Category Archives: Health, Wellbeing, Spirituality

Challenging the Formidable Twins: Laziness and Stereotyping

“Once you label me you negate me.” Soren Kiekegaard

 

Sometimes they just creep up on you, don’t they? The associates of Prejudice never sleep. A few years ago, I was travelling home on the train after a very long day at work. I was forcing myself to stay awake even though I was exhausted, mainly because I became concerned about someone I caught sight of out of the corner of my eye. He sat diagonally opposite me in the row behind. I could make out some of the tattoos on his hands and arms. A hoodie covered his head. In a nanosecond I had him boxed and labelled. Stereotyping does that to us. It always brings out stupid.

As my train pulled into the station, I got up and stood at the doors. Just like every other train traveller I imagined that this action alone would magically speed up the disembarking process. I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was my labelled hoodie friend. “You dropped your phone,” he said and handed me my device that, like most of us, contained my life. I looked at him and thanked him, got off the train and felt as guilty as hell. In one fell swoop, I had placed him in the ‘troublesome’ category merely by the way he looked and what society had dictated to me about people who have tattoos and wear hoodies.

History reveals that we deal harshly with those who we consider ‘other’. Fear of what we do not know or understand has allowed humans to do unspeakably cruel things to each other. Ignorance is the foundation of this fear. Throughout history, ignorance has fuelled wars, division, shunning, and persecution. Yet today we have knowledge and information at our fingertips and ignorance still lives on. So perhaps we have to acknowledge that part of the problem of this fear and prejudice is simply a refusal to engage in critical thinking? In other words, when we have been told something about someone or a people group, we take that as truth and we are too lazy, or perhaps comfortable, to engage in robust dialogue or to challenge our own perceptions.

Stereotyping does great harm. Ask any religious, cultural, or racial minority in any society. This past week I listened to some Sudanese young people share about the effect of stereotyping on their lives and the lives of their families and community. I also listened to the rhetoric of a person who, because of some strange regulations found himself in government with 19 votes (those 19 votes obviously gave him enough confidence to stereotype religious minorities), advocate for a white-only immigration policy and make use of the term ‘final solution’ in reference to the people group he just marginalised. Another hatted politician defended this man’s speech as ‘absolutely magnificent’ and then added ‘he’s smart, but he hasn’t read all the history books.” No shit, Sherlock! Maybe he should before engaging in such damaging, lazy stereotyping!

Yes, Stereotyping has a twin – Laziness. And we don’t need to look far to see evidence of these toxic twins at work. If we pay attention, we will hear or observe ourselves sometimes engage in their slander. Or we just need to look on social media! The amount of alarming ‘fact posts’ on Facebook or Twitter, like “I can’t believe it, *insert name or minority group* drinks pig’s blood, flies a broom at midnight, and persecutes the religious pious”. Beneath the posts are all the outraged comments. Then someone finally actually researches the claim. “Hang on,” they write, “that’s not true. *Insert name or minority group* actually is vegan, sells brooms for a living, and is a person who believes in religious freedom.” But it’s too late – Laziness and Stereotyping have done their job, deepening the prejudice that already existed.

Social psychologist Claude Steel says, “Stereotypes are one way by which history affects present life. I often say that people experience stereotype threats several times a day. The reason is that we have a lot of identities – our gender, our race, our age. And about each one of those identities … there are negative stereotypes. And when people are in a situation for which a negative stereotype about one of their identities is relevant to the situation, relevant to what they’re doing, they know they could be possibly judged or treated in terms of that stereotype.” So what do we do? Just accept stereotyping as a way of life? Allow our minds the luxury of laziness as we assess other humans? Maybe the first step is to recognise that stereotyping is harmful.  The second is to realise that our brains can be lazy and we can easily accept stereotypical claims and assertions without a second thought. Perhaps by practicing a bit of mindfulness and critical thinking we can take some steps to resist and reclaim our lives from these obnoxious twins?

Maybe it’s time to slow down and consider our ways? To stop and think before we engage mouth or keyboard and consider how what we are about to say or do will affect other people’s view of that person or minority group? I am more convinced than ever that the only way forward for our fragmented world is to challenge Laziness and Stereotyping and engage other people with understanding and kindness. But someone already said that a very long time ago … “The greatest of all is love” … maybe we just don’t always believe that?

 

Everyone wants to be seen. Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to be recognised as the person that they are and not a stereotype or image. – Loretta  Lynch 

 

A Tyrant called Should

“Stop Shoulding on yourself!” – Albert Ellis

 

I don’t know how this tyrant found me. Somewhere in the more hazy, early years of my life, it arrived amidst whispers of fears of belonging and identity that are part of human existence.  It settled like a squatter in the shaping of who I was becoming. Over time the squatter seemed to grow in size and volume and it became ginormous within the ethereal walls of conservative fundamentalism. Perhaps you too know this tyrant I speak of? It’s called ‘Should’, first name ‘I’. I should.

