Tag Archives: Anxiety

Don’t Cry Out Loud – learn how to hide your feelings

“There’s no need to get emotional” and “Crying won’t solve anything” are both things that have been said to me on various occasions, almost as if “being emotional” is a crime, but, what’s so criminal about being emotional? Why is “being emotional” a bad thing?

In some cultures when there is a grief situation or when somebody dies, people cry openly, in fact there are professional mourners brought in as “wailers”. We western people find this very disturbing. In fact we find open displays of emotion hard to deal with. When we go to something like a funeral where people are upset, the sight of upset people makes us upset.

I have attended, in a professional capacity, where I have played the organ, the funerals of many people that I don’t know, or that I don’t know very well. I have often been quite touched by the emotions displayed by such people that I may not personally know, yet I’ve picked up on the feelings of that person for their mother, for their husband – and sometimes when the grieving person has been overwhelmed, when they have been making a speech or a eulogy and their voice cracks, or they tear up, and everybody is very uncomfortable, but I and many others are sitting in the pews of the church and just willing them to continue on. And you are not wanting them to cry because you do not want them to be upset, but here is the question. Do you not want them to be upset for them, or do you not want them to be upset for you? Because we don’t like to see that, because we don’t deal with it very easily in the Western world. Despite our discomfort, however, crying is actually good for you! Actually, crying releases endorphins. Crying does actually make you feel better.

Little children – babies – have very few ways of reacting. It is said that when you have a small baby and you are a new parent and your baby cries, it is their only way of communicating and you need to go through a list, as a frustrated new parent, of six possible things.baby-boy-crying-photo-420x420-ts-56570356

Is the baby wet, is the baby cold, is the baby hot, is the baby hungry, or is the baby tired? Once you have gone about trouble-shooting all those issues, and you’ve tried to fix them all and the baby is still unhappy, you just simply go through all of them again. Sooner or later, you fix one of those things and eventually the baby will calm down and stop crying. (For the sharp eyed who noticed my “list” only had 5 things, from memory Number 6 to offer Baby was simply “Comfort”).

A small child falls over – they will immediately cry. As a child gets a little older, they tend to learn guile. I remember some years ago sitting with a friend in the Botanic Gardens in Adelaide enjoying a beautiful sunny day, and there was a young boy of about three who was dawdling along not that far behind his parents.Toddler

The child tripped over a rough piece of ground and fell over flat on his face, and I just naturally got up, ready to rescue the child if he was hurt. The boy just actually lay there, on his tummy for a moment, and I was waiting for the wail to come up of the possibly injured child. There was this moment’s hesitation. The kid actually put his head up, looked around for an audience, then saw that his mother had just realised he had fallen a few steps behind, and turned around to look. Only when he saw he had her attention, then did he let out a theatrical yell. And it was nearly comical that it was almost as if, had there not been an audience, he wouldn’t have bothered crying.

When I’m overwhelmed, very unhappy or depressed, I have a number of things that I do to try and keep myself going. Some would call it “self-medicating” I guess. None of them are overly dangerous, but I realise there’s a list of things that I tend to commonly do when I’m in a difficult stage. That I do to try and buck myself up, or assist me to cope, and perhaps they have some medicinal effect, perhaps they just have some psychological effect. But I find that in a period of real stress I tend to do these things:

  • I eat high sugar foods such as doughnuts and frozen coke
  • I drink more coffee – the caffeine hit keeps me going
  • I succumb to “Fast Food” such as Hungry Jacks

More positively (or what may possibly win approval from my ever-patient GP)

  • I take myself out to nice places, such as sitting by the beach, importantly in isolation, so I am alone with my thoughts. And so I can reflect, so I can think. If need be, so I can display emotion, so I can cry and nobody can be concerned or can criticise.
  • I spend time with people who are important to me and I feel I can confide in, that I feel will listen including, as the quiz show used to say: “Phone a friend”.
  • I have been known to just go off to a quiet place, even sit in my car, and have a good, old fashioned howl.

And simply the release of emotion is something which I have found extremely therapeutic and I wonder, if more people did that, if we might have fewer people that are actually resorting to ultimately much more harmful drugs and alcohol overuse.

Yet we are afraid of emotion and, strangely, people are valued and praised for “not being emotional”. Women, especially in the business world, or in positions of power, are almost expected to  be aloof, such as Meryl Streep’s character Miranda Priestly in “the Devil Wears Prada “ (2006)  Meryl Devil wears PradaForty years earlier, 1964’s “My Fair Lady” asked “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”

Yet those people are the very people who I find, not so much that they don’t have emotion, but that the emotions I see are coldness, cruelty, lack of feeling, lack of empathy, narcissism, wanting to have their own way, not being interested in other people and valuing right, might and power over the feelings of others. And not seeming to allow themselves to feel passion or joy – if they actually do have those things within them. Not valuing good.

Because emotion isn’t all negative emotion.

If you can’t allow yourself to feel, if you can’t allow yourself to feel at all, yes, you may avoid somewhat the danger of the depths of despair, but you also dull the exhilaration of passion and joy.

Around five years ago, we needed Passports for our children. I attempted to take their photographs myself. They were used to the “say cheese” variety of look, but this time I exhorted them not to smile. My daughter immediately assumed a very glum expression. “Too much” I exclaimed. She tried to look slightly happier, but to still not smile. This proved quite difficult and soon she was giggling, then laughing out loud. Before too long I had the perfect, most natural, happy photograph – although totally unsuitable for the passport regulations. Passport Photo Best

As we discovered, it is not easy to turn on and off one’s emotion or even expression like the proverbial “performing seal”.

Did the song have it right, with the advice “Don’t cry out loud”? As a younger person it was one of my favourite songs and I guess because as a kid and as a consumer and an owner of 100 books by Enid Blyton (inherited from my Mother and my Aunts) I was a bit of a fan of the “run away to the circus” concept, and the notion of “dancing high upon the wire” was something that I always aspired to.

Having the dream, living the dream. And if you failed, you hadn’t failed to try.

And have I failed in my life? Sure. I’ve failed plenty of times. But have I failed to try?

No, I still try, try again. There are plenty of things that I haven’t achieved, and there are plenty of things which I would still like to achieve. But have I completely let go of the possibility of the dream? No. Because the day that I completely let go of “The Dream”, I may as well let go altogether.

And maybe the things that I haven’t achieved…and I don’t want to be a horrible “stage mother” here…what I haven’t achieved for myself, perhaps I can achieve as a parent, by having my kids achieve their potential. But not in some wish-fulfilling “My Dreams” or “My Unfulfilled things” on them, but by helping them achieve their own dreams, and their passions.

So, despite being one of the least sporting people on the planet, but having a skilled son, having him achieve his sporting dreams, as a cricketer,as a hockey player – even if this means I become (much to my amusement) a “Hockey Mum”, that is something which I can work towards.

Having a creative daughter who authors wonderful stories? Who sings delightfully? Who revels in Fandom? Who adores books? These things are her passions. If I can help her follow her passions, I have succeeded as a parent.

But these things are passions, they are dreams, they are emotions. They are not “nothing”. They are not squashing people from being people. They are not having no passion. And we are certainly not celebrating people that do not display emotion.

Does someone who does not display emotion actually not have emotion? It’s actually a very interesting question. I would say that someone who does not display emotion doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have emotion, it more means they have suppressed it that far that it is actually quite unhealthy.

And again: we are scared of emotion, we are scared of people who wear their hearts on their sleeves, because we see them as uncontrollable – we like to control things. And certain people who I’ve had friction with are people who want to control me, and I’m not someone who wants to be controlled. And I admit to reacting to people who want to control me, and I guess I do not show my best side in those instances, and they may not see the best in me.

People who bring out the best in me are those who give me some room to wriggle and some room to grow, and encourage and support me, not people who try to kick me when I’m down, and try and put me in a box and try and stifle any essence which is me.In the Box

And the person that is me is the person that has emotion and passion.

You kill that, and you kill me.

So, “Don’t cry out loud?”? That’s not me.

 

“Don’t cry out loud” Is that something we should aspire to do? No. I don’t believe that is so.

I think we should all recognise that “scratch I and I’ll bleed” but also “build me up, and I will soar”.

Do not be afraid to cry. Sometimes crying is necessary. Crying is honest.

When I need to cry – let me cry.

When you need to cry, let me be your shoulder.

