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Embrace the present – not just endure it!

It was day four of a six-day, 2514.9km road trip as a pillion on a Kawasaki Versus 1000 Adventure Tourer, behind my partner, Bruce, with a stop to see my mum along the way.

We’d travelled through varying weather conditions – from snow and rain to warm spring sunshine. Pink and grey galahs peeked out from their nests in a hollow tree and sulphur-crested cockatoos screeched as they flew. Brumbies (Australian wild horses) surprised us in the high country and emus stalked through the plains grasses. Magpies kamikaze-dived at the bike while crows cawed at us from their carrion dinners.

But this day, I was in no mood to notice what was going on around me. I was having trouble just staying in place on the bike.

Gusty winds blustered in from all sides and I hunched my shoulders and hunkered down behind Bruce, hoping to avoid as much of the wind as I could. But there was no escaping it. My head bobbled when gusts of wind caught under my chin and my shoulders ached from bracing myself against a sudden head wind. The weather forecast was for wind wherever we went that day so all I was trying to do was endure the ride, get through the day, and hope that tomorrow would be more settled.

And then it hit me. Not a sudden shift in wind direction but a sudden shift in mindset.

I recalled the three pillars of my speaking and coaching business – own the past, embrace the present, create the future. In this challenging situation I had forgotten the second principal – not endure the present but embrace it! In that moment, I decided to embrace the present I was experiencing, as difficult as that was.

So, I sat up straight, squared my shoulders and looked straight ahead. And as I did so, I reflected on how those three actions can apply to other situations than bike riding in strong wind.

Sit up straight – any difficult or challenging event or life circumstance can be much better dealt with if I have a good posture. On the back of a bike in strong wind, this means having a strong physical posture. But in other situations, that may mean having the right posture of mind or attitude. Rather than hunkering down and hoping that things will blow over, changing posture or mindset can give us confidence to face the challenges, even if we can’t change the circumstances.

Square my shoulders – being hunched over is a defeatist position. The head is lowered and the shoulders are rounded. But squaring the shoulders, both literally and figuratively, communicates an intention to face the challenges head on. We can choose to be defeated long before we are actually conquered or we can choose to succeed in the face of often overwhelming odds. The choice is ours.

Look straight ahead – I have often reflected that I can face anything if I know what it is. And I know what I am facing if I am looking at it squarely. Having a bowed head, whether against the wind or against life, can seem like an attractive option – if I don’t look at it perhaps it will go away! But ignoring a situation does not remove the difficulty – it will still be there the next time we look up. However, challenges can seem smaller when we actually look at them, inspect them, and pull them apart into their component pieces.

Sit up, square off, look straight – good ideas for both life and bike riding.

Transition

Spring holds out such promise.

The grip of winter slackens. Blossoms show their faces, smiling happily at the warming sun.  New leaves edge their way out of their swollen buds. Grass begins to grow apace and lawn mowers can be heard again on weekends.

In Australia, spring begins on September 1 and, once that date hits, people look longingly at their summer clothes – at shorter sleeves and less layers. But it isn’t summer yet. There is a long way to go before that warmth is a constant reality.

spring

Spring is a transition time. Winter is gone but summer has not yet come. And winter does not readily let go. Most spring weather is unsettled at best. One day is warm, the next cold winds plunge us back to winter’s depths. Even in the space of one day, clouds and sunshine co-exist.

That is the nature of transition.

Whether it is transitioning from one job to another, one role in the workplace to another, moving into a new relationship, moving to a new house, moving interstate or overseas – transitions are exciting but difficult times as all change brings with it a certain measure of insecurity.

So, as we transition in different aspects of life, let’s take a few lessons out of Spring’s notebook.

First, be prepared. In Spring, we always carry an umbrella for those rainy days and a coat for the sudden cold bursts. So, as we transition, find ways to stay warm and dry – have some go-to favourites for those times when the changes are too much, such as favourite activities, books, movies or food. Above all, keep in touch with friends.

