Friday, July 23, 2010

The Pendulum Swings

Reading my blog postings over the last few months, I suspect I should have called this blog, “Lisa-on-ego” rather than “Lisa-on-purpose”, as I spend so much time talking about ego! However, this week I had a very powerful experience, which led me to the conclusion that I have not been completely correct in my assumption that ego is the “enemy”. This assumption is repeatedly presented in many New Age, Buddhist or other spiritual and philosophical texts and so I am aware that I will be challenging some very entrenched beliefs in the following posting. As usual, I simply present my personal journey, which is true for me. If my story rings true for you too, then I hope you will find value here. If not, then simply discard.

For over a week I had been struggling with bad heartburn and a painful, uncomfortably bloated, inflamed feeling in my stomach. At first I thought it was simply a case of mild food poisoning possibly due to insufficient washing of veggies but, as the symptoms lingered, but did not worsen at all, I decided that this could not be the case. I know what an ulcer feels like and this was nothing like that. Besides I have absolutely no stress in my life anymore! As I had not changed anything in my diet or in my normal activities, I suspected that there might be an emotional or psycho-spiritual component to this malaise and so I decided to do a meditation to discover what that might be. I chose to do Zingdad’s meditation on visiting my sacred temple, as I knew I had always found immense healing in so doing.

As I followed the instructions on the meditation track, I found myself in a beautiful, lush forest, filled with massive, ancient trees festooned with “old man’s beard”, enormous tree ferns, mosses, lichens and brightly coloured bracket fungi, with a crystal-clear stream winding through and the whole populated with a multitude of frogs, birds and other wildlife. I could see my stone temple in the distance, but I found myself unable to go there. Something was holding me back. Gradually I became aware of a small walled garden to my left (somehow it was inside the left side of my head!) and I found that I could not move up the hill to my temple until I had explored this garden. I found a door in the wall, opened it and stepped through the doorway. What a shock! In contrast to the beauty outside the wall, inside the walled garden was dark and dank and all the plants were either sickly or dead and decaying – it was rapidly becoming a stinking wasteland.

How miraculous that our subconscious offers us these incredible insights if we simply pay attention for a few minutes! I immediately knew what the dying garden signified. It was in my head on the left side, which would seem to indicate a left-brain problem, or a problem associated with the masculine side of my being. It is this masculine side of myself which is most expressed in my ego, in Do-ing. It also dawned on me that the ego center is located in the solar plexus chakra, which was exactly where I had been experiencing distressing physical symptoms.

I moved my consciousness to my heart chakra and from there I questioned my ego chakra to find out what the problem could be. I immediately had a sense of an unloved and unwanted child rebelliously “acting out” in order to attract some attention. I realized that, for some time, I have been demonizing my ego; making it “wrong” for simply wanting to do that which it is best at doing. In every single moment I have been thwarting my ego and preventing it from finding a useful outlet for all the energy it had previously used for non-stop Do-ing. So, this energy turned inward and started to cause damage to the ego, which manifest as physical symptoms in my body. I also realized that I have been terribly ungrateful to my ego, which, after all, was the part of myself that did all the doing required to move myself from my corporate job and city life, to my current amazing dream-existence in our forest paradise.

I visualized the small, unhappy child in my ego center and then I focused on sending it gratitude, recognition and endless love. I pictured myself picking up this child, cradling it in my heart chakra; holding it and loving it and giving it everything it could possibly want and need to be happy and healthy. After some time the child was no longer unhappy and I placed it back in my ego center. Then I turned to my left to look at the walled garden again. To my surprise, the wall was gradually disintegrating and beautiful, healthy vegetables were starting to grow where previously there had been dead or dying plants. This too, was a message for me. The ego is that which allows us to DO in this world. We would not be able to get out of bed in the morning without the ego. Everything beautiful and useful we experience (as well as the things we may perceive as negative) is made possible through the action of the ego. The ego WANTS and NEEDS to be given something to do. The problem comes in when we let the ego run the show. The ego needs to be managed, needs to be given useful things to do (hence the vegetable garden, which will nourish and support the functioning of the whole being).

I informed my ego that henceforth it would no longer have to function alone and unsupported. It would become an invaluable member of a team, under the direction of the heart, which would allow me to create my perfect life and my perfect expressions of love. When I finally left the garden, I could sense that my ego was feeling happy and purposeful and I knew that my physical symptoms would soon pass.

And I was right! Two days later I feel healthy and well. Now, I know this all sounds a bit far-fetched, but I have experienced this type of imagery before in my delvings into the subconscious and I know the unbelievable efficacy of dealing with psychosomatic illness in the imagery with which one is presented. By the way, by using the term, psychosomatic, I definitely do not mean that the illness is imaginary in any way – the pain and discomfort felt are very real indeed. Rather, I mean that the soma (or the body) is made ill by problems encountered in the psyche. It is my belief that almost all illness is actually psychosomatic. We can literally think ourselves ill and think ourselves well again.

So, what have I learnt from all this? Well, firstly I have to marvel at the incredible mind-body-spirit integration and at the fact that we are given all the tools we need to live healthy, fulfilled lives if we would but stop and pay attention for a few minutes.

Secondly, I have realized, yet again, that ego is definitely not the enemy. I believe that, whereas the path outwards, away from Source is all about differentiating myself - defining who and what I am in opposition to the Other; the path back home to Source (the Ascension path) is about realizing that all is Love and that the Other is, in fact, me. We are all One. There is nothing anywhere that is not love and that is not Me. And so, even on a very local level, I simply cannot differentiate myself from my ego and make it wrong or evil. I am love and my ego is me. Read Zingdad’s excellent blog posting about this topic.

My ego is a wonderful, useful tool for expression of Self, if properly guided and managed by my heart.

And so the journey continues…

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Finding meaning

Seeing as this blog is all about finding my purpose, for this week’s posting I have decided to take stock of where I am in the process, 7 months into my “Grand Experiment”.

I know that I have spoken ad nauseum about dealing with ego issues in this blog. And yet I discover that, despite my best intentions, my quest to discover my true purpose has once again been motivated by… yes, you guessed it! EGO! The starting assumption for this blog was that there is some great and wonderful purpose for my life that I will find and, in so doing; uncover my “gift”, thereby making a huge and important impact on humankind. It’s actually ALL about ego! All about the need to be recognized as being special and different and therefore worthy of love. In retrospect, I’ve actually always been rather susceptible to such grandiose visions of my purpose – when I started studying science I had ideas of myself finding a cure for cancer or AIDS and thereby “making my mark” on the world. I smile indulgently at the naiveté of my 18-year old self, but actually I don’t really seem to have progressed very much from that position, have I?

I suppose we all want to feel that there is some meaning to our lives; some reason behind the toil and hardship, the boredom and sacrifice and, for some of us, this becomes some noble and lofty goal that could possibly raise our lives up from the mundane to some glorious, meaningful heights. Often this is merely a hedge against the deep, often unexamined, fear that perhaps this life is simply random; a meaningless struggle on an inexorable path from birth to the ultimate annihilation of Self. I choose to believe that there MUST be more to my existence than that, simply because it makes my life far more joyful if I hold this belief and because the alternative is simply too dreary and depressing to live with! But what if I’m simply deluding myself, I hear the pragmatists ask. Well, in that case, I suppose I’d rather be happy than right! But I have found some support in the literature for my need to find, or create, meaning in order to live a happy life.

I’ve recently read Viktor Frankl’s excellent book, “Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy”, in which describes his experiences as a Jew in Nazi Germany’s death camps during the Second World War. These experiences led to his developing Logotherapy, which describes mans’ “will to meaning” (in comparison to Freud’s “will to pleasure” and Adler’s “will to power”). Frankl discovered that those prisoners who had a sense of purpose, those who could therefore find (or create) meaning in their suffering, had a FAR better chance of surviving the inhumane conditions than those who did not. It would seem that a sense of personal meaning and purpose is actually vital to the ongoing survival and well being of a human.

