The Bibbulmun: an afterword

In September and October 2016 I did the 1000km Bibbulmun Track Solo, North-South. I wrote this four weeks after I finished.

It feels like something is happening. A really deep, seismic shift. The deep cores of worthlessness, hopelessness, self disgust and despair are being aired, opened, examined. In a new light – the light of feminism (I was conditioned to hate myself by society!).

There’s a part of me unfurling – it feels inevitable and un-doable. And as though it’s going to change a bunch of stuff. There’s a crack, and I can finally let the light in. I don’t need to hide anymore. I can actually be me. Embody myself. All of myself. With love and acceptance. And without blame or judgement. If feels like I might finally be able to love myself. For reals.

I’m kind of shy and excited to meet this fresh new self who’s emerging, like a soft pink new born. Like when you’re a kid and you see your favourite cousin who you haven’t seen for ages, for a few moments you feel shy and don’t make eye contact. Then one of says ‘you want to go play?’ and then you hold hands and go off together, inseparable until your parents force you into two separate cars at the end of the night. It’s like that, meeting this new, soft and shiny self. Only this time we get to hold hands and run off together, and not leave in two cars. This time we stay and play together.

Right now though, I’m still at the shy part. I’m anticipating it’s going to be fun but I’m not yet brave enough to offer my hand. It also feels good not rushing it. I can sense the unfurling, but there’s no shortcut or speeding it up. It’s going to bloom in it’s own time. Somehow I feel certain that it’s happening though. Even though there’s not that much evidence yet, something feels different.

When I finished the Bibb, I was disappointed that with all the time I spent mulling over the problems in my life, I hadn’t solved any of them. I didn’t think I had any answers, no conclusions about whatthefuckdoidowithmylife. And yet, since coming home, everything is shifted and nothing is what it was before.

Each day, each km, each step – they were like gentle waves on a beach, each washing away another fine layer of silt, to eventually reveal what beauty lay beneath the whole time – beauty that was previously concealed. Me.

How to live in a screwed up world (I don’t know)

Sometimes I’m actually not sure whether my sensitive soul can deal with living in this world. It seems that my heart (soul?) hurts more (when I’m exposed to the hardhships of life) as I get older, insted of less, as I’d expected.

When I was a child and I would cry about something like having a fight with my friend, or getting told off, or a small animal dying, it seemed like a fairly expected thing for a child to do, right? But as an adult, I find those things, and more, somehow even more painful than I used to.

I used to walk around cities, as a late teenager/early 20’s adult, and seem homeless people, and…I don’t know exactly what I did. I still offered them food, but I wasn’t so saddened by their existence. Perhaps I found them a bit scary or something. But now, my heart aches every time I go into the Melbourne CBD, and see the (many!) people sitting curled up under blankets and carboard, on the concrete. Last night I was standing on the footpath at the edge of the street, waiting to cross at a set of lights. Ont eh opposite side was a man, who looked as though he’d fallen down. He had a black bag next to him, and he was kind of sprawled/hunched over, and holding on to one of his legs. I saw multiple people glance at him, and walk past. I thought, what the fuck? What if he’s hurt? When I crossed, I stopped and asked him if he was ok, if he was hurt. Just after I stopped, a guy riding past on a bike also stopped and asked the same question. The guy on the street couldn’t really answer, he was slurring his words a lot and didn’t seem to understand much of what we were saying. I guess he was wasted. Eventually he asked to be helped up; bike guy helped him and I got his bag for him. He was staggering around and I was worried he would fall onto the road and get hit by a car. Bikeguy was helping him figure out where he was going (Coburg?) so I left him to it. I had someplace to be, you know?

I honestly didn’t know what I could really do to help, other than to ask if he was ok, to care just a little bit. As opposed to all the people who just walked past, and didn’t even acknowledge him as another human being. I don’t know what he needed, but I don’t think I could offer it. Certainly, I don’t personally have all the resources to provide food, shelter, emotional support for all the people living on the street in Melbourne. And yet my heart aches to just walk past.

