Sunday, May 30, 2010

New Discoveries

It's been a week of discoveries - nice ones - and it makes you think. We get into life and get used to our lives and if, like me, you're heading towards your last birthday in your forties, you get to thinking that there are no surprises left, least of all any that might be coming from inside you.

And then you discover something that you can do, and all of a sudden you start questioning the person you are. Who you have been hasn't been all that you can be. Who you may turn out to be, may be someone very different from what you imagined.
New horizons have opened up with virgin territory to travel. Who said life isn't exciting?

Of the stuff I've been reading this week, one of the new discoveries came from the book 'French Women Don't Get Fat'. Its one of those books that's taunted me from the bookshop shelves for a few years, and after going to France earlier this year and observing that in comparison to Australia and the UK that indeed, there were very few fat women, I gave into my curiosity and got it from the library.

Its a very elegant and kind philosophy and the author, Mireille Giulliano, shares my abhorrence of gyms, so there was a kind of 'sista' thing happening from the start.
Anyway, one of the tenets of the philosophy is that one obtains maximum enjoyment from food and beverages only in the first three or four sips or bites, and that after that we're only continuing to eat or drink because there is more there. She posits that we should half the portion on our plate and see if that would suffice.

Immediately I was cynical, not least because I have a real fear of being hungry, partly because of the physical pain involved in hunger, partly because to leave food on one's plate was seen as a great sin when I was growing up, and partly because, well, I don't know. Maybe in a past life I was poor or lived in a famine area.

But, I tried her theory, and bugger me, it worked. It was true. If I ate slowly, even half of the food on my plate was completely sufficient to satisfy my hunger. And it doesn't stop there because she insists that in eating as a good French woman one should always have dessert - just a little, but something sweet, even if it is fruit and yoghurt. My god! Dessert on a regular basis was banned from my psyche many many years ago, and yet she's right - it puts a kind of full stop after the savoury meal, finishing it like the end notes provide a resolution for the symphony.

Same with wine. She insists that it is a good thing to have one or two glasses of (preferably red) wine with dinner, which I do, but to try only half filling the glass and having more pours. Same amount of wine or even less, but the multiple pouring tricks the mind into thinking its had more. By god, again it works.

These simple techniques along with increasing one's fruit and veggie intake, and that moderation means denying yourself nothing as long as you have a little of it, sets up a lifetime of healthy eating and a different relationship to food.

My husband does most of the cooking in our house. He's very good at it but sometimes I feel guilty for all that work he puts in. Truth is,over the years I had lost my connection to cooking.

It was a nightly chore filled with resentment as the lazy ex would see me come home from work while he, jobless and flat out on the couch would enquire 'whats for dinner?'as I made my way directly from the front door to the kitchen. It was all I could do not to hit him with a frying pan.

The act of cooking, which should have been a pleasurable, good and nurturing thing, was like a black lump in my chest and I only did it because my dad and son also needed dinner.

Now I'm involved in Ms Giulliano's philosophy, the pleasure is returning. We went to the Adelaide market yesterday (first time in 6 years for me) where I bought up big on the organic veggie stall, and got real pleasure in the feel of a pumpkin and the smell of freshly dug carrots. I bought fish and cooked it for tea and actually felt part of the process - re-engaged.

To retrain ones body and mind in this philosophy - or 'recast' as the author puts it - isn't an overnight thing. Ms Giulliano suggests that it takes a minimum of three months, the key being to have a little discipline, and to be kind to oneself.

And that's the part of it I like most. Kindness in some areas has been relegated to second place, and it's wonderful to see it making its way back to the top of the list.

Have a great week and bon appetit!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Living in interesting times

Today is significant for me. It was 11 years ago today that I landed in Australia. At the time I also had with me my four year old son, a ne'er-do-well (ex) husband and my dad.

Today the skinny little four year old is almost 16 and taller than me, the ex is about to start a new phase of life after a subsequent failed marriage, my dad passed away peacefully two years ago, and I have a most wonderful new husband and two great grown-up stepsons, who also brought with them a large and welcoming extended family. Changes, huh?

What fascinates me is that mine is just one story amongst the millions of people on this earth. Even right now in my work and social circle I'm in touch with people who are separating from their long term partners, leaving for new horizons overseas, celebrating milestone birthdays, finding new ways to get through the daily grind, dealing with health problems, family problems, celebrating new births and every other kind of situation you can think of.

That's why I love blogs and I love reading blogs - especially of people that I know. On the one level it lets us know that we're not isolated, that others share similar pains and joys, and on another level, when it's someone I know, it allows me to get to know them that little bit better; creates understanding and promotes tolerance.

And the stories, the experiences, I love to hear them. I especially love to hear peoples' views of places they've traveled to; not how much a cup of coffee cost, but what the new experience did to their senses, how it altered their view of the world and how they responded; did it change them?

We're a myriad of people with a lot of stories, just like that old TV program The Naked City - "In this city there are a million stories..." and in the blogosphere, if you're lucky, you get to look in on some of them.

