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.

Don’t hold me too tight

 

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Photo credit: Jo Chin

I thought I was doing the best thing for her.

I was wrapping my arms around her like it was all I was born to do. But she wriggled in my arms, restless and troubled.

Don’t hold me too tight all the time, she said.

I was offended. How could she say that to me? My own life resisting all the effort I went to to direct it in the path I wanted it to go. I took my arms away, determined to give up, determined to not care anymore about jobs, people, life paths, writing plans and schedules, timetables and goals. I had had it. Everything I did for my life seemed to come back empty-handed. It made no dent in the larger scheme of things. There were no earthquakes or explosions in all the purpose and intention I exhaled out into the world. This is how I saw it. So I refused to be comforted, not because I didn’t crave comfort…and assurance but because my heart shrivelled up inside of me and wanted nothing to do with all of it.  And I was at a loss. Have you ever been 33 going on 34? Have you ever lived with your all yet have nothing to show for it? Read More

Filling up

 

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Dear Girl with the big, wide eyes,

Once upon a time I thought I had so much to give. The way my heart used to swell up, so round and full had me convinced of that. There was always so much in there, pressing against the edges desperate for release. It became essential, the pouring out of myself, like breathing.

What do people need? I asked myself. People need love, and so love is what I gave. I stopped time and emptied pockets in order to lay hold of the last shreds of love in any given instance so it could be packaged and given away to a soul that needed it. Read More

Humans and love

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I want to write about love. The urge sits in my chest like the ground presses into the earth. Heavy, strong and pulling down as though it was meant to be. I get saturated with words that catch pieces of love, grabbing them from the air, here a little there a little as if greedy for something more concrete and shaped. But the picture of love emerges only as the pieces come together, only as experience arrives at my door. Love makes sense the more the pieces fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

But how can we talk about love without talking about pain? Read More

Imagining lives

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Walking home in the sunshine, she dragged her feet. It was too lyrical to rush through, the sun, the moment. Her feet stuck to the ground resisting the pull of gravity. The earth beneath was bold and beautiful, demanding stillness in everything that lay atop of it. Read More

Acts of self-violence

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I’m editing what looks like the final draft of my dissertation. And in the last few weeks I have sat on my couch cradling my books and my laptop all through the night to the break of dawn. Day after day. I have been missing the quiet my soul knows so well. I have been missing writing on here. Words have seemed heavy and incomplete. Read More

Writing blogposts at 37 000 feet in the air

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This plane has got to land. It has got to make it to Los Angeles so I get off and thank God that it was all alright.

But right now, it is the safest place in this 11, 279 metres of space above ground and sea. Suspended and gliding through the air. I over heard the lady in the row in front of me marvel at how this whole thing works. Read More

You are more powerful than you think

photo 3My Mama never taught me anything about power. Not in the way Superwoman’s mother may have sat her down and said: “babygirl, this is how you use that power in your body and in your mind; how you become powerful; how you become superwoman”.

If my Mama had said those words I surely would have remembered them because they would have been etched on all the parts of me. Because for a girl who only ever dreamed of saving others, I was pretty powerless. I had tiny hands that couldn’t scoop up a lot of things all at once and tiny feet that couldn’t keep up with the big steps of others. Yet when my hands grabbed onto something or someone the grip was real, strong and tight. I held onto things and people like they were made to be held, and I, born to do the holding.

But I was never powerful. The little hope that remained pressed against my chest as a little girl that I was a secret superhero was blown away like flimsy stardust when the messages started coming in from the outside. You know, when the world begins to whisper in your ear about all the things that make you not quite enough or worthy. They were brutal and cruel. The whispers of what it meant to be powerful and the assigned cages that came with it. You had to be a particular person or do a particular job or be born into a particular family in order to be graced with an authority that determined how people treated you and how easily the worldly path would be laid out beneath you.

Unconsciously, I tucked my small hands into my pockets and stopped grabbing things. But we all go through life in order to learn and realise what it means to live. What it means to sort out the gold from the dross.

On Monday I missed a meeting.

