Mindlessness

Some weeks ago our icing syringe gave up its noble struggle for life, after years of faithful service. I duly trundled out and bought a new syringe, together with a new, professional style icing bag and then… I… um.  I put them somewhere. Presumably. Or I left the bag they were in somewhere, maybe? Or I accidentally cleaned them up and threw them out? I have no idea. I vividly remember buying them. After that I have absolutely no memory of doing anything with them at all.

Whatever I did do with them, I did it mindlessly. My brain was elsewhere, utterly disengaged from the present moment. My recent focus on mindfulness tells me that this is a bad thing. The more mindful you are, the better your health, the lower your anxiety levels, and the more empathic you can be. Thanks to a friend I discovered the smiling mind program a few weeks ago, and they have a lot to say about mindlessness. Mindlessness results in losing your keys, not knowing whether you have done things you intended to do, and a lot of excess anxiety, among a whole slew of other negative effects.

For me, the biggest impact is that mindlessness means that my mind, instead of being engaged in the present moment, is engaged in ramping up my stress levels – dwelling on past events, anticipating and fearing future ones, and generally building mountains out of molehills. Dr Craig Hassed, speaking on mindfulness at my workplace, said that one symptom of mindlessness is a constant low level feeling of guilt and anxiety. Does that strike a chord for you? It really does for me. A constant nagging guilt about the things I should be doing, the things I am not doing as well as I could, and the people I feel I am letting down. It eats at me and drags me down right when I can least afford it.

Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low

Only hate the road when you’re missing home

Only know you love her when you let her go

Passenger – Let Her Go

Have you ever anticipated a fight with someone? Gone over and over all the things they might say and do, and even had the whole argument in your head without ever talking to them directly? And then you see them in person and it turns out there is no fight at all. Or, worse, you wind up actually causing a fight because you have built yourself into a state of such stress and anger by anticipating reactions they might never have given, so it doesn’t occur to you that they might not do or say any of that in reality. You front up in a state of rage, with “How dare you!” at the front of your mind, when they haven’t actually said anything yet.

All that is the result of mindlessness. Because while you are having those arguments in your head, anticipating those traumas, going over and over the possible scenarios, you are not mentally present in there here and now. You are locked up inside your own head, building up a huge frothy head of anxiety.

Fortunately mindfulness is a matter of habit. You can use smiling mind to help build the habit, or you can do simple things to ground yourself in the present. I’m working on a combination of both. You can feel the floor touching your feet, or the fabric of your clothes touching your skin. You can focus on the feeling of the wind on your face. You can feel how your back presses against your chair, and listen to the sound of birds in the trees outside. You can listen to the hum of the air conditioning, or the rumble of traffic. You can stare into the fire and watch the shape of the flames, or you can give your full attention to someone who is talking to you. If you’re having trouble focusing on the conversation, try actually noticing their faces. How many freckles do they have? What colour are their eyes, really?

These are simple tricks that can literally extend your life – and certainly make it more fun. How often do you really listen to your kids when they are telling you about your day? How many times do you suddenly realise you haven’t heard anything your partner has been saying for the last five minutes? How much stress do you create for yourself by spending so little time actually inhabiting your body right here and right now?

Meanwhile if you find a brand new icing syringe and a piping bag lying around somewhere, I’d be fascinated to know what I did with them.

PS I am curious to know how people are finding my blog, and why you choose to follow it (or not!). If you feel inclined, please leave me a comment or send me an email to let me know. Thanks!

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If this is love, love is easy

Growing up I bought into the Disney version of love. It was all flowers, jewellery and grand romantic gestures. It was chocolates and candlelit dinners, glittery ball gowns and roses on valentines’ day.

We’ve been having a tough time lately. There’s a whole lot of stuff going on that I can’t write about. The stress has been pretty intense. For some months the brightest spot on the horizon has been an impending visit from old friends. Friends who live on the other side of the world, who we hadn’t seen for 11 years.

That visit was last week. It lasted just 6 short, hectic days. Their girls, 2.5 and 5 years old, had never met our girls, 6 and 10. Not so much as a skype session had passed between us. Yet the moment they arrived the two families became one.

