Festivities & Finish Lines

xmas 2Choosing my Word of the Month for December was an absolute no-brainer: it is, and could only be, CELEBRATE!

We seem to have a special investment in Christmas (particularly) and the Festive Season (more generally) here in the Southern Hemisphere.  Our Christmases may not be white, fur-lined or fir-filled as they are in all the traditional carols, but here they are blue-skied, sunny and trimmed with sand and surf.

More importantly, they represent completion as much as they do birth. There is a real sense of “we made it“… the school year is over, workplaces tend to shut down, and everyone gets swept up in a whirl of carol nights and Christmas parties celebrating the end of another year.

We all watch Love Actually for the umpteenth time, despite the fact our winter coats have long been stashed away.  Summer arrives, in all its splendour.

Stone fruits are in season — mangoes and plums, peaches and nectarines — and seafood and salads seem the obvious choice for dinner, particularly when paired with prosecco or a crisp sav blanc.

xmas 1And even though several people have commented to me recently that everyone seems so stressed at this time of year, but my own experience has been quite the opposite.  When I went to the grocery store the other day to do the last Big Shop before the Big Day, I was amazed by the number of strangers who smiled at each other and engaged each me and others in conversation — there was a palpable sense of Christmas cheer in the air.

So I wish you, and anyone who has followed the Blue Jai Creative journey this year, a Christmas worth celebrating this year. May it be filled with the things that warm your heart and nourish your soul, wherever you find yourself.

And me? I’ll be with my family, making Christmas last as long as we can until New Years Eve rolls around, enjoying long sultry days and balmy summer nights until we welcome 2019 with glorious starbursts of fireworks above Sydney Harbour.

We’ll be drinking white wine in the sun.

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Mandala People

Mandala 1November, it seems to me, is something of a forgotten month.

Not that it means to be, of course. Here in the Great Southern Land, November kicks off in style and ceremony, with all the pageantry (and absurdity) associated with the Race That Stops the Nation.   But once the Melbourne Cup has been run, all the celebratory elements somehow disperse, disappearing into the seven week slog towards the summer holidays and Christmas.

November, however, is not a month to be underestimated.

I have learned this, the hard way, in years gone by — and that’s why it seemed apt to made Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for November the most challenging I’ve selected all year: INTEGRATE.

Because it’s time, people.

It’s time to put all the pieces together.

At the year’s outset I wished my nearest and dearest (and anyone who happened to stumble across this small patch of cyberspace I call my own) strength and ease. And as time went one, we explored a different theme together each month, focusing on a specific concept. I invited you to connect and reimagine. To set your intention and find momentum. To seek alignment and focus. To know and understand your habits. To appreciate the value of honesty and perseverance.

Now don’t panic…I’m not about to start spouting stuff about “journeys” or “spiritual awakening” or “discovering your destiny”.

And please — feel free to insert an eye roll or three here. Seriously.

Mandala 3If you’ve read any of my posts during the year, you’ll know that’s not really my style.  Life is far too full of unexpected twists and turns (of both the totally awesome and not-so-crash-hot variety) for me to seek refuge in fluff and bunkum.

That said, nothing’s going to stop me from having the temerity to add the Mandala as a Symbol of the Month for November.

The mandala, despite its recent and frequent appearance between the pages of apparently calming colouring books, is an ancient symbol with its roots in Buddhism.  For Buddhists, the mandala represents nothing less than the whole universe — and if you’ve ever seen Tibetan monks creating a sand mandala, you will know how well this symbol fits with the concept of integration. It is incredibly beautiful (not to mention meditative and downright humbling) to watch as the monks use grains of coloured sand to form intricate patterns and pictures, working harmoniously together and producing a single unified whole out of many intricate and interconnected pieces.

Mandala 5If you haven’t had the privilege to see a sand mandala being made, you can watch one being created here. For me, it’s almost like watching a life unfold, which is why I believe it to be such an appropriate symbol for integration: it’s what we do, all our lives.  We take the pieces we have within our reach and we arrange and rearrange them until they fit in a way that looks and feels right for us.

In Jungian psychology, dreaming of a mandala represents the dreamer’s search for completeness and unity — those important, intangible things we are all searching for. We are all familiar with the niggling sensation when the pieces aren’t quite fitting together properly, or that the colours are somehow clashing. But we also know the feeling — the utterly glorious feeling — when they do fit, perfectly, and the colours seem to sing.

We are Mandala People.

All of us.

