What happens when you find yourself in the Bardo?

Honor the space between no longer and not yet. — Nancy Levin

Loosely speaking, “Bardo” is the state of existence between two lives on earth, after death and before one’s next birth. It is a state between death and rebirth but not a purgatory as a Christian perspective might suggest.

This Tibetan word, with its provocative connotation, means a transition or a gap between the completion of one situation and the onset of another. Barmeans “in between,” and domeans “suspended” or “thrown.”

On listening to an interview by Richard Fidler with George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo, I realised I was in the Bardo.  I feel like I’m in suspended animation, in a period of time between my usual or known way of life and what is to come.  Don’t get me wrong, my life isn’t on hold.  It’s not like I’m waiting for the perfect conditions to continue but a lot has happened recently, and I find myself in an in-between place — a place without solid roots, a place of itinerancy and it’s a curious place to be.  At first, being adrift rocked me. There were moments of shock, panic and grief. After several weeks, I find I like this place of not belonging, of having no ties or roots. I belong in no place and yet every place.  I have the chance to see life from a different perspective, with fresh eyes and a respect I have not exercised before.

If the Bardo describes a state between reincarnation on earth, after death, it’s a stunning analogy for my life. After 22 years of a certain way of life having spectacularly ended and being without a home, and working toward finding a new one, I find I have the opportunity for a reincarnation of sorts. There is much to learn about who I am. So much of who we are is a response to our circumstances, relationships and the situations we experience.  Strip all that away and who are we?  On a number of occasions in recent months I’ve been asked questions that begin —  “How do you behave when faced with…”.  I can only respond with —  “I used to react like…. but now, given all the reasons I behaved that way no longer exist, I don’t know.”

Rather than face this obscurity and lack of certainty with stark terror, it’s a wonderful time of contemplation and inner reflection*, of spiritual and personal growth as well as transformation.

Being in the Bardo isn’t as dire as might be expected. It’s liberating, consolidating and a unique opportunity that I am, now that I can articulate it, grateful to be experiencing. There is part of me that longs to linger and I need to remind myself it’s a transitional time and place and that a rebirth must ultimately follow. With that vision in mind, I approach with excitement and anticipation.

 

*Interestingly my computer auto corrected reflection and it read perfection. We might never reach inner perfection but gee, it’s a gorgeous concept and a beautiful perspective to contemplate. Thanks autocorrect, for once I’m impressed.

Everything old is new again

A word was secretly brought to me, my ears caught a whisper of it.
Job 4:12

I faltered as I wandered through a vintage retro store. I didn’t trip, though I did stumble; on a message, a soft whispery message. A message that fluttered so delicately on the surface of my mind that I wasn’t sure I’d caught it. It intrigued me. I grappled to hold it, teetering between understanding and ignorance.

The message, a slogan almost, comprised just five little words: Everything Old is New Again.  Now that’s not so odd, given where I was. Vintage, retro and antique items are hugely popular again.  Inflated prices and crowds in store attest to that. But this message wasn’t about the items I was browsing. It was a message to reflect upon, one to shine a light on life and to learn from.

My short inner struggle lead me to realise that at this time of year in particular, when people are looking to make change and improvements, that we should look within rather than outward.  This was a prompt to look back and remember the strategies, the habits, the tools, the rituals and routines that helped us reach our goals in the past and to reinstate those that can help us achieve the curent changes we long to make?

From observation, and acknowledging my own behaviour, we too often seek the answers elsewhere when in fact, we so very often hold the key to unlocking the casket of treasures we are seeking. What routines did you have in place in the past that supported a better work life balance?  What habits did you formerly employ to stay fit? What rituals have you previously used to address overwhelm? How did you deal with difficult people successfully before? We let go of successful strategies for all sorts of reasons; they were no longer necessary, we tried a different way, we got neglectful.  It’s okay. Life happens.

If you find yourself looking for a quick fix, an off the shelf no fail plan or someone to help ‘fix’ things, take a moment to reflect. You might find you have a wealth of knowledge and actions you can revive to make your current goal a success.  Everything old could be new again — only the best bits of course.

All the world’s a stage, when you look at it.

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“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
Søren KierkegaardIt’s

So much happens in the world, in life in general, in a fortnight. A few media stories, among the many headlines, caught and kept my attention. I found myself  reflecting at different times on a variety of matters. My reflection has led me down different paths; some in search of clarity, some nonsensical and irrelevant (maybe that should be irreverent) some paths have led to a greater sense of acceptance and an awareness that, come what may, I owe the world an attitude of gratitude. 

