Every path is beautiful

On the first day of the Camino.

We set off from Tuí, after spending a night in a hotel. We didn’t sleep much, though we were in extreme comfort. We were too excited. We live completely sedentary lives, both sitting at computers during the day. I was filled with trepidation about how I would handle the 16km before me. I did not know if I would flake out in my boyfriend, if I would beg to go the rest of the way by car. I did not know if it would take me all day to cover the needed distance to get to the albergue. But it was 7 a.m. and it was time to go and all we had was the road before us.

And what a road it was.

Walking through Tui with the sun rising before us was the most beautiful thing. The little houses and the quirky roads and tunnels filled us with delight. We saw the first of our little shells and arrows that would come to be the most important thing that we had on this entire trip. We smiled and took pictures as we entered the Camino and chatted and joked as we walked along our first stretch of main road, after walking through fields of green. We left that main road and were immediately enchanted by the first of three important streams that would define what this Camino meant for us. We met the first of our fellow travellers at the first stream, but we were yet strangers and didn’t know what else to say other than ‘Buen Camino’. We washed our faces in that stream, stood on the most beautiful bridge and my heart was aching with joy as the green, the sunlight and the water sang to me. I could hear my entire life and the lives of all humanity on the ripple of the stream. I could smell the Universe in that green. My mind exploded, a tiny, gentle, slow motion explosion of nothingness. I had nothing else but to be here, to be with my love, to love and to walk. Standing on the stony bridge, what I called the ‘Hobbit Bridge’, I felt my feet on the Path. No angels sang, no heavens opened, but I felt love. And I felt my mind empty of everything.

All I wanted to do was walk.

There are times when we are so caught up in the bustle, when our mental chatter is so loud and constant that we become swept up in raging torrent of noise and to-do lists and ambitions and insecurities and stress and fear. At those times, if we can, we might find it useful, almost life-saving, to snap our minds back to where we are.  We can look at our feet, one falling in front of the other, and listen to the sound of their steps, on the pavement, up the stairs. We can concentrate on going faster, going slower, evening out our speed. We can bring our minds only to walking, and in doing so, we can let our minds rest. In doing so, we may find, that in our present moment, there is nothing else to do but walk. Walk, and be where you are.

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Published in: on October 1, 2012 at 9:45 am  Comments (1)  
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Ask

Breathe without asking – W. H. Auden

An extraordinary thing happened to me the other day.

I asked for help. And I got it.

There are a lot of times where we have the conversation on our own. We know we have a request, and we stall it in our minds and our hearts, because we already know what the other is going to say. We know all the excuses, reasonings, counterpoints and arguments that will be put to us as to why our request is going to be denied. We attribute laziness, unwillingness or lack of humanity to our ‘askee’, ascribing to them all manner or personality which makes them one which does not grant favours. Perhaps our recent and not so recent past has taught us that if we ask for something we are seen as a nuisance, a bore, a busybody, or just plain troublesome, or our requests are deemed too trite to action. And so we sit with our wanting, stewing in our frustration and dissatisfaction, trying merrily to reason ourselves out of the need and failing miserably.

It is sometimes easier to just ask.

It boils down to the basic matter of trust. We have to trust that the other person is going to listen without attempting to prejudge their actions or intentions. We have to trust that one person is different from the next. We have to trust that we can know when it is right to ask and when it is beneficial to try to figure out the answer for ourselves. We have to trust that whatever the outcome of the asking, there is a a greater good to be derived from the encounter. Your resourcefulness may be tapped, your creativity called upon, your humility tested and proven.

Or you may just get what you ask for.

Published in: on September 28, 2012 at 10:37 am  Leave a Comment  
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What if?

If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to meet it – Jonathan Winter

Do you find that there are certain aspects of your life where it is almost impossible to make a decision? Are you stuck in a mindset that says ‘If I give this up now, I would have wasted 10, 15, 30 years doing this thing, and what if I’m no good at doing this other thing, and what if I take a different train and it’s delayed or in an accident or flies off to another dimension, or what if I give up this thing right at the moment it was going to work for me, or what if I eat a poppy seed bagel instead of a plain one and get an allergy?’

That’s the fretful thing about choices. For every yes, there is a no. For everything that you accept, there is something that you are rejecting. And for every possibility that you reject, there are a million ‘what ifs’ that rear their ugly little heads trying to fill your brain up with unhelpful noise and chatter. This noise only increases anxiety. And this anxiety is not useful.

