Author Archives: Fiftypluskiwi

Talking rubbish

My family may say I do it all the time, but never in a million years, did I think I would be talking rubbish.

But here I am, and it is thanks to the thousands of students who marched to Parliament, demanding more urgent action on climate change. I felt inspired, or should I say, my hackles were heckled, prompting me to add my own voice to this incredibly important work of caring for our planet.

Every day I pick up other people’s rubbish. Call it what you like – litter, trash, rubbish, garbage, waste, or refuse – it is on our streets and, sadly, human behaviour is responsible for putting it there.

Thirty minutes into my walk and my hands were full

According to estimates, about 80 % of litter found in oceans comes from land-based sources, from human hands. Rubbish is choking the marine animals and plants. These marine animals and plants play a significant role in the life cycle and in absorbing carbon emissions. I live in coastal Papamoa; I try to make sure I grab what I can before it enters the ocean.

The photo illustrating this article shows my rubbish recovery mission 30 minutes after leaving my home in coastal Papamoa. There are chunks of hard plastic, wrappers, bottles, cans, lollipop sticks, polystyrene, plastic pallet ties, plastic and beer bottle tops, pieces of gladwrap and food containers. Every day.is similar.

People say Covid-19 turned the world upside down. But I felt a grinding tilt in my inner psyche that something was not right a year earlier. It started with the Christchurch mosque shootings and ended with Greta Thunberg’s fiery climate change speech. Both these events disturbed me. By the end of 2019, my belief and hope for a better, cleaner, and more loving world lay fragile and tenuous. The job of changing the world seemed too big for this ‘ordinary’ pensioner. 

Yes, Thunberg’s ‘How Dare You’ speech rattled my cages. I became defensive.  No way could I be responsible for the rising sea levels and the shrinking, melting ice glaciers.

‘Pooh to climate change. How dare you, too,’ I shouted back.

When I reflected on this ‘tilt’ and process the disquiet that had been slowly building, I came across poet Rumi’s quote scribbled in one of my journals.

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” [Rumi]

The only thing we can change as individuals is our behaviour.

Yes, instead of looking to change the world on a global and grander scale, I asked myself what I could actively do to address my footprint on this planet, right now. That is when I noticed rubbish on the ground…. everywhere.

I had walked past rubbish on a daily basis. Did I see it, or did I just ignore it?  Not mine, not my responsibility. But it is my responsibility, as it is for each of us. No, I may not have been responsible for putting the rubbish on the ground, but once noticed, it did become my responsibility to pick it up.

Now rubbish practically waves at me. Look at me, it says, I am everywhere, in the gutters, footpaths, parks and beaches. PICK ME UP!

How many students stopped and picked up litter along their way to Parliament building? How many students clean up rubbish in their own neighbourhood?  Marching for climate change would carry much more weight if each student engaged in an activity contributing to making a change, rather than demand change from someone else. What it looked like was an act of hypocrisy. Instead of clogging the environment with their carbon footprint travelling to Wellington, why not each school take the day off and clean up their own neighbourhood?  

Much of the rubbish I pick up belongs to the younger generation. I find it at skateboard parks, around schools, public playgrounds, reserves, and sports fields. Rubbish and broken bottles on Papamoa Beach are a regular aftermath of summer-time beach parties.

So, when I read, ‘We are the last hope’ slogan on one of the protesters placards I just had to say,

‘Crikey, I hope not!’, before putting pen to paper.

But I do have to thank the voice of the young for bringing the matter to my attention.

How our DNA tests connected a stranger to her mother

Author of Fiftypluskiwi with her daughter

The year is 1975. A mother gives birth to a baby girl in Whanganui, New Zealand. Two weeks later, the baby is adopted out and moves 18,530 kilometres away to live in the Netherlands. Forty-six years later, she takes a DNA test.

When I gifted my daughter a DNA test kit for Christmas 2019, little did I know just how much this purchase would change the life of a stranger living on the other side of the world.

For some years, friends had been encouraging me to hop on the booming bandwagon of DNA testing. It would, they said, help me learn more about where my ancestors came from. They would enthuse about the discovery of biological relatives they never knew they had. And although I felt a tad curious about who belonged to our family tree, I was not interested enough to follow through with a DNA test. It was just a trend people latch onto, I thought.

