Unconditionally

The other night as I was winding down in front of Kiwi television, remote in one hand, glass of fabulous Central Otago Pinot Noir in the other, I landed on E-TV and found myself transfixed by an older episode of the Kardashians.

There they were, swirling in a sea of long meaningful glances, pouting oversized lips, sporting enough eye makeup to make a drag queen blush and using the word like more than I thought humanly possible.

It was like watching a train wreck – I couldn’t look away.  I had never watched an episode before and the likelihood of me watching another one remains non-existent.  To me, there is nothing more jarring than vacuous, unimportant people, full of their own hubris, trying to make statements about such profound topics as gender reassignment, marriage breakdown, infidelity, substance abuse and child rearing!

Strangely though, this encounter with the loathsome Kardashians and particularly their awful mother (apparently she’s their “MomManager” – what the actual f*ck), has prompted me to reflect on a quality that remains elusive for so many of us; unconditional love.

Herewith a whimsical and slightly off-centre allegory for you to ponder dear readers.

For many years I have been allergic to cats.  I don’t recall having this allergy as a child and in fact, remember a beautiful black and white cat called Tom that we had when I was a child.  We were very original with pet names in those days.  There was Fluffy the (you guessed it) fluffy grey cat, Mitsi the black poodle, Nippy the budgie (because when Dad caught it in our backyard, it took a sizeable chunk out of his finger).

Tom Cat was very loving – he used to sit on Mum’s chest and purr and prance and rub his head against her chin in a display of pure love.  That is of course until he was fed. Then you wouldn’t see him for hours.  The internet is full of stories about cats owning their humans so the following is a truism – cats only love you because you feed them.

An early lesson in conditional love………

Now dogs are a completely different story.  Dogs love you in addition to the fact that you feed them.  They will curl up next to you on the couch just to be closer to you.  My earliest memory of this was said poodle Mitsi, who woke me up with a kiss and a cuddle every morning and wouldn’t leave my side as I studied feverishly throughout high school and uni.  My current little beloved takes up most of the bed especially in winter, as she backs into me for warmth and comfort and is content to sit next to me as I work from home.  She looks at me with sadness and regret every morning if I leave the house and greets me with a wagging tail and happy smile every single time I come home, irrespective whether a single day or a 3 month absence.

A lesson in unconditional love………

I once dated someone who at first seemed attentive and kind but took great pains to tell me that I’d be so much more attractive if I lost weight.

Another lesson in conditional love………

Of course all of these lessons paled once I became a mother.  First glance at that tiny human being (although not as tiny as others in the case of my first born), helpless and fragile, convinced me that there is such a thing as unconditional love.

Love without judgement or strings attached.  Love without expectation or provisos.

Motherhood became the very best lesson I could have hoped for in unconditional love……..

So my very long bow extrapolation is that as I grew up, I became allergic to conditional love and thus I learned slowly to embrace unconditional love, a situation which remains an ongoing aim to this day!

Which leads me to the inevitable questions – how do we love ourselves unconditionally?

Why do we look in the mirror and not see the qualities inside that make us who we are?

When do we dare to accept ourselves as the uniquely flawed, imperfect wondrous beings that make us human?

I want you all to get up and look at yourselves in the mirror – go on, do it right now!

I want you to say to that person looking back at you – I love you unconditionally.

With your hips that are too wide or too thin; legs that are too long or too short; skin that is pimpled or blemished or smooth or white; wrinkles that surround those eyes that have seen so much; belly that wobbles when you laugh; nose that’s too long or flat or bumpy or broad.

You, my lovely, flawed, imperfect human being, are awesome.