The other day I stopped and bought a guy a Subway footlong (meatball, his choice). Because I was on my way to go buy some hiking gear, and I felt so guilty considering spending a couple of hundred dollars on something I want, but don’t need, while this guy was sitting there apparently cold and hungry. I say apparently, because I don’t know for sure what his experience is (was). That’s how he looked, and what he told me. I have also heard the opinion that you can actually make good money begging, and that some people wll do it even though they are actually alright, financially. Personally, I can’t see the appeal.

But is that enough? Can I buy a guy a Subway, ask another if he’s ok, and then just continue to walk past and do not much else to help? Does the fact that I managed to hold onto my sense of self enough to not get into drugs, to get a house to rent, to get a job, go to Uni, mean that I’ve earned all the privilege I hold and I shouldn’t feel guilty about it? In all honesty, seeing them makes me want to turn away. Because it aches?too much to see. But I keep being reminded of something that Glennon Doyle-Melton wrote (I love her blog), about the refugees in Greece recently:

“But let us not say: I can’t look at this. It’s just too much. That is not true. It is not too much for us. It is too much to be them, but it is not too much to look at them. Please look and remember that if that was our [family] (and it is) we would want good-hearted people to draw close and help – not to look away. We will not look away. We will not protect our own hearts: we will work to protect our human family

When I think of that quote, I think, I’m doing a disservice to the humans of the world by trying to protect my own heart from pain, by looking away and trying to avoid going into the CBD. How then, to see the pain of the world, but not get engulfed in it? How to witness it, to hold it, to use the pain as a prompting to do more good in the world, without falling over and getting trampled by it, until I’m just crying mush and can’t do anything at all helpful?

That is a question/s I don’t currently have an answer for, and I’m working on it. So far, all I’ve gotten to is this: just love. Just do as much as possible from a place of love, as often as possible. Put out more love into the world.

Working on it!

Big love,

xx

Ps – I’m anticipating some people might encourage me to volunteer. I have thought about this, and for some reason Im not sure about it. Mostly, although I see that volunteering to help serve (for example) a hot meal to people might be helpful to the person on that day, but would it contribute to a solution to the greater problem? Im not sure.

PPS – I originally copy-pasted this from a word doc, and all the formatting went weird. I rewrote the whole thing, and still wordpress insists on inserting some random characters into the preview and deleting other important bits – like apostrophes – even though it looks normal in the editor section. If you see some random characters that look like they shouldn’t be there, or apostrophes that are missing, please use your imagination to fix them and carry on.

What’s the difference between self-care and self-fixing?

Today I’m feeling hopeful. It’s the first time I’ve felt hopeful in a while, so I’m pretty excited about it. So excited that I rang my boyfriend to tell him – I thought it would be a nice novelty for him to get a happy phone call from me rather than a grumpy or crying one.

 

I’ve been feeling crappy for a pretty long time now. Not 100% constantly crappy, but up and down-y, when I think back over time I mostly see it as grey, forget-about-the-happy-days kind of crappy. And when I saw a long time, I mean months, not days. When I first started feeling consistently down, as opposed to just having a bad day (or a bad week), I had so much happy-and-well-ness built up in my tank, that I was ok about feeling shit. I was almost (not quite) looking forward to the challenge of depression (again) in a sort of yay, now I can try out all of those strategies that I’ve been talking about for so long! Put it to the test! kind of way. When I felt good for a few days in a row, I had this (very, very, tiny) sense of disappointment – oh, it’s over now, I didn’t even get to let myself get to the depths so I could write some really great depressed connecting blog post about depression and it’s shitness. But oh well, to be well is better anyway.

