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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Its the last day of 2012 and I don’t have a lot to say. I feel like being quiet and soaking in the changes that have happened in the last year. This year, the important things have been said and done. I have made a big change in my life by leaving my steady job, travelling overseas, coming home and simplifying my life, starting a business, writing a blog and getting back into photography. This year I did what I needed to do, and didn’t leave things undone.

In 2012 I explored the hunch that I knew what I wanted to do with my life, but was somehow rejecting it. This has turned out to be the case. Although the ideas are still in the form of quiet voices and subtle suggestions, I do have directions that I want to pursue in 2013. These involve professional organising, writing and photography. The reason I have been rejecting my ideas is that they don’t comply with traditional lifestyles and work roles, and seem too risky or out of character to contemplate. They involve letting go of security and taking a much less predictable path. Some of the things that I am working on are quite personal, and they feel to private to blog about. I don’t want to spoil the magic. So you will forgive me if I don’t tell you everything. I think I may keep a personal journal so that the story can be told when the time is right.

So I am entering 2013 without a lot of concrete plans, but also without a lot of baggage.  Its a nice position to be in. As far as the blog is concerned, I will continue with my reflections on life as it strikes me. I aim share something of my perspective that is of value an interest to readers without sounding like I know nothing, or else sounding like I think I know everything.

This year I have really enjoyed reading other blogs and sharing in the journeys of other bloggers. I now have three blog readers on the go, so that I can look at blogs on a similar theme together. And this from a person how had never read a single blog in January! I have Feedler set up with blogs on minimalism and simplicity, and this is my first go-to blog. I feel like that is my tribe, and I am encouraged and soothed when I read about how people are simplifying their lives. I have Flickr set up with blogs which are more writerly or wordy, for my slow thoughtful reading time. I have put the photographers, world trekkers and adventurers together on the WordPress reader as they require a more high-paced and outgoing mindset. Thanks everyone for your reading, writing and photography. Its great to be part of such a creative community. Thanks also to my real life friends, who read the blog to catch up with what I am doing before we meet up for lunch. There won’t be a test – I promise!

For my 2012 photo highlight I have chosen discovering a rainbow at Niagara Falls. I explored the Falls from both sides, USA and Canada, and had a good look upstream and downstream where there were beautiful gardens with springtime flowers and blossoming trees. Ignore the tourist traps and it is a truly spectacular place to visit.

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In the Buddhist tradition, practitioners take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma (teachings) and Sangha (community of believers). I have just finished a book Singing for Freedom by a Tibetan buddhist nun, Ani Choying Drolma which provides another perspective on taking, and giving refuge.

Choying grew up amongst Tibetan exiles in Nepal. She was subjected to frequent beatings by her father who was consumed with anger, fueled by alcohol. She also witnessed first hand the beatings and verbal abuse dished out to her long-suffering mother, which made her reluctant to marry. At the age of 13 Ani has a realisation that she can take refuge from brutality be becoming a Buddhist nun. Once she is promised as a nun, she is no longer subjected to beatings, and after a few years is able to live in safety in the monastery.

From the protection of the revered position of nun, and with the guidance of her teacher, Ani is able to deal with her own anger and bring about improvements in her family situation, eventually becoming like a parent to her parents as the roles shift over time.

Ani is not a passive and submissive nun by any means. She has a beatiful singing voice and is able to earn money singing in concerts in the USA and Europe, and eventually reaches fame in her home country of Nepal. Ani sought out this work as a singer, not for fame, but in order to make money to build a school for young nuns. Eventually she is able to build a school which is a refuge from abuse and poverty for many young women whose life options are otherwise very limited.

We often think of the life of a nun as a life of restriction and denial, but Ani Choying Drolma turnes this perception on its head. For her, it is a life of independence and autonomy, that allows her  the freedom to pursue her own priorities. Having taken refuge as a girl, she builds a refuge for other young women suffering as she had done.

My favourite line in the book is spoken by her teacher, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche when Ani is struggling with her anger at her father for his abuse. He says:

‘Think about this too. The lotus is born in the mud, but its flower is always white and clean. This is our greatest challenge: to live at the heart of the problem and not to be undermined by it. That is the joy of freedom.’

Rather than wafting around in the space between Christmas and New Year I decided to explore a couple of options for bringing in a little cash, namely selling unwanted collectables online and making greeting cards using my own photos. Both of these activities require a certain amount of research and planning. They also involve the manipulation of photos into the correct shape and format.