Second, rejoice in the warm days – when everything is going well and life is good. Embrace them, revel in them. Explore new paths, have new experiences, make new friends. This is why you decided to make that shift, move house, find a new relationship.

And lastly, remember that Winter always comes to an end. On those days when transition is hard, when the changes seem too big, when you just can’t find your feet – remember, that Winter does not last forever, Summer is coming.

Marriage? What is that?

 

If you asked, ‘What is marriage?’ of the majority of Christian denominations the answer would be that it is a God-ordained covenant between a man and woman. Further, most Western societies base their view of marriage on Christian ethos and morals and the Christian concept of marriage is accepted as the norm. This is certainly the backstory around marriage that I grew up with.

However, in the last two decades, the push for marriage equality has been more firmly on the agenda in many countries and in so doing has challenged us to consider what marriage actually is.

Australia has resisted a concerted effort by a growing number of groups for marriage equality to be granted. The argument put forward against marriage equality is that it is the beginning of a slippery slope to either polygamy or polyamory, forced gender transfer in children, and the destruction of family life.

Same-sex marriage is firmly on the political agenda and the upcoming postal vote ensures that it remains so. In looking to the future, it is important that Christians look at our own history of marriage and see what the way forward is.

You only have to spend a little time in Wikipedia to see that marriage has many forms: monogamy, polygamy, plural marriage, child marriage, same-sex marriage, temporary marriages and cohabitation are the options listed there. Different faiths and different cultures have different norms for marriage.

If we look at Christian heritage, is marriage as between one man and one woman the only example of marriage that God has accepted? A cursory look at the Old Testament would indicate not.

The patriarchs were men who had more than one wife or mother of their children. Abraham had Sarah as his wife and mother of Isaac, as well as Hagar as mother of his son Ishmael. Jacob had two wives, Rachel and Leah and two other women who bore him sons, Zilpah and Bilhah—and all the children borne to these four women were considered legitimate. David had more than one wife and Solomon even more so.

None of these men were condemned for having more than one wife or for having concubines. However, their choices of wives were questioned when they married women who brought foreign gods into the national worship, as was their wisdom in trying to circumvent or hasten God’s plan (aka Hagar).

One of the tempting things to do with the Bible is to read back into these ancient words our 21st century understandings. I have heard Christians say that the issues Abraham and Sarah had with Hagar were the result of the sin of polygamy. Yes, there were problems in this relationship, but these stemmed more from natural tensions around jealousy and favouritism, as well as the desire to make God’s promise come to pass in a natural way, than with polygamy per se.

It is interesting to note that what is our ‘normal’—companionate marriage and romantic love—has only operated since the rise of capitalism in Western societies. As industrialisation weakened the ties between extended families, the nuclear family became the norm. Up until the turn of the twentieth century, marriage was seen as one of the most significant fiscal decisions of a person’s life, determined in the majority of cases by property transfers—such as dowry—whilst romantic love was viewed as a disturbance of the sensible economic decision-making that was essential.[1]

Bodies such as the Australian Christian Lobby are active in arguing for man-woman marriage to be retained as the legal norm in Australian society. But, given that what we consider as ‘normal’ reasons for marriage are quite recent developments, the question remains about what marriage actually is.

Although the definition of marriage differs according to various cultures, it is chiefly an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually sexual, are accepted. ‘When defined broadly, marriage is considered a cultural universal. Individuals may marry for several reasons, including legal, social, libidinal, emotional, financial, spiritual, and religious purposes. Who they marry may be influenced by socially determined rules of incest, prescriptive marriage rules, parental choice and individual desire.’[2]

Throw into this mix the reality of same-sex love and attraction, both within the church and outside it, then the church must have more nuanced responses to questions around same-sex marriage than ‘don’t do it’, ‘it’s wrong’ and ‘no’.

