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It’s funny how life reminds you, in no uncertain terms, how very human you are.
There are so many days I can happily work in solitude, “introverting” to my heart’s content, creating ideas, composing, writing, reading.
And then there are other days where I am crawling out of my skin with anxious, dissatisfied angst, and multi-tasking seems like the simple option, because that’s how many tabs are open in my mind. And I desperately need human connection.
I actually don’t remember a day where I’ve absolutely slept the day away, EVER. Except today. Today felt like the longest day ever. I went in for my annual check-up today and fainted after my blood test and felt so absolutely stupid and alone. What it made me think about in no uncertain terms was the love and support around me that I don’t lean on enough. I have so much support and love around me and do I use it? NO. Nowhere NEAR what I realise I could be, after a day like today.
I can’t be EVERYTHING. Even after a day like today, where I am decimated by my own body, I come home in the afternoon and start making lists of all the things I need to do, the groceries I need to buy, the emergency meals I need to make, and the planning I need to do.
And yet, when I got over the fact that I certainly wouldn’t be doing any of that, one of the most soul-nourishing things I did today was sleep, on and off, for the remaining 6 hours of the day. My body renewed its strength, and I felt better and stronger.
I do not think I am Super Girl, and nor am I vain enough to think I can do it all on my own. But really, honestly, except for moments like today, I don’t really believe it or practice the humility of that understanding.
But I am vulnerable, and it’s moments like today which are needed to absolutely drive the point home. I am made simple, small and humbled by my body and the end point of my capacity. Apparently, I do need help, and when I least expect it. I need to remember to be tender and reach out, DESPITE all the imperfect answers and responses of the world and the people around me, including the ones I love so dearly who disappoint me, as I must them. To connect, despite the let downs and imperfections.
I need to get COMFORTABLE with DISCOMFORT.
Today also reminded me of how strong the human mind is. It reminded me to ask, “so what CAN I do?”
Rather than what’s NOT possible, what can I do right now, with the energy that I have? What can I create or produce? Where is my limit? What can I write in half and hour? How can I connect?
This is not the “create-the-list-of-an-impossible-day” martyrdom, this is “realistic courage”.
And I am reminded, as a person, teacher, musician, and creative, that life NEVER EVER gives you vast stretches of time in which to complete or create ANYTHING. Become a parent? You’re parenting in the gaps and pining for the longer stretches and glad when you get them. Composing? Sure, you might get the coveted Sunday afternoon, but sure as hell Inspiration will be playing hooky and giving you the shits. You have to catch the tiny pockets of time with a little bit of determination. You have to fight a little harder and decide you’d like to focus and grab that little gift of time and ask:
What can I do in this moment?
I was thinking about the concept of self-worth today, not in terms of how effectively we set boundaries, but what we actually do to follow through with them. I see myself as a comfortable and developing boundary-setter; I need time to consider a situation, consider what I need versus the greater good, and then decide what I am comfortable with and what my boundaries are. I also line up my decision-making with my values, which, I have found to my equal joy and frustration, are continually evolving. Values are elusive things that are continually shifting ever-so-slightly, constantly becoming more defined as you gain life experience. For example, one of my values is to be kind. This then grew into, “Be kind where possible, and if that is not possible, be accurate and honest.” The addendum to that was, “And if all of that is impossible, then don’t say anything at all.”
I like my values. They have formed me into a compassionate, imaginative, articulate, courageous, and determined woman with a blood-linked desire to grow.
My errant thought today was to do with kindness. I have always made it cost “more” to me when an apology is being made. That is, when I can see there has been genuine suffering and remorse, and someone I value is making an apology, I accept it quickly and readily, almost to take the pain and suffering away. Why? Because, I figure, if they’re sorry enough to make an apology, they must really be sorry about the action that caused it. I also see it as a good mark against my own character, “Oh, there’s Annie, so easy-going, and ready to let things go!”
