The world is pressing in on me

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I hope that, by looking at my photographs, people will develop a better understanding of the world around them and more empathy with the people in it. – Lucian Perkins

I feel decidedly unsettled after visiting the World Press Photo Exhibition.  I realise the images are meant to affect the viewer but I wasn’t expecting to walk away so heavy hearted.

Many of the images shone a light on human tragedy, on life around the globe, on the pointless nonsensical nature of war, terror, hatred and force.  In the past I have walked away having been moved by the resilience of the human spirit, triumph against the odds, and the rawness of human emotion.  This year I found myself contemplating the role of the photo journalist and the personal lines they  cross to deliver to us news from around the world in an effort to inform and move us.

I couldn’t help but shudder.  What must it be like to photograph human bodies having fallen from aeroplanes, been slaughtered at play or left to die in fields? I contemplated the range of emotions that would surface when confronted with evil, hatred and violence such as that portrayed in a great majority of this year’s images. I cannot imagine how one keeps perspective, how one is not strongly impacted by the terror and horror of being present at such scenes.

I do not condemn.  I am agog. Startled into contemplation.  I cannot begin to place myself in their shoes to even get a glimpse of the courage and strength needed to shoot these images. Nor can I fathom the unrelenting turmoil, destruction and deprivation suffered by so many around the globe.

This year I was overwhelmed by the heaviness of the exhibition. Oh, there was variety, I know that as I sit here and reflect. I guess that’s why art is so subjective. I interacted with the images and those that stood out for me were the ones that burdened my heart.

I am haunted by Mark Metcalfe’s image of 25 year old cricketer Phillip Hughes being cradled by his mates after being struck on the head by a cricket ball.  This story made headlines in Australia. The country was shaken by the subsequent death of this young man several days later.  The tenderness with which these men attended to their friend was moving. Tears well even now as I recall the scene portrayed by Metcalfe.

Photographer Arash Khamooshi investigated public hangings in Iran. In one of his images an old woman, given permission to kick the chair from under the condemned man and send him to his death, chooses instead to slap him. The slap is a public declaration of forgiveness, thus saving the life of the man who took the life of her son. I am speechless.

An oasis amid the horror was Michele Palazzi’s photograph of a Mongolian mother and child at rest, in their tent. There was a gentleness to this photo that softened the blow the others had landed. I felt myself draw breath, not realising I’d been holding it as I moved from image to image.

The intent of the World Press Exhibition is to confront and provoke the viewer through visual story telling. This year I walked away feeling raw rather than uplifted. I can’t shake the images or the depths of depravity, sadness, and the heinous reality in which many of my fellow humans live.

Is it naive of me to give thanks for my life and the hand I’ve been dealt in the wake of what I’ve just viewed? Perhaps. But I am grateful and I thank God for my many, many blessings.

Is there more I can do to raise awareness, aide and improve the lives of those faced with tragedy and violence and circumstance? Perhaps there is. And so the exhibition has succeeded in moving me to tears, to think and to take action.

I congratulate the photojournalists for their moving, emotive and thought provoking work, the organisers of the exhibition for 60 years of insight and the Brisbane Powerhouse for hosting the display.

 

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But why?

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Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton was the one who asked why.  Bernard Baruch

“But why?”

Kids ask this question sooooo often. I remember when my son was young he regularly questioned things. What things?  Well, just about everything, all of the time.  I can still hear his little voice asking “But why?” or “How come?” Once answered he’d ruminate for a while before prattling on with various explanations and theories of his own. At other times he’d go in search of the answer himself by consulting books, asking teachers and other family members. It was frustrating at times, the constant ‘but why’s’, yet fascinating too how interested he was in the world and the why of things.

I was reminded of this intrigue when I met with a health practitioner this week who, when I asked a ‘but why’ question, responded with “They never told us”. ‘They’ being the university lecturers. How odd, I thought.  Here was an adult, established in his career for many years, who has never been curious enough to investigate the reason, consider theories of his own but simply content to accept that it is so.

