A life without labels

In the last little while I have been unsure how to answer that question asked at social gatherings -“What do you do?” I realise in the past I used to name my job by means of explanation. This served two purposes – it quickly gave people an idea of my work but it also labeled me, with what I believed some status.

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Slowly, over time and as I left that exact role I have been less interested in using a label. I’m no longer comfortable with pigeon holing myself and I no longer feel a label adequately sums me up.

I’ve never been one to choose clothes, accessories, products of any kind merely for the label. Having some consumer label emblazoned across my chest, on my handbag, on my sunglasses has never interested me. So I wonder why I was so quick to label myself in terms of my work.

On refection, I realise I have done this self labelling quite a bit. First I was a mother. Boy, when my son left home and that label was no longer valid on a daily basis I was lost, then I sunk into the comforts of being a wife, and a job description.

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Now that I’m more aware and conscious, I flounder for a label and I’m not unhappy with that. I’m more willing to sit in the the vastness of that empty space. Labels of all sorts come with judgments and assumptions. Labels are convenient because without our labels and without our story; who are we?

Eckhart Tolle encourages us to “find our true nature beyond name and form”. This isn’t an easy task, it challenges us to delve deeply into who we are and what we stand for. It is, at times, confronting especially when we dive into our shadow side. Above all, living life without a label is exhilarating, it is liberating and it is full of possibilities.

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I continue to unveil and discover my true nature without name and form.

Shannyn

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Nature’s pharmacy: What potent ingredients do you require for good health?

I am currently travelling through Europe and have had the opportunity to hike in a number of different landscapes: while all have their own unique qualities I am drawn to certain landscapes more than others.

In the Dolomites I was awed by the stark harshness of the bare jagged rock but felt quite misplaced. I had this feeling once before after catching the cable car to the top of the Argille Du Midi in Chamonix, France, a 3842 metre peak. I enjoyed the splendour of the mountain terrain coated in white snow and ice but after a while I began to crave the earth beneath my feet; I had a driving need to place my bare feet deep into moist, aromatic soil.

The rugged landscape of The Dolomites

The rugged landscape of The Dolomites

The Scottish moors are mysterious and magical. The roaring silence deep within the moors is at once unsettling and peaceful. The landscape, birds, animals and flora play to my senses

I am most at home, however, in the forest. Be it the lush humid Australian rainforest or cool dark European forests surrounded by Oak, Rowan, Ash, Juniper, Elm and Pine trees. I love the raw, dank smell of the soil, the richness of colour and the closeness of the majestic trees. The sounds of these wooded places draws me. The melody of native birds to the hushed silence one experiences deep within these places are soothing. The interplay of species within the forest and bushland are works of art to my eye. I revel in the twisting of vine around trunk, the round woody burls protruding from trees, the buttress like flanges that extend from the base of trees that can cradle a weary walker and the colourful fungi and mushrooms that remind me of childhood stories of fairies and their homes. All this and more draw me back to the forest time and again. There have been times in my life I have needed to return to the Australian Blue Mountains to rejuvenate by lingering in that vast National Park. The mountains call to me.

The ocean too is a place of healing, refreshment and rejuvenation for me. I have only to step onto one of our sandy Australian beaches to feel my troubles roll away on the tide. The strength of the ocean waves crashing on the beach or gently rolling over each other as they reach the shore is music to my ears. The very vastness of the ocean, viewed from a small section of beach, puts my thoughts into perspective. Twice, I have soothed a grieving heart by the sea. Having lost cherished grandparents I was instinctively drawn to the beach when my grief overwhelmed me. After several days of walking, bathing, sitting, praying and being nurtured by the energy of the ocean I could return home, still nursing a grieving heart but one that was less raw, one that allowed me to function again in the world.

Pottsville Beach, Australia

Pottsville Beach, Australia

Nature is a powerful healer. I know this to be true yet I am constantly amazed and pleasantly surprised when I experience a deep solace, heightened senses and raised spirits after a hike, a walk on the beach or time in the garden. Do you draw strength from the earth? Where do you go to recover, rejuvenate and heal?

Floored by my visit to Dachau

I visited Dachau concentration camp memorial site today. I knew it wouldn’t be an enjoyable ‘ tourist’ destination. I was apprehensive about the visit and could happily not have gone. It is though, I believe, important to visit such places to remember, to never forget the past and confront the capacity and capability of each of us to impact the lives of others.

People who know me well know I’m sensitive to energy. Certain places have strong energy: some good, some not so. Having stood on battlefields at Pozieres, Culloden and Normandy and visited jails such as Port Arthur and the Old Melbourne Jail, where my emotions ran over unexpectedly, I knew to expect emotions to rise today as they had in these places. So I prepared myself for what I might encounter when I arrived at Dachau.

Nothing could have prepared me for the deep swelling emotion that arose in that place today.