Unconditionally yours in love!

millie

 

Life’s Soundtrack

Recently I was sitting in a cosy café in Queenstown, the lake and snow covered hills providing me with a spectacular backdrop. I had spent a joyous couple of days with 2 of my loved ones and on that particular morning I took a moment to pause and reflect on a few things.
When you surrender to the mindful moment, the rhythms of the universe kick in and if you tune in, you can be rewarded with some mind-bending clarity.
For me that morning, I was presented with a moment to savour the blessings of my life and to revel in gratitude at being right here, right now, in that present. As I gazed out as the towering hills, dusted with white, the song Landslide started playing. As I have often found lately, the soundtrack of life chimes in, serendipitously and often ironically underlying the pause.
This song has a range of poignant lines; the one that always resonates for me is this one:
Well I’ve been afraid of changing because I built my life around you
But time makes us bolder, even children get older and I’m getting older too…..
Listening to those words in that café brought tears to my eyes and, even now make me marvel at the power of music as a soundtrack to life.
It also made me look quite a sight in that quiet little corner of Queenstown…..
As I think back to that moment now whilst writing this piece, I wonder why those particular lines resonated so strongly for me. I am tempted to not ponder this too deeply and simply revel in the moment it produced. However being the curious soul that I am, I still find myself reflecting on this.
My thinking is thus; as my children grow into the wonderful adults that they are becoming, I am reminded of my own progress on this adventure called life. This doesn’t scare me at all; far from it. So many of our friends and family don’t get the chance to grow older. I learned this at a very early age and still to this day, I try to have a pause daily to reflect on the joy that is life and practice meaningful appreciation of the fact that I am still afforded this honour.
It seems to me that there are many who struggle and I sat in that café in Queenstown, gazing out on the magic, wondering why? I meet people who scrap for attention and power; who pursue the tangible at the expense of the intangible; who seemingly have it all, yet remain desperately and achingly unfulfilled.
Is this a generational thing? In Queenstown I met a number of younger people who had left a comfortable existence at home and set forth into the world, thousands of kilometres away to experience another way of living. Perhaps? These young ones are certainly living in a much smaller world than the one I grew up in and travel is so much more a part of their expectations.
Yet there I sat, in the full bloom of middle age, embracing all of these same opportunities, eager to drink from the fire hydrant of life.
My point in this – and yes dear reader I will get there – is that it is very easy to get so caught up in the day to day that the minutiae of life often passes us by. Every day, it’s important to pause and reflect back to the universe how grateful you are to be alive. When I do this, I am rewarded by things that I otherwise would not see and hear. It could be a song that moves me to tears in a dark café overlooking a mountain, the chatter of an excited little boy diving into his pancakes with gusto, a group of old friends who are travelling together for a quick little getaway.
Whatever it is, it’s exactly what you need to see and hear at that moment and despite what your logical mind may say to you, it undoubtedly MEANS something to YOU if you took the time to notice it.
Hmmm – I’m not sure that last sentence made sense to anyone else but regardless, I’m going to let it hang in the air like a brick doesn’t anyway!

NB: apologies to Douglas Adams for stealing his immortal line.

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Handling the Truth

When I was a child, my mother always used to say that when tact was handed out, I must have been at the end of the queue.

I feel like this was her less than subtle way of saying I called a spade a big fat shovel!

As I grew older I learned the value of tempering my less tactful remarks with a degree of kindness.  Well I hope I did anyway; only those who know me and have interacted with me will be able to confirm this.

I fear I was born with an incurable belief in the value of truthfulness, a trait which at times has been to my detriment; never more so when I realise it has been passed on to my children.

There is power and beauty in truth.  Plus it’s a lot easier to remember the stories you’ve told and not get into any sort of mischief.  To be a good liar is to have a brilliant memory.

Last week, I and many others farewelled my sister in law, or as I fondly call her, my SFAM (Sister From Another Mister) after a long battle against melanoma.

As is the human condition, we spoke in hushed tones of her death being a blessing, a release from pain, a reminder that she is now at peace.  These words served to ease our grief and validate her strong conviction that she was indeed going to a better place.

All of this is true and of great value to those of us left behind who struggle to make sense of a life lost too soon.

However in the midst of this, her courageous daughter, my amazing niece, spoke the truth.  She stated clearly and calmly, ” Well this really sucks”.

Which was also very true.

We are so conditioned to trying to make things better, to make sense of something that defies logic, to hiding our pain behind albeit soothing platitudes, that we sometimes forget how to speak the truth plainly and eloquently.

Death really sucks…..

The truth that I know reinforces this on a regular basis.  Daily we are bombarded, either in person or through the media, with people who suffer needlessly in jobs they loathe, relationships that undermine them, appalling living conditions, deadly war zones, unassailable poverty, brutal dictatorships.

