Truths about change – the beauty of being exactly where I need to be

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This week is my fifth month in the Netherlands. What an adventure to live the life I’ve always wanted for myself and my family! Besides all the expected challenges of settling into a new home country, the biggest change for me has been becoming a full-time mom. 

This was – and still is – huge. I’ve never not worked in my life. I spent the majority of my career working as a journalist in a fast-paced and severe environment filled with impossible deadlines, stress and anxiety. At the end of each day I had very little time or energy for my son. I had zero capacity for enthusiasm. It wasn’t sustainable and I knew it. My depression medication dosage doubled. I had more than one emotional, psychological and physical breakdown. 

Suddenly, all that came to a grinding halt. My life took at 360 degree turn. 

Instead of flying out the door at 6am in the morning to start work at 7am, I now make school lunches, prepare breakfast and take my son to school. I have time to make friends with other moms. I have coffee with new friends in the mornings. I arrange playdates for my son after school and I can actually be there. I fetch my son from school at 1pm and on our cycle home we talk about everything he did that day. The two of us can do so much together – walks in the forest, running up and down sand dunes, go to the beach, bake cakes, visit museums and go to the movies. 

During the past five months I’ve often had a song called Turn! Turn! Turn! on my mind. In 1965 it was a hit single by folk rock group, The Byrds, and was written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s.

…To everything, turn, turn, turn.
There is a season, turn, turn, turn.
And a time to every purpose under heaven….  

There is something quite amazing about huge life changes. You find your direction amid the change and temporary uncertainty. I think being a full-time mom is possibly the best thing that has ever happened to me. This is a busy and demanding job but I love this season of my life.

When I think about how my life has changed, I now know this: 

I’m happy. Not in a frivolous way but a deep restfulness.  

My priorities and values are in alignment. I have time and energy for my son. I love showing him how wonderful the world is, I love encouraging him to dream, discover and experiment. 

I have time to look after myself. This is something I’ve neglected in the past. 

I’m brave. I am rebuilding my life the way I want it. 

I’m grateful that my husband values my contribution to our family and makes it possible for me to be at home with our son.

 

If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it. –  John Irving. 

This girl listens to trees

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Wherever I go, I always notice trees. I think they are nature’s greatest wonders and we can learn so much about life just by observing trees and their seasonal transformation.
I have discovered some beautiful spots in and around Haarlem where I can go to spend time with trees.
Sometimes I am not alone (often I have my son with me) or I appreciate a beautiful tree through a window while I am indoors. However, I really treasure the moments when I am alone with them.
This ritual has become an important self care activity. Some people go for facials and manicures, I head for the trees.
In this environment I often find it easier to seek inner wisdom about life’s difficult questions and my inner struggles. It is an opportunity to connect with the earth and myself again. I don’t need to engage in articulate conversation. All I have to do is sit quietly, observe the beauty around me and listen to my heart. Trees teach stillness so well.

I think life is like a tyre’s tread. When a tyre hits a few bumps in the road it needs realignment to run smoothly again and prevent damage to the tyre. This also happens to people. When I feel that my soul is restless and things just don’t seem right I like to spend time in nature to find realignment and new perspectives.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. – Hermann Hesse

One of the most significant lessons I’ve learnt from trees is their ability to let go. Have you ever noticed how gracefully trees change colour and lose their leaves? They seem so at ease with embracing change.
Learning to welcome change – whether it is positive, negative or a bit of both – has improved my quality of life. I’ve realized that the universe always brings the change when I am ready for it and need it. Moving to another country is the biggest decision I’ve ever made. Uprooting 17 years of adult life in one place wasn’t easy but it also wasn’t difficult because the time was right to see what else the universe has planned for me.

There is great freedom in letting go. It could be a person, a relationship, a job, a career path, a home country or material possessions – all of these have applied to me at some point in my life. Letting go gives me so much freedom to discover new places, different ways of thinking, new people and ultimately a new life.

If you want to read some of my previous posts on trees, freedom and new beginnings, click on these links:

It’s time to start something new

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Just over a month ago I boarded a flight to The Netherlands. The land of cheese, tulips, windmills and bicycles was my new home. I left South Africa on a hot and humid day in March (not unusual for South Africa) and arrived in a cloudy and rainy Amsterdam (also not uncharacteristic for this part of the world).

