Finding my authentic voice in a media frenzy

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It has been a crazy week. An exhausting, beautiful, crazy week. My wonderful colleagues and I launched the findings of a four year study we have been conducting through the United Nations programme Partners for Prevention (that’s where I work) about men’s use of violence against women in Asia and the Pacific. The aim of the research was to understand what causes violence in order to prevent it.

ImageThe global media response was beyond our wildest expectations. It was one of the top stories of the news cycle and covered by every major news outlet in every continent (except Antarctica; I guess those emperor penguins weren’t that interested). At one point there was more than 300,000 people reading about the study on BBC online at the same time. And it was being broadcast on CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera, watched by millions worldwide. We were inundated with a deluge of interview requests from Poland to Brazil, South Africa to Cambodia and everywhere in between. Friends sent me front-page news articles in Swedish and Spanish. But this blog is not about the research or the response (see my Huff Post blog about the study if you’re interested), it is about what I personally learned during media interviews in the days surrounding the event.

Personally I enjoy public speaking, especially when it’s a topic I feel passionate about and know well. This may seem incongruous with my introverted nature, but I guess we are all a little bit contradictory. So I wasn’t really nervous but we had a key message to deliver and generally one doesn’t want to sound like an idiot. The material was sensitive and I wasn’t speaking only for myself, I was speaking on behalf of a major international organization with its own priorities and expectations.

Generally live interviews were the most heart pounding and butterfly inducing. You stand looking into a dark camera lens, hot lights melting your make-up, the previous segment crackling through an earpiece that isn’t quite as snugly in place as you’d like. And then you’re on! It feels like you are talking to yourself. Well, you are really, expect there are millions of people somewhere out there in the darkness watching you.

I felt reasonably well prepared. So I just tried to focus on my breath, not anticipate questions and stay in the moment. But the one thing that kept IMG_9348running through my mind was my bosses voice reminding me to ‘mention the UN’, so they received acknowledgement and visibility. I repeated the mantra to myself, however during the interviews the right moment often failed to present itself and the words seemed forced.  Before I knew it the interviewer was saying ‘thanks for joining us’ and the ‘UN’ was still on the tip of my tongue not on the airwaves.

On day two I had my last live interview and it was on Australian ABC news. The likelihood of a UN bigwig from Bangkok or New York watching the evening news in Australia seemed remote. And I was too tired to force it. This time, I thought, I won’t worry about the UN quote. I will answer the questions in the most honest and meaningful way I can. I am not attached to the outcome, I said to myself. I am just going to speak from my heart. And I did.

It was the best interview I think I did all week. And most fascinating of all, I mentioned the UN multiple times. The words just flowed like a turquoise stream. I was a leaf floating on the surface, or maybe I was the water itself. I was perfectly present. I didn’t think about the words and then speak them, they just were. And when it finished I felt calm and content.

It was a hugely powerful lesson for me. Your authentic voice is always best. You cannot beat it. Not even with perfectly worded and memorized key messages and sound bites. They will never compare for you as a speaker or for the listener. So my humble lessons from this profound week are:

  • Always speak from your most authentic place, whether it’s live on TV, chatting with your friends or talking to your children.
  • Prepare well, but then let go. The rest will work itself out.
  • Don’t be attached to the outcome and the best possible outcome is inevitable.
  • Breathe and be here, now.

xo

That uncomfortable feeling

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I haven’t posted anything on this blog for a long time. Why? Well I could plead my case that I’ve been really busy with work, travelling, looking after a baby, blah blah blah. And while that is true, it’s not the real reason why I haven’t written anything. Truthfully it is more to do with my own ego and fear. A perceived need to only post something fully-formed and ‘perfect’. I’ve had ideas that I would like to write about but turning them into something considered and meaningful seems too overwhelming so I don’t even start. I guess this oppressive need to be perfect is what leads to writer’s block. Anyway, in an attempt to break my own silence I’m going to post some mere thoughts I had last night; totally unformed and with no conclusions.

Quiet-Final-JacketI had a funny feeling yesterday evening when reading some book reviews. I saw a non-fiction work called ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ by Susan Cain. Being a book-loving introvert myself my first thought was ‘Cool! I have to read this.’ However, a millisecond later my interest was mingled with a feeling not unlike fear, almost some form of envy – a tangle of slimy green emotions. Subtle and momentary, I turned my discomfort away, and moved onto the next book review. But I think my secondary response actually reflected a sense of disquiet in my soul – a feeling that I should be doing something like this myself – listening to my inner introvert, being creative, writing my own book.

