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Bees and Bonnets

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As a child were you ever asked “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” You probably responded with enough enthusiasm and energy to bowl someone over! Now that you are grown up, has anything changed? If so, what is it? Who did you want to be? Can you remember what relative, famous person or imaginary character you wanted to be like? Can you remember why?

One of the ways we help people to discover their Personal Purpose, or the ‘energy of their spirit’ is to explore who influenced them in their early lives. It can be a clue helping them find what their true nature might be or what inspires them. What magnetic attributes did that person have? Was it their courage, strength, creative spirit, or attitude that was an inspiration? Perhaps how they served others touched your heart. Perhaps how they overcame some adversity in their life moved you. The characteristics of the people you aspired to be, or who you really admired, can sometimes be a clue to your innate characteristics, even though they might have become hidden or suppressed through the process of ‘growing up’. It is possible that even as an adult, you still love the way these personalities make you feel when you think about them.

In coaching sessions, clients have sometimes described looking in a mirror only to see a stranger looking back at them. (One client would not even look in a mirror, and she was a very attractive woman!) Somewhere in their life journey it seems that they have lost who they are. For some reason like a crisis, a wake up call, growing older, an illness or an addiction, they find themselves asking questions like: Who am I? Why am I here? What have I become? Is this what I really want? Have I taken a wrong turn somewhere and lost myself in the process? If you’ve had such ‘Who am I?’ thoughts, you are not alone.

“No one man can, for any considerable time, wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one.” ~Hawthorne

Which is the true face? Many of us honestly do not know! In our journey through childhood, adolescence and adulthood, we often become confused by what others want – our parents, teachers, bosses, husbands, wives to name but a few. We try to become what that person wants, admires or needs, only to find that it really does not work. We try to please, only to find we cannot please everyone. Even if 90% of our acquaintances think we are pretty good, we tend to focus on the 10% who don’t like us! In the face of this, some people lose their way, give up, try to escape, or become bitter. At the extreme end of this, they would become very cynical and say that life has no meaning, and there is no hope.

If we wake up to our own capacity to identify our own uniquely personal true face, we can find meaning and hope. Discovering our unique and personal Purpose is one way of becoming comfortable ‘in our own skin’, or becoming ‘authentic’ rather than conforming to cloned images of what others around us want. When we know who were are being it informs what we end up doing and the choices we make. There is a positive alignment of energy and life flow as a result. Life might not necessarily become easy, but you can learn to navigate through the issues life throws at you by intention and not by accident.

We hear much talk around us of ‘seasons of life’ and it is a concept that we use in our coaching sometimes too. The idea centres around the four seasons of Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring. For instance, Summer might be seen as a season of reaping, of sunshine and of plenty. Winter might be viewed in terms of cold, withdrawal, little or no growth, emptiness, hardship, loss, greyness, rain and storms.

In thinking about this idea for a bit, I came to the conclusion that it is easy for us to think that we are in a particular ‘season’ on the basis of one area of our lives. For example, do you (along with many others) think that you are in winter at the moment because you have lost financial resources as a result of the economic downturn, or because you have lost your job and are unable to find a new one?

Even if this were the case, are you really in ‘winter’? What about other life areas. Are your family relationships going well? Is your health good? Are you fit? Are you investing in your spiritual life and gaining benefit from that? Are you intellectually stimulated?

How tempting it is for us to see only the one ‘black’ spot on an otherwise ‘white’ page. What does that do to our morale and sense of well-being? Probably not much! If we apply the ‘attitude of gratitude’ to our lives, what do we see? How does it make a difference to look at life through that lens?

I was reading about a middle-aged doctor and professor who had a disease that progressively paralysed his limbs and muscles. Eventually even speech became impossible because his body could no longer obey any commands. Even though his brilliant career seemed over and all seemed lost, he refused to give in to ‘winter’ in his life and maintained his spirit despite his dire circumstances.

Fortunately, through a fellow sufferer, he found out about a computer that could be operated by someone as long as they had the use of a single muscle group. The only thing this man still had was the use of his eyebrow! With this, he turned his ‘winter’ into ‘spring’, and for the next few years was able to communicate via computer with family and students. He could write and review papers and even wrote an award winning book!

