Category Archives: Something to think about

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.

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.

The monster myth and domestic abuse.

A face, yellow in colour with huge eyes

When I was a kid there was always a moment of fear before I looked under my bed. It was only fleeting, but it was there. Could there be a monster under my bed? My imagination conjured up images of a growling beast with large incisors protruding from the upper lip. This monster was ready to pounce.

It would take a heart of steel not to be disturbed by recent news of an Australian mother and her three young children senselessly and horrifically murdered – incinerated inside their car while going to school. An act carried out by the estranged husband and father.

I’m not sure why I feel so perturbed by this case. But I find myself with a stomach clenched.  Perhaps it’s because the perpetrator is, like me, a New Zealander, or perhaps it’s because my maiden name is the same as the perpetrator’s. Thankfully no relation, but here’s the thing, he could be. And he could be in yours. He could be walking around in each of our families.

The perpetrator has been labelled a ‘monster’, described as ‘evil in our midst’. But we need to drop the labels and see it for what it is. MONSTERS DON’T HURT PEOPLE, PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE. What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘monster’ or the word ‘evil’? Does a large, ugly, drooling, growling, horned creature, like my childhood monster, come to mind? Thinking only monsters abuse, hit, molest and rape silences victims and removes responsibility of those who know it is happening. If the perpetrator doesn’t fit the idea of a monster (and let’s face it, very few perpetrators do), there’s less of a chance victims will be believed when they break their silence.

Let’s ditch the monster myth and call out the perps for what they are. A person who commits any sort of violence or abuse is a human being. He could be partner, ex-partner, family member, flatmate, friend, or carer. Admitting that abusers are human doesn’t lessen their cruelty – on the contrary – it underlines it, says writer/speaker/advocate Thordis Elva

“They choose to be abusive in spite of their humanity. The sooner we understand this, the more lives we can save.”

Monsters don’t walk on this planet.  People who commit monstrous acts do. And sitting at the top of the perpetrator list is, MEN.  Human-being men. Yes, I know perpetrators of domestic abuse may be either men or women. However, violence by men is often the most serious and lethal type of family violence in New Zealand, the victims are predominantly women and children. www.whiteribbon.org.nz And have always been. And at the risk of sounding like climate change advocate, Greta Thunburg, I say to you men – husbands, partners, fathers, brothers, uncles, – HOW DARE YOU.

I guess you can say I am angry, and I am. This whole case has unsettled me. This could have been me, and it could have been my children. I well remember running down the road trying to escape an angry ex-husband trying to run me over to ‘teach me a lesson’. Did he look like a monster? Oh no, like this latest perpetrator, he was one of the good guys. Well respected in his work community, he was a ‘regular Mt Nice Guy.’ People liked him. There were no horns of evil protruding from his head. Nor did he look like the ‘monster’ from my childhood. He was just a regular person.

I was one of the lucky victims of domestic abuse … I escaped. This was over forty years ago, but the aftermath still lingers today, especially with my children. There were 133,022 ‘family harm’ investigations by NZ Police in 2018 (NZ Police, 2019), however, there is an estimated 76% to 87% of family or intimate partner violence not reported to Police. This is alarming.

Let’s get angry about this. Let’s talk about this. Remember, domestic abuse is not just about getting, ‘the bash’. If there is someone in your family that you need to ‘tip-toe’ around to keep the ‘peace’, this is also abuse. Tell someone. Talk to someone. Deep down, as women, we know when something feels not right. It’s a feeling in the heart. Listen to this. There is help available. Don’t let your life and that of your children be shrouded in fear.

Monsters don’t walk this earth harming our women and children. Ordinary people do. Human beings do. Family members do. Let me say it again, HOW DARE YOU!

