A Passion for Peace

Responsibility, respect and a loving connection with all beings and for this Earth we share.

New in my Old America

I have been back since Thanksgiving, back in the bedroom I left at 18, now at 28. My parents bought me a 2000 car again, just like they did when I was 17. It is all very full circle and funny, not at all what I was taught to expect. In Australia I was taught that inside each of us is a child, teenage, and adult self, and as adults we need to practice embracing all of these aspects of self, the parent and teenager comfort and guide the child, the child be encouraged to play and be free, and the parent set loving and firm boundaries to keep the child and teenager safe. These boundaries based on personal responsibility and self-respect flow from deep inner feeling and I find they are most easily accessed through mindfulness, intuition, meditation and dreams.

Let's sing and dance around and be proud of ourselves and know that we are loved and worthy of being loved simply because we exist, and know that the more we love ourselves the more we can find compassion for others. I am increasingly seeing the hurt children in those around me, and it is helping to heal the hurt and confused child within me. All we need to do is remember and we can laugh and feel good in any moment. Each moment is what we have, and we can choose to take responsibility for creating moments of fulfillment and joy, no matter our circumstance. We can be happy we are experiencing and being mindful of where we are now, even when we are in pain we can rejoice we are feeling alive. Buddhism teaches that pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice. Even when we have chosen to be in an office meeting we find boring, we can choose instead of an inner complaint dialogue in our minds, to quietly and quickly cultivate a fun memory to make ourselves smile, thereby brightening ourselves and the entire meeting room with our inner joy radiating out.

We can practice letting go and flowing with the changes in life, embracing new experiences with the exciting eyes of a child seeing something for the first time. I believe we are given and create in our lives only what we are capable of handling. Sometimes we can do things ourselves, and sometimes we need more help than others. I believe every thing is our teacher. A leaf floating down a stream teaches us that we can gracefully flow with the rough and changing currents of life. A rock teaches us that to be still and solid is strength. A tree swaying in the breeze teaches us that balance is fluid and not controlled. The squirrel and oak tree shows us a mutually beneficial natural dance of giving and receiving. Even our smart phone teaches us that there are amazing new things to discover and people to speak to every day, that we can connect to the entire world wherever we are, and that we can choose how much we want to experience and put the phone down, breathe and walk away when we are feeling overwhelmed.

I also believe all people are our teachers. Some teachers are with us longer than others. When we do not feel we are growing in a relationship, we can lovingly learn to let it go, and be excited that we had beautiful moments together and may meet again our life journey. I believe the goal of life is navigating and experiencing life, being present and not caught in past hurts or future fears. This is a big part of the work I am doing now. One aspect I am practicing is to allow the child and teenager within to have fun, within loving boundaries set by my adult parent self. You know how kids are excited by everything, how everything is new and imagination is so active? We can do that too! We can be excited about our new pretty light blue toothbrush, the comfort of a steaming cup of spiced tea and a warm blanket keeping us cozy on a wintry day, an upcoming visit from an old friend, or a meeting with a new colleague, even the moo of a cow!

We can experience love all around us. We can be excited about a walk in the woods, and feel loved by the way the light travels through the branches and traces the contours of a turtle's shell as it suns itself. We can choose to feel loved by the sun as is peeks out of the clouds to shed a bit of light and warmth on a winter's day, and we can choose to feel loved by the clouds that fluffily cover the sun so that we appreciate the shades within daylight, and we can choose to feel loved by the night with its twinkling stars, lights and appreciate its darkness as a beautiful contrast to the light of the daytime sun.

Seeing other friends going through this and writing encouraging emails has inspired me to blog again, so I am very grateful to be asked for support and also that my asking for support has brought me back here. If you are reading this, I want you to know that you are loved and you are worthy of being and feeling loved simply because you exist. All beings are deserving of this. <3

Posted byValerie at 10:55 PM 1 comments  

Feeling, following and flowing

Time is not a constant. Einstein taught us this, and it's really sunk deeply into me recently. I can meditate for an hour and it feels like 20 years of dreams/thoughts/astral travel, walk for 2 hours and it feels like 4 days of movement, or ride my bike for 45 minutes and it feels like 5 minutes of effort and 5 years of thought.