I Should do this …
I Should be that …
I Should have this …
I Should not do this …
I Should…
SHOULD…!

Now don’t get me wrong. I think a healthy dose of ‘Should’ or ‘Responsibility’ around the table of our life is not tyrannical in any way. Should, in its proper place, keeps boundaries around our lives that keep us and others safe, and contributing to a greater good. Should holds the possibility of great rewards – and perhaps it is those rewards that cause us to obsess about it? However, to give in to its power is to live in the clutches of tyranny. Its endless demands on our lives and the lives of others is a source of anxiety, guilt, shame, depression and self-hatred. When we don’t measure up to Should we become angry and disappointed with ourselves. And when we place Should on the shoulders of others we end up consistently unhappy in our relationships.

Should is also the master of disguise. It is hard to recognise this exaggerated sense of obligation when we are convinced it’s ‘love’. We SHOULD love others, right? If you, like me, identify as a person of faith, it is often our notions about ‘loving others as ourselves’ that feeds this mutated idea of human kindness and compassion. And the more we feed it, the more we discover something … the beast is never satisfied.

Should also disguises itself as ‘virtue’ and hides the fact that in many ways it is our fear of being ‘disliked’ by others that keeps this tyrant in power. What if I don’t ‘Should’ one day and people don’t like me? What about my reputation? What if I upset them and it gets messy? The truth monster: Should is a mirror to I … and unless we confront an anxious ego, the tyrant keeps the crown.

For me, conservative fundamentalism was the compost the tyrant needed to grow even bigger in my life. The culture and history that informed my identity, taught me that the world is a serious place and we all need to do our part to keep it spinning. I was the perpetual ‘good girl’ wanting to please those around me. Then I discovered a form of religious expression that consistently enshrined and rewarded Should. In fundamentalism, Should came with accolades. It was a match made in hell. It became difficult to differentiate between Should and God. Should was cloaked in piety and had Bible chapters and verses to prove its legitimacy in my life. So walking away from fundamentalism, breaking the rules and ‘disappointing’ people, was really like sticking the middle finger up to Should. It was a most painful and liberating process.

Nowadays, Should still sits at my table. There are even days when it inflates, yells, and tries to snatch back the scepter. But it is no longer a tyrant – it’s more like a toddler, throwing an occasional massive tantrum. I recognise those days. I raise my eyebrows and speak to Should, “Should, you are loved and needed at this table. I am grateful for your voice in my life. But you are not in charge and if you don’t lower your voice I will spontaneously throw myself into the sea, eat a whole chocolate cake and drink copious amounts of beer … just to remind you that I also have other voices around this table. They are called Playful, Imaginative, Spontaneous, Fun, and Risky. When you shout at me like that, I will dial up their volume. Get it? You are NOT in charge.”

So, friend, maybe it’s time to examine ‘Should’ in your life? If you can’t find it, then perhaps you need to dial down the ‘reckless’ voice? If you, like me, find Should has a tendency to become overtly bossy and pushy then maybe it’s time to listen to what this is actually telling you about your life? Your relationships? And there is this little word that has magical powers when it comes to dialing down Should – it’s ‘No’. It has a beautiful ring, doesn’t it? “No, Should, I do not want to do that or be that. Now go away!” – I dare you to try it!

 

Heaven in a Puddle

“Every Path has a Puddle!” – George Herbert

A few days ago my fur children and I were on our routine jaunt to the beach. It is always at a brisk pace as there is nothing more fun on Planet Earth than for the lab and the pug to plunge into the waves. So they attempted to get to the water as fast as possible, dragging their human behind them like an odd pair of sled dogs. It had rained heavily the night before, and the bumpy road and sidewalks displayed a vast array of all shapes and sizes of puddles. Now, puddles are also very close to the heart of my dogs, especially the labrador who tries to submerge himself into their shallow murkiness in the hope of who knows what!

As we came around the last corner before the beach, where the street slants ever so slightly and creates a dip on the side of the road, there it was before us … the mother of all puddles. It stretched for several meters, like a mini lake, and the lab whined with sheer joy at such a glorious sight. At that moment the clouds parted and just for a few seconds heaven was in that puddle. The sun, the clouds, and the bright blue sky admired themselves in the water-mirror on the road. And then, as quickly as they came, the heavenly display was gone, and we stood at the edge of a muddy puddle in the greyness of the day.

As I waited for the labrador to stop pretending that he was a living submarine I looked up. There was no clue of the sunshine or the blueness of the sky that had appeared in the puddle. Just dark, menacing rain clouds. But I was not fooled – I had seen heaven in a puddle – a deep azure sky and a glittering sun that shines beyond the temporary weather patterns.