I have felt this before, moments where I seemed drawn to something at the same time as being repelled from it. Previously I hadn’t given it much thought, but now I see that this feeling can be a powerful teacher if we listen to it. It reflects back to us our greatest desires that we have not been brave enough, for whatever reason, to pursue. We can either chose to hear these whispers and move in the direction our instincts are pointing us, or continue to resist and feel this strange discomfort. For me, it is time for bravery!

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has any idea what I’m talking about or who has experienced this feeling I’m describing. Did you listen to it, what did you do?

xo

What is this thing we call ‘purpose’ and where is mine hiding?

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The recent article by Anne-Marie Slaughter ‘Why women still can’t have it all’ has ignited a conversation worldwide, including within my circle of friends, about balancing careers and families. It articulates many of the frustrations and guilt I have felt in the past year. But it left me wondering, what is the ‘all’ we are trying to have? What ‘all’ do I really want? What ‘all’ do you want?

I have just come back from a life-altering holiday in France and Italy where I spent much needed qualityImage time with Monkey and Mr Bread and breathed in the serenity of Tuscany’s expansive patchwork landscape. Perhaps most significantly, this holiday gave me time. Time to think, to reflect, to be creative and to be still. I realised that the ‘all’ I am seeking is more holistic than just work or even family – it also includes physical and mental space, nature, health, spirituality, and passion.

One late afternoon I was reclining in a red canvas deck chair on an organic farm harbouring those precious gems, white truffles. The haze of the summer sun had passed and Mr Bread was making the most of the purple light – a photographer’s dream. A gentle breeze blew away most of the flies. Monkey ran around naked as the day he was born looking for the local cat behind an old wooden barrel. Rosemary permeated the air inviting one to cook. This seemed pretty perfect. ‘Is this my purpose?’ I thought. ‘Well, right now it is’, I concluded. To be here, and now, in this moment. And every moment. That is our primary purpose and for me remains an ongoing practice. But I also have an underlying desire for something greater than relaxation, a form of action that comes from deep within and connects me humanity.

I think everyone has a desire to do something significant; to find joy and meaning in their life. Often we attribute such fulfilment to a future point of more – more stuff, more money, more friends, more validation. I know deep down that searching for fulfilment in the future is meaningless because I am already ‘full’, just as I am. I know intellectually that we are human beings, not human doings. But I have always had a pretty strong drive to do something; to act, to achieve. How do I balance this need to be with a desire to do?

The first important step, which virtually all spiritual traditions point to, is to bring acceptance to the current situation and whatever you are doing, even if you do not like it. People often think this equates to apathy – blind acceptance of what is and an inability to create change. It is not. Rather acceptance is alignment with life and only from this place can you move forward in a way that does not create more suffering for yourself and those around you. From this place of inner peace you can see clearly what needs to change. In Italy while driving on the right hand side of the road, for the first time, I crashed into some road works and my tire blew out. On my own, on a dirt road in the blazing sun trying to lift up a car with a small metal device. Sure, it wasn’t my idea of fun, but could I accept this is where I was, fact, and get on with changing the tyre? Not complaining to myself, ‘this sucks’, ‘why did this happen to me’, ‘life is so unfair’, which would really just make me more miserable and contribute nothing to the job at hand. At first I must admit there were a few harsh words exchanged with the car jack, but I did then consciously observe my reactions and try to bring acceptance to the situation. Happily I managed to change the tyre and made it back to the farm in one dusty piece, with a much greater appreciation of Mr Bread’s driving skills. But acceptance is vital not just for everyday occurrences but for life in general. Your job, your home, your family, yourself.