Our minds create our worlds. When I started daily yoga and meditation last year (both of which I have picked up and put down in different stages of life, like good books I wasn't quite ready to read and absorb), I felt the true expanse of the meditative state, that layer of superconsciousness between conscious waking and subconscious sleep. Soon I was able to meditate myself into sleep and integrate even more fascinating levels of the subconscious and superconscious through dreams. Then I began meditating for even 10 minutes when tired to perk myself back up, recenter, ground, remain present, and more fully integrate the superconscious and conscious. My senses heightened. I began energy work/reiki, and can now feel the energy of people, crystals, buildings--anything. Suddenly tastes, touch, smell, hearing, all feel more intense. (Photo: street statute men in impressive makeup)

Since Operation Nurture commenced, I have been working hard to let go a lot of emotions and traumas in my body, to really feel them, thank them for their lesson, and release them. Trauma sits in the body (like whiplash from a car wreck), and everything is integrated. When I think, I feel where a trauma or emotion sits in me; for example, thoughts of a past lover bring tears to my eyes, a smile to my face, a choke in my throat, a welling in my root, pins in my heart, and goosebumps on my arms. It's immediate and intense. Sometimes it scares me. But I feel blessed and amazed and excited to feel, learn, and let go, and stand with others so they can do the same. (Photo: Tile says 'Make <3 Not War!' and written underneath: 'Don't discriminate! Make both.')

Many people seek to "have" (money, accolade, material things) in order to "do" (travel, go out at night, pursue hobbies) so that they can "be" (happy, fulfilled, joyous, etc.) This is backwards. So is how I have been consciously living until recently. I have been "doing" (working 80 hours a week, cleaning dishes immediately after use, responding to people as soon as possible, not sleeping or taking true care of myself) in order to "have"/'be". This is just as silly. I realise now one must firstly "be" (knowing, feeling and integrating the essence of self, what feels right to be doing/acting, integrating how one wants to live in the world into "is" and into each day, relationship, work, and thought), then in that state of being, "do" (I find I do fewer things with more intention and energy and intuition and purpose than I used to), and this allows one to "have" (the essence of having: one then creates and attracts what is needed and wanted for one's true self and work, and accomplishes more).

I needed to learn how to sit still and nurture myself. Tada, I was hit by a car! I rested a bit, delved deeper into spirituality, and still overworked myself and felt bad asking for help when I needed it, and tada the next week another car hit and reminded me to really sit still! So I did--I spent about 5 days sleeping and barely getting out of bed, and another month focusing energy on healing myself and doing what absolutely mattered most (nurturing and resting myself, continuing my work, keeping up with key friends and family, etc.). Where I previously would've felt guilty letting some things and people slide out of my everyday, I really knew and owned that was what I needed. And without guilt behind it, those people and things, and most importantly I, were not upset, and are slowly reconnecting now as my energy elevates.

My mom framed a fortune cookie note for me, that I carry with me around the world. (Photo includes a gift from a dear friend I also carry around) So much of my life I lived just in my head and was not integrated in my body. When my head wasn't in tune with my intuition, feelings and emotions in my body, I got very physically ill, drained, and malnourished. Now I am stronger and healthier than I ever remember being. I do yoga, mediate, eat homemade farm-grown food, cycle, spend time with people I adore and learn from and feel nourished and accepted by, and do work that fulfills my soul. When I need to cancel plans or take the train to work because I feel tired, I do, instead of pushing myself against better judgment.

I am pretty sure most clothes I've left in the US wouldn't remotely fit Healthy Me. I stand proud and own my space. When I tell a friend here that I used to be a size 2 and was once so weak that lifting a glass of water felt like it weighed 10 lbs, they can't comprehend it. I learned from the illness, and it no longer defines me. Fully integrating learned life lessons, thereby releasing patterns and leaving negative thought loops, heals the body, mind, spirit and relationships.