Sometimes life is like that mud puddle. The truth is that for some folk, labouring in a world that often groans with insidious injustice, their whole life is a puddle – here today, gone tomorrow and forgotten. All cliches and memorable quotes put together cannot change the heartbreaking existence for many people. For others, life holds puddle-seasons. I wish it wasn’t so. I wish every child born would live a life beholding and grasping the beauty of vast oceans, crashing waves and endless beaches. But that is not yet a reality.

So we often live our lives in light of puddles – muddy, murky, messy, shallow and bedraggled. How easy it is to tell our stories and shape our reality by mud and grime, but that is not the whole story. It is just part of the story. The very puddle that holds contaminated slop is also able to hold the sun, moon, stars, billowing clouds and eternal blue heavens that hide light-years and galaxies. Now and then, like thin places and portals, our puddles become mirrors to another dimension, another way of seeing. And once you see you cannot ‘un-see’ … your story begins to change…

As the dogs and I kept walking to the beach, I stared at another puddle, and I saw my face in it. Scientists now tell us that humans and their galaxy share about ninety-seven percent of the same kind of atoms. The idea that we are stardust is not ludicrous at all. “It’s a great human-interest story that we are now able to map the abundance of all of the major elements found in the human body across hundreds of thousands of stars in our Milky way,” says Professor Jennifer Johnson from Ohio State University. It is indeed a great human-interest story. It changes our way of seeing … it changes the way I perceive the face that is staring back at me from the puddle … it changes our story. Our little puddles begin to hold galactic possibilities of the now … and the not yet.

According to Sacred text, thousands of years ago a man called Jacob had a puddle moment. He suddenly saw what was already given, unbeknownst to him, and exclaimed his surprise. My prayer for you, dear friend, is that you would have Jacob’s eyes as you contemplate the divine and the star clusters in the puddles of your life.

 

“Some people could look at a mud puddle and see an ocean with ships.” – Zora Neale Hurston

In a World of Blind Privilege and Exclusion – Be a Mama Tammye

“I am on this planet, not for myself, but for the betterment of humanity” – Mamma Tammye
(Queer Eye SO2, EO1)

 

It started a few weeks ago. The texts, that is …

“Have you started Queer Eye Season 2? OMG!!!”
“Ok – STOP what you are doing and watch Queer Eye Season 2, Episode 1 … now…. text me…”
“Can’t stop crying – you must have seen Mama Tammye on Queer Eye?”
“Now you know what I think about church, but you might just drag me along if Mama Tammye was preaching.”

So, needless to say, I positioned my derriere on the couch, a glass of red in hand, 2 fur children snoring loudly next to me and started watching Queer Eye – Season 2, Episode 1 as instructed. I nearly convulsed, I was sobbing so hard through the show. I love the Fab 5 and the way they seek to bring meaning and transformation to the lives of others. And who would not fall in love with Mama Tammye?? She reminded me of everything that was okay about religion – she was a personification of the Good News that Jesus talks about.

Watching Mama Tammye interact with the Fab 5 and her complete love and acceptance of her magnificent gay son, Myles, brought up much grief and disappointment for me. If only modern expressions of church and Christianity, held so tightly and loudly by powers and authorities that are often very conservative, privileged and exclusive, had more of Mama Tammy and less of fear and control. What would that look like? Is an ‘old wineskin’ of ecclesiastical methodology and tradition, shaped by the triumphant rise of Christianity as a super-religion under Constantine, even able to hold such a dream? Does it need a whole new wineskin? Could we imagine religious settings that are able to love as fierce and fearless as Mama Tammye? I know there are many that do. Unfortunately, they are not always the ones who are seen or heard. Fundamentalism, that undergirds so much of modern Christianity, has set itself up as the truth bearer – shaming those who do not heed its ideas or peddle its control. So silencing critics and dreamers becomes very important. Yet nothing good has ever come from shaming people into silence.

But back to Mama Tammye and her genuine love, welcome, and affirmation of the diverse expressions of what it means to be human. She is truly welcoming. A welcome that says – “You are loved, just the way you are.” Let’s be like Mama Tammye and open our hearts and arms to love and include for the ‘betterment of humanity.’ Let’s open our eyes to the harmful ideas that claim to be welcoming but not affirming. But what does that even mean?! It means LGBTIQ people can be lulled into a false sense of safety, that a space or group is welcoming, while the toxic ideas of ‘ex-gay’ are still the oxygen that people breathe. “You are welcome here … but you can’t serve or lead until you become straight or at least stay celibate.” The demand for LGBTIQ people to be celibate is the new ex-gay movement, and in the same vein as its insidious ‘pray-the-gay-away therapy’ predecessor (a belief that people who are gay can become straight and that it is God’s will for them to be straight) it continues to wreak havoc with vulnerable lives – to understand some of the heartbreak, please take time to listen to this excellent interview with Vicky Beeching. So let me spell it out – any religious space or group that claims to be welcoming, but not affirming, that sees LGBTIQ people as ‘broken’ and ‘not ideal’, but is motivated by a ‘burden’ to ‘love’ them with a messiah-like, saccharine approach is NOT a safe place. We can all exercise our freedom to go to these places but please do so with your eyes wide open.

