Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Voice of Reason - Are you Listening?

For the last several years, it has become very apparent to me that we are constantly receiving messages from the universe. It can manifest as intuition, as it does for me, but the trick is to pay attention. Actually notice it. Realize it is indeed a voice outside yourself that is speaking to you and take heed. Some of you  may be skeptical and that is your choice, but for me, it is as clear as a bell most of the time. If I am distracted or not focusing, I can miss the more subtle ones, but generally speaking, even those manage to reach me eventually if not right at the moment.

Often, I will have a delayed epiphany, hours or days later and find myself surprised that I did not notice it at the time it presented. It matters not to me if there is an actual science to any of this. Proof of the validity of any of this does not concern me. The reason I don't care if these mysteries can be solved scientifically, is because in the end, the messages serve to better my life in someway. They can be warning messages, or encouraging messages, or answers to questions that I have been struggling with, so the fact that they are helpful to me does not make me second guess them. In addition, I have had solid proof many times over the years that when I don't listen to that voice, I always live to regret it.

Sometimes it requires a tremendous leap of faith. For the larger leaps, the messages usually come in multiples because they are usually up against serious fear and doubt.  So, they tend to hammer me a bit. They also tend to appear when the fear or doubt is really close to taking hold. They show up like a giant neon sign on a deserted road, just in case they might be missed. You could call them guiding lights, or angels, or channeled wisdom - whatever floats your boat. All I know is that they exist and they are available to anyone who is willing to listen. In the beginning, I brushed it all off as coincidence, but as time has passed, it has become impossible to deny that for me, it is real.

Tapping into this available wisdom has helped me make countless choices and decisions, both big and small. Let me share an example of something simple and how it works for me. Last January, we were looking for a house to rent. I was constantly pouring over the Internet listings, real estate ads, networking with people, driving around town looking for signs and was on a mission to find just the right house at the right price in the right location. Armed with my criteria list, I was able to scratch the obvious duds off my list in seconds. Busy street. No. Too many bedrooms. No. Not enough bedrooms. No. Too ugly. No. (note to agents - take better photos). Anyway, you get the picture. So, day after day, I would scroll through the listings, hoping for something new to appear and as I did, this one house that was on my "no" list would appear again and again, almost annoying me. I continued to write it off.  I looked at hundreds of listings, did the virtual tours, looked at the brochures and booked appointments to see several. 

After a couple of weeks, I was getting a bit discouraged. Out of all the houses, there was only one I really liked and we missed it by a day. Turns out, it would have been a huge mistake as it had a bad roach infestation that would have been the death of me.  So, I started to revisit all the listings again. Maybe I had missed something. There was that one house that I kept going back to, but the virtual tour revealed a very dated kitchen, so I wrote it off time and time again, even though it fit the criteria list in every other way, including a nice little in ground pool. I had also heard a couple folks poo poo the neighbourhood. Being new to town, I was clueless in that regard. 

One afternoon, we stopped in to visit a friend and it turns out, this friend lived on the same street as the house I had written off as a "no". As we were heading home after our visit, we decided to do a drive by and take a closer look. The house was empty. It was a simple house, a ranch style bungalow likely built in the early 80's. It did not inspire, nor did it repel. It was neat and tidy. We sat in the car out front and took a good look. Bush across the street scored a point. A small parkette behind it scored a second point. Since it was empty, we got out of the car and walked around the back. It was like a small oasis with the pool and palm trees, a sizable covered patio and quite private. Suddenly, I was interested. We noticed the woman next door out in her garden and approached her with some questions. As it turned out, she held a key and took us inside for a tour. The kitchen still sucked and there was no dishwasher, or even a space for one. However, the bathroom had been newly renovated and the place was clean as a whistle so now the kitchen was starting to look better.  

I cannot tell you how many times I had taken the virtual tour of this house. Not only did it keep presenting itself, for some reason, out of all the houses, the street name and number kept popping into my mind. The voice. For days I had not been listening. When I finally did listen, it was almost with resignation. I even talked back to the voice in my mind. It went something like this. "Ok, Ok, I will drive by the bloody house. Why not? At least then, I will know for sure." So, fast forward,  here I sit, six months later, my desk at the window that looks out onto this little oasis, grateful I finally listened. It has turned out to be a good house for us as an interim pause. It is compact, easy to clean, the neighbours are quiet and when I am melting, I have a solution. And, just this morning, as though to cement the fact that we made the right decision, a kangaroo paid me a visit right in my back garden, which I have interpreted as a message on behalf of Australia to be sure to come back after my visit to Canada later this month, just in case I had any doubts about returning.