ImageFrom this place of acceptance, what then emerges? I genuinely feel that could do anything I wanted to. Well, almost. I probably couldn’t be a professional basketball player (I’m 5ft1 on a good day). Shirley Manson says she learned from Patti Smith that she could draw her own door and walk right through it, and I genuinely believe this to be true for myself. The problem is I don’t know where that door leads at the moment. But a friend insightfully suggested that “perhaps the whole point is NOT knowing what lies beyond, but taking satisfaction in the fact that it’s your own door, your decision to draw it and, ultimately your decision whether or not just to stroll on through with your head held high!” Indeed, embracing the uncertain is beautiful. At the same time, I am trying to let my innermost voice me guide on the next phase of life’s journey. This is not just about a career (although that has tended to be my emphasis in the past). It is bigger than that – a whole life. Dr Wayne Dyer says, “There is a voice in the Universe urging us to remember our purpose for being on this great earth. This is the voice of inspiration, which is within each and every one of us.”

The key it seems, according to most wisdom, is to do what you love. This seems deeply important because the science of happiness indicates that joy is found in the process of doing not in the outcome.  Ok. So what do I love? What brings me joy? My family and friends of course, interior design, great food, meditation, red wine, horse riding, writing, cooking, research, singing, yoga, sitting in the sun. So how do I determine what is supposed to be a hobby, what should be a career, and what constitutes an early mid-life crisis?

ImageWhile I love riding horses, would I be satisfied and fulfilled, doing that all day, every day? Apart from having a very sore bum, would it give me lasting satisfaction? Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks of deep happiness stemming from what he calls ‘flow’, Ken Robinson calls it finding your Element, similar to the somewhat clichéd notion of following your bliss. ‘Flow’ is described as a state of transcendence when you are fully immersed in an activity; you feel spontaneous joy while performing the task but there is an effortless in your action. The interesting thing about ‘flow’ according to Csikszentmihalyi’s forty years of research is that it happens when you are doing what you really like, but only when both the challenge and the skills-required are high.  People in ‘flow’ have to be doing something that they are highly competent at, often having trained for years. So drinking red wine? Well I have practiced that for years but I wouldn’t say it is a great skill. Maybe if I was a world class sommelier, then there would be moments of flow in that activity.

I have been observing myself – trying to notice moments when I feel ‘in the zone’ so to speak. Confirming Mihayl’s theory it has been when I was doing something in which I was accomplished, but the task at that moment, was still challenging. Analyzing a complex piece of data, speaking in front of a large audience, a demanding yoga class, articulating an idea in a beautiful sentence. So while I know I definitely want my life to be filled with love, laughter, family and friends, good food, wine, Tuscan country side and probably horses, it is the other piece – the challenging, inspiring, creative ‘element’, my ‘element’ that I need to re-capture.

We all have unique gifts and joy comes when natural talent meets personal passion. It is worth asking yourself, when have you felt truly authentic and alive – where your skills exactly suited the situation? If I am totally honest, while I have a very interesting career, recently I have not felt my most alive, sitting in front of a computer day after day in an over-airconditioned office. I think I need greater challenges to move more of my everyday life into the flow channel. I do not have the answer yet as to what my purpose is. I need to sit still longer and I know some direction will emerge. In a recent interview Oprah asked Deepak Chopra who his greatest teacher was and he said ‘silence’. The answer is within and the only way for me to discover what my ‘all’ looks like is to be still and silent. (Shhhh)

Learning happiness from a 1 year old

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Monkey turned one recently, and I have been reflecting on this first year and what I have learnt about love and happiness. This is a letter to my Monkey.

Dearest Monkey Bum,

It is hard to imagine that it has already been a year since you came into this world, a beautiful, slimy creature. Peeing on arrival (its true). But at the same time it seems like you have been here forever; that I have known you always. When you were born, your father and I were overwhelmed with joy. Like a wave washing over us. You seemed other-worldly, unaffected by this life. People said you didn’t really look like either of us, which is true. You are your own person. You are not ours. We love you but do not own you. As the poet Khalil Gibran says, “Your children are not your children. They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.” You have taught me so much about love, joy and happiness in your short life. This is a letter to say thank you, and share what I have learnt so far:

1. Everything is soooo cool! You are truly excited by life. Even when you were only a few weeks old you loved laying next to the window, watching the light, the shapes of the trees, the moving leaves. As you grew you discovered your own hands and would spend hours staring at them, ‘awesome’ you thought to yourself. Then you discovered your beautiful miniature feet and that you could put them in your mouth. Even more awesome! And finally you discovered your willy, but that’s another story. Now that you are walking, everything you pass must be examined (with your tongue), considered and climbed on. You delight in the simplicity of a box, my handbag, a broom, the keys. You teach me every day that life is a wonder, that everything is precious and most things are sort-of edible.