 

But then I wasn’t really well, for a long time. The happy streak didn’t last. Even the mildly cheerful didn’t hang around. The grey kept going (keeps going). And that big tank of happy-wellness that I had carefully cultivated over the previous few years slowly dwindled, as I drew on it again and again without ever really having the opportunity or energy to refill it. And then I found myself empty of it, completely. And shit got cray. And when I saw cray, I mean, bad. Unhappy. Crying-y. Life-has-no-meaning-or-purpose-y, why-do-I-even-bother-being-alive-y. And I dragged myself onwards, in this state, for weeks. I cried every day, often multiple times a day, often triggered by almost nothing. I raged and snapped at the people I love most in the world. I avoided my friends because it was too much effort to pretend to be ok, and if I let slip that I wasn’t ok, I was going to collapse with the outpouring of despair and sadness. And on the good days, I put on my shiny face and I laughed and worked and I did life, like a more or less normal kind of person.

 

And then eventually I took some drugs that a doctor gave me because it was either that or a slow rotten death of my life and my love and my relationship and my job. But unlike in the past, the drugs didn’t help that much. They helped enough that I didn’t cry every.single.day anymore, and I avoided my friends less. But I still had recurring thoughts of what the fuck is the point of my life?

 

Interestingly though, I fell for the story that this life pondering was a meaningful, legitimate question. I thought I was searching for a purpose, like all the good entrepreneurs and life-changers and move-makers. But, all of a sudden, after reading a line in a book a few weeks ago, I realized that all this pondering of purpose and meaning and point to life, while veiled in an illusion of ‘productive action-taking to define your mission and fire up your doing-ness’ was actually a destructive thought pattern that was triggering me over and over into grey-pointless-meaningless land.

So there’s that.

You think you’re being proactive and bettering your own life and then BAM! You realize you’re bringing yourself down.

 

Then, shortly after, I admitted another hard truth to myself. Somewhere along the way in between my tank emptying and now, all the strategies and things I was doing (there were many – like: going to integrative doctors ($$$), taking buttloads of supplements, movement, reading self-help, talking about ‘it’, doing things that made me laugh, etc) somehow ninja-ed without me even noticing into something they didn’t used to be. They started off as beautiful acts of self-love, where I cared so much about my health and my wellbeing that when I saw I was down, I was offering my love to myself through actions, in the hopes that I may accept those actions of love and feel better. Along the way though, unbeknownst to me, they turned into actions of desperation. A desperate, clawing attempt to fix my broken self, to rid myself of this fucking way of being. A product of disgust, despair, and dislike about who I was as a person, and a last-ditch attempt at escaping this horrendous way of life, which as many of you know, can be quite excruciating with its discomfort.

So there was also that.

My acts of self-care and kindness had become acts of self-loathing and fixing myself.

 

Farrrrrrout. Where does one go with these realisations? How to get back to a place where my self-care is about love and kindness and not fixing? How to fill up my tank again? How to accept myself completely as I am, and love myself through that, while simultaneously acknowledging that how I am is pretty fucking uncomfortable right now, a lot of the time? I don’t necessarily have the answers to these questions, but I am letting them marinade while I continue with life.

 

I also want to point out that I haven’t shared a lot about how I’ve been faring for months, as I really resonate with what Brene Brown writes about vulnerability. I’m paraphrasing, but it’s something along the lines of how sharing your vulnerabilities with people when you’re still hurting and healing isn’t being vulnerable, it’s over-sharing. She says, “I don’t tell stories or share vulnerabilities with the public until I’ve worked them through first” and goes on to say that sharing a vulnerable story in an attempt to meet a need for attention or care isn’t a great idea. All this to say that while I’m still going through things, as we all are, I want you to know that this isn’t a desperate cry for help, I’m doing ok. I deliberately haven’t shared it for a while, but now seems like a good time, for whatever reason. So there you go.

The biggest gift you can give someone (plus three easy steps to make it happen)

I was at a small gathering of peeps last night, a very diverse bunch all brought together by a common interest. Most of the people there knew each other and had a history, and I (and my significant other) were new to the crowd. We were sharing some food and drink, and chatting a bit.

