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

My Crossroad: Moving State

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The Crossroads of Should and Must – Elle Luna

It’s amusing how the most unexpected and usual scenarios can play themselves out for a second time.

I recently went camping for the weekend to spend a night under the stars, but only to find myself lost… in thought. I was preoccupied with the possibility of how my life may change based on the news I was awaiting. Last time it was whether I got accepted into the volunteer program that sent me to Tonga for the year; this time it was a potential job offer in another state.

Once again, I returned to get the good news, but also to be left with the weight of a gigantic decision to make.

Just like Tonga was a country that I never saw myself visiting, Sydney is a city I never saw myself living in.  I even wrote a post about how I didn’t enjoy my last experience there…

But there is a key difference this time: why I’m going.

I have the opportunity to work for an organisation that focuses specifically on promoting mental health and preventing youth suicide. It’s an opportunity to better lives and to make a ‘difference’ – pretty much the kind of difference that I intended this blog to make by reaching out to the kid I once was: sitting alone in my room starting at the wall for hours; lost, numb and unwilling to fully participate in life. It’s the opportunity to save someone from making the mistake that I’m lucky I never made. It’s an unfortunate reality, but many people do – which is why what this organisation does is so important.

But the question remained: how important is it that I do it?

I spoke to everyone – from my friends and family, to passing strangers and even shop clerks. I also spent one hour going through a pros-and-cons list with my psychologist. No one could give me a definite answer. This advice from a friend illuminated my biggest concern:

“When it comes to making such big decisions, make sure you’re running to something, not just running from something.”

Not that I regret my decision – but I will admit, my decision to go to Tonga was definitely motivated by the latter. I enjoy the feeling of escaping; I think I always will. But I also desire to grow; I hope I always will. As I’ve been slowly sinking back into old habits and mindsets since returning, leaving my ‘comfort zone’ may strangely enough, be the only way to save myself.

Sink or swim.

Just as pressure forges diamonds, it’s said that it makes the best in us shine. I hope it does because, apart from the job, at this stage, I’ve got nothing else of value waiting for me. I believed going to Tonga would allow me to reinvent myself – which it did. But it also left the process largely incomplete. Which is why I’m hoping another change of scenery will allow me to discover the rest of my missing pieces.

Currently, I dislike the uncertainty I have in my life. I’d definitely prefer to be ‘normal’ with a secure job, wife, house, and baby; but I deeply desire to be different, too. Or better put: myself. My employment experience so far has also proven that I’d be better off with some congruency between who I am and what I do. Just as Elle Luna asks in her ‘must read’  book, The Crossroads of Should and Must:

“What if who we are and what we do become one and the same? What if our work is so thoroughly autobiographical that we can’t parse the product from the person? In this place, job descriptions and titles no longer make sense; we no longer go to work, we are the work.”

It’s a question worth asking; but we are not always given or guaranteed an answer, to which Luna also states:

“To choose Must is to say yes to a journey without a road map or guarantees.”

So I can’t say that taking the job is specifically the best decision… but I do feel it’s certainly a step in the right direction. And that’s enough for me to choose Must.

PS

* Great Ted Talk by David Brooks discussing the desire to live for more than just our work.

Fears Vs Dreams

IMAG1142-1I haven’t posted in a while. I haven’t been doing much – but one thing worth mentioning is that I’ve been connecting with other people battling similar feelings and organisations advocating the same uplifting, hope-filling, positive messages that I’m trying to send.

I came across the organisation, To Write Love On Her Arms, through a Ted Talk by Jamie Tworkowski, its founder. That’s how I discovered the online movement of Fears Vs Dreams.

It’s amazing how, with the help of a pen, a person’s courage and honesty can transform a mostly blank piece of paper into a power statement. I felt comforted to know I’m not the only one who fears being a failure, giving up, or being alone etc. I felt uplifted to know I’m not the only one who’s dreaming a dream that sometimes seems far beyond their reach.

Scrolling through the submissions, I realised that while everyone person has their own individual story, their demons, and their journey ahead of them; we’re never alone through any of it.

As the Boy Under the Bridge, I’m living a story. I will not give up.