Anyone who is running a business or raising a family or generally trying to succeed in life is a Mandala Person. We are all trying to bring together — to integrate — all the separate parts of our existence and striving. We are all working on our own internal mandalas, making the picture as whole and complete as we can.

mandala 4It’s worth remembering, at this point, that the word integration comes from the Latin word integrus, meaning renew or restore. Each day is an opportunity to renew our commitment to bring all the pieces together, to restore our faith in the knowledge that every last grain of sand we add to our own internal mandalas counts.

Each day is a new beginning until, of course, we reach the end of our days. And once again, the sand mandala provides us with an exquisite reminder of our own impermanence: in the Buddhist tradition, as soon as the final grains of sand are added to complete the mandala, a lama takes his dorje and runs it through the sand. The bright colours fade into grey, resembling ashes or dust, and the sand is swept into an urn. The sand is then poured into running water, so that the healing powers generated by the mandala’s creation flow on and are extended to the whole world, so that it may be re-energised and healed.

Each grain of sand ultimately becomes part of something much larger, just as we are all small — but important, and individual — parts of a much larger whole.

So this month, and every month, I invite you to embrace the spirit of integration. Know that you, like everyone else, are a work in progress. That the only person who knows how the pieces really fit together for you, is you. That it’s perfectly fine to take your time — indeed, to take a lifetime — with the process of putting it all together. That every day is an opportunity to restore and renew.

We are Mandala People.

Mandala 6

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In Praise of Perseverance

Tunnel 5

These woods are lovely, dark and deep…

Perseverance is a word which makes me rather uncomfortable.

Not excruciatingly, wrigglingly uncomfortable, but ever so slightly ill at ease.

I’m not sure whether it is the fact that when you say the word aloud it includes the sound of the word “severe” — which, in my experience, is frequently followed by other unpleasant words like pain or punishment, or at the very least implies the possibility of (dire) consequences — but all the same it’s a word which makes me…squirm.

And yet, weirdly enough, I still chose Perseverance as my Word of the Month for October.

Why?

Tunnel 4

…but I have promises to keep…

Well, simply put, I chose it because I know how much perseverance counts.

Coming from the Latin word perseverantia, meaning “abiding by strictly”, perserverance is defined as steady persistence in a course of action, particularly in spite of difficulty, delay, or discouragement.

Perseverance requires rigour. It demands discipline. It shuns shortcuts, and makes a motto of Robert Frost’s oft-quoted phrase “the best way out is always through”. It is found in long evenings that stretch into the night, and also in the small hours, before the dawn and the next day’s deadline. It is not an easy bedfellow — perhaps because when you need perseverance, sleep is one of the things you’re most likely to have to sacrifice.

And yet, perseverance gets the job done.

Tunnel 2

…and miles to go before I sleep…

Because perseverance is all about endurance, and seeing something through until the very end, regarless of the obstacles and setbacks encountered along the way. It is more than practice. More than patience. It is simply more — because there is always something more to do, even after the longest day.

So even thought it is not something that makes me comfortable, I am grateful for perseverance. Because steady persistence is something I can do — and even strict abiding when it’s called for.  And, along the way — though further along, much further sometimes, than I’d like to admit — I can see that when I persevere, I progress. I improve. Perseverance may involve sustained effort, but in the process I, too, am sustained.

This October, therefore, I wish you the perseverance to persist as you continue on your journey, whatever it may entail and wherever it will lead you. Because the best way out is always through — and sometimes along the way, often when the path is most difficult, we discover things within ourselves that enable us to endure, and which sustain us for many miles more than we can even begin to imagine.

Tunnel 3

…and miles to go before I sleep.

 

Still the Best Policy

honesty 3Honesty. 

I picked it as Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for September, because here in the Great Southern Land September coincides with the arrival of spring. As I’ve said before, I think that this time of year is great for making resolutions — for me, September is about fresh starts and new beginnings.  And coming hot on the heels of last month’s examination of habits, I thought a decent dose of honesty would not go astray.

Honesty is something I associate with one of the Big Ones: TRUTH.  We all know that truth is up there with love, and beauty, and all the other things that Julian Sands’ character yells out the window in A Room With a View…not that I can recall even half of them now.

And honesty is a direct path to truth.