I thought about the people that would have been sitting behind computer screens slicing through multiple time zones and geographical layers of space to be in one spot for a time, for this meeting. It struck me how powerful they appeared, these nameless and faceless people I was going to talk with for the first time. It made me think of the fallacy we share amongst ourselves – that power is something that is always in the hands of other people, never in ours, never in our  hot, sweaty, clasping hands.

When I got to the office, I picked up my red pen and started crossing off days on my calender. There was something soothing about that act. The feel of the red ink sinking into the page, staining it beautiful made me warm inside. It surprisingly made me feel powerful. I have deadlines hanging over my head. There was trepidation and excitement that days are moving along and the question still remains:

What will you do with your wild and precious self ?

Chances are you don’t feel powerful either. Maybe you are caught in the nets of something  poisonously draining like a toxic relationship. Or maybe you wake up every morning to go sit at a desk in an old, gray office working a job that pulls you in and withdrawn deep into yourself. And maybe you just don’t feel powerful, period. Whichever it is, I am thinking of you. And Im thinking of us, workers and lovers. People and humans.

We always have something to offer because of who we are. The way the particles that form our individual self come together is on its own an epic thing.  And this is the priceless thing that nobody but each of us owns. You can patent it and take it to the bank baby. You own it. In every way that ownership is real and flesh. Tangible and there, sitting on your very skin.  Because for as long as you are you, you will have something that no other human being has. This is the power we should be talking about. An authenticity that never blows its own horn to get others out of the way. Instead it reaches out invisbile arms and pulls others to itself. It draws others  in by simply being. It sits in the chest, yours and mine, a bright burning knowing that it is absolutely fine to be us.

This is not a come as you are philosophy, it is a true grit becoming the best version of you there could ever be.

We like to think of power as so many things that have nothing to do with us, things that live in camps outside of ourselves. Money. Wealth. Privilege and position. But real power is how you sit within yourself. How you hold the reins of who you are and learn to connect all the parts of you in a tapestry that makes beautiful, not only your life but the lives of those around you. When you possess your soul – knowing where it has been and where it is going- and when you can hold together your core, you settle deeper and stand firmer. You create and give from that place that is not shaken by the winds of the world.

I think this is the stuff we need to be taking into our work, into our every day. The power that is much more than we think and realise.

The men working in my street

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14 mornings ago men arrived in my street. With their big trucks and heavy, metal drills. They camped out on all the surfaces in our little corner of the neighbourhood. It was so packed that we had to squeeze inbetween machines and bodies to get anywhere. It has been chaotic, disruptive and exciting.

On normal days Toward Street is quiet.

It sits atop underground swamps which release moisture when the ground is threatened. Long, long ago, when Australian land was barren, there was a river that went through this area or so the story goes.

Sometimes I leave my house at 12 o’clock in the afternoon and each step I take is treasured. I can feel my feet thinking with me as they meet the street beneath them. The silence always comes close. And mixed with the sunshine I always want to keep walking forever. There is this spirit to the street. A soul. And you feel it.

The street is wide and fat, stretching on all sides as if she is a lady who could eat more. And I would willingly indulge her. But 14 days ago, men came to break her belly and dig her insides. They are doing something to our water pipes. I have become used to having these men there, in their blue and yellow uniforms and white hard hats. I have grown attached to them and their work. And so I know the street will feel strange when they are gone, until that strangeness  grows back into the usual quietness again and it no longer feels strange.

The work they do – the digging, drilling, shovelling, cutting and patching up dry ground, the fixing of water pipes and of finding a path for them under the earth; it is not work my mind or body knows intimately but its beauty I can see and its value I can appreciate. What would we do if there were no men or women who behind the scenes pieced things together so when we turned on the taps water actually gushed out in all its liquid glory, magnificent and abundant?

I stood in front of a panel yesterday. My job was to convince them that my dissertation was making a worthy contribution to the annals of human knowledge. As I stood there in a conventional room with conventional lighting and projectors, I knew I could not occupy academia the way I occupy my soul. This knowing was sharp and it pressed in the insides of my mouth forcing other words to come out. Words that I had prepared to speak in defense of my unconventional thesis. As soon as they left my mouth they proclaimed me doomed and free all at the same time. Free in ways I do not yet understand.