What’s in a name? We have all been complicit in bastardising the word ‘God’

It’s a name I love, and it’s a name others love to hate. We have all been complicit in some way, whether misguidedly or deliberately, of bastardising the word ‘God’.  Since the beginning of time, the word, or the name, has been fraught with tension and conflict.  No other name, in all of history has been as misused, misapplied or mishandled, as has the name, God.  The word has become empty of meaning says spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle.  And he is right. But I am hoping it’s a misunderstanding that will eventually be rectified.

It was a life altering moment for me when I realised everything, I perceived God to be was a lie.  After what seemed like years of unproductive spiritual searching, I made the decision to dump God for good.  I was spiritually battered and tired of trying. No more, I thought.

My spiritual journey - the way I see it.

Through my eyes. (Painting by Louise Taiaroa)

But sometimes life has different plans.  My spiritual journey was not over.  At the precise moment of my dumping God I was struck by a thought I was, at the time, incapable of thinking.  A question.  Loud and clear.  “What if everything you perceive me to be is a lie?”  And it was.  A big damned lie.  The God I had created, was indeed, a figment of my imagination.  A crutch I had been clutching for most of my life.  I let that God go, a huge relief to do so.  But although the God I thought I loved turned out to be a lie, it was also the beginning of a new happening.  An awakening.  Ten years later I am still discovering new things about this awakening.

Like me, I wonder how many of you, look at God with eyes tainted by the imagery and experiences of your past, and of the past of others.  When you create God based on personal, cultural and life experiences, it is little wonder the name God has become outdated.  Eckhart Tolle says the word God has become a closed concept.

“The moment the word is uttered, a mental image is created, no longer, perhaps, of an old man with a white beard but still a mental representation of someone or something outside you, and, yes, almost inevitably a male someone or something.”

Which brings me to religion. Throughout history, the name of God has suffered a great injustice at the hands of those who claim to be the closest to God.  Mention God and people start talking religion.  Mention religion and people say, ‘Oh, I don’t believe in God’.

Like a taut, tight, woven cobweb, God and religion are difficult to untangle. But in order to reclaim the name of God we must untangle God from religion. Seeking God and identifying with a religion are totally different experiences.

Religions are human institutions.  They are an outside experience between you and other people; full of interpretation, theories and opinions. But God, experiencing God, is an ‘inside-out’ experience just between you and God, or whatever name you best identify this feeling with. A feeling in your chest – it’s a matter of the heart.  Your mind is not involved. God happens when you allow yourself to wander through the chasms, abysses and crevasses of your own heart and pay attention to what is happening. Religion is not necessary for this.

After I became aware everything I believed God to be was a lie I experimented with new names to replace the word God. A name to fit the source of sheer wonder happening inside of me. At the time the name ‘God’ felt too small and limiting. I tried using names such as Universe, Designer, Creator, and Mother God. In his book, The Power of Now, Tolle uses the name ‘Being’ to describe the source within you. He says it is an open concept, impossible to bring a mental image to the word. But as the shackles of my fabricated God gradually fall away, I find I am returning to using the name God. But that’s just my preference because as Tolle says,

“Neither God nor Being can define or explain the ineffable reality behind the word, so the only important question is whether the word is a help or a hindrance in enabling you to experience That toward which it points…”

What’s in a name?  Well, quite a bit if your name is God.  A name shackled and controlled by human interference and perception; a name shrouded in lies. From the avid believer, to the ardent atheist, we are good at telling our self lies about God to justify our actions, beliefs or non-beliefs.  But we can become equally as good at restoring the name of God.. The decision sits inside each one of us. Take a moment and ask the question – what if everything I perceive God to be is not true? Then let that God go…. and wait.

Swiss Psychiatrist, Carl Jung describes what can happen in this inside waiting space beautifully.

‘Who looks outside dreams.

Who looks inside, awakens.’

What matters most, are matters of the …

Always, as a year ends, my reflective nature hurtles into melancholic overdrive. 2019 was no different. But this time the melancholy felt stronger; a touch of disappointment, a niggle flirted the fringes of my spiritual quest. Have you ever been told a joke that everyone else gets but you don’t? That’s what my niggle felt like. Something I should know but didn’t. The yearning and longing still taunted my spiritual life.