But also – Stand with me and we’ll be joyful. I will celebrate life with you.

There is always darkness before the dawn.

But the dawn will come.

Beach Dawn

 

 

Knowing me, knowing you

It was suggested to me recently that I’m having an “Identity Crisis”. I guess that is one more thing to add to my extensive list of “Issues”.

know-002This came about because I was having another wail about Church People just seeing me as “The Pastor’s Wife”. This variation on my 25-year old long-running theme was a specific gripe, due to me feeling taken advantage of over a current issue, too convoluted to relate here, but one aspect being playing Pipe Organ in Church five out of six consecutive weeks. Which I actually enjoy doing. But, while at the same time, there had been some question raised over my qualifications and skills as an organist. The irony of the confluence of these two things was not lost on me.

I have reflected before on how we go through life being identified, I feel, in relation to other people and other things. Which is natural. Someone’s child. Someone’s sister or brother.

As a student at a particular school.

know-008
Hilary,Kylie, Frances, Caroline in “Die Musiker Studio” days

As a member of a sports team or club perhaps. Or, at a Music or Ballet school on the weekend.

Then, later, as someone’s husband or wife. Then parent of our child or children. By the job that we do.

But to what extent is our identity just “ME”?

My long-ago, long-term Piano Teacher’s wife, Beryl Kimber Leske, an eternal matchmaker, was extremely excited, a img500quarter-century ago now,  when she discovered I was engaged and wearing a diamond ring. One of her first questions was “What does he play?” I explained my fiancé was a “Nice Lutheran boy” (I thought this might go down well, as the Leskes also have Lutheran connections). She was a little taken aback to learn that Neil was not a musician per se (although he does sing well). But then she brightened, stating “Ah, well, every Performer needs an Audience”.  She had assigned a Role for him that, in her world, worked.

On Thursday of this week I did the closest thing to “Work” that I have since I resigned from my school teaching position in September 2016. My daughter’s violin teacher had asked me to assist at a “Strings Day of Excellence” at the local High School where she teaches. This involved the resident String Orchestra of the host High School, plus invited String Students from five nearby Primary Schools.  The purpose of the day appeared to be twofold. Firstly, to give the younger students the opportunity to participate in a larger, more proficient group of musicians, and to inspire them to continue studying by seeing and experiencing where they might be in a few years’ time. And secondly, as a PR exercise by the High School to showcase their Performing Arts options – because they would be looking to recruit students from these Primary Schools.

I arrived early to an assembly hall already set up with 150 chairs and music stands, a few staff getting ready, and a handful of High Schoolers. A few “early birds” – anxious small uniformed children – started trickling in with parents in tow. After checking the plan for the morning, I amused myself how quickly I unconsciously slipped into “Meet and Greet” mode, as the trickle of visiting Primary children became a flood. “Good Morning!” “Welcome!” “How lovely to see you” “Please unpack your instrument over there”. And then “Let me help you tune your violin”. I looked up and realised a queue had formed in front of me of a dozen children all waiting for me to help tune their instruments.

febmarch-039rs

In the middle of all this, a harried looking woman approached me and stated: “I’m one of the other String Teachers”. And then, in an irritated tone: “Nobody told me what time I had to be here, or what I was supposed to do”.

“I’m just borrowed for the day” I volunteered brightly, and carried on tuning fractional-sized violins, violas and cellos. There was something resentful in the other teacher’s tone, which I deliberately did not pick up on. I noticed, however, that neither did she instinctively start another “tuning station” which would have prepared the children more quickly. She simply disappeared in a frustrated huff.

I’m sure we all have “Family Folklore”, those little stories which our parents and Grandparents love to tell of times gone by, as some type example or thing to remember. In our family there was one such tale of a relative who consulted her mother about her current boyfriend. Who she found perfect in very way. Except one.

She was concerned that “John” was not very much of a self-starter where domestic things were concerned. That he did not seem to notice that a table needed to be set or that dishes could be washed. That she was worried that if they were married, she would shoulder all of these things herself.

Her wise mother thought for a moment, and then counselled her. “There are two types of people in this life. Those who “see the need and do”’ and those who need to be asked. Perhaps your young man just does not “see” and you need to “ask”. “Try it”

So her daughter tried this tactic. “John, would you please set the table for me?” “Certainly, dear” and he would immediately leap up and do it. A more helpful, loving and giving person you could not wish for than John. Her mother was right. John just did not “See”.

I have long wondered if this is partly typical of men of this era (“John” is now in his 80’s) – those who were children during World War II and grew up in a time when male/female roles were much more defined such that males were typically “Breadwinners” and females “Homemakers”, so there was an assumption that certain things were “women’s work”. Because I have noted this same lack of domesticity in other men of a similar age.

However, it’s not necessarily restricted to senior folk – “Generation Y” appear to have many, if not enhanced of these tendencies – the ability to be in a room totally oblivious to the fact that others are busily working or things need to be done. “Millennials” – according to one expert – are accused of being lazy, self-involved, cosseted, politically apathetic narcissists, who aren’t able to function without a smartphone and who live in a state of perpetual adolescence, incapable of commitment.

But that’s probably a discussion for another day.

All that said, I believe that being such a person, one in the “See the need and do”’ category, transcends Gender and Age.

It is a way of thinking. In the much bigger picture – A way of defining yourself.

Because I think I have finally got a handle on this “Identity” thing.

(Hallelujah! say long-suffering friends).

I am the See-the-need-and-do person.

I am the Whatever-it-takes person.

I am the Above-and-beyond person (which was the “Theme” of my previous school the first few years I worked there.)

above-beyond

For years, my Facebook “About Me” section has included a statement I wrote some years ago, in reaction to someone who had been quite dismissive and negative when I had suggested trying something more challenging than had previously been attempted in a certain situation. I had found her attitude really frustrating. and it had prompted me coining the statement:

Kylie warns those who say:
“It’s too hard and it can’t be done”, I consider that a challenge and I WILL PROVE YOU WRONG!!

I also found the following quote, printed it out in an attractive font and hung it on the Office wall, where it stayed for some years:

Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly. (Robert H. Schuller)

The last – now five – months of being “Gainfully Unemployed” have also been a time of considerable reflection and soul searching for me, much of which has been personally difficult.

And trying to rationalise and compact so much down to try and work out what, ultimately matters about it all.

Spending seven years of your life going, yes, “Above and Beyond” in a place, working closely with particular people, establishing relationships, building something substantial (in the case of the Strings Program) and aiding in the growth generally of something that is meaningful to you (the Music Department of a school), having the opportunity to impact the lives of young people.

On a personal basis, coming to the “Big Smoke” from a small, regional town where you have built up a life for yourself, including a network of supportive friends, and having to start again from nothing. For the first two or three years counting only three people as friends on the Gold Coast. This sprawling, soul-less, artificial, fake, somewhat seedy place. And two of the three “counted as friends” people being colleagues at the school.

So, over seven years, the school is not just a place you go to, punch the time clock for your allotted hours and leave.

It is Family. It is Community.

And what is “My Role” “My Job”?

Interestingly, I never had a printed Job Description. I was employed as “Instrumental Teacher”. And so, I made the role my own. Whatever needed doing, I did it. So did, at the time, my colleagues. Amongst things my former colleagues did … costumes for Primary Musicals – sourced in lunchbreaks. Sets? Paint them yourself. Christmas Carols to be sung? (as related previously) – throw a choir together. The students have never heard a Symphony Orchestra play?  Research and organise a Group Excursion and put them on a bus to Brisbane. As my Mum used to say “If you want something done properly, do it yourself”.

One year I was drafted into playing Lead Piano in the High School Musical 10 days before Opening Night, in response to an S.O.S. from the High School Music Teacher. “Kylie – I need you. Please help”. I dropped everything and learned the entire score – eighteen complete songs –  for “Aladdin” in one weekend.

Whatever it takes.

However, this exact same approach has got me “into hot water” repeatedly. I have a long history of rarely sticking to my “Job Description” (when I have actually had one). 23 years ago I assisted a hardworking small business owner in England with his accounts and paperwork, including some letter writing and legal work as, English  being his second language, he had got into arrears with some payments and was very stressed and concerned about losing his business. [I was actually employed to sell accessories at 40 pounds cash per week.]

Later, I had a part-time job as coffee-maker and telephone-answerer for a Graphic Design Company in North London. By the time I left there for Australia, the Director had indulged me by calling me his P.A. (which does look good on my C.V.)

