The Coral Bird

“Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: it gives back life to those who no longer exist.”
~ Guy de Maupassant

 

When I was growing up my mother’s parents, Ceddie and Marga, owned a boat (first a yacht and later a motor cruiser) and they would often take us out into Moreton Bay with them where we would while away endless summers and school holidays.

One of my favourite activities was beach combing with my grandmother, Marga. She had a vast collection of coral and shells in glass cabinets back at her home on the Brisbane River, and an eagle’s eye for finding new treasures.

I remember walking a narrow isthmus of sand one day, between Bird and Goat Island. To my delight I found a small piece of bleached coral that for all the world resembled a tiny bird. I picked it up, cleaned off the grains of sand at the edge of the water, and hurried to show my grandmother.

Yes, she said, enthusiastically. She could see the bird too. What a good find it was! I loved her so much in that moment that I spontaneously gave my coral bird to her.

Back at the boat, as we were preparing dinner she showed my coral bird to my grandfather, and he then took out a giant book of Australian birds so that we could work out what kind of bird it might be.

A pied oyster catcher, I decided. Turned to coral by a terrible, mean witch.

NicoleMarga

Me and my beautiful grandmother, Margaret Nurcombe, known to all as Marga.

My grandparents have both passed away now, and last year Mum packed up their home. A few of the boxes made their way to me at my little farm down at Possum Creek, and in one of those boxes was Marga’s shell and coral collection.

Imagine my surprise to find my little coral bird, tucked up amidst my grandmother’s treasures.

coral bird

It evoked such a tenderness in me, to hold that small bird again, and to think back on the many happy times I shared with my grandparents, learning about nature, quiet time and the importance of imagination.

I realise now what defining influences they have been in my life, and I am filled with love and gratitude that they were able to pass such values to me through their own way of living.

I’d forgotten that this small piece of coral was what created my fascination with pied oyster catchers, a bird I often see on the beaches of northern New South Wales.

Isn’t life the most wonderful unfolding story!

Pied Oyster Catcher - Image by Geoff Taylor for abc.net.au

Pied Oyster Catcher – Image by Geoff Taylor for abc.net.au

Sad Unicorns OR Is your New-Age Thinking Positively Unhelpful?

Sad Unicorn by theGREENER on flickr

Sad Unicorn by theGREENER on flickr

“Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed. It is all part of the fairy tale.” 
~ Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

“People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that’s bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they’re wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.” ~ Jim Morrison, The Doors

*Warning – The following post is not all puppies, rainbows and unicorns…

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If you are a regular reader of my blog you’ll know I’m all for cultivating an optimistic outlook, for practicing gratitude, kindness and counting blessings. I also believe that thoughts are things, and that what we focus on and attach strong emotion to tends to manifest in our lives. Positive thinking and self-love bring many benefits.

So what I’m going to say next might sound like a contradiction, or even come as a shock…

I think that some of this Positive-Thinking Law-of-Attraction stuff is getting dangerously out of hand!

Emotions just are. They are human and useful, and part of the scenery as we journey through life.  No point in being too attached to them – they change all the time, based on how much sleep we’ve had, our current health and relationship status and a myriad of other factors.  Emotions are mostly transient, but haven’t you noticed that there is a big push lately for us to be enlightened enough to somehow stay happy and calm and in a permanent space of unconditional love, which we then beam out from us to others to help them feel happy, calm and loved too?

This same train of thought suggests that all those ‘lesser’ emotions, those ‘negative’ ones, are there merely for us to transcend, and it is a sign of our awareness (and for some, spiritual superiority!) to no longer entertain negative thoughts or emotions in any situation.

'Angel Melodies' by Josephine Wall

‘Angel Melodies’ by Josephine Wall

I disagree! It is NORMAL as a human to experience anger, pain, sadness, depression, guilt, shame, fear and regret at different times.  It is APPROPRIATE to feel these emotions in response to certain situations. I also believe that it is unrealistic in these circumstances to expect ourselves to easily and readily ‘snap out of it’ and be all Love and Light.

There is also a New-Age belief that by feeling negative emotions or thinking negative thoughts we are then creating further negative energy in our lives.

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You’re thinking people, so I’ll ask you to draw your own conclusions about the following scenarios:

A beautiful young woman rang me yesterday, utterly distraught.  She has a four-year-old son, and an eight-month-old daughter, whom she is still breast feeding.  Both children were conceived through IVF, and shortly after she became pregnant with her daughter, this woman’s husband of ten years left her, and began a new relationship.

