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Posts Tagged ‘Reflections’

My daughter was married on Saturday. 

Some highlights:

* As we waited for my daughter and her father, my husband, to arrive I was surrounded by our family. Next to me were our sons, and behind me were my daughter-in-law (wise, warm, an essential part of my life for so many reasons) and my future daughter-in-law (with a radiant smile that embraces and spreads joy). How blessed to have such a family. They make me complete.  In this moment I know my cup brims over.

* The man about to marry my daughter watched her slowly walk toward him and as he smiled it seemed as if, for him, this was his entire world. He took her hands in his, looked into her eyes, and was moved to tears. In this moment I loved him more.

* As they exchanged their vows the sun came out and it was as if the universe smiled.

* The mother of my new son-in-law gave a wonderful speech. She was funny, witty, and, best of all, her words embraced her daughter-in-law.

* In mid sentence my son-in-law said “my wife”, chuckled, paused and smiled as he again said “my wife”. 

* The first dance together as husband and wife was spectacular. It was a mix of romance, drama, fun and action, and moved easily into everyone joining them on the dance floor. Even me! Young and old rocked on together. Everyone stayed on the dance floor for hours.

* An atmosphere of happiness and joy pervaded the ceremony and celebration. It was tangible and touched everyone. The high spirits, emotions and energy of this couple lifted me up and made a magical celebration for everyone. They dismissed every potential stress, and their calm and focus on what was truly important soothed me, and I laughed and shared their joy.

But the moment I most remember is at home, minutes before we left. I stepped into the living room and saw my daughter,  a bride. In that moment, every memory I have of my daughter flashed before me and merged into this vision of beauty. I saw the baby lying asleep on my chest as we lay on the couch in the afternoon sun. I saw the toddler jumping off the stairs into a bean bag. I saw the little girl who wriggled into a space beside me to be as close as possible as I lay immobilised in a tilt bed in the spinal unit. I felt the arms of the little girl who placed them around my neck as she sat as close as possible as we wheeled on the prone trolley months later. I saw the little girl who never saw the wheelchair I sat in, only seeing her mother whose lap she wanted to sit in. I saw the ballerina, beautifully serene and beaming as she waited to dance as a unicorn. I saw the little girl who looked after her crippled mother and elderly grandmother when we flew to Melbourne – lifting luggage the size of own little body off the carousel, and making us cups of tea in bed. I saw the little girl arriving at Wellington international airport having flown alone from Sydney. I saw the girl who rode horses ten times her size. I saw the tomboy who climbed trees and was fearless. I saw the public speaker, confident in every situation. I saw the athlete who ran, cycled, swam. I saw the young woman who has seen so much of the world, determined, overcoming challenges. I saw the young woman who took me on road trips to Mt Maunganui. I saw my brave, loving, kind, strong daughter. I saw my best friend. I saw a goddess standing before me. I saw my wonderful daughter on the happiest day of her life … and I burst into tears, my heart so full love for her, and joy that she loves and is loved.

I saw my friend and daughter who had included me in her wedding preparations. Who the evening before had included me, with her bridesmaids, in drinking cosmos, eating pizza, and watching Moulin Rouge, laughing and reminiscing. My generous daughter who opened our home to her friends and family on the morning of her wedding, to share her happiness this day. Her happiness was infectious and as we all scrambled to get ready at the last minute, we laughed as we found ourselves  sharing space, three or four people in every room.

As we waited for the bride, I watched the groom and thought of my son who two years before had stood waiting for his bride. I remembered his nervousness. I remembered the smile and joy as he watched her come toward him. I remembered the happiness that she reawakened in him when they found each other. I turned to my future daughter-in-law and she smiled at me, reassuring me. Sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, friends and more. I, and my grown up children, are truly fortunate to know love and be part of loving, caring, growing families.

“There is no greater happiness than to love and to be loved in return”

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“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – Marcel Proust

This post is dedicated to my daughter who “got” Proust before she was twenty. I couldn’t get much further than the first sentence of “Swann’s Way” the first of seven volumes of “In Search Of Lost Time” (although, in my defence, the sentence was three pages long.)

I didn’t manage to read Proust’s novel(s) in English, let alone French, but with the help of my daughter I am better able than otherwise to enjoy and appreciate his (and her) reflections. As some wit remarked “they would rather visit demented relatives than read Proust”. I understand the sentiment and I am very lucky to have had some of his themes explained to me and discussed in contexts I understand.

Although memory, especially involuntary memory, is the main theme of Proust’s work, it is the idea that if we understand our life experiences and know how they affect us and change us, and we can use those changes to transform ourselves, that has me punching the air saying “yes!”

Now, I didn’t explain that very well, so I was really pleased to find this quote from Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”.

I can apply that to so many of my experiences, from the traumatic to the seemingly trivial. And i think I can see how Proust spoke to my daughter. She was four when I damaged my spinal cord, and she adapted her life around whatever I could offer her. (As did my sons, and they too would probably “get” Proust if they ever decided to read his work.)