Where people have wanted to “pigeon-hole” me and required me to “stay in my box” and “do what you are supposed to do” I guess I have literally felt boxed in. Sometimes their attitude is couched in terms of apparent concern for my welfare – suggesting I should not overwork or overstretch myself – that there are other people who can/should be/are actually employed to do those additional tasks which are “not your job”.

But what is often missed is that much of what I actually enjoy doing is not in the “Job Description”. And one of the things that frustrated me mightily last year was, when I stopped, by request, doing things I was not “supposed” to do, many of these were not picked up by other staff, by anyone – they just ceased altogether.

And – witness the lady at Thursday’s Workshop – I seem to have an innate ability to Irritate people by simply existing. By just diving in and doing what needs to be done. She at least appeared to be put out that she did not know who I was, yet I was doing obstensively “her job”. Yet, importantly, I noticed that she allowed her pique to come to the fore. Instead of taking over, or taking the “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude and setting up beside me – after all, why can’t we work TOGETHER in life – she chose to take offense.

Amusingly. my ACTUAL role for the day was “Designated Pianist”. AND I was slightly late for the first part of the rehearsal (for the role I was actually hired to play) due to the fact I was busy tuning literally one hundred instruments – something this lady was skilled and able to do. And which was actually her role (probably). But it was not me, but her attitude which prevented her from fully assuming it.

matter-mindFortunately, the organiser of the Workshop, my daughter’s teacher, who had invited me to participate, was the exact opposite. She appreciated all my assistance and thanked me for “pitching in” and helping out wherever needed.

At the risk of sounding like some religious group (and Mr. Google tells me there are a number with this exact name) there comes a point where we all need to step forward in faith.

To stop looking behind ourselves, second-guessing and mistrusting.

To realise that the exact same qualities we have which make one person love and appreciate us, may make another resent and even hate us.

And perhaps true Maturity is finally being able to be content with that.

This is the year that my contemporaries and I reach “Round-number” birthdays, and already some are asking how I might celebrate it. Well, I’m not really intending to. Because there are plenty of people who have walked this earth longer than I have, have achieved more than I have, who have contributed more than I have.

Equally, there are many who have fallen by the wayside, whether that being simply not achieving their potential, or they are staring into some mid-life crisis or have suffered ill health or pain, anxiety, or depression. Or perhaps have tried to deal with life’s complexities, its ups and downs with the use of medications or alcohol or drugs or other therapies.

None of us are perfect and none of us are getting any younger.

This week I came across a handful of letter copies I had written home during my early efforts at word-processing when I first moved to England twenty-five years ago. Including quite lot of “life advice” to a younger friend was I pseudo “Big Sister” to. Reading it now, in some ways I seemed wiser then than I seem to be now.

But equally, I think perhaps I have learned the odd thing in the past quarter century.

And this month, perhaps I’m a little closer to learning Who I Am.

pooh-and-piglet

The sun will come out tomorrow

I have been accused of being a Facebook addict. In fact I have had people contact me and say “Is everything OK? I’d wondered, because I hadn’t seen you on Facebook for a few days”. So yes, I do check in pretty frequently. It’s my way of keeping an eye, of keeping in touch. And with a few people, I do literally use it to keep in touch, as an essentially “Free” communication method. I “touch base” with them in the “Private message” section fairly regularly.

The other night I sent a casual “Hey, trust all is well with you” greeting to a friend and received immediately back: “No. Feeling suicidal to be honest”. My immediate reaction was “Are you somewhere where you can talk?” “Can I ring?” “5 mins.” “Call me. PLEASE”. My friend did. Had she not, I would have. Repeatedly. Until she picked up. We talked. I didn’t clock-watch and I didn’t care what time it was. She is important to me. She is important – full stop. Important. Unique. Special. Valued. And needed to hear it – know it.

Part of our conversation – and what had triggered her feelings of depression in the firstyoure-beautiful place – was her seeing somebody looking cheerful and indeed pleased with themselves. What is the matter with that, one may ask. Well, in itself – nothing. All power to them. But, in this instance, the person was someone who had wronged and contributed to hurting my friend.

I counselled her that this person may not even have had any conception of exactly the effects of their actions. And certainly now – some years after the traumatic incident, were unlikely to be reflecting back on it and considering their contribution. That person – and others involved – had seamlessly moved on with their lives. Had continued in the same trajectory. While part of the reason why he – even a photograph of him – had the power to hurt and “twist the knife” for her was that his hurtful actions – and those of others at a former time had far-reaching consequences for my friend. She had not “carried on as usual”, as if nothing had happened. Because, for her, something DID happen. Which altered the course of her life. Which she has still not fully recovered from. Which she still grieves.

The Biblical Chapter of Luke 23 details the final hours of Christ’s life. He is placed on a cross between two criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

the-passion-of-the-christ-the-crucifixion-3-crosses

Is ignorance, though, truly an excuse? Are the people who hurt us completely ignorant of what they do? And do we forgive them solely on that basis? If I have been “a victim” does this give power to “an aggressor” simply because they may be “ignorant”, at least from my point of view? I remembering lamenting to a close friend at a very problematic, low point in my own life, when I was having a particularly difficult time and struggling desperately with one individual: “I hope she is getting something out of destroying another human being, because I’m certainly not enjoying it much”.

Many years ago, a very wise woman suggested to a study group of which I was part, that sometimes, no matter what we do, there are people that, try as we might, there is nothing we can do to change a person or their attitude to us – that it is truly a case of “It’s you, not me”. And that, in his instance, the way to reassure yourself is to say silently “He/She is a D.P.”. I asked, innocently, what the initials “D.P”. stood for and I was told they were short for “Difficult Person”. At the time I had a prickly colleague who I tried hard to please. Somehow, saying to myself “Kylie, you have done your best, but she is a bit of a D.P.” assuaged my natural guilty conscience and reminded me there were probably things far beyond me affecting this lady’s demeanour and attitudes.

Having started this piece with (almost) admitting to being a Facebook addict, I do tend to pick up on various things that “Go Around” on “Newsfeeds”. About a month ago a few people posted this:

maturity

I must say that I do not agree with this in many cases. My reaction was: What if “Their Situation” is that they take no responsibility for their actions? And that you wish them no personal ill but they continue to hurt YOU, over and over? Is it “Maturity” to be a continual victim?

Instead, understanding that the perpetrator is possibly a person with self-esteem issues who lives a life in which they continually need to prove to themselves that they are someone, should help to forgive them. Often we then have to extract ourselves from their sphere of influence though.

One can “understand”, but for self-preservation, sometimes Separation is the only answer. “Maturity” needs to happen on both sides. If the Perpetrator of hurt never sees it from any point of view than their own, you can be as “understanding” as you like, but it is foolish to remain in the line of fire. Even in the Bible in Matthew 10:14, Jesus instructs his 12 Disciples: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”

There are some people in life who do indeed seem to have the world “revolve around themselves”, who indeed even fit the profile of the “Sociopath next door” in Martha Stout’s excellent book. [This puts forward the rather frightening scenario that about one in twenty-five individuals are sociopathic, meaning, essentially, that they do not have a conscience. It is not that this group fails to grasp the difference between good and bad; it is that the distinction fails to limit their behaviour. The intellectual difference between right and wrong does not bring on the emotional sirens and flashing blue lights, or the fear of God, that it does for the rest of us. Without the slightest blip of guilt or remorse, one in twenty-five people can can do anything at all.]

Or these traits might be symptomatic of, or mask some inner actual insecurity, that such people actually try and look important and make themselves feel better, more secure or important by wielding authority over or even bullying others. But this is hollow, because genuine respect and loyalty is earned, not demanded and I do not believe true leadership can be commanded.

There are still others, though, who aren’t necessarily “Bad People”, who are caught up in situations not totally of their own making, or are “part and parcel” of a difficult time or situation which holds negative connotations for us. But they were not the “aggressors” as it were. Still, for us, they are connected with a bad situation or negative time. For us, the hurt person, they are part of the negative past. And they too may have moved on.

The last week or so has been interesting for me. I only half-joke that I am “working on mycass-first-day-2017-006-copy Aversion Therapy”. I do find physically going to the school where I worked for 8 years more or less difficult at different times. I cannot avoid it because my two children attend there. And currently I do the “school run” – drive them there and pick them up, daily.

