums swing from my branches at night and sleep in my hollows by day. Falling acorns spread my mysteries to foreign shores…or at least just further down the street. Sorry, there aren’t any koalas here. I am an oak tree, not a eucalyptus.

Anyway, time waits for no one and it’s time to quickly upload this before the bell tolls.

Love & Best wishes,

Rowena

PS: This is a huge and very sensitive topic I’ve bitten off and really addressed on the run. Already, I am coming up with further points.

For all of us, there is an issue of quality of life and finding ways of giving us meaning. So, if we can cut corners in some areas so we can have enough energy or finances to do what matters, that’s sensible. I know a very inspirational person living with a disability who uses a wheelchair, rides a bike and can walk somewhat. Using the chair extends what she can get done but she is still maintaining her fitness and mobility. I used to think you either used a wheelchair or you didn’t not that you could do this juggling act, which is yet another way of empowering the individual!

I also wanted to mention finances for families living with chronic illness. I would estimate that many families with either a sick parent or child are in effect living on half an income. That one parent can’t work and might get some small amount from the government and then the illness chews up the other half of the income and then there’s what’s left and you’d better snaffle that up quick before the kids get hold of it!!

 

 

Compassionately Blessed.

Today, I am participating in an incredibly inspirational global blogging movement called 1000 Voice Speak for Compassion where a thousand bloggers are writing about compassion.

I have spent the entire day reading through over 60 of these posts, which though a drop in to the proverbial ocean, I feel myself enriched, nurtured and like my heart and soul have richly fertilised through very intimate stories of hurt, pain trauma and loss. How someone’s kindness touched their hearts and brought a light through the incredible darkness. I have read very concise posts with some excellent tips on how to exercise more compassion in our lives because, as other bloggers pointed out, compassion is a verb. There have also been a lot of people looking around them and feeling a sense of despair as they observe and feel immersed in a culture that either doesn’t care, has compassion fatigue or is simple the “ME generation”. At the same time, these compassionate souls are determined to flow against this tide and be the difference.

Doubly Blessed

Doubly Blessed

At the same time I have appreciated all that I have read and hopefully soaked it up like a sponge because as I said, I really felt touched, changed encouraged by what I read, I am also conscious that I haven’t even bitten off the tip of the iceberg. I want to read all 1000 posts even though this seems like such an impossibility. But you see, I don’t want to miss out. This project has brought bloggers together from right around the world and each of us has I’m sure tried to produce our very best and surely most inspirational work. This is the “if I could only write one post before I die, this is what I’d say” type of stuff…life-changing, unforgettable and something to cling onto like a limpet to a rock. If you haven’t tried getting a limpet off a rock at the beach, it’s pretty much impossible. They cling very, very tight!!

I have made a few observations on my travels today:

1) Thank you to those who use first names on their blog. So many bloggers don’t have first names or even no name at all. Here we are writing about the importance of compassion without getting personal. I almost always leave a comment on a blog because I want people to that someone has read their work and appreciated it. Comments make my day and being an advocate for the Golden Rule, I like to treat people the way I like to be treated. My name is Rowena although I also go by Roweeee and I like to start all my comments with a “Hi….” While just leaving names blank seems to be such a part of blogging etiquette, if you are reading this, I consider you more enlightened. We don’t need to be afraid of each other or ourselves and a first name isn’t going to announce your whereabouts.

2) While it’s all very well to write about compassion, we also need to read these posts ourselves…as many of the 1000 posts as we can. We will be so much better people for it. Moreover, what’s the point of spreading compassion out into the world if we don’t read and absorb our own medicine. The change starts with us. Writing really is in so many ways a monologue of talk and to be truly compassionate, we need to listen and in this context that means read! Read! Read! Yes, and respond writing comments and share and exchange perspectives and personal parts of ourselves. We need to be the change!

It now seems like writing the post was the easy part!