What if you could shut the chattering ‘what ifs’ to hell up? What if you could say one thing that could make them offer alternative bad news until they run out of bad news, or stop and falter, stutter and fall silent? I have found a tiny sentence that works for me…

‘So what.’

If I take the wrong train, that loses me an audition for what may be the biggest show of my life and the part is given to someone else – so what? If I study for ten years and then realise or am told that I’m a crappy psychologist – so what? If the house that I bought under pressure falls down around my ears – so what?

I have found that life is a series of opportunities. And that an opportunity missed is not the last opportunity offered. This is not to make light of the difficult decisions that people have had to make, such as having to leave war torn countries, or walk out on their families, or making bad financial decisions that make life unbearable. This is only to point out that all decisions are not those, and by looking with great honesty at the scale of importance of our decision, we can gain greater perspective on what life looks like when we knowingly say goodbye to an option. I will also point out and always believe in the tenacity of the human spirit, who have risen above such difficult and tortuous decisions and created rich and full lives because they only saw opportunity where others saw hardships.

So, turn your back bravely on something that no longer serves you AT THIS TIME. Learn to say no. And learn to only bring into your vision the consequence of that to which you have said yes. You have no idea what the outcome of your unchosen path would have been. It might have been glorious. It might have been horrific. Who knows? You never will. Who cares? You never should.

Published in: on September 27, 2012 at 7:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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The promise

My humanity is a constant self-overcoming. – Nietzsche, Ecce Homo

I have been thinking a lot lately about what my purpose is in this life. What legacy do I want to leave? What mark do I want to make on this world?

I am not a mother, nor will I ever be. I doubt very much that I will invent something in this lifetime or that I will ever be a great leader. I do not even think that I will ascend the ranks of my chosen profession to esteemed heights and peer accolades.

I will be in the ranks of the ordinary, the ranks of the everyday people striving daily to earn a crust of bread and live well while doing it. This does not sadden me, in fact, it fills me with a freedom that is thrilling because I do not have the burden of greatness to attend to. But I have a desire, a burning desire to contribute to the lives of my fellow man.

It is a desire to be of service.

I pledge to you that I will always try to help. I will always try to spend the time to understand where you are, where you are coming from and where you are going. I will always try to give you the time and space you need to express yourself. I will always try to hold up the good things about you, to reflect your greatness and your goodness, to challenge your assumptions and your apathy and to stand with you in the uncomfortable times. I will always try to hear you and experience things as you experience them and let you know how I experience things and match those two up together and marvel at the similarities and differences. I will always try to confront the negative for you, to prop you up against adversity and to cheer you to your chosen finish lines. I will always try to be honest about my own hardship and the steps I take to overcome it. I will always try to be honest about the times when it it difficult to remain positive, I will give it my best shot and I will fail in front of you. I will always try to share my fear, so that you know that I do not stand above you, nor below you, but with you.

I hope that you will call me to account if you see that I am not living my best life, or being of service to you. I hope that I will be of some use.

What is your promise?

Published in: on September 26, 2012 at 11:35 am  Leave a Comment  
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Someone else’s story

The next time someone cuts in front of you in a queue, the next time someone bumps into you, takes the last of something off a shelf, joins in the group, drinks and leaves without paying, and you feel that rage bubbling up in you, feel that indignation rising, know this…

That person did not do anything to you.

Most times, unless a person has particularly malicious intent, people do not have you locked in their sights, hoping to do you harm. Even if the person has malicious intent, it is their own pain that is the source of their intention and you just become the unwitting recipient.

You are not the centre of other people’s stories.

The annoyance you suffer stems from the fact that you feel someone has broken some personal rule, some individual code of conduct. Someone has broken the rules. The difference is they are YOUR rules. You are failing to recognise that they have their own code by which they are living, and that they are the centre of their own story. You feel slighted because they are not the centre of yours.

The next time the quiet frustration and sense of injustice bubbles up, take a moment to breathe. Breath reconnects us to our centre, reconnects us to the very source. Follow your breath in and out. And as you exhale, let love carry on the breeze. Love yourself enough to not give yourself anxiety to hold over things you cannot control. Love the other person, because everybody needs a little bit more love coming their way, whether they know it or not. Love the situation, because it has brought you back to yourself and to the awareness that there are other people in the world who exist with you, each making their own stories, each adding to the colour and richness of daily experience.