Perhaps because we have talked so fondly of them, our girls loved them before they even arrived. I suspect the same was true for them. The very day they arrived our 6 year old and their 5 year old were wrapped around each other, though they had only a handful of words in common. By the end of the week we spoke a lot more French, and their girls a lot more English, but it was not words that cemented the friendship. There were copious tears when they left.

If this is love, then love is easy

it’s the easiest thing to do

if this is love, love completes me

‘cos it feels like I’ve been missing you

a simple equation with no complications to leave you confused

if this is love, love, love, it’s the easiest thing to do.

McFly

People were surprised that we had stayed in contact for 11 years, but it never occurred to me that we could lose touch. Emails were sporadic, but they never stopped.

For 6 days our house was full and hugs were plentiful. The week left me with an overwhelming feeling of being loved, and a pretty clear idea of what love is.

Love isn’t flowers and jewellery (although I am pretty sure it is chocolate).

Love is travelling half way around the world to spend time with friends.

Love is someone who knows why you are crying even before you do.

Love is making you laugh on the darkest days.

Love is knowing that your email will always be read, your feelings understood, and your heart safely held.

Love is hugs when you need them, and drawings just for you.

Love is watching a swimming lesson or going to a concert.

Love is even a wonky but passionate icing heart on a birthday cake.

Love is revelling in someone else’s triumph, and feeling their pain.

Sometimes love is even fixing your computer.

I have so much love in my life, even though some of it is scattered all over the globe. And none of it is carrying flowers or jewellery.

Who do you think you are?

A six year old of my close acquaintance recently demanded to get her ears pierced. All tales of pain and suffering were brushed away with a vigorous “I’m very brave!”, and the hunt was on for child-friendly ear piercing shops. But then I thought to ask her why she wanted her ears pierced, and she uttered the words that left me transfixed: “Because all the other girls have their ears pierced, and I don’t want to stand out.”

The ear piercing train screeched to a shuddering halt. For a moment I flailed about in a sea made up of past insecurities, empathy for her desire to fit in, and a complete inability to articulate why her reason appalled me so much.

I completely understand the desire to fit in. There have been times when, in an attempt to fit myself into a group of people I wanted to be friends with, I struggled with how I should change myself to be accepted. I hovered on the outskirts of the group, never actually rejected but never quite invited in either, and wondered what was wrong with me. It was a lonely feeling, and I watch my kids struggle with it sometimes too, which breaks my heart every time.

When I was at school I realised that blending in with the other girls was not really an option for a girl who towered head and shoulders over most of them, but I kept trying. It wasn’t really until I reached Uni that I began to head for what interested me, rather than what I thought I was expected to be interested in, and I gradually realised that my personality and interests were almost as unlikely to fit in with the mainstream as my height. Now in my 40s I am much more comfortable in my own skin, but I still sometimes fall into that trap of trying to win acceptance by changing myself into something I think is expected of me, in whatever context.

Back in my academic days I used to give course advice at University open days. I winced every time I saw a student pushed into the chair by his or her parent. I’d ask them what they were interested in, and then listen as their parents overrode the answer, clamouring to know where the most jobs where, where the most money was to be made. I always told them that doing the subjects that interested them was the best way to be happy and successful, but those parents weren’t interested in that sort of fuzzy-wuzzy reasoning. They wanted me to show them the money.

Following the path that most interested and satisfied me led to precisely the right career for me. I was true to my heart. It’s only recently that I am starting to articulate what I think I have known all along. That being true to my heart – to who I am and how I feel – is also the way to be happy in my friendships. Trying to change myself to fit in is like trying to hammer the proverbial square peg. I might be able to cram myself into that round hole, but it’s unlikely to be comfortable or sustainable. And there is no doubt that I am very square.

I expect that my 6 year old will get her ears pierced one day. I hope she does it because she wants to wear dangly earrings, or sparkly studs that she can’t get as clip ons, not because she doesn’t want to stand out. Not standing out was never an option for me, and I don’t think it’s likely to be for my kids, either.  I hope that they learn to be true to who they are, and spend their lives being themselves just as hard as they can. I hope they learn to celebrate their differences, because it’s their differences that make them stand out. And what is standing out if it’s not special?