Unlike the men in my streets, the work I do is not as visible. I collect things and patch them up together, stringing meaning and heart to the things that beat with life. I live in nostalgia. I stand and observe. Take in and then give it all back. Sometimes in words and sometimes in a touch. It is a quiet work, the work that sits behind the visible.

And this is how precious work is. It begins before it begins. We each bring reasons, hopes, dreams and expectations to what we do for work. It is never a blank page, and it is never worthless.

Tonight as I walked home, my street was quiet in the dark. The sky above was flooded with stars, the kind that make you smile and wonder about all the other people who are seeing them at just the same time as you. I felt the cold air in my face and spread out my arms to embrace and be embraced by nothing and everything. The big machines that flanked all the edges of the street pressed me on all sides directing me home.

One day this work will end, I think to myself. And the men with all their big tools will leave and go dig up another part of the earth. I think of work and what it is meant to do in the world. But what I see instead is a toiling out of necessity that governs our lives. And how it holds us prisoner within the limitations the world sets on us. I feel for all of us.

Maybe it is time to reimagine a different relationship with work. A bubbling need to go back to the basics; to the appreciation; to the falling in love with the pieces of the puzzle we each hold. For work is the place we get to hold our piece and turn it around in the light to notice all the ways it is wonderfully formed. Work is the space we can stitch our piece to another’s piece to create something beautiful.

Maybe it is time to reimagine.

History & belonging

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Everyone belongs to a piece of something, to a part of the world that begins with humanity. Someone ought to tell the girl that because she shifts nervously in her chair, the air of discomfort growing taut around her. It envelops her like a cloak and saturates the breaths she takes in and out.

She looks around the table at the five faces she knows so well yet also doesn’t know. She wonders about the cords that tie her to them. Are they real and true? Or are they figments of her imagination?

In the moment she thinks about relationships – the belly in which they get formed, intricate detail by intricate detail. The history that collects around bodies to form an impenetrable wall that sometimes holds up its hands to others:

“No, you are not one of us.”

History. Does it come between people as a foe or as a friend? And when is it time to open up that history and let others in?

The seat beneath her feels too big for her. The conversation passes around her like delicious morsels, of things she knows yet history dictates her ignorance. She wants to grab every tidbit of the words and themes and concepts and tuck them into her body. To feel a part of the table and fit into her seat fully and securely with these people who know her so well yet don’t know her so well. She wants her place claimed for all times.

But instead she gets up from the table and smiles.

“I have to go,” she announces.

No one objects so she walks off still clutching the wonderings about friendships and family and the places these things get made. The easiness that comes to her, to tumble around with these sorts of things is not shared by many.

I watch her as she walks away, gently rubbing her chest, massaging the doubt that was beginning to beat behind the fleshy walls. I want to tell her how beautiful she is, from her heart to her mind and to the way her life pours out of her fingertips when it comes into contact with others.

In times of doubt she doesn’t see the full version of herself. And so I want to hold the ground for her. To hold up a mirror so she never completely forgets what she really looks like.

I want to tell her that family and friendships are things requiring honesty and vulnerability and that the world doesnt always do them well even where history is present. And a history that is not based in love will always keep others out. It will always be built around the superficial things of belonging:

—we have blue eyes—our father is that man—

If these are the only things we hang relationships on what kinds of families and friendships do we create? And maybe a look around the world today is enough answer to that question.

The girl gets onto the bus and sits in her favourite seat, her gaze following the setting sun. The red glow of twilight bathes her face in light making it luminous. Her lips twitch as though resisting a smile or a sigh. She does both.

I mentally grab her into my arms.

You are doing great, I whisper to her.

The deep things are mapped onto your bones. And love is the core from which you are hewn. This is where you belong, and where history should grow out of. And all the people you gather to you may not always know but they will experience the belonging etched all over you. When you give yourself permission to belong to yourself and to the spaces you occupy, others find the magic of wanting to belong where you belong.