I feel as though I am ever-nearing the energetic essence of the universe, which like a gorgeous infinity is never reached completely, only asymptotically (my math studies do come in handy). It feels like such a fuller way of being, and I am excited to continue to explore the layers and depth and breadth of life, to be my essence and resonate throughout more and more of the infinitely many dimensions of being. What a journey--a deep breath, infinite love and trust, and a dive in! (Photo: street statue men clearing up, seen months later than first photo--did you realise the front 2 were fake, and only the back 2 were real people? I hadn't!)

Posted byValerie at 10:18 AM 0 comments  

Operation nurture in full swing

So I was working 80 hour weeks on two jobs, my boss and I coordinating and co-facilitating a successful and moving restorative justice-based conference on clergy sexual abuse on Friday, and researching and writing a government submission paper on immigration law and domestic violence for the other job due the following Tuesday. Thursday while cycling in the bike lane to the office for what was meant to be a half day of work, a car stopped in the middle of the road and the passenger opened her door into my arm. That slammed my left shoulder into the parked car to my left, then momentum and the principle of ricochet pushed my bike and body forward, and I landed on the top of my right hand and my knees, with a gash between my knuckles and some spectacular bruises I'm still sporting two weeks later. (Photo: hospital had me do this yoga-rific x-ray configuration)

My first thought looking at my poor trooper of a writing hand was, 'Ahh how can I do down dog, or ride my bike? Yoga, cycling and meditation are my sanity.' Thankfully nothing is broken, though my right hand is bandaged and in a sling, I'm headachy and my shoulder isn't the happiest. Daily yoga for the past year, however light it is lately is really helpful. An ounce of prevention is such a truism. (Photo: watching a turtle--talk about restful)

Working slowly for half-days traveling by tram and alternately wearing two skirts that are easy to put on, because simple things like pulling hair back with one hand are tricky, I'd been trekking slowly along til last Thursday as a passenger in my boss's car we were bumped by a car whose driver didn't use his brakes. We were stopped, he hit us from behind and pushed us into the car in front. Didn't do much besides restart my adrenaline, which had been on the decline.

The Universe rings loud and clear my need to sit still and take care of myself.

So since Thursday I've been sleeping and eating and very little else, a self-imposed coma. Sleep is the best medicine. Some socialising, spiritual and energy work, yoga, online Scrabble and short walks are good, too. Along with West Wing, which my housemate has gotten me addicted to in my bedridden state. Watching pretend American politics is more fun outside the country. Also, congratulations Colorado law, as ranking seems to be top priority lately, and here's a plug for our friend Father Bob and his hilarious April Fool's drive-by confessional.

So I'm resting to re-emerge my happy active self and less of a zombie. Hope you're all having fun and experiencing warm fuzzies like the bunny-ful holiday just passed. Happy Passover and Easter, everyone! xo (Photo: bats resting, see how much we can learn from nature)

Posted byValerie at 7:27 PM 2 comments  

Multiple Jobs and 1 Person does not for much time make

I've been wanting to blog for ages, to share--or maybe to gloat--that my current home is the second-most liveable city in the world, that in an effort to go easy on myself I tell myself it's important to prioritise time and if blogging and uploading pictures to Facebook slips lower on the list than socialising in person and by phone, then so it goes. Recent research shows the unhappiness of half-assing and pretending you're happy to do/be something when you're not, so unless you've got some deadline, why not do it well and thoroughly later than half-formed sooner? (Photo: sunrise from my bedroom window)

And speaking of deadlines, I've got more coming up. Having had a few-week break from the 2-full-time-job insanity, which time I happily filled with friends, socialising, dating, a visit to the countryside complete with a hike and visit to a wildlife sanctuary. Sometimes I feel so on the go I think I've forgotten how to sit still. People tend to think I don't sleep (which was actually true when I was pulling all-nighters deep in double-job mode last month). My first job is still the same, which is culminating in our convening a restorative justice forum on clergy sexual abuse on April 8, which is the first time to our knowledge restorative justice is being used in this area. My second involves legal research and consulting, writing submissions for the Australian federal government on behalf of another NGO on proposed law and policy changes, first regarding forced and servile marriage, and now on a domestic violence "escape" in immigration law for women on conditional spousal visas. I meet the most inspiring people and hear such amazing stories researching this on the ground. (Photo: a hike in Healesville)