I have started to develop a system for selling things online that starts with a information sheet where I gather details such as a short description, long description, notes on condition, the weight and dimensions, estimated postage, and the type of photos I need. I also make notes from research about the price and choose a starting price. This systematic approach saves a lot of hassle at the point of entering the information online. I admire people who do a lot of online selling, as its a lot of work, sometimes for little return.

More exciting is the prospect of making photographic greeting cards. I started out with glossy black and white photos of Paris which worked out well. I have now ordered more Paris pictures, both black and white and coloured. I am hoping that they would appeal to gift shops sympathetic to a French theme. I did some research on weekend markets, but that doesn’t seem like a feasible outlet as I don’t have a tent, deckchair or for that matter car to get myself there and set up.

All this activity researching, manipulating photos, and posting and ordering things online has meant a lot of time at the computer and I started to get a numb backside from sitting on it. I have to remind myself to get up and take a walk around! Its almost like real work.

In the midst of all this I heard a clunk but ignored it. Later on I noticed that the black cloth lining the bottom of the chair at my computer was hanging down. At this point I must admit that I am using an old dining chair at the computer. Don’t panic about the ergonomics – its the right height for me – or it was. Closer inspection of the chair showed that the webbing supporting the base has rotted and snapped and the springs are halfway to the floor. Maybe that accounts for the diminished comfort factor. I feel good that I have been so industrious, but not so keen about having to buy a new computer chair.

Anyway, I am still sitting on it.

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I am reading a book by Shirley MacLaine called “I’m Over all That” which was written quite recently in her 70s. It is a series of brief reflections on a variety of topics, quite similar to blog posts. Shirley has a reputation for being very open-minded, and she touches on her belief in past-lifes and extra-terrestiral visitors in her book. Although I don’t share those beliefs, I don’t think its crazy to think that way. A lot of belief systems have elements that outsiders find hard comprehend. I see our different beliefs about the nature of the universe as ways to comprehend the incomprehensible mystery of life. Mostly they are imperfect representations of the truth – they each capture some of the essence and miss some of the substance.

You can’t read Shirley MacLaine without reflecting on life and what it all means. I don’t tend to think in terms of reincarnation. Nor do I see myself as being put onto earth for a pre-ordained purpose, or think that life events happen for a pre-determined reason to teach us something specific. I guess this is because I don’t think in terms of a separate intelligence that is setting things up for us outside our own experience. I think more in terms of life as an evolving web of connections. I believe in karma, not in the sense that you will be punished in the future for what you do now, but in the sense that every event has an impact on what comes next. Rather than saying “everything happens for  a reason” I would say “everything happens because of a series of inter-related causes”. Each unfolding moment is a choice point that is going to reverberate into the future in one way or another. Our choices are important because the create the shape of the future.

Given that I don’t think I was put on earth “for a specific purpose” I need to find a way to make sense of my experience which can be a basis for decisions about the future. My equivalent of a life purpose, would be a life theme. Although I don’t feel like I have been given a specific life assignment by an external agency, it does seem that my life has reflected certain themes and challenges. Working through these themes has become my life’s work, because thats how my life has played out.

Shirley MacLaine would say that we have many lives, and each has its own lessons that we need to work through. This would be similar some traditional buddhist beliefs. I don’t know if the same soul returns to the world to accumulate learning through many lifetimes, and I am not sure if it matters. I am just going to concentrate on learning what I can from this lifetime. If we all do that, we add to the collective learning of humanity over time, whether it is transmitted spiritually or socially and culturally.

What I like about the idea of a life theme is that it allows me to focus on working with the theme, and to let go the feeling that I have to achieve everything in one lifetime. My life theme is to do with personal development, creativity, spirituality and meaning at a personal level. My gut feeling is that I will be happiest if I accept that, and focus my energies on fulfilling that theme.

My theme – my life – has not been about romantic relationships, marriage, and children. That has never been a focus for me. Every so often I get the idea that my life is not balanced because I haven’t ticked all the boxes. Occasional attempts to go out and find a partner have never worked out because they didn’t come from a deep need to have a partner, or an emerging connection with a real person. Maybe thats a similar story for some other people who are single.

I am going to give some thought as to how I can live out my life’s theme without being sidetracked into trying to fulfil idealised images of the perfectly rounded successful life. I want to focus on the lessons and challenges directly in front of me. Life is like a work of art to be crafted. In the process of creation, decisions have to be made. Many options will be rejected, or allowed to slip by, in order to preserve the beauty of the creation.

