be the change

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I have loved this quote since I first heard it years ago.

To me it means: “If I want to see change in my world, I must be the one to make the change” or “Take responsibility both for your life, and for your own growth.”

If want to see more kindness in the world, I must be kind. If I want to experience more love, maybe I need to love more. What does that really mean? I need to love more – the show love more, to express love more, to actively engage more often in the lives of others in a way that represents love to others in a way they understand.

Ok, so if I value kindness, and I do, and I want to see more of it in my world, how do I express that or exhibit that to others? Is it about focusing on kindness, a state of continuously being aware of kindness?  What does kindness really mean?

kindness: the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate

That’s got to be a good start: friendly, generous and considerate. And keeping those words in my conscious mind, I figure, can’t be a bad thing.

What about synonyms for kindness (be warned, the list is long):

kindliness, kind-heartedness, warm-heartedness, tender-heartedness, goodwill, affectionwarmth, gentleness, tendernessconcerncareconsideration, considerateness, helpfulness, thoughtfulness, unselfishness, selflessness, altruismcompassionsympathyunderstanding, big-heartedness, benevolencefriendliness, neighbourliness, hospitalityamiability, courteousness, public- spiritedness; generositymagnanimityindulgencepatiencetolerance, charitableness, graciousness, lenience, humaneness, mercifulness;

Ok, so if I want to be kind, I need to keep these other characteristics in mind too – …oh good, well no pressure then!

I seem to spend a lot of time focusing on positive change. I see kindness as an example of a characteristic that I think is undervalued, under-rated, and would like to see more of in today’s world. If that’s the case then I not only need to be kind, but I need to consider of all the other synonyms above too – because they round out what kindness truly means.

And there’s not much point in saying “I value kindness” if I don’t express it in my words and actions, because being authentic matters to me too.

It’s a big ask. Am I aiming too high? Setting myself up to fail?

Maybe my approach needs to be in line with ‘small steps’. So instead of creating something that becomes too big and overwhelming….  What if I take one day at a time and see what acts of kindness I can perform today?

And maybe that’s enough.

The Learner

Yesterday I felt a little down. I had been invited to go to a high school reunion and was reluctant to go. I’ve been thinking about it and trying to sort through the underlying issues surrounding why I didn’t want to go. The good news is that I came up with an answer; the bad news is that I didn’t like the answer. Somewhere deep inside, I feel like a failure. As I came to this realisation I wanted to cry – that’s usually a sign that I’m feeling something uncomfortable – and the desire to cry resonated as I thought about the whole concept of being a failure.

I failed at my first marriage. While we lived together for 4 years, my first marriage lasted less than 2 years. I broke what I believe to be a binding covenant with the man I’d made a life commitment to. He was/is a good man, had values and standards that I admired and appreciated but that wasn’t enough.

I failed as a Christian – I was a Christian throughout my childhood and teenage years, and God was such a big part of my life and my world as I knew it. I wasn’t sure that I could live without having Him in my life, so I set off on an adventure to see if I could. I was nineteen. I could and I did. I returned to my faith throughout most of my thirties and early forties, then started to drift away again.  When I met my husband, he had no concept or understanding of God in the way I had, but accepted that I had a faith that I pretty much kept to myself. What I have experienced of God in the past I still believe – my faith in essence hasn’t changed – but I no longer call myself a Christian because I don’t know what that means anymore. I see the person I tried so hard to be, and the person I am now. I like the honesty of being who I am now – I swear (which I didn’t before) and it feels more real, like I’m being more authentic now in expressing how I really feel. Rather than holding it in and being seen to be ‘good’.

I’m significantly more selfish now. I put me first – rather than constantly trying to put others first. I don’t know how to blend together who I am now with what I think a Christian is. I dislike going to church and wonder if ‘church’ as I knew it is still relevant. Is going to church one of the mechanisms God wants me to participate in for the sake of ‘fellowship’ – when I’m not sure church equals fellowship. I don’t have a concept of what church should look like – but I know I don’t like the current set up. It’s too easy to go to church and go with the flow without participating on a deeper level; without actually connecting with God in any meaningful way. I don’t like it, don’t want to go, so I don’t. I don’t call myself a Christian – and there are lots of Christians out there that actually I don’t like very much. There are some great people too and I feel lucky and grateful for the authentic Christian friends I have.

