awareness

Small Hands

How often do you think about your body? Its limbs, extremities, face, organs, mind? It’s almost two years now since I fell off that building and smashed up my arm, and I think I’ll always remember how terrifying it was. Not just the pain, but more the prospect of no longer being able to do all the things I took for granted. Simple things, like showering, being able to wash each part of your own body and then put clothes on it. Preparing food for yourself or someone you love. Being able to carry two cups of tea. Driving. Bigger things our limbs can do, like holding musical instruments that make beats and melodies that transport your songs to something new and beautiful. Stretching out to sleep comfortably, and horizontally. Holding a camera to capture moments, holding bags of treasures and presents, or holding another soul dear and close in an embrace of love and appreciation. Doing cartwheels. Since then, I’ve never lost sight of how easy it is to take things for granted. We usually don’t think about impossible, horrid things unless faced with them, but I think it’s important to cultivate an awareness of what we have, because of how quickly it can all be taken away.


walkOur time here is finite
. Unless you’re spending your life working on some kind of cryogenic stasis device that’ll let you wake again in two hundred years and zip about on a rocket ship, every day is another that evaporates with every sunset. When you look back from the end of your life, are you going to say you spent those precious days well? I feel like each and every one will have seemed like an individual gift, as opposed to the ongoing stream we navigate our way through today. At the end, people always seem to wish for just one more day, to spend close to someone they love, or to do something they’ve always wanted to. To live fully and completely, forbidding a single moment to pass by and be wasted. I tend to always be on the go, and I seem to have assumed responsibility for planning most things when it comes to my group of friends. Maybe it’s an INFJ thing, but I like looking at a planner and seeing it filled with things to look forward to. Seeing hours each evening booked up with songwriting, dashing about the city scouting locations for photoshoots, visiting friends, throwing Star Trek parties, or building blanket forts. Those things all totally happened within the last two weeks.

I don’t know if it’s the way I was wired or if it stemmed from earlier years filled with anxiety – I remember arriving home countless moons ago to one empty apartment or another, and having no idea what to do with the remainder of the evening I was met with. I remember living alone and wishing I had plans with people. Imagining everyone I knew taking part in fun activities and making myself so sad I wasn’t part of them. I convinced myself I was everybody’s afterthought. But that was the thing – and here’s where I want to travel back in time and give my younger self a good shaking – a) I was sitting there crying about something without doing anything about it, and b) I conjured it all up in my own head and told myself it was truth. Aren’t those the root causes of so much discontent? The human brain is fascinating, but it can also be a bit of a bastard.

I’m on the brink of turning 30, and I have to say 25 was the year my life started to turn around. Whether it was the sheer exasperation of having played the part of the victim for so long and blaming other things (formative years living in a sibling’s shadow, a trans-Atlantic move, a traumatising high school experience, fear of public speaking, a handful of unfortunate and pretty awful relationships, invented imaginings of people judging me or not thinking me good enough… the list went on), or the carpet being pulled from under my feet when my ex-husband went religion-crazy and having to get a new job, a car, a home, and truly Be A Grown Up – I made that list of 25 things I was sick of wishing for instead of actually being able to do, and did everything in my power to do it. Just do it. It’s a brilliant slogan, but a better attitude with which to meet life. “But what if I fail?” Just do it. At least then you’ll have the sense of accomplishment and lack of regret you get with actually trying. “But what if people judge me?” Just do it. If you have a burning desire to do something, it’s not for no reason. It’s meant to get out of your mind and into the world. It could be brilliant. “But what if I get hurt again?” Just do it. Ships aren’t meant to stay in harbours. Replace all those negative what-ifs with a spirit of forever trying anyway, and perhaps a new what-if: but what if it’s amazing?

You have two hands. Arms. A mind, a voice, dreams, and an imagination. Hopefully, all those things are in working order. I hope today, if just for a second, you reflect on all the things you’re capable of with those gifts. And perhaps do something wonderful with them. I like to give lots of hugs, make photographs, and write stories and songs.