 

 

 

Somethings To Say, Before the Sun Sets

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So, I’m home. My one year work assignment in Tonga has come to an end. I made several monthly posts during my experience, but feel I should do one last post to properly see this chapter of my life closed. (You can read all the posts I wrote while away here)

If you haven’t been following my story, here is the gist of it: I moved into a new place, started a new job, hated it, but I went through the motions of working and saving. I booked a 1 month holiday to the USA, but eventually got fired first. I tried finding a job I’d actually enjoy, came very close in a few interviews, discovered an international development / capacity building program, thought why not, applied, got accepted, refunded my planned holiday, moved out, and then spent 2014 overseas.

I was as shocked as everyone else. Having spent my whole life in the one city, it’s something I never considered or saw coming… which was why I believed it was so important to ‘just go with it’ before it got away.

Since leaving childhood, I’ve learned that card tricks, control, and certainty are all illusions.

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It turned out that what appeared to be a sunny tropical island was actually the furtherest from my comfort zone that I’ve ever been.

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I’ve heard it before; you’ve heard it before: sometimes, you’ve got to get uncomfortable. I get it now, I really do. Once we’re past puberty, the only growth we get is voluntary (with the exception of toenails and unwanted hairs.) It’s also excluding physical workouts. I’ve done a lot of those. Lifting twice your bodyweight is uncomfortable, but there is still an element of control: we know we’ll either be successful in the lift or we won’t – and we’re familiar with both outcomes either way.

Real growth is more than just physical; it’s a deeper change than that. And really being uncomfortable means giving up all perceived control and certainty over the situation. Simply put, it means not knowing.

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There was a lot I didn’t know: Where I’d live, what work would be like, who my friends would be, what I’d eat, and what I’d spend my spare time doing. These are all common questions to which I now know the answers; but what really makes going away such an experience is the things that you learn … that you didn’t expect or know you needed to learn.

There was a lot that happened over the year; there is a lot to write about, and there is a lot I already did write about.  Looking back, here are the main things I want you to know… and that I want myself to remember.


1) HAPPINESS IS AN OUTLOOK

I arrived in Tonga feeling sorry for people, but I returned home feeling sorry for myself. I realised I had been sold a dream. I had been told by a combination of my peers, upbringing, and culture – that there were set requirements for being happy. There aren’t. Despite being classed as a ‘developing country,’ people in Tonga smiled, laughed and seemed openly happier. How? Isn’t that the point of all the luxuries and privileges of the the western world? Well, I learned that it’s all about perception.

You can’t enjoy the taste of what you’ve got when you’re sniffing the fumes of what you don’t have.

I coined the above term, but I’m just as guilty of the offence as anyone else. With less disparity between wealth and status, and hardly any mass advertising, people in Tonga can devote their full attention to what they do have – and tend to be happier as the result.

I’d be lying to claim I’ve dropped all my desires since coming back to the western world. Desire and ambition definitely has its place. But given what I’ve learned, I’m definitely trying to remember that

there’s satisfaction in simplicity, and a blessing behind every breath.


2) THE SLOWER YOU GO, THE MORE YOU SEE

Tonga has Tonga Time, Fiji has Fiji Time, and so on. It’s a fact; time moves slower in the South Pacific. As a ‘city rat,’ getting used to a slower pace of life definitely required some adjusting. There were also withdrawals from what I call ‘stimulation addiction,’ to which mobile phones and modern technology are the most common perpetrating paraphernalia. With less internet access, less happening in my environment, and overall, less urgency – I eventually found myself slowing down. And that’s when it happened.

I started to notice more things – rather peculiar things: the positions of the stars, the sound of the sea, the weight of the breeze, the variations of trees and flowers, the way animals behaved, and many other minute details. Of course, in the west, this approach would result in a lot of missed busses, pissed of people, and possibly accusations of staring in public. It’s also not humanly possible or healthy to consciously process everything; but it is worth paying a little bit more attention every now and then. You never know what you may notice.


3) FAITH HAS ITS PLACE

I’ve never been religious. Sure, kinda Buddhist and strangely spiritual; but not religious.  I’ve always respected peoples’ rights to make their own decisions; but it wasn’t until going to Tonga that I actually began to understand why some people choose to believe.