As if I need more evidence my current life is and, let's be honest, has always been very cushy. I read with interest articles like this mapping out unhappiness, health, and other issues in the US. Sometimes it feels like the hazards of choice. If all you had time for was eking out a living, breaking your back working to just feed yourself, have shelter and survive, you wouldn't have the unhappiness and existential crises. You'd just do, which would be all you knew. (Photo: koalas sleep so I don't have to)

Because there are always more problems and challenges to tackle! You know, like this, and that, just regarding child sex abuse in Melbourne alone. Work-life balance is always a struggle, unless you actively strive to do less or live in Denmark, apparently. Yoga in the morning, easily 1-2 hours of cycling a day getting around town, and meditation at night all keep my energy strong. It's so important when you're on a mission. My boss asked me the other day, if you don't sit still, why don't you sit still? The answer is easy. There's just so much I want to do! Passion calls, and I'm off to another meeting with some priests-- (Photo: happily swinging around straight-haired me!)

Posted byValerie at 6:45 AM 0 comments  

The Power of Empowerment

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill of 2010, which has been front page news since July (and I'm mentioned in a fore-running article here), has reached an intense debate recently on the age of consensual sex. The basic idea is not to charge an 18-year-old with rape for having consensual sex with his/her 16-year-old boy/girlfriend. The debate is about the age at which children can consent, culminating into sensation headlines like 'Non-penetrative Sex Ok for 12-year-olds, Bill Says.' To be clear, the minimum age was 14 in the draft we worked on, and the definition of 'young child' was under 12, meaning if a child is abused below that age, the offender faces increased sentencing. Agreement is building to use 16 as the minimum age allowable for consent. (Photo: colony of gulls on a bright green pond I've been cycling past in my daily commute)

My thoughts on this are similar regarding the recent activity in Egypt: the immediate outcome--whether the age of consent is 14 or 16, or whether a conservative Muslim government is voted in--is less important to me than public and open debate and interest in politics and governance, and general ownership of and participation in a fair process. (I realise Egypt's turmoil worries Israel. The Wikileaks-revealed Israeli strategy to leave Palestine on the brink of collapse is not endearing, though to say Iran is strategising to create another Gaza in Egypt seems overly alarmist.) In any case, India & Egypt, I'm impressed and excited to see how you sort it out. As James Bryant Conant said, "Behold the turtle: he makes progress only when he sticks his neck out." (And I'll add, he ensures he's at home wherever he goes. Admirable, indeed.) 

In local news, besides the barrage of rain and resulting flooding from the cyclone which filled my boots and showered me as I walked home last night, it's been an inspiring week. I'm devoting myself full-time to the clergy sex abuse project, with much positive progress, and enjoying facilitating and circulating energy during meetings, and embedding restorative justice practices into all aspects of our work, including an amazing restorative guided healing conversation circle on Friday. Empowering in a safe space to promote communication and collaborate to heal--restorative circles are a magical process, and I feel honoured every time I lead one. This whole settling-in-by-February theory appears to be true: I've just been hired as a short-term consultant to prepare a comment on a proposed Australian law on forced and servile marriage for a local NGO. And tomorrow a friend and I move into a new place where I plan to unpack for the first time since August. (I just have to find some crates or drawers to unpack my stuff into, haha.) The new house is a unique space: a converted fire station closer to the city, and everyone from friends' parents to my boss are kindly pooling together to lend me furniture and supplies, affirming yet again (as if I needed it) that people are good. Or better than good, even. (Photo: You know you're in Australia when...)

