Happy places Vol. 1

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I moved into a new house 4 months ago. The first day I walked through the empty rooms my chest felt like it was going to burst. It is the first time I am living by myself, a dream of mine for the longest time. Happiness was the word that came to mind when I sprawled across the living room carpet, thanking and blessing God. But it also felt like peace, gratitude, and rest. A settling down into all the deep and full places. My happiness had a life of its own as it pressed me into the outer edges of myself, bursting free into all these different postures.

But then happiness doesn’t always need events to make a home with us. I, for one, carry pieces of it in my happy places:

1. Inside my cup of extra-hot hot chocolate on a cold wintry day

2. In my inbox. Some emails come filled with such love, and I can’t help but want to be with them and in them, drinking up every word

3. My Wednesday morning body balance class

4. Sleeping in on a Sunday

5. The quiet twilight of dawn and dusk

6. The old vintage photograph of the Eiffel Tower hanging in my living room

7. Getting completely lost in a book

8. Watching people in the everyday mundane

9. Writing

10. Finding that perfect seat on a bus

11. Inside my cup of tea at the end of the day. Tea makes everything better

12. My heart

12. Other people’s hearts

13. Flowers

14. Chocolate cake

15. Warm socks

16. The sun falling down on my skin

17. Beautiful smells

18. Scarves

19. Chemistry. Attraction

20. Comfortable shoes

21. Mountains

22. The sea

23. A good romance movie

24. A clean house

25. Big, big hugs

26. Knitted wear

27. Perfume. Makes me feel like a woman

28. Bath products that smell delicious

27. A hot shower

28. Bookstores. The smell and feel of books is a pleasure beyond words

29. Slipping in-between warm sheets

30. The quiet. Silence.

Except for Wednesdays, every morning I am up at 6.30. The house is quiet at that time and Dandenong Road which never really sleeps is coming fully alive again. I sit on my white bedroom rug and take in the morning. The silence settles around me into a comfortable knowing. A gratitude I cannot put into tangible words. I realise I’m happy, not because everything is perfect in my life because actually nothing is perfect in my life. I am happy because I choose to see where the blessings are and I see all the good that is good. I’m happy because in an unconceivable way, I am the best thing that has ever happened to me. Everything else is just a bonus.

Happiness is hard to unpack yet it is also the easiest thing to pick out in a room. But maybe our job is not to spend too much time trying to unpack it into bite sizes so we can understand its formula, because we waste so much precious time trying to pursue it. It is like that beloved friend that comes and goes whenever she feel like and refuses to be tethered. When we accept this friend as she is and not rely on her presence or absence to still be and do us, we understand what happiness is – it is everything and nothing all at the same time. It is that simple. It is that hard.

I don’t remember the day I stopped chasing happiness. I don’t remember where I was or what I was wearing. I don’t even remember the tumult that caused the shift in me. Usually I remember such things because they become stenciled to my being.

I do remember though that that was the day I realised that authenticity is more important to me than any happiness. So I let that dream go, and the beauty is that in letting go I have found a constant joy and wellbeing, for it is only when I am authentic that I am my best and happy self.

My house is not empty anymore. It is all filled up with things, trinkets and special things. Various colours ad textures coming together, sitting well together. It is beginning to take on my reflection. It is beginning to feel like home. But still, every-time I walk from one room to another my heart flutters a little and on some days, a lot, because I love this space so much. And I am happy because I get to share it first with the one person who has never left my side through it all. Me. She too, is my happy place.

Fixing broken things

img_20161011_184532Thursday comes along and I do everything else but the one thing I am supposed to do. I turn my gaze away from all the piles of blank pages and rows of pens that sit on my desk. They all look pitifully at me, as if they know something I don’t. I have been avoiding writing. I have been avoiding breathing. Sometimes it hurts to breathe. Sometimes it hurts to be alive. And I want to escape myself – to stealthily crawl out of my skin and take some time out from feeling everything and nothing. Read More

Mirror mirror on the wall

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There was something about caressing the spines of the books that charged my heart back to life. It felt a lot like bolts of electricity travelling from the tips of my fingers, up my arm and into the parts of my being I hadn’t felt for a very long time. There was nothing strange about it. I love bookstores. I love being caved in by shelves of books upon books, worlds contained in characters and prose. I love the smell. I don’t even have to touch anything for it to hold onto me. It comes to settle on my skin simply because I’m there. Read More

Grandmothers and tutus

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My grandmother was a small, quiet woman. Almost waif-like. She seemed to move through the world like light. Everything around her seemed weightless somehow. Light. The way she sat, as though sitting was an art and she had mastered it. The way she walked, her steps delicate and silent. And the way she was in her body, like it was the best place to be.