But my adult daughter’s rather probing question, ‘are you sure you are my mother?’, and my lack of ideas for what to buy her for Christmas, set the DNA ball rolling.  At first, I roared with laughter at her question. Of course, I was her birth mother. Every fibre of my being was part of her, and I told her so. But, although our banter was light-hearted, inwardly though, I sensed a probing curiosity hanging off her question. To her, the gap in similarities is vast. Colour and culture dangle between us. Our personality, beliefs, opinion, likes, and dislikes are a complex mix of differences. She thinks of me as a ‘straighty one-eighty’, and in my eyes, she is a colourful blend of ‘naughty nice’ and ‘nice naughty’.

Author of Fiftypluskiwi with her daughter
Author of Fiftypluskiwi (R) with daughter Louise (L)

So, to quell my daughter’s curiosity and satisfy my own inquisitiveness about my family tree, I ordered us both a DNA test kit. The kits arrived, and with much hilarity, we spat into our containers, sent them back, and duly waited for the big reveal. As predicted, the results show I am clearly my daughter’s biological mother, plus other information regaling our DNA story. And that was that. We moved on, put the DNA saga behind us. Or so we thought.

A few months later, my daughter receives a prompt from the DNA site advising she had a DNA match to explore. Evidently, she shared a genetic sequence to this match, indicating a possible first or second cousin relationship. My daughter is Maori through her father’s side of the family. Māori rely on orally passing down their ancestry or whakapapa from one generation to the next. To receive a DNA match from this side of the family was indeed surprising. My daughter contacted this supposed match, and one of the first questions asked by this person was, ‘Do you know who my birth parents are?’

To be honest, we were stumped. The DNA match clearly identified this woman as a family member. Unfortunately, we have little contact with this side of the family. I left the marriage over forty years ago so there was a natural hesitancy over probing into something that was not our business to explore. My daughters first attempt at solving the mystery proved fruitless. – no one knew anything about a baby being adopted out.

When you seek something hard enough, that same thing is seeking you. Months went by, and my daughter received another ’I really want to find my birth parent’ from her ‘stranger cousin’. And so, with a certain amount of scepticism, she sent another request to the family. This time, literally within minutes, biological mother, who was my children’s’ aunty, and daughter found each other. When you want something, the whole universe conspires in helping you achieve it, says author Paulo Coelho. This was one of those ‘universe’ moments. I am unable to give any other explanation.

The aching for love and acceptance, that hollow ache in our soul, is a strand of yearning linking us all. Our DNA results were undoubtedly the vehicle of connection to mother and daughter but, in my eyes, it was the passion behind this longing, the power within the hollow ache between a mother and daughter, that fueled the vehicle.

What started as a light-hearted decision to do a DNA test, set the ball rolling towards what has become a beautiful story to add to my daughter’s family history.

I am the elephant in the room – the ‘ugly’ part of self-discovery

A new year and a new exercise book have a lot in common. When I was young, I loved receiving my stationery at the start of the school year. Fizzing with belly wobbles of excitement and intention, I stroked the clean front page of my exercise book as though it was a precious gift. A blank canvas. An invitation to create fresh colour where every squiggle and stroke would be my absolute best work.

Those days are long gone, but I still feel those same belly wobbles of excitement the new year offers. It still feels like an invitation to add fresh colour and make new shapes, an opportunity for a fresh, clean start. Splashes of colour normally festoon my canvas from day one. I make new intentions with sincere intention – a fitness promise, new writing goal and, of course, something spiritual to contemplate – giving no thought to what lies between the idea and the destination.

This year though, things feel a little different. My roadmap assisting me on my path to self-discovery is looking a little battered and crumpled. It is taking me to a place I have been avoiding with a vengeance, and I cannot U-turn my way out of it. So, I am not as enthusiastic as in previous years to daub my canvas with self-appreciating images and dreams. Instead, I find myself delving into a painful family truth. I am the elephant in the room.

What do you do when you realise how your past parenting behaviour has deeply affected your children’s lives? What a harsh, ‘where the rubber meets the road’ moment of self-discovery. In hindsight, I can see that parenting is as much about self-discovery as it is about nurturing. It is a time of relentless self-revelation. What we consider to be the absolute best of ourselves is challenged, and what we know to be the very worst of ourselves is exposed. And I made some terrible parenting choices I wish I could erase.