2. Live life without fear (of failure). At the moment you have absolutely no fear, which itself tends to strike fear into the heart of your mother. You climb to the top of the slide, stand up and step off the edge. Luckily someone is there to catch you. For now. In time you will learn that a fear of falling on your head is probably quite healthy, but I hope you remain unafraid of failure. There is no such thing as failure in your long-eye-lashed brown eyes: it is all forward, stumbling motion towards a new skill, a magnificent breakthrough. Can I pick up the cat? Not today, but I’ll try again tomorrow. You have taught me to embrace fear and failure – our greatest friends in the discovery of life.

3. There is no future point of happiness, everything is now. You seek joy in the moment. You know inherently that now is all there is and being around you brings me into this space naturally. You do not worry about the future or lament the past. You do not think that you will be happy when you have one more set of blocks, or have resentment in your heart from that time you fell off the bed (bad parents!). You did not ‘wish’ you could walk when you could only crawl. You embraced your straight legged, downward-dog-style crawl, ignored the laughter, and persistently taught yourself to stand upright. You fall down on your nappy-padded bottom and get back up, again and again and again. You do not question your worthiness, you know you are loved, and deserving of love by simply existing. My greatest wish for you is that you keep your ability to live with presence, to be imbued by life itself, which only exists in the now.

4. Words are overrated. You are just learning to talk and can say a few words. ‘Duck’, ‘more’, ‘up’ and of course ‘mama’ and ‘dada’. But part of the reason you are so happy and so naturally present is because your mind is not yet cluttered with repetitive thoughts and words. In your first few months you were at the pre-thinking stage. While as adults we do not want to go back to pre-thinking, we could gain a lot by rising above thought and you show me in part what this looks like. Seeing you observe life without language has been enlightening. You see a flower and smile at it, without the need to describe it or label it in words. You just see it, as it is, and that is (to use an inadequate word) beautiful. You will learn languages, but remember that words can never capture the true essence of things.

5. Laugh often, freely and with pure abandon. You have an absolutely infectious laugh and there is not a single moment, no matter what my day brings, that your squeals of delight do not make me forget everything else and squeal with you. People do not often tell you how much fun being a parent is. While it is true that I have had less sleep than ever before, I have also never laughed more. Apparently babies laugh 300 times a day and as we get older we somehow lose our joy and most adults only laugh 20 times a day. Do everything you can to keep it at 300.

6. We are deeply connected to the universe and other people. Giving birth to you was the most profound and powerful experience I have ever had. As your dad will tell you, for me it was a very internal experience. I closed my eyes, went inside and stayed there for 11 hours. I didn’t talk to anyone except you. You became ‘Monkey’ then because that is what I was calling you in my mind during labour. I talked to you and listened to my body. You may think this is strange, but during that experience I felt deeply connected to all the other women around the world who were giving birth at the same time as I was. We shared each others strength and energy. For me it was a deep realisation that we are not separate, that we are all connected, that we are all the same. This we know from quantum physics, for example Bell’s Theorem says that once connected, objects affect one another forever no matter where they are. Quantum physicist, David Bohm (1980) articulates that at a level we cannot see, there is an unbroken wholeness, or what he calls an ‘implicate order’ out of which seemingly discrete events arise. From my experience during your birth I learned this not just intellectually, I felt it. It has changed my life forever, and I hope that as you grow up, you will live life knowing that you are not separate and you are never alone.

And perhaps the greatest lesson so far is knowing that as precious and special as you are, equally so is every other person on the planet. And as much as I love you so should we love others (even when they take away your dummy). From here peace will come.

There is nothing I can teach you that you do not already know, deep in the silence of your soul. All I can do is try to help you remember these things as you grow as I strive to be more like you.

Love and raspberry kisses on your tummy,

Mummy

Friends are Awesome!