I saw a play on Friday night, and in it the actor said that as people, we are our stories, and our stories make us and make our families, contributing to that ongoing thread through the generations we call culture and tradition.

Despite what some people say, those things haven't died. We've got a brave new way of allowing them to live and be told through the internet, and I for one am loving it.We can share and support and do it all from the comfort of our own homes on the internet if that's how we choose, and we can travel to faraway places to be with people we love, if that's what we'd prefer. Never has there been so much potential for good within the field of human communication. Lets make the most of it.

Its probably truer now than ever, we certainly do live in interesting times.

Have a great week, everyone.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

An Intriguing Challenge

It's been a massive week in some respects, not least in the realisation that I need to remember more frequently to count my blessings and that what I want is actually where I am.

It sounds simple but if you've spent the best part of your life trying to get to somewhere better, the autopilot kicks in and the impulse is to relentlessly move forward despite the terrain about you being your desired destination.

So, a new challenge for me - learn how to stop and enjoy what you've been striving for when you realise you got there - and its an intriguing challenge.

It seems to mirror my main philosophical/spiritual guide, the Tao Te Ching in its focus on the small, the familiar, and in the eyes of the world the very tame, aspects and issues of our lives to become our real teachers. And yet it isn't small - the contrast between momentum and control, mirrored in the practice of tai chi is subtle, yet profound.

Swinging kinetic movement is fun and gives at least the appearance of change and progress. Small, controlled and smooth movement appears to be unchanging, too slow for our modern tastes, stasis. But in these small slow movements new universes unfold.

I observe the movement of my hand as it waves across my field of vision. Its slow smooth action allows me to see the wrinkles and lines in my skin, observe the muscles containing their movement to my will, the colour and pigmentation, lines of blood vessels, calloused and smooth spots.

And so it is with life. The slowing down is allowing me to observe in closer quarters the beauty, both temporal and spiritual, that I may have missed in all of my activity.

This slowing of the pace, I do believe I like it.

In some ways connected with the above thoughts, this week I performed what I intend to be my last standup comedy gig. It was a spot to help entertain some of the 500 volunteers who provide such necessary services to people in the community where I work. It was a privilege to be there and a good one on which to step down.
Comedy has given a lot to me over the past eight years - not least some great friends - and taught me much. I don't know what happens from here, just that it seems like the right time to close that particular door, so thankyou to everyone who's helped me, performed with me, and come to see me. Its been a lot of fun.

If you're interested in the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu there's a great translation by Stephen Mitchell at:
Its my favourite translation and a copy of it sits on my desk at work for quick reference.

Have a great week, everyone!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

If I Can Dream

If you could speak to your younger self, send a message back through time to yourself at another age, what would you say?

Hindsight is a bittersweet quality, only available when its strategic usefulness has expired, so if you could benefit a younger you with it’s wisdom, what would you tell?

It’s a question that comes to me after a bit of a strange experience yesterday. I was driving to work and as usual had the music up loud, singing along. It was the soundtrack to All Shook Up, the musical I’m currently in rehearsal for, with all of the songs being Elvis Preseley songs. Some of the vocal arrangements are just gorgeous, and being a sucker for massed voices I often am moved to a tear or two just at the beauty of them.

There’s a song called ‘If I Can Dream’ which has particularly moving sentiments and arrangement, and as it played yesterday morning going along Morphett Road, I was really listening to it when I realised I was actually sobbing.

What the hell? What was going on?

The particular verse that sparked me off said:

“There must be peace and understanding sometime
Strong winds of promise that will blow away
the doubt and fear
If I can dream of a warmer sun
Where hope keeps shining on everyone
Tell me why, oh why, oh why won't that sun appear”

And as quickly as I asked myself the question I saw in my mind myself, about 15 years ago, in very different, difficult circumstances. I was in Glasgow. My mum had just died and I had a three month old baby. A month before the baby’s birth my (now ex) husband had just confessed that most of the things he’d told me about himself, our finances and a lot of other things were out and out lies; and the last thing my mum had said to me before she died was to ask me to promise to look after my dad.

My world had crumbled in a lot of ways, I was broke and to a certain extent broken. I really was at my lowest ebb with nothing and little support (I realise now if I’d spoken to my family I’d have had more support, but I felt such shame because of my then husband that I didn’t).

But, you know, although mum wasn’t there in body, she was there in spirit. I could hear her speak and she was saying, as she did in life, that even if I had nothing else I could dream. I could feel myself absorb her strength, and dream I did – and dreamed large!

I had always wanted to return to Adelaide where I’d spent my formative school years, and to bring my son up here. Adelaide always felt like home.

Just like the song said, I dreamed of peace and understanding, away from the marital rows, I dreamed of something taking away the fear I felt, and oh how I dreamed of that warmer sun as I sat under Glasgow’s drizzling skies.