I sat in my room flipping through pages of my old journals. Thirty-six years of journal writing; pages filled with words and pictures articulating my dreams, desires and heartaches. I couldn’t help but notice my first entry, in what was my first attempt at journal writing. Dated 6 July 1983, it reads:

‘My pen will be a mouthpiece for my unspoken thoughts – let it write what my heart begs to share about you, but what my tongue fails to do.’

What a journey it has been. There’s some wisdom in the saying, ‘Be careful what you wish for’. Yes, these words still dance their dance in my heart with a passion. Perhaps more than they did all those years ago.  But am I the same person? No! Definitely not! Those words were written by someone who had absolutely no idea about life – life in the body, mind or spirit. Someone who thought they knew all the answers, someone who knew exactly how ‘God’ thought, what everyone should believe, and how everyone should behave.  When, in fact, I knew absolutely NOTHING! I was too wrapped up in me, my and mine – the ego.

Feeling fed up with my melancholy, I headed outdoors for a run. But I couldn’t quite shake off what was bothering me. I stopped running to focus on some yoga breathing. As my breathing quietened it occurred to me not once had I been alert to the present moment – my beautiful coastal surroundings, the birds, the waves, dogs playing, people laughing, the breeze on my skin, the freedom of movement, had escaped me. I had been too busy wallowing. I stood and breathed in the stillness of the moment – allowing myself to just be. I felt an immense overpowering sense of gratitude. Thankful for all I could see, all I could do, and thankful for who I was. I somehow just knew everything was as it should be.

When I made that first journal entry all those years ago, I gave no thought to the possibility of an answer, but I can tell you this; I went to places I never planned or knew existed –both exquisitely beautiful and exquisitely painful places.  But somehow, along the way, I found answers to questions I didn’t know I was asking. As I moved out of the head and into the heart, I discovered that every breath I breathe, every happy, sad, shameful, hurtful, loving, painful moment experienced, and will continue to experience, every single step was, and is, meant to be.  All are forerunners to discovering what matters most.

A few days later I received notification from our local library. A book I had put on hold some time ago was now ready for collection. A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, had been recommended to me by a friend. I don’t believe in coincidences because I don’t believe that positive and life-altering moments happen through chance or luck. Let me tell you, A New Earth is full of life-altering moments. Among his many whispers of wisdom Tolle writes:

‘You are a human being. What does that mean? Mastery of life is not a question of control, but of finding a balance between human and Being. Mother, father, husband, wife, young, old, the roles you play, the functions you fulfill, whatever you do – all that belongs in the human dimension. It has its place and needs to be honoured, but in itself, it is not enough for a fulfilled, truly meaningful relationship or life. Human alone is never enough, no matter how hard you try or what you achieve. Then there is Being. It is found in the still, alert presence of Consciousness itself, the Consciousness that you are. Human is form. Being is formless. Human and Being are not separate but interwoven.’

I stared at the words. Read, reread, wrote them down. When I opened myself up to the conscious present moment a few days earlier on my run, something happened to prepare me to understand the second event. I understood then that my yearning was something that belonged to the past or a wanting for something in the future, in the Human dimension. But the present moment is all there is, not past or future.  That is where Being is found – in the stillness of NOW. Can you feel it?

The niggle, the ‘something I should know but I didn’t’ fell into place. The dots connected. It literally felt like the cogs of an ancient machine had slipped into place. The yearning faded away.
We spend a lot of time planning, thinking, sorting, fixing what our mind is telling us to do, but Tolle says the joy of Being can only be felt when you get out of your head.

‘Being can’t be thought, it can only be felt,’ he says.

And that, my friends, is a matter for the heart.
Yes! I think what matters most, are matters of the heart.
Happy New Year.

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.

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