Paradoxically, my main difficulty is it is all so familiar – I know the place like the back of my hand. And having left there only recently, the vast majority of the staff and many of the students are also known to me. On my son’s first day of school it was extremely busy in the carpark. I met a friend, so we shared coffee and caught up in the onsite Café for an hour. After a short time the High School Staff all spilled out of the adjacent auditorium. We realised that the High School Students did not all commence until the next day, so the Staff were likely still in Assemblies and meetings. Some went by and waved. One came up to my table and had a lovely conversation with me, expressing how nice it was to see me. Through the window I could see dozens of others all in earnest conversation. All known to me. All going about their business. All at work. All moving on……

Getting my own kids back to school has meant trying to establish some sort of routine and finally getting some “Head Space” in an empty house. And the phrase “Physician Heal Thyself” has rung in my ears since my late night conversation with my distressed friend.

Earlier I mentioned Christ on the Cross where he referred to those persecuting him, saying:  “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” The passage goes on to say: 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”

Now, Heaven forbid that I should claim any special status for myself, but there is also the secular idea of being able to “dish it out but not take it”, and I have realised that I do tend to give out much advice.

And this week has been interesting, in that I have had not only the important exchange I have mentioned, but a number of other conversations with various people all seeking my help, advice, or just a listening ear.

I also am blessed with very wise people in my life who are much more sensible than I. Who I lean on and they look after and advise me. But do I really soak in their advice and live it?

One such person, who I respect greatly, once gave me these words to think on:

  • Listen more, talk less
  • Every question does not require an immediate answer
  • You give too much of yourself, keep your own counsel.

When people ask me how I am, and what I am doing at present, I tend to say “as little as possible”, as I am yet to find a specific “day-job”. That said, although I have made applications, I have concentrated on spending time with my family during the school holidays.

And also, I have decided to be more pragmatic. In a couple of cases my instinct has been to chase after something imperfect, but then I have stood back and decided not to. To not force something, lest it become another difficult situation or trying to fit a “square peg into a round hole”. Because if something is “meant to happen” I believe it will. That is not to say I will just sit back totally passively and expect the world to come to me – that is not in my nature.

But I need to learn to listen more, in more ways than one.

To not just jump into what might be “easy” but perhaps look to the more lateral.

But still, look to gradually “fill”. Because I believe that one of the reasons we fail to “move on” is that emptiness caused by loss, by essentially grief, is not filled by other things. One situation cannot exactly replace another, but, as noted by the ancient philosopher Aristotle, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Aristotle based his conclusion on the observation that nature requires every space to be filled with something, even if that something is colourless, odourless air.

Thinking about vacuums (the scientific type, not the cleaning sort!) helps us to understand the importance of what Paul was saying to the Biblical Ephesians when he prayed that Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith and that they would “know the love of Christ . . . that [they] may be filled with all the fullness of God” (3:19).

In a practical sense, we truly “Move On” from things which have hurt us, grieve us, pre-occupy us, even those unresolved things which are “running sores” by working on replacing the vacuum of nothing with new and positive things to occupy that space.

Because otherwise it is all too easy for the negative to rush back in, in the form of anxiety, worry, negativity, and dwelling on the past, and being “stuck”. Being unable to get “past our past”.

So, positives for the last week or so for me, ironically, have come out of negatives.

Being unemployed, yet having my children back at school six hours a day, has meant I have had, finally, uninterrupted time. I have spent this tackling some organisational work for some projects mid-year. When those friends have contacted me with their own concerns I have had the time to listen and counsel.

I am being given the opportunity to “Serve, not to be served”.

A final thought. Adversity, in all its forms, is hard understand, and it’s easy to say “Why me?” and be ground down by unanswerable questions such as “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

But life is full of contrasts. And to some extent, it is in contrasting one thing against another that we can truly see where we are indeed blessed.

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Featured photo credit: with Thanks to Alistair Ross-Taylor. 

 

Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow

Back in November 1995, my husband Neil and I happened to take a trip to Israel at the exact time that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Being budget travellers, we were staying in the Youth Hostel in the centre of Jerusalem, which had the very strict etiquette of Men’s Dormitory upstairs, Women’s in the Basement.

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Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem Old City, November 1995.

Coincidentally, we both had a case of food poisoning, so had suffered a fairly rough night, feeling pretty green when we met at 7.00am in the kitchen as agreed. There were already whispers going around that the Prime Minister had been shot. The First question everybody asked was “By WHOM?”. Because in the very volatile religious/cultural/historical mix of the so-called “Holy Land”, it was one thing to have a dead Prime Minister, but the identity of the assailant may or may not have plunged us all into the proverbial “World War Three”. When it became apparent that the shooter was an Israeli ultranationalist named Yigal Amir, who radically opposed Rabin’s peace initiatives, but was at least from “his own side” there was palpable relief, not only in the Youth Hostel, but in the streets and throughout the city. The mood turned from one of shock and fear, to one of grief and mourning.

And the first thing we noticed was the little makeshift shrines which began to spring up, on street pavements, corners, in shops, homes, anywhere, full of groups of candles, surrounding photographs of the departed Rabin.

In the years since, this has become more and more commonplace. Candles seem to have become a universal sign of remembrance, of grief. When there are people in trouble, or a cause to be brought to the attention of politicians or others in power, “Candlelight vigils” are held. Perhaps in a world where organised religion is becoming less commonplace, or at least has fewer dedicated adherents than in former ages, it is a sign that people still want to express some sense of spirituality, or otherness, or togetherness, without tying it to some historic creed.

But, of course, candles are commonplace in many world religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism (the The Hanukkah menorah springs to mind). Arguably the most important festival in Hinduism is Diwali, the “festival of lights”. Its celebration includes millions of lights – lamps and candles –  shining on housetops, outside doors and windows, around temples and other buildings in the communities and countries where it is observed.

The idea of lighting candles – one for each year of life – has permeated Western social tradition, such that it seems wrong to have a Birthday without a cake with candles.

Candles are used in other ceremonies, too, including in weddings. I have appreciated the symbolism of each of the couple holding their individual candle, lighting a central candle, as the celebrant pronounces the words “the two become one”, then blowing out their individual candles, leaving the central, larger, brighter candle.

I once attended a most moving funeral, for the baby daughter of a friend. Born with a congenital heart defect, the little girl lived less than two weeks. But her short life was nonetheless remembered and celebrated. Although she had never left hospital, her parents wanted, rightly, their daughter to be recognised for the little person she was, and who had shared their lives, however briefly. Around the tiny white casket gathered various people linked to her – her parents, relatives, hospital staff and so on. Each lit a candle and, while holding it, spoke to their connection with the baby and her short time among us, until there was a circle of light around her. [I will never forget the sight of her father tenderly carrying that small coffin down the aisle in both arms at the end].

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The light of the candle is seen as mysterious, even alluring. Traditional English Nursery Rhyme “Oranges and Lemons” concludes: “Here comes a candle to light you to bed, and here comes a chopper to chop off your head!” And candles are thought, even in this 21st century of every type of electric lighting, to be oh-so-romantic for that couple’s dinner, or relaxing bubble-bath.

A warning not to be too tempted into something which may hurt you, is described as “like a Moth to the Flame”.  Much to my amusement, this is even depicted in a “Wii” computer game. Amongst a suite of Sports simulations, there is one where a candle is portrayed in the middle of the screen, and a moth.

Moth 007 copy

The moth starts to buzz and move around the candle in decreasing, distracting motions. The aim is not to be dissuaded by this but to maintain one’s focus and posture. Those of you who know me and my lack of prowess in all things Sporting will share my delight, that I hold the “Perfect Score” in this activity, my special talent apparently being “sitting very still”.

Last week was one of personal extremes for me. On one afternoon I had a tough meeting with someone I have been working to improve relationships with. In this particular instance I was hoping for some understanding regarding a decision I had made. Accepting I had not followed best protocol, I had found an issue’s solution which, while slightly unorthodox, had the best motives for a positive outcome to a situation with a number of aspects beyond my control. Instead, at least to my ears, what I heard and experienced was criticism and condemnation. This really dismayed me, as I had felt in recent times positive progress had been made between us. I just felt really deflated. I felt so worthless.

On that same day, I received, out of the blue, a gift for no apparent reason from a friend from overseas, who wrote that she had been thinking of me and misses me. Then later that week I had a rare phone conversation with an old friend from University years who always knows what to say, understands me well, and lifted my spirits.

