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Sunday, December 31, 2017

My Life-Changing Lesson of 2017

Hot on the heels of the Year From Hell in 2016, I now look back on what was 2017 with one lesson to share.  

It is the single, biggest, most powerful and life changing lesson I could share with you.

This lesson came to me as, this year, I wrestled some more with depression and dark thoughts, cogitating more deeply upon the fall out of everything breast cancer.   (Did you know that, in any given year, according to BeyondBlue, around one million Australians have depression and around 2 million have anxiety?) 

Perhaps the outlines of it came as I canoed around Antarctica and trudged through Argentina and Uruguay, communing with nature as I dared to go where no lone, breast-less 53 year old has dared to tread before.  

It may have gained further structure as I toured through Botswana, Namibia and Cape Town in Africa, thus managing to strike off the seven continents on my bucket list.

Some of it may have been annealed as  I pursued my mission - through various forms of social media - to destigmatise the truly glorious state of being that is not simply daring to fly solo - but embracing it heart and soul.  (What fun!)

It may have densified as I dallied with bird photography, song writing and producing, hoop dancing, life drawing, and more forays into stand-up comedy (and, yes, I am actually funny).

It may have truly solidified as I dealt with feelings, such as loneliness, after officially 'empty nesting' - setting up my second son, Ben, in his own digs. 

As the year progressed it became more and more clear.

And here it is.


I don't mean this in the sense that 'things happen for a reason'.  No.  I simply put it to you that everything that happens to us, from the most mundane and trivial to the significant and life changing, is inevitable.  

As a (these days) deeply fatalistic person, I have come to  believe that for each of us, our stories are written in the stars the day we are conceived.

As that sperm hastens toward the egg, it trails behind it a narrative - our story - over which we have no control.  That narrative is comprised not just of DNA, but of the residue of our ancestors who pass on the leftovers of all the good and evil they have wrought in their combined lifetimes.  After all, do not the prophets across all religions claim that 'the sins of our fathers are visited upon their sons'?    

That's why I really believe that  at the glorious moment of fertilisation, there is the transfer not just of sperm to egg, but a fate comprised of the millions of thoughts, experiences, actions, interactions and so on that is our destiny.

And we are unerringly moved forward toward it... The egg, down the fallopian tube, into the womb, and after gestation, as babes out into the world.

We are wrenched thus from our mothers, the umbilical cord detached and then .... and then....

Cut loose, set forth upon uncertain tides, a rush of water, a pull and suck, pooling here, gushing there, a hurly burly of times, good and bad.

To fight appears fruitless.  You can only tread water, swim or float.

My preferred approach is to 'go with the flow' or, as Buddha might have put it, to practice the wonderful thing that is acceptance, trusting - that good, bad or ugly - all I experience is part of a plan - the plan that forces I will never understand created for me, perhaps aeons ago.

I am not going to lie to you and tell you that plan is necessarily a good one or even a vaguely pleasant one.  

Which is why acceptance is the key.

By accepting that any action, reaction and  interaction in your day - positive or negtaive - was simply meant to happen, what you end up with is a deep sense of meaning (being a derivative of the word 'meant').

This is what I now call the sweet mystery of life and, as part of this lesson, I ask you only to trust that your life is unfolding as it was written - everything that happens and what you do as a result is meant.

It all then comes down to the art of not just accepting but owning your story - every glorious, horrible, uplifting, depressing, shining, shattering, glorious, pathetic, brilliant, banal, incredible, forgettable, exciting and dull  minute of it.

And in the process of accepting that your story, however dire, is your story,  I believe, like me, you will gain strength and pride in realising that you are the hero or heroine of it.  Imagine that!  You are a star!

And best of all, none of us knows what the end of that story might involve - it's rivetting!

The sense of excitement as you turn the next page and the next discovery, I think, is really what keeps us moving forward (as fate intends all of us to).

Perhaps this really is the essence.... of Hope.

And on that note, here is my wish that your life next year is a page turner of the best kind - the one where in the end, perhaps good triumphs over evil, the hero achieves redemption or everyone really does live happily ever after!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Stressed is Not Best

What is the cause of breast cancer? 

It's one of those questions that I find most people ask. But the reality is, causality is very, very rarely linear when we talk about cancer.

Smoking, obesity, alcohol and lack of exercise are often paraded as causes. But they're just cookie cutter bad guys which have to be demonised for the general good.

A fat, lazy drunk sucking on a durry is doomed to die of every disease known to modern man.

