It’s The Little Things


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October is the offical month of mental heath awareness. It’s a trending on social media, and I even had the chance to attend a live Q&A segment on depression – which is experienced by 1 in 6 people at some stage in their life. As the state of our mental health becomes increasingly recognised as a problem, more attention is being paid to seemingly ‘smaller’ solutions. One such solution is kindness. And the idea that, even in small doses, it can make a big difference in how someone feels.

ABC has been crowd sourcing for stories about kindness, so I’ve decided to share a bit of my work. In the large sprawling city where I live, people rush on by while appearing to be trapped in their heads. Sometimes their expression says everything they aren’t saying.

To avoid coming across as confronting, I’ve been leaving little messages behind for those who need them. Through the gift of technology – and without directly crossing paths – these are some of the people who’ve made my day, by telling me that I’ve made theirs.

The Weight of a few Words

 

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R, U, O, and K.

4 letters aren’t much. But they can be enough to stop someone from making the devastating decision to end their own life.

Like the fingers on an outreached hand, these 4 letters can save someone from forever falling through the floorboards of their momentary fragility. With the curvature of a thumb, a question mark can ensure a secure grasp by providing context and genuine concern.

Figurative speech aside, actually saving a life with one’s hands may require a prestigious vocation; but there is still great potential in our everyday vocabulary.

Unfortunately, when it comes to asking for help, the words can be harder to find…

Honesty can be a hurdle; a face, a smiling facade. But bouncing over and breaking through, a matter of simply asking someone how they are.

I know because sadness is a season I’ve survived several times. Most recently, I’ve relocated my life twice – overseas and now to another sate. Such momentous moments can stir emotional earthquakes and dust like desperation. But when it all feels like a bit too much, calm has always come through the most casual of conversations.

I’m lucky to have family and friends. And I want you to know that starting a life-saving conversation requires you to be neither. You only need to care – a capacity we all have.

I know because, in addition to this post, other pieces of my writing (such as my book) have received heartfelt responses from complete strangers. I may never see them smile, but at least someone out there still gets that luxury. I know I’m thankful to people that I’ve never met.

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This is the kind of weight that words can have: Impactful when spoken, but also too heavy to get out at other times.  So, this September – be it through an online message, phone call, letter, or direct conversation – save another’s life and your own. Ask and answer the question, R U OK?

 

Do you or a loved one need help? Find help now.

R U OK? is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to encouraging and empowering all people to ask “are you ok?” of anyone struggling with life. Our vision is a world where everyone is connected and is protected from suicide. Find out more: ruok.org.au

Rusty and Regretful

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I’m far from perfect – aren’t we all?

Recently, I’ve been dealing with some less-than-pleasent emotions. Regret seems to be the most corrosive of them all.

Sometimes I wonder – not just why things happen – but rather, why we have to feel the way we feel about them.

There is a theory that certain behaviours and traits are closely linked to our survival as a species; without them, we wouldn’t be here. I’m sure the family trees of those who felt no fear – and therefore had a tendency to pat saber tooth tigers – didn’t grow too far.

Regret is definitely useful as a reminder, and a reason to have make different decisions in the future. But apart from that, I think holding onto it is not only useless; it makes us useless. We’re better off devoting our energy into taking responsibility and some sort of action. I try to think that, just like when dealing with a busted pipe, it’s all `gota go somewhere.

But sometimes, we are busted pipes, and just no longer fit for purpose… But purpose can be lost, found, and even made. This pipe can’t hold water, but as supporting structure, it can hold weight.

It turns out that I’m a bit rusty at my job. I’ve got a lot of personal shit going on, but I’m making more effort than excuses.

And if things don’t work out – as they sometimes don’t – it doesn’t mean that we’re useless; maybe we’re just more useful somewhere else. 

5 Insights from Inside Out

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3D animated movies sure have come a long way. Not just in the effects they use, but in the affect they can have on us.

Inside Out is a movie which features the bright colours, animation, and big eyed characters that kids love, while managing to explore an issue that’s unfortunately surrounded by so much stigma, that even adults feel uncomfortable going near it; it’s mental health.