And then, on the weekend, in an unrelated realm, I was tossing around ideas, plans and possibilities for a future project with someone whom I esteem and admire. Who listened to and appreciated my thoughts and suggestions. Who valued me and my input. Who by their very approach built me up rather than tore me down.

In between all this, I have a beautiful family, and some wonderful students and their parents, and some special, giving friends who support me and uplift me, so I must be doing something right.

So how does this all connect?

I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason… within these same few days I came across this:

Candle brighter

Which really got me thinking.

There was a song we used to sing, back in the 1970’s, at our small Primary School entitled “Pass it on” [by Kurt Kaiser], part of which goes like this:

“It only takes a spark

to get a fire going

and soon all those around

can warm up in its glowing” 

A friend of mine last year described me as “relational” and suggested that I function best and achieve the most when I do so in combination with others whom I connect with and bounce off.

This candle illustration seemed to explain well my varied feelings when dealing with different people, and how I have felt that I have achieved more (or less), professionally, and personally, in combination with certain people, than with others.

Some people are naturally good at taking all the small lights of their individual candles, and adding them together into a greater whole. (And in doing so, getting that “fire going”). Those who do this best, are those who are truly “relational” (not my word), and often do so with the least apparent desire to be under the spotlight, to be the one “Centre Stage”, burning most brightly.

In my experience, some of the most wonderful people I have spent time with, I have worked with, have shared their candle-light so beautifully with others, that sometimes their personal efforts and contributions are not even fully recognised or noticed. But the people who matter, know.

Candle Lighting other candle copy

And those wonderful people carry out their roles with Humility and Grace.

I pray that this is something that I can learn better.

“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“One measure of your success will be the degree to which you build up others who work with you. While building up others, you will build up yourself” – James E. Casey

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Nothin’ is really wrong, Feelin’ like I don’t belong

It is no secret that I have have struggled to be happy these past months.

It worries me, because I am not this person.

Sure I have my moments, but I usually manage to to turn around and see the brighter side of life, to find the underlying positives, even joy. I went back and read some of my previous “Serendipity” Blog entries the other day, and was quite taken with the apparent wisdom of my own previous thoughts and advice (to whoever reads it), not so long ago. I’m not sure I could have written something like “Make me a channel of your peace” or “Joyful Joyful” with such optimism in recent times.

One colleague observed last month: “I don’t remember ever seeing you so unhappy, my friend. Even on a bad day you still laughed”

Another friend gave me a lot of food for thought. Suggested I needed to change focus from what was troubling me, and look for other, perhaps greener pastures. Different horizons. Including this advice:

“Do what you enjoy doing”

So I made a list. Here goes:

“DO WHAT YOU ENJOY DOING” (in no particular order)

  • Playing Music
  • Making Music
  • Planning
  • Plotting
  • Brainstorming
  • Writing
  • Making things happen
  • Making the impossible, possible
  • Giving service to God in time and talents
  • Making other people happy
  • Solving the problems of the world
  • Being a friend, loving others
  • Spending time/communicating with those I feel an affinity with
  • Sharing Knowledge
  • Sharing Experience
  • Teaching my children and other people’s children that they can do anything, be anything if they set their hearts on it and work towards it
  •  Never giving up

When I read back my list I realised a central problem.

“Here’s the thing” (as they say in America). A lot of my list is bound up with, at its best complexion, what I have done within my school role, at certain junctures.

But, in fairness, and importantly, it hasn’t been a constant the whole 7+ years I have been at the school.

A staff member friend there last year described me as “Being Relational” …. not one of my terms, but she observed that I worked best achieving things in combination with others.

And looking back, certain combinations of people and circumstance have made for more or less activity and achievement at certain times. For example, the first and second year I was at the school, three of us in combination fired up all the planning.

Then, on top of the usual range of school things, we did 5 Aged Care concerts and established a Monthly series of performances in the School Library called “Munch with Music” complete with chocolate biscuits.

At the end of one year we threw together a 90-piece choir and took them to a local Shopping Mall on the Wednesday of the last week of school for a Christmas Carols Competition.  (We simply said – who wants to come and sing? If you do good, we’ll buy you an ice-cream). So we had a NINETY voice “scratch” choir – combination of Upper Primary and High – at a time when there were no official High School Choirs at the school. The Shopping Centre Judges said we were the best of all the school choirs (and the only ones who brought their own Electric Piano and String Quartet), and awarded us a cash prize. We went to the Food Court on the way to the bus back and bought 90 soft serves at McDonalds. It was a blast. Kids talked about it for years afterwards. That is what we do this for.

.Choir cp

In the years since, there has been much growth and success. I’ve challenged and pushed my own Strings kids in various directions – from teaching them the famous “Albinoni Adagio” note by note, to having a great time with the theme to “Game of Thrones” with Electric Violins and Percussion (while carefully calling it by the title of the piece – “Ice and Fire”, so as not to affront anyone wary of the “R” rating of the series). Recently I have started a brand new program at our second campus where I am teaching an entire Year 4 class. In the first few lessons I convinced them that reading music was easy and gave them a history lesson about Guido de Arezzo. We are having a lot of fun together.

Amongst my file of Choral Music stamped “Please Return to Marryatville High School” (Oops) is a faded photocopy of “Rainy Days and Mondays”. Funnily enough, I like Mondays, probably because for many years, Monday has been my day off, but otherwise the song’s sentiment speaks pretty well with my feelings these past 6 months.

“Rainy Days And Mondays”
Talkin’ to myself and feelin’ old
Sometimes I’d like to quit
Nothing ever seems to fit
Hangin’ around
Nothing to do but frown
Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down.

What I’ve got they used to call the blues
Nothin’ is really wrong
Feelin’ like I don’t belong
Walkin’ around
Some kind of lonely clown
Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down. 

That there has been just enough change that nothing seems to fit. And that I don’t feel like I belong so much anymore.

Yet, we have some wonderful new people. New music staff teaching Voice, Woodwind, Piano, Brass, Cello, Percussion, Guitar. All with skills and talents and experience and knowledge and musicality to bring and share.

So the question is, where is my place in all this? Do I just take my proverbial Bat and Ball and go home? Or do I step back and try to give it time and try to see if there is a place where I might fit?

Another of my favourite pieces of literature is “Desiderata” (Latin: “desired things”), a 1927 prose poem by American writer Max Ehrmann.

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.

And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” [Max Ehrmann, “Desiderata”]

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.

Finally, the school semester is at an end and and we have three weeks of holidays. Three weeks to step back and reflect. And reflecting I have done.

I have decided I am so fed up with it all, so fed up with being unhappy, and so fed up with being this miserable person that I don’t want to be. I need to try and regain some equilibrium. The issues I have had this year have taken on far too significant a place in my life. It reminds me of a senior lady I know who sadly suffers with “macular degeneration” who describes having a “blind spot” in the middle of her vision, and only seeing clearly around the edges. Certain problems have become front and centre of my vision and it has gone on for far too long. I have taken steps to try to solve some of these issues, and will continue to attempt resolution through “proper channels” as far as this is possible.

Otherwise I need to take a deep breath and say to myself:SuckItPricess_SilverPurple

 

(Which I saw printed on a “hoodie” jacket in a shop yesterday and was tempted to buy it, but figured I could not “get away” with wearing it, lest I offend too many people).

 

I also realised I need to practice the words of the Serenity prayer further:

Serenity-prayer

Especially the “Accept the things I Cannot Change” part.

I’ve been more than usually reflective and, in the words of the song, what has been bugging me, feeling downright miserable when “Nothin’ is really wrong”. Although I can identify specific recent matters, the consequences on my well-being have been far-reaching. Finally, I think I have realised one central issue. It is that I desperately miss former Boss Lindsay and colleague Claire. Most importantly as people in my life, but then also the close team approach we had to working together, where I was part of everything, included and valued.

What I have recognised is that, as in many aspects of life, the changes in my workplace situation involves aspects of loss, and loss invokes grief. And quite often grief in one situation triggers reaction to grief in situations past, especially where that grief was possibly unresolved.

I have cried more these past few months than in a L-O-N-G time. In contrast, I prided myself that I, the openly emotional one in my “family of origin” managed to hold it together over my Mum’s death in October 2011. I volunteered to read the lengthy Obituary in a packed church, as the last thing I felt I could do for her. Despite my cousin insisting on being “backup”, she stayed in the pew, and I got through the whole thing without wavering.

