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.

The one thing you need to do to be healthy (it’s not what you think)

The one thing I would suggest you do to be healthy, is stop reading articles like ‘the one thing you need to do is…’ and trying to apply them to your own life.

 

We are living in this somewhat crazy world full of social media and online marketing, and click bait is where it’s at. It’s also all about random people who have gained social-celebrity status by being attractive and flexible telling the masses how they should change their lives in order to be more healthy (skinny, happy etc). This could be by going vegan, working out in accordance to a particular guide which will whip your flabby body into a bikini-ready state (just look at all the before and after photos!) or drinking a particular bum-flavoured tea.

Can you tell this culture doesn’t sit well with me?

I was walking on the beach recently, first thing in the morning after waking up while on a solo camping trip (an aside – this is a great kind of trip for pondering life). As I strolled I was considering my own health and what I need at the moment. I came up with a few things that I’d like to change in my current lifestyle. I’m not going to tell you the nitty-gritty of the particular things I settled on, because you know what? They won’t be the same for you.

(Well, given that we’re all humans and many of us are suffering from similar afflictions of too much stress and not enough sleep etc, some of them might overlap, but you know what I mean – my prescription is not your prescription.)

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I really believe that people are their own experts.

I did some training recently in Recovery philosophy, which is a framework used in mental health. The philosophy is that everyone is on their own journey; that people already have what they need in order to be well; and that their recovery/wellbeing is up to them and what they want it to be, not what a mental health clinician or psychiatrist tells them it should be. I think the same philosophy should apply in the whole of health care. What you need to be healthy is best known by you, because you know yourself from the inside out. So much of the time people know what it is they need (more sleep, less stressful work, healthier eating, less drinking, the list could go on) and they don’t need someone to tell them that, they need someone to support them to make those changes. But when the decision comes from you, where you say ‘this is what I need’ the motivation is so much stronger to actually create the change.

This is not discounting the role of doctors or health professionals: what you most need, at time, might be to seek the expert opinion from a specialist or doctor or naturopath or exercise physiologist – but on your terms. Going at a time when you’re ready, when you’ve decided this is the best course of action for your own wellbeing.

What do you need to be healthy? Let me know in the comments or drop me an email instead!

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

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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

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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?