I remember leaving the cinema after Toy Story feeling touched. After Inside Out, I felt like I  had also been taught; there’s definitely a few things to be learnt from this movie. Mostly  about the role that emotions and memories play in our lives. Here’s 5 of those insights.

1) WE’RE MADE FROM MEMORIES & MOMENTS

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The theory is that one’s personality consists of “islands”. These islands are the different attitudes and interests that make us who we are. For example, hockey island and goofball island are two of Rliey’s (Inside Out’s protagonist). Forming these islands are certain “core” memories – often obtained during our childhood when we’re first discovering the world and what about it most appeals to us. Keeping these islands running is the ongoing experience of similar moments: the creation of new memories, and essentially, reinforcement. Old islands can crumble and new ones can be built.  Definitely simplified, but it’s a great way to understand how we come to be who we are, as well as go on to change.

2) MEMORIES ARE ALWAYS ON THE MOVE 

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Throughout the film, memories are represented by yellow glowing orbs – and they’re everywhere! They’re being sent back and forth between Riliey’s conscious awareness and storage, and even getting thrown to the dump when they’re deemed to be no longer needed. Memories might actually be neurological signals rather than rolling orbs, but we’re able to “call” on them in a similar way. During our worst times, remember better ones can have a drastic effect on our mood – hence the effectiveness of meditations that focus on positive experiences and emotions. When it comes to memories getting dumped, that might happen with age, but activities like journaling, taking photos, and keeping mementos can help us hold onto our favourites.

3) HOW WE FEEL NOW CAN CHANGE HOW WE FELT THEN

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The memories that once made Riley happy eventually start making her sad. This occurs when Sadness (one of the voices in Riley’s head) starts “accidentally” touching Joy’s memories, turning them from yellow to an upsetting blue. We perfectly capable of making the same mistake and that’s important to remember. Most things in our past can be looked back at through more than one perspective. Just take relationships for example. Which is pretty much why Dr Sues said it’s possible to “cry because it’s over, or smile because it happened.”

4) IT’S DARK DOWN THERE

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A fear of clowns might be specific to Riley and an early experience she had at a birthday party. But if anything has troubled you in the past, it might still be lurking in your subconscious. It’s a place that’s not just for things that come creeping out when we’re asleep; they can affect us on daily basis, even without us knowing. If you do find yourself often shaken and stirred without knowing why, it might be worth taking the hand of a good friend or therapist and exploring what’s being repressed down there. Because the subconscious might be dark, but it’s certainly there.

5) SOMETIMES, SADNESS SHOULD TAKE OVER

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The movie ends with Joy giving up her need of always being in control. Sadness takes over, and Riley goes from being an ever-enduring optimist to a young girl that’s expected to be sad. Her honesty serves as the cue for the people in her life to respond and give her the support she needs. As simple as it sounds, people still aren’t as honest about their feelings as they should be. Sadly, many people around the world take their own lives despite their friends and family never seeing them without a smile. Part of that reason is the stigma that surrounds mental health. That’s why it’s so great Inside Out was made. More than a movie, it’s a message that we’re not alone in our heads, and we shouldn’t feel alone outside of them either.

 

 

My Thoughts on the Bali 9 Executions

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My go-to spot is the top of a steep hill that offers a wide view of Brisbane’s city. At night it glows beautifully with life and lights. The feature is the Story Bridge which also changes colours – sometimes to reflect a particular theme. During the Olympic Games for example, it’s gold and green. Last night it was blood red. A sense of sadness came over me as I sat down.

I try to avoid spending too much time following the news or debating – so I’ll pass on the politics of the situation and just share a few of my thoughts on Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan (aka the Bali 9) as people who were in an unfortunate situation.

I’m people too.

Like Myuran, I’m actually also of Sri Lankan decent with a close friend who, like Andrew, is Chinese. We too went overseas together, but the difference is that we didn’t try to return to Australia with several kilos of heroin. Actually, there are a few key differences: We didn’t go to lesser privileged schools, grow up in low social-economic areas, or fall under the influence of organised gangs. Actually, I once, in a way did. Well, the worst of it was $3,000 of damage done during mindless vandalism. It was at the school that I attended, but my concerns were only about winning the favour of my friends. I was lucky not to be expelled. I was stupid. I was just a kid.