“Do you see this plant?” she would say calmly as we took walks in the forest near our home, “It is good for toothache” Read More

A thing called hope

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The world is not made out of sugar. There are no mountains whose bodies are crafted from chocolate candy or corners of the earth that are filled with strawberry popsicles. We come to know this as fact as the years pile up on our bodies and our minds grasp the threads that explain what it means to be a human being. It is sticky and hot and cold and hard and beautiful – everything rolled into one.

And yet, despite this shocking realisation that in this human life sugar is not always a given, there is a song for all the moments when our heart is filled with it, when it is dripping with sweetness. A song for all the times when the heart refuses to give up and die.

Because the opposite of sugar is often something very painful. Even when it lingers in the middle, it is something unbearable. There is a going back and unfolding of all the pain and brokenness, tears and shattered pieces that collect in a pool at the feet. I think this is done so the heart can see, really see the extent of the knots life creates because what follows next is a mystery even the heart itself can never unravel: the heart gets up on its feet, steadies itself and decides to try again. Even with the evidence lying in the open there is a relentless compelling to walk again.

There is a song for those moments. A song whose lyrics weave across and fall in and out of each other. The richness of rhythms that pour courage into the loins and make one more time possible and within reach. It becomes a place the hand can extend to grab and pull back into its body.

In my mother tongue we have a name for this song: Icicitekelo. In saying it the tongue rolls over the syllables as if pulling them in, drawing breath from them even as they become defined.

In English it is called hope.

When our hearts are broken, it is the thing that makes us believe that healing will come, and that we will love again. When we fall flat on our face and the way is dark before us, it is the thing that helps us up and illuminates the way.

It is hard to talk about hope without talking about expectations, for hope is constructed with the same threads. We live in perpetual fear of expectations because we know we are fallible as humans – we cannot possibly meet each other’s expectations perfectly. But there is also something else that fuels this – our fear of responsibility, the kind that demands we hold up other people. We have never truly learned this. To be expected to be there for someone else means to be responsible for showing up for that person. It is hard. It is scary.

Expectations mean vulnerability and vulnerability means open hearted feeling. And so hope is not a shy little thing that lives in the secret corners of our minds. It is a big, bold thing that dares consume the whole being – mind, body and soul. It can steer a life into a new direction, pulling it from the ever-encroaching pits of despair.

Hope doesn’t mean everything is going perfectly accordingly to plan. It means being centred whole-heartedly in the knowing that everything works for good in the purpose for which it is created and woven together whether it is life journeys or relationships.

Hope pulls the strings of life together and gathers it back to us; back to the centre of knowing. It is not incidental but coursing right at the core. It is a thing based in trust. This is why it cannot be disassembled from expectations. When we trust someone or a process we expect it to function a particular way. We expect the someone or process to show up in a way that is equivalent to the very trust we hold. It is that simple and that difficult. We hope in what we trust. And to trust requires vulnerability – a tenderness of heart. Hope works in the same way. It softens our outlook on life, caressing all the rough edges, aligning them. It is the foundation of faith, and it is what makes us believe that everything, everything will be alright.

We each decide where we lodge our hope, in which compartment or corner. It matters that we know because when its beautiful melody comes floating through our house we recognise it and are not afraid to grab its rhythms tight and embrace it because in actuality the end of this thing called hope is the beginning of all other things.

 

Because I want to roll with beauty like that

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Sometimes I obsess about beauty. Only because I live in a world that is obsessed by it.  A world that rations it out in small little teaspoons to so many of us.

“Do you have long legs? Well, erh…no…I’m four feet two.

Ok, you get half a tick.

Do you have blue eyes? Actually, my Mother had brown eyes.

Not our problem honey, you should have inherited better genes. You get half a tick.”