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I think it’s too easy to fall into residing within the confines of what we tell ourselves, believing the walls to be solid and real. These words, these fears, these doubts – we invent them based on worry and we inadvertently live our lives according to them. We tell ourselves all the things we’re afraid of – not being clever or fun or attractive enough, not being wealthy enough, not having enough time – and we go ahead and live as if they were truths. In doing so, we limit ourselves – perhaps it’s a self-preservation thing, in which case if things do go wrong, then at least we already called it – but it’s stupid. We all have the potential, the time, and the physical ability to chase after our potential. So why do so few of us actually start realizing it? Why do we strap sandbags to our sails when we have every capacity to soar?

Bad choices are probably one culprit. We choose what’s easy, and often follow the path of least resistance because we tell ourselves we’re exhausted and that we don’t have the time or patience for anything else. But every day – think about that – every single moment of every single day – is another chance to make another decision. Miss somebody? Reach out to them. Stop waiting by the phone and pick it up, tell them what they mean. Scared of trying something new? Stop sitting and wishing, wasting and wanting, and start doing. It might take more effort than watching three episodes of Game of Thrones, but it’ll be time well spent. More obligations than time? Evaluate. Are the things and people upon which you’re spending your time bringing positive things to your life? I try to stick to the 80/20 rule as much as I can. Spend 80% of my free time on things that are 80% in line with what I want my life to look like, and 20% on necessities (housework, chores, shopping etc.). It’s easy to spend 80% on things that contribute 20% to your life, and only 20% of your time on the things that bring you 80. Doing what we feel we should be doing rather than what we genuinely want to be doing is another. We get caught up in other people’s expectations of where we should be with our lives and how we should be spending our time instead of truly examining if what we’re doing is contributing to our overall happiness. It’s okay to review and switch things up a bit.

Reacting adversely to things beyond our control is probably another habit that’s too easy to get into and only detracts from a happy life. I have to give enormous credit to J. here for being hands-down the most grounded, wise person I’ve ever been fortunate enough to have known, and I’m experiencing a huge and wonderful internal change as a result. Sometimes, things don’t go according to plan. You’re merging into traffic and hit a van full of wheelchairs, for example (#happened), or you visit IKEA to buy a pillow and lose your car keys somewhere in its labyrinthine aisles leaving you unable to get into your vehicle that’s right there. My usual course of reaction: cry, panic, and cry some more. One call to him? My brain stops seeing things as the end of the world and sees them as a minor inconvenience I’ll probably laugh about in an hour, and I’m reminded of all the things that I still have to be thankful for. I think I mentioned before, but in the last few months, I’ve found I no longer need anti-anxiety medication or sleeping pills – things that have been synonymous with life for years. I find myself in shops and car parks and see people freaking out at things that a) they can’t control, and b) really aren’t the end of the world. Life’s too short to be filled with such frustration and anger and tears for such trivialities. Wal-Mart doesn’t have the right brand of cat food? Relax. Take a drive to another shop and use the time to listen to some great music and sing your heart out instead. Then drive home and use those two fully functional hands to pick up that cat and give it a damn hug. Life really is 10% what happens to you, every moment, and 90% how you react to it. Practising awareness can do miraculous things for your state of happiness, stress, and overall well-being.

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I hope today is a good day for you. I hope your spirit is light and you have at least three brilliant things to be thankful for today. I hope that your hands are operational and uninjured, and I hope that with them, you choose to do something wonderful.

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7 Days. 25 Dollars.

A little while ago, I disclosed what it was I did for work. (I hadn’t realised this had been a secret until I saw all the so THAT’S what you do!” messages floating on in!)  Working in the non-profit sector has been an amazing ride over the last two and a half years, a ride in which I’ve unearthed a passion for helping those less fortunate, been given an outlet in which to grow, and developed an incredible appreciation for everything I have. There are no words to describe the feeling of joy that accompanies watching someone’s life turn around in the span of a few months, and being in a position that exists to help rather than make profit is truly a blessing. But that’s not to say that every once in a while it doesn’t tug at the heart strings.

Sadly, I see so many people every day who’ve fallen victim to an array of sad life circumstances. They may be disabled, on welfare, in abusive relationships, or recently made redundant. Remember Greg? Heartbreaking, right? Often, they don’t have access to things like fresh fruit or vegetables, or even a telephone line. Sometimes, they may not even have a home address. The disturbing reality of wanting to help people is the fact that it’s a requirement for those people to need that help in the first place. At work, the testimonial I hear over and over again, however, is that the people that come here feel, often for the first time in a very long time, welcomed, cared about, and not judged. It’s so easy to judge a book by its cover, but taking the time to hear someone’s story and see them as a real person might just be the best give you could ever give them.