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One of the things I have missed most moving to a new city are my close female friends. I don’t mean virtual ‘friends’ but the real life human kind. Indeed I have met lots of wonderful people who I see at work or at parties and group dinners, but for this introvert, time spent one-on-one or in small groups is much more fulfilling. I have been missing deep, meaningful friendships where you can just be around each other, talk about stupid things as well as life’s big questions. For me making new friends is quite hard – downright scary in fact. And my lack of (adult) human interaction has been further compounded by having a baby. Parenthood brings with it strange contradictions – you stop socialising, but you are never alone and still feel isolated. Like being on the Bangkok Sky Train in peak hour. But as part of my happiness resolution (or revolution, or revelation) I am trying to challenge my tendencies to want to hide in a dark cave, and instead reach out to people and make new friendships.

This post is in part a continuation of my last post. It was on that day of self-care that I had dinner with three amazing women – two of whom I had met many times at those parties and group dinners but was really only just starting to get to know properly. Laughter blossomed as the conversation ranged from dysentery to dreams, meditation to music festivals, from Myanmar to the Maldives. All on the cusp of major changes in our lives, we discussed our passions, purpose and possibilities. I have recently been thinking about these things and while unable excavate a clear path through the jungle that is my mind, I had come up with three words that captured my imagination at this moment. My Play School version of strategic planning was perhaps pointing me towards a new (vague) future direction. I cautiously shared my three words with my friends, happiness, leadership and innovation. They decided to come up with their own three words and together continue this exploration of finding and fulfilling our innermost desires.

The next day as I sat at home reading and writing, the emails kept coming in. Emails that made me smile to myself. “I think I have my three words – creativity, tangibility, fulfillment”, “Ooh, Tangibility is interesting”, “Mine are inspiration, possibility, meaning”…and on it went. One friend wrote all of our words on her white board and sent us the picture. It was inspiring and the act of sharing it with other wonderful women made it all the more precious. A little club seemed to have miraculously emerged from that dinner – a club of self-discovery, reflection, and questioning.

This led me to remember – friends are awesome! And friends are integral to happiness. This is a scientific fact. People who have one or more close friendships appear to be happier. But note, it is not the quantity of our relationships but the quality that matters (thank god, I can stop worrying about my measly 42 friends on Facebook). What seems to make a difference is if and how often we cooperate in activities and share our personal feelings with a friend or relative. It is about connection. And what I am coming to realize is that connection is about being ‘seen’ for who you really are and ‘seeing’ others for who they really are. I think this desire to be seen is fundamental to all human beings.

There are two things that I think are important here. First, to be able to be seen by others you have to see yourself first. So upon reflection, I think it is no coincidence that this dinner where I felt like I connected on a deep level with other people, happened on a day where I had made time for self-connection. Interestingly when I am deeply connected to myself I see other people more deeply, and telling others that I value them for who they are has come more naturally of late perhaps because I am valuing myself more.

The second thing about connection is that it requires us to be vulnerable as Brené Brown so amusingly talks about in her TED talk. And being vulnerable means being open to pain as well as love. I have been feeling both lately. Whereas before I would have suppressed my sadness and confusion and put on a happy face, recently I have been sitting with the discomfort. Interestingly admitting publicly that I have been struggling and letting myself be vulnerable, has also opened me up to more love, joy and connection with other people.

For a long time I thought I was relatively alone in my journey of self-discovery and didn’t really speak to many people about it. In my professional, pragmatic and academic circles, I assumed people would see this kind of airy-fairy, self-helpy, hippy-dippy spiritual search as lame. But the more I opened up, and acknowledged to myself and others that this is important to me, that this learning excites me, that it feeds my soul, the more I hear from others that they too are on similar journeys. As I continue to open myself up, and be more vulnerable, the more I love, and the caring and support from friends is multiplying as quickly as Monkey’s pile of toys.

I have received lots of kind words of support since starting this blog, but one of the most unexpected things I received was a poem from a friend who I haven’t had much contact with in recent years. It is an amazing poem that she had written a month before, and even more amazingly I was in it. And I was in it for the very reasons that I had started the blog (I am sharing the poem below). It totally blew me away and inspired me to keep contemplating and writing about happiness. It showed me that happiness is tangible (to use a word from my friend’s list) and has an affect on other people. Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego have found that “happiness” is not the result solely of a cloistered journey filled with individually tailored self-help techniques. Happiness is also a collective phenomenon that spreads through social networks. In a study that looked at the happiness of nearly 5000 individuals over a period of twenty years, researchers found that one person’s happiness triggers a chain reaction that benefits not only their friends, but their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends. Happiness is contagious and I hope to stay infected.