Myuran and Andrew were kids too.

I grew into a better person and so did they. The potentially devastating consequences of their actions are undeniable, but so are the proven positive contributions that they’ve made since their arrest and rehabilitation.

Sure, the world is better off and safer without some people..  but I believe that Myuran and Andrew were definitely worth keeping – and deserving, at the least, of a life behind bars.

Rest in peace boys.

Thro’ many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home. 

– Verse from The Amazing Grace, which the two hummed while facing the firing squad.

Golf, Chopping Trees, Boxing.. and Self Improvement.

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The search is endless.

Someone once said to me – during one of those conversations where the other person surprisingly knows you better than you thought – “You’re a seeker. You’ll never stop searching.” And it’s true. I’m looking for my car keys and wallet on a daily basis.

For you, perhaps it’s your child, phone, or Mr Right that’s always alluding you.

For us – that’s everyone in general – I believe there’s particular search we all share. It comes after finding ourselves; it’s the search to bring out the best in ourselves.

I know who I am, and I’m assuming you do to. This means you’re part of the latter crowd. They kind that visits that eery section called ‘self-help’ in the bookstore, or bookmarks blogs about ‘life-hacking.’ Post about productivity and success tend to stream out of the internet like snot out of your child’s nose (congrats on finding them by the way).

I know it can all get really overwhelming and tiresome to deal with. I recently unplugged from the ‘wide web’ but discovered a  few bits of the wisdom from just the world itself. Here’s what I learned through three different activities.

1. Chopping Trees

Despite your ego and enthusiasm, If you want that tree down, you’re going to need to take a few swings. If you want that goal reached, the same principle applies. Break it down into logical steps and devote your effort to these individual swings. Resting as you need, but always remembering you’ll get there soon enough if you keep at it.

2. Golf

The smallest adjustments can make a big difference to where you end up in the long run. A few degrees variation in how you strike a golf ball can make the difference between a hole-in-one and a cracked window in the carpark. This is best understood by taking a swing on the green yourself. But the take home message is that the ‘big change’ we’re after in our lives, could very possibly come from one of the minor details we’re overlooking.

3. Boxing 

When it comes to punching the bag or another person, it makes a big difference to put some emotion behind your fists. If you’ve ever slammed a door, you know this. But it doesn’t have to be anger; there are many ways to light the fire within. When you’re feeling tired, close to giving up, or overly challenged, think about why you’re doing it and who you’re doing it for.

It’s the same reason that pictures of loved ones, not framed paycheques, are so common in workspaces. Humans are emotional driven.  Be it by fear, love, greed, happiness, or anger – it’s up to you to make sure the right one is in your drivers seat.

So this is what I learned from ‘swinging’ not searching.. or spending hours reading self-help material. I guess life itself is a good enough teacher to ensure we’re always learning. Suddenly I’m more motivated to do my household chores. Who knows where enlightenment could be hiding.

What unexpected lessons has life taught you

A Better Definition of Love

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Love. A while ago, I fell out of it.

Or, if I can be honest, I was pushed.

No, no. Let’s tell it how it is.

It felt like I had been thrown against a wall; and despite all the bones in my body, my heart – as an organ – bore the most noticeable crack.

Speaking with the same honesty, but with more maturity. I actually feel that I’ve learned more about what love actually is since then.

I’ve met a lot of wealthy but lonely people; so it’s definitely not a product. You can’t buy it. It’s not tangible. Nor is it a coupon that someone gives you – initially appealing, but riddled with conditions.

A better description comes to mind, but it isn’t the prettiest.

It’s like a spider web. Elusive and difficult to spot from a distance, but you definitely know when you’re in it.

But the problem with this analogy is that without a spider, there is no web. Which means that without the other, person, animal or insect, there is no love.

Hmmm.

But I’ve still found myself ‘stuck in love’ while single. Maybe love is like the wind. We don’t know its origins. It comes and goes, but at its strongest, it’s felt in force. A force that pushes us, elevates us.