But the thing is, generally I’m not that girl. I’m not that easy-going girl. Forgiving, playful, and joyful, yes, but forgetful and easy-going? No. I like checking things out. I like understanding the inner workings + motivations of people. It’s what makes me the teacher I am today. It’s my super-power.
But then there’s the shadow-side; it’s also my kryptonite. I think that I can predict good behaviour, and I have an unfailing ability to see the best in people. Sometimes, I have to protect my ready compassion + optimism my fencing people out until I can observe them a little longer. And why should I apologise for my own values? If I forgive, and I DO forgive well, I want it to be because some new understanding has been reached, some border crossed to a new level of connection…or moving on.
And the “AH-HA!” moment I had today?
If I continue to let people easily off the hook just because I feel sorry for them without proper conversation + examination of the issue, then who gets cheapened? Whose boundaries get worn down?
I am taking away value from myself by allowing people off the hook the moment they start anything that seems like a compassionate apology. Small everyday moments, no worries. But disagreements or hurts that go against my values? I shouldn’t let those go so easily.
And what will that mean?
I need to be more courageous.
I need to step into the place of discomfort and examine the situation and have the conversation with the person apologising. I need to redefine and realign the relationship and the value.
And I need to treat myself with the grace and value that I deserve. I need to hold people accountable. Which means engaging in conversation with them about the issue.
The apology need not be a blood-bath. It can be real, informative, and calm. It can be the most connective conversation, transforming two people.
But I need to hold myself with higher integrity in how I accept apologies and how they look alongside my value of compassion + kindness.
I did it. Ladies and gentlemen, I did what I set out to make a habit of in 2018, today. In the flesh. In real-time.
I. DID. IT.
I was trying to explain to a colleague how disappointed I was with the resources I had been given. I was not complaining or whinging, there was an end in sight, I wasn’t burdening or ranting, and I just needed 30-seconds to be disappointed before moving on and finding a solution. I asked for her time, she said, “Yep, no worries!”
At the end of my debrief, she said, “Well, it’s all about how you look at it! You’ve just got to be more positive about it!”
She wasn’t being unfair at all. But have you seen the trail of dust I leave behind? It’s flavoured with that much eff-ing positivity, you could grow unicorns and fairies out of it.
I was asking for empathy, not a rah-rah cheer-squad pom-pom dance.
And what disappointed me even more was that she was someone who has asked me for the same sort of compassion and empathy, which I have gladly given, or tried to do my best to give. Her words felt like a sympathetic slap in the face. A backwards glance, when I was actually trying to calmly articulate disappointment.
Here’s where it gets magical.
Rather than brightly thanking her for her time, walking away, and stewing for a while afterward, I stood my ground.
I very calmly re-articulated why I was concerned, why this wasn’t just a flippant “just be positive” situation, that I am both persistent and innovative for finding solutions and that what I needed was care and concern, because I am hard enough on myself as it is. I retold my concerns with courage; I told my situation exactly as it stood, while standing my ground.
Her face changed from flippant to listening, she went quiet and took it onboard. And while I know she might have been mildly annoyed that I asked for more time, I am so pleased and proud of how I handled it. I am so glad that I didn’t run away from this small opportunity to create greater understanding.
At the end of the day, it was a small, non life-threatening disappointment that I am now happily trying to brainstorm solutions to. I am in a different mind-frame now.
But I am so proud of myself that I tried again to make myself heard, without apology or sacrifice, within wanting to hurt anyone, just for the need to build a better understanding.
I have been operating from a place of “can’t” for a year. My goodness, what a realisation!
2017 was a wonderful year. It’s was warm-hearted and successful, I got plenty of rest, all my Year 12s did as well as they should, all my ensembles made significant musical and social growth, and I was happy.
But I look back with a sort of wonder at how many times I unwittingly said “can’t”, even though I didn’t know it.
When I said that “no” to a project or an idea, did I really mean that I couldn’t do it, or was I saying, “I CAN’T do it…I don’t think I have the energy or talent to do it.”
