Learning to Love

Walk of Gratitude

427199_10151249525300578_1412222256_nThere is a large park close to my home. It’s perimeter is 3.5km long and many people walk or run its length to keep fit. I haven’t had an exercise regimen since my late teens which was almost two decades ago. So I’ve decided to walk the 3.5km a few times per week and hopefully build up to running.

There was a national holiday in my country this week so I was at the park that day by 7:00am. It was cool and overcast on account of a passing tropical wave so the morning dew was hanging around just a little longer than usual. The air was crisp and clean. I inhaled deeply as I started out and out of habit, began mentally listing the things I wanted to get done that day: article review, emails to clients, clean bathroom, edit poems etc. I passed by a father and his young son and smiled to overhear him gently explaining why stretching is always better to do before exercising. It made me happy to think of the memories they were both making, and that I got a chance to witness their exchange.

So of course that got me thinking about all the things I was witnessing on my walk: the “good morning” greetings from fellow walkers and runners; the coconut vendors getting their carts ready for customers; the small flock of protective blackbirds chasing a model airplane that was flying too close to their nests; the architect sitting in his car with paper and ink, drawing inspiration from the row of palatial, Victorian-era mansions that line the western side of the park; the confused chirp of a Big-Eyed Grieve who’s lengthy earthworm was stolen by an opportunistic Kiskadee; the rising sun, finding a way to peep through the clouds and rapidly warm up the right side of my face. It was a beautiful feeling. I decided right then and there that every time I walk the park, instead of creating a To-Do list in my mind, I would spend that time listing all the things I was grateful for:

The fresh air; my health; being able to whatsapp chat with my Mum (who is 2637km away) because she finally got a smartphone; my new job which allows me two extra hours on mornings to walk, or paint or write; my new job which surrounds me with art, creativity and real human connections; my ability to pay my bills even if things are tight for now; the extra dollars in my pocket to buy detergent, body soap, bread, sausages, potato chips and fruits for the homeless guy who asked me if I had any soap in my car that he could use to wash his clothes, and the smile he gave me when I asked his name.

I am grateful for my life.

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Phoenix From The Ashes

Shadow.Ash.Spirit.Flame. - Gabriel García Márquez

Last November I finally told my Dad about my decision to give up alcohol. He’d never really known about my binge drinking or about everything that had happened because of it, mostly because we were not really close for most of my adult life and did not see each other that often. There were a couple of times when in desperate need for peace I asked him to take me to see healers or guides but I never really told him why and he did not ask. So, last November I explained to him that February 2nd, 2016 would be the anniversary of a life-altering decision I made in 2014. I asked him if he would have a thanksgiving hawan (prayer) for me. He said yes, simply and quietly.

Two weeks before Christmas Dad fell sick with pneumonia. It was really bad and on the fourth day the doctor told him there was nothing more he could do. Now, my father is very stubborn and may have decided to fight his illness just to prove the doctor wrong. For whatever reason, he pulled through and even though extremely weakened and still on oxygen and drips twice per week, he was up on Christmas Day, enough to have a few pieces of fruit on the family lunch table. As the days in January rolled by I had decided that I would not burden him with having the hawan for me, so when he called a week ago to ask if I would still like to have it, I was surprised and very moved. I asked him if he was sure he was up to the task and he said that he believed it would be good for him too. It would be a thanksgiving for both of us.

A hawan is a sacred purifying ritual, in which a sacrificial fire is built in a kund, and specific ingredients are burned according to Ayurvedic tradition. These fire ceremonies are performed for all types of occasions: to let go of patterns and obstacles in our lives, for healing, purification of the environment and ourselves, to pray for success with a particular venture, or to express gratitude. Before we began my father welcomed our guests and started to explain why we had gathered together. But the only words he managed to get out were “my daughter” before he was overwhelmed with emotion. I think it moved him that I’d struggled and ‘come home’, perhaps proving him wrong in believing that he failed as a father by never providing a “home” for his daughters to return to. I spoke up and explained that I’d made a choice two years ago which turned my life around and that I felt it best to honour what I’d been given. With my second chance and Dad’s health, our ceremony was a thanksgiving for my life and for his.