No, no.

It’s like glue! It helps people to bond, stick, and realise they’re all in this together.

I can try many messy metaphors but the best description I’ve personally come across that explains this mysterious phenomenon is by M.Scott Peck in his book “The Road Less Travelled”:

But what is this force that pushes us as individuals and as a whole species to grow against the natural resistance of our own lethargy? We have already labeled it. It is love.

Love was defined as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” When we grow, it is because we are working at it, and we are working at it because we love ourselves. It is through love that we elevate ourselves.

And it is through our love for others that we assist others to elevate themselves. Love, the extension of the self, is the very act of evolution.  It is evolution in the progress. The evolutionary force, present in all of life, manifests itself in mankind as human love. Among humanity love is the miraculous force that defies the natural law of entropy.

It might just be a biological trick to ensure the mating of our species, but it’s become so much more than that – allowing us to do so much more, and be so much more. Like Peck describes, it allows us to transcend our feelings of isolation and loneliness to embrace a sense of intimacy with another person, an activity, or the world; and to even find love in the least thought of place… amongst the barren and broken that once was oneself.

Growing Gratitude

Book Credit - Blossom by Janine Brown

Book Credit – Blossom by Janine Brown

Lately I’ve been reading this discussion thread about daily gratitude.

It’s on a bodybuilding forum; so amongst the hardened personalities and the expected levels of discontent that inspires an individual to strive for more, it’s like a flower blossoming through cracked cement.

Despite watching the thread grow, its only been in the last few days that I’ve started to sprinkle my own thoughts; and it was only today that I realised why.

The ‘best’ things in life are the things we overlook while we’re looking for ‘better’

I got distracted by desire; fixated on fantasy; sold on a solution. I fell into the trap of living for duty and forgetting the beauty. Sure, I’ve got problems and  areas in my life that need improving; but for every battle lost, there is a blessing won. The purpose of expressing gratitude is to take the moment to allow ourselves to acknowledge and appreciate these blessings, thus truly experiencing them.

It sounds simple; but comparison is corrosive, and it’s eating away at our experiences.  This is what I referred to as being ‘sold on a solution’: the idea that happiness has to be hunted, as it lies hidden further ahead in the oasis of an ideal opportunity.

Just fill in this blank: I’ll be happy when……… You’ll realise that you said it before and you’re saying it again.

2,500 years ago, Buddha stated that our desires can be endless. In this day and age, we need a new word with more depth. I don’t want to blame social media, consumerism, or reality tv; I just want to be a happier person. I also don’t want to discount the value that desire and ambition has.

The solution?

Realise that as we are the authors of our lives, we are also the gardeners of our thoughts. It’s up to us to prune our pessimism and create conditions where our better feelings can flourish. Buddha also discussed the truth of impermanence: the opportunity to experience happiness is withering away as we do. So why delay? The willingness to wait is as pervasive as weeds.

It makes sense to me, but don’t be sold so easily. Practice this daily habit of harvesting happiness and maybe you’ll also find gratefulness in the few grains you’ve got.

A Note About Hope

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Hope reveals itself in mysterious ways.

A final gasp for air, the first drop of rain, the step away from the ledge, the hand that picks up the phone, the improving blood test results, the stern lips that crack to reveal a smile, or as the light creeping through the shades against every self-loathing desire to remain in the dark.

Last week I fell quite sick. Each night I found myself drenched in sweat with the feeling that a pick axe had been delivered to an unreachable point inside my skull. I was already down – so this was the ground breaking away to further my fall and add depth to my despair.

In the same week, a friend’s baby passed away at 7 months, and another found out his dad has cancer and that one of his friends had also recently died in a car crash. News was also given that a close friend of my parents had passed away after being ill.

Today, someone knocked on my door to explain the inhumanities going on in Syria. He was hoping I would donate to the charity he represented. I said I wasn’t in the position to – but I empathised with the fact he was walking door to door in the heat, to which he was quick to state, “it’s not about me.”

Of course not. It’s about all of us. And how as conscious individuals, a community, a country, a chunk of rock floating in space – we hurt, so much and so deeply at times… But we also hope.