Perhaps it’s important to differentiate between “meaning” and “purpose”. For me, purpose is an endpoint, a goal to be achieved, whereas meaning is something personal that I derive on an ongoing basis from the day-to-day activities of my life. I suspect that one could find a lot of meaning in even trivial, minor activities and events if one had a sense of overall purpose and direction for one’s life. But what if, like me, you’re not sure about what your life’s purpose could, or should, be? How do you then find meaning in everyday life whilst discovering your purpose? Well, I have recently started to think that by deliberately choosing to create and express meaning in my daily life I could actually be directly led to my purpose. Let me explain:

I am starting to discover that I can choose to experience a great sense of meaning in doing really small and seemingly insignificant things. For example: I find the time I spend physically toiling and sweating over the removal of non-indigenous trees on our land to be deeply meaningful and fulfilling. I find meaning in baking homemade goods or in preparing a beautiful meal for my partner. I even find meaning in cleaning the house or brushing the dog or any number of other previously boring chores that I rushed through in order to get them done so that I could move onto other “more exciting” (read: more ego gratifying) activities.

What all these activities have in common is that they are actually tangible, active expressions of love. Love for Self, my partner, our dogs, the land, Life. As such, they are deeply meaningful and valuable, important things for me to be doing. Each small task or service that I do in love leads to a sense of my heart opening just a little bit more. I guess I’m finally starting to understand why I was told by my guide to “Ask how best might I serve Life in this moment”. Doing service definitely leads to an opening of the heart, which is, I believe, the portal through which we can (and will) access our unique spark of the Divine, our spirit. Such access to spirit will inexorably lead to a personal experience of divine union with God, which is surely a worthy purpose for any life. In addition, a direct experience of my own divine connection MUST lead me to an understanding of my unique gifts of love and service to the world and to humanity. Note, however, that it starts with the heart connection and NOT with the grandiose visions of ego gratification created by the intellect.

It’s all about intent, I believe. A person could do amazing and far-reaching works of philanthropy, which are recognized by people all over the world, but if the intent is the gratification of the ego, these works will never lead to a personal sense of true meaning and will not, I believe, be to the ultimate good of humankind. In contrast, I believe that the smallest (even invisible) act of loving service can make the biggest difference in changing for the better the reality we inhabit. I suspect the measures of spirituality are very different from those of this illusory world.

So, my current understanding of my purpose is as follows:

1. I am here to experience this unique reality in which I can choose to experience not-Self in order to discover my true Self, and thereby, experience divine union with God.
2. My purpose is then to express my true Self in loving service in order to co-create with others a New Earth while I am still incarnated in this reality. By joyfully and effortlessly expressing my true Self I will naturally give my greatest gift.

So, for now, I will continue to seek out, and gradually discard, all false concepts of Self and consciously strive toward an ever-clearer concept of true Self. Through meaningful service I will continue to open my heart, a little bit more every day. In daily meditation I will bring myself always to the portal of the heart where I will joyfully anticipate the moment of clarity, the moment of blissful knowing that I truly am one with ALL THAT IS. Perhaps if I listen very carefully I will hear that there is a knocking on the other side of the door to my heart…

"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me" (Revelations 3:20).

And so the journey continues…

Next: The Pendululm Swings

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Zen of Tree Popping

We’ve been spending a couple of hours every day gradually removing alien vegetation from the land we are in the process of purchasing (photos at end of post). This is all we can do at the moment, as there are some delays before the land will be transferred onto our name, and so we cannot start building our home as yet. The biggest challenge we face is an overgrowth of Black Wattle, which is an alien invader of the Acacia species from Australia and a HUGE problem here in Knysna. Wherever land has been cleared it takes over, growing very rapidly, depleting the water table and spreading its seeds everywhere so that, even if one removes all the wattle trees and saplings, next season there is always more. The only way to permanently deal with the problem is to reclaim the land with indigenous species, which obviously takes a lot of time and concerted effort. However, our vision is to eventually eradicate all non-indigenous species and to fully rehabilitate the land.

We have purchased a piece of equipment called a “tree popper”, which combines muscle power with the power of the lever to remove trees of up to 5cm in diameter, roots-and-all. So, every day after breakfast, we pile the dogs and the tree popper into the pickup and drive the 2km to our land for the kind of exercise you’ll never get in the gym.

In the first few weeks, I found myself becoming disheartened at the sheer magnitude of the challenge lying ahead of us, as, after a few exhausting hours spent “popping” over 100 trees daily, it hardly seemed to make much of a difference at all, and I could only see the massive task that still lay ahead. Then I decided to change my perspective. I realized that I am doing this work as an act of service and love to the forest and so, every tree I remove is one less tree that will spread its seeds in future. This is all about the PROCESS and not about the end goal of having the land completely cleared. As Zingdad commented to me, this job will actually never be done, as this is not a perfect city garden, but rather a wild piece of land that will constantly require work. If I make the shift in my mind from goal to process, then I find that I can actually get into the “zen” of tree popping, as it were. And, ironically, then I can actually start to see my progress – as we gradually chip away at the job, ever larger pieces of land are starting to become clear of invaders.

The larger invader trees will have to be cut down and the stumps treated with a fungal biological control solution to prevent re-growth. We have decided to plant 5 indigenous trees for every large invader tree we remove, but it is still a sad day indeed to cut down a beautiful big tree. Hopefully we can use some of the wood to make our kitchen cupboards and the rest will either be used for firewood to heat our home or will be chipped for compost, so at least the trees will not have died in vain. And we will leave a legacy of hundreds of indigenous trees, shrubs and ferns for future generations.

Of course, many people have told us that we are crazy to be doing this ourselves by hand and that we should simply get a bulldozer and clear the land in one day. But we feel that this would be a huge waste of a valuable wood resource and also, this is exactly the kind of approach that leads to the establishment of invader species in the first place.

As our soft, lily-white city hands gradually become calloused and strong and as we start to find all kinds of new muscles gradually making their appearance, we are slowly, but surely making this piece of land our own, through service and through love, not to mention, good honest sweat!

Archimedes is reported to have said that he could move the world with a big enough lever and a stable place to stand. Well, we have our stable place to stand on this magnificent piece of land and, by applying the lever of our intent, we are gradually moving our world to create the heart-centered reality of our dreams.

And so we discover that it’s not about tree popping at all; it’s actually about love.

And so the journey continues…

The Intrepid "Tree Poppers"

Zingdad and his BIG

Pulling up those suckers roots-an-all

Lisa popping on purpose!

Next: Finding Meaning

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Big Con

After 4 weeks of watching sunrises and sunsets, breathing clean, fresh air, being woken by the rooster crowing and listening to birdsong all day, being surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty and doing exactly what I please in every moment of every day, I have come to the conclusion that I have been the victim of a gigantic con my entire life!

We are taught from early childhood to delay our gratification, to set our teeth and “grin and bear it” for a reward to be received at some future date. These rewards are mostly tangible “stuff”, which we are conned into believing that we need in order to be happy, in order to be acceptable. And so many of us become big, greedy babies, constantly demanding more-and-more, and bigger-and-better possessions to feed our ever-growing, insatiable hunger, none of which ever makes us feel really happy or acceptable and all of which is actually a vain attempt at filling the deep vacuum we feel inside. Of course, in order to afford the “stuff” (ie: to pay off the debt, which will actually never be paid off because we keep buying more stuff), we need to work even harder and longer than ever before. And so we find ourselves trapped, going round-and-round the hamster wheel of materialism, becoming exhausted, depressed and ultimately unfulfilled and very definitely “ungratified”!