Thankfully not all of us are called to demonstrate that strength of spirit, but perhaps the idea of saying to ourselves ‘OK, I can no longer do… but I can still do…’ is worth thinking about. Perhaps we can ask, ‘What can I do to make the best of this situation for myself and for others? What resources do I have that I can call on?’ Then we start seeing the white sheet of paper rather than the black spot on it.

I remember a real ‘winter’ time in my life. The black spot was dominating the whole page! Someone sent me a quote which I kept and looked at often during that time. It said, “Sometimes we look so longingly at the door that has closed behind us, that we do not see the one that is opening in front of us.” It took time, but eventually I was ready to turn around from that closed door and could see the door in front of me opening. I also realised that no ‘season’ is forever and it isimportant to move on.

What about you? What season are you in? What are you hanging on to that is no longer serving you well? Are you looking longingly at that ‘closed’ door, or are you looking at the one in front of you that is opening wider with possibilities as you step out in faith?

Poppy Power

For most of our married life, we have had dogs.  When our last one had to be put down, at over 14 years of age, we decided against getting another one. That was a few years ago now.  Even though we did not want another dog, we enjoyed the three ‘granddogs’ in the family enormously. Our son kept the family tradition of Golden Retrievers going, while our daughter chose a chocolate Labrador.

The Lab, named Koko  was mischief and trouble rolled into one, when she was a puppy, but we fell in love with her when she arrived in Queensland from Melbourne for an extended holiday as an older dog.  It was strange how much we missed her when she went home again. 

A month or two later, I was in Melbourne, and on a mission with my youngest granddaughter  to buy a hermit crab.  Mission unsuccessful! It was so cold, we could not tell if the hermit crabs were alive or dead, as they refused to leave their shells. We wandered around the pet shop and lo and behold- there was a puppy exactly the same as Koko, a gorgeous, cuddly chocolate Labrador! I was smitten, and rang my husband to determine the ‘lay of the land’. The land was mine field territory, so I left well alone, and when my daughter came back with me to look at the puppy again, she looked at me in disbelief and said,’How can you not take her?’  That was that, and I flew home a few days later and got on with life as usual.

A week or so later my daughter rang and said, “Mum, we’ve got a problem.”  Used to problem solving as I was, I asked her to elaborate.  “The puppy wants to know when you are bringing her home. She has had enough of being in the pet shop.”

Well, they say animals choose you and I think it is true.   The rest is history.  The puppy did come ‘home’ with her older sister Koko, on her next visit north, and we welcomed Poppy into the family. 

I had forgotten how much fun a dog can be.  Apart from puppy antics, (and lots of puddles to mop up) we have enjoyed the huge wags of the tail, the gusto with which she eats her food (or convulses it) and her effusive welcomes when we get home. She is a real ‘girl’ and loves body lotion -not applying it, but licking it off my legs and feet if she can. She makes us laugh so often and is an example of an animal that hugely enjoys life.  Thunderstorms? No problem! Fireworks? Wow! Car trips? Try and stop me coming! Plane trips? Just make sure I’ve got a big bone… A day in the Boat? Can I jump out now and swim?  Nothing seems to phase her, and she has contributed to our lives in other ways too.  Long walks, games of Tug and Fetch have seen us losing weight and gaining fitness. We also talk to other dog owners and have got to know our community better. There is nothing like a “Dog Mat” lying asleep at your feet while you relax in a chair at the end of a busy day.  Somehow it feels right to have an animal around us again and as young as she is, she has enriched our lives enormously. She does not worry about yesterday.  She does not worry about tomorrow. She knows she is loved, will be fed, patted, brushed and walked each day, and that is enough.  For us she has been a great example of living a simpler life with gusto.

Doom the Gloom

I don’t know about you, but I find watching the news on Television these days rather depressing.  If there is not footage of another collapse, firms closing, people losing their jobs, there is news of road deaths, murders and other ‘engaging’ items.  Apparently good news does not sell.  Well, for this viewer, good news does sell!  I’ve had enough of the negative stuff!

What would happen if for every gloom and doom snippet, one was found that painted a more positive picture of some aspect of life?  Why do we have to wallow around in the depths of despair when there are other options?