I met people who lived in tin sheds and without access to basic necessities – yet they clutched their bibles as if it was their most vital resource. I met youths who were surround by bad influences and dangerous temptations – yet God was an authority figure they wouldn’t dare to disobey. I met people who made massive sacrifices in their own lives in order to help others – yet they were modest in their contributions and efforts, acknowledging Jesus as their inspiration and mentor.

Across these different circumstances, there was the one how – and the one why: God.

I’ve read The God Delusion, find Sam Harris fascinating, and am aware of the ways religion is exploited as a tool of manipulation – but I can’t disregard the way that religion and faith has proved to be a solid foundation in lives that are otherwise crumbling; the way way it provides clarity to those conflicted between choices; and they way it widely opens the hearts of those in the position to help others.

Religion doesn’t have a place in my life, and it may not have one in yours; but there’s no doubting it has its place in the world. 


4) TALENT CAN FLOURISH ANYWHERE

I had the privilege of meeting some amazingly talented individuals. At 17yrs of age, Paul is a perfect example. This video showcases his talent as a self-taught dancer and choreographer. And he certainly isn’t the only example. It seemed that Tongans had the natural ability to dance, sing, draw, and play sport. This is without the many learning opportunities and resources available in the west. I mean, despite having access to dance schools, video tutorials, and large body-sized mirrors, I definitely got put in my place by the dancers I met in Tonga. Here is a recent video of all of them in action.

Another example is a young woman who went from driving around in a car without windows to modelling in Europe, living a life she didn’t even dream about before. I’m sure there are similar stories emerging from other parts of the world. I’ve also seen similar things on Youtube, but there was something different about encountering this phenomenon in person.

Needless to say, as a person who tends to be quick to place limitations on himself, I left feeling inspired, now knowing what can be achieved with not much more than just passion and dedication.


5) WE’RE ALL UNDER THE SAME STARS

As this was my first extended period of time spent in another culture, I noticed a lot of differences. After enough time, I noticed many underlying similarities: Children cry when they fall over, people smile when they see each other, women like dressing up, and guys give each other crap because they care.

On a deeper level, I realised how we all just want to feel safe, to belong, to care for those close to us, and to feel loved ourselves.  We go about it in different ways, but our motives are the same, as with the emotions we feel. Different continents, countries and cultures don’t change the fact that we’re all people, trying to get by on the sample planet, under the same stars.

This is a great video on the topic.


6) TIME FLIES

I was packing my suitcase to leave, and then unpacking it – what felt like – shortly after. In reality, a whole year had passed. Just like that. I regret the time I initially wasted on deliberating on wether my decision to come to Tonga was the right thing to do because…

time doesn’t cease or slow for our uncertainty; it goes on, taking with it, another opportunity.

We all worry and wonder at times, but it’s important to remember that we won’t be where we are for long, and that we won’t be around for long either.  This fact will motive us all in different ways, but..

we all stand to miss something by standing around.

I was on a tiny island where I felt time moved so slowly, but eventually, it was up. I’ve come home to find people getting married and having children, and myself, once again, at a crossroads. I don’t know what’s next, but I know it will be over before I know it.


I’ve got one years worth of daily journal entries, so I’m sure there is more I could add, but I’m happy to close it off here. The experience taught me a lot, I saw another country but also another side to myself. It stretched my imagination and also made me that much more sturdy, mentally. It’s given me a lot to think about, write about, and share.

To you, the reader: I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into my adventure. Maybe you’ll look at your own life differently… or like I did, have the courage to change yours drasictally.

To Tonga:  malo (thank you) and hopefully toki sio (see you later).

Month 10 in Tonga

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Rather than tasting the batter, let me first describe how I beat this post out.

  1. I flip open my journal (not to be confused with a diary).
  2. I find the start of the month just past, and read my way to the current day.
  3. I make all sorts of facial expressions and sounds (not to be confused with my coming toilet break).
  4. I experience an array of thoughts flavoured from, “I’ll always remember that” to “f*** that sucked.”
  5. I close the lock on my journal with its matching glittering plastic pink key, snort four crushed up valium tablets and fall asleep to Jamie Oliver’s audio cookbook (not to be confused with a serious statement).