Some of my real voyages of discovery:

One of the most important lessons I have ever learned was after I lost my mobility – don’t let the things you can’t do stop you from doing the things you can do.

When my twin sons were babies I learnt that housework doesn’t matter. It will always be there, but your babies will grow up. (Or I needed to sleep more than I needed to vacuum.)

I learned that if I walked at the same pace as my toddlers we could all see the caterpillar in the grass.

Teenagers are extraordinarily receptive to exploring all sorts of ideas, from politics to ethics to science … They like to share their discoveries, and I learned to listen.

I learned that dreams come true, but my dream of walking has required determination, persistence and commitment. And creative thinking, by me or by others.

I have lots of art projects on the go all the time. I have learned that this is a good thing because something I read or hear or see adds to my experience and even the most subtle change can enlighten or inspire me to bring something more or different to what I am working on.

Writing focuses and clarifies my thinking, and often helps me look at issues from new perspectives.

I find myself wondering more and more how many opportunities I miss to learn about myself and others. This is not a bad thing. My mind is opening.

By expressing myself in art, no matter how skilled I am, I am translating to another medium an aspect of who I am and what I see. Art makes it easier to have new eyes.

I’ve also learned that those few words defining a real voyage of discovery have provoked me to think carefully about what “having new eyes” really means.

The Real Voyage of Discovery

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I was looking at our living room this morning and my heart sank. I’ve been having a lot of fun messing around with art and drawing apps for my iPad, as well as designing some wedding stationary for my daughter and her fiancee, and I’ve been scattering bits of paper and “stuff” all over the floor. And the room intended for all this wonderful creative work is even messier. What to do? Where to start?

One step at a time.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of a task, or unsure where to start. Sometimes the whole picture seems too big to know where to begin to look. Sometimes it seems easier just not to start.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” – Lao-Tzu

Nearly nineteen years ago I began a journey that literally began with one step. I was about to be discharged from the Spinal Injuries Unit in a wheelchair, unable to even stand. I had a little movement in my right leg but not enough to use functionally. I was unable to even pull myself to standing. Yet one afternoon in the gym, challenged by the other patients, I did just that. The physios didn’t think it possible, but said if I could stand they would place me between the parallel bars with a callipur on my left leg and help me walk. And I did. I pulled myself to standing for a few seconds before collapsing. True to their word, the physios put my left leg in a full length callipur and placed me beteween the bars. The callipur kept my left leg rigid, my arms took the rest of my weight and I lifted my right leg to take my very first step.

Some say that Lao-Tzu’s words are best translated as beginning your journey with the ground under your feet. That’s pretty much what I did, and still do. I focus on the step that I am taking now. I’m not thinking about whether I’m improving or whether I’ll be able to throw one or both crutches away. I’m thinking about the best possible quality of step that I can take now.

Action begins this very moment. Procrastination is the enemy. Pick up the messy papers and sort into folders. Do the exercises and stretches that keep me mobile. Go to the gym and focus on my body alignment. Enjoy creating the current artwork. And live in each moment that is part of every journey.

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In my last post “I Am What I Think and Do” I wrote:

Dreaming is easy. Processing and focussing your thoughts, then taking action requires effort and hard work. Your goals and how you achieve them help define who you are and who you can become. So although the progression to self development and self awareness through dreams, thought and action might be linear, it isn’t simple. It requires some effort to sort the tangled messages.

The next step is to wrap it up with a big bow and colour it in rainbow colours because life is a gift and it’s up to us who we become.

Well here is the image gift wrapped with the message in the colours of the rainbow

Life is a gift, and it’s up to us what we do with it.

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“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world”

Recently I have come across a lot of bucket lists. I am inspired not by the lists, but by the people who are sharing their accomplishments as they achieve their goals. The young man who is cycling from Canada to Mexico, the woman who has published her fifty thousand word novel … These people are focussed. They have thought about what they want to do, made a plan, then acted on it. They may not be changing the world in the way that Mother Theresa did, or Gandhi, but they’ve changed their world and the worlds of people they’ve encountered.

I am fortunate to have time every day to do what I choose to do. But how am I choosing to use that time? I am busy. I go to the gym, I read, I draw, I design graphics, I write a little and I think a lot.

I believe we are defined by our actions, but without purpose our actions are just a means of passing time. By changing the way we think and act we change who we are … we change who we are, we change the way we think. But it’s not a closed loop, or even the infinite figure eight. It’s a linear progression:

I have realised a dream. I have always wanted to express myself creatively in images but have lacked the skills and medium to do this. Now I can combine my love of letters and words and images with the satisfaction I get from exploring ideas and concepts. Creating a calligram allows me to take something intangible and turn it into an image with a message that conveys far more than any number of words I might use. It may provide entertainment or pleasure or a challenge to others, even inspire or change their thinking. An image is powerful. It can have immediate impact, or it can be subtle, or require time to think about, and lead to other ideas.