In 2017 I wrote an article about my family’s experience of domestic violence and sexual abuse. During the separation period between my leaving and finally gaining custody, my two girls suffered the most horrific, sexual, mental, and physical abuse by family members. The article describes how we got there and the consequences of my thinking making a fresh start was a complete ‘fix’ for their pain. The effects have lingered longer than they should, due to this attitude about this very dark period of our life.

The article was called Consequences. Here is an excerpt from the article:

“My stomach clenches when I hear how my youngest daughter is forced to lick the genitals of her babysitter. My eldest daughter forced to stand the other side of a locked door calling out to her sister. When my eldest daughter told her father what was happening, she was given ‘a hiding’ and returned to the babysitters. The feeling of helplessness and hopelessness of not being believed must have been achingly devastating. Of how their abusers told them to take their underwear off then hung by their feet out a window. Family members beating and raping family members.”

It’s a challenging story to tell and read. Mistakenly, once again, I thought I had ‘fixed it’ by writing about it. But the healing had only begun. Over the years, I have watched my daughters grapple and wrestle with life as they attempt to expunge their pain and hurt. I find it hard to immerse myself in the trauma and pain my two girls suffered during this time and the part, I as their mother, played in it.

Yes, there are aspects of self-discovery that are dreadfully and uncomfortably unpalatable. Self-discovery not only includes the healing of your wounds but also confronting the damage you have inflicted on others. Especially those you love. This truth is my point of no return – a place where I cannot go back, cannot unknow what I already know to be the truth about myself, and cannot erase the ‘ugly’ from the self-discovery journey.

It is easy when you are in the pilot seat driving your soul-searching – where you control the unravelling and rebuilding of your inner and outer life. But even though I sit at the controls, I sense I no longer have control of where the journey is taking me. I am deeply aware of how my children need to continue to address their feelings of the past with me, as part of their healing process. It is a humbling discovery to experience, and there is a sadness in knowing this.

Understanding the past and dwelling on the past have two different outcomes. Understanding is liberating. Dwelling is debilitating. If we deny or ignore the importance, the past has on the present we will always dwell in past pains. I can see this now. And this is where I start the new year.

The belly wobbles are still there … still simmering with hope. But this year, I am reluctant to colour my canvas with pre-empted plans when my family is very much part of this stage of my journey. A healing process is happening, and I do not want to cage, capture or ‘fix’ how I perceive this year should unravel. So, for now, my canvas remains blank, but I do hope your canvas fills with bright colours.

Happy New Year

I’m feeling ALL my feels about ‘ageing.’

It all seems so unfair. All my life, I have desired straight hair. I was born with, not totally curly, and not totally wavy, hair. Most of the time it is an unruly mess, a mix of curl and wave sticking out all over the place. But now I do have straight hair. The only problem is, it’s coming out my chin!  

Somehow, I know without knowing how I know, this is part of the ageing process. And as I allow myself to think about this, a prickle of fear ripples around my heart space. My mortality taunts and I feel frightened. I grab the tweezers and furiously work to safeguard my permanence on the planet.

On the inside, I still feel all the ages I have been. My ‘wild child’ roars as much today as it did over sixty years ago. Probably more so. But not many people see the ‘wild’ these days. What they see is more of a thesaurus – wearing out, crumbling, declining, fading, waning, deteriorating -. just a few of the synonyms describing ageing on Thesaurus.com. On the outside, I have been reduced to a synonym. On the inside I want to ‘go a-wandering, with a knapsack on my back’, middle finger raised.

A few years have disappeared since I noticed my first chin hair, but my anxiety and dread around ageing still heckles. I am someone who has spent a long time learning to love my ‘true self’. But now I find myself surreptitiously stalking Google for information regarding face-lifts and eyelid lifting surgery.

 ‘A clean nude nail polish gives a more youthful appearance’, says one description. It takes a ton of willpower to stop myself hurtling out the door to the nearest supplier.

Feelings are for feeling,’ says Glennon Doyle in her latest book, Untamed.

“Feeling all your feelings is hard, but that’s what they’re for. Feelings are for feeling. All of them. Even the hard ones.”

Simple but powerful words. And I’ve been working on this lately – trying to feel ALL my feels, enter into them, embrace them and express them truthfully. Especially my fears and feelings around becoming old and dying. My list of worries looks something like this:

  • Friends dying
  • Family dying
  • Me dying
  • Fear of faculties going and becoming infirm
  • Being a drag on family
  • Vanity – my body and looks deteriorating
  • Losing my usefulness in society
  • Regrets and guilts
  • A certain amount of angst over not realising how short life is and having wasted much of it living to society and patriarchal agendas.

 Last week I met up with a girlfriend for coffee. When she asked me how I was, I decided to take the plunge and reply truthfully. Instead of giving my standard stock reply of, ‘I’m good thanks,’ I said,

“I feel I am quickly passing my ‘use-by’ date and this scares the hell out of me,” I spent the next few minutes unloading feelings, some of which I didn’t know I had until I started speaking them out loud. 

 At the end, my friend said, “Oh my goodness, me too, that’s exactly how I am feeling.”

The anxiety and dread that accompanies ageing isn’t openly discussed very often, especially among women. Plenty of tips about ageing well regarding looks and activity, but deep conversations, what it feels like on the inside, are sadly lacking. Being able to speak my deepest fears felt liberating. I was learning a valuable lesson about my true-self. True self-love, says tinybuddah.com, is valid at any age; there’s no expiration date to that.

 Getting older does not magically make you wiser. The old adage, ‘Age begets wisdom’ is a little misleading. There is more truth to ‘Age begets wrinkles’ than any sort of wisdom. However, getting older does allow for more life experiences, hence opportunities, for acquiring understanding. I would like to think I am using some of this wisdom as I traverse my ageing process.   I read somewhere that if f you want to grow old happily, it’s better to face fears of ageing sooner, not later. This doesn’t mean going into battle with them; embrace them rather than battle them. I find myself doing this often. It makes them a hell of a lot less scary and anxiety-ridden. 

To some people, I may be just a synonym, but my truth is, I am more than just my body. My noisy unfettered spirit refuses to be put in a box, tamed or labelled. So for now, and for as long as I can, I’m off a-wandering, middle finger raised. 

Farewell letter to Kirsty

Kia ora, e hoa!
Hello my friend

No reprieve, no remission, no cure and…. no miraculous healing.

Three years from diagnosis, you die from Motor Neurone Disease (MND). If there is a bright side to your suffering this monstrous illness, it is you outlived your six-month prognosis. As selfish as this sounds, given the vicious nature of MND, I am grateful for the extra couple of years of having you this side of my life.

Unlike me, you were never troubled by God. This both irked and inspired me. When I think of you now Kirsty, it is your faith that drenches my thought. Your absolute, firm, and unwavering belief in a loving God. And I must admit I was, at times, annoyed at your unshakeable faith. I expected you to rant and rave at this supposedly loving God who seemed to be standing by and doing nothing as you endured the agonising steps of MND. Compared to you, my faith resembled the life of a gnat the way it jumped all over the place – I long to rest in the absolute sureness of God’s love, and I envy your ability to completely accept His fiery love for you..  

Why does God answer yes to some prayers and no to others? Why does God miraculously heal some people and not others? You will know the answer to this now Kirsty – but I don’t know. God tells us to ask, and it will be given to us (Matthew 7:7). But God did not physically heal you Kirsty even though we asked. There was no miraculous physical healing despite the hundreds of prayers and rituals, held nationally and internationally by obedient Christians, for this very purpose. You did not leap from the bed dancing, whirling, and twirling, around the room. In all my years of spiritual journeying, I have never witnessed a physical healing. Although there was a part of me that desperately hoped you would be healed, I did not believe it would really happen.

Religious gospel advocates will raise an eyebrow in an, ‘Oh ye of little faith,’ kind of way at my disbelief. They will say lack of faith is the reason God did not answer my prayers. I need to ‘do’ this and ‘be’ that. Try a little harder. I am not good enough. Subtle messaging of this nature is incredibly bruising to the spirit. Nothing loving about this. There are many of us out there with bruised and damaged souls tainted by religion. And you understood this Kirsty. We discussed how important it was for the church to re-think the messaging around God.

Love has been ‘trodden down under religious mores’, you said, and I laughed at your phrasing. But yes, God and religion are difficult to untangle because when we merge God with religion, we are in danger of extinguishing the real message of God – the message of love. The message you longed for everyone to know – love is the by-product of God, not theology. That there is nothing, we need to do, or be, to experience God’s love. God’s pure unadulterated, unfettered, untamed love is free for everyone.

“Living or dying, being spared or being tortured, being delivered in this life or the next is not an indicator of God’s love for us or the measure of our faith. Nothing can separate us from God’s love, and our future is determined by what he knows is best for us (Romans 8:28, 35–39).

Watching you struggle with your illness was a stark reminder that God’s love is not a magic potion exempting us from adversity. Fear, despair, helplessness, powerlessness, pain, and loneliness – you experienced every single one of these feelings and emotions. I am reading the words you wrote, and my heart bleeds a little at the agony in your words.

“I know what it is to feel so scared and kicked in the gut that you don’t know how to go on. There is nothing left in the tank—just fear and disappointment. I live with the shadow of overwhelming dread every moment of every day. It is trying to cut off my air supply.

I do not really HAVE to take him at his word when life is rosy. I have excess resources to cope with life’s bumps and bruises then. But right now I am in absolute deficit. Motor Neurone Disease does that to its victims.

But it is now Jesus invites me to take him at his word.

As the offerings of life became slim pickings, you nestled into words of love, of Gods promises, wrapping them around you, protecting yourself from the brutality of your inevitable outcome. Body riddled and decimated, your eyes would light up, and you would get that ‘glow’. There is no mistaking real joy. Faked joy looks manic. True joy is stillness, is light and It shines. God’s love radiated through you Kirsty. How could you be so ill, yet look so alive, we all asked ourselves.

What a waste of an evangelical heart where you are now Kirsty. Talk about ‘preaching to the converted’!
I remember in one of our conversations you told me about how you stood on street corners in Rotorua speaking about Jesus. You invited those who listened to open their hearts to His love. I was aghast you would do this, and a little envious. I remembered a time, many moons ago, when this too was my passion. You talked with such passion about the longing and hopelessness in the eyes of lost young people. How no one had ever told them the love story of God.

We cannot find refuge from pain and remain filled with hope anywhere else than in the presence of God. The hope God gives us is powerful and effective. Everything man comes up with, just can’t go the distance you told me.

“His hope keeps my head up and my smile shining in the middle of a death sentence. Do you realise how valuable this is? Do you realise how desperately the world needs to hear about this? In an age of epidemic anxiety, skyrocketing suicides and unprecedented environmental instability, hope is what is needed. And we know where to find it.”

I don’t have your courage, but I do want to honour your soul one last time. So here is a personal invitation to each of you who are reading this piece.

What does it take to know and receive God’s love, to be in a personal relationship with God? Are you curious about God? If you are feeling unloved, unworthy, dirty, hopeless, worthless, or insignificant – then this invitation is for you. If you are feeling successful, accomplished, confident and well-liked – then this invitation is also for you. I invite you to ask God into your life. You don’t need fancy words. There is no right or wrong way of asking. God’s love is not curtailed by language, culture, or religion. Just ask, Seek Him.

Haere rā e hoa
Farewell my friend



The sacred space of ‘unknowing’

Photo of Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway, Paeroa to Waihi,

The more I grow, the less I know. When I was younger, I thought I knew a lot more than I do now. Life disturbs you in this way – teaches you what you do not know. It is very much a holy and humbling disturbance.

Before I set out to find answers for my baffling longings, I was dying a slow death. The longings were my silent noise – a penetrating ache in my soul, groaning from the depths crying out for attention. Louder and louder, until I knew if I did not pay attention, I would have to accept my life as it was. And that felt like I was being smothered, that life was being sucked from me.

Author Sue Monk-Kidd describes her longings as “orphaned voices”. A whole chorus of orphaned voices that seemed to speak for all the unlived parts her.

“They came with a force and dazzle that I couldn’t contain. They seemed to explode the boundaries of my existence. I know now that they were the clamor of a new self-struggling to be born.”

My heart still does flip flops when I read her words as they gave my inner groanings a vital and valid space.

So much of my journey thus far has been a dismantling process. Only recently did I see I was, in fact, unknowing everything that was my reality.  Pulling apart old spiritual perceptions, delving into my psychological shadows. Ripping to pieces the old faded decorations of child, woman, mother, worker, feminist, and wife to uncover the true self.

Photo of Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway, Paeroa to Waihi,
Pondering and wandering the banks of the Ohinemuri River. – Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway, Paeroa to Waihi, NZ

I did not, however, fully understand, or honour, the ‘divine’ part of the process at first. Thankfully, God embraced the agony in my heart and not my cavalier attitude towards, what I see now, is a holy and transformative journey. A journey of the heart space, not the headspace. A journey into the unknown. We lose sight of the fact our soul beckons us. That the soul has a voice.

In his essay “Stages of Life,” C. G. Jung divided life into two phases, ‘morning’ and ‘afternoon’. The first stage, the morning, is taken up with relating to, and adapting to, the outer world. We do this by developing the ego. The second stage, the afternoon phase, happens around 35 -40 years of age and is for adapting to the inner world by developing the full and true self. Shedding the ego as we move through the first stage of life. Unknowing everything.

“But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life’s morning – for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.”

Imagine you are standing on top of the universe. You dive off, not knowing where you will land, or if you will land. You cannot see what is in front of you. There are no recognisable landmarks. No promise of safety, no assurance of a happy ever after. You take nothing with you, and no-one notices you are gone. All you have is a fragile trust in the one who calls you. You take the risk and dive off; it’s a reluctant choice of last resort, but you do it anyway.  Nothing but silence and … nothingness. This is what unknowing feels like.

Slowly, ever so slowly, my true self is emerging …. I think.  But just when I feel sure of my new ‘knowing’, I am reminded again of the place of ‘unknowing’. A place is not found in the past or future, but in the present beyond the thundering glut of what life is throwing at us. 

Mystic poet Rumi describes where the place of unknowing is, as the gap between our ideas of “rightdoing” and “wrongdoing”.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about”.

When I first launched myself off my symbolic universe, it was with eyes tightly shut. I saw myself going down, down, down. These days I trust in the arms that beckon. This is Divine territory, in the gap between rightdoing and wrongdoing, where true self and love seek each other out.

The inner movement from knowing to unknowing is a life lesson and a divine truth. Always ongoing. The place of unknowing beckons us all because, the only true wisdom, says Greek philosopher Socrates, is in knowing you know nothing.  

Marriage and walking away

Nothing placed my marriage under the spotlight more than when I stood on the trembling ground of my mid-life crisis. When the question, ‘Can a woman remain true to herself in a committed relationship?’ fiercely fought for my attention.

One of the frequent adverts on our television screens shows an actor running around with a bottle of spray cleaner. He energetically rushes from one surface to another spraying the contents of the bottle while excitedly yelling, ‘Spray and walk away’, and miraculously, the surface cleans itself – no effort required. If only it were that easy to remove the overlooked dirt and grime that squeezes through the gaps in long term relationships – I would have bought bucket loads of the stuff. But the advert does remind me that the life-changing lessons learned throughout my marriage have indeed required me to ‘walk away’.

In my last blog I wrote how commitment and love are intrinsically woven, yet individually apart. The commitment part is a journey of togetherness, and love is a journey of self. To walk together and to walk alone. Remaining true to yourself in a long-term relationship belongs to the journey of self. It belongs to love – self-love. Without self-love, all other relationships, are fractured versions of what is possible in love. To heal my many fractures, I began, what was for me, a very noisy process of walking away.

Walking away from imageries belonging to parents and society, walking away from perceived ideas, allocated by myself and others, of how a wife should behave in her role of ‘wife’, and walking away from the expectations of how love should behave. Walking away from all, as author Sue Monk Kidd describes, that blisters my spirit and muzzles the voice of my soul.

Let me tell you, it wasn’t as easy as the, ‘Spray and walk away’ advert. Years of dismantling old mask and patterns lay in front of me before I could meet, and love, my True Self. And to be honest, the ‘walking away’ is still ongoing.

When the truth hits, it hits hard.  In her book, The Real Boy, Author Anne Ursu describes this moment of truth beautifully. She says, “There is a way the truth hits you, both hard and gentle at the same time. It punches you in the stomach as it puts its loving arm around your shoulder. During some of my lowest moments, when the urge to literally walk away and not look back beckoned, I felt that loving arm around my shoulder.

The first loving arm reminded me that love is not something that can be found on the outside. It is not fashioned out of rules and roles to comfort our egos. The thing is, love is already in you, so it can only come out of you. The whole spiritual journey, the experience of life, is about unearthing this love within us. I know I mention this a lot in my blogs, but in my defence, this revelation was life-changing for me. I stopped feeling a failure at not being able to love according to my perceptions. And I stopped expecting to be loved according to my expectations. It lifted a burden I was unaware of and was instrumental to me letting go of the boxed-up notions of love I held. It showed me a glimpse of Divine love.

The second loving arm, and a much-needed practical piece of advice, was the understanding I am not responsible for my partner’s happiness or unhappiness.  I can be concerned, but I am not responsible – he is. Nor is he responsible for mine – I am. It is so easy in a long-term relationship to shift the burden of our unhappiness onto our partner. This is where many marriages end. My sister reminded me the other day it was not our role to stop the landslide. We must allow the landslide to fall, regardless of what happens. This is how we grow.

If only I knew then what I know now. I am quite sure I would never have jumped into marriage with the cavalier attitude and naïve expectations that I did, but I read somewhere that you cannot separate living from learning. Every experience is another lesson learned. Every lesson learned requires an element of walking away from an old way, and into a new way of living.

Author Sue Monk Kidd says, “Walking an isle can be a marvellous thing, as long as we acknowledge that the isle doesn’t end at the alter but goes on winding through life”.

It is through these life lessons that we discover a woman can remain true to herself in a long-term relationship.  Yes, I believe it is possible, but first, she must unearth, and love, the person she was created to be. This has nothing to do with commitment but everything to do with love. And if we are to explore the question fully, we will, without a doubt, walk into Divine territory. And this by itself, makes the walk worth walking.

When you get that tap on the shoulder

Acrylic montage of human shapes floating in space. Freedom feels like floating in space - falling, rising, and discovering - free to be you.

Sir Winston Churchill once said that to each one of us there comes in their lifetime a special moment when you are, figuratively speaking, tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to your talents.

If I could pinpoint the time I first recognised my ‘tap on the shoulder’, it was when I was invited to speak at a wedding.  My relationship with the engaged couple was through the mother of the bride, and I assumed I would be sharing a few prosperous wishes to cheer them on their future journey. I was astounded, when my friend said, “I want you to talk about love.”. Tap, tap.

Onto my second marriage, I was hardly a shining example of marital success. Nothing has thrown me more curveballs and challenges than the issue of love, or one of love’s many threads, marriage.

Weeks of worry preceded my putting pen to paper What was I going to say?  What could I tell this couple about love that might break through the glorious fizz-pop mix of youth, success, lust, and the feeling of being in-love when my own track record seemed so dismal?  My inner critic had a field day. ‘Hypocrite’, ‘Charlatan’, ‘Phoney’, it screamed. Tap, tap!

So, I did what is now a familiar pattern in my life when life gets tricky – prayed, read, journaled, and reflected.  Technically I was researching for my wedding speech, but in hindsight, the seeking belonged to my own heart as well.

During my research, I was struck by how, when we talk about marriage or long-term relationships, we use the words ‘love and commitment’ as though both words have the same or similar meaning, when in fact they are completely different. They have surely got to be one of life’s greatest contradictions. Little or no thought is given to the paradox that occurs between the two.

Whether a civil union, a de facto relationship, or marriage, everything about commitment suggests togetherness – a partnership, a binding of two people who commit to a relationship. Commitment is where plans and decisions are made that best serve the relationship – the doing part of the relationship; a conscious choice, the ‘outside-in’ framework. And when you feel deeply ‘in-love’, commitment can feel remarkably, albeit mistakenly, like love.

Now here’s the paradox. While commitment has everything to do with togetherness, love, is about letting one another go. Committed to being together while at the same time, as German Psychoanalyst, Eric Fromm says, “preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality”. The ‘being’ part of the relationship.

Acrylic montage of human shapes floating in space. Freedom feels like floating in space - falling, rising, and discovering - free to be you.
Falling, rising, and discovering – free to be you. Artist: Louise Taiaroa

Traveling with Pomegranates is a lovely story where mother and daughter authors, Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor chronicle their evolving relationship on a trip to Greece.