3) I have noticed a mix of posts sharing positive experiences of people being compassionate to them through hard times and how the blogger was also there for someone. Came to their rescue. There have also been quite a few laments about a lack of compassion in our world and also the widespread prevalence of compassion fatigue both due to overexposure on TV or charitable fundraising efforts.

I would like to remind people of the very public outpourings of love, compassion and practical support which really warm your hearts and restore your faith in human nature. Here are a few examples:

The Brisbane Floods 2011:

Queenslanders played on during the flood clean-up.

Queenslanders played on during the flood clean-up.

When severe flooding devastated Brisbane in January, 2011 more than 26,000 Brisbane homes were flooded: 11,900 completely submerged and another 14,700 were partially flooded. This crisis resulted in the creation of a volunteer army to help people clean the stinky river mud out of their home and clean the place up. The response was incredible with volunteers even coming from inter-state. More than 22,000 people registered with Volunteering Queensland to help. Talk about compassion in action!!

The Paris March January 11, 2015

Huge Crowds March through Paris January 11, 2015

Huge Crowds March through Paris January 11, 2015

The huge floral tribute in Sydney’s Martin Place after the Sydney Siege in the Lindt Cafe in December, 2014.

Floral tributes in Martin Place: www.abc.net.au

Floral tributes in Martin Place: http://www.abc.net.au

It is important that int those times of doubt that we remember these moments were love and compassion have triumphed over hate, violence, natural disasters and more.

Through this celebration of compassion, we have sown the seeds of compassion on very fertile ground and we are now called on to nurture, water and feed those seeds to see them grow tall.

This post is part of a blessed initiative 1000 Voices for Compassion conjured up by the wonderful Yvonne Spence and Lizzi Rogers at Considerings. Please visit their blogs and consider joining this huge campaign. We could all use more compassion.

The link up hosts are:

http://1000speak.wordpress.com
Roshni AaMom http://www.indianamericanmom.com/
Kristi Rieger Campbell http://www.findingninee.com/
Crystal Cook http://www.theqwietmuse.com
Erin Fangboner https://chronicallysickmanicmother.wordpress.com/
Gene’o Gordon https://justgeneo.wordpress.com/
Jen St Germain Leeman http://driftwood-gardens.com/
Michelle Liew http://gettingliteral.com/
Lisa Listwa http://www.themeaningofme.com/
Pooja S Mulleth https://ilirianravings.wordpress.com/
Katie Paul http://head-heart-health.com/
Lizzi Rogers https://summat2thinkon.wordpress.com/
Yvonne Spence http://yvonnespence.com/
Leah Vidal https://littlemisswordy.wordpress.com/
T.A. Woods http://penpaperpad.com/

Love & Blessings,

Rowena

 

 

Compassion Fatigue: A Light Bulb Moment!

For so many with a passion for compassion, there can come a point where we need to reassess our vision. Admit that we have over-extended our scope or perceived list of responsibilities beyond our sphere and have actually gone too far. Moreover, although we not be thinking about compassion fatigue or burnout, we need to pull our heads in before we implode. Otherwise, instead of being able to help and support others, we risk needing help ourselves!

I would suggest that if you are watching ants lugging heavy loads with more than just a casual eye and indeed considering learning ant language so you can help them more effectively: “Hey, can I give you a lift?” Then, perhaps you have taken compassion just that little bit too far.

IMG_0061

There comes a time when especially the most compassionate souls need to re-visit their priorities before it’s too late.

 

I have been putting a lot of thought into compassion since I signed up for the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion Movement where on this day Friday 20th February over 1000 bloggers worldwide have signed up to write a post about compassion on their blogs.

Here is a link to the project: http://new.inlinkz.com/luwpview.php?id=497564&fb_ref=Default

Today, is the United Nations Day of Social Justice. Thanks to my husband and has his particular way of challenging “stuff”, I would just like to stress that “social justice” has nothing to do with society taking justice into its own hands, mob rule or the formation of such abhorrent organisations as the Klu Klux Klan. Rather, it’s about giving everyone, as we Australians put it: “a fair go” and fighting against all forms of discrimination…even the insidious, invisible ones!!