Sure, miserable stuff is all around us, but even if all is taken away from us, our ability  and our choice to respond to our circumstances and what life dishes up to us, is still ours. It might not be easy, but it is true.  We choose our feelings, attitudes and behaviours.   

For many years On-Purpose partners has helped people to find their Purpose in life, through workshops and individual coaching. We talk about our Purpose being like a beacon or a light house, or a compass showing ‘true north’. 

How wonderful it is to know one’s Purpose!  It provides a sense of peace and comfort when times are turbulent and unpredictable, because Purpose harnesses the energy of our spirit.  When we know our Purpose, we are not cast around like pieces of flotsam and jetsam in a stormy, hostile sea. Our Purpose underpins who we are ’in essence’ and from there, we can work on what we are seeing, doing and ensure that it aligns with what we value.  Life is not hopeless and we are not pawns in the game of life if we are on-purpose.  We can make a difference.

Recently I received an email from a colleague whose business partner had leukemia and was back in hospital out of remission. There was a letter from his daughter attached, encouraging support for the Leukemia Foundation’s fund raising effort of shaving or colouring hair.   I was touched by the young girl’s plea for assistance and her love for her father.  She could have been weighed down by the helplessly depressing circumstances of seeing her father so ill, and facing death. But no! She could see a larger vision- that of helping raise funds.  In doing so, she did not let her circumstances control her.  She proactively chose to make a difference, and some weeks before the campaign, she is already 75% of the way to her target of $10,000.  I am sure she will exceed it.  She is an inspiration.

There are small things we can do to make a difference.  In these times, let’s actively look for some small act or deed each day.  It will not take long if everyone does this, to turn negativity into positivity and realise the flow on effects.  At the end of each day, articulate Three Good Things that have happened and be thankful that you have ‘doomed’ the ‘gloom’ around you. 

Living in the subtropics, near the lazy Brisbane River and near bushland and parks is mostly very pleasant.  Sometimes there are chance encounters with  snakes, or other more common visits from possums, frogs, and recently even a water dragon.  It is wonderful to be able to observe nature as easily as we can – in the main!

Last week, a Brush Turkey decided to claim the area between our neighbour’s place and ours for a nursery.  Having noticed the absence of our neighbour’s dogs, he had been parading around for ages, obviously spying out the terrain.  Some time had been spent checking out the surroundings from the roof,  the top of the pergola, the verandah railing, and other vantage points.  Eventually he found his spot, and construction of the nest he was responsible for, began in earnest. 

Actually, it did not take very long. He was an amazing worker.  In the space of a few hours, he had constructed an enormously impressive mound, about a metre high and more than that in diameter. The eggs the female laid would be incubated in this mound so magnificently constructed by the male.  Attempts to shoo him away were fruitless. His little brain was programmed, and he returned to do more work as soon as your back was turned.  Mulch from our garden beds was scratched and kicked onto his mound and a few bushes were left bare rooted.  Finally, in what looked like a grand entrance for his mate, he constructed a path of strewn leaves and mulch all across the foot paths of both properties. Again, any attempt to clean it up was met with ‘reinstallation’. His doggedness and determination were amazing. 

As always, there are lessons to be drawn from observing nature.  This time I was struck by the idea of stimulus-response whilst watching the turkey’s behaviour.  There was no space between the stimulus of the biological need to build the nest and doing it.  He just went on relentlessly.  Had he chosen to build it on a road and had cars driven over it all day, the next morning, he would have had it there again, ready for the the next onslaught of cars.  He could not learn from experience, but functioned purely out of instinct. As long as he lived, he was ‘programmed’ to live in a particular way, even if it killed him!

Unlike Brush Turkeys, as humans,we do have the option of choosing our behaviour.  Some of us do it better than others, but between a stimulus occuring, and us responding, we have the ability to think, analyse, predict, evaluate, and so on. 

We have the opportunity to make good choices or poor ones and have to face up to the opportunity of living with the consequences of those choices.  Our choice can be made from a perspective of ownership, accountability and responsibility, or from a stance of blame, excuses, and denial.  This choice, no matter what life throws at us is made basically out of love or fear. Our choices will lead us to being a victor, proactive and better, or, on the other hand, a victim, reactive or bitter.  Think about it.  Observe your own behaviour next time there is a ‘stimulus’.  It could be interesting.   