The truth that I believe is that we need to speak out whenever we can about injustice and unfairness.  We are a long time dead – we must make the time we have alive worthy.

The truth that I value is that we need to make our politicians accountable for improving the world.  Never more so relevant in this cynical and beige world of sameness.

The truth that I understand is that we must play our own individual part to make the place we call home, sadly at times for such a short period, a place that is brighter, lighter and more kind.

A work colleague asked me the other night, how could I honestly believe that I can make a difference in my interactions with people I know or in the organisations I work with when all they are driven by is ego and bottom line thinking.

The truth I live is how could I not.

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Judge and Jury

Judgement – you can use it, make it, form it, exercise it, pass it.

In a court of law, judgement is made daily.  It’s legally binding and the ensuing obligation placed on the recipient can have long term repercussions.

It can have a negative connotation as well and there are quite a few people out there whose lives are defined by it.  I’ve known people who use it daily on others.  From the passing look we give the man or woman on the street, to the vitriol that is found on social media, judgements fly with no consideration for the person receiving it.  There are many who don’t even realise they are doing it.

Ah dear readers, I can hear you from here:  what is this blog but another judgement!  Fear not; whilst I write on this subject, I am the first to confess that I am not immune and have found myself passing judgement on many occasions.  Lately, I’ve tried to catch myself when I do so and in my kindest, most patient voice, gently remind myself to stop.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the world we live in today.  Is it simply part and parcel of this curse we call “being human” that we assign a negative lens to this ability we have?   Judgement is important.  That 1.9kg mass of jelly we carry around in our heads has a large part at the front that purportedly separates us from the apes.  The pre-frontal cortex is defined in part by our ability to use judgement to reason and deduce.  Stephen Hawking’s pre-frontal probably weighs a bit more than the average Joe’s and it’s also fair to say that there are quite a few humans whose pre-frontal weighs considerably less (including a certain current US presidential candidate).

We use our judgement to make decisions, take a risk, or draw sensible conclusions.  Look it up in the dictionary and you’ll find synonyms that include reason, logic, common sense, wisdom.  Used, dare I say, judiciously, it is a great thing.  Where it’s not so great is when we use it to define others by our own prejudices.

The other really interesting thing is how often we pass judgement on ourselves.

My completely non-scientific, non-evidentiary view is that this seems worse for women than it is for men.  One of my friends once described the difference between men and women as thus – women get up in the morning, look at the mirror and go “Sigh, better do something with this before I head out the door” whereas men get up in the morning, look at the mirror and go “Wow, you fabulous sex-god.  What a handsome beast. Go get ‘em!”

I’m not convinced it’s that simple.  I’ve known people, men and women, who are so full of self-loathing that it seeps from their pores in a vile concoction that could be mistaken for simple body odour were it not for the accompanying venom that pours from their mouths.  I kid you not – this putrid scent was a physical manifestation of their innate hatred of themselves and in their disgust, they created a poisonous trail of destruction in their wakes.

I long for a world where we live without judgement of ourselves and each other.  Where every time we turn on the TV or computer or radio, the words and images we hear and see convey tolerance and peace.  Where acceptance and humanity are the lens through which we treat ourselves and each other.

Until then, I am trying to practice what I preach.

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(C) Adrian Bell

Through the looking glass

Have you ever had one of those completely inexplicable reactions to someone?  It’s completely visceral.  You can’t explain why but every time you see that person you get a knot in your gut, your skin starts to crawl and your heart beats a little faster.  The heart beats not in a “I’m so happy to see you” kind of way but more in the “if you don’t get away from me, I will cut your heart out with a spoon” kind of way.

No matter how hard you try, there is simply no way in this known universe that this is a person you want around.  Not in any universe – not even in a galaxy far, far away – is this going to be someone you could ever tolerate for more than a few minutes at a time.

This doesn’t happen to me very often so when it does, I have learned to take note.  Like many humans, I accept people at face value.  Blessed as I am with the cock-eyed optimism of the positive thinker, I see the good in everyone.  This attribute is fantastic when it all works out.  I have watched spellbound as people who have never seen themselves in a certain way, lift to become their highest version, simply by seeing themselves through someone else’s eyes.  This is without doubt, one of the best things about being a parent and certainly the greatest joy I have found in undertaking leadership roles during my professional life.