So last week, I had an opportunity to learn what it’s like to live like some of our clients have to every day. An e-mail was circulated amongst staff asking if anyone was interested in taking the “Poverty Challenge”- to live on a budget of $25 for seven days. That included all food and beverages, all personal hygiene products, as well as bills. You could earn a few extra dollars here and there by going without things like television $1 per day), mobile phones ($2 per day) or a shower/load of laundry ($1.50 per day). You had to go into it starting with absolutely nothing, and live on a similar budget to that of many of those on our welfare system.  I knew it would be tough, but I like to think I at least attempt a challenge when it’s presented! Plus I thought it would go a long way in deepening an understanding of (and care for) many of the people I see every day. At the beginning of the week, those who’d signed up had a meeting. There were only five in attendance.

On the first day, I buggered up right away and went on a Starbucks run with my coworkers. After I’d paid my $5 I was mortified as my prior obligation immediately made its way back to the forefront of my mind. I resolved to be 100% diligent and disciplined for the rest of the week, went shopping, and spent $20 of my $25 on food that I hoped would get me through the next seven days. A loaf of bread could be used for sandwiches at lunch, as well as toast in the mornings. Margarine was a luxury anyway. A couple of cans of tuna would last several days for lunch, and a bag of plain oatmeal, though pretty tasteless, would be a good start to the day that would probably keep me full longer. Dinner was the tough part. I bought one jar of cheap pasta sauce and a box of spaghetti, two boxes of Kraft Dinner, and a carton of Hamburger Helper (SO gross), which I knew would leave me with leftovers for at least two nights. I calculated what was in my shopping basket to see if I’d have enough for cheese. Just about, but I’d have to ration it. And that’s what lasted me all week. No fresh produce, no soy milk, no multivitamins, no tea or coffee, no snacks, and no juice. Tiny little things I usually weave into the fabric of every day without thinking twice became luxuries I couldn’t afford. I had to “earn” an extra few dollars by skipping a shower or a load of washing a few times, or refraining from using Internet or television (hence a bit of an absence from the blogosphere!).

I learned a copious amount over the last week, and as difficult as it was, I’m glad I went through it. I found quickly that I was learning not to waste – instead of making a big meal and scraping what I didn’t eat into the bin for example, I’d make an extra effort to take only half, and save some for the next day. I found the most difficult thing was learning how to say no to things I generally take for granted – even simple things like going on a coffee run with colleagues was $2 I didn’t have, so I definitely felt almost… embarrassed at not being able to partake. Embarrassment was a feeling that manifested itself throughout the week, not just at the workplace (an aptly timed “breakfast meeting” at a restaurant took place part-way through the week) but at home, too – I had to turn down invitations for coffee, lunch and dinner with friends, and had to show up at a friend’s barbeque over the weekend empty-handed.  I noticed a difference in my energy levels – not being able to snack during the day contributed to increased levels of fatigue, hunger and – shock, horror – irritability! I then realised I’d been rationing so much I had a whole box of Kraft Dinner left for the last day, and got incredibly excited – not a usual feeling about food, but very much so after going without so much all week. Not being able to take multivitamins in combination with the cheap brands of basic soap and shampoo took its toll on my skin, and I found myself breaking out more towards the end of the week too. 

In summary, doing the Poverty Challenge was definitely an eye-opening experience. It’s so sad to know that so many people have to live like this, and my heart absolutely goes out to them for getting through every day, often with a completely positive attitude, too.  This really made me thankful for everything I have, especially the little luxuries about which I wouldn’t normally think twice. I think I’m going to be more mindful over the next little while – asking myself if I really need that Starbucks, or thinking twice about the size of my meals, and being more aware of the possibility of making them stretch to a second day. I’ll take my time when eating, appreciating it if only for the fact that I didn’t have to struggle to get it. And I will make a conscious decision to try and spread what I’ve learned, to try not to waste, and always try to do what I can to help those in need.

Do you think you’d be able to take the Poverty Challenge? What daily things do you feel lucky to have, or be able to do without struggling?