Bloggers Around the World Unite: 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion.

Bloggers Around the World Unite: 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion.

Writing one post about compassion for me is impossibly difficult. It’s like taking me to the most sumpuous smorgasbord restaurant (all you can eat)  and being told: “You can only eat one thing!”

WHAT THE???!!

My husband would tell you that’s impossible. That I could never, ever go into a smorgasbord restaurant with all those tempting tables of every kind of Chinese, Thai, Italian, Mexican etc etc food each piled up as high as Mt Everest and all those tantilising aromas ticklooing my senses coaxing me to completely pig out: “Eat me! Eat me! I know you want to eat me.” THat’s before we even get to dessert and I can’t even think about chocolate without salivating, even in extreme heat when most mortals find the concept of molten chocolate abhorrent.  They want something cool.

THerefore, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that I’ve never left a smorgasbord restaurant without feeling incredibly ill and being reminded of that infamous restaurant scene where Mr Creosote explodes in Monty Python’s: The Meaning of Life:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aczPDGC3f8U

Unfortunately, my poor brain just can’t cope with sooo much choice and its default mode is:

“I’ll take the lot, thanks!!”

So with that graphic image of over-eating firmly etched in your brains, you’ll understand just how hard it is for me to write about just one aspect of compassion. There are literally limitless possibilities out there and a bit like Mr Creote, I could spew all those fabulous anecdotes and reflections out in the post, which would just be counter-productive….not to mention messy and very, very smelly, stinky and downright repulsive!!

MY instructor helping me up the magic carpet on my first ski lesson in 2013.

Giving me a helping hand: my ski instructor helping me up the magic carpet on my first ski lesson in 2013.

Just a few of the anecdotes I’ve considered revisiting today include address the love of a stranger and the compassionate support I received from my ski instructors who skied back down the mountain lugging my skis, boots and poles so I could take the chair lift back and conserve my small reserves of energy. Their compassion and using their physical strength for good, enabled me to ski down the best slope for my ability and give me the experience of a life time. It would not have happened otherwise and I would never have left the “magic carpet” or beginner’s area. Moreover, my testimony of skiing down the mountain for a second time after overcoming a flare up of my auto-immune disease, pneumonia and chemotherapy would not have happened.

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

I also wanted to write about some of the ways people actually treat people with disabilities with anything but compassion. Things like parking in disabled car spaces without a permit, crashing into people using a walking stick and how there is the completely inadequate social support to allow people with disabilities to live with dignity. For example, despite have a muscle-wasting life-threatening disease, it took me five years to get any domestic assistance and that is completely inadequate. There are also no long term supports for parents of young children who might be dying or living with severe, disabling illness and who require ongoing child care but lack the second income to pay for it.

Just to compound this sense of paralysis through analysis and compassion overload, I started looking up inspirational quotes about compassion.

Some were beautifully poetic:

“Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.”

Rumi

“The dew of compassion is a tear”.

Lord Byron

However, reading through compassion quotes became quite challenging and rather than concentrating my compassion into some kind of manageable, bite-sized portion, it expanded the scope exponentially:

“Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind.”

Albert Schweitzer

“Let us fill our hearts with our own compassion – towards ourselves and towards all living beings.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

“If we’re destroying our trees and destroying our environment and hurting animals and hurting one another and all that stuff, there’s got to be a very powerful energy to fight that. I think we need more love in the world. We need more kindness, more compassion, more joy, more laughter. I definitely want to contribute to that.”

Ellen DeGeneres

Okay. So after reading all of these quotes, I’m starting to think i should go back to the ant I saw this morning lugging that mighty big crumb and offer it a lift. After all, an ant is one of these living creatures we’re been calling on to assist!!

Ouch! Double ouch!! My brain hurts. Really hurts. This compassion fatigue seems terminal!!