I loved the way Mama Tammye repented of the idea that her son was anything but beautiful because he was gay. She rejected a dogma of exclusion that says you are accepted and affirmed by God if you are hetero or celibate. Dogmas of exclusion have been around for centuries. Politics and religion keep them alive. Study Germany when Hitler rose to power. We see similarities in the vilification and exclusion of people in the modern day phenomenon that is unravelling in Trump’s USA. I have witnessed it in apartheid South Africa and as a woman of faith, I very quickly realised that in some denominational circles it is only if you possess certain genitalia that you are fit to preach from a pulpit or be in any form of governmental church roles.

If you, like me, have been part of a more fundamentalist religious setting you have probably been complicit in some form of dogma that marginalised others. Nowadays, the flavour of the month for exclusion in religious settings is LGBTIQ people and it seems immigrants and asylum seekers are the favourites on the political front. We all love ‘others’ as long as they all look and think like us 🙂 We all love God – especially when God is male, white, conservative, and approving only of heterosexual orientation 🙂 The idea that the gospel is bigger than our constructed, socialised interpretation of sacred text is a terrifying thought. Mama Tammye repented from that fear and arrogance. What a breath of fresh air she was blowing into her church and giving that marvellous speech:

“How can I say I love God, but I cannot love the ones who are right next to me?”

Imagine a world filled with Mama Tammyes?
Imagine a world were people like Antoni Porowski and Bobby Berk are brought to tears as they are reminded that the love and face of Jesus are often very different to the words and actions of those who proclaim to be his followers?
Imagine a religious space that has let go of the fundamentalist idea that we need to control who people are and what they believe?
Imagine a group of people that simply spread the good news: that God is not the enemy, rather God is revealed in Immanuel – with us.

In the current climate of increasing political and religious exclusion – let’s be counter-cultural. Let’s be people of a different way. The way of Jesus. Let’s open up our arms wide, tell fear to get back into the box, and trust that love will win the day.

Be like Mama Tammye.

“But I need to ask you for your forgiveness because Mama has not loved you unconditionally.” Mama Tammye – speaking of her son, Myles.

We should all BEE concerned!

“If bees didn’t exist, neither would humans” – Dr Reese Halter


I have memories of warm summer days in Northern Germany with my mother handing me a juice with a warning – “Make sure you don’t swallow a bee!” Bees seemed to be buzzing everywhere around the tumbling wildflower and fruit tree garden that surrounded the ancient thatched roof house that we called home.

After our move to South Africa, we were introduced to the more aggressive and industrious African bee who would follow me when I was walking home from school after having purchased a granadilla ice cream. The more docile Cape bee is also native to South Africa but hardly ever came calling in our area.

Bees may have been around for over 130 million years. The oldest bee evidence is one that became mortified in amber about 80 million years ago – a type of stingless bee, similar to those living in South America. Bees evolved from wasps which remain predators to this day. All bees feed almost exclusively on nectar and pollen. They have become adept at feeding on flowers by developing a hairy body which helps them brush pollen from the flowers and to hold it while still in flight. We have identified around 1.4 million species of bees, 250 of these are bumblebees.

It is easy to take this beautiful creature for granted. However, bees are vital for human survival. Bees pollinate over a third of everything we eat. Around 400 different types of plants need bees and other insects to pollinate them. They also make an important and irreplaceable contribution to the eco-system around the world because so many living creatures feast on plants that bees pollinate. They are the guardians of the food chain!

The bad news is that bees are dying in dramatic and frightening proportions. In the USA, the number of honeybee populations has declined by a third in recent years. In some places, such as regions in China, bees have been completely eradicated. In Central Europe, the bee population has declined by 25 percent over the last 30 years. “A third of everything we eat would not be there if there were no bees,” according to award-winning film More Than Honey by Swiss director Markus Imhoof. The film explores the reasons for the dying off of bees around the world.

Scientists have compelling evidence that insecticides called neonicotinoids have a disastrous effect on bees. Insecticides along with invasive parasites and a decline in the quality of bees’ diets should give us cause to be alarmed. Perhaps the gravest danger lies in climate change. “According to new research published in the journal Science, dozens of bumblebee species began losing habitat as early as the 1970s, well before neonicotinoids were as widespread as they are today. Since then, largely as a result of global warming, bees have lost nearly 200 miles off the southern end of their historic wild range in both the USA and in Europe, a trend that is continuing at a rate of about five miles every year.”

There are untold articles about the impact this radical decline of our bee population is continuing to have around the world. We should be concerned. The good news is that there are some things we can do to help our honey friends, and in doing so help ourselves.