Take responsibility for your authorship. What will be the quality of the lines that you are adding to your and someone else’s story

Published in: on September 26, 2012 at 9:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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Fear 1

I promised you my fears, so I shall share with you a series of them.

I am currently studying. Those of you who follow me or connect with me on various social media platforms know this because I’ve never stopped harping on about it. There have been a decrease in theatre discussions and links in my timelines and an increase in posts on existential psychotherapy, counselling and various therapeutic approaches. This is because there is a shift happening in me.

I was watching the Lifeclass on OWN with the Reverend TD Jakes and he said something to the effect of this – ‘Do not confuse talent with your purpose’. He went on to say that just because one has a talent for something, just because one has been doing something always, do not confuse it with what one is meant to do.

This has been on my mind for some time before seeing that broadcast.

Because I have been thinking of becoming a psychotherapist.

And that scares me.

It means that, unless I can find a way to combine my love of the stage and my desire to help people recognise their own purpose, that I may be looking at a future that does not include the thing that I thought I loved. My desire to help is certainly becoming stronger than my desire run behind the next big musical. I am so fortunate at this point in time to be in a show that resonates with me, that is congruent with my love of learning, reading and hope. But I have done many shows in my lifetime for the sake of doing a show. And I have done many shows in my lifetime where I didn’t make a difference. And I am beginning to wonder if that is a productive way to spend one’s time.

I have a great desire to entertain, a great desire to touch people’s lives, but I have come to the point of questioning whether I am doing that in the best way possible.

Published in: on June 29, 2012 at 1:52 pm  Comments (2)  
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Do you hear the people sing?

What do people hear when you speak? As a matter of fact, what do people hear when they see you coming?

It is a well known fact that, based on your past behaviour, people will already start to hear what will come out of your mouth, the tone, the content, the language, long before you utter a word. You know this by the attitude that they take on when you approach. Observe the next time you go up to someone to ask for something. What’s their body language saying? Are they happy to talk to you? Do they take on that professional glaze, a pinned on smile and glassy eyes, because they know it is their duty to listen but they would rather be elsewhere? Do they become impatient and closed down when you call their name?

And if they do any of these things, why do you think that is?

If all you ever do is go to a person to complain, if all you do is pour your heart and soul out to one person, listing your litany of woes and trials without engaging the other, if all you ever do is boast about your accomplishments because you know that the person will listen, because they always do, then what do you think the physical, emotional and psychological response of the other person will be when they see you approaching?

What is the noise you make when you go through this world? Is it a joyous one, that helps to lighten the mood and bring a smile to the other person’s day? Is it one full of sexual energy, that makes one half the population sit up and swoon and makes the other half regard you with scant courtesy or at least regard you as trite? Is it a weary noise, a constant dull hum of woe and worries, that sucks the energy of the listener, deflating them at the mere sight of your lips poised in preparation for speech? Is it an angry blare, that causes the other to tighten up and ready themselves for the onslaught of war?

You are responsible for the song that you bring into this world. And, of course, we cannot sing the same song at every moment of our lives. But we can have a predominant sound. And it is that predominant sound that people respond to, it is that aural aura that surrounds you that reverberates with the other souls whom you encounter.

What is your song going to be?

Published in: on June 15, 2012 at 12:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Say it with feeling

I am only responsible for what I say, not for what YOU understand – Anonymous

I came across this quote while perusing all the other wonderful writings in the blogosphere and it got me to wondering about the truth of that statement.

There are some teachers who believe that if you do not understand, then it is the fault of the teacher who has not done enough to make the information digestible, interesting or informative. There are some salesmen who believe that if you do not buy, it is because they have not done enough to make the offer attractive, alluring and appealing. There are some coaches that believe that if you do not ‘get it’, it is because they did not do enough to make your dreams and desires speak out to you, they did not highlight your unique selling points in such a way to elicit the right amount of excitement that allows you to get up and build your self-determined future.