This house was a great choice despite the old kitchen, and as it turns out, my dishwasher does not cost a cent in electricity and does an amazing job after dinner each night. ;-)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Out of the Darkness

There is only one thing on my mind today. It has been hovering in my head for about 24 hours now, ever since I became aware of the passing of the talented and much loved Robin Williams. I cannot stop thinking about that dark place that people are in when they kill themselves. That place that so many find themselves in from time to time in this crazy world we live in. 

I will go out on a limb here and suggest that most of us have had brief or not so brief encounters with that place. Most are able to turn back to the light before they become swallowed up by it, but many do not. For many, like Robin Williams, the desperation to turn off the pain outweighs the desire to go on living.  That is some kind of pain. There is no turning back. 

Speaking with my daughter yesterday afternoon and sharing our shock and sadness over his death, I said, I just find it so hard to understand that someone who was so loved by so many would feel so alone. Her answer was so simple, yet so profound. She said, "Depression is a disease of the mind mom, and it stops you from seeing the good things." 

The key word in her answer, as I mulled it over later was "stops". It does not cloud your ability or distract you, or sidetrack you. No, it is far more definite. And that, I thought, is the difference between those who actually do commit suicide and those who manage to stop themselves. They cannot turn the switch back on. Something in their brain "stops" them from turning back to the light in their lives. No amount of familial or romantic love can prevent them from their final act. So, how do the people who love them, help them? The truth is, even if we are aware of some one's depression and try to be more vigilant of changes in their behaviour or hints in their words or actions, we cannot be there 24/7 to stop them if they are determined to follow through with suicide. 

It matters not that he had what many imagined to be "everything". Talent, fame, money, love - none of it was capable of saving him. Depression is an illness. If anything is to come from his death, let's hope it is the beginning of more awareness, more research, more funding, more conversation and more acceptance.

About 12 years ago, I personally suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. I was ashamed to tell people and until now, I rarely shared this with anyone. I took some anti-depressant meds for a couple of years but never liked the way they made me feel. I did some therapy on and off and that helped. What has worked more than anything for me however, believe it or not, is exercise. Even a 20 or 30 minute brisk walk will do the trick if I am feeling anxious or depressed. I am not saying this is the cure for everyone, but it is what works for me. The point of my sharing is to do my small part to try to remove the stigma attached to depression. For many of you, this may be the first time you have ever heard me mention this.

For a long time before I realized I suffered from anxiety,(and that it actually was treatable) I used to berate myself and tell myself to get a grip and pull up my socks and stop being such a wuss. I would tell myself I had nothing to be anxious or depressed about and that there were people in the world with far more serious issues than mine and how dare I wallow in despair? I had a good life, people who loved me, I never went without, I  lived in an amazing country, etc. etc. Snap out of it! So, for years, that was how I dealt with it. I kept pulling myself up out of what I saw as my self-imposed mire with mental whipping, and punishing self-talk. There are even days now, when I can revert back to those coping mechanisms. It never really goes away.

The difference now is that I recognize it sooner when it rears it's ugly head and I can get on top of it. I always notice it if I go more than 2-3 days without any exercise. Fortunately for me, this is an easy remedy. That, combined with spending time in nature is my drug of choice. Maybe for some people, nothing works. I don't know. What I do know is that the darkness is real and it exists and I hope and pray that one day the Robin Williams's of the world will find a way to escape its clutches. 

Maybe his death will lead the way out for many others - here's hoping.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

If the Birds can do it....

Yesterday in the hour just before dawn, I laid in my bed, semi-conscious listening to a lone bird across the street in the bush. There is a stretch of wooded area without houses that is home to hundreds of birds, but this bird was the first one to make a sound. In the still and quiet at that time of day, his song was crystal clear and loud. It was as though the trees had parted to create an amphitheatre for his performance. His song was rich and precise and repetitive but not annoying as it was so beautiful. I could not identify the species like I now can  many others. 

I could only imagine what he looked like based on his voice. He was surely large, the size of a sulphur-crested cockatoo I figured. A small bird would never accomplish the depth of his cry. I imagined him to be an older bird, wise and owl-like, but not an owl. His sound was not a hoot. He must have been perched high and his chest would be puffed out, his head lifting with each note. There were three distinctive notes, spaced evenly and with purpose. I wondered if he was in charge over there. Was he the rooster of the bush community? Were the other birds wishing they could turn him off like a snooze button? Or, did they look forward to this wake-up call each  morning? 