I have come to the conclusion that, as a follower of Jesus, I must deal with people in love. I do not feel I can honestly condemn another person’s love or sexual union, if it is one in which the people involved are faithful to each other, are not solely giving into lust, and are not taking advantage of each other.

Here I would call upon Paul, when he writes in 1 Thessalonians 4: 3–6. He says that avoiding sexual immorality involves learning to control your body. This includes not giving way to passionate lusts, where sexual needs and desires are met in ways that do not honour the body. It also involves ensuring that we do not take advantage of others in our relationships with them—we cannot use people for our own ends.

I know these are broad strokes, and that these verses are often seen as only applying to man-woman marriage—not even to civil partnerships or de-facto relationships. However, I think there is enough in these words for Christians to use as a basis for healthy ‘marital’ relationships, whatever form they take.

In the end, Jesus says that it will be the love we show to others that will set us apart as his disciples (John 13:35). As we all must deal with the push towards marriage equality, let us deal with others in love—especially those who see things differently to ourselves.

I work with people to help them uncover the unconscious factors which drive their lives and find power in past experiences for future growth. It is imperative that as I do this with others, I also continue my own journey – to look at what I believe and why. And it has been my own backstory work, of critiquing my faith and worldview, that has brought me to this place.

It is also my understanding of the place of privilege I inhabit that has challenged me not to be silent in this marriage debate and to stand with those who have for so long been discriminated against – because I can and because I must.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage#Polygamy
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage

Ends and Beginnings

There is a pregnancy to winter.

Although this season can seem like the end, with its cold and ice and hardness, there is so much life just waiting under the surface. The trees appear dead, but at the tip of each branch – no matter how small – a new leaf or a new blossom is burgeoning. The skin of the branch is swollen, stretched tight over this new growth.

bud 1

The end is actually the beginning.

Many religions and philosophies speak of ends and beginnings. Some uses terms like death and resurrection, others reincarnation. There are myths around phoenixes which must die to be reborn. One ancient saying expresses ends and beginnings this way: ‘…unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’

I’ve experienced many ends and beginnings in my life. Some ends/beginnings have been welcomed – such as moving from being in my parents’ home into a home of my own when I got married, and the change from couple to family with the birth of our first son. Others have been more difficult – like divorce and starting again mid-life.

Sometimes ends assail us unexpectedly – such as the death of a loved one or redundancy from a much-loved and long-held job. When these ends occur, we wonder how our lives will ever be the same again. And the answer is – they won’t.

Life is never the same once an end has occurred.

Just as each year spring growth changes the shape and appearance of a tree, so the new life which we must build after an ending is not quite the same as the one that was before. Even if the end is welcomed, the new life, the new beginning, brings irrevocable change.

bud-2.jpg

This change can be experienced in less physical ways as well. When I have shifted my thinking, changed my outlook or mindset, I have discovered that I’m unable to go back to the former way of looking at life. And I understand that physiological changes occur in the brain during these processes which mean that our brains actually do change when we change our minds!

And these shifts – either physical or in thinking – have taken me places I never expected and opened up possibilities and experiences that I didn’t anticipate.

At times, I’ve been shown aspects of my personality and nature that I was unaware of – which is not always easy or pleasant but is ultimately renewing and developmental. It’s a bit like a door opening into an unused or forgotten room in which I find whole new spaces that I can use.

More than this, I’ve tapped into skills and understandings that, like the pregnant bud on the end of the branch, have always been there but have just been waiting for the right time to burst into life. And the abilities and capacities that I was sure I possessed have surfaced and I’ve been able to accomplish many of the things I had hoped I would be able to.

There is, I have discovered, no end to the beginnings I can step into as long as I am prepared to face the ends.

bud-3.jpg

Managing Time?

Time management is an issue which is addressed in every workplace.

Increased productivity and profitability is linked to the ability to make the most of the time allotted to us each day – whether we are working for our own agenda as business owners or entrepreneurs or whether we are working for someone else’s goals as employees.