“No, I cannot do it,” is absolutely fine and a complete sentence. And I like the sound and quiet resonance to it. But if I am living from a place of “CAN’T”, an unknown wall built around my heart to protect me from adversity, struggle, and hurt, then I had better re-examine things.
So this year, when I am presented with a new opportunity, a potentially challenging situation, a conversation I do not like, or a decision I have to make that will cost me time and energy, I want to stand in that moment and have a good hard look. Am I really responding to the situation, or am I operating from a place of “CAN’T”?
“I don’t have time to catch up for coffee.” I am being a scarcity-monger with my time and energy. How much time do I really need – or WANT – to spend prepping my schoolwork? I do not need that much to get things done.
“I don’t want to have a conversation.” That conversation is not worth my time, therefore, my energy + consideration. What would I miss out on if I waited for only the right conversations to be had? And on a greater level, I cannot distill the moments I want from life, I can only live life and choose how I will respond.
“I want to watch the perfect movie on Sunday afternoon.” I don’t have time for rubbish. I don’t want to leave my comfort zone. I can’t deal with anything that won’t intellectually stimulate me or make me laugh in exactly the right way. I’m not wasting a moment of my energy and time. Sure, but again, I can’t distill the grief from the joy. I can make considered choices, but if I have a vice-like clamp on everything, what sort of living will I do?
“I’m too tired.” Actually, if I’m too tired, I need to get my 8 hours sleep. My tired is that I CAN’T deal with problem-solving, or I think I don’t have the capacity to navigate problem-solving, and moving around the puzzle pieces. Yes, it takes time and energy, but I have tremendous ability to engage and solve anything I want. I can’t cocoon myself comfortably away from everything, I need to be right there.
“I can’t compose/read/write during the school term.” Okay, this one has legs. The emotional exhaustion of teaching is great. But what about all those times I’ve happily numbed out the rest of the world by mindlessly scrolling through Facebook? I have achieved nothing in half and hour, when it would have taken some persistence and determination to go to my piano and find a tune, or go to my laptop and write. Nothing, except my energy levels, has been affected. Am I saying “CAN’T” to creativity, the most basic of ways for me to debrief a day and get my thoughts on the page, score, or through music?
So I’m staying open. I’m not going to like it, but I’m breaking the “CAN’T” in favour of “CAN + BOUNDARIES”, which is far more tiring and time-consuming, but also more authentic.
My wish for all of you.
I have been grappling with forgiveness.
There are so many little understandings + realisations connected to forgiveness that I had no idea about, and the more I read about it and tried to apply it in real-life, the more I found myself uncomfortably challenged, but joyfully liberated.
Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting the act or the situation, but it does mean applying the maximum amount of compassion possible to a situation. It means seeing the person, people, or situation requiring forgiveness in the most human light possible; seeing all the short-comings and vulnerabilities, all the imperfections and jagged edges, and softening into the pain and grief, the accusation.
The moment you dehumanise a situation, you walk the other way from forgiveness. Forgiveness is hard work. It’s uncomfortable and gritty, and requires tenacious persistence, and equal amounts of peace and solitude. It’s heart and intellect rolled in one, and it requires practise. I’m learning, all the different colours and nuances of forgiveness. It is nowhere near as black and white as I thought, and each time I forgive, I find a new light and shade in my understanding, and another skill in emotional problem-solving in my repertoire.
Forgiveness works really well when you try and do it in steps, or increments. You need to take time out from the intensity of feeling something, and yes, true forgiveness requires walking through it all. All damn lot of it. Every joyful moment, every searing moment of rage, every farewell, every stomach-churning moment of grief. All of the emotions. So it stands to reason that you need to take a break and, you know, maybe have a cup of tea + a Tim Tam, before diving headlong into it all again!