My very own ‘Judgemental Judy’ came out and sat on my shoulder but before I got too far in condemning someone else I wondered, do I still ask ‘but why, how come?’, do I still investigate and find answers to things that puzzle me? Do I still hypothesise, probe and query? I wondered if adults remained curious or if this was something lost in childhood. Had we really seen so many cats killed that we stopped being curious?

After some introspection, I am pleased to report I still have a healthy sense of curiosity, that I continue to seek answers, often to very mundane and trivial questions though also, to the bigger questions of life, work and the world.  What I didn’t identify were the words ‘but why?’ being asked ad nauseam and I guess that’s the adult in me not wanting to sound precocious and annoying, all of the time.

As if in response to my questioning, I was delighted to read a post by Sue from Travel Tales of Life that confirmed that adults can still be curious and have fun with the wonder of the world (she was investigating an unusual discovery on a beach on Vancouver Island).

Are you still curious? Do you still ask ‘but why’, ‘how come’? Do you still theorise, investigate, probe and delve deep into life’s mysteries?

Have fun with it!

Shannyn

Lessons from India: Is your reality based on myth?

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The problem with assumptions is that they always come with blindspots.                                                        Oliver Blanchard

I had the pleasure of hearing a poignant address by Dr. Rukmini Banerji, CEO of Pratham Education Association, to an audience of 700 delegates at an Australian Research conference this week. Dr Banerji shared the outcomes of a project in Jehandabad, a district in India, and how they improved attendance rates by focusing on what they were teaching and ensuring the teaching was of value to students.  Through this project she challenged education officials to explore educational assumptions and realities. While her address was moving and inspiring on educational and humanitarian fronts her message, I realised, has implications for our lives as well.

To give a brief summary; the education system in India, like in many other countries, utilises an industrial model where students are grouped by age, promoted to the next grade each year and are taught a curriculum for that grade level.  This systemic structure in India, Dr Banerji argues, is built on a number of assumptions.  I’ll share four with you.

That high enrolment means children are in school. The reality is that attendance varies a lot across the country. Various studies have shown that attendance, on an average day, can range from 60 – 90% depending on the district.

Children are in school from age six onwards. Indian law “guarantees” education from the age of six to the age of fourteen. The assumption that children enter school at the age of six is far from the reality. According to a 2011 study it was discovered that in rural India, around 60% of all five year olds are enrolled in school with many younger children also attending.  Why? Schools offer incentives to encourage attendance, such as a free lunch, which sees a good many 3, 4, and 5 year olds attending school.  This has implications for the next assumption.

Children in a given grade are of a similar age/ ability.  Again the reality is very different.  Indian classrooms, as many around the world, are very diverse. Data from the 2011 ASER review from Bihar tells the story:   Based on the assumption that children enter school at age six, the ‘right age’ for Grade 4 should be about nine or ten.  In Bihar 51% of children in Grade 4 are the ‘right age’ but the rest of the children, half the class, are younger or older. If we reflect, the current model of education implies that a child in Grade 4 is homogeneously grouped with other students who are in Grade 4, are taught by a ‘Grade 4 teacher’, and can demonstrate learning  at a year 4 standard, it is clear the reality is very different and misguided.

Interestingly, studies of grade 5 students showed, on a simple year 2 test, that 48% of children could read the text fluently.  Of the other half, not yet reading at a year 2 level, 15% of children could recognise letters, another 13% could read simple words but not effectively read simple sentences, while 24% of children could read simple sentences but not fluently read at Grade 2 level.

The fourth assumption in the system is that textbooks are at appropriate age/grade level. For the reasons given above you can see that the textbook level for a specific grade is too difficult for most children.

So, what’s the takeaway? How can assumptions by Indian education officials guide us in our own lives?  I’m not sure I have the answers yet but I do have a lot of questions.