This article is specifically written to help native Australian bees in our backyard. I love the idea of building bee hotels – what a fabulous project to do with kids as they learn to hopefully be more compassionate and responsible earthlings. Save the Bees is an admirable initiative that rescues and rehomes bee colonies that are in danger – perhaps it something you would like to support? All around the world, concerned humans are taking up the challenge to do their bit in looking after bees – like the bee sanctuary in New York that educates people in creating environments where bees can thrive.

There are many simple things we can do – starting by educating ourselves on this important issue and then turning our newly gained knowledge into action. Let’s bee purposeful in making this beautiful planet a better place for generations to come.

“I have a huge belief in the importance of bees, not just for their honey, which is healing and delicious food, but the necessity of bee colonies that are vital to the health of the planet.” – Trudie Styler

 

The Relationship Glue: Kindness

“When I was young I admired clever people, now that I am old I admire kind people.”
– Abraham Joshua Heschel-

 

Psychologists John and Julie Gottman spent four decades studying relationships. They set up a research centre at the Washington University and together with a colleague, Robert Levenson, analysed hundreds of relationships (now referred to as “The Gottman Method”) – some successful and some disasters. One of the critical discoveries in their research had to do with how a person responded to their partner when the partner was making a request or ‘bid’ for conversation and interaction:

“People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t – those who turned away – would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.”

They concluded that contempt is the driving factor behind relationships breaking down! But what holds it all together? What is the key ingredient to healthy relationships? It’s kindness:

“Kindness, on the other hand, glues couples together. Research independent from theirs has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated – feel loved. ‘My bounty is as boundless as the sea,’ says Shakespeare’s Juliet. ‘My love as deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.’ That’s how kindness works too: there’s a great deal of evidence showing the more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be kind themselves, which leads to upward spirals of love and generosity in a relationship.”

I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by many kind people. Their selfless acts of kindness have often left me choked up as I consider what a cold world I would live in without them. My parents modelled kindness to me. Money or status was not something that ranked high on their value system, but kindness was. Through their actions and discussions, I learnt that accomplishments turn to ash if you cannot live a life of kindness. My ever-chirpy life partner is one of ‘booming’ kindness. His consistent acts of love and care often make me stop and think how I happen to do life with an exceptional human. Kindness really is the ancient new black 😃

But what is kindness? To me, kindness is love in action. It is creating benefits for another at the expense or risk of yourself. There are many forms of kindness. We can be kind with our emotions by showing empathy and compassion. We can be kind with a “there you are” attitude. “There you are” people exude kindness when noticing the stranger, the one that is alone, or afraid. They are the people who walk into a room and are kind (and secure) enough to put the focus on the other. In recent weeks I have had so many acts of kindness come my way – a friend who dropped everything to wash my windows when we left our home in Queensland, someone else who offered a meal and bought a banquet that lasted for days, another person who hopped on their motorbike to help unload our furniture (a daunting task considering the nightmare we experienced with our removalist), a friend who drove for a couple of hours to help sort my vast array of books onto shelves … This last month I was reminded over and over again that the attribute of kindness is the most noble of human traits.

There have been studies on the biology and evolution of kindness:

“Oxytocin is a neuropeptide that works like a hormone in our bodies, reducing fear, anxiety, and stress while increasing feelings of trust, calm, safety, and connectedness. On a biological level, it improves our digestion, reduces inflammation, lowers blood pressure, and improves healing. It’s the same chemical that is released when we feel love and have sex. No wonder kindness feels good!”

Kindness inspires me. I want to ‘hang’ in the kind space, with these giants of kindness.

People who have learnt that ultimately no one gives a flying rip about how clever we are, how many material toys we have, or how important we perceive ourselves to be. Rather, the energy and power shifts and changes when kindness walks into a room.

I want to live my life as a kind and generous human.

Kind to others.

Kind to the planet and all its inhabitants.

Kind to myself.

Will you join me on this quest?

Let’s make the world a better place one kind step at a time.

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” – Desmond Tutu –

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”  – Henry James –

“Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain –

Your Life as a Deep Blue Sea

“I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”
– Anaïs Nin –

In the last month, we have packed up our household, travelled two thousand kilometers south with three cars and two dogs in tow, and then unpacked what we had just painstakingly wrapped up at our new residence on the glorious Mornington Peninsula in Melbourne, Australia. Our current location fulfils a bucket list dream: to live within walking distance of the sea. I have always loved the sea, and it has been calling me closer for a very long time.

A couple of days after our arrival we took a walk to explore our new neighbourhood and discovered, much to our delight, that we had landed on the shores of Port Phillip Bay just in time to watch an annual phenomenon: the spider crab migration! As we stood on the pier and observed the ocean floor, it seemed to be alive and moving – with thousands upon thousands of crabs doing their crab thing. It was fascinating. Someone we know has spent many hours filming this nature extravaganza – have a look at her blog here.