Island Dreaming

Have you ever dreamt of  what it would be like to relax on a tropical island with every whim catered for? Most people have, and some may have realised that dream. 

I have just returned from a trip to Koh Samui in Thailand.  It was an island, tropical, laid back and beautiful with lovely people. The pace of life was different.  The way people lived was different and it was an enriching experience and often humbling experience. 

The world of Occupational Health and Safety which often paralyses life in this country does not seem to have made any in roads there as yet.  Power lines, intertwined like spaghetti, buzz and hum just above your head in the streets. Cats can be seen in restaurants and dogs roam freely up and down the beach and snooze on the roads.  Scooter riders don’t wear helmets and tear up and down the main road as if their life depended on it.  I saw men scaling coconut palms like monkeys to remove coconuts which might fall on our heads.  They used their bare hands and feet and had no safety gear. 

Perhaps what struck me most was the beach hawkers.  They seemed to live their lives according to a different drum.  Fully protected from the sun, (unlike the European tourists) they would wander up and down their section of the beach trying to catch the eye of a relaxing tourist with their array of bedspreads, doona covers, shirts, dresses and jewellery.  Others sat around a little mobile food bar, which consisted of a pole with a basket at either end.  One basket had the food in it, and the other a charcoal burner.  It seemed to be the Ko Samui equivalent of a snack bar.  In a flash, if we wanted it, we could have corn, spring rolls and other ‘delicacies’ served up to us.  The charcoal burner would be fanned into life, and a few moments later, the food would appear.  We enjoyed corn cobs for lunch each day prepared in this way.  In between customers, the ‘snack bar’ became a meeting place, and it would have been great to understand the language and be a fly on the sand!  There was a simplicity about their pace of life that made me reflect on the often frantic pace that we allow to consume our lives.  Despite their apparent material poverty, they seemed rich in other ways- in how they communicated with eachother, their cheerfulness and their laughter.  Even with the language barriers on our part, as their English was much better than our Thai, they could make a joke, and smile even when a sale did not come their way.

 I was a sitting duck for one such hawker.    Believe it or not, she was sitting on the sand crocheting something.  I went up closer to have a look, and she was using a very fine cotton to crochet a top. She told me that one top took her two weeks to finish. Later, when she did her rounds on the beach with her wares, she came past me and waved the tops she had in front of my nose.  Despite my protestations that they were all too small, she found  one the right size and apart from my half hearted attempt at bartering, it was all over!  She had a sale! I had a new top!   

When we are away from our usual occupations and daily concerns, and sample life in a different environment or culture, it is easy for us to take stock and to reflect.  The challenge is not to lose that feeling and spirit we were aware of whilst away, on our return.  I, for one, will try to stop  making ‘being busy’ sound like a virtue, and will attempt to live more ‘in the moment’ and enjoy that for what it is.   

Three Good Things

Sometimes  one week seems to fly into the next without us seeming to notice.  Once a week I do a hydrotherapy session with a friend.  Apart from exercising our bodies, we also exercise our tongues, of course.  This week it struck me how quickly the last week had passed.  In fact, I had to think back quite hard to recall what I had done in that week.  I eventually succeeded, but it made me think how easily our lives can slip by, seemingly without us even noticing. 

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of hearing Dr Martin Seligman speak .  He is a Professor of Psychiatry at Penn State University.  After some thirty years of practice, in which he had to deal with a lot of the trauma and devastation that goes on in people’s lives, he began to think of how putting a positive spin on life might make a difference in the lives of his clients. It did make a difference!  Although he had numerous strategies, one that struck both my husband and me, was the simple strategy of thinking about ‘three good things’ that happened today (or this week).

Those three  things do not have to be really earth shattering, or profound.  For instance, seeing a beautiful flower and noticing its fragrance or colour, could be one good thing.  Receiving a phone call from a friend might be another, and of course, winning a sum of money in a lottery would definitely be in there! 

Now we often ask each other about the ‘three good things’ for the day. That way we often come up with six things!  When I feel down, I try to think about the three good things, and it is amazing how quickly it seems to help.  I guess it ties in with the idea of practising an ‘attitude of gratitude’. 