How attached are we to our own reality?  Are we seeing our ‘reality’ clearly or is it based on a set of assumptions?  Do we recognise the assumptions?  If so, why do we persist with them or alternatively, how do we change them? What is the impact of unexamined assumptions on our lives?

I’m no expert but I sense that if we don’t look hard at our own ‘reality’ we have more than likely set parameters for ourselves, boxes from within which we function and relate and ultimately stagnate. If we don’t look hard at our own ‘reality’ and the underlying assumptions can we set ourselves reasonable goals? Can we thrive and grow through the blurr assumptions create?

If we don’t look at our own reality do we realise that every interaction, reaction and thought is based on a set of values, assumptions and beliefs that may not be obvious to us.  These values, assumptions and beliefs shape who we are, they are based on where we have come from and they can cause us to be selective by ignoring information and perspectives that conflict with them, thus limiting our view of the world.

Our assumptions, values and beliefs are often so ingrained in us we are unconscious of their existence but they can, with identification and work, be changed if they are not serving us well; just as assumptions were revealed and addressed in rural classrooms in India after hundreds of years without change.

Thanks to the witty, intelligent, inspirational Dr Banerji I now turn inward to identify the myths I have created.  Can you identify yours?

 

Things I’m lovin’ right now

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The way to know life is to love many things.

Vincent Van Gough 

My friend and fellow blogger, Sarah from clevercook, inspired me to consider things I’m loving right now. She often does a post of fab food and cooking ingredients she has discovered.

Book crossing
This is a fun way to pay it forward in a mysterious kind of way. Basically, you leave books in different places for someone else to enjoy. The theory is the book travels from place to place, reader to reader and, if registered, its journey can be followed. I’ve enjoyed sharing my read and loved books this way. It’s always interesting to wonder who will pick them up.

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Paleo and Primal cafes
Ahhh. At last. A place I can eat without looking like a fussy, freaky, foodie. These cafes offer sugar free, dairy free, wheat free meals packed with delicious goodness. I’ve recently visited the Primal Pantry for a sensational breakfast and the Paleo cafe at Paddington for a sumptuous lunch. I’m loving the bone broth.

Geocaching
I’ve been a member now for about four years after being introduced to this fun pastime by my son. It’s a global game akin to treasure hunting.  When I say game it’s not a sport exactly or something you have to do with lots of people, though you can if you want to. It does get you out into the world and visiting some fascinating places. I have found 617 caches hidden in various places from bushland and urban areas around my city, to Tasmaina and the Colosseum in Rome. Its great fun, check it out.

Carol Dweck and mindset
I’m a total groupie. I met, shook hands with, got a photo with her and had her sign my book last week. Carol Dweck is a guru on mindset and I’m enjoying her book and researching mindset.

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New workouts
You’ve got to love change for its reinvigorating properties. I’ve been experimenting lately with heavy weights. I saw a marked increase in my strength over twelve weeks when I incrementally increased the weights I was lifting so I could only do four repetitions. It’s pretty awesome to witness a change like that. For instance, I began pressing 40 kilograms for 12 repetitions and completing 3 sets of these to pressing 120 kilos for three sets of four repetitions each. Leg presses that is, gosh not bench presses yet.

Now I’ve moved onto body weight and resistance band exercises with a focus on unilateral training.  It’s a nice change, totally different. It’s still a good workout, I actually feel light and buzzy when I leave the gym each day.

Sesame oil
My friend and mentor Nicole from Cauldrons and Cupcakes shared a tip for those feeling anxious, particularly after earth tremors.  She suggested the use of sesame oil on the soles of the feet at night.  Can I suggest you wear socks if you try this as sesame oil, while gorgeously scented, is dark in colour and may stain your sheets. For the past two weeks I have been massaging a little oil into the soles of my feet before bed and I have slept better than I have in a very long time. Dreamt even.

