Little Miss Judgy – In judging her, I learnt about me.

Over the past few months I have reconnected on Facebook with a woman I worked with many years ago in Local Government in far western Queensland.  A woman who was very efficient, intelligent and driven and who I enjoyed working with immensely.  A woman, who like all of us, had her trials and tribulations.  A woman I encouraged and recommended take on my position as CEO when I left that council. She didn’t believe she was qualified or deserved the position.  I did.  Long story short – she got the position.

That was 2006.  Fast forward to now.  Some 10 years on I reconnect with her on Facebook and see she’s started her own business.  She’s a wellness coach and personal trainer and from all accounts is going really well (at least on the highlight reel that is Facebook).  I think about my feelings as I watch her Facebook accounts of her latest clients, her latest blogpost …and I think I might be feeling a bit jealous and maybe there’s even some resentment there.  Why?  Well maybe because she’s out there clearly doing what she loves, she’s had the courage to leave her high paying, secure but not necessarily fulfilling full time permanent job, and take a chance on herself, to trust herself.

Now I don’t like feeling this way and if you’d asked me before today, I’d have told you I was proud of her.  But I wouldn’t have actually felt that way entirely.  I hate that – but it’s true.  I have some work to do on this – a whole other blogpost!

So in my stalking of her Facebook page I found she’s been interviewed as a guest of a podcast.  I flagged that podcast to listen to later.  Well today I listened…..and as I did, the feeling of jealousy and resentment, well to be totally honest, were still there, maybe ever stronger than before.  In fact, if I’m laying it all out there, I was even a bit judgy!  I can be a bit judgy at times (working on that too).  With about two minutes of the podcast left, I was still listening, but typed a comment on the podcast in the comments box at the bottom.  I congratulated her on her business and said I was proud of her.  I meant it – but I still had these feelings of judgment and jealousy.  I know these have nothing to do with her, and everything to do with me and I don’t like having them because I know just that – they’re about me, not her.

The podcast was winding up.  One of the final questions the interviewer asked her was whether she’d had any women in particular who she felt had a major influence in her life.  Then…BAM!

As it turns out, in those 2 years I spent as her CEO way back in in the early 2000’s I had positively impacted her life to the extent that now, over 10 years later, she calls me out as one of only two women she chose to mention to answer that question.

I have feelings running all over me and all through me.  I’m ashamed that I was judgy and jealous, I’m humbled and a little bit proud.  I’m disgusted in myself for feeling any degree of anything less than full support for her. I wish I’d not posted the bland, impersonal comment on the podcast webpage and had waited until the end of the audio.  I also have tears in my eyes.  This is a wonderful reminder to me of my journey, my limiting self-beliefs and that, even though I know it, sometimes I don’t live it.  I have grown today, as a human being, as a woman.  I thank her for the lesson.

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi

PS.  Thanks to that lovely woman for agreeing that I publish this blog.

How to survive a blizzard – two options, many choices

From skills training to survival….

It was my sense of adventure that took me on a recent journey which had all the hallmarks of a remarkable holiday as far as I was concerned.  I had booked in to a five day introduction to mountaineering course.  I was off to get well outside my comfort zone, learn new skills and meet new people, hopefully having a few laughs and definitely creating some wonderful memories.  However, as I know too well, sometimes things don’t go to plan and the skills training quickly turned into survival training – in extreme conditions!  What I experienced wasn’t in the brochure and wasn’t what I signed up for, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Here I share some of that journey.

Snowy Mountains Backcountry

I was taking a short breather, my back turned toward the blizzard so I could get some respite from the howling, stinging wind and snow.  I took stock.

I was feeling every one of the 25 kilograms in my backpack, but my back was holding up, as were my legs – for now.  The ropes around my waist, connecting me to the 20kg sled I was towing, were rubbing on my hips.  My toes and fingers were almost past the point of hurting and were mostly now numb.  The protection on my face was doing its job, and my waterproof pants and jacket seemed to be keeping the snow out, but I was cold, really cold.  I was thirsty and hungry but had no energy or means to access either food or water.  The white out was pretty intense, as it continued to be for five hours.

As I was taking stock, I thought about how I came to be here, in the backcountry of the Snowy Mountains, in relentless blizzard conditions, little to no vision, looking for a way to get across the Snowy River and hopefully into civilisation.   Asking how I found myself, again, in a situation that was truly testing my character, my self-belief, my strength and my endurance?

I’ve found that it’s when I get into these positions, that I realise that in everyday life, I have so much agency over my choices, my decisions.  It’s not until my choices are taken away, that I realise how much having those choices means to me in effectively navigating this human life.  I felt it had come down to me having just two options to choose from, keep walking, or stop.  Walk and maybe get out.  Stop and freeze.

Needless to say, I chose to put one snow-shoe clad foot in front of the other, sled in tow, and face to the cutting wind.

It was while I was taking these steps that I recalled a quote from Viktor E. Frankl, legendary psychiatrist and Holocaust-survivor, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning where he says “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”  This reminded me that whilst I had only two options, I had many choices.