Except when it’s not…

Sometimes it’s a twisting, turning, back-tracking path, completely lacking signposts yet somehow full of potholes and pitfalls.

honesty 2It can be difficult to be honest, particularly with ourselves. Sometimes it’s easier to believe our own internal rhetoric, even when it’s untrue. Perhaps you’re a person who consistently underestimates the time a task will take to complete and, as a result, frequently fails to meet deadlines. Maybe you’re someone who takes on new things even when you’re at maximum capacity, and know that something else (usually you or those you hold most dear) will suffer as a result. Or, quite possibly, you might be the type who gives in to that invasive voice in your head telling you that if you do five minutes less on the treadmill no one will ever know. (That same voice is equally insistent about eating the second cookie, by the way…)

It’s not always easy to look yourself or someone else in the eye and speak the truth: doing so requires a combination of courage and compassion. But I believe we benefit greatly, both personally and professionally, when we bring honesty to the forefront of our dealings: with friends and family, with clients and colleagues, with everyone we interact with.

So this spring, I invite you to approach yourself, your life and the many and varied people in it with new honesty.

Turn your face the morning sun, and to thine own self be true.

honesty 1

Every Single Day…

habitSome time ago, I was reading a book by Gretchen Rubin when I came across this phrase: The days are long, but the years are short.

These words resonated with me — not least because at the time that I read them, I was the mother of two pre-schoolers. My days seemed to be filled with repetitive, mindless tasks that revolved around keeping my children happy, healthy and (by obvious extension) clean, and that work — because it definitely is work — was often relentless and mind-numbing. The days were long (and the nights could be even longer), but the years were flying by with alarming rapidity.

Don’t get me wrong: being a parent is — without question — the single most rewarding role I have ever taken on, and this post is not about to descend into an extended diatribe about just how hard those long days and nights can be. (Besides, in my experience, even when a child has behaved absolutely diabolically while awake, that same child can somehow, miraculously, completely restore your faith in and love for them once they are soundly asleep — particularly if they stay that way for an extended period.)

No, the reason I recall that maddening yet magical part of my life is because I chose HABIT as Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for August.

What now? Parenting is a habit?

Not at all. But I have been reading Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before, which tackles habits and habit formation head on, and brought to my mind the wisdom of the ancients, specifically this observation from Aristotle:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Now that my children are growing up and increasingly self-sufficient, I would prefer not to think about the tasks I performed with increasing Aristotelian excellence when they were smaller, save to say — as a random example — that I reckon I could wrangle just about any kid into a five-point harness car seat while blindfolded. Possibly even one handed.

habit 2Aristotle’s adage did make me think, however, about the things that I repeatedly do now — because these, my friends, are my habits. Sure, there’s all the obvious basic personal hygiene and basic living habits like showering daily, cleaning my teeth morning and night, eating a decent breakfast, that sort of thing. But what else, I wondered, do I do every single day?

Well, I read…and I write…and…if I’m totally honest I probably check my social media accounts…

I mean, what do you do every single day?!

And that brought me to another one of Aristotle’s little gems: Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.

When we know ourselves, we know what repeatedly do. We recognise our habits, good and bad, and know which of these we want to cultivate with further repetition and which we want to eliminate. One of my friends, for example, makes a habit of keeping a gratitude journal, of taking time each evening to record what she is grateful for every single day. She also encourages her children to say what they’re grateful for too, and even if they don’t yet write it down she’s hoping, by repetition, to help instil the same habit in them.

Another friend makes herself a properly brewed cup of coffee every single morning. For her, this is a good habit: not only is it something that she enjoys drinking, but she also enjoys the ritual of making it. For her, it is an important act of self care (not to mention the fact that it provides a caffienated kick-start to her day). And that’s where self-knowledge kicks in too — my friend also knows that drinking coffee all day long is not good for her (or anyone), so she relishes that morning cup all the more.

Needless to say, the same combination of repetition and self-knowledge can assist in a business setting, too. Religiously checking your business bank balance won’t improve your cashflow, for example, but billing clients regularly, offering multiple methods of payment and chasing your debtors often will all help. It’s about knowing what you need to do, and repeating the necessary actions to make those things happen.

So I ask again: what do you do every single day?

Does it match up with what you know you could be doing every day?

Because, just like when I wrote about eudaimonia and human flourishing, I think those ancient Greeks were onto something. Sure — for a modern take on it, check out Gretchen Rubin’s book (she really does unpack the whole habit bag, even if I did get slightly annoyed about her frequent references to wearing yoga pants all the time), but I think — as usual — what we’re all aiming for is what human beings have been aiming for for thousands of years. And yes, the Greeks had a word for it too:

 

habit 3

So I wish you well with all those things you do repeatedly this August, and with the habits your self-knowledge asks you to cultivate in the future.

Sophrosyne here we come!

Laser Beams & Drishti Points

Focus is a funny, occasionally unpredictable, thing — and that’s one of the reasons I chose it as Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for July.