Bubbles
I’m loving bubbles right now. I’m loving them because they are whimsical, fun and totally frivolous. There is no sensibility or maturity or rationality required with bubbles. I am seeing bubbles everywhere and they make me feel happy, light and full of gratitude for such simple pleasures.

Chiropractic adjustments.
I’ve enjoyed several sessions with a chiropractor recently and feel less crotchety, more fluid and vibrant. Yay!

Essential oils
Mmmm. I’m using a number of essential oils right now that are pure magic. Lavender, rosemary, peppermint, frankincense, geranium, orange and pine. There is no need for chemical based perfumes when you have can have a natural alternative with healing properties.

Zinc
I have to add zinc in here because I heard the other day that it has been shown to prevent colds and flu. My workplace has been hit hard by a dreadful flu, nearly everyone has had it and been off work for several weeks. Everyone that is except the woman who told me about the zinc and me. We figure it’s got to be the zinc that’s saved us.  What a blessing in disguise. I’m taking the zinc because my hair is falling out but I haven’t had the flu. Got to love it!

I could go on but who wants to read more? It’s nice to realise in the routine of life that little things stand out and bring moments of joy.

What are you lovin’ right now?

Shannyn

 

Transforming the meaning of struggle

Image courtesy of Tribesport

Image courtesy of Tribesport

A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.

Albert Einstein

I am excited. My skin is tingling. I feel like all the neurons and synapses in my brain are firing all at once. I feel like there are hundreds of tiny catherine wheels exploding all over my body. I have that ‘just stepped off a roller coaster rush’ (not that I do that too often).

I had the opportunity to hear Dr Carol Dweck speak this morning. Dr Dweck is a leading researcher in the field of personality, social and developmental psychologies. She is a professor at Stanford University and is well-known for her work on mindset.

In a nutshell, a very small nutshell, Dr Dweck’s work looks at two types of mindset, growth and fixed mindset. When we utilise a growth mindset we believe skill and intelligence can be developed through effort and practice. With a fixed mindset we believe intelligence or skill can’t be changed.

Today Dweck said something that really got me thinking. She challenged us to transform our meaning of effort and struggle. Our current value system associates making mistakes and errors as something negative, something to hide and shrink from. Whereas obtaining new skills and knowledge with ease is praised and respected. There is a widespread belief that if you are smart things should come naturally.

How often have you heard comments like “You did that quickly and easily. That’s impressive.” or ” Well done, you got them all right. You must be really smart”?

What if we changed our value system and easy meant boring? What if we thought that anything we could do with ease was really a waste of our time? What would that sound like?  We’d hear things like “You did that quickly and easily. You must not have been challenged. Would you like to work on something that helps you learn and grow?”

What if we changed our value system and struggling with something, making and then processing our mistakes meant we were working on something worthwhile? What would that look like?

What if we changed our value system to reflect that struggle means we are working hard on something we value?  How would that feel?

I believe this would change everything. We wouldn’t bemoan our areas of growth. We’d share them with enthusiasm, in a collegial way, to gain understanding, insight and momentum for change and improvement. Instead of deficit thinking we’d approach our life lessons with innovation. We’d start to love ourselves a little more. We’d become more confident that we could face any new challenge with effort and the right strategy.

This concept has so many implications, for all of us. It’s got me wanting to race outside and turn cartwheels. It’s also got me wanting to process it more and work out ways to enact it in my life.

What messages have you heard recently that resonated with you?

Shannyn

 

Kissed by the silver light of a blue moon

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Blue moon, heart light

 cast your silver shawl across the sweet earth.

I am drawn to you.

Gossamer threads pull me, hold me captivated in your glow.

Ancient connections weave our histories together;

earth wisdom, magic and mysteries

so strong, so powerful, so present.

I am, modern woman,

remembering.

My ritual, small and intimate, rekindles flames within.

Blue moon

Sacred Mother

before you I release and let go

beneath you I dream and create.