I failed at having a ‘sensible’ career. I have done some very cool stuff over the years: I was a cook for a lord and lady in their summer home in the Scottish highlands; I helped set up a medical clinic in a village in rural Uganda, and a year later was part of a team who went into rural villages to educate villagers about AIDS. I’ve made some good decisions in terms of some of the roles I’ve taken on, and I’ve made some poor decisions which turned out to be painful learning opportunities – some of which I am probably still recovering from. At the very least I carry scars from some of the situations that have smacked around my self confidence. And I seem to not have the resilience I once had. It takes me longer to bounce back or maybe I don’t bounce quite as high as I once did.  What I take out of this is that I have courage, and I like the courage I see in myself. I have a reserve of courage which has allowed me over the years to change jobs, change cities and towns, change the country and environment I live in, courage to face my own issues, courage to face life on my own, to start all over again, and again.

There are things I dislike about some of my previous choices and behaviours – but I can’t do anything to change the past. It is what it is. Maybe I can reframe my past failures as learning opportunities but I’m not sure how to do that. A few days ago I felt like I was growing up, now I feel very much like a ‘learner’ – similar to being a learner driver but this isn’t about driving, it’s about life. And I’m fifty-one, so I guess I must be a slow learner! Maybe I try to accept that sense of failure and turn it around so that instead of being a ‘failure’ I see myself as a ‘learner’ instead – and accept that I will always be a work in progress. I know I don’t need to hold on to the sense of failure but I’m unsure how to let it go; how to release myself from this psychological banner I’ve created that I see and don’t like.

As a learner, I must resign myself to the fact that I will always be a work in progress. And in accepting that, I feel as if I also need to find a sense of enjoyment in that. A quiet acceptance that this is how life is, continual learning because without learning there is no growth.

Love is a choice

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Love is something I feel. It can be a sense, a smile, an attitude, a way of being.  It took me a long time to realise that love is also a choice.

In relationships, I can choose to hold on to hurts and offenses, or I can choose to let them go and move on. I can choose to love, or not. When a relationship becomes difficult, we can choose to stay and persevere, or choose to walk away.  In marriage, in relationships with family and friends –  we experience ups and downs – time when it’s great being together, and times when it’s great to be apart!  Hopefully the good times outweigh the bad…

But at the end of the day, and in fact at the beginning of the day, and through out the day, we choose to love.

Sometimes, we choose to maintain relationships with our loved ones, and that may mean making a choice to love them when we’d rather not. When a child behaves badly, we may not like their choices, their words or actions but we choose to love them as a person. In marriage we do that too. We may have made a commitment to love someone – and sometimes that might mean we need to make a choice to keep loving them. A choice we make again, and again, and again, and again.

Due to my battles with depression and poor self esteem, the issue for me is more about making a choice to love myself. And it makes sense that this too, might be an ongoing choice that I need to continually make. A reminder that I choose to love and care for myself. And my choices determine my behaviour. If I choose to love and care for myself, then I choose to look after myself, to look after my mind and my body, and hopefully make positive choices around my own care. If I sabotage my own efforts, then I am not acting in love, and my behaviour reflects those choices.

Right now I choose to love and accept myself, imperfections and all

because love is a feeling, a behaviour, a choice

Love is an ongoing choice

The Koru

When I attempt to think through issues, it seems that sometimes my thought processes appear to be somewhat circular in nature; as if they begin a journey travelling clockwise and build and develop and after a period of time they return to their point of origin, and I come back to the same point I started from. Is it the issue that’s circular or my thought process? I expect it’s my thinking. [Aside: A thought process that takes any specific shape or form is preferable to the obscurity of the ‘clouds’ I used to experience.]

And is the process circular or cyclical? or is it spiral? Sometimes the thought process is similar to the motion of a screw which comes back to its highest point but has moved forward from its starting point and continued on. Each step as it tracks around the circumference is a also a forward movement and in my mind this picture somehow represents progress.

This forward movement is very different (in my mind at least) to the downward spiral of depression, a black hole or vortex that sucks in everything in it’s destructive path and spits out only remnants of what was, on a fast track towards oblivion.

There is, however, a shape that I really connect with, and maybe part of what I love about it is what it represents. It is the spiral shape like the internal structure of a shell. In New Zealand this is called a koru. It is based on the shape of the unfurling fern frond. It represents new life, new growth, strength and peace. To me, it is ‘unfolding newness’ ….. new life, new growth, the opening up of new possibilities.

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“The koru is often used in Māori art as a symbol of creation and new life. Its circular shape conveys the idea of perpetual movement, and its inward coil suggests a return to the point of origin. The koru therefore symbolises the way in which life both changes and stays the same.”                                                                                                           – Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

I feel as if I’m continually returning to the premise of new growth and new possibilities. Yet I also love the way the koru incorporates that symbolism of life continually changing and staying the same. I’m not entirely sure what it is about this that I find both optimistic and comforting at the same time.