Forgiveness can look different over time, and might need to be done over and over, but each time you do, it definitely becomes easier. Especially if you’ve made sense of it the previous time you “forgave” and you are building upon a strong compass of forgiveness. So forgiveness needs to be done with an excellent understanding of what your own values are, who you are, and what is okay for you. And each time you make progress, or take another step, something becomes freer and easier. You might suddenly miss a person more, or want to hug them a little tighter. There is the old warmth and joy in conversation, rather than just careful politeness. You are more yourself, and there is connection. Because there is trust.
Finally, forgiveness is freedom. It is like finding more lung-space to breathe deeper, because everything is lighter, the air is clearer, and you have wings that move more. There is still ache and stretch in each step, but there is unmistakable freedom. And that freedom spells itself out in each playful word and new conversation built upon trust. Even in the most dire and difficult moments of forgiveness, there is a deep resonant correctness and rightness about the gravity of the situation. Even if another word is not uttered, there is a sense of some sort of equilibrium. Maybe not the restoration of ANYTHING; perhaps things are far too broken for that. But there are new personal understandings, hard won, and a sense of courage, strength and freedom that comes from walking away from a situation, having forgiven.
Forgiving this week for me was unexpected and simple. For months, I had lost connection with a dear friend. We were in touch, but really not. The old trust, the quirky playfulness, the immediate confidence – all replaced by polite conversation. I was holding back. There was a roadblock that I didn’t know how to shift. I was angry and hurt by distance. What did it take to shift things? Courage to articulate it and time. Time needed to pass, I needed to walk through every force of anger and disappointment, and the trust needed to tentatively grow. There needed to be discomfort and struggle. There needed to be “try” from both ends.
But this week, after 6 months of missing one of my dearest friends…I finally, finally want to hug her breathless and share a ridiculous joke with her. I finally also put into words, compassionately and lovingly, how much I missed her, loved her, and was hurt. It took all my courage to name the hurt and to risk the anger and tears. But somehow, we find ourselves on the other side of it all, freer + lighter.
I’ve taken a step toward freedom.
I am listening to podcast interviews or reading transcripts from extraordinary individuals including Amy Purdy, Elizabeth Gilbert, Brené Brown, Janine Shepherd, Captain Chesley Sullenberger and Martin Luther King. And I am wondering why on earth I am so safe and so happy to be so? I know there’s nothing wrong with this, and that there is so much joy, momentum, and agency in my life. But my default position when I am under attack, or stressed, is to curl up. To go into myself. To protect myself. My goodness, I can have courage, but my FIRST instinct is scarcity. And I hate to admit it because I pride myself on being so courageous, optimistic, and joyful. That I have a steady moral compass. Well, maybe that moral compass needs a shake every now and then.
The thing is, I love my life and all that I have. And I think that the gratitude for the “ordinary simplicity” is what makes my life so joyful; that the small moments don’t go unnoticed. I do not like when it gets so busy and time gets so manic that I can’t treasure things just a little. But when I listen to these stories of courage and inspiration, I realise that I have a voice and a heart and a mind. And I haven’t even begun scratching the surface of what’s possible. Because there haven’t been many times in my life where I’ve needed to be “just above the line survival brave.” I wonder how other people do it; survive war, divorce, death of very precious loved ones, loss, miscarriages, still-births; the sadness and grief that comes with life. In my life, I have been very lucky. I have had struggle, and I don’t want to invite despair, but actually, I’ve had nothing pin me down to the point of revealing absolutely my raw courage. I haven’t needed to…yet.
The amazing things about these individuals is that they never invited any of their struggle, but they don’t make excuses for it. They don’t ask, “What if…?!” or bemoan their lot in life. Can you imagine how far Amy Purdy would have gotten if she had done that? And while I am sure she has horrific days of struggle, she lives. With ballsy, vibrant determination. A brand that I sometimes know and see in my own teaching, and other days seem so far removed from my world. To me, she is courageous and beautiful. To her, she is simply living. Problem-solving to the highest degree, and living. How did Martin Luther King reach that level of peace, clarity, and forgiveness? How did Brené Brown become so alight in work which took her onto centre stage, over and over? To tell the story of her work in a way that they world could use the information? How did Liz Gilbert find such wonderful fluidity to her words, and grace in her life, and somehow the courage to constantly turn the pages of forgiveness and self-love? Janine’s humour and strength brings to me to tears; would I be that lucid and funny if I had that life challenge? I am brought to a stand-still at the end of a long teaching day, or moments I feel like I’ve not been valued and heard, when I find myself in a place where I don’t want to be. And to have my world turned upside down by an event that I didn’t even ask responsibility for, and needed to give my life to undertaking to the highest degree of my skill-level; quietly articulate Captain “Sully” Sullenberger and his family didn’t ask for January 15th 2009. He asked for “an ordinary routine flight”!