Pop icon Prince died. Many beautiful tributes from celebrities and fans around the world shone a light on his talent and helped me realise how instrumental he was in forging a brave new world in music.  Though I was never a fan, I do agree that he was a talented musician and, in my mind’s eye, I remember seeing his flamboyant appearances on countdown, a popular music TV show, when I was younger.

Queen Elizabeth II turned 90, making her the first monarch to still rule at that wonderful age. When I see the Queen in photographs with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she reminds me of my own grandmother and I wonder if the Queen too has a heart of gold as well as being an incredibly determined, passionate and focused leader. I’ve marvelled for many years at her particular talents. Her job is certainly not one for the faint hearted and she seems to manage it with dignity, grace and ease.

The 25th April in Australia is ANZAC Day. It marks the anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli of Australian and New Zealand troops in 1915.  But it is more than that.  It is a day of remembrance in Australia, a day to give thanks to all the men and women who served and died in war. The ANZACs embodied the qualities of courage, mateship, and sacrifice. These qualities contribute to our sense of national identity. My own flesh and blood have fought in various wars, their stories I am only now uncovering. Lest we forget.

This past week marked the one year anniversary of my most recent trip to Nepal and the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that killed 9000 people and left close to 21 000 people homeless. The initial earthquake and many powerful aftershocks devastated many parts of Nepal which sadly are still in rubble. Apart from the human cost and loss of life many buildings have been marked as condemned with little in the way of financial support reaching those in need. Having been among the people of Nepal at that time and experiencing terror like never before, it is cold comfort to be living in safety knowing those in need are still suffering.

Having been a teacher of ancient history I read with bated breath about the discovery of a 4500 year old female mummy in Peru. The mummy and the items found with her suggest she was of nobel rank and that gender equity existed at the time. Fascinating exciting stuff.  This significant finding opens the door on a civilisation about which we have little knowledge. While cause for celebration archeologists disagree on a number of points, and there’s the rub, while this is an exciting discovery leading to new insights we also, and rightfully so, have more questions to answer, theories to explore and ideas to support.

I was startled to realise it had been 10 years since the Beaconsfield mine disaster that made news headlines around the world. A rock fall in a gold mine in Tasmania trapped 17 miners. As luck would have it fourteen escaped relatively quickly, leaving 3 men trapped below. For two weeks the rescue efforts were televised and were the focus of many Australians.  Two of the three men trapped below were rescued. the third, Larry Knight died in the collapse.  I remember meeting the two survivors Brant Webb and Todd Russell at a book signing. While I am sure they will forever and a day remember their experience their humble, exuberant, larrikin spirit will stay with me forever. I am known to wear my heart upon my sleeve and empathise deeply with others and this was definitely one occasion where I truly felt a maelstrom of emotions vying for release.

The game is afoot – Game of Thrones that is.  There has been much buzz about the next season of Game of Thrones. Not a show for the faint hearted. Fans are enthralled with the idea of Jon Snow being reprised and raised from the dead.  In this show, if such a thing were possible, the reanimation of this much-loved character would be like an ill wind which blows no man to good. Would death by such means not change one’s outlook, would not one’s heart be as cold as any stone?

This year marks the 400th year since the great Bard himself departed our fair earth. Shakespeare died on April 23rd 1616. Interestingly, he was baptised on April 26th 1564 and so, many people celebrate an assumed birthday on April 23rd. If the numerous events locally and internationally are anything to go by the celebrations have been as merry as the day is long. With so many opportunities to celebrate with plays, dinners, fancy dress and readings it is hard to find the one event that’s the be all and end all of celebrations. For goodness sake it’s hard to be fancy free when you are torn and indecisive.  Amid all the hype I did find one option rather inviting. It was a challenge to weave five of Shakespeare’s most common expressions into a conversation.

I trust my attempt has not set your teeth on edge. I have not slept one wink wondering if the method in my madness will please or displease. I trust none will be up in arms over too much of a good thing. There are over 20 phrases coined or popularised by Shakespeare in the above post. Can you find them?And thereby hangs a tale of a week, or so,  in review.

A pocket full of treasure: reflecting on January.

When my son was young he used to collect things and stow them in his pockets to enjoy later. Typically, he would forget about them and I would discover his pockets full of treasure on washing day. It was kind of fun in a way to see what he’d collected and remember where we’d been when he discovered each small item and tucked it away for safe keeping. There were all sorts of things in those little pockets from shells and rocks to sand and bus tickets. All very precious and intriguing to my little man.

Years later I find myself with a pocket full of treasure. Having committed to taking a photo a day for the year, I spent yesterday flicking through “January” and delighting in the memory of each day. The daily fun and joy and wonders come back ever so clearly to be enjoyed again.


So January has zoomed by in what seems the blink of an eye and the click of a button but my pocket full of simple photos has allowed me to take another look and appreciate the richness of my days. Life seems somewhat fuller with a small token of remembrance.