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Having not been brought up in the Hindu faith, even though my father is Hindu, I don’t remember much from my childhood in terms of the significance of the ingredients used and of the meaning of the mantras (prayers in Sanskrit) but my stepsister sat right next to me and guided me along.

The mango tree is a symbol of love, prosperity and fertility, and on Sunday it provided the kindling for our fire. Ghee (purified butter) was used to feed the fire and signified light being brought into our lives. Several little blocks of camphor was burned throughout the ritual. Camphor represents the negative qualities in us and when camphor burns, it leaves no trace. Guggul is a resin formed from the sap of the guggul tree, and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over two thousand years. It too, shrinks and removes negative energies. Sweet rice was added to the kund too as rice is symbolic of wealth and success.

Samagri is a mixture of spices and each item of the samagri is significant. Ashoka, considered to be sacred tree, is also a herb that fights disease. Loban (frankincense) creates positive energies, creating a seal locking out the inflow of negative. Harmal seeds crackle on being heated, acting like grenades and explosives in the energy field, and drive away the negative astral energies in the environment. Specific Sanskrit mantras were chanted and sung too and these, together with the offerings to the fire create purifying vibrations that are beneficial to all present.

As the fire burned, the fragrant aromas triggered happy childhood memories of running through bamboo arches with deyas full of light, of delicious food and lots of family.

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Can you see the Phoenix? 🙂

I stared at the flames as they danced in the kund, charring the mango wood black then white. Dad spooned ghee over the ingredients yet to burn and pushed the camphor into unlit corners to ignite. There was forgiveness in those flames and hope in the heat I felt on my face. It is said that the smoke that rises from the kund contains a powerful healing energy, and as it rises to the heavens it purifies the atmosphere, both physically and subtly, encouraging peace.

For the last mantras (the ones I am the most fond of because they resonate with me, reminding me of a forgotten time) we rose to our feet. As the others sang I was very quiet, focused on the kund and what was left of the fire. I felt all my mistakes and my shame, guilt and remorse about them, reduced to black ash. I felt a surge of gratitude for all I have learned, for the courage and strength I was given, for all the new blogging friends I’ve made and the relationships with loved ones I was given the chance to deepen. I looked across at my father and he smiled at me. I am so thankful for this second chance. Late morning breezes began to blow, stirring the coconut and fruit trees in our garden into action. I felt love and reassurances all around me, from family, friends, the sky and sunshine, from myself.  Through tears I watched as the wind swirled, picking up the ash and carrying away everything I no longer needed.

“Happy New Year Phoenix, Year 3 is going to be even better.”

Love and light to you all, Phoenix

You’re Kind of a Great Mess

You're kind of a great mess

“You’ve been hanging around here, trying to make yourself invisible behind this fragile little fuck-up routine of yours, but you can’t. You’re anything but invisible. You’re big. And you’re kind of a great mess, like a candle burning on both ends, but it’s beautiful. No amount or booze or weed or attitude is going to hide that.” ~ Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way we treat ourselves. Even those of us without obvious addictions. Many of my friends, beautiful, wonderfully creative and caring people, hurt themselves in so many ways. A few of us have trouble with recognizable addictions like alcohol and cigarettes, toxic relationships, unhealthy eating habits, too many hours at work, etc. For many of us, our negative habits are more internal: we put ourselves down, decry aspects of our bodies, doubt our worth, sabotage our potential and can be outright nasty when talking to own hearts. We say “I’m not good enough” far too often. We make ourselves so much smaller than we really are.