Dreaming is easy. Processing and focussing your thoughts, then taking action requires effort and hard work. your goals and how you achieve them help define who you are and who you can become. So although the progression to self development and self awareness through dreams, thought and action might be linear, it isn’t simple. It requires some effort to sort the tangled messages:

The next step is to wrap it up with a big bow and colour it in rainbow colours because life is a gift and it’s up to us who we become.

Creating a calligram challenges me and expands my thinking. While I am creating, my mind free wheels and other related or unrelated ideas take shape. While thinking through all these ideas it occurs to me, that although I have no bucket list, I have three things I am desperate to achieve. First, for thirty years I have loved having time with my children and I intend to continue investing everything I can in them. Second, for nearly twenty years I have been determined to walk and I will continue to do everything needed to improve and maintain my mobility. Third, I will do everything I can to return to Tuscany with my husband while I am still mobile, he is able to carry all my bags, and we can plan and explore its art and history together.

So I can either pass the time while I’m doodling and playing with words and shapes, or I can use it as an opportunity to think … to plan my day, reflect on my ambitions, or explore something inspirational that I’ve heard or read and think about how I might apply it to my life.

Enough. A time to write, a time to draw and a time to progress my plans.

Otherwise it’s only dreams:

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It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow, so that got me thinking about how we celebrate it and why.

One story goes that a Roman Emperor wanted his soldiers to focus solely on war, so he forbade marriage. A priest called Valentine defied the ban and continued to marry couples in secret. The priest’s subversion was discovered and he was put to death.

The romantic celebration of St Valentine’s apparently began in the 14th century when Chaucer associated the saint with romance in his poetry. Around the same time Paris set up a court to protect women. The court dealt with love contracts, betrayals and violence against women. The earliest surviving valentine was written by a Frenchman to his wife:
Je suis desja d’amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée…
—Charles d’Orléans, Rondeau VI, lines 1–2[27]
Aaah, French, the language of love!

By the eighteenth century, books of poems were published so that young lovers unable to compose their own poetry could draw on these. Paper valentines began to be mass produced and with the beginnings of a postal service anonymous valentines could be sent.

So here we are in the 21st century, and what does Valentine’s day mean now? Huge numbers of red roses delivered to schools, offices and homes. Jewellery stores advertising, diamonds, rings, necklaces. Stationers selling vast numbers of romantic, funny, cynical and friendship cards. It’s competitive, desperate, disappointing, exciting, exploitative … It’s for children, teenagers, lovers, couples, young and old.

It can be a day to declare your romantic intentions, to arouse passions, to ignite love, or simply a special day to rekindle romance.

The days leading up to Valentine’s can be a time to reflect on love, relationships and the glue that holds couples together.

A few images to expand on these thoughts about Valentines:

What is love?

What is love?

Love can be a smouldering fire, to be rekindled with fresh air … or extinguished through neglect:

Smouldering love

Then there is the passion we all yearn for, the heart on fire:

Heart on Fire

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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All of us at some time in our lives experience trauma or tragedy. I was listening to an interview on National Radio where a self help guru was talking about a book he had written about dealing with tragedy after his young son was diagnosed with autism. He had developed a phrase called the “reality gap” to describe the adjustment people in tragic situations have to make between their expectations and their new reality.

I don’t like this phrase. Everything about it seems negative. “Reality” smacks of “get real” and gap emphasises what you’ve lost.

I compare this to the strategies that are implemented in the spinal unit to help paraplaegics and tetraplaegics get back on their feet, figuratively speaking … Hit the deck running, so to speak. (Humour is a great tool.) Patients are encouraged to grieve, for loss of mobility, loss of bodily function … and to understand the stages of grief they will experience. Then there is a plaque on the wall “Think about what you can do, not what you cannot.” This is hammered in. Staff demand the maximum independence possible.

In these circumstance the human spirit is at its finest. People discover personal qualities of resilience, problem solving, empathy, co-operation, determination, optimism, hope. I met a gang member who extended his hand in friendship by showing me, a middle aged, middle class woman, how to use my wheelchair as a weapon. There is also depression, frustration, anger, denial, but nearly always people find the strength and the tools to move forward. The only thing that can stop someone growing and adapting is bitterness. Bitterness is the great enemy.

I don’t believe a catch phrase like “reality gap” is particularly helpful. Focussing on what you can do, not what you cannot is a powerful force.

I do believe that having a mantra can be a useful way of empowering yourself. My favourite is ” Steel is forged in great heat” another is “the best roses grow in real shit” and “diamonds are just bits of coal that did well under pressure”

It’s a bummer, but we don’t grow in peace and contentment, we grow in adversity. Some of my best thinking and inspiration has happened under pressure, not moments of quiet reflection.

As Winston Churchill said, “We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.”

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