Do you want plastic with that?

nurdles
Nurdles found on a Sorrento beach

These are nurdles. Tiny beads of plastic that are the basis of plastics manufacture. Nurdles arrive at plastics factories in big sacks, which are then emptied into vats to be melted down into the plastic rubbish-to-be of your choice – bags, toys, disposable spoons and plates, you name it. Every time those sacks are emptied, or a small hole develops in a sack during transport, a few nurdles escape. Just a few tiny plastic beads, so small you could fit around 6 nurdles on your average little fingernail – nothing alarming, nothing to stress about, surely?

These nurdles were found on the beach at Sorrento. Nurdles are found at every beach. Nurdles are found in every ocean. Nurdles, those few, tiny escapees, are everywhere. They wash down the storm water drains when it rains. They flow down our streams and rivers and into our bays and oceans. They wash up on beaches. They have interesting properties – they absorb toxins from the water.

Nurdles rapidly become tiny toxic time bombs, and being small and floating, they look exactly like fish food. Sea birds eat them. Small fish eat them. Big fish eat them. Big fish also eat the small fish, concentrating the toxins up the food chain. Then we eat the big fish. Fish and chips for dinner? Do you want nurdles with that? Because you’re getting them whether you like it or not. With a delightful toxic sauce.

A couple of weeks ago my 10 year old and I were privileged to go out on Polperro  to take part in a plastics survey in Port Phillip bay. We met film maker Michael J Lutman, who is making a film about the plastics in Port Phillip Bay. He has also made a film about a plastics survey in the South Atlantic, called Plasticized.  Go watch it – it’s a shocking account of a trip through the South Atlantic, surveying the plastics all the way through, including the South Atlantic gyre – one of the vast islands of rubbish found in every ocean on the planet.

We also met Neil Blake, Director of Port Phillip Ecocentre and long time champion of Port Phillip Bay and its ecosystem. Neil has a tiny amount of funding to do a survey of the plastics in the bay. For the documentary we did a short trawl through the waters of the bay. The water looked clean. There was no visible rubbish. Yet the trawl found plastic. Perhaps it’s not surprising to find plastic in the waters of Port Phillip Bay – a busy waterway with a big city on its shores. But as you can see in Plasticized, the Movie, plastic is everywhere, infesting the waters of even the most remote “untouched” oceans of the world.

After we had trawled the bay we walked on the beach for a short distance – maybe 100 metres. We picked up just some of the rubbish we saw along the way:

rubbish
Rubbish found on the beach near Sorrento Pier

The haul included plastic straws and spoons, scrunchies, bits of tape, soft drink bottles, plastic signs, bottle tops, hair clips, fishing line and various plastic connectors, rope, and bits of piping, among other things. It’s easy to see how the plastic winds up on the beach. After all, you’re walking on the beach and holding a straw. There’s no bin within reach. What’s one straw in the scheme of things? Oops. It drops and is whipped away by the wind. Oh well. No harm done.

Or it’s the lid of a coffee cup, a plastic stirrer, a McDonalds soft drink cup, or the wrapper off a chocolate frog. It’s the plastic wrap from your sandwich, a bag from your shopping, the lid of your water bottle or a hair clip that falls out.

Each individual bit of plastic is so minor, but they accumulate to form an environmental disaster of staggering proportions – torturing and killing our marine life, from birds to dolphins and whales, drifting out to sea, filling every part of our planet, affecting every bit of our ecosystem. Rubbish in our oceans is the lasting result of our insatiable desire for disposable, breakable, temporary plastic junk. Every time you say no to plastic bags, recycle your plastic bottles, or use a keep cup, you keep a bit of plastic out of the ocean.

And at the root of it all is the omnipresent, ubiquitous nurdle. The nurdle seems to symbolise everything that’s wrong about our attitude to the world. Those tiny bits of plastic, drifting, unregarded, on the wind and the tide.

What’s a nurdle here or there? It’s an environmental disaster, that’s what.