A big warm hug to all my friends, new and old. xo

My Friend’s Poem

My hero is my mother

My hero is the woman who scurries out to buy milk past the nurse who told her not to leave the house

My hero is Emma who devoted her life to unconditional love and takes happiness with her wherever she goes

My hero is the tall basketball player who takes street kids out to shoot hoops

My hero is Sylvia Plath who couldn’t connect to the world but spent her life describing it

My hero is Steve Jobs an asshole with ambition and vision

My hero is Rinske Ginsberg who saw the fairies her father pointed out on the cherry blossom

My hero is the bogan at Woolworths (before she got racist)

My hero is the man who took the abuse and didn’t talk back

My hero is the student who stood in front of the tanks

My hero is the Vietnamese man who photographed the napalmed child

My hero is the daughter who cleaned the shit from the trousercuffs of her incontinent mother

My hero is the man who ran into the burning house

My hero is the black woman who sat on the bus wearing gloves and a nice hat and refused to stand up

My hero is the 13 year old boy who ran into a roomful of skinheads to defend the honour of his father

My hero is my best friend, who chased a gang of slappers down ruckers hill who’d stolen my handbag on the eve of my thirtieth birthday

My hero is the journalist who spent four months visiting a woman on the verge of losing her apartment drinking tea and talking about the price of electricity

My hero is Kon Karapanagiotidis, who opened the asylum seeker resource centre because he saw that it needed to be done

My hero is the barista who makes my coffee each morning and asks me “how are you” like he really means it

My hero is the Phd student who started the Ryan Gosling feminist blog

My hero is Malcolm Turnbull who gave up the Party Leadership because he saw that saving the planet was more important

My hero is the child who ran away

the woman who loved her body

the one who laughed the loudest

who hugged the hardest

who stopped the boat race

Who felt the fear 

Who did it anyway.

Third re-discovery: When you care for yourself, the world cares back

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I took last week off work. I didn’t do anything special or go anywhere special. In fact, I took time off precisely to stay home and do ordinary things I never normally get time to do. Like go to the dentist. Fun. The surprising (or perhaps not so surprising) thing that I rediscovered is that these ordinary things are really special, and bring me infinite joy.

I had one of the best days I have had in a very long time last week. It was totally self indulgent or what I would prefer to call self caring. I woke up easily, I meditated and wrote in my gratitude journal (in the morning, and didn’t fall asleep). I spent time hanging out with Monkey and Mr Bread, doing nothing in particular. Then I went to the dentist. And happily, what I thought was going to be a major procedure turned out to be very minor. Instead of getting two new front teeth (I broke mine when I was young – dolphin kick, eyes closed, bottom of the pool), they just gave them a bit of a polish and they were as good as new. This gave me extra time for more self care.

ImageSo I did a bit of shopping. Not the type of shopping where you buy too much to try to fill some void with stuff and then regret it later, but the kind where you buy one or two lovely pieces that make you feel beautiful.  Then I had lunch with myself – a pure joy. I had forgotten what great company I was. This was followed by a manicure and pedicure while sitting in a massage chair and flicking through a trashy magazine (does it get any better?). My friend, Miss A, called and asked if I wanted to join her for a massage, why not, I thought. That massage chair was really just wetting my appetite. ‘Shall we do an hour and a half?’ she said. Yes, lets. It seemed that the universe was just offering up more and more self caring opportunities. Obviously what I needed. And the fun did not end there. I had a delicious Japanese dinner and then my beautiful pink nails and I sat down with three inspiring and passionate women for drinks on that balmy Bangkok evening. But that is for my next installment, ‘Friends are Awesome!’ coming soon.

Back to my massage. As my tense muscles started to unfurl like the fronds of a fern, my friend and I talked and laughed on our side-by-side massage tables. Nearing the end of this blissful experience, Miss A’s ‘oracle’ masseuse said to her, ‘you’re friend [referring to me], she happy. Good laugh, good person. She happy person.’ This was the kindest complement anyone could pay me at this point in time as I try to reconnect to my happiness – not ‘you’re beautiful’, or ‘intelligent’ or even ‘kind’; but ‘happy’. And at that moment I felt deep down that she was right. I was happy, in fact I felt at peace. I felt like the real me was starting to reemerge after months of aestivation.