Australia when...Here's to inner peace outwardly manifesting into a supremely scrumptious existence for us all! And to the positive potential of meditation: If there is to be any peace, it will come through being, not having (Henry Miller). (Photo: local graffiti

Posted byValerie at 1:20 PM 0 comments  

"You'll love it here, and never want to leave!"

Life in Australia is easy. Social support structure, small population, minimal violence and international conflict (in Wikileaks, the US describes Australia as a "rock-solid" and uninfluential ally) make it quite comfortable here. And, as my Australian and ex-pat friends have been discussing, creates and attracts a number of vanilla custard-type people used to "the good life." 

Considering Maslow's Heirarcy of Needs, basic human rights are biological and physiological needs, governments are meant to meet safety needs, social and societal community structures strive to fulfill belongingness and loving needs, education to supply esteem and cognitive needs. And then you reach art, "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination." If what gets you out of bed in the morning is being the world's best ballerina (here's hoping you stay saner than Portman in the Black Swan), then as long as your lower needs are met, I suspect you can find a way to do that Thing That Brings You Joy. How else to explain the numbers of persistent unpublished poets and unsponsored athletes and even stay-at-home parents?
Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. There are so many examples to help us realise that making money or earning accolades is not a reflection of how good you are at what you're doing, or its value to yourself and society. Money does make it easier to take care of yourself, and if basic needs are already cared for (ala Australia), money can increase quality of life so you can explore arts, a sense of self, etc. I work with and for many who struggle to gather the basic flour, eggs and water, much less have an oven to put a custard into--all while my life "struggles" are choosing flavours of icing and toppings. Because of my stability, I'm lucky to be able to focus on my art. And if you're reading this, you're likely also lucky enough to be in the icing or whipped-creme zone, too.

What I see with some vanilla custard types here is a lack of upward momentum, a getting somewhere stuck between esteem and self-actualisation, and resulting feelings of elevated entitlement. For example, unlike many Britishers in the news lately, I do not feel entitled to free university education in any subject. (On the other hand, unlike the conservatives in the US trying to dial back heathcare, I do think a measure of such care is a basic need the government should ensure and that no one should go into debt or avoid achieving health for lack of money. This also does not seem to me in society's best interest, if you think what the person could be doing if feeling well!) 

It's all relative. There was a study recently that once you earn above $75,000, your happiness actually decreases or stagnates. The theory is, if you want a new pair of shoes and you have to save for it, or go back later when it's on sale, you remember the anticipation, and when you do get it you have that story and excitement every time you wear it. If you're really wealthy and you just buy it because you look at it and like it, you don't appreciate it as much, you don't have a story, and you didn't reflect whether you really wanted or needed it. What I wonder with easy living, is whether people don't think about moving up the heirarchy because on a metaphorical level if they want the shoes they get them. Why consider even fancier shoes when you and everyone around can get nice shoes if they want?

Saturday night I sat in Federation Square watching the Australian Open on the big screen, snacking on carrots and hummus and chatting to friends. Walking to the train, my friend commented what a beautiful night it was, to which I replied, "Yes, and I love my life!" I do. I'm also all for national pride, and am tired of people telling me how much I'll love it and want to stay here. I do love it. I am here, and I chose to come. And, Australia, I do not want to stay for good. No offense (or offence). I'm enjoying our time together, and for what it's worth, I don't think you're uninfluencial at all. It's quite an antidote to South Africa, which I also adored.

If I'm Goldilocks, after all of this travel I'm thinking more and more that home-basing in the US will feel juuuuust right. You can test your fit into gross national happiness here. I'm a solid 35/35. Here's hoping you are too, and blessed to pursue whatever your art/heart desires!

Posted byValerie at 11:53 AM 0 comments  

Cheers! Salut! Prost! Oogy Wawa!