I didn’t cry for my Mum for a whole year.

So, having been so teary in recent times  over much more minor things does seem irrational and almost unfair. But perhaps I am in some strange way balancing the scales. And I have now been grieving and mourning also for more important things, too, that I “should” have done in times past (although I strongly dislike the word “should”).

And things are looking brighter.

Within this period of time there was one real beacon of light. Our beautiful daughter Cassandra confirmed the vows made on her behalf at her baptism 14 years ago.

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11th August, 2002. With three “Fairy Godmothers” Stacey, Helen and Miriam.

 

 

 

I only realised, actually, when the occasion of her Confirmation was one week beforehand because my husband assumed that, when he said that it was on “Trinity Sunday” that I knew when that was! Despite the short notice, I tried to make it a bit of special occasion and it was lovely that two of her Godmothers were able to attend, as well as a good friend who had played the organ at her baptism (who then played the last Confirmation hymn with me). We also sang the same setting of the same psalm which had been used on her baptism day. I also managed to rustle up lunch afterwards at a local Surf club overlooking the water, including folk who had some important positive impact on Cassie’s life.

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The confirmation day was indeed very healing for me, and also did remind me, that perhaps it has been a mistake to have so much of my “things that make me happy” list centred on a workplace, and people within it.

And that in the same way I gathered up Cassie’s Godmother Miriam and her family (and other special guests Helen and Deon), for that Sunday, I need to make more effort to spend time with such people.

The problem is that other significant people in my life are scattered by geography, or time, or separated by death, and the more I dwell on what has, or who has, made me happy in the past, the more I end up focusing on what I have lost or grieve for, rather than counting my blessings now. Which isn’t helping much.

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My Grandmother Myrtle and her twin brothers Cyril and Frank.

One last thought.

I’m told my “Passion” for what I do “can be misinterpreted” by some or “can overwhelm people”

Why would this be? Because passion really is not valued?

I guess because being ordinary is easier. Is less threatening.

Is it so bad to be a passionate person? To want more? To want to embrace something outside of the mundane, the everyday? To not just go through the motions of life? To live, to love, to be loved? To be wanted? To be needed? To contribute something more, to create, to achieve, to inspire?

Perhaps so.

Well, I might be officially middle-aged, but I’m not ready to give up just yet.

So now I need some new plans, new directions.

Any suggestions?

42
[Just threw this in because this is my Blog Number 42]

You’ve got to give a little, take a little

Recently a number of people dear to me seem to have been struggling with one thing or another. Yet these people are those who are always giving to others, of their time, effort, wisdom, skills. They are used to being the strong ones, to being the ones others lean upon.

But what happens when they are ill, or down, or struggling, or upset, or grieving? Who cares for the carer?

A few years ago when my children were small we lived in a country town, Ararat, in Western Victoria. At the time the whole area was drought-declared and there were strict water restrictions. Residents were encouraged to collect run-off from their morning shower in a bucket, and use this to wash the car. And then only the windows, mirrors and number pates were to be cleaned. No sprinklers or hoses on lawns were permitted, so all the grass died back to a dusty barren brown until the occasional rain shower.

The only way of watering plants was by watering can or bucket. Not even hand-held hoses were allowed.

WC 3

The children and I tried valiantly to keep our garden alive. We had certain plants that we favoured and others that we ignored. It truly was a case of “survival of the fittest”. Those watering cans, big and small, were soon emptied onto the favoured blooms and then came the repeated trips back and forth to the tap. The biggest bugbear was the need to continually fill up the watering cans and containers so that the life-giving water could be very quickly used again.WC 2

Each of us in our daily lives is like one of those watering cans. We give out. Give out of our time, our energy, and our skills. We favour certain “plants” in our lives. Perhaps those that we planted ourselves and so especially want to nurture. Perhaps the sickest and frail which have the least chance of survival left to their own devices, without special care and attention.WC 1

There comes a time in the lives of many when our “Watering Cans” are empty, or have frequently been “running on empty”.

Every drop of our water has been devoted to:

  • The business to which we gave our all, but which still did not succeed.
  • The elderly frail parents who require constant effort and attention, day 
after day.
  • The small children who still don’t sleep through the night.
  • The marriages and relationships that need nurturing, but we are too exhausted by the business (and the busy-ness) of our lives that we have no time, no energy to give to the people we love.

You see, we cannot continually “run on empty”. It is necessary to trudge those watering cans back to the tap and refill them. But many of us just give out continuously. Often it is a difficult thing to learn and accept that we need to receive back from life too. We should not feel guilty about doing and participating in things and activities that “top up” those watering cans. Even if that topping up simply enables us to give out some more.

All of us need, indeed we deserve, a happy, healthy, balanced, fulfilled life.

So, what is a life “Fulfilled”?
 The “Oxford Dictionary” defines the word “fulfil”:

  • Achieve or realise (something desired, promised, or predicted): “He wouldn’t be able to fulfil his ambition to visit Naples”
  • (fulfil oneself) Gain happiness or satisfaction by achieving one’s potential: “Arts grants go to young people who say they wish to fulfil themselves”.

Alternatively, the definition offered by online dictionary “Vocabulary.com” resonates with me beautifully:

“The verb fulfil means to fill a need or want. To fulfil yourself personally means to follow your inner passion, like flute-playing, no matter who thinks it’s silly.”

A fulfilled, balanced life needs to be made up of a number of components. We need to work towards happiness and fulfilment (and yes, set goals) in a variety of areas.

“8 Key Areas of Life” are detailed as:

  1. Relationships and Family (Socialisation)
  2. Relaxation
  3. Recreation
  4. Health and Wellbeing
  5. Personal Growth, Knowledge, 
Education (Intellectual Pursuits)
  6. Spiritual
  7. Wealth and Finances
  8. Work (Career?)

Experts say, for a Balanced Lifestyle, we should include at least some of each of these 8 areas, although the priority, proportion and emphasis will vary from person to person.

Relationships and Family (Socialisation):

Each of us needs to have social contact on a regular basis with people we enjoy spending time with and who can be a support system for us.

And this, importantly, must include FRIENDS as well as family. Many people think that, as they have a close family, that is surely enough, but not so. A Grandmother for example may dearly love her teenage Grandson but also worry about him and his risk-taking behavior, including too many late nights and frequent Skateboard accidents. Family connections are most times a mix of opposites: love and concern, rights and responsibilities. Whereas true friendships are largely weighted towards giving positive energy.

There is a growing area of neuroscience proving that social bonding sharpens brain function. It also extends life, according to a recent Australian Study, which followed 1500 older people for 10 years. It found that those who had a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by 22 per cent. [Reference: http://seniorliving.about.com/od/lifetransitionsaging/a/longevity.htm]

My Grandmother, Muriel, exemplified this. Widowed in her early 50’s, she and her 3 close female friends Maudie, Marge and Jean were inseparable. The trio became essentially additional relatives to all us kids as they attended my cousins’ sporting events, our music performances and various family functions. The four ladies roared around in my Grandma’s car “The Red Terror” and met weekly for Lawn Bowls and Bridge Card Games as well as other activities. At one stage a gentleman from the Bowling Club took an interest in Grandma and various family members encouraged her to “Go for it”. She famously retorted, “I’d rather have a Cuppa Tea!”

Myrt and friends
Marge, Jean, Maudie…and Grandma Muriel (right).

In the last few years of her life all this changed. The eldest of her close friends, Jean, moved into Aged Care some distance away. Her closest friend Margie died. Maudie became more frail and relocated to live with her son. Grandma started turning up unannounced at our place for no particular reason, just stating, “I’m sick of my own company”. She gradually became unwell herself and spent the last year of her life in Nursing Care, although doctors could not diagnose any specific illness. We believe the loss of the “Gang of Four” had contributed to this marvellous, capable matriarch of the whole family simply losing her zest for life.

Certainly, the amount of time we spend socialising varies with each of us, but on the average, experts recommend “one or two activities per week”. Such experts also suggest “If we are in a “couple” relationship it is important that we engage in independent socialisation, i.e. coffee with a girlfriend, or golf with the fellows, so as not to become overly dependent on our partner. It is also important in a couple relationship to spend regular fun time away from the children so that we have time to develop and strengthen the relationship”.

Those of us with young children and without nearby family and support systems choke on our coffee at such “advice” and see such frequency as a forlorn hope.

However, it is important to make the effort and at least TRY.

