Tag Archives: Marianne Elliott

Finding the Sweet Spot

imageSo…about 20 seconds after the last epistle, the time to read abruptly stopped and it has been a sustained, intense, not much time for reading, making notes in the evenings, utterly exhausting time! Fantastic, rewarding, meaningful, energising and fun as well as exhausting, frustrating, confounding, perplexing and tough. I was reminded of my friend Deb’s post here about happiness.

I have one more full day of work here. Members of my beloved family arrive tomorrow and I feel like a school girl wanting to excitedly rush them around my class room. This is such a massive part of my life and I am so thrilled to have them here. They have been supportive from day one so they too, are excited. The ladies are thrilled and fascinated to meet them! Much felicitation has been planned.  They have heard lots of stories over the years and are particularly impressed that my dad is heading off to do a trek that is actually a pilgrimage they would all love to do. They ko aid that the fact that a bloke in his late 70’s is doing it is pretty good! And they said imagethat…bloke... Well, not bloke then.

There has been a long strike in the run up to the election. My dad can climb huge hills with ease, but is less thrilled about strikes so we hope that our contingency plans to get them from the airport work out well. It is easier for some people to walk 20 kms through rugged terrain than jump on the back of a motor bike! (Only joking dad! Sort of)

imageAs I descended into a deep wallow of my exhaustion for a nanosecond last night, I realised it was more about wondering why I can’t be more balanced. There you have it people, a confession of sorts. A moment of searingly honest insight. Then I decided that really balance is not all it is cracked up to be. Like my friend Deb sort of said. I don’t have a balanced life. Never have really. But I love this funny old life. Everyone knows that.

I am going to finish this with a quote from Marianne Elliott which I re read often. She says, way more eloquently than I ever could, some of the things I think. The struggle I have regarding a lot of the search for in inner happiness and look after yourself first stuff. I agree, this is an area where we do need balance. Marianne says:

Let me make this declaration upfront: I’m extremely wary of ‘self-improvement’, as a goal or a genre. I’m always a little horrified when anyone suggests my book, Zen Under Fire, falls into the category of self-improvement. It’s a memoir, a story of impotence and despair and the path I found from there back to service, through faith and action. It’s not about self-improvement.

But it is about self-care. At least in part. It’s partly a story of what happens when we try to serve others without taking care of ourselves, and the toll that can end up taking on our health, our work and our relationships.

It seems so obvious as to be trite – each of us is responsible for taking care of our own basic needs. But it seems to bear repeating, over and over again. I certainly need to be reminded of it, regularly.

In life, unlike on a plane, it is not always as simple as putting on your own oxygen mask first.

There will be times when the needs of your community require that you sacrifice something of your own comfort, perhaps even your own well-being; times of crisis, emergencies that call on all of us to assess honestly what we are willing to give up, and how far we are ready to go to serve and protect the people we love.

In so many ways, this willingness to put ourselves out for others, because we know that the benefit to them – or to our collective – will outweigh the inconvenience to us, lies at the heart of what it means to be part of a community.

Our impulse to build community through these small (and sometimes not so small) acts of sacrifice is both the glue that connects us to each other and, sometimes, the greatest challenge to our ability to take good care of ourselves.

Because we want to connect, because we are wired for connection, we agree to do more than we can really afford to do – we commit more time, more energy, more resources than we really have to spare. The scales tip out of balance very quickly, too, when the willingness to make sacrifice, to build trust and connection, is not reciprocal.

My personal path is a hunt for the sweet spot – the place where I take care of myself, know my limits and set up some boundaries that keep me from overstretching myself repeatedly, but without switching off my impulse to serve, to help and to create community and connection through personal sacrifice for the good of the whole.

Because – just as there will be times when the overall health of our community calls on us to give a little more than is comfortable – there will be times in our lives, inevitably, when we can’t take care of our own needs and will have to rely on others to help us. (love this bit! Ed)

So our long-term well being as individuals relies on the health of our community.

And although the health of any community obviously relies on the health of it’s individual members, there will be times when we are each called on to go a little further, give a little more than is comfortable and stretch a little beyond what feels possible, to ensure that community – without which we cannot survive and certainly cannot achieve any meaningful social change in the world – is preserved.

Back to the search for the sweet spot, and the madness….

Stories…written, spoken, lived

I read a bit more than usual when I am over here. My published author friend Kate is a great source of wisdom about what to load up on my trusty Kindle. She got me on to Olive. I have raved to anyone who would listen about the magnificent Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. It’s a book up there in my top ten ever. I loved it.

Thanks to Kate, I also enjoyed The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey and When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman. In an interview Sarah Winman said:
People are the most wonderful, fallible, damaged, loving, brave, fearful, loyal creatures, all searching for something, and that something isn’t always clear. But to me, the searching in this book, was to be able to start again – to start again armed with a little more knowledge, and to live a better life…..

This is so evident in the characters she has peopled her book with. One of my favourites was Arthur, a man she described as having no real answer to life except the living of it. He sees the darkness, the humour of it all, the absurdity of it. But he still keeps going because, ultimately, for him, life is a gift….
I loved that.

People who know my dad, Les Higgins, know that he is passionate about the power of nature to heal, restore and rejuvenate; and equally passionate about our need to immerse ourselves in nature for our own well being. His e-book, Claim Your Wildness (and let nature nurture your health and well being) has just been published. He says we are born to be wild, so to speak! He also gives very practical suggestions for how, in our increasingly nature deprived world, we can maintain that wildness, that connection with nature that is so vital for us.

Every month or so in her newsletter, a New Zealand human rights activist and writer, Marianne Elliott, shares links to what she has been reading. Without fail, her list contains thought provoking and challenging reading – often with a focus on international development work, do – gooding ( her words), storytelling and such.

This month, she talks about the potential appropriation by the Western world of Malala Yousafzai, the remarkable  and courageous young Pakistani school girl shot by the Taliban.
I know that here in Birtamod, I spend my time with courageous young women, all of whom have experienced violence against them, who want changes in their communities. They all imagebelieve that violence against women is totally wrong, and should never be ignored. They don’t believe that women should be advised ( when they are finally desperate enough to go to Police) to go back and give an abusive husband one more chance. These young women agitate for change, living lives that challenge the status quo, sharing their stories to inspire and empower others, in spite of being accused by some of threatening the fabric of society with their talk of women’s rights and choices. By telling their stories, they know they are not alone in their society in believing in every girl’s right to education, and to living a life free from violence.

Knowing these incredibly strong, courageous, determined and resilient young women is why a comment by Zeynep Tufekci resonated. She said if you think Malala is rare that is because you have probably not spent much time in such countries. Most Malalas remain nameless, and are not made into Western celebrities.

I write none of this taking a single thing away from Malala. She is truly remarkable and in our office as we made our polymer beads, we read and discussed her speech to the United Nations. She is such an inspiration to us. The ladies recognise her as coming from a society like theirs. Last year Demi Moore visited Nepal to support and recognise the work of Anuradha Koirala of Maiti Nepal. Most sincerely, I say Good for you, Demi.  Interestingly, none of the ladies here had ever heard of Demi Moore but they all know about Malala.