What three good things are you thankful for today? Challenge yourself to jot your items down on a calendar for a week and see what a difference it makes.  Your life will suddenly seem to be more meaningful and you will be more positive.  Have fun trying this out for yourself.  Let me know how you go. 

Bitter or Better

A program I saw this week on Australian Story on ABC TV really moved me and made me sit up and take notice.  Entitled ‘Some Meaning in this life, it was about Belinda Emmett- actor, singer, and wife of Rove McManus. At 24 she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  At 32 she died from secondaries in the form of bone cancer.  Whilst it was terribly sad to watch the video she had made about her encounter with the Big ‘C’, and to see the decline of such a vibrant, enthusiastic, energetic young woman, what struck me was her attitude. 

She was so positive, hopeful and even though she knew the prognosis was poor, she refused to let anything dampen her enthusiasm for and love of life. Her attitude was amazing and her spiritual energy conveyed itself forcefully. 

I was reminded of the age old problem we have as humans with stimulus and response.  If you have ever had a dog, you will have noticed that there is a very short time between stimulus and response.  If you have a piece of meat in your hand that the dog wants, it will start salivating spontaneously and will most likely make a grab for the meat.  As humans, we have some space between a stimulus and our response to it.  We can choose our response and act on it. 

For instance, in Belinda Emmett’s case, the cancer was the stimulus.  She could have responded by being devastated, withdrawing into her shell, shutting the world out, blaming God, the universe or whatever.  She could have ranted and raved, screamed out about how unfair it was, or chosen to jump off the nearest bridge. 

Instead of this, she chose to face the cancer and her terminal illness squarely. She looked it right in the eye and decided quite intentionally to keep living, smiling, creating, loving and contributing to the lives of others no matter what.  She laughed and joked her way through the video she made of her final months. She was a strength to her family in the way she dealt with what was so devastating to her health and life. When, coming briefly out of a coma,  she saw her sister quietly weeping at her bedside,she asked, “are your all right?” They were her last words. 

What a woman! What a legacy she has left to other sufferers of cancer.  People will always feel uplifted as they think of her and her contribution to society.  Even death has not silenced her, as there is now a fund to which people can contribute which will help with more breast cancer research, and a CD to ensure her voice and message are not lost.  

Belinda could not control the stimulus of the cancer that turned out to be her lot.  She could and did control her response to it. She could have been bitter, but she chose to make the most of what she had and gave encouragement and light to others in the process.

None of us know what we might come up against in the storms of life, but because we are human we have a choice in how we respond to it.  Will we be ‘bitter’ or ‘better’?

All of us know stories of people dealing with incredible odds. How about sharing some of the victories with me?  I’d love to hear from you. 

Rejuvenating Spirit

In the course of my work as a Life Coach, I am always humbled by one experience, that of helping people find their purpose in life. When clients find what they are on this earth for, lights seem to come on for them and it is the beginning of a transformation  in their lives. 

Some 13 years ago, I did some training with a guy called Kevin W McCarthy in Orlando Florida.  Kevin had written a book called “The On-Purpose Person” which I had read and on which a lot of our work is based.   In the course of the training, Kevin invited us to explore the idea of having a Purpose in life.  He had some tools which made articulating words that really meant something quite easy.  I came up with a couple of words that sounded good to me at the time and thought I had completed the exercise. 

Some considerable time later, when my husband and I were driving around New Zealand, he challenged me about the words I had chosen as embodying my Purpose in life. He thought that what I had chosen wasn’t really me.   As we talked, admiring the magnificent mountain scenery so common in that part of the world, two new words came to me as the embodiment of what my life was really about.  Suddenly I felt WOW! This fits! This is me! My two words were Rejuvenating Spirit.  I exist to serve by Rejuvenating Spirit! It fitted across all my life areas as far as I could see and feel and it just seemed right. 

As a B&B owner for six years, I found I was often doing just that with the people who came to stay.  That was what I did with my husband, children, grandchildren and friends.  It was the essence of who I was, and when I was going about what I did in the course of the day, I found myself rejuvenating the spirit of others. I felt fulfilled and at peace.  Those words seem like my spiritual DNA and are so important to me now. 

What two words would you pick to describe what you are about?  Have fun thinking about it and see if it fits all areas of your life.  I would love to hear from you.  

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