Relaxation:

Relaxing the muscles and quietening the mind are important stress management techniques. Various techniques are available including yoga, meditation and deep muscle relaxation. Making a daily time for relaxation is vital to allow our bodies to re-charge. The important part is being able to learn to relax your body and turn off your thoughts. Sleep is critical (remember, in warfare, Sleep Deprivation is used as a form of Torture) but sometimes good sleep is elusive, due to shift work, travel, or care of aged relatives or young children.

However, it is important to try to have some Rest (not necessarily sleep) as part of your daily routine. This sage advice, taken and always remembered, was given to me by a caring healthcare worker when I was struggling with a three-year-old and a newborn.

Here I am with a week-old baby, too much make-up and a Glazed Expression.

WC 4

Recreation:

If we look at the word recreation, we can see that it is made up of re/create/ion. Many people think that “Relaxation” and “Recreation” are the same but they are not. Ten years ago I attended a marvelous group: MOP’s (Mothers of Preschoolers) that had, as part of its focus, that the babies and young children were cared for out of sight while the Mums bonded together over coffee, but they also insisted on “Craft Time”. Personally I found it a bit twee, but the organisation insisted it was important: the process of creating something, of completing something tangible, they decreed was extremely valuable, as stressed people, [Mums of preschoolers in particular] often found this lacking elsewhere in their lives.

Recreation does not need to be craft. Recreation includes leisure activities that help us feel rejuvenated. Pottery, woodworking, dressmaking, knitting and crossword puzzles are just a few suggestions. Gardening, for those with a green thumb, is also “recreational” as a difference “Before” and “After” can be observed – a specific achievement.

Although I have no evident talent in craft or gardening, Birthday Cakes are my thing. Fortunately, I only have two children with one birthday each a year!

One of the things I love most is their unwavering blind faith (especially when younger) and absolute confidence that Mum can do anything.

There are many examples, but here are just two:

“A Rainbow with Fairies and Unicorns?” – “No Problem”

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“For my cake, please Mummy, would you make a Green Dragon with Purple Spikes?” “Of Course”

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OK, I agree. That’s a bit excessive for an object with such a short life span. But look at this little face. Priceless.

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Of course the important aspect to realise when accepting these types of projects is that you aren’t really decorating a cake, or blowing up balloons, or painting the letterbox in stripes …you are, in reality undertaking the much more important mission of:

“Creating Memories for your Children”

Health and Wellbeing (Physical):

The physical side of a balanced life style involved several aspects: proper nutrition, which includes three healthy meals a day and watching our caffeine and alcohol intake. The “fight/flight” response of the body to stress is intended to end in physical activity. It is important that we engage in a regular type of physical activity such as swimming, walking or jogging to use up the adrenalin that might otherwise harm our bodies. (Admittedly I am pretty bad at following through on this one)

Personal Growth, Knowledge and Education (Intellectual):

Our minds need to be stimulated so that we have a variety of focus and do not become involved only with our stresses and ourselves. It is important to continue to learn throughout our lives. Intellectual stimulation can take many forms – reading the paper, attending courses and lively discussions are all good. People of all ages and stages of life are capable of learning new skills – it is not true the old proverb that “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. In Australia, the “University of the 3rd Age” where Retirees take short and long courses in Computing, Languages, Workshop skills and a myriad of other fields are flourishing.

Spiritual:

Looking at the spiritual side of our life does not mean that we all have to attend Church. For some, regular attendance at Church is in fact appropriate. A spiritual activity, though, can be as simple as taking a walk and appreciating the natural beauty of the area. It is valid to periodically examine our beliefs and values. We need to be able to look beyond ourselves and appreciate the world around us in a meaningful way. The other night here, we noticed the sky glowing red at night and the whole family dashed out onto the front lawn to look. “Has somebody remembered a CAMERA?” demanded my daughter. We have taught her well.

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Wealth and Finances

It is important to have sufficient finances to live, to have a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs and food in our bellies. In the western world we expect a reasonable standard of living. Our aim should be to be able to live comfortably from our earnings and savings, not worrying every day about bills, but still keeping a clear picture of the difference between our true “Needs” and “Wants”.

The old adage is that “Money does not buy happiness” and sadly for many this is the case. Stories abound of lottery winners around the world finding, sadly, winning a truck-load of money on the lottery, any lottery, comes with a heap of baggage. Daydreams of a millionaire lifestyle seem to have a habit of turning sour, as isolation, paranoia; drugs, crime, poverty and prison await those who fail to adjust.

Career and Purpose (Work):

Last but not least “work”. You may say, “work is a stress for me!”. The word “work” basically means that we all need to engage in activity that we have a sense of satisfaction having completed.

Near the end of the film “Pretty Woman”, Edward (Richard Gere) has come to a new realisation about his work:

Edward: You know what I used to love when I was a kid, Phil?

Phil (Stuckey): What?


Edward: Blocks. Building blocks. Erector sets.


Phil (impatient and exasperated): What’s the point?

Edward: We don’t build anything Phil. We don’t make anything.

Phil: We make money, Edward!

“We make money…”

If our work is in fact too stressful we need to look at either changing our attitude to it or changing our job.

Now, my friends, it’s YOUR TURN!

Look back at those 8 areas and apply them to your life, and how you foresee your “better” or “perfect” life being in 5 years’ time or 10 years’ time.

It is important to realise we cannot give equal time to each area, and that sometimes priorities change. The aim is to have SOME component of these as a regular part of your life. The proportions of each will also vary from person to person.

If you assess that your life contains very little – or none – 
of one of these key areas and a large
 proportion of another, you may need to think 
again about your current priorities, even your future ones.

“All Work and No Play makes Jack a dull boy” is a proverb which may resonate with your past or present situation.

However, to some extent the opposite can also be true. Will whiling away endless days lying by the pool, idyllic as it may seem for some, truly give you the Fulfilment you need?

How full is the Watering Can of your Life?

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Exactly a month ago, I was contemplating a return to school after 7 weeks of holiday. After spending the previous year’s Summer break moving house, this year we had basically “chilled” – a couple of days we barely made it out of our pajamas, others we went out and about: to favourite places, and places new. Caught up with friends. Watched movies. Discovered “Raspberry Crown” pastries and new-style luxury donuts.

All wonderful things.

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For most of this time, I decided not to “wish my life away”, instead focusing on the here and now, and opportunity to spend time with my kids, but, come 19th January, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that “This is It”.

In the words of my former violin teacher Bogdan’s favourite joke: “Tea break’s over, back on your heads”.

And so, off to school we went. Checked the kids into Vacation Care. Fronted up to the School Auditorium where the Staff Chapel Band was finishing rehearsal. Hung back as the place slowly began to fill with largely familiar faces. Watched silently as staff greeted each other, smiling, renewing acquaintances and catching up their news. I stood quietly, to one side, feeling a little like the kid who is picked last for the sports team – scanning for a friendly face. Unconsciously looking for “my people”. Instead, my eyes settled on a couple of individuals with whom things have not always been “smooth sailing”. My heart sank.

What further sunk in was that “My Team” was no more.

Despite weeks, months even, of planning for this day, of trying to reassure myself that everything would be OK, that I was prepared for “the new reality,” I was hit by the realisation that it really wasn’t going to be easy. I felt like picking up my proverbial bat and ball and going home. Then suddenly a familiar face approached. A friendly, open person who embraced me and ushered me to sit with her. Who exchanged a few words about each of our 10-year-old boys’ mutual cricket-tragicness. I didn’t follow my instincts and back out the door. I stayed for the opening staff session, praying a silent “Thank-you” to this staff member who had touched me by sharing her commonality as a Mum.

I was determined to “get it right”. A lot hinged on establishing positive working relationships with my new boss in particular, and also getting to know 5 new staff members in our expanded Music Department. I was impressed, early on, when the new boss called a meeting or two of all the Instrumental Staff and tutors – at one point having us all in the same room at the same time, a feat which I don’t think had been achieved in the previous 7 years – when there were many fewer of us.

She talked “Team”, of everyone having a place. Barriers were coming down and people were starting to pull together. I attempted to keep my “big mouth” shut, remembering that it was “New Year, New Broom”. I was resolute in my desire not to be like a stereotypical irritating old biddy, often found at churches who my husband refers to as “Gatekeepers” – who says “but we always do it this way – we’ve done it this way for the last 50 years”. I was impressed with what I saw, and relaxed somewhat.