She and everyone else had thought it was a happy marriage. It was a complete shock. One day he was beside her and the next he was gone. Her husband had tied up most of his assets in protected structures, and there was no money available.  A protracted battle was entered into. The man has told his ex-wife that he wants nothing to do with her or their children (he has never seen his daughter, and has had no contact with his son since he walked out) and he says he will let the courts decide what minimum he has to pay toward their upkeep. The young mum ended up moving back in with her parents as she had no income of her own, her health was poor and she was completely devastated by the unexpected end of her marriage.

Of course this has been a stressful time for this young woman.  Her husband deserted her, she went through a difficult pregnancy entirely without him, and she was anxious about the future of her little family. On top of that she had ongoing problems with a hot, sore breast during pregnancy and, later, severe mastitis.  No matter what she tried it just didn’t get any better, and she consulted several nurses and doctors.  Finally one of them sent her for some tests.  She was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, so advanced that there are no treatment options available.  All they can do is provide palliative care. She has weeks left.

And here’s the saddest part.  In a desperate attempt to prolong her life this woman went to a respected doctor who is also an alternative medicine practitioner. One of the first things the doctor said, upon taking this woman’s recent medical and life history, was that the young woman’s anger and negative emotions towards her husband had most probably caused her cancer.

Really?

Can it be as simplistic as that? And if so, why isn’t everyone else going through great life upheaval and trauma suddenly manifesting life-terminating cancer for themselves?

So here I have this traumatised young mum sobbing into the phone, wracked with guilt that her recent pain, anger and depression have manifested a cancer that will now deprive her children of their mother.  Over and over she said to me, “I’m so sorry. I just don’t know how to fix it. I truly didn’t mean to do this.”

She wanted me to help her have a sparkly-clean mind, filled with love and rainbows and unicorns and hope.

Somehow, if she could get a mind like that, miraculously she would heal…

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Another friend has long suffered with serious depression.  It was brought about after an incident that would change anyone’s life; the death of her younger sister and brother in a car accident (not her fault! – they were slammed by a drunk driver at nine o’clock in the morning just outside their school) when she was a newly licensed driver. It left her with a legacy of physical pain and disfigurement too.  She has battled to get out of the hole, and truly it has been less than helpful when well-meaning friends and even health practitioners kept telling her to ‘get over it’, and that her happiness is a choice.

Their words implied that she was to blame for the place she was in, and she was left even more guilt-ridden and shamed over her inability to get unstuck. Truly, she was trying, but at that time she didn’t have the tools she needed to start turning things around. Every time she posted positive affirmations around the house, or repeated them endlessly, she felt more and more of a failure, as she measured the disparity between her current situation and where the affirmations told her she could be. Positive thinking made her feel even less worthy and deserving of help, change and even life itself.

This beautifully illustrated journey through depression from one of my favourite blogs, Hyperbole and a Half, explains this place so well:

Adventures in Depression

Eventually my friend found her way back to a place of balance. She is a counsellor, working with others, and her life has meaning again for her. There’s even laughter and happiness.  Sure, she still has hard days but we all do.  That’s life.

Life is a crucible that forges us through fire, and it is our trials and troubles which often truly enable us to grow and transform, more meaningfully and more lastingly, than any amount of positive thinking.

It belittles us, and it cheapens the human journey, to use trite phrases about positive thinking in the face of real struggle.  Life is wonderful, and at times heartbreakingly sad, hard and just plain awful. Sometimes we are helpless and powerless in the face of our own pain, or the suffering of another.

The magnificence is in finding something within us that enables us to keep going, even if we bumble and fumble and drag ourselves along, until we get from that place of darkness back into the light, forever changed.

Every decent book I ever read had a hero or heroine who faced disaster, betrayal and every other form of hardship. The way they travelled that difficult road is why we stuck around – so that we could be inspired, cheer them along, learn from them and eventually watch them grow into the sorts of people we desire to become ourselves.

There is a place for positive thinking, and for wanting to manifest our future by aligning ourselves with a vision of abundance that makes us feel good, and excited about what’s yet to unfold.

But there is also a place for experiencing the fullness of emotions created by being in the now. And sometimes that now will be paved with pain rather than rainbows.

The rainbows come later, after the rain. After you’ve ridden out the storm.

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Defining Your Priorities in Life

This beautiful image by Kittisak

Life is short. Life is precious. And in our lives we need to be able to fit into a limited amount of time the things that will satisfy us, grow us, and make us happy.

So many people that I know have this terrible sense of never having enough time, and never getting around to the things that are important to them. Those dreams and desires keep getting relegated to ‘tomorrow’, and as we all know, tomorrow never comes.