The world teaches us how to see & frame bodies & people. How to dress them up or dress them down with our fully loaded, shaken but not stirred beauty vocabulary. There is a centre, a standard to which we shamelessly gravitate towards.  Maybe we got handed down these ideals from infancy & it’s the only thing we know. Maybe we are afraid to ask the tough questions of who made us lord over each other in that way. Maybe we just like the way things are because our position on the gradation is secure – we embody beauty in all its defined ways. And who cares anyway, right? Afterall, there is so much else going on in the world & we are too busy. & sometimes, no matter how hard we try to go the other way & see the raw beauty imprinted on each soul, we are strongly pulled back to the centre.

& the centre is vile & filthy. There is no grace there. No purity, no hope.

So, yes, sometimes I obsess about beauty. Because I want someone else other than myself to proclaim it for me, a stranger who has never laid eyes on me before. who can see the gold shimmering off my skin & call it out. Not because he knows someone who looks like me but because he is not afraid to claim the glimmer he sees reflected back to him. He is vulnerable enough & strong enough to want it. To pull away from the centre.

I want to roll with people like that.

When I think of beauty, I stand apart from symmetry. It is never uttered in my thoughts. I am swayed by things un-named that move in the spirit & give each person their being. From that peculiar way their lips curve into a smile to that pulse they try to hide at the intensity of emotion. I think everyone harbours a beauty that is so sexy it floors me. I go about each day proclaiming it & patting God on the back for having stitched so & so together, this person & that person. My days are filled with secret sighs & smiles, watching beauty in all its form pass me by.

Who would have thought to give me curves & volume & a heart that can build things? Pure genius, I tell you.

I want to roll with things like that.

When I think of beauty I think perfect functionality—synchronicity of hearts that are both flawed & perfect. This is the beauty I want to capture. in my hands. in my heart. I want to snuggle up with it, like a warm blaze on a cold autumn morning. Breathe it in until it oozes out of my pores. I want to lie with it skin on skin.

I want to roll with beauty like that.

I am in as much danger of falling in love as I’ve ever been. Only this time, I know my own heart a little bit better. I know where its crevices are & where the boundaries are sealed in molten rock.

& this is the growth that comes from heartbreak & experience. So falling in love this time around will be brilliant. It will be messy, it will be beauty itself.

This is what I want to cradle. & never let go.

Beauty does not lie in the eyes of the beholder—it is essentially & always will be in what is seen. What we need are eyes that see it in its natural state, untamed & untempered. eyes that seek it, eyes that proclaim it. unashamedly so.

I so wish we could roll with beauty like that.

Moments of clarity

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The ocean.

there is the place where my soul is completely made open. transparent like a crystal glass. unhinged from all that suffers it. all the freckles fall away and that crystal glass becomes my only mirror.

There is something about the chilly sea air. feeling it on my skin & breathing it deep down into my lungs; being massaged by the earth as I feel each grain of sand beneath my feet; seagulls eloquently hovering over the tides, sending forth their powerful song way off into the deep unknown of the ocean beyond; watching the waves as they beat upon the shore, over and over and over again, never failing, always there.

I love it. I crave it.

I have sat on the warm shores of the Indian Ocean on the eastern cape of South Africa & I have been chilled to the bone on the cold shores of the Atlantic on the western cape. The two Oceans have different temperaments. like two women, each unique yet born from the same womb, with the same cause. the same power and force.

There’s always wave after wave after wave. But there is also that breathtaking moment before a wave pulls back into the sea & the next one bows down; that moment when you see the clear, white sand, the rocks & the sea shells that wash ashore. There is clarity in that moment.

Sometimes the waves bring a pain that seems to last forever & you wonder where your breathtaking moment is – that moment of calm before another wave crashes in.

It’s no lie. I’ve never appreciated the quiet moments of my life. I never understood what they were all about. I reasoned life should be large & deep like the ocean; soaring & lofty like the seagulls that fly above it. I was convinced. I should be writing books & selling them, changing lives, building a company, feeding hungry children across the globe, running  educational programs for women & girls, giving hope, loving people’s faces off…I should have been. I was convinced.

I craved to be deep & meaningful, like the ocean.

& yet I’m here, in this moment…everything so quiet, so steady.

