Tag Archives: science

Mothers’ Day Is Floating Away…

Mothers’ Day is inevitably full of surprises. Not that I’m naive enough to script the day. Indeed, the older I get, the more I let it go. Run by itself.

That says quite a lot, because I can be something of a control freak.

Anyway, as I said, Mother’s Day is full of surprises and usually goes off script.

IMG_0836

The Family with the balloons before blast off.

So, this morning as we’re heading back to the car after Church, I’m wondering why the kids have wandered off AGAIN. I wasn’t impressed! Started wondering why we can’t all get to the car at the same time and why our family herds like meandering sheep…

Trying to round everyone up, I could see our son was clearly distracted. Indeed, all his attention was clearly focused at the sky and nowhere near the car, going home or my Mothers’ Day lunch.

Yet, in a moment which would’ve made his science teacher proud, he’d launched a shopping bag with a Mother’s Day card into the clouds powered by a bunch of helium balloons. I just managed to catch it visibly heading into the clouds like a dream. Apparently, he’d carefully tested the number of balloons required to achieve the desired amount of lift. This was a scientist at work, being observed by an absolute dreamer (his mother).

This spontaneous gesture filled me with such immense pride. He might not have broken any records, or invented the first shopping bag in space, but my heart was glowing.

That’s not something you can count on with a teen, especially on Mothers’ Day.

Although we did manage to get some photographs, he might just have to: “Play it again, Sam!” (Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca). These pics were hastily snapped on our phones.

It truly was a magical moment!

More Mothers’ Day entertainment to come.

xx Rowena

Featured Image: Photo Credit – My daughter “Miss”.

Messy: How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World.

If you could see my desk and take a panoramic view of my house, you’d immediately understand why I bought Tim Harford’s: Messy: How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World.

It’s not because I’m anally clean. Rather, it’s because I’m naturally messy, chaotic yet delightfully creative. Indeed, I rarely have any trouble with writer’s block and have more of a problem with creative overflow and all my neurons going off at once.

I didn’t need to think twice when I first spotted the book in  a Surry Hills bookshop in Sydney (the one with the rainbow bicycle out the front). I’d finally found an ally…someone else on my side of the messy desk debate. After all, I’ve long been an advocate of: “Messy desk, active mind”.

However, with the rise of the dreaded Declutter Movement, I’ve been becoming increasingly outnumbered. So, I welcome this book, which will become a handy weapon to defend myself against those marauding armies of preachy declutterers. While it might not be the size of a telephone book or antique Bible, it could still inflict a bit of damage, sending them packing along with their almighty bins.

book pile

However, Messy: How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World is far more broad reaching than the state of your desk. I guess it’s saying that you don’t have to be tidy minded to be creative. Indeed, Harford is suggesting quite the reverse. That chaos, shock thinking and juggling multiple projects across disciplines has led to some incredible breakthroughs. That being focused might not be the best approach to generating creative solutions after all. Indeed, he suggests the reverse.

I am still reading Messy and am only up to Chapter 3. While I appreciate that you usually finish the book before you write about it, I couldn’t wait.  I am finding this book so amazing that I’m not just reading it, I am studying it…scrutinising each and every page. That in itself is not exceptional. I always read books with a pen in hand to underline stuff and also jot down striking vocabulary such as “monomaniacal tendencies” in this instance. However, when it comes to this book, my scribbling has reached new heights and I am Googling bits along the way. There’s just so many valuable insights to investigate and explore that I really want to take it as far as I can. Just how far can these revelations take my writing? The way I think? I don’t know but I have very great expectations and am savouring every word along the way.

That’s why I thought I’d run through the book as I go on the blog and I’d like to encourage you to rush out there and buy it, so we can read it together.

When I studied creative writing at university, I was told that “writing is a thinking process”. Therefore, if we’re going to improve our writing, we also need to work on our thoughts, how we think, what inspires us and what helps us take those incredible creative leaps which take us way beyond anything we’ve ever written before.

As a reader, one of my pet hates is the number of writers who write about what it means to be a writer. Added to that, is the high percentage of novels which have have a journalist or writer as the protagonist. There’s such a plethora of characters out there, so why do so many writers stay within their comfort zones?