One of the people there talked a lot. About his experiences, travels and life. His stories were interesting and sometimes entertaining. However, when I left the gathering I found I was feeling a bit empty and even frustrated. Discussing this frustration with my significant other, I suddenly burst out “there was no CONNECTION!” and he responded with a resounding “YES!” We realized no one had asked us questions about ourselves, in an effort to include us or to know more about us. I’m still thinking about it this morning. To have the awareness and selflessness to feel comfortable directing the attention to others when in a group – not out of shyness but out of a desire for everyone to feel heard and included, is no small thing.

In the workshops and retreats I teach at, a common exercise we do is a three minute empathy swap with a partner.

This is where one person talks, for three minutes, and the other person listens – really, properly listens, paying attention the whole time – and tries silently to guess what the person speaking might be feeling or needing. In our exercise, as we are practicing identifying feelings and needs of others (otherwise known as empathy) we pull out cards which have the feelings/needs listed on them and put them down as we think we hear them expressed.

Have you ever tried to listen to someone, to give them your full attention, for three minutes?

Or even one minute? Without responding with advice (‘oh, what you should do is….’), or a story about your own life (‘that reminds me of when I….’) or even sympathy (‘oh your poor thing, that sounds so bad’). It’s actually really hard, as it goes against the way many of us have socially learned to ‘do’ conversation.

And on the other side –have you ever experienced someone just listening to you – really listening to you – for three minutes? Or even one? Without interrupting, without asking questions to clarify parts of the story, without offering advice? I’ve been the person who is doing the listening before – and I’ve seen firsthand the incredible connection and understanding that people can get when they are given the space to just go there, be listened to, and have that space held for them.

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I’m a human. I still struggle with this.

When I’m listening to my friends, I get so many ideas about what they could do to change things, what I think is the right course of action, wanting to tell them about the time that I suffered too, wanting to ask questions because I don’t understand a part of their story. But when I manage to hold onto these thoughts of mine and just give people the space to speak, that’s where the gift is. When they stop speaking and instead of telling part of my own story, I can say “Tell me more about how that is for you” and allow them the space to keep going, that is generosity.

You can do this for people you love (or like! Or don’t like!) too. Three easy steps:

1) ask someone a question (how are you? How do you feel about that? What’s been going on recently? Are you ok?)
2) Let them answer, and really pay attention. Try to guess what they are feeling, whether they explicitly use feeling words, or whether you are trying to guess the feelings underneath their words. Do this silently.
3) When they stop, reflect back what you heard, (‘wow, sounds like things have been really stressful/scary/fun/challenging/exciting/ for you’) then ask them if there’s more (‘Is there more that’s been going on?’ ‘how do you feel now we’re talking about it?’)

And maybe that’s it. Maybe the person doesn’t want to keep talking, maybe they’ve had enough. But giving them the space to keep going is such a beautiful, simple (but not easy) gift.

A warning: it can be really frustrating if you regularly offer this space to someone time after time but don’t ever get the space reciprocated.

If you want to try out this listening technique, and really want to be listened to as well, perhaps try asking someone to listen to you in this way – or offer to do a swap – one person gets three minutes while the other listens silently, then swap. You might be surprised by how much understanding you can get of yourself by just talking for three minutes without interruption.

I’d love to hear how you go trying this out. Let me know in the comments below!

Much love xx

Why a Bad Day is OK

It's a peupty day

We have high expectations, these days

With so much opportunity for having multiple careers, online business, doing it all, creating a life you love – it’s easy to develop the perception that you’re not doing well enough in life until you reach a point where every day you’re jumping out of bed, stoked to get going with your day, and looking forward to the times when you get to ‘work’ (because you love it so much it doesn’t feel like work).

As a bit of a follow on from my last post, about how it’s a normal human condition to have feelings such as rage, grief, shame and sadness (although often referred to as ‘negative’ feelings, I like to think of them as ‘uncomfortable’) I thought I’d share a similar story this week – it’s also part of being human to just have a Bad Day.

The Bad (Day) news

While the above description of creating a life you love every.single.day. is an enticing thought, I think having a goal like this is potentially harmful. Because even those of us who are working in areas we are passionate about, doing meaningful things, are still entitled to plain and simple Bad Days. A Bad Day could simply mean going about your normal day feeling a bit blah, or it could mean being curled up on the couch binge watching crap TV and going through two boxes of tissues – or maybe for you a Bad Day looks totally different.