Well anyone would feel happy if they had a mani/pedi and a massage, you may say. It has taken me over a week of reflection to try to understand and articulate what happened on my day of self-care. I have realised that it wasn’t the external experiences that brought me joy. It was that, on this day, I allowed myself to enjoy the moment and care for myself without trying to justify it and without feeling guilty for being so self indulgent. I let go of the need to be productive and let myself just be. I read a great quote from happiness guru Robert Holden, ‘the purpose of our lives is not to get everything done.’ Sometimes I forget this. But on this day, I remembered. I connected to my joy and the joy in others around me. And the world seemed to congratulate me, ‘here have some more fun, and love to go with your self-love’, it said. I think that on this day I had a glimpse of wu wei - the action of non-action, or non-doing – an important concept in Taoism. The best way I can explain my experience is that by going with the flow, one beautiful thing led effortlessly to the next and time seemed to be endless. It was like the universe reflected back to me my internal experience.

It is very hard for many of us, myself included, to believe that getting a massage is as meaningful and important as attending a meeting or answering emails. But it is. As Ekhart Tolle explains – your inner purpose, which is primary, is to do exactly what you are doing now with consciousness or awareness. My purpose is typing this word. Your outer purpose, which is secondary, is whatever you want to achieve through the doing. We will definitely come back to this purpose stuff in future blogs.

But for now I know that my purpose is not to get everything done. Although, I do love a list. And now that I have ‘baby brain’, to-do-lists are essential. (The other day as I was packing for an overseas trip looking absolutely everywhere for my favourite, most-comfortable bra, that I was actually wearing – seriously!). So I can’t give up the lists, but I will include self-caring and fun activities on my to-do-list and I will try to prioritise them as equally as I prioritise work. And I will do what I am doing, in a spirit of non-doing.

xo

The search for my missing happiness

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I am a happy person, an eternal optimist some may say. But this is no accident. It has been a life-long pursuit, a conscious effort to choose happiness – to learn what truly makes me happy and to practice those things regularly.

Since I had a baby 11 months ago, of course my life has been filled with infinite joy. A simple, innate, ‘light up your world’, kind of joy. Bursting with the clichéd type of love that everyone talks about when you have a child. I have also been blessed with joys that I never expected. Like sharing the experience of falling in love with this little bundle with the ‘love of my life’, my husband (let’s call him Mr Bread). But if I’m totally honest I must admit that I seem to have misplaced my happiness – that underlying sense of peace – somewhere along the way.

I am a working mother and the primary income earner in our household. I live in Bangkok away from my family; the support network one would normally have when raising a child. But we have built a great group of friends here and have the priceless help of a wonderful nanny, who loves our baby (Monkey[1]) as much as we do. I think my feelings are pretty common for new mothers. It is no doubt a combination of exhaustion, hormones, a body that isn’t really yours anymore, unrealistic expectations from yourself and others, never having enough time, etc etc etc. It has all been said before.

It’s not that I’m unhappy, but I feel a bit flat, less joyful than I used to be. Like I’m surviving, not living. My mind doesn’t feel clear. I am more anxious than I remember. And even when my Monkey does sleep, I am not resting calmly.  While this may be a very common experience, I don’t think we should accept it as normal. To be expected, when expecting. I am committed to recapturing my joy because I truly believe that my purpose in life is to be happy. I believe that I deserve to be happy and that the only way I can teach my son is by example.

So I am going on a journey of self-discovery, re-exploring some of the truths I have learnt over the years about happiness and hopefully discovering some new ones. These are not new ideas, or even my ideas. Most spiritual traditions point to the same truths about love and happiness, but I need to make them my own, and see how they can work in my new everyday reality. Like searching for that elusive odd sock – I need to find my inner happiness to match the outer joy that I know life has to offer. So in this blog I will reflect on the ups and downs as I try to re-discover my happiness. But things don’t change only with self-reflection. We have to take action. So I will also make concrete plans of action and see where this takes me.

I know this blogging thing can seem quite self indulgent. Perhaps. But I believe happiness is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves, our families and humanity. “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” -Buddha

So here goes…


[1] Hopefully it is clear that this is a pseudonym and I’m not some crazy mother who actually named her child Monkey.