You might be surprised to know that I’m not only a writer but also a photographer,  am learning the violin and for the last 3 months, I’ve been taking adult ballet and lyrical dance classes. That’s alongside living with a disability and chronic health issues. This enables a lot of cross-fertilisation. I actually think of this as creative cross-training in the same way a swimmer might run, lift weights, do aerobics and yoga.

Have you read: Messy: How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World?

If not, I’d personally recommend abandoning your current read and getting stuck into it before you let the opportunity pass. It won’t just get you thinking, but will also inspire action, change and growth beyond writing. After all, we as humans should be in a state of constant refinement. To sit still, is to stagnate.

Well, I apologise for putting on my motivational speaker hat, but who doesn’t want to be their best? The only trouble is putting in the work.

Anyway, rather than stuffing all these insights into one humungus post, I’m breaking it up. My next post will be looking at Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategy Cards and then I’ll be looking at how to keep multiple projects on the boil without blowing a gasket.

That’s just looking at Chapter 1 on Creativity. So, stay tuned for more gems to get those synapses firing…really firing!!

xx Rowena

M-Dorothea MacKellar Replies #atozchallenge.

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for lovely letter. It has been so many years since I wrote My Country when I was in England as a young woman and thinking of home. I was touched to hear that it spoke to you in a similar way when you were in Paris. Well done on the reading!

What you might not appreciate me, was that I am a fighter. Writers and poets have to speak out. Words weren’t only created to sound pretty but to also serve a purpose. Each of us who indeed calls themselves a poet, must ultimately take a stand. Improve the world around us.

Bearing that in mind, I am asking you to fight for your country. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about going to war. Rather, the battle has changed and the mountains, plains, oceans and clear skies I loved so much, are under threat. This means that the battle is now within and unless we rapidly change course, we will self-destruct.

Tough decisions need to be made. However, Australians have always rallied together through a crisis and have what it takes to act!

Yours sincerely,

Miss Mackellar

 

F- Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken

Dear Mr Frost,

Sometimes, when you reach a fork in the road, you don’t get much of a choice about which road to take. Such as when you’re a dead poet receiving a letter all the way from the 21st Century and you’re being expected  to think, respond, answer questions when your only conversations have been with the worms and other subterranean guests.  That’s what makes life, and I guess even death, exciting. There’s always the challenge of the unexpected…that wake up call. So, Mr Frost, this is yours.

Welcome back!

Through your poem The Road Not Taken, you’ve become known as the man who stuck the fork in the road, creating that ultimate dilemma…which road should you take? While in your original poem, both roads are almost exactly the same, it has been reinterpreted as making a choice between the freeway or the road less travelled. Are you a follower or a trail blazer?

Now, I’ve reached my own fork in the road.

Should we explore what your poem was originally about or what it’s come to mean to so many?

Choosing Which Road To Take

While it can be really difficult to decide between two evenly weighted options, it’s either win-win or lose-lose. Of course, you’re closing off a possibility and with that there’s that sense of loss but if we are to carpe diem seize the day, we acknowledge that loss and move on.

The Road Less Travelled: The Freeway or the Scenic Road?

So, moving onto a different fork.

On one hand, you have the Freeway with its smooth, well sign posted conditions and faster speed limits but bland scenery.

Then, there’s the Scenic Road with is beautiful scenery, photo opportunities, slower speed limits and unpredictability. You’re constantly needing to monitor for hazards, take evasive action and possibly even navigate by the stars. Anything could be down that road and there could be a very good reason no one else is using it. After all, the flock might not be mistaken.

Which road would you choose?

That’s what I asked my family over dinner tonight.

My husband pointed out that your choice depends on the circumstances. If you’re in a hurry and need to get from A to B as fast as possible, then take the Freeway. However, if you have plenty of time and are looking for interesting places to explore, adventures  and photo opportunities, then take the scenic road. He also grew up in the country and loves nothing more than burning down a dirt road, where the car almost dances going round a corner. That’s an Aussie bloke for you and possibly quite different from your New England experience.

So, rather than setting hard and fast rules, we need to be flexible about which road we should take. However, does this leave us sitting on a barbed wire fence going nowhere?

Forced On the Road Less Travelled.

As much as we like to believe we’re in the driver’s seat, life can dump us on the road less travelled without a bottle of water or compass. There is no choice. I was born with a mind-altering neurological condition called hydrocephalus, which went undiagnosed until I was 25. With a harbour inside my head applying pressure in all sorts of funny places, I was bush bashing with my machete to create any kind of path. Surgery saved my life. However, then I developed a rare life-threatening auto-immune disease where my muscles attack themselves. This goes in and out of remission and even when I’m well and look fine, there’s still stuff going on.