I could choose how I reacted to the situation I was in, I could choose how I felt about this situation.  I could choose who I was in this situation.  No-one could take that away from me, not even Mother Nature herself.

I made the choice to see the situation as a remarkable experience of survival in extreme conditions that, had I wanted to pay for, I could not have pre-booked anywhere.  I chose to see it as an opportunity to show myself, again, that I can do hard things.  I chose to see it as an opportunity to be both grateful for, and in amazement of, my physical body, which carried me through other adversities and adventures, and which, it would seem, backed up and was willing to carry me through this one.  I even chose to imagine I was an Arctic explorer on a remarkable expedition and a documentary was being filmed of our adventure, and that when I got home, by the warm fire, I’d be able to re-live the experience on the big screen, safe and snug, surrounded by my family.  I chose to smile, even though my entire face was covered by my balaclava and goggles.

Post holing without snow shoes

It was a challenging six hours in arduous conditions, and while I still struggled with fear, exhaustion, the freezing cold, hunger, thirst and pain, I did this while consciously choosing my reaction to those things.  I couldn’t change the situation, but I could choose how I reacted to the situation.  I challenged myself to reframe, to choose how I showed up.  There is no greater experience than that.

If you’re ever in a position where you feel your choices are taken from you, or your choices are limited, try to remember the words of the amazing human Viktor E. Frankl, and consider all the choices you do have, and choose your own way.

 “Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi

Lessons of impermanence and love – a journey to the grave

I gently placed the two sets of wooden beads on the coffin.  It was difficult to see through my tears but I held my hand over the beads, feeling the varnished timber of my father’s coffin underneath my hand, the smooth roundness of the beads and inhaling the sweet scent from the nearby flowers.  I knew the eyes of the people gathered to farewell him were on me, but I couldn’t feel them.  I couldn’t feel anything but pain in my heart.

When I was handed the brown wooden beads some three months before, I didn’t contemplate the journey they would go on, and the journey they would take me on.  Nor did I expect to have such an attachment to this handmade, with love, set of brown beads.  The beads were gifted to me for good luck and strength.  They stayed on my wrist through good times, sad times and lonely times.  I wore them on holiday to Bali – even with the threat that the wooden beads would not be allowed back in the county.

Her name was Ibu Jero and she was a high priestess and spiritual healer.  She had come to my hotel in Bail at my request to conduct a chakra balancing on me.  I wanted a bit of Eat, Pray, Love thrown into this family holiday.  Her hands rested on my wrists when we first met as she spoke softly to me.  “You have 100 beads of love” she said as she referred to the beads wrapped around my wrist.  I nervously dismissed her comment and we went to my room.  It was when she started to channel a spirit that I realised I had gotten more than I paid for, and much more than I bargained on getting.  The skeptic in me was loud and unforgiving, but it would seem, rather convincingly, that the spirit Ibu was channeling was in fact my long dead mother, who passed away at 42 years of age, some 23 years before.  Apparently, I have not dealt fully with my mother’s death and I needed to let her go.  There were suggestions of conducting a ritual in her honour and consciously letting go of her.  Rather shaken and disturbed by all of this, I had to sit with it for a while.

So sitting with it a few days later, I recalled Ibu’s comment about “100 beads of love” and out of nothing more than curiosity, I counted the number of beads on my wrist.  Five counts later, just to be sure, I sat there stunned at the realisation that there were in fact, exactly 100 beads.  Exactly 100!

I had a feeling that the beads were central to whatever was unfolding for me.  I had a feeling that it was with the beads, my beads, I would let go of my mother.  I could never imagine just how that might come to being.

Out of blue, I received a phone call to tell me my father was sick, very sick indeed, with a life expectancy of 6 months to 2 years.  I made my Dad a set of beads to give to him the next time I saw him.  I’d made a decision that when the time came for Dad to go, that I would give my beads to him to take to his first love, and mine, my Mum.

Only one week later, the worst of phone calls came.  On that same day my father died, with my solace being that I had made it to his bedside in time to say goodbye to him.  I gave him the beads I’d made him, and placed them on his left wrist, four times around.  I then put my beads in his hand and asked that he take them and give them to Mum.  I was sobbing, he was sobbing.  He was struggling to accept that his life in this body was coming to an end.  A few hours later, my beautiful Dad took his last breath, a set of beads on his left wrist and a set of beads in his right hand, my hands over both of his, my heart aching.

That’s how I ended up standing over my father’s coffin placing two sets of beads with him, to be cremated alongside his body.  The grief and shock at losing my 65 year old Dad to cancer one week after he was diagnosed was indescribable.  I had no idea of the journey these beads would take me on, nor the stories they would create, or the lessons they would facilitate.  I go back to that feeling I had in Bali, that feeling that it was with my beads that I would let go of my mother.  I could never have imagined that that would involve losing my father.

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi

Tears in the Departure Lounge

I see you.  I see your pain and I acknowledge you are hurting.