He sang his song for about 15 minutes, unaccompanied. A bush solo. Just as the first glimmer of morning light appeared, he was joined by a single kookaburra. The kookaburra used his soft voice, not the loud cackle we  generally hear. The two of them were in a duet now.  There was a slow and gentle rhythm building. After about two minutes, a couple of other kookaburras chimed in, still using their softer more guttural voices. It was as though they were honouring Sunday morning and giving their human audience a peaceful concert to start the day, unlike their weekday revelry-like blast of crazed laughing to which we have grown accustomed. 

Then, one by one, other birds joined in. They joined in distinctively one at a time. Who was conducting this avian choir? It did not seem random to me at all. Yet, despite the seeming order of this concert, there was an ease to it that made it flow and rise and fall as it should. Each species seemed to know when to start their instrument at a certain volume and time. They clearly followed in numbers and volume with the incremental increases of light with the rising sun. 

It occurred to me how simple life can be when we follow our instincts and allow nature to guide the way. These birds did not resist adding their voices. They knew just how and when to join the chorus to create this Sunday morning symphony of song. A cooperative collaboration of species, sharing their talents, using their skills as nature intended. As each new flock joined in, it only added to the depth and richness. There was no evidence of one group of birds trying to out do the other or silence another's voice. They were different, yet alike. And they worked together to produce a thing of beauty. 

You see, I thought to myself, it is possible.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Are we really Listening?

Tropical hideout

In my constant quest to find meaning in the ordinary moments of everyday life, this morning I am pondering a situation out on my patio. For the last hour as I sat here doing a bit of work at my computer, there has been a Noisy Miner doing what Noisy Miners seem to do best...making a racket. This is not uncommon and I tried to ignore his refrain for the first thirty minutes or so until I was compelled to go see if there was a reason for his seeming distress.

As I made myself a latte, I watched him from the kitchen window as he yapped on and on and kept hopping from surface to surface within about a two metre square above a bit of garden next to the patio that is fairly dense with tropical foliage. I knew there was something in there that he was worried about, so I went out to take a look. Sure enough, this grey and white cat that has been frequenting my garden in search of easy prey was hunched down in the middle of the garden bed. Now, the funny thing about this cat is that it is an exact re-incarnation of a cat I used to have for many years back in the 80's and early 90's.  He lives somewhere in the neighbourhood and is clearly well fed and quite friendly, so he/she is not a stray. One morning, I even called out to it, using my old cat's name and he immediately turned and looked toward me. Spooky.

I have always been open to and fascinated with the concept of re-incarnation and this cat is really convincing me it is possible. So, what has this cat come back to say to me? I am so tempted to really welcome him to hang out but since I know he is just visiting and probably has owners who love him, I won't start feeding him or enticing him to stay. As it stands, he visits every day anyway, so I don't really have to do anything to encourage him. I am not too happy that he poses a threat to my feathered friends, so when I see him near the feeder, or crouching in hiding to pounce on an unsuspecting bird, I shush him away and blow his cover.

There have been a few feathers left behind when he has been successful and I am thankful he has taken his trophies elsewhere to eat them or present them to his owners perhaps. Knowing he is on the hunt in my garden daily keeps me on high alert for possible victims. So far, I have not seen any solid evidence aside from the scattering of feathers and my hope is that they got away.

Is this the lesson? Could this seemingly commonplace occurrence in nature be trying to tell me something? By turning my back on the fate of the birds and allowing nature to take it's course, am I guilty of complacency? Should I be doing more to protect the birds? Should we all be doing more to protect the innocent birds from the bad cats?

The only answer to this question is yes. Yes of course we should be doing more. More for the children of our world who have evil and violence thrust upon them in war-torn countries and impoverished lands all over the planet. What must it be like to live in that kind of fear? We live in a world where birds awaken us each day, not bombs. The caretakers of children in these places - the mothers, the fathers, the grandparents...they are the Noisy Miners.

We need to hear them. And help them.

Now I just have to figure out how.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cry a River

Today there is a memorial service being held in Melbourne for the victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 tragedy. A day of mourning. Flags are flying at half mast here today and as I write these words, the ABC is playing In the Arms of The Angel by Sarah McLachlan. 

I wondered while I listened to her haunting lyrics if there were other people just like me in that moment feeling the sad emotions that song brought up in my throat and heart as I imagined the horrendous pain of all the families and friends of the victims of this tragedy. I was no doubt not alone with my feelings. I thought about the contrast of that harsh reality compared to mine and felt grateful and lucky. I was not on that plane. I am still alive. But it could have been otherwise. It could have happened to any of us that day. 