Happy New Year! Instead of rushing into the future thinking what I want to achieve in 2011, I'm taking time to reflect on and relish accomplishments of the past year(s) and celebrate personal and career growth, and the support of friends and family around the world. Sometimes it's hard to stay positive and strive towards the balance of being present with mindful planning and past introspection. I'm making lists of what I want to release from my life, and what I want to call in and cultivate, forming more philosophical goals than specific measurable ones. One broad goal is to be grateful. "Gratitude sees mistakes as natural and forgivable. It sees them as opportunities for self-correction, not punishment. Gratitude is about opportunities to change and grow. Gratitude is optimistic in that it allows for anything to happen in the next moment. Gratitude is about being open to transformation," quoted from here. (Jack & Coke in a can, typical Christmas and New Year's fare. I, however, abstained from such merriment and the inevitable drama that ensues.)

So often we have fond thoughts of others we don't share. Sometimes that gushiness feels so good! It's not the typical Aussie method. Here people tend to show affection by putting others down. "I'd consider coming over if I actually wanted to see you," instead of "I wish I could come, because I'd love to see you, and already have plans." Teasing can be fun, but not when it's all there is, or egos involved are fragile. An alternative is that we can all aspire to be Jedi, and follow the Zen advice of doing less. Example: when is the last time you listened to music? Just listened: eyes closed, not involved in any other task but listening and experiencing the music? How about watching a movie--not with your laptop whirring, while folding laundry, or cooking supper, but just sat and immersed yourself in a movie? The same can apply to anything from washing dishes and feeling the warm soapy water feed through your fingers, to walking in a park and stopping to smell a flower or seek out a bird flitting around a nearby tree. 1/4 of people in the US said it was okay to be online during sex. Eeps! I'm thinking more and more that multi-tasking is a bit like processed food and much of Western medicine: highly overrated and short-sighted.

As for my holiday celebrations, after a 40C (100F) day ambitiously spent cycling and wandering around St Kilda beach, I began 2011 in a state of zen listening to waves crash across a rocky seashore, watching a string of fireworks across the city from afar (at one point there were 8 different sets firing off all across the bay), in the post-picnic company of a friend. Christmas and my first Boxing Day were with friendly and lively large families, both fun and exhausting. It made me appreciate that my family is small so that holidays are restful simply due to the limited number of attendees. House-sitting now by the beach south of the city, I'm enjoying a lot of restful alone time, meditating and cycling often. It's hard to be stressed with sand between one's toes, lorikeets squawking in trees, a peculiar flowery smell outside one's front door, a large patio with a waterfall and huge kitchen to come home to. I realise I spend more time on porches and in kitchens than anywhere else in a house, and tend to sit on the floor instead of on a sofa. (Photo: lorikeet in a gum tree)

On the work front, the project to reform the Melbourne response to priest sex abuse is heating up, with a front-page story in the paper. And I routinely spend hours a day reading about child trafficking. I'm currently engaging in an interesting inner debate, whether or not it's better to legalise prostitution. Current research is indicating not.
Pro's: can regulate it, test prostitutes for disease, keep it above-ground, it's going to happen anyway so may as well monitor it and make it safe, gives women career option, tax it for state income.
Con's: increases the amount of trafficking, diseased/drug-addicted women are forced underground, women in the profession have a history of abuse and neglect and often perpetuate it into further PTSD and other disorders through prostitution, creates a culture of condoning the commodification of women and paying for sex, women have plenty of career options that do not violate fundamental human right of safety and sanctity of one's body and sexuality, ruins sex for the women, many men feel peer-pressured into it and regret using prostitutes.
It's Australia/Scotland/Netherlands/Denmark and other Western nations who've legalised prostitution and seen a huge uptick in trafficking, porn, prostitution, and abuse of women versus Sweden, where prostitution and trafficking have been decriminalised for prostitutes and sex workers so they have incentive to report and can receive help, and criminalised for traffickers and sex exploiters and those who pay for such services. Stopping the demand side.
I'm obviously leaning towards the Swedish model. With Australia #2 in the world creating demand for sex workers, one wonders how soon such laws and attitudes will change. Here's hoping, and working toward that end! (Photo: Black Rock beach in the moonlight)

And here's to a new year full of love and light, health and fulfillment, and for those of us in the market, paid work in our fields of choice so we can easily continue our life's work. *wink*

Posted byValerie at 4:10 AM 0 comments