I at once embraced the reverence and respect with which the memorial site is kept, as well as the fortitude and foresight of the survivors to demand a memorial, yet also shrank at the horror knowing people are capable of treating each other so very badly. I know atrocities still occur in the world today but my mind cannot fathom, understand nor comprehend how anyone can act with such callous disregard for another human being.

Dachau concentration camp

Dachau concentration camp

While only two of the thirty two barracks remain, the concrete bases of the other thirty create a chilling reminder of the atrocities that occurred here that perhaps the original buildings could not. Walking the great stretch of road where these barracks had been forced me to contemplate, to pay my respects, to pray and consider how I live my life.

The various chapels and memorials built by different religious denominations provided yet another sober reminder of the immeasurable suffering that occurred here as well as the strength of human spirit. The Protestant Church of Reconciliation stood in stark contrast to the regular right angled uniformity and organised structure of the camp. This church has broken and irregular walls. You step down into a courtyard that leads to the chapel itself that is a spiral with a lovely round space at its heart. I lit a candle and spent several silent moments in prayer and regained some sense of equilibrium that was soon to dissipate.

Church of Reconciliation

Church of Reconciliation

The tears rolled unbidden as I stepped into the rooms of the crematorium. Walking through the holding bays, shower rooms built as gas chambers and the oven room was greatly distressing and made worse by the photograph on the information board, showing large piles of human bodies stacked, like bales of wheat, outside these very rooms. My brain could not register the thinking and impetus behind the act that led to the horror depicted in this photograph, the horror I sensed in those rooms.

Dachau concentration camp

Dachau concentration camp

By the time I’d wandered through the museum and read the stories of individuals who died, the horrors endured by those who clung to life and the accounts of those soldiers who finally liberated the survivors, I was bodily numbed. My head thumped in pain and my heart was truly heavy in my chest. I felt as though I had been through a real ordeal. This heaviness and the distress I felt lasted for many hours. Only after a long walk in the crisp wind along a canal bordered by massive trees did my head and heart clear.

Why did I subject myself to this? As disturbing as these experiences are I believe, as many others do, that we must never forget. As a history teacher I was aware of the history of this place and others like it but being on site impacts in ways simple knowledge does not. It is sobering. It is important to ‘forgive but never forget’. It is also a reminder that intolerance in many forms is still alive and well today.

Never forget

Never forget

My visit to Dachau today was not enjoyable but I value the strong reminder that my words, actions or inaction can either cause harm to others or not. My visit today has raised my awareness and made me conscious of the importance of always respecting those I meet and interact with in this life. My visit today is a prompt that while there may be differences between us there are so many more ways in which we are similar and that love and compassion are necessities in this world. My visit today bought the words of the Dalai Lama to mind.

It is necessary to help others, not only in our prayers but in our daily lives. If we find we cannot help others the least we can do is to desist from harming them.

Our philosophy should always be kindness!

Room for art

Wandering around Venice and drinking in the art on display as part of the Art and Architecture Biennale I recalled my year 10 Art teacher telling us about concern, criticism and doubts that arose when the Guggenheim Museum was built. People did not understand how square and rectangular paintings could be hung and enjoyed on curved walls. I guess in the end the ingenuity and uniqueness of the space quelled any concerns.

During this biennale I have come to realise anew that the space in which an artwork is displayed can contribute as much to the enjoyment of the work as the actual piece itself. The Louvre and the Uffizi Gallery are beautiful spaces and magnificent works of art in themselves but I’ve marvelled at the unique selection of space by artists to display their work here in Venice. Part of the fun is also wandering the narrow laneways to find the various pavilions and exhibits.

Fun in the streets of Venice

Fun in the streets of Venice

One work in particular by Bill Culbert held me captive. Ordinarily this type of work would not interest me for long but the construction in the space were fascinating partners. Empty laundry bottles and bright fluorescent lights scattered on the floor were bought to life by the space in which they were displayed. The room, complete with brick arches, ancient stairwells and old wooden doors opening onto the canal married with the sound of water lapping on the outside of the building and the passing boats added tremendously to this work.

Space contributes to Art

Space contributes to Art

In another room, pieces of furniture with florescent lights attached were arranged in an oval formation. Viewed from one angle, looking into the room and the white space behind, the work was interesting if not a little peculiar but viewed from the other end of the room with the canal in the background seen through rotting doors and wood panelled windows, it was something else all together. The wooden furniture and the wooden door and window frames drew the eye and competed the work.

Similarly, there were equally magnificent pieces to view in the two main galleries the Guardini and Accademia. The Gallerie dell Accadamia held the most magnificent body of work by Pawel Althamer in what I can only imagine was a very purposefully selected room. The sculptures, of which there were close to a hundred, were themselves truly something to behold but the space selected also contributed to the eerieness of their form.

Creative work fulfilling space

Creative work fulfilling space

The mind of an artist is a place I’d like to go. Not only do they have the talent to create but the foresight to compose in and utilise the very space itself is a potent form of creation.

I keep pinching myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. I am so fortunate to have witnessed this great event.