As we walked out to the end of the pier observing these enchanting, pre-historic-like creatures, the water became deeper and darker. Eventually, the crabs disappeared into the sheer depth of the sea and no one would have known of the crustacean diaspora that was unfolding on the ocean floor. At that moment the sun disappeared behind the clouds and as the day became grey, the ocean, still alluring, seemed almost menacing. A few moments before, if the temperature was right (!!), I would have willingly and joyfully jumped into the sparkling water, but now I felt hesitant and unsure. The sea, like our life, is both enticing and terrifying, alluring and menacing, welcoming and hostile, joyful and grim. Yes, our life is a bit like the deep blue sea.

Us humans suffer from ‘chronic assumption disease’ – it is easy to assume we know one another. But how can we possibly comprehend what goes on in the depth or the shallows of another person’s life? Or, for that matter, have we taken time to consider our own life with all its ups and downs, crystal calm moments and stormy waves? Do you ever find yourself doing or saying something and wondering where the hell did that come from?

Spiritual contemplatives and mystics of all different faith traditions have encouraged us to observe the patterns of our lives and pay heed to our ways. It is the practice of reflection and recognition that brings us to maturity, contentment and/or change. The sea is a gift to us. It connects us to meaning and purpose. A sunset over the water fills us with wonder. A beach holiday rejuvenates the weary. It provides us with a powerful metaphor for our lives. We can build on an idea that our life is a peaceful lake – predictable and measurable. However, it only takes a few years of existence on this planet to discover that our life, your life, my life is a lot more like the roaring, at time tumultuous, mysterious and playful sea – full of stories and adventure.

Your life, dear friend, is not a lake or a puddle or a single stream story. No, it is so much more – it is wide and deep and blue. It contains Leviathan will all its fury, and yet Nemo can also find a home there 🙂 It is your mystery and a constant reminder that you are held in the loving hands of Divine Mystery. May you live it to the full. Happy scuba diving … surfing … sailing … swimming … snorkeling … paddling … breathing …

“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea.”
– Ann Morrow Lindbergh (Gift from the Sea) –

Lessons from the Fockers: The Circle of Trust

“This is the reason I created the circle of trust – so we can discuss these things.” – Jack Byrnes

What are your favourite movies? You know, those movies that you’ve watched a hundred times but if someone suggested a night that includes red wine and that movie, you would cancel the meeting with royalty to be there! One of mine is Meet the Fockers. There are many reasons why I like this film – the uncanny resemblance of the different family dynamics is uncomfortably familiar and similar to those of my partner’s and my own life. My mother could have embodied Barbara Streisand 🙂 For us, it wasn’t even a comedy – it was the story of our lives.

Jack Byrnes’ (Robert De Niro) insistence of establishing an exclusive “Circle of Trust” that is built on a very fickle set of rules, bullying tactics, and paranoia is a most interesting study in human relations. He obviously does not believe that Gregory Focker is a suitable groom for his “first-born” and threatens him with the removal from the “circle of trust” – “and once you are out, you are out – there is no return.” Ouch! Poor Focker.

Now I do not want to condone Jack’s bullying, manipulative power tactics – BUT Jack has a lesson for all of us. We all have a “circle of trust” or “club membership to our life story” – people who through history and relationship have an elevated position in our lives. We listen to their voices, even when they are long gone, and we take their advice far more seriously because they have impacted our lives in some way or another. Often this is a very positive exchange. We can all think of people who have contributed to our identity in meaningful ways. People who have added to the hopes and dreams we have held. People whose values and ethics have aligned with our own, creating a sense of belonging. Take the time to remember them.

And then there are the others …!! The people who have an elevated access to our lives because of friendship, work association, faith community or family relationship, and who routinely through their words and actions undermine us and compound a problem-laden story-line in our lives. People who break the “circle of trust” not just once or twice but who are consistent in that form of negative behaviour. Perhaps, like me, you tend to put up with this much longer than you should?

I don’t assume to know your story, but one of the reasons I have tolerated this in my life is that I was operating under the false idea that to be a “good Christian” you have to allow people to treat you like shit and then forgive them. Now there’s a lot to say about the journey of forgiveness – perhaps for another blog post. But often in religious circles, we are told we are “loved” and that we “matter” – and we drink the cool aid. So then when abuse happens, we cannot believe that we have been treated that badly. It creates a sense of unreality, confusion and we simply do not trust our perception of the situation – so we stick around. It’s called cognitive dissonance – we are holding two contradicting beliefs. On the one hand, we are told that we are loved, yet on the other, we are treated terribly by those who profess that love. When you go to confront it, you are met with passive aggressive smiles and denial that again throws you into confusion and anxiety. Don’t be surprised that this form of gas-lighting is often rampant by the power brokers of organisations or family units. We may feel powerless caught in such a circle – like Greg Focker.