Am I going to let my comfortable safety stop me from fully using my voice, a voice that is on loan to me for the time I am here on this earth? And am I going to let small slights stop me from getting into the muddy depths of life, and wading through to forgiveness? Will I cocoon myself up, or will I have the courage to reconnect? I don’t want “safety” to be the reason that I don’t full experience every bit of love, life, and hope possible.
A warm-hearted, thought-provoking, momentum-inducing conversation. Loved it. Love these ladies. Amazing!
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” [Elizabeth Kubler-Ross]
When you forgive, it is for yourself, to release you. Every moment has compassion embedded. I think some of my journeys toward forgiveness have come from walking away from the hurt and the best work, the best living, and the best loving that I am able, with all that I have at that exact moment in time. And then I look back at that snapshot in time and realise the sting has gone out of it, or that things look so very different, and there is understanding borne of time and living life. That I am different, and more emotionally travelled.
The more I live life, the more I realise how unpractised I am at forgiving. I am very curious about it now, because I don’t want it to be an accidental thing; I’d like to have the courage, humanity, and curiosity to consciously walk that path of forgiveness, no matter what the outcome is, for myself and for those I love. For the greater shared humanity. I realise this lack of experience comes from fear, that I am so quick to protect myself from hurt because I am afraid. But I am also too interested and invested in living a good life to NOT want to know how to travel the path of forgiveness more ably. I WONDER about the other side, the crossing over into forgiveness, and realise more and more that it is neither easy, pain-free, or forgetful. It is personal freedom, measured thought, and pure grace.
The older I get, the more deeply human I realise I am, how vulnerable, imperfect, and fallible! How perfectly wondrous, and beautiful I am, too! So when I am confronted with humanity of any kind, I am confronted with the searing and uncomfortable shared humanness of myself and others. How will I react? Differently, I hope, from how I used to.
I do not have to forgive immediately; I certainly cannot forgive if I am in pain. But that I FEEL that pain, and want so very much to walk through it, figure it out, sit with it though it causes me discomfort, knowing that is surely the first step toward loving forgiveness. The other epiphany is that forgiveness is not always gentle; forgiveness can mean boundaries that are protective and unmoving in order to be truly compassionate, and they can mean that the harsh blunt blow of reality is there everyday. It can mean forgiving over and over, even when you think you are done. But that these places of understanding have been arrived at through careful examination? They are the alcoves of grace created by forgiveness.
I am allowed to be tender with myself, to cocoon myself up gently and hold my heart like a candle against a storm, with fierce command and care. But eventually, I must walk the path of forgiveness, have the conversations, and I must unfurl. So, let me keep questioning and examining all of my thoughts, and actions, and be aware of the the times my heart is in discomfort, there is learning to be done. The more that I realise I am so very imperfect, the more free I am to live, and live fully. To live more engrossingly, arms-akimbo, and completely! Whole-heartedly! Let me do the best I am able with the resources I have at that exact moment in time; and if it is not enough, let me try again. For when I own my imperfect humanity, the freedom to my soul is extraordinary. And my will to live is impossible to contain.
Am an avid follower of Brené Brown’s work + love how she shares her discoveries with the world. They challenge me to think, be bold, be courageous, be more…and some just stop me in their tracks for the hundreds of years of wisdom contained in a sentence. Here’s one of them.