Hope is an unwavering desire which becomes the belief that no matter what happens; how much we take or lose, and no matter the odds; we still have something to clench dearly in our hands.. as well as the strength to swing back.

I’m now feeling much better. I know those torn by the tragedies I mentioned will eventually recover in due time. I also know that unfortunately, not everyone makes it; some people lose hope. I know that not all damage can be repaired. But as fractured as our lives become, we do find a way to move on and piece together some new meaning of our existence, and, persistence. In his powerful Ted Talk, Andrew Solomon refers to this process as ‘forging meaning and finding identity’. 

I’ve written about situations I’m close to, but such stories exist all over the world and throughout history. That’s another way Hope reveals itself.

Whatever Hope actually is, I’m glad it exists … and I hope you can find it.

My Untethered Soul

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I recently read The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer

I more recently re-read it.

Unfortunately, what  we read can be forgotten as effortlessly as the pages we’re turning. So I’ve tried to put myself into the habit of taking notes or writing summaries about what I’ve learned. I explored this book in my written journal but decided a blog post would have the added benefit of promoting this great read with others. Apologies for the disjointed structure. I’ll try to clear it up as this was originally written for my own perusal only.

My Untethered Soul

You see growth in the mirror. As an avid weight lifter Im used do it. But since putting the dumbbells down and picking up more books, I’ve come to experience a new sensation. That of an expanding mind. Learning. Growing as a person – psychologically.

It’s amazing how diving into a book can make you so much more aware of everything else around and within you, once you re-emerge. This is how I feel after reading The Untethered Soul, and the topic of the below post.

I now understand some of my particular patterns of behaviour and thoughts with more clarity.

I understand what the book refers to as ‘thorns’ in my psyche. Perhaps imbedded long ago. Thorns that I’ve devoted myself to protecting in order to delay the pain of their removal. What I don’t realise is that I’m indadvertedly suffering more this way. The right response is a swift painful removal.

I understand that I’ve spent energy and wasted it fighting and resisting reality and feelings. Feelings that are part of the seasons of humanity. Jealousy, envy, anger, greed, sadness. They should all be expected at some point, and met with compassion, and certainty that they will also pass on their own accord.

Further more on the topic of energy. I understand that there is also a positive source that naturally emendates from within myself. There is no need to be wary, only accepting and appreciative of this force while it’s felt. Meditation is the key to uncovering and unblocking this flow. Actions in the outer world and above the surface will make sure it’s utilised for all the wealth it can bring as creativity, concentration and passion etc.

Resist nothing.

See thoughts with compassion and forgiveness. The book describes our mind as a troublesome room mate that we’re stuck with. In addition that the best way forward is to strive towards a peaceful co-existence rather than emotionally retaliating and furthering an ongoing feud.

Consciousness.

Consciousness is the mirror itself, not the reflection. It’s the empty sky, not the dark clouds passing through. It’s the stillness under the surface, not the impact of an impeding circumstance and the ripples it causes.

Control.

Paradoxically, you gain control of your life by giving it up. Dropping internal resistances and defences that govern our behaviour in the outer world. Like a hand automatically retracting from a hot flame, our psyches are equally sensitive. This sensitivity and is a problem we need to devote ourselves to addressing. Easier said than done, and better understood by reading the book.

Growth.

Everyone will interpret different things from reading this book, because life and experience is such. A teacher that is individually guiding us through lessons that we need to learn. Rather than reacting, we can respond with the belief that pain, challenges, and discomfort all teach us something about ourselves and our limits. There is a difference between a reaction and a response. It’s our level of consciousness. I’ve raised mine by thinking about myself in third person if required – e.g. “the boy is annoyed or anxious.”

That’s pretty much it.

Whatever works for you – works for you. Different strokes for different folks. But we can all admit we’ve got the work to do. Call me a wacko, weirdo, or take up my suggestion of reading this book. I want to hear about it either way!

ps. I have the Kindle version so I found the featured photo on another blog which also mentions the book. Check it out https://tialevings.wordpress.com/page/8/