But to add further salt to the wound:

“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”

Haile Selassie

That’s why I decided to write about compassion fatigue. Not the clinical version but just the garden variety which anybody with even just the smallest social conscience can experience. After all, each of us only has so many gold coins we can put in the collection tin and some of us, especially those living with any form of severe chronic illness, can feel like we could warrant some charitable donations ourselves. That’s particularly after paying for prescriptions, a medical specialist or about ten or when all our household appliances decide to breakdown at the same time. Moreover, if you have kids, you are the charitable institution. I remember my Dad telling us that: “Money doesn’t grow on trees”. “Kids, I don’t have a money tree, you know.” I don’t know whether we ever believed him. However, I still kind of believe in Santa, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy and given their generosity to kids worldwide, there has to be a money tree or at least a magic wishing tree out there somewhere!!

However, all this takes me back to what has almost become a cliche:

Think global: Act Local.

We can not help or save everyone but the chances are that we can help our neighbours in small, little ways that don’t really cost much such as giving people a lift, mowing their lawn and you know what I value the most: a smile and a hug. They are absolutely free and we could keep on passing them on. Well, we would be able to send and smiles and hugs right around the world if Australia, as our national anthem so ridiculously put it, wasn’t “girt by sea”. Gee, that ocean can get in the way at times!!

That’s been my modus operandi for awhile and while blogging and recent world events have extended my scope, I will still focus on the home front. After all, “charity begins at home”.

” I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Mother Theresa

I almost forgot to mention this but unlike Atlas,  we  don’t have to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. The state of the world, the environment and all the people and animals in it are not our responsibiity alone. While as individuals we might be ineffective on our own, when we collaborate we can move mountains. Moreover, through the power of prayer, we can also call on divine intervention. Never under-estimate the power of prayer!! Miracles can and do happen although I must also admit that sometimes for whatever reason God seems to be deaf…just like our kids.

Here are some of the other posts I have written about compassion and tomorrow I will post a selection of posts which were part of 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion.

Brain Plasticity & Saving Two Australians on Indonesia’s Death Row: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/brain-plasticity-two-australians-on-death-row/

The Aftermath of the MH17 Tragedy: Compassion in Action!! Sowing those precious sunflower seeds: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/?s=sunflower

Emotional versus Physical healing: The Struggle To Heal The Broken Foot & the Sydney Siege: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/02/09/the-struggle-to-heal-the-broken-foot-and-the-sydney-siege/

Love of a Stranger: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/?s=love+of+a+stranger

Skiing: Back to the Mountain Almost: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/back-to-the-mountain-almost/

Have a wonderful International Day of Social Justice and I’ll start the ball rolling by sending a smile and a hug to you!

If you have participated in 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion, please leave a link and even a brief intro to your post in the comments here for inclusion in a follow-up post.

Love & blessings,

Rowena

Brain Plasticity & Saving Two Australians on Indonesia’s Death Row

Frankly my dear, I do give a damn!!

When it comes to fighting for justice, I will personally stand up and be counted, even when the case is rather controversial. After all. it’s easy to have compassion for someone you love. It’s much more challenging when someone has a few prickles…or a past. Yet, sometimes our journey takes us down that road and we are forced to argue the points backwards and forwards inside our heads until we can make sense of it all and hopefully judgement turns to love.

I don’t know if the imminent execution of two convicted Australian drug smugglers in Indonesia has made International news. However, as citizens of the world, this case affects each and every one of us who believe in the sanctity and importance of justice and the capacity for humanity to change and redeem itself.

We are all called to stand up and fight.

The case I am referring to is the imminent execution of two convicted Australian drug smugglers in Indonesia: Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, who were part of the notorious Bali Nine. Since their conviction, these men have completely turned their lives around and deserve a second chance. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be punished. Just that they don’t deserve to die.

Portrait of Andrew Chan by Myuran Sukumaran.

 

My justification for clemency lies in the science of brain plasticity or neuroplasticity. If you know anything at all about brain plasticity, you will know and understand that these men have changed the very physical structures of their brains through rehabilitation and are no longer who they were. That they are, indeed, very different men. After all, if you have a different brain, how can you possibly be the same?