“The world beats you up on its own without you doing it to yourself.”  (The Way, 2010)

Nowadays, there is so much pressure to BE something else: more successful in business, finding the right partner, looking the right way, buying the right things, that it is no wonder so many of us think we don’t measure up to some preconceived notion of what we believe society expects us to be. By aiming to check things off on an impossible list we have forgotten how to trust our own hearts. Figuring out what are our passions, our strengths, the ways in which we can give back to the community or serve mankind. This kind of thinking is not usually encouraged and these goals are not made priorities. There’s so much pressure to become this or that, that little value is placed on just being true to ourselves.

Right now, all I want for myself and my friends (that includes you), is for us to be good to ourselves. To not make ourselves small by hiding and running away from our issues. To not hide parts of ourselves in shame. To recognize that it’s okay to have struggled and suffered and come out on the other side and to understand that it’s okay to celebrate that too. To be patient and tender and supportive if we’re still finding our way through. To honour that place inside that whispers wishes and hopes and tells us what we really want. Listen for it, underneath all the harsh words and cruel doubts. I know it’s hard to reach that place, to believe in that truth, especially if for years, we’ve been hearing something else. We ALL have good in us and deserve kindness and care, and deserve to stand up for ourselves, even if it’s to stand up to our own selves sometimes.

I get that it’s easier sometimes to be hard on ourselves, about our appearance or our progress toward our goals. But trying is what’s important. Reaching out to ask for help or to help others; doing the work to understand ourselves better; hoping, believing and trusting that we are all improving, fall backs and all, are the things that really matter.

As Spike told Buffy: “I love who you are, what you do, and how you try. You are very brave. I’ve seen your kindness and your strength and your weaknesses. I’ve seen the best and the worst of you. Everything that you are, makes you beautiful.” Okay granted, Buffy was fighting vampires and other supernatural demons but we’re fighting our own demons too aren’t we? And we make messes and cry and scream against the madness and we try. Because we try and we fight, we are all the more beautiful in my eyes.

Love and light,

Phoenix

The Ghost Of A Boy

The Book Thief Ghost of a Boy

“There once was a ghost of a boy who liked to live in the shadows, so he wouldn’t frighten people. His job was to wait for his sister, who was still alive. She wasn’t afraid of the dark, because she knew that’s where her brother was. At night, when darkness came to her room, she would tell her brother about the day. She would remind him how the sun felt on his skin, and what the air felt like to breathe, or how snow felt on his tongue. And that reminded her that she was still alive.” ~ The Book Thief

The world is breaking my spirit. The terrible stories I hear in the news every day are getting to me more and more. Stories of us, humans, hurting each other in horrifying and simple ways. We are not guiding our children. In the news recently four primary school boys gang raped a 12 year old girl. Primary schoolchildren! A man was arrested for molesting a 4 year old. I can’t imagine the irreparable damage done to these children. And this is just scratching the surface. Dozens of crimes go unreported. Our so called leaders are corrupt. Courtesy and considerstion don’t exist on our roads. People are filled with hate.

International news reads the same way. So many people live day to day and our cultures teach us to care only about ourselves not our neighbours. I can’t fathom the trauma faced by the girls kidnapped by boko harem. Most of them have had children who were starved alongside their teenaged mothers. I don’t get it. I don’t understand. Why are we so horrible to one another? Why do people decide to have children if they can’t make a commitment to raise them with kindness, consideration and love. Why have children if they can’t spend time with them, to teach them, to help them grow into adults who care?

What terrifies me more than anything is the growing awareness that these heinous acts have been prevalent in our societies throughout history, and we only now have ready-access knowledge of them through the internet and social media. Why do humans have such as much capacity for hate as we do for love? Why do some choose hate instead of love?

I am trying to find the light, to see the sunshine without feeling so desperate. To remind myself that there are things to be grateful for and joyful about. But more and more, I find that I am increasingly sensitive to how much we are hurting each other, our planet and ourselves. We have little regard for building sustainable futures or taking care of the Earth. We disrespect nature as much as we disrespect each other.