Under a tall Norfolk pine at the front of our property I have planted a fern garden. There are a variety of mainly New Zealand native ferns of varying sizes. I love spending time in the fern garden in the summer. The pine is so tall and it’s branches so broad that it provides a great deal of protection to the ferns and shelters them from the worst of the weather: strong winds, the heat of the mid- summer sun and biting frosts in winter. Because the different ferns vary in shape and size I often get to watch the fronds unfurl, and there’s something beautiful about that. There’s a joy in watching the tiny, perfect unfolding of life. Like a tiny baby’s hands and feet, or seeing a duck with her ducklings. I know I’ve said this before – but there’s such a beauty in the newness of young life, be it plant or animal. That sense of potential, possibilities, opportunities, and promise – that which might be to come. I know I keep coming back to these same concepts but I’ve realised that they bring me a sense of joy, of optimism, of belief in the promise of good things to come.  For someone who has identified despair, depression and ‘lostness’ in her past, this is a gift I need to highlight, to keep in my field of vision, and to keep reminding myself of. I’m not sure but I think what I’m identifying is the gift of HOPE.

Growing Old and Growing Up

‘Growing old is unavoidable, growing up is optional’

I feel, at the age of 51, that I might just be growing up!  Surprising huh?! I realised this morning that some of how I used to perceive myself was based on a job that I had (which I absolutely loved). These days I am not working in that role and so don’t have the luxury of attaching my self worth or my identity to my occupation. And that’s a wonderful thing because it has caused me to have to face who I am without that identity attached,  and in so doing, to address some issues around self worth and who I am.

I’ve battled with self worth, recognition and self validation for as long as I can remember. I have childhood memories of having to be good and never quite being good enough. And yet friends from my childhood would say ‘you were always the good one’ but I always felt that I was never really ‘good enough’.

When I was in my third year at high school, my best friend was top of the class in everything, the top student in my year, and that encouraged me to study and I worked really hard. I remember bringing home my school report and for the first time ever I got straight A’s across all my subjects. I used to do well at school but this was the best report I’d ever had. I showed my school report to my parents. I don’t remember my mum’s response (so guess it must have been ok) but I remember my dad saying “There’s not much point reading that, I know what’s going to say”… and so he didn’t. He knew my school reports were good -why would this be any different? I was hurt by his dismissive attitude, and his lack of interest. It’s probably one of those throw away comments he never thought of again and one which never registered in his conscious mind as being memorable, let alone being an opportunity to praise an achievement or encourage me to keep going.

And probably, it reinforced my sense of not being good enough. As a child I was very aware of right and wrong, good and bad, and surprise, surprise, I wasn’t a perfect child. But putting time into my studies was one way that I could achieve academically, even if I couldn’t manage to be continuously good. And I guess I thought that would count for something in the goodness stakes, or bring me some recognition – but it didn’t.

As I got older Ive become aware of how important recognition is to me. I have always longed for it – and in my mind it has always been attached to my sense of self worth and self validation. Almost as if I need you to tell me I’m ok before I’m going to believe it.

Is this one of the underlying reasons I’ve used food and/or alcohol to dull the issues, to ensure that I cared less about what I felt about myself? In latter years I’ve always thought that deep down inside, there were bits of me that I didn’t really like, that caused me to behave in certain ways because of my beliefs regarding my self worth, my sense of my true value.

The past few months have been awesome in terms of facing issues about myself without the attachments of a respectable profession, without the ‘aids’ that food and alcohol have provided in the past. I have chosen to look at me from a different perspective, to look afresh at who I am, what I believe in, what matters to me, what brings me joy, what is it about me I don’t like – and why that might be. I am very much a work in progress but I am taking stock, and taking small steps, and learning the picture of me – without judgement, with acceptance, with an open mind. And I’m proud of that. And maybe, as I learn more about Me, I’m maturing, maybe even growing up! 🙂

There is ALWAYS another chance

“I know now, after fifty years, that the finding/losing, forgetting/remembering, leaving/returning, never stops. The whole of life is about another chance, and while we are alive, till the very end, there is always another chance.”  –  Janette Winterson

I was so encouraged when I read this. It fits so well with my theory of ‘now’ being the only time I can really control, and my thoughts regarding wisdom (or the lack of), small steps, and continuums. It’s like finding a piece of the jigsaw puzzle that I didn’t realise was missing. So I grab it and quickly add it to the picture I’m attempting to create which is instantly enhanced by the addition of the new piece.

I’m reminded of the passage from Ecclesiastes:

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”

To me, this fits hand in hand with Janette Winterson’s comments about finding and losing, forgetting and remembering, leaving and returning. The ebb and flow of life, constant motion; liquid; waves; the swing of a pendulum; yin and yang; balance; the circle of life.

There are times and seasons, beginnings and ends; mountaintops, deep troughs and plateaus. Sunshine and rain, night time and day.

There is a time for everything.

And while we have life, there is always another chance.