Over the holidays I have been considering different potential sources of income, and how they might work together to make a reasonable living. Until this year I have always worked in permanent positions with set hours and a lot of built in benefits. This model has the advantage of being fairly secure, in so far as you don’t need to keep revisiting the question of where the work is going to come from. Its efficient because you know when you need to be at work and how much you will be paid. The nature of the work you need to be doing is provided for you by your employer. The downside of this type of job is the lack of flexibility and autonomy.

I have been thinking about other models where work comes from a variety of sources, in the form of a number of smaller jobs negotiated separately, or even from a variety of different types of work. I am already working on establishing a professional organising business, but this will take time to build up, and there is going to be free time around that where I could be working on other income generating projects. Apart from the uncertainty of the work flow in that business, I think the intensity of that work would benefit by being balanced out by other types of activities.  I have been thinking about doing some consulting work, and I am now also considering the potential role of writing and photography as possible income sources.

There are many professions which have a high degree of flexibility in the way that time is allocated. My Dad was a minister, and thats one profession where the boundaries between personal and professional life and time can be very fluid. My Dad worked on Sunday mornings, and taught scripture in school term time, but was often free to take us to school or pick us up in the afternoon. In a job like that, work could be any day of the week, or any time of the day, depending on what was going on. I also had the idea that my Dad worked for God, and thats a hard act to follow. As a young person the concept of work was linked with vocation and spirituality and not having that type of link in my own work has led to a feeling that something was missing.

Creative people who make a living from selling their work also have a lot of flexibility about when they work. I am making a wild assumption here, but I am betting Picasso didn’t feel concerned about the lack of structure resulting from not having a day job. Professional artists seem to have a very fluid lifestyle in which work can be at any hour of the day, when inspiration strikes. The image of the starving artist conveys the sense that for some people the drive to live out the creative process is more important than earning a steady income. Of course in some cases, devotion to their art was to the detriment of family life, health, and everything else. Nevertheless, its not necessary to be absolutely obsessed to make an income from creativity.

So this is where I am.  In the quiet space between Christmas and New Year I am wondering about the possibilities of different ways of earning an income that offer greater flexibility and autonomy. Wondering what that life would feel like if I made living as a creative being a permanent priority.

Here it is, Christmas Day in my neck of the woods. Since I will be busy cooking lunch and opening presents, I thought I would invite you take a look a photos from my trip around the world earlier this year. I set off in April and travelled to the USA and Canada, then Paris, and home via Kuala Lumpur in June. I took a lot of photos, some of which have appeared in mayandseptember. You may have seen the pictures of the Mirror Lake in earlier posts.

The original blog was set up privately for family and friends, but I have recently renamed it ImageChest and added categories and tags to help readers get around. The idea is to use ImageChest as a travel and photography blog, while keeping mayandseptember as a writing blog illustrated by a few photos.

If you have some time to go wandering, please feel free to pop-in over there and take a look around.

 

 

 

Its Christmas Eve and I am enjoying floating in towards Christmas Day. Everything is ready and all I need to do is cook a baked dinner for lunch tomorrow and supervise the gift giving. We have decided on a simpler format for Christmas this year. Everyone is getting themselves something they really want. Then we are all contributing small, inexpensive gifts, and secondhand or re-gifted things to a Christmas Party game which we will play after lunch. It has been so much cheaper and easier, it has made the lead up to Christmas a real pleasure. I feel that I can float up to and through Christmas without a lot of pressure or hassle. Its a nice feeling.

I have been thinking about the year past and the year ahead. For me New Year has more significance than Christmas, because its a time of reflection and transition. I have been remembering what a struggle I was going through this time last year. I was so stressed I was having high blood pressure readings for the first time, and that made me take my situation very seriously. I seemed to be struggling against the job I was doing and it was very effortful to get through my working days.

Since leaving work in April I have been floating, around the world, around my life, and around the blogosphere. Trying out different ideas about the shape of my future. What I want to avoid is getting back into a situation where I am struggling against my circumstances. Exerting a huge amount of effort to cope with the status quo is an enormous energy drain, yet it doesn’t seem worth it. Its a big outlay of effort to just get by.

I see myself as in a transition phase, where I am moving away from the pattern of Struggling Against, to make space to Struggle For. I want to direct my effort towards things that I want to see happen. I may need to struggle, but I want to the struggle to be worth the effort. I’d like he struggle to be rewarded with growth and change and good work and making a contribution. I have enough experience of perseverance in the face of adversity. My aim for next year will be to persevere in the face of hope.