However, through being dumped on a rough and rugged road and having to survive, I’ve become much stronger and tenacious. I’ve also been shattered, bruised and battered along the way and it’s been incredibly hard going. At times, nothing short of anguish. However, like coal enduring all that heat and pressure, I’ve emerged a diamond. Well, at least in theory!

That confirms some of the virtues of travelling along that rough, unchartered road.

A Choice

Taking the road less travelled, can also be a personal choice. Perhaps, you could call it lively curiosity. That pursuing all my unanswered questions, automatically takes me over unchartered ground.

Kids and the Road Less Travelled.

family

A recent family photo.

While I am accustomed to taking the road less travelled myself, I am much more perplexed about whether our kids should undertake the journey.

As a parent, protecting your children is an inbuilt, natural instinct. Of course, you want to give them a smooth road. Make their journey as easy as possible. Yet, is that what they need? What will be the ultimate result?  That concerns me.

If the kids are going to bounce back from life’s inevitable challenges, they need resilience. They’ll only develop resilience through being challenged, encountering problems and learning how to overcome them. You don’t develop these skills sticking to the main road where everything’s being done for you. No work or imagination required. Stay between the lines and under the speed limit and you’ll be right.

That’s very well when it comes to pitting themselves against the great outdoors but how about taking the road less travelled in the school context? Going against the flow and flaunting their differences like neon signs in the playground where kids can be brutally cruel and survival of the fittest is the modus operandi? What might be a bold, creative or adventurous move, can have a kid torn down and thrown to the wolves. Bullies know no mercy.

Knowing this, do you as a parent step in and gently redirect your child back into the flock or do you leave them be? After all, do they really need to sell their souls to belong, be accepted and have a few friends?  Surely, that’s not asking for a lot!!

These are tough questions. What would you recommend to parents? Should they be encouraging their children to conform and stick to the freeway? Or should they be and develop themselves, tackling the bumps and unpredictability along the scenic route, hoping they emerge a diamond, not crushed?

Personally, I also have to believe that shutting down independent thought is a really bad thing for the future of our world. That we need problem-solvers and thinkers who can put a heap of seemingly random things together and find that cure for cancer, develop ways of containing climate change and can help people live more harmoniously together. Cloned thinking has never led to discovery, invention or the answers we need.

I’m sorry I’ve jumped up on my soap box and have given you more of a lecture when I should be asking you. I guess I just needed to get all this out. See what you think.

Anyway, it’s now time for me to get some shut eye and for you to get to work.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Robert Frost's Grave

 

 

The Question Mark.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference”.

However, I must admit that I’ve never been that good at spotting the difference but that’s another story!

Perhaps, however, the ultimate question remains: how do we live with the question mark and life’s inherent uncertainty without becoming a nervous wreck? There is indeed a lot of strength or even misplaced power when we believe we’re all-powerful and somehow rule the world and control each and every roll of the dice…including the weather.

This is indeed one of life’s greatest unanswered questions along with how many days each of us will be walking this planet? We just don’t know. How long is a ball of string?

“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans”.

John Lennon

Inevitably, busyness usually distracts and refocuses our thoughts away from unanswerable questions redirecting our efforts onto something more tangible like cleaning the toilet.

More than once, I’ve cheered: “Thank goodness for that!”

This has been Q for Question Mark in the Blogging from A-Z April Challenge. If you are doing the challenge, please share what you have written today and how things are going? We’re now on the homeward track.

xx Rowena

 PS Found this great quote today as I approach W of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge:

 “Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

N is for Neuroplasticity: Changing Your Life.

Welcome to N for neuroplasticity on the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. My theme for the challenge is: A Few of My Favourite Things and while neuroplasticity might seem left-field, I really want you to follow me on this journey because the power of neuroplasticity has radically changed my life and understanding how it works, can help you as well. You can read an overview of my journey in my About page here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/about/.

While I can appreciate that neurplasticity might sound intimidating and be a trigger to flick to another blog, it is not as complex or mentally challenging as you might think. Nor is it some wafty, unproven fad. It’s a proven, scientific process, which has been championed by Canadian psychiatrist, Dr Norman Doidge through his two books: The Brain which Changes Itself and The Brain’s way of Healing.