I want a way out, an escape, to block it all out all the negative. But if I do that, wouldn’t I just be doing what everyone else does? The fictional rape and burning of GoT’s Sansa and Shereen seems to have made more of an impact than the real life victims we hear about all over the world or even at home, in our own countries. I don’t understand. It’s all so heartbreaking.

In my own little way I try. I volunteer for food and clothing drives. I minimize waste and recycle as much as I can. I become involved in purposeful projects which encourage, support and celebrate young people. I know I have a lot to be thankful for, and I am. There is so much I love about life. But, for the last few weeks the ugliness in this world is made larger and more horrible against the fading backdrop of hope.

I disconnect a little more each day from social media’s reach. The news stories are all too much and I find myself drawn to certain places seeking solitude, peace and gratitude. I do find it, or rather, I used to find it, before. I would go for walks on the beach or in gardens to connect, to feel grounded amidst the chaos all around me. To feel the wind on my face, smell the salt in the sea air, and crunch grass beneath my bare feet. I would place my palms upon tree trunks. I would breathe deeply when I felt the real connection I sought and even sobbed at the fullness and the emptiness of the moment. I would return to “daily life” refreshed and revived.

But not anymore. I can’t find that peace and release. And I no longer know how to.

Reconnect with Loved Ones

Toph and Korra

Toph: Your problem is, you’ve been disconnected for too long. Disconnected from the people who love you and disconnected from yourself.

Whenever I’m going through something difficult I have a tendency to pull away from loved ones. Especially in the past when I was still drinking. Sometimes it was because I felt ashamed or guilty for how I behaved and apologizing was too uncomfortable to deal with. Other times it was because I wanted to punish myself further and reinforce feeling alone. In other words I wanted to keep feeling sorry for myself. Sometimes I simply wanted space to figure things out, which is fair. But staying away for too long never did me any good.

I used to think that pulling away from loved ones would allow me to ignore my issues, but it didn’t. Over time and through much heartache, I learned that I can’t run away from the people who love me because in the end I need them as much as they need me. We are connected and share a bond because we were meant to be there for one another. Some journeys we cannot undertake alone and we should not put pressure on ourselves to do so.

I’ve learned that it is important to find a group of people (family members, friends, blogging community) who are willing to share your journey, cheering you on, caring for you, learning with you and helping you to heal. It is as important to also allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to ask for help. I did not do that in the past. I was ashamed and did not reach out when I really needed to. I equated vulnerability with weakness when it is actually the opposite. It takes strength to reach out and admit that we need help.

On that note, I am listening.
Love and light,
Phoenix

~*~

This is Post R, in the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2015. My 26 posts are inspired by the quotes from Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, two Emmy award-winning animated television series created and produced by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The setting for both series is in an Asian-influenced world of martial arts and elemental manipulation. The shows drew on elements from East Asian, South Asian, and Western culture, and (aside from the kick-ass story lines, beautifully developed characters and exceptional storyboards) are where I found a wealth of inspiration and perspective on my own life.

The rest of my A to Z 2015 posts can be found here.

Letter in Time

My three year old nephew wanted to see photos of his mummy as a little girl so, being the unofficial family historian, I went looking. I came across a letter I wrote in 1995 to my future self as part of a cousins project. I somehow managed to convince eight of us to write letters to our future selves that we promised to open a decade later. Hilarity ensued when we opened our time capsules as we had also saved photos of ourselves hoping to embarrass one another a decade later. A few of us, myself included, surrendered the same letters to the time capsule once more, to be opened in ten years.

It’s funny, even twenty years ago I was quite dramatic. Aside from the usual love-struck lines about “the love of my life” back then, there are sentences that make me pause now:

Excerpt: “Ten years from now I will be an archaeologist. I would’ve visited Egypt and stood at the foot of Ra. I have been climbed the Great Pyramids and the explored Grand Canyon. I have been to the Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of the Sun.”