But on a serious note, the process can either be hectic, easy, or a well-suited challenge. But I still do it, regardless. I do it because, to understand the world, you have to first understand the filter which you perceive it through: yourself. I do it because, when all I see is pieces, writing helps me put the puzzle together – to form and gain clarity on the bigger picture – which is my life.

As Hemingway said, “Writing is a lonely existence.” So as much as I would like company, it’s not expected. But when I come back to this page in a few months, finding another set of fingerprints in the digital dust, and maybe a kindly left comment, certainly wouldn’t deter me from the habit.

So, let’s get into the month, starting with the little things.

I rode close to 50km on a trip (a lot for me). I volunteered at Tonga’s only international school, answering the many questions eight-year-olds have. I organised a fashion show for my institute’s students at a popular local bar. And I also joined another fashion committee which is hosting an upcoming show. I’m not particularly a ‘fashion’ person, but I’ve enjoyed the insight into their challenge of introducing contemporary clothes into traditionally conservative culture. To illustrate, one of the girls had her family say that they felt ashamed after seeing a photo of her posing in a bikini on a beach.

I had an experience of freakish serendipity. I went to the local flea market and just happened to find the exact book I was looking to download a few days ago; a book of famous poems, which I also wanted; and a jumper of a favourite band, where I only needed something to keep me warm in my upcoming trip to New Zealand.

I got a few postcards from home and had a great Skype call with someone I hadn’t seen in over 1 year. Someone who I only met in person once before I left for Tonga. Someone who I only met because of this blog. It was great to hear about his travels to Asia and tell him about my journey so far. Both experiences reminding me of the value and importance of longstanding relationships as well as like-minded company.

Now, the bigger things.

I had an early farewell at the technical institute where I volunteer, crying more than they did. I’m not sure why. Possibly from a volatile mixture of emotions, from missing people back home, the anxiety of returning, to my own doubt in my effectiveness of being here. So when a particular teacher said that I’ve made a “dream come true” for them by organising their cruise ship tours, it was enough to catch my manly mannerisms off guard, and to tip the ‘tea’rs that I knew were filling, but I was trying not to spill.

The farewell also helped me accept that I won’t have the same kind of impact as some of the other volunteers, it still doesn’t take away from the fact that I’ve had an impact.

Now, the biggest thing.

I finally completed by first video project! After standing at the cliff for a while, eyes shut, using my imagination to visualise the possibility of what I could create – I dove… well, I was pushed. Attending a recent community film festival where new video makers were showing   their creations, was the push I needed. It’s true what they say about inspiration: it’s contagious.

There’s also a truth about the creative process: its possessive. In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield explores the Ancient Greek myth of The Muses. In summary, there were nine daughters of Zeus who each governed a specific creative art form. And when a mortal set out to create something in one of these forms, he would be guided and inspired by its Muse. Truth aside,  I think it’s beautiful. It also reflects my experience of writing my ebook so I was glad to be under a kind of ‘creative spell’ once again.

“The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.” – Steven Pressfield

Once I just started my video project – even without a set plan – everything just fell into place. Editing and filming over 3 days, I couldn’t slow down nor stop until I had finished it. And finished it I did.

Like the short films I had watched at the festival I attended, my goal was to capture and share a certain unseen side of Tonga. I also chose a subject that really resonated with me personally – and I did it in a way that reflected my personality. The feedback has been great: many current volunteers have used it to show their friends and families back home what Tonga is like; the soon to arrive volunteers have been thankful for a chance to see what their new home is going to be like; and other people around the world now know about this tiny island they never knew exited. My favourite remark however, was, “I can’t help but smiling the whole way through it.” As such was my goal..

“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it.” – Steven Pressfield

Then came the worst thing: man down.

Out of nowhere, my enthusiasm’s gone – like someone tripped on the cord, pulling it out and taking all my energy with it. Everything’s a drag, I even consider deleting this blog. I won’t elaborate like I did in this post – but this particular time, it was bad enough for me to seriously consider how these seasonal states effect the quality of my life, what triggers them, and most importantly, what I’m going to do about them when I return home.