So, what do we do with these overwhelming feelings? I stood in the kitchen and cried for a minute. For the families. With the families. When I stopped crying, I thought, that had I not been alone, I would have held back my tears. There are people who don't understand why you would feel so sad about lives that have nothing to do with yours. I am not one of those people. I do feel the anguish of strangers all the time. So, even though I allowed this sadness to flow out of me, when I was finished, I felt as though my short spurt of grief was insufficient. My day would go on and my life, not directly affected by loss, would move forward grief-free for the most part. 

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that we are all affected by these lost lives. Everytime something like this happens, we are changed. The only difference between a direct association with a lost life and those of us who did not know them is the scale of grief we feel. Or, allow ourselves to feel. When I stopped crying in my kitchen, I was listening to all the voices in my head that were telling me to stop. And I did. I listened to those voices, grabbed a tissue, took a couple of deep breaths and told myself to buck up. However, I could have ignored the voices and just kept crying until I had no more tears to cry. Instead, those uncried tears will be pushed back into my heart lying in wait for the next inevitable tragedy. 

I have held back a lot of tears in my life. There is a fear of losing control associated with just letting sadness rip. The truth is, that the few times I have actually let myself really sob with abandon, it does end eventually and once all the tears are spilled, and the tightness in your chest starts to release, some of the sadness drifts away too. 

So, my wish for all of the people who lost precious loved ones on that flight, is the ability to sob with abandon. Let it all go until you cannot summon another tear. Do it as many times as it takes to let some of your grief go and don't listen to those voices that tell you to buck up or suck it up or be strong. Your grief is your gift to those lost lives. 

Make it count.

I need some distraction
Or a beautiful release
Memories seep from my veins
Let me be empty
Oh and weightless and maybe
I'll find some peace tonight

- Sarah McLachlan, In the Arms of The Angel

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Against all Odds

Over 80% of blogs are abandoned within the first month. This is a statistic that I just read. I have always known it was a big number, but this is even a little more grandiose than I thought. The number one reason most are abandoned is "fear". Apparently most blog writers are worried about failure, not being relevant, not being able to succeed, not being able to come up with fresh ideas on a regular basis, etc. etc. etc.

The blog I wrote two blogs before this one was my 400th blog since 2009. I have no plan to abandon my blog any time soon. I try to keep fear at bay by bringing myself back to the reason I started writing my blog in the first place. For me it is a creative outlet. Pure and simple. I don't have a gazillion followers, nor is my blog attractive to advertisers. I don't care about any of that. I do it for the sheer joy of putting words together on a page and adding some visuals and expressing whatever I happen to feel like putting a voice to on any given day. 

I have always dreamed of being a columnist. It would be nice to be paid for my random musings, however, the way I saw it when I first set out, was, like, OK, Deb, if you really want to write a column, go ahead and write one. Don't attach a reason. Just do it. Write and write and write and see what happens. So I do. I write when I am in the mood. Sometimes I write when I am not in the mood. Sometimes I want to write about things that are too personal to share and sometimes I write about things that probably are too personal to share but I write about them anyway. I find inspiration in the most mundane as well as the most controversial. In the early days I found myself ranting quite a bit. Now I try to take a more placid approach. I still throw in the odd rant, but more often than not, I find ranting more of an energy drain.

Today's blog was supposed to be Chapter 5 in my Decades of Designing Deb series, but since I did not feel inspired to write about that this morning, I am not going there today. This is the wonderful part of not being paid or having to answer to anyone. I can do whatever the hell I want, when I want. If I were being paid to do this, I would likely have been given a topic by an editor and told to produce 500 or 1000 words by such and such a time and in such and such a manner and although I am quite capable of writing on demand like that, it is wonderfully freeing to not have to work that way.

I am also working on a novel when I am not doing this. The blog is really a distraction from the hard slog of the book. Kind of like my version of recess. Sometimes I feel like writing a poem. I fear those postings the most, which is why I think they are the most valuable. I worry about being judged and laughed at and criticized. Overcoming those fears has been hardest of all. Allowing myself to be that vulnerable has it's challenges and rewards. Thank you Brene Brown for encouraging me to be vulnerable. If you have not read Daring Greatly, I highly recommend it. 

There are days when I ramble (like today), and days when I focus more on the prose and days when I immerse myself in research but in the end it is all about the words. The stringing together of words to tell a story or share a feeling or convey a message is a joy to me. It matters not that I do it well or better or worse than other writers. What matters is that when I am doing it, for a time, I am transported to a place that feels like home to me. 

And not many places feel better than that.