Maybe this would work after all. Perhaps my fears were unfounded.

Over the next week or so, though, I was not so sure. Being the only staff member with continuity from last year to this, naturally everyone asked me how to do this or that, where to find things and so on. And I was so self-conscious about not wanting to step on anyone’s toes, or stray into the territory of others, I was conflicted about how much to assist, whereas this time last year I would have walked the new guys through every step of the first few week’s start-up without a second thought.

With so much to do and so little time, there were moments of tension and frustration, heightened by the fact that I felt, to an extent, that there was “re-invention of the wheel” going on around me, and much being left undone, largely because nobody [aside from me] knew exactly what needed to be done, nor what the priorities were.

This I could understand, the myriad of new staff scrambling to get up to speed, and all on a sharp learning curve, but what rankled with me was I DID know and I DO know but I wasn’t asked.Person feels appeciated

This made me feel undervalued and that I wasn’t trusted by the new regime. A number of times – in my head or, on occasion, vocally – I spoke out: “All you had to do was ask”. Finally, things came to a head on Friday 29th January, when an “executive decision” was made without reference to me, about an issue I cared about, which I felt to have been pre-emptive.

I was seething, and shot back an email expressing disappointment, and giving “chapter and verse” about how I felt the situation should have been played. A further email exchange followed, during which I guess I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory. By the time 7.30pm rolled around, I was frustrated beyond belief, mainly with myself.

Things had escalated quickly. We were 9 days in. I had not taught one single student, but yet all my good intentions were in tatters.

I didn’t sleep well that night.

Saturday morning, I got up early, preoccupied with the fact that, within all this, I felt I had not been a very good mentor or guide to my new colleagues. In holding back and, to my mind, treading on eggshells, I had not been as informative as I could have been. I also had a sinking feeling that I had “cooked my goose” and may well be “out of there” come Monday. So I spent a couple of hours flicking emails to the new staff – sharing procedures, forms and tips. So at least, I reasoned, if I was sacked on Monday I could leave feeling I had at least equipped my replacements.

Later that Saturday morning, I needed to go to school to take Miss 13 to a rehearsal. Due to rain, a tradie vehicle blocking an exit, and poor sight-lines, I managed to back my car smack-bang into a yellow bollard. I got out to look what the hell I had done, and was picking bits of my tail-lights up off the roadway as some of my own students, also arriving for the rehearsal, looked on.

Great. Just great.

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My serenity of the holidays only two weeks before was now completely shot to pieces. All my worries and anxieties and fears came tumbling around my heels.  I sought the advice of a trusted friend whose ears I battered with every she-said-she-said of the scenario, until my friend gently pointed out that after a few hours of patient listening, my verbiage started to become “White Noise”.

I was sleeping poorly, I was anxious, I was stressing…not a good combination. At this point I figured I had nothing to lose, so set out with a new agenda – to properly settle in and look after my new colleagues in earnest, so at least when I was no longer there (which I saw as a real possibility) they, at least, would have a fighting chance of getting a toehold, and furthering the work of the department, so dear to me, that I had assisted in spending many years building up.

Partly due to this new focus, I felt happier. Tension had been slightly released, too, by the scheduling of a meeting with my new boss, to attempt to sort out differences, which I felt a “necessary evil”, while wondering how it had come to that, so early in the piece.

I was, however, no longer sure of my ground, of how I fitted in. I looked back on a proposal I had written in September 2015, laying out my concerns about the new structure, vacuums in authority and knowledge, and fears I had, that this might prove unworkable in a day-to-day context. And how I was concerned that lack of clarity in roles, responsibilities and boundaries would lay open the potential for misunderstandings and conflict.

I felt I had been positively prophetic.

By the end of the week, though, I was exhausted. I had just worked too hard to try to juggle too many balls in the air. I was stressed. I was hyper. I didn’t know which way to turn. The car accident had thrown and depressed me. (Not to mention the looming $1500 repair bill). I wasn’t sure what I wanted any more. And without putting too fine a point on it, the prescribed tranquillisers and sleeping draughts I was taking to help keep me sane weren’t helping my demeanour and ability to keep up appearances and smile through work days, when I felt like anything but.

I was pretty well hitting Rock Bottom. And I was kicking myself. So much thought, planning, preparation, agonising, “talking through”, good intentions, hard work…. all seemingly wasted.

I had tried and failed.

And I just didn’t care anymore. This was pretty well the “Worst of Times”.

Then some of those “Serendipity” things just kicked themselves in. Our invited babysitter for Friday 5th February (a retired friend from church) asked if she could bring a friend – who turned out to be a lady who was very kind to us when our children were small, and the two had often babysat as a team. This second lady had moved away interstate, but was visiting, and they came together. Just like old times. It just seemed “Right” to leave them with our kids.

Then, the occasion we were going out to, which had been booked some time before, was a rare “Date Night”. Instead of either my husband or I on some work-related business, we were actually going out together for leisure – quite a rarity. We had discovered that the ‘80’s girl band “Bananarama” were appearing nearby at the Twin Towns Services Club in Tweed Heads.

So I put on my “posh frock” and off we went.

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At first, I just sat during the (excellent) support act. The volume was loud and the speakers were pointed in my direction, as they always seem to be at these things. I was sitting, my thoughts wandering, dwelling on my various woes, and silently crying.

stress music

How had it come to this?

But then, after a bit, I realised I wasn’t achieving anything, and decided to get my act together and just listen in to the music. The concert just got better and better with the Bananarama girls essentially parodying their younger selves, reaching a climax when they had a number of audience members up with them on stage to dance to “Venus”. Despite myself, I had relaxed and allowed myself to enjoy the night.

I had turned a private corner.

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Monday morning was the “Conflict Resolution” meeting. It was difficult, but ultimately necessary and cathartic. I took the opportunity to express my feelings and points of view.  Forgiveness was offered and accepted, fences were mended and hatchets were buried. Since then, communication, consultation and the general atmosphere has markedly improved. A new dawn – thankfully.

Then, later that week, more of “the Best of Times” – with the visit, from Europe, of my younger sister and her 5-year-old daughter, after a gap of 4 years. We attempted, over a few days, to give them a taste of Queensland, and it was lovely to have two parts of my family under the one roof, and see first-hand my sister’s development and growth as a Mum.  She has a beautiful little girl who is a credit to her.

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And then the “Piece de résistance” ….

I had put together a school excursion to see the “Australian Youth Orchestra”, who were performing locally (a rarity). At first, I had not intended to go, in deference to my sister’s visit, but, when speaking to the AYO office and letting slip we were both alumni , they insisted on offering us tickets from their allocation so we ended up attending after all.

Two things were significant for me about this – firstly, that I had not experienced the vitality and exhilaration of AYO’s playing for many years, and it transported me back to my youth.

Secondly, I met up with the AYO’s CEO, who I grew up with (we had the same childhood violin teacher) and who was part of a close circle of friends when we were Uni students. I had not seen him for 25 years, but those years melted away in a moment.

Somehow, I found myself reflecting to him that I had struggled with National Music Camp, that I had found it overwhelming, and felt I had failed in not coping with the intensive 2-week January summer schools I had attended as a teenager. To my amazement, he (the current CEO!) agreed that aspects were tough back in the day, and he hadn’t always enjoyed it either.

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National Music Camp, The King’s School Parramatta, 1987. Schumann Piano Quintet.

 

Later that night (during the wonderful music) I reflected on this, and found it strangely freeing.  I realised I had not properly embraced my personal musical history, as my love of being included in wonderful experiences such as NMC and AYO had been mixed with my feeling of failure in these same spheres. That, to some extent, I had not kept up contact with many of my old friends because of this.  That many of my friends had gone on to have glittering musical careers, while, to an extent, I had settled for second best.

But did this mean I really was second best? Was I now “just” a teacher and “just” a Pastor’s wife?

As I marvelled at the piano soloist’s incredible rendition of Rachmaninov’s 2nd Concerto, the realisation hit me.

THIS is my world. I belong here.

My work at the school is not done. In all the personal and professional turmoil, I had almost lost sight of my vision and goal there – to give my students a taste of this AYO-style magic.

And, you know, I’m not necessarily “Second Hand Rose”.

Maybe I am prickly sometimes, but there might still be a whiff of some pleasant fragrance remaining.

If I stand still long enough.

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
English novelist (1812 – 1870)