We may need a neutral or impartial person to come alongside us and help us recognise what is actually going on. When your trust has been badly violated over a long period of time it helps to talk about it, recognise it and build a preferred story-line where the perpetrators are, in Jack Byrne’s words “removed from the circle.” Trust is one of the most precious components in relationships. It is an unrealistic expectation to think that no one we are in relationship with will break our trust, or for that matter, that we won’t break the trust of someone else. However, there is a massive difference between breaking trust, owning it, and providing the hurting party with an unreserved apology, and a pattern of abusive behaviour that consistently breaks our trust and spirals us into anxiety.

We also have to identify and own our complicity in often enabling a toxic circle of trust. Most of us would have played a part of controlling such a circle at some stage or another, often with good intentions. It starts in kindergarten. We form circles with people who think like us, look like us and believe like us. Like Jack, we have prided ourselves on being the guardians of such a circle and have contributed to a plethora of dogmas and policies to hold it all in place. When people don’t measure up they are ousted and become part of the throng of exiles who simply could not fit in. I stand guilty as charged.

So, dear friend, we can take many lessons from Jack Byrne and his circle of trust. Let’s take a good look at whether we are playing a role in a toxic circle that is harming people’s lives. And let’s also consider that healthy circles of trust play a crucial role in relationships. We actually have a choice about whose ‘voice’ we will elevate in our lives. You have that choice.

So, dear friend, take a leaf from the life of Jack Byrnes and choose the Fockers in your circle carefully. Live your rich and multi-faceted life with gusto! xx

 

 

 

On the Move Again … !!!

“She took a step and didn’t want to take any more, but she did.” – Mark Zusak (The Book Thief)

I have moved thirty-seven times in my life, or maybe thirty-eight?? I can’t remember – but I moved a lot. Today I was again knee deep in boxes, packing and reducing the evidence of my existence to just over a third of what we brought with us to the Sunny Coast. Minimalising, I have found, is best taken in steps. In the meantime, I have done my bit in stocking local Salvo stores!

So much has happened in the last eighteen months. Both my partner and I have experienced an inner change that is hard to put into words, a migration of identity that has been accompanied by healing that both the liminal space and this beautiful geographical paradise helped provide.

As we head back down south for a variety of reasons, we leave behind my father who I love very much. He has now made his home in a little cottage in Tiaro, Queensland. It is a place that holds many precious memories for him. It is great to see him so content, but after ten years of living in family community together, I already miss him terribly. We will also leave behind new friends that became dear friends very quickly. People who reached out to us when we arrived exhausted and frazzled and speaking for myself, fairly angry and disillusioned. Friends whose shared laughter, tears and care have meant so much. Fortunately, the Sunshine Coast is not at the ends of the earth, so we will continue to share our lives … albeit via modern technology. We also say goodbye to three hundred days of sunshine a year and endless beaches – not an easy thing to do.

So as I channel my nomadic ancestors, I am grateful for the modern comforts of simple things such as cardboard boxes and companies that make a buck from moving our shit from one part of the country to the next. I come with some experience when it comes to moving. At this point my blog post changes gears as I thought it might be helpful to share my top ten tips for those who may be preparing to move or will one day embark on the adventure of relocation:

1. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Use that move to get rid of stuff. We spend so much time accumulating possessions that, if we are honest, hold very little value and connection to who we are. Often the stuff we own simply acts as a witness to the fact that we have bought into the extremely well-oiled marketing machine of modern times that convinced us we needed the latest gadget that fluffs our pillows and shines our lettuce leaves. Here is the horrible, hurtful truth: we don’t. If you haven’t looked at it, tasted it, used it for six months … don’t pack it.

2. Start the planning and packing process early.

The minute it becomes definite that we are on the move I gather boxes and I have 2-3 boxes open in my laundry at all times. I stare at them, size them up and, yeah, talk to them, while planning what to pack in them. The more time you have to plan the packing bit, the smoother the whole procedure. I realise that sometimes we have to move in a hurry – but for me, that does not happen very often. Most of us have weeks, if not months, to plan a move. The minute you know you will move, get those boxes and even better … get rid of stuff.

3. Make lists.

I love lists. They keep anxiety from robbing my joy when I need to be focused and present in the moment. Make a ‘To Do’ list, make a box list, make a travel plan list, and make a ‘my fur baby’s needs while I travel list’. Write it down and then you know you will remember and move on to the next thing. Got to love me a good list!

4. Make your travel plans.

For the move back to Melbourne I have planned our trip and booked all the accommodation – with three cars, one trailer and two fur children, there is no room for no room. I emailed all the hosts and explained the convoy heading their way and asked whether they have room at their ‘inn’. Having all their answers and words of welcome in writing should minimalise accommodation issues.

5. Say ‘yes’ to people who offer to help.

Accept the help of friends and neighbours. ‘Independence’ is a myth and, quite frankly, can be a real pain in times of stress. A move is made so much easier when you have support – and perhaps a cooked meal.