Some other very enticing rewards we are conned into delaying our gratification for, are intangibles. These intangibles include: a sense that we are being somehow “noble” and doing “The Right Thing” by sacrificing our happiness for others, such as our family, our employees, the Company or simply, The World. Other intangible rewards are a sense of meeting (and exceeding) others’ expectations, “getting ahead” in the world, or the good old ego polishings associated with being “The Best” or “irreplaceable” or “climbing the ladder”. Somehow these rewards are even less satisfying than the tangible rewards and invariably lead to a sense of disillusionment or resentment, as our sacrifices can never be valued enough by those for whom we are doing the sacrificing, and the ego buffing just never seems to satisfy our deep hunger for love and recognition.

But, if not for some future gratification, why do we need to work? We are told that it is a way to make a contribution, a way to create meaning for ourselves. But I reckon that there are very few people for whom that really is the case. I think that most of us work because we believe it is expected of us and because we believe that we have to have money in order to buy the stuff we have been conditioned to believe we want and need. Most of that stuff would not be required if we were not trying to live up to some expected lifestyle measure or if we were not requiring to anaesthetize ourselves against, or compensate ourselves for, the pain and frustration of living a life that is not congruent with our deepest being; not congruent with our heartsong.

Living in this beautiful place I have realized that I actually really don’t need the fancy clothes, the car, the gym membership, the expensive entertainments, the overseas trips, the fine restaurant meals, the jewellery and all the other tangible and intangible trappings of “success”. Most of what I need is given absolutely free of charge by God and the rest is easily obtainable by spending a tiny fraction of what I thought I needed in order to survive in my previous life.

I just have to stop living my life in comparison to, and in competition with, others, and find my own measures of value, meaning and purpose. I have to find the courage to listen to my own heart and follow its calling. And, suddenly, a life of magnificent abundance ensues. Abundant health, abundant happiness, abundant time, meaning, connection and beauty.

I would like to suggest that we stop delaying our gratification. I think we have to IMMEDIATELY, AND IN EVERY SINGLE MOMENT, move toward that which we most love. Don’t delay it for even a second longer.

The trick is getting to the core of what it is that we love the most. I might think that what I love the most is beautiful possessions, more money, bigger and better toys, recognition, titles, status etc, but if I get really honest and become still and listen to my heart for a moment, I realise that what I most love is to feel connected: connected to God, connected to Nature, connected to others, connected to my Self. What I really want is to feel that there is real meaning and purpose in what I do and that I am making a real difference in someone’s life. I want to feel that the world will have been a better place for my having passed this way. No amount of “stuff” and no amount of ego buffing is ever going to provide me with this. The only way to find this is to go within and listen carefully to my heart. And then all I need is to have the courage to follow what my heart tells me to do.

I believe that each of us has a very special gift, a God-given purpose, which we have to contribute to the world. When we find this gift and start giving it, we will never, ever, ever have to work again. We will simply be playing – it will be effortless and fun and will give us a sense of meaning and purpose in every moment and true abundance will ensue.

Of course, I can hear you say: "All this is very easy for you, as you have the time and the space and the leisure to find your heartsong". But just a year ago I would have said that it was impossible for me to do what I have done, as I had FAR too many responsibilities and there was no way I could afford to leave my job, to move to the country and to spend 2 years finding my purpose. And yet…. Miraculously… Here I am!

Somehow, when I was ready to listen to my heart, the impossible became possible and the way miraculously appeared.

I definitely don’t have all the answers yet. But I am starting to discover some very interesting questions and I am starting to see a little more clearly and I’m DEFINITELY starting to have a lot more fun!

And so the journey continues…

Next: The Zen of Tree Popping

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Adapting to my new reality

Up till now I have spoken a lot about all the amazing and wonderful aspects of living my forest dream. And all of this remains true. However, for the sake of honesty and a balanced perspective, I have decided to report back on some of the difficulties I have been experiencing over the past few weeks.

I suppose the first, and least significant challenge, has to do with the lack of externally imposed structure, boundaries or sense of purpose. It is surprisingly difficult to decide what to do when faced with a completely empty day with nothing which one HAS to do, when one is accustomed to having the entire day mapped out in hectic activities, responsibilities and general busy-ness! Also, because we are really “off the beaten track”, it’s simply not realistic to jump into the pick-up at a moment’s notice and rush off to town to find some entertainment or distraction. We plan our trips to town so as to ensure that we don’t waste fuel and time and we always have a well-stocked pantry so that there is food for at least a month in case the river comes down in flood and we need to survive for a period of time without a visit to the supermarket. In any case, the town of Knysna is really small and does not offer big-city entertainments. However, I have started to discover the joys of vegetable gardening, baking, stargazing, walking with no destination in mind, photography and just simply chatting and connecting in front of the fire with new friends and my dear partner. Also, there is the odd excitement, such as a helicopter flip with the neighbour this morning and the need to rake the driveway of our 2ha property or pull up alien vegetation from time to time! So, this challenge is actually a minor one that I am starting to resolve for myself.

By far a bigger challenge is the nagging sense of discomfort I have that something HAS to go wrong soon. I guess that somewhere deep in my programming is a hidden belief that it’s just not permissible for humans to have this much happiness and freedom to do EXACTLY what they want in every moment. Somewhere, somehow, there has to be a payback. Could it be that I find it easier to believe in a reality that is an uphill toil rather than an easy, fun, relaxed reality?

This belief is also manifesting in a fear that I am, due to some external calamity or something I have forgotten about or miscalculated, going to have to leave here before I want to. It’s almost as if I can’t relax and fully enjoy this amazing place and experience because I am afraid that it will somehow be “taken away” from me or end abruptly before I am ready, or before I have fully experienced all I wish to experience. This is actually spoiling my enjoyment of this incredible reality I have worked so hard to create.

My dear Zingdad helped somewhat by reminding me that living this perfect, beautiful life in this incredible place is not what my journey is actually about. The journey is actually about following my heart toward my purpose. It is important to remember that this is a journey and NOT a destination. My life in this magnificent place is simply the current manifestation of that journey. It is absolutely guaranteed that we will not stay here forever and that things WILL change, even if only because we are currently renting this place and will soon start to build our own home on our own piece of land! If I attach myself to this place then I am guaranteed to experience pain and suffering when I have to leave. Change is inevitable.

Attachment causes suffering. I know this. And yet I keep feeling the temptation to attach myself to something external to myself. I suppose it’s because I have really cut myself adrift from all my previous ties. Even if I found them extremely constricting to my growth, they were comforting and provided a sense of being somehow anchored in the world. I have the most disconcerting feeling of lightness, of disconnectedness, of unreality. How surprising it is to discover how dependent and even, addicted, I have been to externally imposed structures, routines, expectations, restrictions and definitions of Self! It seems to be a frightening thing indeed to create ones own sense of Self with no external input. However, every time I try to create a routine, boundary or restriction in my new reality, I find myself kicking against it, despite my uncomfortable feelings of being adrift.

Perhaps it’s necessary to simply sit in the fire of these challenges for a while without rushing to try and find quick-fix solutions.

It has not escaped my attention that I could interpret all this as me creating problems simply because my life is so free of any real difficulties or challenges! However, I think a more appropriate interpretation would be that Zingdad and myself have created this reality without any real troubles or worries so that we can spend our time and energy focusing on our real journey toward Self instead on focusing on any perceived lack or difficulty that might serve as a distraction.

And, in the vast, magnificent stillness of this place, I detect the quiet unfolding of some new, and fragile, and infinitely precious thing within my heart.

And so the journey continues…

Next: The Big Con

Friday, June 4, 2010

The first 10 days in Paradise

What I love the most about living in the “wild”:
Being woken by the rooster crowing before dawn
Watching sunrise, sunset and Venus setting every day
The brilliance and exhilarating infinity of the stars
The unbelievable vastness of the silence
Spying with binoculars on the multitude of birds feeding on the fynbos
The overwhelming friendliness and helpfulness of small-town people
No rush hour traffic, no noise, no pollution, plenty of parking in town
Time and space to breathe, to think, to BE
Watching the ecstatic happiness of the dogs running at full speed for as long and as far as they wish
Falling into bed by 10pm, bone-weary from physical work
The breathtaking, heart-stopping beauty of this place
Leaving the doors open at night and feeling safe in a way I have never felt in the city in a cage of burglar bars
No car alarms going off in the middle of the night, no streetlights, no drunken revellers shambling past our house, no beggars, no city squalor, no ugliness anywhere
Driving in 4x4 up the bumpy, treacherous, incredibly beautiful, mountainous dirt road to our home

What takes some getting used to:
At night when the lights are out in the house it is irrelevant whether my eyes are open or closed – the view is the same!
The fine dust that settles over everything regardless of how much I clean
The brown colour of the river water due to tannins and the funny “scum” it deposits round the rim of my teacup
The realization that we need to make sure there are “belts and braces” in place for everything we might need – a dramatically increased awareness of the need for self-sufficiency
No distractions - nothing I have to do and nowhere I have to be
In this place one is confronted with the reality of who you really are. There are no places to hide and you need to be very happy with your own company and with creating your own entertainments.

We spend most of the day watching the ever-unfolding beauty from our balcony. I’ve been taking countless photos but nothing can do justice to the spectacular beauty of this place.

However, below is a small selection:

The view from our balcony

God’s handiwork on display all day from our balcony

Sunrise over the swimming pool

Sunset over the distant mountains

Toasting the sunset

Our house

Our pick-up in front of the house

Zingdad and Zing collaborating on The Ascension Papers

The 2 blondes in my life, in the light of the setting sun

Zingdad in meditative frame of mind

Next: Adapting to my new reality

Friday, May 21, 2010

Moving on

For me this is a time of endings, a time of nostalgia, a time for farewells.

My next blog posting will be written in our new rental forest home and between then and now lies a rather daunting to-do list, not to mention an exhausting list of concerns and anxieties about the move. We’re not just moving 500km away to a new town; we’re actually moving an eternity away to a whole new reality.

Suddenly, after all the months of talking about it and preparing for it, the time has finally come for us to start creating and living this new reality we have dreamed of for so long. Although there is a great deal of uncertainty and some fear about our new life, we have already mostly disconnected ourselves from our old life and we find ourselves in a rather unsettling place, betwixt and between.

As this weekend will be our very last in the city, we had planned to enjoy the best that city life has to offer. However, when we sat down to plan the weekend, we both realized that there was absolutely nothing we wanted to do other than stay home and cook a quiet meal, to be eaten amidst the piles of boxes. Just as well, I suppose. It would have been rather problematic if we still hankered after the city life.

However, there is still some attachment left to the old life. It’s quite amazing to discover how very closely I have identified myself with my home and I find myself experiencing periodic anxiety about whether the new owners will take good care of the pool, the garden and whether their furniture will look good in “my” home and worrying about whether they will repaint the walls which I so lovingly and painstakingly painted myself with specially selected textured paint. I know I have to relinquish my attachment to this house. I guess I’m really experiencing first-hand the suffering caused by what the Buddhists refer to as “attachment to form”. It’s been so interesting to note that every single possession I have released, from my home to my car to my clothing to my furniture etc was something that, once upon a time, I specially chose and loved very much. However, there comes a time when we have to release every last thing, including ideas and thought-forms and abstractions. And our attachment to those things, our identification of ourselves with those things, is what causes us pain and suffering.

I suppose mostly what I am having to let go of right now are the final vestiges of the previous ideas I had of myself; the go-getter, the yuppie, the “successful”, busy, upwardly mobile career person. I don’t really know who the new me is, but I need to create the space for her to come into being and the only way to do that is to finally discard all of the old.

I am suddenly acutely aware of the fact that I really am taking a leap into the complete unknown with only my heart to guide me home.

During the past few weeks, as I’ve said my final goodbyes to friends and family, I have been aware that several of these goodbyes will, in fact, be goodbye forever. My journey is taking me in a certain direction and I know that, despite their good intentions to visit, many will find that their own life journey simply makes this a remote possibility. So there’s been a lot of sadness and grieving for what was, but also a lot of reflection and many beautiful memories of journeys undertaken with some very special people.

So, now… here I am… standing on the edge of the cliff, with a very thin bungee cord attached to my ankles… waiting for the moment… heart pounding with excitement and a touch of fear….

Three, two, one… BUNGEEEEEEE…….

Next: First 10 days in Paradise

Friday, May 14, 2010

"Eating Animals"

I’ve been struggling to complete this blog posting for over a month now. The main reason for this delay is that I have found it very difficult to describe my own experiences and choices without appearing to be either prescriptive or judgmental of the choices of others. So please read this posting in the knowledge that I am aware that I hold the truth for no one but myself. Also, please accept that my personal choices imply absolutely no judgment of the choices of others.

I’ve recently finished reading the book, “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer (author of 2 previous books, which I enjoyed immensely: “Everything is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”). Jonathan undertook the research, which eventually led to his writing this book, because he wanted to make informed decisions about the food he would choose to feed his infant son. Despite the fact that three years of intensive research into farming practices went into the writing of this book, I also undertook a personal mission to verify for myself, as far as possible, some of the practices described therein.

I have always had a terribly uncomfortable feeling about the keeping and slaughter of animals for human food and this was something that I hid from myself in order to continue partaking of all the foods I enjoyed - a dirty little secret that I avoided looking at. Now that I have the cold, hard facts about factory farming, I find that I am unable to justify for myself the continued consumption of most of these foods.

Although I have called myself a “vegetarian” for almost 3 years, I have still enjoyed the occasional seafood and I have continued to eat free-range eggs and r-BST free milk, cheese, butter and yogurt. After reading what is actually meant by factory-farmed “free-range” eggs I find that I am unable to give my permission to the cruelty involved. A simple e-mail to our retailer of choice clearly indicated to me that I am condoning the most horrific cruelty by eating even so-called “free-range eggs”. Try it. Ask your retailer exactly what is meant by free-range (specifically how much space each chicken actually has to walk around in and the life expectancy, health and holding conditions of even free-range chickens). Also ask what happens to the male chicks… When I discovered the sheer criminal wastage of so-called “by-catch” associated with modern fishing practices and the pollution and cruelty associated with fish farming, I found myself unable to partake of seafood any longer. It simply isn’t financially viable to farm in a more humane fashion, as we require ever-increasing amounts of food at relatively cheap prices.

But, as Safran Foer points out, I vote 3 times a day with my fork in favour of the continued cruelty associated with modern factory farming practices. Until I stop…

We are all, in the words of Wendell Berry, “farmers by proxy”. What am I prepared to condone in the name of “taste”? I agree with Safran Foer that it’s in EXTREMELY bad taste to torture animals in order to gratify my taste buds. I wonder how an advanced race of beings visiting our planet would experience the human race if they were to be shown the unbelievable cruelty and wastage associated with animal factory farming and slaughter?

But what do I do with this information I now have about farming practices? How does this affect my future food choices? Do I become a dreaded “food fascist”? And what do I do about my leather shoes, belts and jackets? Do I wear out the clothing I currently have and then purchase only made-made fabrics in future? But how about the destruction of natural habitats caused by the production of such synthetic fabrics and do I look deeply into the practices involved in the production of these products? Where do I draw my own personal line? Do I try and change the world by becoming an activist? Do I wish for THIS to become my life’s purpose?

Some of the things I can immediately do include searching for a local family farmer that can provide us with eggs and milk products that I can consume with a clear conscience. Certainly I will personally visit the farm and make sure that the animals are treated fairly and humanely. Until then I no longer eat eggs and I have severely limited my intake of milk products (alas, for me, cheese is the hardest thing to give up!) In the last few months I have discovered that it’s definitely not necessary to eat vast quantities of animal protein, as I have become increasingly aware of the multitude of beautiful, nutritious and absolutely delicious foods that are available to vegans. I have already, and continue to reduce my wasteful consumption of consumer goods. But, are these measures enough?

Eating food is an incredibly intimate thing to do - taking the body of another living being into my own body as a means to continually re-create myself. It stands to reason that each decision I take about every mouthful I take is a decision about how I wish to create myself. Here, in this moment, NOW, I decide who I will become in the future.

I am not advocating veganism, even though I think that I will probably end up making the choice to become a vegan myself (if I can possibly find a way to give up cheese, that is!) What I AM advocating is becoming conscious of how I vote with my fork (and with my wallet); to become consciously aware of every choice that I make. Then I think that I can allow myself some grace, some time to find alternatives to the food and other animal products I currently depend upon.

A commitment to being consciously aware and to continuously improve is what I have come up with for myself. I find that I can live with this... for now.

And so the journey continues…

Next: Moving on

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Spiritual guidance

I have been rather resistant about writing the following blog posting. The main reason being that I know that several of my regular readers will find what I have to say rather “flaky”, to say the least, and may perhaps have some concerns for my sanity! However, I have undertaken to chronicle my ongoing journey toward discovering my life’s purpose and each week I write about that which is top of mind for me at the time of writing. And, after all, this is MY blog and I don’t compel anyone to continue reading it! So, here goes:

I have had quite a few people lately asking me versions of the following question, “But, Lisa, what is it that you DO all day?” I think this is mainly because I have always been such a busy, active do-er that it is difficult to comprehend that I have spent the last 4 months doing nothing much at all! However, these questions from friends and family, and my own uncertainty, have led to some anxiety and I have started to ask myself whether I have progressed at all in finding my life’s purpose, which is what I set out to do at the start of this adventure. As I was unable to answer this question with any degree of clarity or certainty, I decided to hold the question in my mind whilst meditating and specifically request input and assistance from my spiritual guide.

Until 3 or 4 years ago I had a guide called Elizabeth. She had a very warm, nurturing energy and she simply held me in her unconditional love until I was able to find love for myself. After this I became aware of a “changing of the guard” and I knew that Elizabeth had moved on to do other tasks, her work with me complete. I was assigned another guide about whom I knew very little. He had a far more “masculine”, sometimes rather intimidating, energy and I always experienced his presence as a vast cloud of intense blue light. I had a sense of immense integrity, clarity, truth and trustworthiness about my new guide. This was a far less personal relationship than the one I had enjoyed with Elizabeth and I was led to understand that this was a “grown-up guide for a maturing soul”. I haven’t really felt the need or the desire to find out more about my new guide during the past few years. However, my question about my life’s purpose led me to directly ask for his assistance for the first time this week. Below is the conversation that ensued.

Actually the conversation did not take place in words at all, but rather I was immediately presented with fully formulated concepts (some of which were rather surprising to me!) every time I held a question in my mind. I subsequently “translated” the concepts into words (losing a great deal of the richness and meaning in the translation, I might add). However, even the final version in words, below, offers a great deal of insight and value to my current situation.

Lisa: Am I “on course” in my life; am I doing what I am supposed to be doing?

Guide: Do we really need to regress to childhood again at this point?!
You KNOW that you are exactly where you should be and doing exactly what you should be doing. It is artifice and counter-productive to pretend that you don’t know. Life is not served by your acting small or ignorant.

Lisa: OK, I guess I do know, but it seems to be taking so long to find my life’s purpose. What is it that I need to be learning right now?

Guide: Patience and humility.
You are done with accomplishments for now. It is your partner’s turn to shine. You need to sit quietly in the ever-expanding knowledge of who you REALLY are without constantly feeling the need to remind everyone of who your ego thinks you are.

Lisa: But isn’t this a terrible waste of my talents and abilities?

Guide: Do you really believe that your greatest talents are associated with the personality, called Lisa? Your greatest talents lie in your BEING, not in Lisa’s DOING. In this lifetime you chose to have the potential to be or do anything you wanted. However, NOW you have to realize that your true value and worth have absolutely nothing to do with Lisa’s achievements, talents and potential.
You have been viewing the finding of your life’s purpose as yet another achievement to add to your long list!

That is why I tell you that, until you can sit quietly in the knowledge of who you truly are and relinquish your ceaseless hunger for achievement, affirmation and sense of accomplishment, you will not find your true life’s purpose.

Purpose can never be about ego. So, sit still and BE.

Lisa: OK, I accept all this because I know it to be true. But what should I DO in the meantime?

Guide: In every moment, ask yourself, “How best might I serve Life in this moment?” Then, do that.

Lisa: How will I know what that is? Sometimes I feel so alone. Will I receive help and guidance?

Guide: Again, this is the question of a spiritual child. You are fully aware that you receive absolutely all the assistance you require whenever you need it.

Well, I guess it couldn’t get much clearer that that! I can tell you that my ego didn’t like this conversation one little bit! My ego wants to have big and important and serious stuff to do and patience has always been one of my weaknesses. So, I guess that is exactly why I am in the perfect place right now to learn this lesson.

And so the journey continues…

Friday, April 30, 2010

"Baboon Matters"

Yesterday afternoon as I stood frozen, scarcely daring to breathe, a huge alpha male baboon casually sauntered past, barely half a metre from my position! I had already watched the self-same individual engaged in a ferocious tree-top territory battle with another male, accompanied by blood-curdling screams and a barrage of pine cones and broken branches that rained down upon us as we stood watching, transfixed. I had never dreamed that I would get THAT close to a wild baboon troupe and be able to observe them in their natural habitat, engaging in their normal social (anti-social?!!) behaviour. This troupe are never fed by humans and have therefore not come to associate humans with food. However, due to the daily presence of the baboon monitors (more about these later), they have become habituated to human presence, hence their rather casual attitude to our being there.

My partner and I had heard about an organisation called, "Baboon Matters", which comprises a handful of volunteers working to raise awareness of the plight of baboons in South Africa. Baboon
Matters also do baboon rescue and rehabilitation, baboon troupe management, as well as training. The 2-hour walk with the troupe of Chacma baboons we did in Noordhoek on the Cape Peninsula accompanied by our trained guide, Mzukisi, is aimed at raising awareness and also assists in fund raising for the work of the organisation. Mzukisi started out as a "Baboon Monitor"
trained by the staff at Baboon Matters. The Monitors play a vital role in ensuring that the baboon troupes do not clash with the human inhabitants of various areas in the Cape Peninsula. The baboon troupes are followed by the monitors and are herded to safer areas using shouts, whistles and clapping if they get too close to human habitations. This minimises conflict between humans and baboons and ensures the ongoing survival of the troupes, which are protected in the Cape Peninsula.

As we will very shortly be living in the forests of Knysna, which are home to several wild baboon troupes, we had decided to educate ourselves about baboons so that we can find a way to live in harmony with the baboons we come into contact with. Mostly baboons are considered pests or vermin and are often shot by people living on the edges of their territory. Clearly this is just NOT an option for us and so we need to find other management strategies. I was particularly concerned about how to keep the baboons away from our vegetable garden, out of our home and also how to manage the interaction between our dogs and wild baboons. We were given loads of tips and ideas on how to manage our future interactions with baboons. The walk was an incredibly exciting, heartwarming and very educational experience, which I really recommend to anyone interested in a completely different wildlife experience.

Below are some photos:

This is my favourite!

Aint life great?

Oh no, what have I done!


Mom's taxi

Maternal bliss

A mother's love

Yet another cutie

That feels SOOO good!!
Baboons spend hours carefully grooming each other to remove ticks and fleas

A group of baboons

Ho hum! Yet ANOTHER photo shoot!

The teenage years can be SO confusing!

Alpha male patrolling his territory

Mzukisi, the guide, and my own tame baboon

Next: Spiritual Guidance

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pause for thought

Yesterday I had a very interesting and challenging discussion with a dear friend and erstwhile authority figure in my life whom I had not seen for several months. This friend told me that, in his opinion, I was being selfish and cowardly in relinquishing my previous life, my career and all its responsibilities and my opportunities for making a contribution in order to follow my heart to the Tsitsikamma forest. He also said that my ideas made no sense at all to him and he indicated that he thought I was deluded or possibly under the influence of some external influencing person or circumstance. Furthermore he told me that he thought I considered myself more “noble” or somehow superior to others because of the choices I was making about the kind of life I wished to live.

What struck me very powerfully about this interaction is that just a few short months ago I would have been absolutely devastated to have heard this person’s negative opinion of myself and my venture. It had always been really important to me to do the “right” thing in order to be considered in a favourable light, particularly by the authority figures in my life. I suppose I believed that I really needed “daddy’s” approval. I had always gone to some considerable lengths to determine what I thought would be the “most right” thing to do and then I would do it, whatever the personal cost. But it didn’t actually bring me that much satisfaction or happiness; certainly not the level of happiness that I now experience whilst doing what my heart guides me to do.

I guess I find that I am now far more interested in being happy than in being “right”!

So, although I can see that many would view what I am doing as wrong or misguided or selfish or ignoble, it somehow doesn’t really matter that much to me because what I am doing is making me happy in a way that I could never have imagined before. This doesn’t mean that I no longer care about my friends and acquaintances from my past – quite the opposite – I care a great deal and I wish for them to have happy and fulfilled lives doing whatever brings them the most satisfaction. I am just no longer willing to sacrifice my own happiness in order to be accepted and loved or in order to have the dubious, and rather empty, satisfaction of believing myself to be doing the “right” thing.

The second thing that struck me about my conversation with my friend yesterday is that it was an immense gift.

Initially when I took the decision to follow my heart I had anticipated all kinds of resistance from friends, family and colleagues. I was really surprised when that was not the case. Mostly people just told me that they wished they had the courage and/or the opportunity to do what I was doing and just about everyone expressed support and good wishes for my new life. Subsequently I have met many new friends, both online and elsewhere, who have expressed support and comprehension for what I am doing. So I suppose I have started to develop a very distorted picture of how most people would perceive my choices. Probably those who found my ideas and choices strange or weird or threatening either did not continue reading my blog, or else did not interact with me.

Yesterday’s meeting was a huge eye-opener and therefore a gift. It allowed me to see my situation and myself from a completely different perspective.

This meeting gave me a much greater insight into what I am requiring of my loved ones in expecting them to accept the choices I am making. And I can also see that some of my choices are causing a great deal of pain and discomfort for people who have been really important in my life. While my friend was talking I found that I was able to look behind his rather harsh words to see the hurt, loss and sense of betrayal that he had experienced as a result of my choices.

When we decide to assume certain roles in life it is like putting on a set of clothing. After a while our friends and colleagues grow accustomed to seeing us in those clothes and it can cause a great deal of confusion, anger or even a sense of betrayal if we decide to reject the set of clothing in favour of another. It is possible that some could even experience this as a rejection of themselves, their friendship or their value systems; possibly even an act of aggression. I had spent a whole lot of time and effort and energy in building up a “persona” which people had come to know and rely upon and I can imagine that it could have been really difficult for some to relinquish their attachment to that specific version of me.

Does any of this make me doubt whether what I am doing is a valid choice for me? Absolutely not. I know in my heart that what I am doing is completely right for me and, for the first time in my life, I don’t require the approval or the validation of anyone or anything external to myself to corroborate that for me.

Do I know where this journey of mine will end? No, again! When some accuse me of not having a proper plan, I have no defense at all, because they are completely right! But somehow that doesn’t really matter because I don’t feel the need to defend my choices or myself anymore. I don’t feel the need to be “right”. My plan is to simply follow my heart in every moment to that which brings me the most happiness.

Is this cowardly?
Is this irresponsible?
Is this selfish?
Does that matter?

And so the journey continues…

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A narrow escape

I’m standing ankle deep in mud in the pouring rain on a deserted gravel country road at dusk, kilometers away from the nearest farm. I’m shivering from the cold because I’m dressed in a t-shirt, flip-flops and thin cotton pants, but also because of the shock of what has just happened. In front of me is the appalling spectacle of our car balancing on two tires at a 45-degree angle on the sandy verge of the road. The only thing between the car and the precipitous drop into the deep gorge below are a few scrubby bushes and small saplings.

Whilst negotiating a steep downhill turn, our car tires slipped on the treacherous wet clay on the road surface and the car careened across the road before coming to a halt in its current position. Climbing out of the car was terrifying because we feared that our shifting weight would send the car plummeting down into the gorge. It was also quite a feat to climb out uphill, over the handbrake and across the drivers seat, with the car at that angle. Fortunately we were both absolutely unharmed and the car only required a wheel balancing and alignment and a bit of panel beating work on the front fender. A miraculous escape indeed!

Despite the drama of this situation, it has turned out to be an incredibly wonderful experience. We have learnt a few important things:

Firstly, ABS brakes can only do so much – zooty city cars are just not suited for life in the forest! We definitely need a 4-wheel drive vehicle if we’re going to be able to drive safely in all weather conditions in our forest hideaway.

Secondly, no person is an island, particularly when living in remote and wilder parts of the world. As city dwellers we have come to anticipate that assistance will not be forthcoming if one finds oneself in a difficult situation and that considerable financial or other incentive is required in order to get out of a pickle. However, it seems that country people are very different from city people. We were overwhelmed by the kind assistance and support with which we were showered in the forest. A neighbour came to fetch us in his 4-wheel drive vehicle. He personally phoned around to find us the cheapest rescue service (after ascertaining that it would be impossible to tow us out himself), even going so far as to telephonically enlist his son’s assistance to find us the best deal. He sat chatting to us in his vehicle for over 45 minutes until the rescue truck arrived and then stayed with his vehicle’s lights flashing so as to warn oncoming traffic of the rescue underway. Then, when we discovered that our car could still drive, he took us back to his place to stay in his guest cottage overnight. I have never appreciated a warm shower, a hot meal and a soft, warm bed as much as I did that night!

The third thing I learnt is that moments of physical danger and heightened adrenaline result in unsurpassed clarity about one’s priorities. Whilst standing on that lonely country road, a strange sense of calm descended upon me and I realized that, despite the current difficulties, I was EXACTLY where I wanted to be and doing EXACTLY what I wanted to be doing! In addition, I had created this experience to show myself EXACTLY that! All the petty and irritating little details and uncertainties of the past few days dealing with agents, builders and architects just seemed to melt away into insignificance and I knew again with absolute certainty that following my heart to the forest is the right thing for me to do. The details will all work out in the end; the important thing is to get myself to my heart’s home.

As an aside, our neighbour told us that the people living in the area had declined the municipal offer of a tar road and that they would in fact sign a petition against the treacherous gravel road being tarred in future. Despite our recent experience, I’m pretty sure I would sign that petition as well! The place is special and unspoiled exactly because it is so remote and inaccessible and it should be preserved just as it is.

Only one more month to go and we will be moving to Paradise.

And so the journey continues…

Next: Pause for thought

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Return to Paradise

We’re back in Knysna again to meet with builders and architects and to finalise the admin associated with the purchase of our little piece of Heaven. I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful it is here, so I have decided to let the pictures do the talking.

Our driveway

This is part of the 8km gravel road that leads
through the indigenous forest to our property.

Gorge-eous views along the way!

Rush hour traffic

The beginning of the Gouna indigenous forest

Meeting the neighbours

These neighbours are still in their pajamas!

And THIS neighbour is in his very finest plumage

The big dam on our property (the small speck on the
far side is my partner, just to give you some idea of how big it is -
it's DAM big)

The smaller lily pond on our property

The view we will have from our verandah

A tree marking the border of our property

Next: A narrow escape

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Coping with impatience

I am probably the most impatient person I know. My talents lie in making things happen rather than in allowing things to happen! And so I have spent my life in an endless, frenetic flood of busy-ness with my eyes always firmly fixed on the future attainment of my goals. And this has worked very well for me in accomplishing most of the things I have wanted to achieve in this reality. However, right now this approach no longer seems to be working. I’m also pretty sure that it is not going to work in my new reality and it is definitely in direct opposition to my stated intent of being here-now.

But still, I often find myself frustrated with the delays in realizing my forest dream. Everything is just taking SO much longer than I had planned. Had I known at the end of December when I quit my corporate job that 3 months later I would still be in Cape Town, I would probably have completely flipped my lid! So, what, if anything, has “gone wrong”?

Well firstly, as I have decided to take responsibility for my creations, I have to accept that even the most frustrating delays are of my own making and are therefore absolutely perfect. I am no victim of circumstance, so, perhaps on some level, I am creating this breathing space, this moment in which to take stock and to prepare myself for what is coming.

And when I actually do stop, take a breath, and think about it for just a moment, I find it really difficult to explain exactly why I am in such a hurry. Everything is steadily progressing toward my stated intent, albeit slower than I had anticipated. Why am I in such a hurry to get to “the rest of my life”?

My life is right here, right now.

In addition, there are no external time limits or deadlines, other than those that I choose to impose. Is impatience merely a bad habit, a learned response that I must unlearn if I am to find lasting happiness in a new way of being?

The Buddhists tell us that, in this reality, "pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional". What they mean by this is that being human inevitably means some physical or emotional pain at some point, but that our response to that pain is what causes us to suffer or not. And most suffering is caused by resisting THAT WHICH IS.

My current “suffering” is caused by my resistance to being where I am right now and my desire to be somewhere else (ie: the forest). I am so busy rushing at top speed towards my future happiness that I have failed to notice how amazing this present moment is. And actually I have but a split second left in which to enjoy the city life. To be able to walk across the road and enjoy eating at 6 different restaurants in our street, to amble down the road to the DVD store at 9pm if I feel like watching a movie, to be within walking distance of 2 different malls, and all the other wonderful benefits of city life. I have but a few moments in which to cherish my beautiful “yuppie” home and all it’s wonderful memories before I have to hand it over to the new owners. I have a brief interlude in which to enjoy entertaining old acquaintances before moving on to my new life in which I definitely will not see them as often as in the past. Why not enjoy this moment right now instead of wishing it were over?

It’s equally useless to hanker after the past; to wish that relationships could be the way they used to be or that I could have the body I did 10 years ago. Because, of course, 10 years ago I wasn’t appreciating the body I had, but was rather focusing on all the things I needed to do in order to “improve it” in future. What a terrible waste! Right now I am the youngest I will ever be. Why not enjoy and cherish this moment? For it too will be over before I realize it. I think we do ourselves and the world a thousand small violences every day by resisting WHAT IS, rather than simply accepting things the way they are and enjoying them, knowing that this too will eventually pass.

So, this morning I got up and made homemade muffins for breakfast and relished the fact that my dearest love and I could sit for over an hour together talking, drinking tea and listening to music. There is nothing we have to do and no place we have to be. This breathing space is a blessing and one I intend to enjoy to the fullest.

And so the journey continues…

Next: Return to Paradise

Friday, March 26, 2010

Why the forest?

If you’ve been following this blog, you will by now know that my partner and myself will shortly be leaving the city to move to a beautiful piece of land in the indigenous forest on the East coast of South Africa, where we will be building a largely self-sustaining life. Several people have asked me, “Why the forest?” Indeed, why did I not choose the coast or the bushveld or the desert or any number of other natural, unspoilt areas in this beautiful country I am privileged to call home?

In order to answer this question, I would like to share with you what it is that I feel when I am in the forest. My partner and I regularly go walking on the forested slopes of Table Mountain, which is about a 10-minute drive from our city home. Below I describe my experience of a typical walk.

Shortly after commencing the walk I become very aware of my body working, my muscles stretching, my breathing deepening, blood rushing to my feet and legs as I move my body up the incline. I find myself releasing the accumulated stress of the day, and the multitude of small concerns occupying my mind diminishes with every deep breath that I take. Gradually the incessant chattering of my mind quietens and I start to take notice of the incredible beauty of my environment.

For me the forest is a perfect example of co-creation in action: each fern, moss, lichen colony, tree, plant, insect, bird, animal, not to mention the unseen micro-organisms, simply expressing themselves perfectly without concern for what the other plants and animals are doing, and yet, together forming a perfect, harmonious whole. How wonderful if we humans could each enact our greatest, most loving expression of Self in every moment without concern for how we might be judged by others (or ourselves). Imagine what an incredible co-creation could ensue if we simply embraced love as a motivator!

As my walk progresses, the forest around me starts to take on the appearance of a stage or movie set – it’s simply too intense in its “is-ness”, simply too perfect to be real. The almost psychodelic colours, the myriad textures, the richness of smells; the placement of every tiny stone and twig seems simply too perfect to have happened by chance. Somehow I can’t accept that there isn’t an incredible design, an awesome intelligence behind it all. As I walk with reverence through cathedrals of trees and gaze with awe upon delicate green lace-light filtered through living stained glass windows, I become convinced that I am in the presence of a collective intelligence – a “spirit of forest”, if you will. This is MY church, my place of worship where God seems very close.

At this point I generally become aware of myself at several different levels – my human animal body experiencing the challenge and joy of the exercise, my human personality concerned with thoughts and emotions and experiences, and then there’s another, broader perspective of myself, which encompasses the other perspectives and so much more besides. It is a version of myself that starts to experience the inter-connectedness of everything around me and to feel my own integral connection to all that I perceive. I begin to feel expanded, as if I no longer end at the borders of my body; my senses heightened, I start to experience the forest as Self, the Self as forest. My single, limited perspective multiplies to become an infinite number of perspectives. I become a part of this amazing co-creation that I perceive with my senses, but also a part of so much more that I cannot perceive with my limited human abilities. It’s as if my act of loving observation allows me to become an integral, participating, creative part of the whole. This is the closest I ever get to feeling at one with God.

Sometimes at this point I find myself overwhelmed with emotion. Tears start to course down my cheeks and I feel SO incredibly alive, SO incredibly grateful to ALL THAT IS for being a part of it all. A bubble of happiness works its way up from the pit of my stomach to explode into a riot of ecstatic, joyful, fizzing colours behind my eyes and suddenly I feel unbelievably light and free and elated. I find myself running and skipping and dancing like a child without any concern for whether I might be observed or judged by anyone around me - joyful in a way that I simply cannot replicate anywhere else.

And THAT is why I love the forest and why it is the only place in the world that I could possibly be happy to live!

Next: Coping with impatience

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ego revisited

In this blog I’ve often written about my ongoing battle in dealing with ego issues. Despite this, today I find myself needing to write about this topic yet again. I suppose that’s not really surprising, seeing as this great adventure upon which I have embarked is all about moving out of the ego and into the heart, in my quest to discover my true purpose.

A few years ago my partner and I went on holiday to a lovely eco-friendly resort in the Tsitsikamma forest (no surprises there!) At the reception we were signed in and given the key to our cabin by a sweet old man with an unkempt beard and shaggy hair, dressed in an ancient baggy pair of trackpants, filthy bare feet and a jersey that had egg down the front. Surprisingly we felt an immediate connection to, and affinity with, this person. We assumed that he was one of the workers at the place, however the following day we met him again, working on one of the electrical boards. He was at great pains to inform us that he had been the founder and CEO of a large corporate company which he had sold for an astronomical sum of money, with which he had developed the resort, after he had tired of the corporate world. At the time I found this interaction very sad on 2 counts: firstly, we had assumed that he was simply a worker because of the way he was dressed and secondly, he had needed to inform us that he was actually someone of value and importance by telling us his history. Three egos fully engaged! Why did any of this matter to us at all? Why had we not all simply acknowledged the fact that there was an instant rapport and explored this to mutual benefit?