In any other circumstance, he would have seemed very intimidating.  Muscle bound, tight shirt, tight pants, gold chains, dark skin, crew cut and well over 6 foot tall.  Probably not someone to run into in a proverbial dark alley.  But right here, now, he wasn’t an intimidating presence.

The airport departure lounge was getting busier as I sat reading my book, waiting on my flight to be called.  I was early.  I like to be early.  The noise around me was increasing, and even though I wasn’t particularly paying attention, I was sensing the busyness increasing.

But something caught my ear, or my senses.  I looked up curiously.  Then I saw him.  He was sitting on a windowsill a few metres from me.  My eyes were drawn to him, no-one else.  In the dozens of people in my view, I saw only his face.

It was covered in tears and he was talking or more correctly, sobbing, into his mobile phone.  He was distraught.  Sobbing uncontrollably.

No, not today, not right now, he didn’t seem intimidating.

I then took a moment to have a look around at the dozens of people around me.  It was obvious that if not all, then most of them, had noticed this man’s tears.  It was hard not to.

I must admit, that my first reaction when I saw him, subconsciously or habitually, was to get my head back down into my book as quickly as I could.  Don’t let him see that I saw him.  Don’t let him see that I saw him in his distress, in his tears….being a human.  Heaven forbid that should happen.

Wait, what am I doing?  I questioned myself, admittedly, keeping my head down in my book.  Why am I turning away from this man, from this fellow human being, clearly in distress, in emotional pain?  What is it that scares me so much that my first reaction is not compassion or empathy, but avoidance?  A strong urge to turn away from him and his pain, a strong urge to not see this.

I tentatively looked up, he was unmoved still sobbing, tears streaming down his face.  I turned my head to look at my fellow transiting humans.  All of them had their heads down and were doing exactly the same as I was – turning away from, instead of turning toward, another human being’s suffering.  Why do we do this?  Do we think we’re going to catch it – like it was some contagious virus?  If he catches our eye does that mean that we need to ‘do’ something, to take some sort of action? Yep best to keep our heads down and pretend it’s not happening, pretend we don’t see it.

And still he sits, sobbing, uncontrollably, while I contemplate my navel – so to speak.  All of us, for our own reasons, wanting this inconsolable grown man to not be in our presence, so we don’t have to deal with it.  It’s making us uncomfortable.

WHAT THE F%$#?  Aren’t we human beings who have all, at one stage, sat like this man, in our grief, our sadness, crying our hearts out?  Distraught.  Have we been unfortunate enough to do this in a public place, in front of many strangers who, for all intents and purposes, don’t even see us?

Before I knew what I was doing, I had taken the packet of tissues from my handbag and was walking through waiting passengers, across to the man.  I put my hand on his shoulder.  He looked up with a set of dark brown eyes that, in their swollen redness, were the saddest eyes I had ever seen.  I said to him “I see you.  I see your pain and I acknowledge you are hurting”.  I placed the tissues in his hand, barely holding back the tears myself, squeezed his shoulder, and walked away.

But in fact, I never uttered a word.  I just put my hand on his shoulder, he looked up at me,  and I gave him the tissues.  Then I walked back to my seat.  But in doing that, I said “I see you and I see your pain and I acknowledge you are hurting”.

I sat back down and immediately wished I’d kept one tissue for myself – because I needed it.  I cry easily, and some years ago, I stopped giving a shit about that.  I am an emotional person, I care and yes, I cry a lot.  But I also laugh a lot too.

With little to do now, I put my head back in my book while I waited for my flight to be called.

I was shocked from the depths of my book some time later.  Flights were being called, people were moving around me.  Two rough hands grabbed my face gently and lifted me off my chair.  He placed his forehead on mine and held my head in his hands against his, for what felt like minutes.  He said to me “Thank you for noticing me.  Thank you for seeing me”.  Tears were coming from both of us now.  After a while, he leaned back, squeezed my face with his big dark skinned hands, and left – I suppose to catch his plane.

But in fact, he never uttered a word.  He just held my face to his, our foreheads together.  In doing that, he said “Thank you for noticing me and for seeing me”.

I looked around and noticed my fellow passengers, staring, back and forth from me to him as he walked away.  I hope they were thinking that next time, maybe next time something like this happened, they would take some small action, if only to remind themselves, that after all, they’re human too.  But I don’t know what they were thinking.

Friends of mine have referred to what I did as a Random Act of Kindness.  I don’t see it that way.  I see it as honouring another human being.  Doing unto others and all that.  I see it as, well, basically I had no option.  I simply couldn’t sit there and pretend I didn’t see him, that he didn’t matter to me.  What if that was someone I loved.  I would hope that someone would give them some tissues and see them, and acknowledge their pain.

That’s all we have to do – it’s not our journey, we don’t have to travel it for others, or fix them, but if we can provide some comfort for them along their journey when the going is rough, then we will, one person at a time, make a difference.

If I ever find myself in a public place in immense sadness, I hope there’s someone who notices me, who might even have some spare tissues.  It might even be you that notices me.

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi