Author Archives: Fiftypluskiwi

The art work in self-love

Acrylic painting of flowers as eyes - pinks and greens

I’m a late-bloomer, boomer when it comes to self-love.

When I first started blogging my spiritual diary, I was desperate to get rid of the inexplicable ‘yearning’ that has relentlessly dogged me all my life. It’s a persistent gnawing hum of longing that does not abate. And the roar was getting louder. I knew if I did not do something about this ‘yearning’, I would drown in its wake. The yearning

I began where I often find most comfort when life gets tough. I started writing down my feelings and thoughts. A central theme decorates my Fiftypluskiwi writings – God and love – for both have woven a well-trodden path of bittersweet moments in my life, and both, as I have come to understand, are connected. But when I started writing I knew nothing about self-love or, of the relationship between God and self-love.

I grew up in an affectionless family, where anything remotely emotive was considered ‘namby pamby’. Emotions were something to be ridiculed, crushed or criticised. Love was a vanity to be confessed rather than affirmed. From an early age, I learned to shape myself around those narratives handed down to me.

A child raised without love and affection will usually become an emotionally impoverished adult. That was me. How I felt didn’t count. And when I did feel, it was bad. Because of this I lived for years with a confused, poor self-image. I believed everyone knew better than me, and everything was better than me. I never considered the fact I had any sort of validity, or that self-love was anything more than a hippie concoction.

‘If you don’t love yourself, you cannot love others. If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able of developing compassion for others’.  Dalai Lama.

The most important relationship in your life is the relationship you have with yourself. Self-love is often mistakenly seen as being selfish or self-seeking. But self-love means accepting, respecting, and valuing myself as the person I was created to be. The longing for love and acceptance is one of those life-threads that link us all. We search for it everywhere, through other people, power, pleasure, wealth, success, beauty and status. However, the full alchemy of love is inside you not outside. If we are to love others, we must start with ourselves. It is a matter for the heart, not the world.

Looking inside ourselves for love is usually the last place we look. But true love can only come out of you, it cannot come into you even though we spend our entire life trying to make it happen. And after years of trying, I have discovered this is impossible to do this without God. Anything else is just a relative.

The dictionary describes alchemy as the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, sometimes in a way that cannot be explained. They use an example of a person who takes a pile of scrap metal and turns it into beautiful art. I can’t think of a better description to illustrate self-love.

The real alchemy, the way that cannot be explained, happens on the inside. God is that alchemy. There is nothing we can do but allow self-love to unfold. To love ourselves fully, we must first accept God’s unconditional love for us. Self-love is the quietest of all the loves. It doesn’t seek or depend on rules and regulations to exist. It doesn’t have to prove anything to exist. It wraps its arms around you so you can be that love for others.

What a journey! Many twists, bends and dead ends. And I’m not there yet. I’m not sure anyone does get there. It’s is a lifelong process. It wasn’t until I started exploring the yearning that self-love, or lack of, became visible. But what I can tell you is that the gnawing hum of longing is abating. No longer does it deafen me with its noise. I feel like I’ve arrived home after being away for many years.  My yearning has been turned into a beautiful piece of art. And I thank God for that.

Hopelessness … why not try God?

The only yellow flower growing out of parched, cracked soil.

The ‘wait’, every damn second of the ‘wait’, is consumed with survival, yet survival, is the one thing her Motor Neurone Disease (MND) cannot give her.

With her days numbered my visits with Kirsty are much quieter. Our conversation more intermittent as she rests from the effort of trying to live.  And while the disease continues to wreak havoc on every muscle in her body, despair and hopelessness also hover in the background. Like vultures. Persistent in their quest to ravage her soul.

The dictionary describes hopelessness as an emotion characterized by a lack of hope, optimism, and passion. From my perspective, as a bystander to my friends’ illness, the English language completely lacks words to describe the intensity of emotions encircling the dark, shadowy wasteland of this thing called ‘hopelessness’.  Fear, despair, helplessness, powerlessness, pain, loneliness, and ‘I feel so useless’, are words Kirsty has used at various times during my visits as she confronts her death – a death forced upon someone wanting to live.

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Life is not an entitlement

Life is a gift? It’s one of those clichés we all know but often give little attention to.

I certainly had no plans to use it or write about it. I didn’t even think about life as a gift, so, no one was more surprised, when, during a yoga class, the words, ‘Life is not an entitlement – life is a gift,’ entered my mind with such clarity and importance, I at first thought the yoga instructor had spoken them in a state of meditative bliss. As it turns out, it was one of my ‘moments of God’. Something that happens to me from time to time.

I had a fleeting sense something had shifted inside me. Did I take life for granted? Did I assume I was entitled to life?  Yes, perhaps I did. Once I removed the assumption I was entitled to life, I felt an immense appreciation and understanding of the preciousness of life. Of gratitude. Of how fleeting, fragile, precious and irreplaceable every moment is, between our first and last breath.

Life is but a breath. We don’t think of life as being so fragile. It is not until someone is dying, diagnosed with a chronic disease, we get old, or when we see or hear something terrible happen around us that we catch a glimpse of the fleetingness and fragility of life.

People don’t want to hear that life is a gift, but until we truly understand that each day is a gift, we can waste life so easily. Feeling entitled to life is a trap. How many lives have been wasted because someone said, ‘I have the right to have, to get rid of, to control, to take.  It is my right.’ Entitlement is rampant.

Author Cynthia Occelli says we feel we have a right to material abundance, comfort, physical beauty, zero-problems, careers, adoring relationships, good health and all the other things our entitlement culture tells us we deserve.

  “There’s nothing wrong with wanting all these things, or pursuing these things, but life doesn’t owe you anything. It doesn’t owe you perfect or even good parents. It doesn’t owe you health, happiness, abundance, success, comfort, or immunity from pain and problems. It doesn’t owe you a job, a house, a bed, or a single meal. No one owes you kindness, love, recognition, empathy, apologies, or understanding. You aren’t entitled to a single thing. Your family owes you nothing. Your government owes you nothing. No one owes you anything at all.”

Life is short, it is brief, and things can change in a split second. Not every moment will be magical. We are not owed a perfect life. We owe life to be the best we can be, whatever our circumstances. I read somewhere that life will only have meaning when we understand it as a gift, an amazing gift. When we see life this way it changes the way in which we view ourselves, our own lives, and the lives of others.

No, life is not an entitlement. It is a gift. But if these words were given to me, then they are also for you. Your life is just as precious as mine. And when I see your life as a gift, there is no way I would want to harm you. I wish we could all see each other this way. If you don’t understand the very fact that life is a gift all the beauty, wonder, love, and experiences to be found on earth are meaningless. Life is a gift, an incredible, wonderful, mysterious gift.

That damned ego

There’s a saying in yoga circles; ‘leave your ego at the door before you enter’.

I wish I had known this pearl of wisdom before I attempted my first yoga session. Having come from a running background I felt certain my ‘fitness level’ would serve me well for a simple yoga class.

My fellow yogis consisted of men and woman of all age, size, ability and disability. I could feel my competitive nature shift into gear as our instructor moved us into our first exercise, a standing forward fold or, more commonly known as, ‘touching your toes’.  ‘Poof!’ ‘Just how hard could this be,’ I thought.

As it turned out, very hard indeed.  My toes? I could barely touch my thighs! Muscles that served me so well in running, refused to budge. Legs wobbled like a pneumatic drill as they tried, and failed, to balance without the other. I felt like the human version of gobbledygook.

Finally, the soothing tones of the instructor led us into, ‘Savasana’, a lying down resting position. ‘Let us empty our minds,’ she crooned. At that point my eyes flew open. My mind revved into high gear, screeching and chattering with inane, pointless, non-productive mind chatter. I walked out of my first yoga ‘beginners’ class nursing an aching body and a sorely bruised ego.

 

The dictionary describes the ego as, ‘a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.’  It is who I think I am, not who I really am. If I were to give my ego a physical description, I would liken it to a photo filter – a layer that slides over me, making me appear, better and greater than I really am. It turns out I have many of these layers. They fit so perfectly it is difficult to recognize the true me underneath them all.

There is nothing wrong with aspiring to become the hero of your dreams. Confidence is healthy. It’s the ego that is destructive as it begins to grow and take control of our life and our thoughts.

Having and ego is not the same as having confidence. When you have confidence, you have faith in your own abilities and believe in yourself, says writer, Cy Wakeman.

“But the ego is something else, entirely. Unlike confidence, the ego operates out of self-interest. It seeks approval, accolades and validation at all costs in order to be seen as “right…”. Confidence vs Ego

I read somewhere that a bad day for your ego is a good day for your soul.  I’ve had an awful lot of bad days if I’m to be honest. About ten years ago my personal unhappiness threatened to annihilate me. When I tried to ignore or run from my unhappiness, I would run smack bang into myself.  For the first time in my life I started to ask: Who am I? Why am I?  So much time had been invested in creating me from the ‘outside in’, I had given no thought to my ‘inside out’. I did not consider my spirit needed attention at all. A mid-life crisis? A break-down? Yes, probably both of those; but more than anything, it was my moment of reckoning. I did not know who I was.

When the ego clashes with the soul, life can get messy. Eventually I landed in a place I didn’t expect. I had to look within. And I didn’t really know how to access that part of me. But as I unraveled the messes of my life from the inside-out, I could see how my ego had been crafted from the tendrils of my past. The ego is constructed from past life experiences. It disguises fear, anxiety and loneliness with grandiose masks of self-importance.

It’s easy to delete the layers of filters on your phone. But to be laid bare without those layers in real life, takes courage. The ego does not want you to know your true self. To embark on a journey of self-discovery is threatening to the ego. It takes a lot of personal work to discover who you are, and not to be enticed by the illusions of the ego.

I am not my ego. But sometimes I still feel like I have an inbuilt default button, that overrides all commonsense and spiritual sensibility. It can happen in a split second and I find myself responding or behaving in a way that is not truly me. Like my yoga class; given that I have years of health of fitness knowledge, why did I think I could partake in my first yoga class believing I would be better than anyone else? The real me knows this is not possible. The answer is simple – it was my ego!

That damned ego!

A love affair with running

Tucked away in a cobwebby corner of the garage, sits a tattered cardboard box packed with photo albums with pages full of running certificates and newspaper clippings. The yellowed clippings and faded certificates no longer decorate the walls of my home. Instead, they have become artefacts in my museum of memories. Nothing has been added to the box for many years, but the memories contained within, are Olympic in size.

I wish I could thank the young man who introduced me to running all those years ago, but he doesn’t know of our connection. I spotted him as I was returning home from a family trip. I was a young Mum with a nine-month old baby, a two-and-a-half-year-old toddler and living in an abusive marriage.  From the comfort of my car, I recall thinking, ‘this man looks so free’. Through my eyes, he glided effortlessly along the pavement, looking as though he hadn’t a care in the world. And I desperately wanted some that. I took my first running steps that afternoon.

I’d be stretching it a bit calling it a ‘run’. It is best be described as, a very short happening. Not knowing much about the sport of running, I donned a pair of old sand-shoes and sprinted out the door. I hurtled past 3-4 neighbouring houses, before collapsing in a breathless heap onto the steps of our local dairy. My ego took a wee bit of a battering, but in that short space of time, I knew running was for me. And forty years later, I still to run.

When I entered the running scene, marathon running was booming, especially for women. New Zealander, Allison Roe, was our local hero. Her Meryl Streep looks, and wins in the Boston and New York City marathons in 1981, roused the hopes and dreams in all of us. The running club scene was booming.  There was always someone with a new training idea. We did sausage-training sessions, backward running, up-hill bounding, downhill sprints, fartlek training and endless numbers of repetitions.

I was an average runner. Not quite fast enough to represent at national level but fast enough to pick up a few prizes at club and community events. On a personal level my greatest satisfaction was breaking the 3hr barrier for the marathon distance. Distance running was my favourite – from the 5km distance through to the marathon – I tried them all and loved every single moment of it. The friendships, the triumphs and failures, of my club and competitive days, remain a precious moment in time.

Running sparked an interest in the fitness industry which, in the 1990s, was still young and slowly maturing. We were right on the cusp of the fitness boom. I completed a Certificate in Sport, Health and Fitness and became an aerobics and gym instructor. I had a special interest, and still do, in encouraging women to move to feel better. Over the years I’ve dabbled in triathlons, mountain-biking and swimming. I am even a joint holder of a tennis cup, but nothing has compared to the enjoyment I get from lacing my running shoes and heading out the door for a run.

Why do I love running? Because it calms my yearning, quietens my spirit, and halts my impetuosity. It gives me moments of clarity otherwise unreachable in my daily life. Running has accompanied me through the trials and tribulations of parenting, soothed the angst of broken marriages, and, given me profound moments of idea, creativity and insight.  No problem seems as bad at the end of a run, as it did in the beginning.

When life gets busy, whether it be with family or work, exercise is often the first thing people, especially women, put aside. It seems unimportant compared to the needs of kids, job, friends, family.   But when life gets crazy, that’s when it’s even more important to make sure you don’t put your workout or fitness routine aside. I explain to people my exercise, is just one-hour out of a twenty-four-hour day, that is solely mine – time to be alone by myself, away from the busyness of life the other twenty-three hours demand. I guard this one hour of solitude almost ferociously.

Oh yes, the lovely lonesomeness of solitude. Over the years I have run with many people. Running groups, running partners and running husbands. But it is the solitude of running on my own I enjoy the most. No one to interrupt my thoughts.  No one needing anything.  Free from the influences of living in a connected society. Free to be me. Oh yes, solitude is indeed a sweet gift.

‘A man can be himself only so long as he is alone, and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom, for it is only when he is alone that he is really free,’ said German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.

These days the term ‘plodding’ best describes my running action. But when I’m out in the fresh air, running alone, along my favourite trails, I am the Olympic champion of plodding. Anything and everything is possible. I feel like that young man looked all those years ago – free and alive.

Out, loud and proud – Coming out of the God closet (Part 2)

In Part 1, I talked about fear being a constant companion of mine, in my self-imposed God closet. How scared I was to openly love God, and the doubts that plagued my mind. Fear and doubt – what a paralysing concoction.

Fear does not travel alone. Anxiety and doubt always accompany fear and once fear takes hold of your thought life, you see everything through the lens of fear. In denying the truth about my love for God and my faith in Jesus, doubt become my master.  Oh Yes! Morning, noon and night my thoughts sat with me like best buddies. Here’s a little sample of just how messy the inside of my God closet looked.

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Coming out of the God closet (Part 1)

When I turned sixty, my mortality taunted me. What the heck happened? Where did those years go? What is, and what was, my purpose in life? To placate a rising panic, I self-published a collection of short story/essays about moments in my life that had taught me some valuable life lessons.
Not long after the book was published, I began to feel an inside-out niggle that something wasn’t quite right. I kept seeing an image in my mind of the Disney character, Scrooge, emptying his bag of coins. Then I would see myself emptying my bag of coins, except a couple of my coins were stuck fast. And no matter how hard I shook and pulled the coins; I could not dislodge them. The coins represented two untold stories that should have been in the book. Today I rip the first of these coins from the bag. I am coming out of the God closet.

A note to my family: 
When I die, I want to be remembered for the story of my soul. Currently you are not that interested in my soul. Understandably, you are busy with the busyness of your own souls. But I know, once I am gone, you will be curious to know more about the person behind the monikers of Mum, sister, wife, Aunty and Nana.

If I were to ask you what was most important to me, you would probably list a variety of outside-in activity – running, yoga, family, friends, coffee, excitement, and my love for adventure. And you would be correct.  They have given me great pleasure in life. But what you cannot see is the excitement and adventure of my spiritual life. Nor can you hear the thunderous, persistent never-ending hum of yearning saturating my inner life. I’ve always known the ‘yearning’ is somehow linked to God, and I want you to know God, is very much my adventurous inside-out, every minute of the day, activity.

It shames me to say, I have deliberately kept the extent of my relationship with God quiet. You see, I’ve become pretty adept at skirting the peripherals of God. Good at perfecting my ‘safe from ridicule’ image. Comforting myself with small peeks from within the security of my closet while withdrawing when I sense any sort of opposition. The reason? Fear!  I have been consumed by fear. Terrified of being thought of as foolish. Scared of being different in a society that demands uniformity.
Yes, fear has been a constant companion alongside my hum of yearning. Fear is so powerful. It lurks in the dark, so I want to bring it out into the light. Declaring loudly my love for God, stating ‘I am a Christian’ is my way of bringing my fear into the light.  In a way I’m facing a bully. Because that’s what fear is, a crippling, debilitating bully.

I know some of your painful life experiences will have you doubt a loving God. ‘Why did, and why does God allow bad things to happen to me?’ How I wish I could make your pain just disappear with a swish of a magic wand. Just make it go away for you. But I can’t. I don’t have a magic wand, and apparently, neither does God.  But I know this one thing.  You will continue to find many ways to soothe your pain and you can choose to do this with, or without, God. From my experience though, there is no better way to rant, rave, sob, shout, swear, laugh, be angry and pour out your pain, than doing this with God by your side.

Alongside the cacophony of noise in my soul are the doubts. How do I know you are real God? Can you believe this – professing my love for God, and then my doubt that God exists, in one breath? Yes, I do doubt. But these doubts are very much a loved part of my God journey.  I read somewhere that ‘when your faith has no room for doubt, then you are just left with—religion, something that takes its place in your life among other things—like a job or a hobby.  Doubt is God’s way of helping you to not go there.’

When I doubt, is when I seek God the most. And questioning has always been a part of my seeking – never forget this, and never forget to do this.  Questioning helped me dismantle the myths, perceptions and misconceptions that have, at times, plagued my inside-out life.  Believing just by ‘faith’ or because someone tells you to, without questioning and challenging what you hear, makes you a slave to religion. In Part 2 of my ‘note’ I explain my proof that a living God exists.

But please don’t call me religious. This terrifies me.  I do not believe in organised religion.  Separating God from religion was big me. God and religion are very different. Oh, you should have heard the melody in my soul when I realised everything, I perceived God to be, was a lie.   When I finally understood there was nothing I needed to do, or belong to, to experience God, or God’s love.

Oh yes … love! We are all looking for that place where love has hidden itself away. People carry such wrong notions about love. And most of us journey a long way to find what is near. We look everywhere for our perception of love. For years I bought into the ‘love is a feeling’ concept. I searched for it everywhere. Did things I am not proud of, in the name of love. Tried to love according to my own, and of others’ expectations. Love was a never-ending battle of effort and, of course, failure for me.

The aching for love is a strand of yearning that links us all. And if you are seeking this love, then be sure of this one thing, this love is also seeking you. You see, what I’ve come to understand is, God’s love is inside me, not outside. Love cannot come into you; it can only come out of you. God’s love has a completely different look, feel and outcome, than the ‘love is a feeling’ concept. And it is this love that lures me out of the God closet for I cannot fully serve the truth, or follow Love’s footsteps, with one foot in the God closet.

To seek love is to seek God, and that is the story of my soul. My pondering, wandering soul in my ragged, ragtag body.  It is God. It is love.

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