We are encouraged to divide our days into hourly, half hourly or even 15 minute slots and allocate a particular task to each division. This sort of time management is very successful in being able to work through the daily to-do list and many people operate along these lines and consequently achieve much.

As I’ve grown older, the desire to be driven to achieve has been tempered by a natural slowing of the pace of life. I’ve become more reflective and, although I know how fast time seems to slip away and want to make the most of this last third of my life, I’m conscious too that I want to view my days differently.

One of the side effects of the aging process, along with lined skin and changing body shape, is a sense of liking being in your own skin. This feeling at ease with yourself manifests itself as a desire to be more authentic – to live more congruently – which then impacts how I use my days.

I no longer want to be ruled by a to-do list, although I still find them a helpful tool for remembering things that must be done because I do forget! My desire is to live each day as if it were my last – to wake up each morning and think, “If today is my last, how will I fill it?”

The answer to that question lies in who I am.

The answer to that question is more about who am I rather than what I want to achieve.

The answer to that question concerns being rather than doing.

My day may be used in the same ways that I would if I had a to-do list, if I had it apportioned in time slots, but my reason for doing these things has changed. I no longer do things to tick them off a list, or to show how much I have completed or achieved today. I do things because they resonate with who I am. I do the things that reflect me.

As I end each day I reflect on how I have used the time I’ve had and judge whether I have used it well or ill by how much the day has reflected who I am.

I recognise that the ability to use time according to my agenda is a luxury I didn’t have when my sons were young and life was much more fast-paced than it is now. But I believe that we each, regardless of the season of life or the circumstances in which we find ourselves, have some measure of control over how we use our time. Time is manageable. Its apportioning into seconds, minutes, hours and days is merely an artificial construct.

We can choose to live each day congruently and authentically.

Give me a lever and a place to stand…

I recently read these words of Greek philosopher, Archimedes, “Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the world.”

Archimedes was mooting the possibility that if the Earth rested on the short end of lever, close to a fulcrum in space, and if Archimedes was on the other end of this extremely long lever then, theoretically, his weight would be sufficient to move the entire world.

Lever

A recent LinkedIn article also gave me pause for thought.

In it the writer criticised those who complained about their life situation or how hard they worked or their lack of time. The writer then went on to compare their own work ethic, or ability to hustle, with that of these ‘complainers’. I think the intended goal of the article was to shake up the complainers to take action but I came away from it quite discouraged.

This ‘Triple C’ lever for changing the world is ineffective.

Complaining about our life situation but doing nothing to change it is energy-sapping, time-consuming and changes nothing – be it a boss, employees, a partner, a friend, the economy or world affairs.

Criticising others who look at life and work differently to the way we do is neither helpful for ourselves, nor is it motivating for those we criticise – often it only leads to the ones being criticised becoming defensive and less likely to hear anything valid the critic may have to say. It is rarely effective in changing behaviours or attitudes.

Comparing leads to one of two outcomes – either we compare ourselves favourably with others or we compare unfavourably. We come away feeling as though we are better than others or discouraged. Neither is a viable option for change. As a good friend reminds me when I am tempted to compare myself with others, “Put the measuring tape away!”

The one lever that I believe is most effective in changing ourselves, others and the world is encouragement. Encouragement sees the person first and then addresses any issues or failings.

If I am performing poorly at work or in a task, an encouraging word along with a constructive critique is a most useful method of bringing about the desired change. Encouragement makes allowances for the unseen factors in a person’s life that may be impacting how they perform – the things I do not know as an onlooker but which may be serious issues in another person’s life.  Encouragement also allows room for personal growth and individual outlooks to be brought to bear on a situation. Encouragement acknowledges that one size does not fit all.

“Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the world”, said Archimedes.

In our digital world, the place many of us stand is the online platform. There is permanence to this platform because once our words are ‘out there’ they cannot be retracted – they stand forever, always accessible.

From this place to stand we can move the world but only if we use an effective lever. The lever I choose is encouragement.