Victorian Supreme Court Justice Lex Lasry , summed  this up well when he addressed the Melbourne vigil held on 18th February, 2014. Lasry had been involved in the case of Van Nguyen, the Melbourne man who was executed for drug trafficking in Singapore in 2005. Lasry said that he has visited Chan and Sukumaran in jail in Bali several times and was in no doubt the pair had redeemed themselves.

“The reality is that if Indonesia go ahead and execute these two men, they’ll be killing an artist and a church pastor,” he said.

“The drug traffickers have gone. The drug traffickers left in 2005. “4.

About Brain Plasticity

Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity “refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behaviour, environment, neural processes, thinking, emotions, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury.[1] Neuroplasticity has replaced the formerly-held position that the brain is a physiologically static organ, and explores how – and in which ways – the brain changes throughout life.[1]

In The Brain Which Changes Itself, Norman Doidge M.D. a psychiatrist and researcher set out to investigate neuroplasticity. “He writes that the brain can change itself. It is a plastic, living organ that can actually change its own structure and function, even into old age. Arguably the most important breakthrough in neuroscience since scientists first sketched out the brain’s basic anatomy, this revolutionary discovery, called neuroplasticity, promises to overthrow the centuries-old notion that the brain is fixed and unchanging. The brain is not, as was thought, like a machine, or “hardwired” like a computer. Neuroplasticity not only gives hope to those with mental limitations, or what was thought to be incurable brain damage, but expands our understanding of the healthy brain and the resilience of human nature”. http://www.normandoidge.com/?page_id=1259

This brain plasticity isn’t just something for the laboratory or people experiencing chronic medical conditions or disability. It affects us all and is a more “scientific” explanation for what we have always known: “Use it or lose it!!”

To get an idea of how brain plasticity works, picture an old fashioned telephone exchange with all those cables plugged in. Our brain is built of these cables. So for example if we keep getting angry, those anger pathways will keep getting bigger and bigger just like exercising a muscle. Moreover, the bigger these pathways become, the angrier we will become unless we take action.

Conversely, each and every time we appease our anger and breathe deep, count to three whatever it takes, those neuropathways shrink and actually disappear. These are actual, physical changes in the structure of our brains. The brain map is different.

I have experienced these changes myself after undergoing brain surgery to treat hydrocephalus. I have experienced many changes but probably the most surprising is that I can actually play the violin and I now play in an ensemble. That takes some pretty complex brain and physical developments, which I never thought possible. I only took the violin up to help my daughter.

My argument is that through rehabilitation, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have demonstrated that through such brain plasticity, they are no longer the men they were.

Therefore, as an exceptional case and while not dismissing the severity of their crime, these new men deserve a compassionate response…jail not execution!

This quote from US President John F. Kennedy sums it up well:

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.”

Background to the Bali Nine

Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were the ring leaders of a group of Australian drug traffickers known as “The Bali Nine”. On 17 April 2005, the Bali Nine were arrested for planning to smuggle 8.3 kg (18 lb) of heroin valued at about A$4 million from Indonesia to Australia. These men were no angels and heroin, as we know, is a hard core drug which destroys lives. Authorities must do whatever it takes to get heroin off the streets. While people do dispute the death penalty, they are not advocating a more relaxed after to stopping the trade of heroin.

Going back to the time of their arrest, I didn’t have any sympathy for the Bali 9. Due to the very publicised case of alleged drug trafficker, Australian Shapelle Corby, the severity of Indonesia’s drug laws had been front page news for some time. I might not agree with the death penalty but Indonesia’s tough anti-drug laws most definitely weren’t a secret.

Australian Shapelle Corby had been arrested in Indonesia on 8 October 2004 when she was found to have 4.2 kg (9.3 lb) of cannabis in a double plastic vacuum-sealed bag in her unlocked bodyboard bag. Corby was convicted on 27 May 2005 and sentenced to 20 years in prison by the Denpasar District Court and imprisoned in Kerobokan Prison. To this day, Shapelle maintains her innocence and there have been numerous theories about how the cannabis got into her body board bag. Her case became a “cause celeb” and during that media frenzy, the severity of Indonesia’s drug laws was made very, very clear.