Take this image, for example:

focus

What did you focus on?

Was it the cars in the street, so far below? Or did you spot the coffee first, or the hand holding the mug? Or perhaps your eye was drawn to the reflection of the clouds within the cup?

There are no right or wrong answers here — it’s just a simple way of pointing out that we all see and experience the world differently, and that our circumstances and personalities and a multitude of internal and external factors cause us to focus on different things. That means that your focus is unique: it’s peculiar and particular to you.

But what I find fascinating (because of my own peculiar and particular focus, no doubt) is that there are different types of focus, too.

I’m not talking about different types of focus in a photographic sense, but in more of a “mental toolbox” sort of way. Because I know that I need different kinds of focus to perform different tasks. For me, focus is something you might measure on a spectrum.

Part of the reason I chose focus as my Word of the Month because I knew it was something I would need in abundance in July — and different kinds of focus, too. This month, I knew I needed to complete a whole pile of deadline-based tasks for my regular job as well as to honour a bunch of equally pressing commitments for clients in my freelance work, and fit all this around the time my children would be off school for Winter Holidays. Oh, and celebrating both their birthdays, too.

No pressure?!

focus laser

Pick your point and get it done…this is laser beam focus.

Now, I’m the first one to admit that a large part of getting things done is simply to being organised and doing what you need to do, but choosing your focus certainly helps.

At one end of the spectrum is Laser Beam Focus, which I would describe as being single minded, incredibly intense, and very specifically directed. Like laser beams themselves, this kind of focus has to be coherent, meaning it has to remain spatially and temporally constant. It’s an amplified kind of focus, and not something that is sustainable for long periods — we’re human beings, after all. That said, it’s fantastic if you’re screaming towards a deadline and really need to get something done.

focus drishti

Drishti point focus…not sure whether I’d be able to pull it off in these circumstances!

At the other end of the spectrum is Drishti Point Focus, which comes (as with many things I love) from yoga. Drishti translates from Sanskrit as focused gaze, but it relates also to pratyahara and dharana, the fifth and sixth limbs of yoga, which relate to sense withdrawal and concentration. In the yogic tradition there are nine different drishti points, but most of us who do yoga regularly will probably think of the spot you gaze at in the middle distance to help you find a combination of strength and ease within a pose — particularly if it involves balancing. For me, drishti point focus is active, but it is also characterised by softness and a meditative stillness. It’s focus alright, but it’s a sustainable and nourishing sort of focus.

So my suggestion for July? That you look at your to do list and apply whatever focus from the spectrum you need to get things done. Know that there are multiple solutions to each and every task and as many ways to focus on them as there are human beings, and that part of what makes your work and life your own is that you bring your unique focus to it and to everyone you meet.

 

Stairways & Stepping Stones

Steps 4It’s winter where I live.

The shortest day has already slipped past, sinking silently into the darkness. Even the stars look cold and distant, silver points of light piercing the fast-falling night sky.

I’ve written about winter before, probably because I am fascinated by the passing of the seasons — such as they are in this Great Southern Land. I’ve also written about winter being a time for self-care, though this year I’m looking at it from a different persective — through the prism of Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for June: ALIGNMENT.

Steps 2The word alignment comes from the French words à ligne, which translate as ‘into line’. For me, it instantly conjures up images of perfectly spaced poplar trees, of soldiers standing to attention, of lane ropes skimming the surface of a swimming pool.

But then, immediately afterwards, it occurred to me that lines are not always straight — and that the words ‘into line’ do not imply that those lines are horizontal, vertical, or parallel. Alignment, then, does not have to be something ruled or rigid.

Steps 1I then thought about lines in nature — of the fiddleheads of ferns and the inside of seashells and other swirling curves that fit the Fibonacci sequence. I thought of nights I spent in the Northern hemisphere, watching the sinuous lines of the Aurora Borealis. I thought of human spines, of all our vertibrae arranged in concave and convex curvatures.

And then I thought of stairways and stepping stones, and saw these as a simple yet effective metaphor for making sure we keep putting one foot in front of the other to get to where we want to go. Doing so depends on preparing for each step, keeping our balance, and moving forward.

We are best equipped to take those steps — and sometimes even leaps — when we live and work in alignment with our goals and our First Principles. When we do this, unforeseen obstacles become easier to deal with: instead of seeing them as insurmountable, we simply make the necessary adjustments to bring ourselves back into alignment with our path once more.

So this June, and all this winter, I wish you well on your journey — one step at a time, onwards and upwards, in alignment with your path, however straight or curved it may be.

Steps 3