On the flip side of course, this optimism has produced bitter disappointments when people have let me down badly.  It led to significant head scratching, teeth gnashing and soul searching.  Thankfully, from the seething pits of despair, the lessons were found and I learnt something from each and every one of these difficult souls who present themselves to me.  My friend, Kym Lincolne, coach and mentor extraordinaire, and owner of an awesome business called The Field (www.thefield.com.au) once remarked to me that the universe sends these people to you as a mirror so that you can learn something wildly important about yourself.  Her advice, which is always spot on, was to say “thank you” to the universe.  In practising the art of gratitude, a very important reflection about yourself will undoubtedly emerge.

So, as I find myself dragging my developing self through this temporary break in transmission (AKA empty nest syndrome – more on that another day), the universe in its infinite wisdom, has sent me just such a mirror.  As is my way, I have turned this over and over in my mind without coming to any particular resolution.  It was driving me mad!  Why couldn’t I figure this out??  My head was doing somersaults trying to work out why I truly could not stand the sight of this person. Just as I was about to give in, I remembered Kym’s words about gratitude.

So what was any sane person to do?

Yep, I surrendered.

Throwing my hands up in a gesture of peace and acceptance, I heard myself say thank you to the universe for sending this person my way and, right on cue, that beautiful moment of clarity occurred.  I realised this was nothing to do with them and everything to do with me.  My sense of self-worth, my changing circumstances, my development into the next version of me.

As the realisation became stronger and I stared into the mirror, a beautiful thing happened.  My whole being breathed a sigh of profound relief and that person stopped being a source of annoyance to me.  They no longer made me feel uncomfortable; they no longer challenged me;  they no longer held dominion over my head and my heart. They became white noise in the background that was to be mindfully accepted and promptly forgotten.

In a spirit of silent sincerity, I thanked them for their contribution to my evolution, shelved my antipathy towards them and let go.

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The perils of the empath

Last week there was a fascinating Catalyst program on the ABC on the use of music in treating dementia and other neuro-degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease. A stand out scene was the gentleman suffering from Parkinson’s who could barely walk, yet became as light footed and coordinated as Fred Astaire when listening to a beautiful melody.  Or there was the lady with severe dementia who stared into space, no recognition on her face of loved ones or other humans near her. When she listened to music from her youth, she smiled, interacted and was absolutely lucid and in the moment with those around her.

My tears welled at both these demonstrations of the power of art and music in triggering otherwise damaged brains.  Moreover, they were great examples of the endless plasticity and capability to change that the human brain has and its ability to re-engage given the right triggers.  Often, these triggers are from a significant period in our lives, such as our late teens, when we lay down strong pathways and memories.  The power of music to transport us to a time and place that has been embedded into our minds never ceases to amaze me.

I reflected on this as I travelled home from the CBD by train just recently after a meeting. On the way home I observed my fellow passengers in the full carriage;  surreptitiously of course – I don’t want to be mistaken for one of those crazies on public transport!  Of the 80+ people in my carriage, there were a mere 5 people who weren’t watching an electronic device of some kind (phone, laptop, iPad) or listening with earphones in, completely disconnected from their surroundings.  And one of them was this crazy lady (yes me!) observing the rest of them. There was even the elderly lady who, whilst admittedly was not watching a device, had parked her wheelie walker across the aisle, thus rendering exit from said carriage a physical act of contortion.  Now I have to say that these twisty moves looked pretty funny but sadly, they are also an indictment of the complete lack of awareness we humans seem to have of one another these days and our telling lack of engagement with the world at large.

We are investing significant money in finding ways to re-engage the human brain in those who are suffering from degenerative illnesses and yet we are fast becoming a race that has already disengaged from life through its obsession with technology.  I quietly marvelled at where our race is heading and I admit, dear readers, to a sense of dismay.

On further reflection though I admit that I too have done just this.  Particularly when I worked in the CBD and in a highly stressful working environment.  Just like all the other ants, I scurried into my high rise in the morning, in and out again for lunch (sometimes …. occasionally I ate at my desk), and out again to catch public transport home again; only to line up and do it all over again the next day and the next and the next.  So overloaded was my poor brain, that I too disengaged on that train, plugged my earphones in, avoided eye contact and generally shut out the world for the 30 minute ride home to stop my brain from imploding.