I didn’t go back to school to get that degree. So many things happened around that time: my parents’ terrible divorce and my subsequent emotional disconnect from them; my dad’s decision not to allow me to transfer to a university with the archaeology program because it was too far from home; my anger about that channeled into the pub on campus; the less than intelligent choices I made back then; the incident that summer in Florida.

I think I spent the greater part of two decades running from everything that happened back then. Of course, with alcohol being my running companion many more mistakes were made. I judged and damned myself for everything that happened and that guilt never really went away. I blamed myself for so much, and while it is important to own up to and acknowledge mistakes I’ve made, it has taken me a long time to accept that I also critically judged myself as broken, hopeless and unworthy because of those mistakes. I’m still working on reversing the self-inflicted damage.

Excerpt: “I have stopped trying to hide from myself. I have stopped being an ass to my mom and I make her smile instead of cry. I have forgiven myself and therefor my dad for destroying our relationship. I can hug my parents again. To my future self: I hope you still believe in unicorns and magic, and that faeries do exist as people who see light and goodness. There IS magic in this world. I hope you found your house by the sea and that all your dreams are coming true. I hope you have forgiven yourself for the mistakes in your past.”

Well, I have stopped being an ass to my mom, and Dad and I are in a much better place than before. I’m doing an okay job with forgiving myself for most of my crap. Would you believe me if I told you that I have accomplished most of this in the one year I’ve been sober? Amazing isn’t it? Needless to say I still look for the light and goodness in everyone I meet, and I still, and always will believe in magic.

Hugs, Phoenix

Making The Switch

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Recovery takes time and yes, I found out the hard way that I would have to finally deal with challenges I had faced in my past if I wanted to move forward and claim the life I know I deserve.

For most of my life I have been my own worst critic, judging and condemning myself in ways I would never do to a loved one. I was particularly harsh whenever I drank, which, after two decades, was sometimes at least a four-times-a-week routine.

Many times I wonder if the first step to recovery is actually deciding to love yourself rather than putting down that drink.

Learning to love and be gentle with ourselves is the hardest thing we will have to learn and that’s understandable actually. Because it means reversing years and years of habitually telling ourselves we’re not worth it.

It helped me to figure out the root cause of my feelings of unworthiness. They came from a long time ago and as the years went by I repeated those negative thoughts to myself whenever a situation occurred which stirred emotions similar to those I felt I during a difficult experience in the past.

Fortunately for me, (and I’m only scraping the surface of the coincidence), in 2011 I saw a psychotherapist for about 11 months. I opted to go to these sessions because I had allowed myself to become involved in a co-dependent and dysfunctional relationship. When I ended the relationship I was playing the blame and judgment game and had to know why I did not value myself enough to stay away from a man who was so wrong for me on so many levels.

I had to go to therapy to figure out how to deal with all the questions and to undo the damage that was done. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Of course, the therapy sessions did not magically improve my life, but now, two years later as a person who is 9 months sober, the tools I learned in therapy are coming in quite handy.

The clarity brought on by sobriety feels unreal sometimes and often a bit overwhelming. I’ve always been an over-thinker and I have to say if it wasn’t for this blog I would be driving my friends crazy with all my philosophy and psychology talk. But the tools I learned in therapy have made quitting so worth it. I’m learning to see myself a different way. I am changing how I react to situations because I can recognize the triggers and understand the emotions they incite.

Those of you in my Sober Blogging Network I want you to know that it IS possible to change the way you see yourself. It is possible to understand your emotional triggers and to deal with the experiences that created them.

YOU are the most important person to you. YOU matter. and you deserve to be taken care of and loved. But it has to start with you. If you are struggling, reach out and don’t be too hard on yourself. You are making progress just by looking for guidance on our Network. Little by little you are healing. And most importantly, you are not alone.

Phoenix