I have travelled this road before. I know the smells & sights. & I know the way my feet curve into the ground to greet the path. I have been here before – my moment of clarity – with the blinding light pouring into every nook & crane of my house chasing away the darkness that had made me its own abode.

Sometimes you stumble into the very darkness you so eloquently see in others. Those are the times I need the ocean. to bathe in its salty water & when I arise, I am a goddess ready to be loved to the deep bone of me. even senselessly so.

These moments are priceless. for in the world we live in, clarity is expensive. The kind of expensive that eludes even the rich & famous. The kind of expensive that is uncomfortable.

But to know the steps you have taken & the ones you are yet to take is worth every penny in the world. To look beyond broken dreams & dream new ones has no figure on the stock exchange.

You can only build when your weather is good. When you can see & trace the margins of your form & path in the crystal mirror. This is what these moments are for.

& sometimes the clarity is in waiting for the clarity.

There is only one thing clear about the ocean & that is that its essence & ways of being are past finding out. & yet it is the one place where peace & stillness is served up to you on platters of carved shells. The ocean’s deepness is its beauty.

May your moments come, falling all over you like a lover who knows how you need to be loved. & may your clarity be deep & steadfast…like the ocean.

The thing about beauty

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I have no doubt that I am an intelligent young woman. no doubt whatsoever. I know pretty much where I stand when it comes to how my brain works & the magic it can create. I know where I stand with what I do not know & I am not one of those ashamed of knowing that which I don’t know. I don’t go around worrying that people will think I’m stupid because I know I’m not. & I don’t need anyone to tell me it is so.

Beauty, on the other hand, is another thing altogether. I tread her house carefully, on tip toes, afraid to be seen & defined by people who created square pegs. This house…this place is made out of vulnerability.  the walls, tender & fragile. the floor shaky.  it needs to be propped up some of the time.

But as I sit here on this red & blue sturdy ottoman looking through the smoky windows, I realise that the smoke is actually on the outside. the dirt is thrown at this house from without. the healing peace & stillness that lives here is often sabotaged from the outside.

I realise then that we’ve got beauty all wrong. choked up & hanging upside down.

We are born into a world that punches a price tag on white skin, black skin, inbetween skin; a price tag on whether your eyes are filled with colour or devoid of it. my favourite is green.

Even when we object to this selling & buying with our wonderfully constructed words & sentiments, when push comes knocking on the door to take orders, we are forced into a corner & when it really matters our actions betray us. we side with the beauty that the world teaches us to revere. of skin, hair & bone. white skin, silky, flowing hair & thin bones to be exact. & even then, we make gradations that run so deep & thick.

We are conditioned to think of beauty as divided within itself, vulnerable in the face of culture, infact, produced by it. & so we can talk about white beauty & black beauty as though they were two different things, completely unrelated because let’s face it, what do standard brown eyes have on dreamy blue eyes or porcelain skin on midnight dark skin?

We are trained to compare like this. to see beauty like this. to see some as the universal cup holders of it as the rest of us scramble for the drops that escape their golden cup while they laugh in derision over our attempts to claim for ourselves our labels of beauty that do not begin with the adjective black

Listen as I drop wisdom as old as the earth into your lap. I’ll lay it on you thick:

The thing about beauty is that it is neither black nor white. It is not Latin American, Asian or exotic. And get this, it is not cultural. For the moment we confine & dress it up in cultural garb, in the ugly petticoats of “it’s a cultural thing – every culture values different things” we exclude some people from our beauty list. Because well, they look good but they just don’t fit into our mental frameworks of what beauty is supposed to be. & so we close our eyes & hearts to them.

Beauty has to be named outside our own insecurities, complexes & complications. If it walks by in long legs – let’s see it. If it smiles in dark chocolate dimples – let’s proclaim it. If it sashays in full, voluptuous curves – let’s celebrate it.

We have to set beauty free. we have imprisoned it to mean only what we are prepared to endorse. It’s much more than that. much more than symmetry. much bigger than our puny perceptions.

Stay here for a while & let that soak right into you. Before you go off into complications of skin, hair & bone where the depth of beauty is lost, stay here a while. stay here. & get it right.

Then let’s teach it to our children.