Ann, soon to be married, recalls a recent event when her mother gifted her a small box – a wedding gift. Inside the box lay three linked pieces of chain with a card that read,

“Years ago, your father and I adopted this piece of chain as a symbol for our marriage. The two outer links represent each of our lives, and the center link, our marriage. It reminds us that we have independent lives, dreams, and journeys, but at the same time, we are joined in a center space where our lives are one.”

And that was the message I delivered to the young couple on their wedding day. Commitment and love – intrinsically woven, yet individually apart. To walk together and to walk alone. One a journey of togetherness the other a journey of self. I stood that day and hoped that what I shared would be as liberating for them as it was for me.  What I did not know at the time was just how tough ‘liberation’, is to attain.

Which brings me to my next question(s). Can a woman remain true to herself when she is in a committed relationship?  The most important relationship in your life is the relationship you have with yourself. But how do we live independent lives, dreams, and journeys? How do we walk alone, the journey of the self, amongst the committed togetherness of a long-term relationship? How do we stay single, AND be married? Tap, tap.

Tough questions I hope to explore in my next few blogs.

Doing nothing is scary stuff

Photo of Margaret Cunningham and 'Dixie' on Papamoa Beach

Day 6 of lockdown (at time of writing), and to be honest, my personal panic button is on high alert.

I have exercised madly, or should I say, madly exercised – both would be correct – I have cleaned, re cleaned, and re re-cleaned my house, baked and test trialed new recipes to the point my family is clearly becoming suspicious in a ‘we want you to take the first bite’, kind of way. And today the dog hid from me when I mentioned the ‘walk’ word.  Clearly I am not doing lockdown well.

My panic is completely irrational. Our household bubble of three adults, no parenting required, is comfortable. We have everything we need. What a great time to relax. To read a book. Be creative. To write. To be still. Instead I find myself being busy, in a super-human way, completing an array of inane, and completely unnecessary tasks.

It’s not the lockdown I’m terrified of. Nor is it relaxation. It’s the opportunity that scares me, the opportunity to be still – to do absolutely nothing.  I’m frightened of what may be discovered in the ‘nothing’ of doing nothing. I’m avoiding the ‘truth’ that may reveal itself in the stillness and quiet.

I’m not surprised I have this panic tussle going on – taking time out to be still, which was a big part of my life, has taken a back seat to a self-imposed busyness. And deep down I’ve felt what I call, ‘a spiritual nudging’ over this; a brief nudge, before I quickly brush it away.

I think we all become habitually busy. The hustle and bustle of the outside world touches everyone. Men, women and children – we’re always on, always connected, talking, always doing. There is little space left for stillness. There’s just so much going on and being still is not what we’re used to.

I have always had a reflective personality and treasured my moments of stillness. It has set the mood for some magical moments of insight and wonder.  But the noise of ‘busy’ somehow snuck in and filled the space I used to sit quite comfortably in. And even though I’ve been doing this reflective thing for a while, even though I know the beauty that lies within it, it still amazes me how much I still avoid, or put off, taking time out for stillness. This conflict is quite a mystery to me.

Stillness is not the same as relaxing – the two are quite different. Relaxation can be quite busy. For some people lockdown is an opportunity to relax and be creative, start/finish a project, read a book or learn something new. But they all require an element of ‘doing’. Stillness, on the other hand, requires doing absolutely nothing. It’s not what you bring to the table – not meditation, or prayer, or brainstorming, or problem-solving. Just you – simply being.

What happens in the ‘stillness’ is beyond my control? I think that’s why I’ve been avoiding it so much. Busy helps me feel in control. And sometimes my own space on the inside is a very vulnerable, exposing place to be. Who am I without my busyness? A question that can only be answered in the silence and stillness within my own soul.

Anything that denies the human spirit of refreshment is ‘busy,’ and the busier you are the more important it is to be still. I’ve been racing about the place as though my energy is endless. If I’m not doing something then it feels like I’m not being productive. To do nothing is often thought of as being lazy or weak, but the reality is, we all need moments of ‘stillness’ or ‘nothing’ in our life. I read somewhere that doing nothing with be the most productive activity you will ever undertake. How did I forget this?

We are all searching for that one thing. It’s what drives our busyness.
Today, as the panic recedes and I reconnect again with my ‘one thing’, I am reminded of a Mother Theresa quote,

“We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls.

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