From where I was sitting in front of the TV, you’d have to be a complete idiot or have a serious death wish to even consider smuggling drugs in or out of Indonesia. I know people talked about making their luggage more secure after Shapelle’s arrest. Indeed, I’d even be checking the paperwork on my prescriptions before heading to Indonesia…especially given the amount of pills I take in a week. They could easily be perceived as trafficking quantities!

Those were the sorts of precautions your average Australian traveler was taking when the Bali 9 were arrested. Nobody wanted to be another Shapelle Corby and we were leaving absolutely nothing to chance. The consequences were just too great.

Given the historical context, the Bali 9 did come across as a bunch of idiots who had earned themselves what’s known as the Darwin Award: http://www.darwinawards.com/ After all, they didn’t need to be Einstein or have some kind of mystical crystal ball to know what they were getting themselves into. They just needed to turn on their TV. Shapelle Corby’s face was everywhere. Remember: Shapelle Corby was arrested on the 8th October 2004 and on the 27 May 2005 she was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Bali Nine was arrested On 17 April 2005, the Bali Nine were arrested right in the middle of Shapelle’s trial. You do have to wonder what they were thinking and if they were even thinking at all and certainly you would never expect these men to amount to anything much at all!!

That was then. This is now.

Self-Portrait by Myuran Sukumaran

Self-Portrait by Myuran Sukumaran

Fast-forwarding nine years, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan are changed men and are inspiring other prisoners and leading exemplary lives. These are not the same men who were convicted back in 2006. Their names might be the same and they are older versions of themselves but in terms of their soul, spirit, character and no doubt even the neurofibres in their brains, they are not who they were. Therefore, executing these men would be a great travesty of justice.

Victorian Supreme Court Justice Lex Lasry has long campaigned against the death penalty and was involved in the case of Van Nguyen, the Melbourne man who was executed for drug trafficking in Singapore in 2005.

 

Julie Bishop, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs  outlined how much the men had changed when she addressed Federal Parliament on 12th February, 2014:

“Both men are deeply, sincerely remorseful for their actions. Both men have made extraordinary efforts to rehabilitate.

Andrew and Myuran are the model of what penal systems the world over long to achieve.

Successive Governors of Kerobokan Prison in Bali – whose prison has given Andrew and Myuran the opportunity to reflect and change – have testified to their remarkable transformation.

A decade on from their crimes, Andrew and Myuran are changed men. They are deeply committed to a new path.

Both men are paying their debt to society. With dedication and unwavering commitment, they are improving and enriching the lives of their fellow prisoners.

Andrew has completed a theology degree in prison. As a pastor, he now provides religious counselling and guidance to fellow inmates. On the day he received the President’s rejection of his clemency application, Andrew’s Australian lawyer Julian McMahon said he was nowhere to be found, for even at this moment of undeniable personal anguish, Andrew had taken time out to comfort a fellow inmate who was seriously ill.

Myuran – referred to by many as the ‘gentle giant’ – has nearly completed a fine arts degree in jail. He has had the opportunity to become an accomplished artist; his raw talent recognised and fostered by his friend and mentor, renowned artist Ben Quilty.

In prison, Andrew and Myuran sought permission from prison authorities and began an array of courses to benefit fellow inmates, and to prepare them for their return to society.

They have led extensive and varied arts, cultural and vocational courses. Some of their courses are aimed directly at drug addicts, equipping them with the skills to beat their addiction, saving their lives and giving them real prospects in the future.

Andrew and Myuran have raised money for fellow inmates’ medical procedures; for victims of Typhoon Haiyan; for Indonesia National Day festivities.

Indeed, such is the profound effect of Andrew and Myuran’s inspiring humility and service, their fellow prisoners have come forward to lend support, even offering to take their place in execution to President Widodo…

Their remarkable rehabilitation, and the circumstances of their arrest, has prompted five successive Australian Prime Ministers to make representations in their name. [2]

What Brain Plasticity Means For Chan & Sukumaran. Why Spare These Men?