I also did this because I am a natural empath.  Spiritually speaking, being an empath means that you can be affected by other external energies including those of other people. An empath has an uncanny knack of being able to perceive others intuitively and can often instinctively understand the motivations and intentions of others.  Empaths are always open and often walk around in the world sensing the energy of others.  They can pick the “vibe” of a place the minute they walk in the door.  As such they are the listeners of the world and always seem to “hear” the problems before anyone else.  They spend a lot of their time trying to solve those problems too, sometimes to their own detriment.

So for me, it became a self-preservation strategy.  That is until I shouted ENOUGH, took a step back, focussed on what it is I truly enjoy doing and started creating that for myself.

I wonder if this is what those 75 or so passengers were doing on the train?  Disengaging so they could let go of their day and so build up the strength to go back and do it all again tomorrow.  Perhaps, the use of technology could also be a way of managing the day to day stress for many?  Maybe in the act of disengaging, they become more mindful not less and claim back a level of presence from the rigours of their day?

Or maybe it was just a way of avoiding eye contact with that crazy lady on the train who kept looking at them!

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Remembering Past Loves

At the tender age of 14 I fell in love.

It remains the kind of love that has lasted a lifetime. One of those first loves that can never be forgotten.

He was a spiky haired blonde punk with a falsetto voice, some mean reggae beats and a thumping baseline (and no, dear readers, this is not a metaphor)!

He was a poet, a dreamer, a love lorn romantic in tight leather pants.

Sigh….. this one was probably the love of my life.

He sang of cryptic messages found in cast off bottles and aged prostitutes who walked the streets under their red lights. He spoke to me of finding love walking on the moon and stalking lost loves simply through the act of watching them breathe.

He tortured me as the king of pain and I loved him all the more for it.

When he left me to pursue his own path I wept.  I was desolate.  His words had sustained me through those tortuous teenage years and he had left me bereft.   They spoke to me as none had done before.

Sounds like a sweeping Bronte epic doesn’t it? Alas, his name wasn’t Heathcliff or Mr Darcy. He wasn’t my brooding Irishman Aidan (aka Ross Poldark) or a potent Leonardo De Caprio.  He didn’t even use his real name as it was far too benign for his intensity, preferring a sharpish nom de plume to hide behind.

When The Police broke up I despaired. How and when would I hear more words from my beloved Sting. The words that had sustained me as a moody youth.

Yes he went on to have a solo career that I followed with equal passion and the poetry remained, particularly in the early days. There were some moments of sheer brilliance in those solo albums and I believed that he had returned with more clarity and depth than this tender hearted romantic could bear.

Yet for some reason that only the echo of moody youth can understand, it was the music from his Police era that kept coming back to inspire me.

Their last gloriously named album (vinyl of course) was called Synchronicity and its titular track has recently come back to provide me with sustenance.  Witness these lyrics:

With one breath, with one flow, you will know, Synchronicity.  

A connecting principle, linked to the invisible, almost imperceptible, something inexpressible, science insusceptible, logic so inflexible, causally connectible, yet nothing is invincible.

I didn’t realise it at the time, moody teenager that I was, yet Sting’s lyrics were laying down the foundations for future Kylie.  They spoke to me of the inexplicable flow of the universe and the need to trust in yourself to allow that flow to penetrate your life and guide you to living the best life you can.

They remain a glorious reminder of the interconnectedness of the world and the surprise connections that influence and support us.  I’ve written before of the joys of being in the flow, and the bounty that awaits when you commit to living in this state.  There is some powerful neuroscience behind this as well, primarily based on our ability to quieten the limbic system and it’s function in maintaining us in a constant state of alertness.

Meditation and other mindfulness practices help with this and I certainly do this on a regular basis.

But there is something to be said for the power of music to produce this state as well. Memories such as these remain one of my favourite tools and I’m so grateful for the talented people who inspire me to get in the flow.

Hmmmm, if you see a curly headed woman in a red car singing at the top of her lungs this afternoon, look away people, nothing to see here!

 

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