6. Label your boxes clearly.

Label every box with your surname and destination. I also write what room I want each box in. If you don’t feel comfortable writing the contents on the actual box, use a numbering system and store that information on your computer.

7. Use all those little spaces.

You can save money by reducing the number of boxes you take. Filling every box is not just economical but also makes for greater protection of the contents. No matter how well you pack those glasses, if they are rattling around in a box, there’s every chance they won’t make it in one piece. This may not always be a tragedy as you get to throw them away and have less stuff!!

8. Don’t have a dinner by Candlelight.

As romantic as the notion may sound when you get to your destination you will want to turn the heating on, have a hot shower and perhaps even cook a meal. So don’t forget to organise all the necessary utilities for your destination. Websites such as ‘Your Porter’ make this all very simple. Don’t forget to disconnect the utilities at the house you are leaving behind.

9. Take time to Breathe.

I find house moves all-consuming. So I choose to be present, take moments to stroll in the garden, read a magazine, or have a coffee with friends. Fortunately, I have fur children that remind me every day that a walk in the fresh air is NOT an option.

10. Be Grateful.

Amidst all the stress, planning and my whining about moving AGAIN, I am also deeply grateful. I have traveled the earth, crossed continents and seen countries and sights that others dream of. The hand of Providence dealt me a gypsy card … and I get to do it all with people I love. Here is to packing another box, here is to life which is precious, here is to adventure, and here is to pilgrimage and change … to which we are all called!

Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart.” – Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

My Addiction to Certitude

There are all kinds of addicts, I guess. We all have pain. And we all look for ways to make the pain go away.
– Sherman Alexie –

In a recent conversation with a friend on the topic of liminality and religion, I entered a path of greater self-discovery. The question he posed that allowed me to enlarge the narrative I tell myself about myself was this: “You speak of being in a form of conservative, religious fundamentalism for thirty years – what you need to ask yourself was what drew you there in the first place?”

It’s a good question. What draws us into spaces of community and belonging? Why do we hang around even when we realise that the values we hold have become juxtaposed to the policies of an organisation? And, specifically, what is it especially about religious communities that make it extremely difficult to discern that the time has come to say goodbye?

The question took me back to my childhood and the recognition from a young age that although I grew up in a loving and encouraging home this was not the reality for many other people. My parents did not shield me from the realisation that this world holds much suffering – something I would witness first hand when we moved to Africa. My pre-liminal space was one that recognised chaos … and as a young person, I yearned for order and structure. I was a prime candidate for the zealous, orderly world of fundamentalism.

In an upcoming book by Tim Carson, I will share more deeply about this experience (thank you, Tim, for the opportunity to contribute). Looking back, I recognise the longing that led me to structure and the addiction that kept me there – an addiction to certitude.

The black and white world of literalism, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it”, became my ‘God drug’. I was convinced that I, and the tradition I was part of, held the truth and needed to save the souls of those who did not share this euphoric space of transcendence. I became a zealot – a zealot with the privilege of a platform. I used it to speak of absolutes around the world … and I was cheered on, fuelling my dependence on certainty.

In those days I had no room in my life for paradox – questions and doubts were tucked away and hidden. They were not to be spoken of as I did not want to upset this wonderful world I was in … a world where everything was ‘awesome’. A world that had created order out of my chaos, provided foolproof answers to my yearning and showed me a clear and triumphant way. Certitude, like the matrix, is an intoxicating hyper-reality.

This week I was reminded of my addiction. A cruel tweet from a religious leader against the rainbow community triggered me and I responded with outrage. Amidst the comments on my facebook page, a friend (Daniels Sims) wrote, “I feel for him (religious leader). I really do. It is hard to be saved from behind a wall of certitude.” His words struck such a deep chord with me.

How hard it is to be saved from behind a wall of certitude! That was me … for nearly three decades. I partook and was complicit in supplying the drugs needed to keep our certainty addiction alive and with it dulled some of the discomforts that derive from ‘not knowing’ and embracing mystery. Certitude provides us with all the answers we need to live a cloistered life of dogmatism, perhaps because the alternative is just too scary and difficult.

I look at my life now – what a far cry from the young, impassioned, self-assured, and absolutely convinced person I once was. Most of the time I am not certain and mystery has now become a dear friend. Like any recovering addict, I am still drawn to certainty but I now realise that just like the idea of normality, certainty is a myth. What St Paul wrote is true, we look at the world through a dark, smokey glass. To proclaim anything else is presumption … to recognise it is to walk with humility and compassion.

So, friend, if you, like me, have identified your addiction and need for certitude, perhaps we can sit around a virtual room of belonging together and proclaim: “I am *insert name* and I am a certitude addict.” And then smile and realise that here too, grace abounds and is sufficient.

A paradox is a seeming contradiction, always demanding a change on the side of the observer. If we look at almost all things honestly we see everything has a character of paradox to it. Everything, including ourselves. – Richard Rohr –