“You loathe yourself, and yet you’re consumed by grandiose ideas you have about your own importance. You’re up too high and down too low. Neither is a place where you’ll get any work done.” – Cheryl Strayed

I guess, there is a lot on my mind. There are a lot of forks in the road, and the uncertainty is as threatening as a knife.  But to quote Strayed again, “Self-pity is a dead-end road.” So here is something more optimistic out of my own mouth..

“Life may not be a piece of cake, but you’ve still got to bare your teeth and take a bite.”

So I’m going to spend my last 2 months here chewing: doing what I have to do. There are also still many experiences to taste: people to meet, things to learn, sights to snorkel, coconuts to drink.

– Boy out.

PS – Neat song

Welcome Home

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Home

Home. Four simple letters and perhaps for the purpose that it’s a word so essential to our earliest and deepest expressions. Any disgruntled child can often be heard screaming that they want to go there.

As we get older we may find ourselves doing the screaming as we detest the very same place. But once the storm of unbalanced hormones and teenage angst settles, as adults we hopefully look at home in a favourable light. Associating it with positive memories, love, comfort and safety.

Eventually we realise that the same wind that blew through the backyard where we played, can take us anywhere in the world.

We fly the nest.

This is when the word we learned at such an early age gets redefined. This happens at different times, some spread their swings much sooner than others.

Since taking flight, I’ve landed in three different locations, enjoying the comfort and company of those heading in the same direction. Never too far from my first home however, I never had a problem settling in.

Then came my latest and furtherest journey, which once again redefined the word I thought I knew. I’m overseas on an volunteer assignment in a developing country which means a very different environment .

As I first struggled to settle in while in temporary accommodation, things turned around once I found a room to call my own, with similar people, and the chance to do the things , that while simple and a few, are the foundation of an enjoyable day. Writing, meditation, dancing, listening to music, exercise, endless joking etc.

So home isn’t the place you grew up. Home isn’t the place you’re currently located or where your stuff is. Home is where ever and when ever it is that you feel at the most, yourself.

No Ordinary Relationships

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Your relationship status.

Its questioned on almost every form you fill out. Facebook requires it to ‘complete your profile’ and those stalking your profile are even more curious .Your friends bring it up, and your parents increasingly pester you as you get older. So the general concept of being in a relationship is expected, common, and ordinary to say the least.

This however should never devalue your actual personal relationship and the worth you feel. It should contain surprise, be unlike your past experiences, and unique. Sure , everyone is doing it, but no one is doing it like you.

Generally speaking and excluding certain commitments, being in a relationship is not exactly an obligation, so you should be respected for all that you’re giving, and respect your other for all you’re given.

Your title as a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife may be ordinary and common. But your role as their only one, makes you not.

Just the thoughts of someone who has been single for four years.

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Helping Words

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Chatting to a friend the other night about the year of 2013, we were reflecting not only on our accomplishments but our scars.

Our struggles are not always visible, and often once reaching the end, we don’t want our scars to be either. We’re all trying to run this race which has no finish line, and the last thing we want anyone else to think is that we are not fit for another lap.

I often felt I would be left behind if I told people what was going on at times. Surrounded by high achievers, I wanted to feel I was a worthwhile contribution to the team. Never burden anybody with my worries, negativity, fear or anything else I was unfortunately feeling at the time.

There I was wrong. Friendship or any team isn’t just about success, it’s also about support.

Half way into the conversation he stated something along the lines of  “You never told me you saw a psychologist, when I asked you about work you said it was ok”

I thought about this and questioned why I didn’t.I guess I didn’t need an answer to my problems, to feel better, I just needed to be asked.To know someone cared and was concerned.

From there the conversion would often turn to frivolously random topics and inside jokes, but I was laughing, I was smiling and I actually felt better.

I’m definitely not recommending turning blind eye or denial as a means of coping. I sought the help I needed, and I got it. It inspired me to do what I do now.

I’m encouraging everyone to think about the positive impact their words can have not matter what they are, and never underestimate their ability to help another person. Even if you feel you never know the right things to say to someone,  a simple hello, hope you’re ok, or lame joke can still be that helping hand.

 

 

 

A Message from a Mate

You don’t know him. You don’t what he has been through. He doesn’t know you. He doesn’t know what you’re going through.  But this is what he has to say to you.

Much more from him coming in 2014 on his blog Fitness Focus Freedom

jervo