In other words, it’s not a fairy story.

Neuroplasticity is really quite a simple concept when you explain it properly and when you harness its strength, you like me, will experience absolutely miraculous change. Unfortunately, you will still experience those “stubborn mules” which prove stubbornly resistant. However, at least, you know you’ve done your best to try and move them!

From what I’ve learned about neuroplasticity, we shouldn’t just be teaching kids the 3Rs but also how we learn. Some basics on how the brain works such as “use it or lose it” and how “practice perfects”. That our success or failure is based less on innate talent than hard work and that it takes a lot of hours…at least 10,000 to be precise, to even have a chance of making it to the top of our field. That success just doesn’t arrive on a silver platter.

Of course, some people have been blessed with bigger, faster engines but if they leave them in the shed, they’ll soon be overtaken by apparent snail power and left behind.

If you and your kids can get a grasp on how this works, you’ll never look back. You’ll still have ups and downs but you will be more empowered and skilled-up to tackle them more effectively. There’s little doubt you’ll be working harder but I guarantee you that whatever you apply yourself to, will see results. It’s as simple as:

1+1 = 2

It’s not rocket science.

Perhaps, the simplicity of it all is what stops people from having a go. We’d much rather put our faith in a much more complicated, mystical route than sticking to potentially tedious, repetitious practice and hard work…going over and over and over our mistakes until we have overcome them and “got it”.

Diagram showing brain activation while playing the violin.

Diagram showing brain activation while playing the violin.

As a musician, I’ve experienced this first hand. Instead of playing my favourite sections of a piece over and over again, my teacher gets me reworking the rough bits and playing them over and over again. She doesn’t say: “Play it again, Sam”. Being somewhat of a slavedriver, albeit a very nice one, she says: “I want you to play that section 10-20 times a day to get it right”. This sort of detailed practice is quite foreign to me as I just want to get up there and play, especially to an audience but you can’t do that straight away. It might be a year’s worth of practice on that one piece of music to bring it to the level of perfection where it can be performed. That’s a lot of hard work behind the scenes. However, once I have reached that long-awaited moment of victory, it’s like nothing else. A real eureka moment and I’m running down the street naked like Archemedes carrying my violin. Well, not quite but you get my drift!

What is Neuroplasticity?

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!!” Indeed, our brain is constantly remoulding and fine-tuning itself.

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.

Neuroplasticity and Acceptance.

At the start of 2012 after a serious health scare, I set a personal challenge. I applied neuroplasticity to the serenity prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

-Reinhold Niebuhr

You see, since forever, people have been telling me to accept things and quoted that prayer. Yet,  the trouble was that I simply didn’t know what I could change and what I had to accept and that’s what I decided to put to the test. I didn’t really set out with any clear cut goals but I was needing to lose some weight, which is a tough call when you’re taking prednisone AKA the “fat drug”.

It was during this time that I heard about brain plasticity and also the 10,000 hour rule and so what I was starting to appreciate was that I wasn’t set in stone. That all these words I used to describe myself, both the good and the bad, weren’t indeed words tattoed on my forehead which couldn’t be changed. They were more like stepping stones or train stops on a journey. I didn’t have to stay there. I could apply a bit of elbow grease and I could move on. Indeed, I was now in the driver’s seat and with the accelerator pushed to the floor, I was flying.

That was until I drove straight into pneumonia followed by a flare up of my auto-immune disease, which really was attacking my lungs this time and threatening my very existence.

Yes, neuroplasticity couldn’t fix everything.

However, my lungs have also responded to the same kind of repetitive practice and hard work which I’d applied to practicing my violin, except in this case I focused on building up my healthy lung cells instead of focusing on the damage and limitations. My lung volumes have since increased from a recorded low of 43% to 62% and are currently stable. In a sense it was a miracle and also the result of medical intervention but it also takes ongoing hard work.

Speaking of which, it’s time for me to start walking before that all important tide comes in and puts me out of business.

Living in a tidal zone really reinforces the need to carpe diem seize the day because “the tide waits for no (hu)man.”

Xx Rowena

PS When school goes back next week, I’ll be having to reacquaint myself with my violin. It has been rather neglected of late and I don’t want to lose the progress I’ve made!!

Sources

http://www.normandoidge.com/

[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.

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.