I am reminded of that saying: “collect memories,not things.” It certainly is rewarding.

Blessings to you. I trust you’ve enjoyed a joyful January.

Shannyn

Four hundred and forty four reasons to smile

imageIt’s my birthday today and I stopped for a moment to reflect on my life, as you do, and I discovered I’m pretty happy with where things are at! I thought, fleetingly, of making a gratitude list of forty-four things to be grateful for, hell, I could even make a list of four hundred and forty four things to be grateful for but you’d probably get a bit bored with that and I have a few other things to do today. So I took a few minutes just to review the last little while.

Life hasn’t been all sunshine and roses, neither has it been all cloudy and thunderstorms either. I don’t always walk around smiling and full of cheer; sometimes I feel like I’ve been swallowed by a black hole and I struggle to get my head above water. I do, on occasion, lament my inadequacies, my misgivings, the gaps I perceive in my life compared to those of others.

At times too, I begrudge the challenges I face. But it is, I reckon, human to sometimes compare and strive to be, have, and want what others do. So I’m not going to beat myself up about that and I’m not going to take the moral high ground and tell you not to do it either. Despite all this, I do though recognise the good in my life and the skills I have and the love and the peace and the joy – the real riches – that fill my life.

I know that light partners with the shadow and I appreciate the rewards that follow the challenges. So, instead of a traditional gratitude list, here is a little insight into the workings of my mad, mad mind. It’s a list that balances the shadow with the light in order to give thanks for forty four wonderful years into which I have squeezed a lot of living.

I don’t have Miranda Kerr’s looks nor am I as fit as Stephanie Rice and yes, I could always do more to support my health and wellbeing, but I’m extremely grateful that I enjoy a level of fitness and good health that allows me to lead an active and full life.

I wasn’t born a millionaire, nor did I marry into money yet I’ve traveled and explored the world.

Paris is not my home. I do, though, live in a great city in an amazing country.

I don’t have Einstein’s intelligence nor am I a brain surgeon. I am grateful for my mind and my intellect and the opportunities they have afforded me.

My family wasn’t exactly the Sullivans but I had a good upbringing.

My mother showed me tough love and made me a strong woman.

My father parented with more mercy and taught me that being kind and gentle wasn’t the same as being weak.

My sisters often played together. I watched from the sidelines and I learnt to enjoy my own company.

Tim Winton’s list of published works inspires me. I’ve started my writing career with this blog page.

I am no Louise Hay yet I’ve learnt and continue to learn so much about the mind, body spirit connection.

My house is not a mansion. It is though a place where I can retreat from the world and feel safe. It is my refuge, my place of joy and of love.

While I don’t paint with Picasso’s flair or Michelangelo’s skill I do enjoy creating little pockets of beauty in my world.

Nigella Lawson and Donna Hay, I am not. I do, however, have a skill and a passion for food that brings smiles to faces and delight to tummies.

A modern lifestyle doesn’t afford me the luxury of sitting atop a mountain to meditate and find myself. The small windows of time I do etch out for personal reflection, prayer and meditation are very precious to me.

While I may never achieve the flexibility and physical control of Yogi Pattabhi Jois, I will continue to enjoy my Ashtanga yoga practice until I’m a hundred years old. Then I might rest.

I have a job, that feels a little familiar and routine just now, that allows me time and money to explore my passions

I grew up in the eighties and saw florescent clothing make its first debut so I know it isn’t a good look and I’ll gladly pass this time around.

I had friends growing up who caused me great angst and confusion. I understand them better now than I did then. I know at times I’m not easy to understand so I am more patient with people today than my younger self ever was.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. My life is full of things to be grateful for, as I mentioned earlier I could spend the day making a list that goes on and on. I do have a few items I’d like to share that would be at the top of my list of four hundred and forty four things to be grateful for and they are:

My grade one teacher who taught me to read

My aunt who taught me the beauty of pottering barefoot on the earth

My garden. It brings me great peace.

My four grandparents whose company, wisdom and love I grew up enjoying.

The wonderful people who share my passions and interests in all things magical, weird and wacky who have taught me so very much about myself and spirit.

My other friends who keep me grounded when I could fly off with the fairies.

Above all else, I give thanks for my son and my husband; the two most important people in the world to me. The two people I could not and do not wish to live without. I am grateful for their continual love and support; God knows I’m not easy to live with or to love at times.

Life is precious. I may from time to time waste a few precious moments thinking about and wishing for things I don’t have but I am also acutely aware of how very rich my life is, how fortunate I am and I give thanks for it all: light and dark, good and bad, the challenges and the rewards.

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