If you’re in a place of overwhelm and exhaustion, you might find this post helpful to get you started: Simplicity is a Choice  You can also read about how I got my own personal priority act together here: The gift of impermanence OR live like you’re dying

So how do we work out what’s important to us? Journalling is one of the best ways I have found for clearing out the clutter in our minds and tidying our thoughts onto a page.  Today’s post will help you start that process of clarifying what matters to you, and how you want your life to look.

Journal Activity:

Image by nuttakit

It’s important to re-orient yourself back to your own internal priorities for this exercise, rather than the pressures of your life the way it is right now.

If possible, take yourself somewhere away from work or home – maybe a library, a coffee shop or a park, even the back yard or a veranda could work. Having surroundings that are not associated with chores, duties or your to-do-list will be very helpful for this process. Allocate at least ten minutes for this journal task, but note that if you haven’t been giving yourself much time lately you may need considerably longer.  The investment in yourself will be worth it!

Start by writing this passage into your journal or diary. Feel free to use coloured inks, stickers, doodles or anything else that makes your heart sing.

My life is precious to me, and I recognise that it’s a gift.  Before I was even born I was dreaming of the things I could do, experience and discover in this lifetime.

Inside me is a strong wisdom about what matters to me. My heart, my soul, my gut – they all have messages for my mind to hear and understand – and I’m really ready to listen.

More than that, I’m ready for change.  I‘m ready to act upon my priorities.  My life matters to me.  My time is now! 

Image by graur codrin

Choose any of the following journal starters and then begin writing:

  • This idea in the back of my mind is
  • I feel unbelievably pressured because
  • All I really want to be doing is
  • If I had more time I would
  • The thing that lights me up inside is
  • I know I need to
  • If I won a million dollars, suddenly I would be able to
  • My biggest regret is that
  • If I could find a way to support myself I would
  • Ever since I was little I have dreamed of
  • The secret hope inside me is
  • I get a huge surge of relief every time I think about
  • My whole world would change if
  • It makes me outrageously happy to think about
  • People have always said that I
  • When I look back on my life, I’d like to be able to say that
  • The things on my personal bucket list are

We never know what life has in store for us. You’ll never please everyone, but the one person we often forget to please is ourselves. You are worthy, valuable and you came to this life to live your dreams. Maybe it’s time to honour that in some small way. Live without regrets! Live each day not so that you can cross it off and breathe a sigh of weary relief, but so that it counts for you, so that it matters to you and to your dreams. ♥

PS – Nickelback says it so well… ↓

People will be who they are…

People will be who they are.

Sounds like a bit of a crazy statement doesn’t it, but if you ignore this truth it is often you who becomes crazy…

I have a friend who was in great emotional pain over her relationship with her mother. Each time they meet she came away upset, or disappointed. Her mother was always so critical. This had been going on for over fifty years. My friend kept hoping that just once her mother would be supportive, or approving.

Image from chocolate-fish.net

I have a friend who was in great emotional pain over their relationship with their partner. They went through a pattern of honeymoon and then abuse, honeymoon and then abuse, honeymoon and then abuse. My friend kept hoping their partner would change.

image from dhcs.act.gov.au

People can change.  And they can also, at times, act out of character, but…  mostly people will be who they are.

Each person is driven by their own beliefs, values, education, experiences. They will have their own pattern of behaviours and responses. Once you begin to understand this, life becomes easier. Relationships become easier. Why? Because when you accept what is, you can make choices based around truth rather than desire.

People will be who they are.  They will not be the way we hope they will be. They will not be the way we fear they will be. They will not be the way we want them to be, or expect them to be, or need them to be.

People will be who they are. This, of course, goes for us too, and this is the important bit.  We cannot change others but we can change ourselves.  We can change our responses, our expectations, our level of tolerance. We can also choose to walk away.

Knowing that someone behaves or thinks in a certain way, but wanting that to be different, sets us up for disappointment every time. Or perhaps worse.

If you are honest with yourself about the true nature of your relationship with another, you begin to create new freedoms around those old expectations.

My friend with the critical mother? She has accepted that her mother will never change.  She still spends time with her, and since she no longer waits for the approval or support, her relationship with her mother has actually improved.

My friend in the abusive relationship? Had some counselling, ended the relationship, and is now with a loving partner who treats them with kindness and respect.

image from phil-islands.com

Needing someone to be different, expecting them to change, also prevents us from loving and accepting the other person as they are, which is all anyone ever wants.

(How many times have you wished someone would love and accept you as you are?)

People will be who they are.  If this works for you, embrace it.  If it doesn’t change your expectations, or move on.

 

♥ Life is too short, and too precious, not to give yourself every chance at happiness. ♥

image from shutterstock.com