I believe that our word sounds have power. And I believe that it is our responsibility to manage how we wield that power. I believe that we already know the effect of our utterances, that we design what we say for the listener, that because we are human ourselves, we know, inherently, how we will be understood when we communicate. It is that ‘theory of mind’ which allows us to follow the trajectory of a pointing finger to the intended target that is being pointed to, and not just stare the finger (go on…try it with a pet!). With that ‘theory of mind’, we know what the other person intends and conversely, we know that our intentions will be known, or at least guessed at, by the listener.

So if I intend to hurt with my words, that intention become known. If I intend to teach, then that feeling is passed on, through my choice of phrase, my tone, my willingness to go at the pace of understanding unique to the receiver. If I intend to heal, then the love is apparent in what I say. I am responsible for what you hear, if only through the intention behind my words.

Do you believe that you can release words into this world and not be responsible for how they are received?

Published in: on June 5, 2012 at 12:49 pm  Comments (2)  
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My crooked teeth

I do not have a winning smile. My teeth are gapped, broken, crooked, misshapen, haphazard. They follow their own rule of order and I do what I can to keep them clean and polish off the red wine stains occasionally.

But it is not a movie star’s smile. I know this because I was told this, openly and unabashedly, by someone who knew a whole lot better than I. They said that for me to succeed in my chosen profession that I should spend thousands of pounds to ensure that I had a set of gnashers that would rival Mac the Knife’s. Then I would look natural. Then I would be beautiful. Well, they went on, I would be beautiful if I lost some weight as well. And perhaps reduced the size of my nose. And my boobs.

By the time they were done with me, I don’t think I would have had an original part remaining, had I followed their plan. They had remade me, they had made me stronger, made me better, like a million dollar man (more realistically it would be the Minus Million Dollar man for the money I would have to spend on my ‘soul home improvements). They had made me more acceptable.

But did I accept myself?

I do not have to postulate here about the plethora of suggestions of idealised body images splashed across billboards and screens for our every split second consumption, reminding us of an unattainable miracle that should yet be strived for through hard work and the right purchases. I do not have to go into the rising number of cases of anorexia being treated by our health system, or the increase in cosmetic surgery spend. That is news. It is all common knowledge.

What I will not allow is that encouraged self loathing, that idea that I am not enough. It is certainly true that there will be doors in my industry closed to my crooked teeth. And if I want to enter those doors, I must conform. I know this. And whatever decision I make with that knowledge will be made with every consideration of the arguments for and against that knowledge. For the moment my smile remains of the non-winning variety, and a hope that my heart-smile shines through my eyes and makes my less than perfect dentition secondary to all the other gifts I bring.

In the meantime, I still take pictures with a closed mouth.

Published in: on June 1, 2012 at 9:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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Amor fati

My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendaciousness in the face of what is necessary—but love it. – Ecce Homo – Freidrich Nietzsche

Sometimes, we put so much pressure on ourselves. Sometimes we think that our life isn’t the way it is supposed to be, that there is something more that we deserve, something else we must acquire, something extraordinary that we are yet to become. We yearn and pine for the magic that seems to be happening in other people’s lives, but which eludes our own. We wait for that moment, when we are thinner, richer, smarter. We see where we are, our present moment, as lacking, as a resting point only, an interval before the real action of our life takes place. We are constantly in a state of expectation for the turn-around, the moment when our life’s light switch gets flicked to ‘On’ and we start truly getting what we deserve.

And as our sights are constantly set to that imagined future, the simple joy of our present is passing us by.

I am a little bit in love with this simple, yet effective concept as described in the quote above. Not just accepting your fate, but loving it. Loving the fact that your life is as it is, at this very moment. It means that I am present to embrace, acknowledge and participate in all that is occurring in my life right now, without the added pressure of my well- or ill-defined expectations of what it should be. It means that I take responsibility for the decisions that I have made and the behaviours that I have exhibited that have led me to right where I am. It means that I can change my mind, think new thoughts, say new words, get new perspectives, that will help me to lovingly create whatever tomorrow will come, without the added baggage of ‘could-a would-a should-a’s’.

If I love up my present, then my mind empties a little, the pressure is released, the brows unknit, and I fall into the arms of loving acceptance of all that is. The battle I wage on my life stops. Everything I do, I do lovingly in this moment. I want nothing to be different, because this life of mine is exactly what it is meant to be, even with its ugly parts and painful struggles. It is my struggle, my loving struggle and it builds me up.

Can you see value in loving your fate, in total acceptance of the life as it is?

Published in: on May 28, 2012 at 11:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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