It’s inevitable that you will have Bad Days. Because even in the most thoughtfully, purposefully crafted lives, shit happens. Life is unpredictable and sometimes chaotic. People change their minds, crises occur and lives are lost – every day. Sometime or another, these things will affect you. And sometimes? You might have a Bad Day when there is no apparent external reason.

The good news?

Having a Bad Day doesn’t mean all was in vain and you are failing at life. In a similar message to last week’s – all feelings are part of the natural human experience – having an occasional crappy, unproductive, unmotivated, shitty day is also part of the human experience. Depending on the circumstances surrounding it, even a Bad Week, or a Bad Month could be entirely appropriate.

Beating yourself up about not having achieved that life of perpetual bliss only adds to the Bad Day-ness. On your next Bad Day, perhaps you could consider offering yourself some compassion and acceptance?

Oh. I’m having a Bad Day. What could I do for myself in this moment that is kind and loving?

It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that – you don’t have to search for a reason, or worry about when the Bad Day-ness will end. Chances are, it will end*. Practicing acceptance and being kind to yourself in the moment though, will likely make your Bad Day a little bit more bearable.

How about you? Ever had a Bad Day?**Did you beat yourself up about it?

*And if it doesn’t – if it’s one Bad Day after another, for more than a few weeks – you might consider seeking some external support, from a place like beyondblue.

**(trick question – I know you have!)

Why Belle Gibson deserves our compassion

belle_gibson_compassionPhoto from here

Unless you live in a humpy, you’ve probably heard about Belle Gibson – she (in)famously lied about having cancer while promoting her app, The Whole Pantry.

Since then, many of her stories have unraveled to reveal that most of what she claimed isn’t true. Belle just appeared on 60 minutes last night, which reignited all the media/social media abuse and public anger. My opinion? Belle deserves our compassion.

Before you get all rage-y and start querying my sanity, let me add a clarification:

having compassion for someone doesn’t mean condoning what they have said or done, or letting people act without consequence.

It means recognising a common humanity – which Kristin Neff describes as acknowledging “that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience”  To recognize a common humanity is to treat all people with respect – even when you’re angry and upset with them.

 

I don’t know if you guys have been following either a) Belle or b) the media articles about her, but holy crap! The aggressiveness, insults, and straight-out shaming has been insane.

I understand that people are very angry, hurt, outraged and shocked about finding out that she lied about having cancer – and they’d like to see some consequences for her actions. However, shaming someone (especially publicly) is not a helpful, compassionate or effective way of changing their behavior. Brene Brown says that:

“Shame is about anger and blame, not accountability and change”

and rather than encouraging someone to make amends, actually just leads them to feel “intense pain, isolation, and fear”. So if you’re upset with the action that someone has taken, and would really like to see them being held accountable for their choices, shaming them probably isn’t going to have the desired effect.

 

Here’s an opinion from someone who knows a bit about compassion – the Dalai Lama

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”

I’m inclined to agree with him. Compassion isn’t something we should give only to those who are ‘good people’ or who ‘deserve it’. Everyone deserves compassion – even those who we perceive as having done something ‘wrong’. I mean, I get it: it’s hard. It seems reasonable to have compassion for a young child who has been rendered homeless by a natural disaster. But a person who deliberately miss-led a lot of people and made a lot of money in the process? That’s a bit more difficult. Does that mean we should stop trying and revert to name-calling? I don’t believe so.

We’ve all made mistakes. We all will make mistakes in the future.

some big, some small. I fully believe that we should be held accountable for our choices, and in the context of big mistakes that might mean things like paying fines or even going to jail – and this holds true for Belle in her situation. But because someone made a choice that you (or even the majority of our society, or our law) disagree with, doesn’t mean that insults, name calling, threatening and shaming are OK.

What do you think about this? Do you reckon everyone deserves compassion or do some choices leave the chooser undeserving of compassion?