If somebody completely turns their life around and becomes an entirely new and different person on the inside, should they still be judged and sentenced to death because of crimes they committed in the past? Although they have the same name and DNA, they are a different person and things become very problematic.

Would justice truly be served and can we as a global community just stand back in good conscience and do nothing to spare these men? Or, do we both as a society and as individuals need to do whatever it takes to prevent such a tragic and unjust loss of life?

The answer is a resounding “yes”!! After all, two wrongs have never made a right!!

Although I have never met these men and I certainly don’t support the use or sale of such drugs, there is such resounding evidence that these men have significantly and are now dramatically improving the lives of those around them as well, rehabilitating and educating other prisoners much more effectively than other methods.

“Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek, whose husband was charged and convicted of a similar crime to Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, spoke out in Parliament saying: “criminals can be redeemed – my husband is proof.”

She adds that the laws which underpin the executing these men is the basic “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” law that has influenced the Old Testament and earlier legal codes in countries around the world. But that’s 3,700 years ago. We’ve moved on a great deal from an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-12/plibersek-these-men-deserve-restorative-justice-not-execution/6088334.

I also thought it was interesting that at last night’s vigil, emotional statements were read from the pair, which acknowledged their original stupidity,  saying that  the “compassion and kindness from people forgiving our stupidity” has made them feel “truly blessed” 4″

Their Last Words

Andrew Chan: “Thoughts from the Edge

“Thank you Jesus that you give me the strength and courage that I need to stand strong and to trust in you when the waters arise.”

“I thank you Jesus that you never give up on me and that your faithfulness is what helps me striving forward. I thank you for all the family and friends you surround me with in life and how your love pours out from them.”

“The Lord is revealing to me through this scripture is about how he’ll fight the battles for us and that we won’t be defeated if he goes ahead of us… The truth is God is remind us that when all seems helpless and you feel as though the enemies army surrounds you, God is telling us to stand still, take up our battle stance but do not move.[3]

Myuran Sukumaran – Thoughts from the edge

“When you are young you think money is the only way to get happiness … after being here for eight years you realize it is not.”

“After being in prison for eight years I only realized when it comes when it comes to drugs nobody gets rich – there are a few people – most get caught and end up in places like this and that’s the lesson.”

“I want to become a better person and I want to help everybody else become a better person as well. It is like a vehicle for everybody to travel in to better themselves.”

Last Words or a New Beginning…

Time is running out and I don’t know what any of us can do at this late hour. I understand that over 30,000 Australians have written to the Indonesian Attorney General pleading for mercy and many many people have spoken publically. Last night, a vigil was being held in Sydney to pray for the men and their families and this was just one of many. I can sense a collective heartache if these efforts fail and these two young men are put to death.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are in my heartfelt prayers.

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”.

*Please reblog this post and spread the word. It now looks like the lives of these men rest on divine intervention and people power.

As the saying goes: “Never give up”!!!

Love & Blessings,

Rowena

[1] · Pascual-Leone A., Amedi A., Fregni F., Merabet L. B. (2005). “The plastic human brain cortex”. Annual Review of Neuroscience 28: 377–401. doi:10.1146/annurev.neuro.27.070203.144216.

[2] Parliamentary motion: Chan and Sukumaran, Address to House of Representatives Speech, E&OE, Parliament House, Canberra,12 February 2015.

[3] http://www.news.com.au/national/six-living-former-prime-ministers-make-united-final-plea-for-doomed-bali-nine-duo/story-fncynjr2-1227222259664

4) www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-18/vigils-held-for-bali-nine-pair-facing-execution/6143978

Paintings: http://www.news.com.au/world/asia/bali-nine-member-myuran-sukumaran-paintings-in-melbourne/story-fnh81fz8-1227049488225

I apologise  for any breaches of copyright regarding the images used in this post. I am merely trying to support their cause.