Then there are genes. But did you know breast cancer is in fact way down the table when it comes to what's called 'heritability'? It's a lot less likely to be an inherited disease compared to, for example, psychiatric disorders and diabetes.  Check this out:


And of course, being humans, you have to also accept that however close a cause and effect, there are no guarantees either way. Plenty of smokers don't get cancer; non-drinkers can die of liver cancer too.

I do have one theory on the cause - or should that be a cause of breast cancer.

Keeping in mind that I am a charlatan behind a keyboard, my theory is that the root cause of most diseases is actually STRESS.

Where cancer is concerned, I believe there are some scientists who suggest that we all carry a few dodgy cells.  Come on -  with over 37 trillion of the suckers, you surely can't believe that every single one of them is a good guy?

I therefore personally believe - based on no medical evidence whatsoever - that stress is the trigger that sends cells amok, leading to the duplication that means cancer.

Alcohol is also considered a culprit right? Well, why do people drink? They've had a hard day at work; they were stuck in traffic for an hour; they're really wound up....Stress!

Obesity is a culprit? Why do people overeat? They feel judged; they feel unloved; their mum told them they were useless. ... Stress!

Women having babies later in life and women approaching menopause are supposed to be at higher risk, right? Well, what is the by-product of all the seismic hormonal changes impacting your body chemistry? Stress!

Add in the raft of modern day stresses imposed by the hectic, competitive, confused, challenging, conflicted world of modern women wanting to do and be it all and somewhere in there is some of the answer.

Remember, stress isn't just physical.  It can be psychological, emotional, financial, social or spiritual.  These days we might even add a new kind of stress:  Identity Stress.  We all seem to be struggling more and more to describe who we are and what we stand for.  Even political parties don't seem to know what they stand for.  Arthur is Martha.  Husbands are mothers, and mums wear the pants.  We all seem to be having a crisis of some kind:  a crisis of purpose; a crisis of direction; a crisis of epic what-the-fuck proportions.

So, it's actually the fat, lazy drunk sucking on a durry but who is in reality just STRESSED STRESSED STRESSED who is truly doomed.

Now the problem with my hypothesis is, of course, that of all the possible causes, stress is the hardest thing of all to identify.

Stress for all of us is, really, rarely intuited. It's like a fine dust that wafts in unseen and settles upon us in layers, compacting often very slowly until one day it combusts into a dust tsunami.

See that woman shouting abuse from her speeding car window? I call STRESS... and wonder what set her off. Is she running late for an appointment?  Did her teenager shout at her this morning.

See that couple who suddenly start bickering over something petty and banal? One is shouting and storms off? Things escalate and suddenly, he's packed his gear and moved out? STRESS!

Financial worries, work problems, family difficulties, screaming kids, self esteem issues, medication regimes, aches and pains, unresolved arguments, pressing concerns, minor grievances, a sleepless night, even unaddressed childhood traumas ... in they waft - silent, colourless and odourless - settling upon us, layer after layer after layer.

Until.... until....

Stress is all around us. But being woefully underequipped as humans we usually fail to take preventative steps, if at all, when it is just all too late.

The best we can do to mitigate it is to mindfully practice stress reduction knowing that even if we can't see the dust, as sure as eggs, it's there. (Why are eggs 'sure' BTW?)

Here are seven things that are easy to do:

  1. Review your current priorities and ditch anything that is just not important.  Declutter your personal agenda.  
  2. Whatever you are doing, remember to take a break.  Even good stuff can be overdone.  You can in fact diet and exercise your way to an eating disorder.    And here in Australia we recently lost an Iron Man who died suddenly.  A cardiologist confirms that over-exercise can lead to scarring of the arteries.  Who knew?
  3. Accept that the only true thing that we can control is our own reactions and attitudes. The desire to control every outcome in our lives is the biggest cause of stress in our lives.  Try a bit of que sera sera and just go with the flow from time to time.
  4. Give yourself permission to rest. Who said life had to be a competition?  And who said you had to be first or the best all of the time?  It's actually not such a bad life coming third or even last.  Did you know the leader of the wolf pack is in fact the last animal in the pack?  My sister Nicky, for example, is often arguing that it's the fat lazy slobs who actually seem to live the longest.  I am thinking she might be onto something there.
  5. Remove the word 'compare' from your vocabulary.  There is nothing more stressful than comparing yourself to someone else and, of course, social media doesn't help.  Just go with my mantra;  Nothing and No-one is as they might seem.  Alll you need to be is the best version of you... for today.  That's it!
  6. Accept responsibility for and own your own life - no ifs or buts. Blame of any kind only exacerbates stress.  There is nothing more freeing than being able to say:  This may be an ordinary kind of fucked-up life but hey, I created it and it's all mine!
And most importantly:

      7 Breathe - deeply and often.

What could be easier than that, eh?