And I think that the strength of my vision, my dream moved me to action, and from there I find myself fifteen years later, listening to a song that’s hit home and wishing I could go back and tell the me of 1995 that everything was going to be just fine.

That I would make it to Adelaide and have a wonderful life with great friends. That, with the help of my sister we would look after dad just fine until he died in peacefully, in 08; that I’d be lucky enough to work in a beautiful place with great people, that my son would grow and thrive, and that after getting away from the ex I would meet the most wonderful man who is truly my soulmate and this weekend we celebrate our first wedding anniversary.

So, I suppose my message to me back then, and to anyone else who would care to listen is to continue to dream and to make it as big a dream as possible. Any limitations are only those imposed by you upon yourself, so be kind to yourself and give those dreams some welly!

Never underestimate the power of your dreams to come true, and never underestimate the power of a song to transport you back in time and so eloquently empathise with your situation.

And as for me, blubbing on Morphett Road on a Friday morning – yeh, spent the day with ruined makeup and puffy eyes, but jeez its worth it!

If I Can Dream
By Walter Earl Brown

There must be lights burning brighter somewhere
Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue
If I can dream of a better land
Where all my brothers walk hand in hand
Tell me why, oh why, oh why can't my dream come true
Oh why

There must be peace and understanding sometime
Strong winds of promise that will blow away
the doubt and fear
If I can dream of a warmer sun
Where hope keeps shining on everyone
Tell me why, oh why, oh why won't that sun appear

We're lost in a cloud
With too much rain
We're trapped in a world
That's troubled with pain
But as long as a man
Has the strength to dream
He can redeem his soul and fly

Deep in my heart there's a tremblin' question
Still I am sure that the answer, answer's gonna come somehow
Out there in the dark, there's a beckoning candle, yeah
And while I can think, while I can talk
While I can stand, while I can walk
While I can dream, please let my dream
Come true......right now

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Unveiled in Belgium

The Belgian government has voted to banish the full face Niqab and body covering Burkha from public places. The ban applies to public places, streets, parks and buildings delivering services to the public. A similar ban is also being considered in France, Denmark and the Netherlands. The primary reason given is one of security in that it stops people being identified, and the vice president of the Muslim Executive of Belgium, Isabelle Praile, warned that it could set a dangerous precedent "Today, its the full-face veil, tomorrow, the veil, the day after it will be the Sikh turbans and then perhaps it will be mini skirts," she said. Talking about drawing a long bow! Since when did a turban or a mini skirt stop someone being identified?
And to top it off, the ban has been opposed by not only some Muslim leaders, but also a Catholic bishop and Amnesty International! My, it fair warms the cockles of my heart to see old Amnesty supporting a woman's right to be negated!
Some people are saying that this is a blast against Islam, and yet to make someone cover themselves in public like this is the furthest I've ever seen from my own experience of Muslims. Now bear in mind that I am not talking about the hijab, or head covering and the general principles of modesty in Islam, which personally I applaud and feel that us non Muslims could learn a lot from in terms of respect and equality - see for more understanding.
In Scotland I lived in an area in Glasgow called Govanhill. It was an area that was usually the first stopping point for migrant waves. At the start of the 20th Century it was the Irish. Back in the 20s and 30s the Jewish people came, then the Italians, then in the 60s and 70s people from India and Pakistan, many of whom were Muslim. In fact a stunning gold domed mosque was built hardly a mile from Govanhill, and on the whole the people who came were peaceful and contributed greatly to our community. A good proportion of the women seemed to be in some ways better off than some of their non Muslim counterparts - especially in areas like education - but I never once saw anyone wearing a Burqa or a Niqab on the street, so its hardly a universal Muslim requirement.
Some people say that the women should be able to wear the garments if they choose to, but is it a free choice? What repercussions will they suffer if they choose not to wear it? If there are any repercussions its not a free choice.
Another more traditional argument for it has been that a woman's looks will tempt men to commit sins of the flesh, so actually, its the guy's problem, not the womens'. Perhaps compulsory mittens for the men might be the answer rather than the veils for the women. That old argument has been thrown out years ago in our courts when it comes to rape cases, so why tolerate it in other areas?
I've known some very good people who happen to be Muslim, as I've also known very good people who happen to be Christians, atheists, Sikhs and Hindus. Their common traits have been the desire to spread the love and a respect for others, men and women.
When a woman is condemned to be veiled in public, she is cut off from society in both a larger way and in the everyday pleasures of things as simple as exchanging a smile. It denies her the right to self expression, and freedom of movement. I certainly would find it difficult to strike up a conversation with someone at the bus stop or in a queue if she was covered from head to foot.
It's crap that it has to come down to a government edict to grant people basic human rights. The best changes come from within the system itself, in this case the middle eastern arms of Islam.
As a Taoist and a bit of a pick n mixer, spiritually speaking, I'll continue to petition to Whatever's out there, like NASA's regular radio signals, to turn its face towards us and to help bring the love in and free the veiled ladies.