Have you noticed that most social interactions (particularly when we meet someone new) are actual permutations of a sort of egoic “pissing contest”, as we subtly (or sometimes not so subtly!) try to establish our rank in the social hierarchy by ensuring that all present are aware of our qualifications, titles, sporting prowess, knowledge, intelligence or other forms of rank (including looks and sexual appeal)? Have you also noticed that, whenever someone else in the room is operating from his or her ego, the urge to move into one’s own ego is particularly powerful?

I had decided that I would resist the urge to inform people of the rank I had previously held once I had embarked upon my new life. However, recently I have had to confront the fact that all the old ego inducements are as powerfully seductive as ever:

My partner has taken responsibility for the selling of our home. As such, he has had to deal with all the estate agents and people wanting to view our property. The agent who finally succeeded in selling our home obviously decided that I was just the “little lady”, of very little importance or value, as all her business dealings had been with my partner. She speaks to me in a very patronizing and pedantic fashion, as if I were an idiot child. Every time I am with her I find myself wanting to create an opportunity to work into the conversation the information that I have 4 degrees, that I have, until very recently, managed a highly successful business and that I’m actually someone with a working brain!

Why should it matter in the slightest what a service provider thinks of me? If she wants to earn her commission, she will do her job irrespective of whether she thinks I’m someone important or not. Why do I feel this need to have someone, who is of absolutely no long-term importance in my life, validate my existence? After all, I have CHOSEN to give up my impressive job title, my fancy car, my personal banker and all the other trappings of success. How can I be upset to be dismissed as someone of no real value if I CHOOSE to wear tracksuits, cargo pants, ponytails and no make-up instead of power suits and heels?

I guess we all have a box in our minds into which we put all of our concepts of Self that we develop over the course of our lives, such as:

I am a successful businessperson
I am a wife
I am a parent
I am highly educated and intelligent
I have style and great taste
I am organized and on top of everything
I am attractive and sporty

Etc, etc

And then we feel the need to defend these concepts of Self against any perceived threat, which is exactly what I was feeling in my dealings with the estate agent. But, what happens if we lose some of these Self-concepts (either willingly, as I have recently done), or if they are taken away from us? Well, let’s see…

If you take away my job, my possessions, my status, my money, will I still be me? Very few of us would particularly relish the thought of losing all these things, but, as someone who has willingly given up several of these things, I can confidently say, yes, I am definitely still me. How about if, in addition, you take away my relationships, my youth, my health, my strength, my freedom? I would obviously hate losing all those things, but I would certainly still be me. The reality is that sooner or later ALL of these things will either be “taken away” from us or we will willingly give them up – we simply can’t hold onto them forever (mainly because we don’t actually live forever!) OK, so how about if you take my body away from me (ie: you kill me)? Would I still be me? For myself, I don’t believe that I am my body. I HAVE a body and if you take it away, I will still be me, forever unchanged.

If I become really quiet and go within, I find that there is a part of myself that is, and always has been, unchanged and unchanging; the part of me that is the silent observer of my own life; a spark of consciousness that is untouched by the drama, the illusion of this life. This is the part of me that is eternal, that can never be taken away from me and requires absolutely no validation whatsoever in this illusory world.

I think there is a fascinating ambiguity that I need to learn to hold in my mind - the fact that I am both an actor in the movie and the screenwriter, both the author of the book and a character in the book. And once I understand myself to be both the creator and the experiencer of my reality, I am free to enjoy all the wonderful experiences this illusory reality can offer me, while still remaining aware that I am so much more than this. Then, I can consciously use my ego as a tool for the purpose to which it is best suited, namely, to go forth and create things to experience in the world, rather than to use it for that to which it is not suited, ie: to create my concept of Self. I think the ego is a wonderful tool, if used in service to the heart.

So, next time I feel a powerful urge to start telling someone about how important I used to be, I am going to stop, take a deep breath and move into an awareness of my true, eternal Self. Then I will be able to look with compassion and listen intently to what the person in front of me really requires from me in this moment. I will be able to see this moment for what it truly is: not a threat to my sense of Self, but rather an opportunity to create a higher version of myself and, thereby, a more magnificent reality.

And so the journey continues…

Next: Why the forest?

Saturday, March 13, 2010


After weeks of discussion, debate, and intensive research, we have finally made the decision that we will indeed be creating a completely self-sustaining home on our piece of ground outside Knysna. Well, actually that’s stretching the truth just a little bit, as we will still be buying some necessities such as toilet paper and olive oil, but we will be self-sufficient with respect to water, energy, waste management and will grow most of our own food requirements. This was a daunting concept before we started doing the research, but it’s even more daunting now that we know exactly what will be required! However, it makes sense to us to “go green” from the very beginning rather than trying to gradually implement it afterwards. This means that we will be designing our new home from scratch to be as energy-efficient as possible, with self-sufficiency in mind. Below is a list of just some of the systems we will be installing:

- A solar heated geyser
- Solar panels and battery array for electricity requirements
- A rainwater collection and pump system
- A grey water treatment system and storage tank, linked to a drip irrigation system for our vegetable garden (no more Jik, Handy Andy or Sunlight liquid – only biodegradable, environmentally friendly options permitted)
- A small black water system for the kitchen sink
- A complete recycling system for paper, metal, glass, plastic and organic material comprising hatches in the kitchen, linked to chutes and bins in the basement (there is no garbage removal in the forest!) We do anticipate that we will be generating far less waste than we currently do, as our food will mostly be provided by our garden rather than by the corner Woolies and we will be reusing containers.
- Compost heaps and a worm farm
- Composting loos (we simply cannot justify the wastage of precious water resources required for a flushing loo, but, I must admit, this decision was very difficult for me to take)
- Solar-powered electrified fencing to protect the veggie garden from baboons
- An aeration and biofilter system for the dams to ensure the water doesn’t get stagnant or become a mosquito breeding ground and also to ensure the survival of the fish we will be growing for another protein source

Of course all this infrastructure is rather costly and hence the house we are building will be a really simple timber home, with a focus on optimal layout and efficiency. We have considered the possibility of building a packed earth house or even using recycled material to build the home, but I guess that’s where I put my foot down. I’m not particularly keen on living in a Hobbit-house or a rabbit hutch! I really want my home to be both beautiful and functional and I’ve always had a romantic attachment to the idea of a timber cottage in the forest.

The good part about all this is that, once the systems are installed and operational, we will have very minimal further input costs, other than routine maintenance. As we will be actively involved in the installation process, we will ensure that we understand how the systems operate so as to reduce our dependence on outside contractors for maintenance services in future.

I have also been planning my veggie garden and learning all about companion planting and intercropping and pest management strategies so as to ensure that we can grow 100% organic veggies.

This is becoming a very exciting and rather frightening adventure, as we venture ever further down the self-sufficiency rabbit hole. But those who know us well will not be at all surprised to discover that we aren’t particularly good at doing things by half-measures!

Our home has now been sold at a very good price. We are pleased that we held out and were not tempted to reduce the price in order to make a quicker sale. We plan to visit the property in Knysna within the next few weeks to start engaging with the builders and the suppliers of all the systems we require so as to do a complete detailed costing and project plan. We will probably be moving to the guest cottage on the neighbours’ land within the next 2 months so as to commence the building of our dream.

And so the journey continues..

For those interested – a quick update on Twiggy the stick insect:
Twiggy stayed with us for about 3 months. For a while she was joined by another smaller stick insect that we named Stalky. We thought that perhaps the insect grapevine had spread the word about the stick insect Utopia in our home and that we could expect to have an ever-increasing colony of stick insects taking up residence in our house.

But no, Twiggy was merely training her successor. After about 5 days Twiggy disappeared and we have not seen her since (we suspect she has subsequently moved on to stick insect heaven), but now Stalky has taken up residence in the ivy in the jug on the bedstand. So, Mother Nature has insured that we always have insect company. At night, when the lights are out, Stalky starts to feed. You would be amazed to hear how noisy stick insect mandibles pulverizing ivy can be! How privileged we are to experience this.

Next: Ego Revisited