While I was pushing our trolley of suitcases through the airport and going through customs I wondered if I had lost my mind. I’ve done some strange things in my life but moving about 10 000km to another hemisphere probably tops the list of crazy stuff I’ve done.

But actually, this move is one of the most responsible things I’ve ever done. It wasn’t an impulsive move but a decision to seek a lifestyle that’s a better fit for my family and I.

Albert Einstein said it well: “A ship is always safe at shore but that is not what it’s built for.”

We were ready for new adventures and unfamiliar places. We were ready to feel alive again and have fun.

Now I’m enjoying establishing new rituals. Early morning bicycle commuting through the mist. That fresh smell of cold morning air. Coffee in the medieval part of town. Cycling along canals and rivers is becoming routine.

The temporary discomfort of new surroundings is also good for the soul. Being confused about how things work – this is an opportunity to talk to someone and make new friends. Getting lost – as frustrating as it is this is when I’ve discovered the most beautiful spots.

 

These things make me feel vibrant and alive again.

Don’t be afraid of new beginnings. Don’t shy away from new people, new energy, new surroundings. Embrace new chances at happiness. – Billy Chapata

Confetti from the sky

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South Africa is experiencing its worst drought in decades. For months it’s been dry, dusty and relentlessly hot. When I was a child the country experienced a drought of similar intensity. I clearly remember scooping buckets of water out of the bath to water the plants in the garden. I never thought that I would be doing that again years later – this time in my own home.

But then it started to rain.

rain

After months of expectation I found myself standing outside in awe of all the water falling from the sky.

There’s something magical about rain. There’s something about thunder announcing that rain is on the way and then that glorious moment when the water is released. Even during the most severe storm I feel calm – I close a few windows, plug out the Wifi and just settle down to appreciate the rain.

When it rains I feel humbled. It is a reminder that nature is in control and that Mother Earth knows what the heart needs. It needs nourishment like soil needs water. The heart needs adventure and hope. Rain always brings with it the surety of renewal and growth and that’s why I think the human spirit feels so energized by rain.

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces up, snow is exhilarating. There is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.

– John Ruskin

 

Trust the journey even when you don’t understand it

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Eastern Cape farm road, South Africa.

Eastern Cape farm road, South Africa.

Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it is about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.

There’s so much literature out there telling people what to become. Ten ways to be happy, five steps to get the body you want, how to be a better lover, how to overcome your fears, etc.

This is actually not helpful at all.

What I’ve realised is that it is much more important to just be. Just be who you are. Be happy with where you are on your journey. I’m finding that this approach to life is providing me with so much joy. There are good times. There are bad times. There is happiness, there is sadness. Sometimes lots of sadness along the way. But there’s also beauty.

Just being me and not trying to become anything has helped me to figure out what’s important in my life and build a life around that. Your personal journey is the greatest teacher you will ever have.

From the mud of adversity grows the lotus of joy

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My lotus flower mandala tattoo, November 2013

My lotus flower mandala tattoo, November 2013

The lotus flower blooms most beautifully from the deepest and thickest mud. – Buddhist proverb

This is the first time I’ve ever uploaded a picture of my tattoo on a social media platform. But I wanted to share it with you now. I guess it has always been a sacred thing for me – I decided to get it at a turning point in my life and the lotus/mandala symbol is very significant to me.  In Buddhism, the bud of the lotus symbolizes potential. The lotus flower represents an awakening, spiritual growth, and enlightenment. And that why I wanted a lotus – to me it signifies renewal, rebirth, strength and resilience. A spiritual and emotional awakening.

Here’s a short summary about the story of the lotus (taken from http://www.withanopenheart.org)

The lotus flower is a beautiful flower that can be found all over the world. But the start of this flower’s life is not as beautiful is one might image. It’s unlike many other flowers. When the lotus first begins to sprout, it is under water, making its home in lakes and ponds in areas where the water remains fairly still on the surface. But underneath the surface, the lotus is surrounded by mud and muck and by fish, by insects, and simply dirty, rough conditions.

Despite these conditions, the lotus flower maintains strength, and pushes aside each of these dirty obstacles as it makes its way to clearer surfaces. At this time, the lotus is still just a stem with only a few leaves, and a small flower pod. But in time, the stem continues to grow, and the pod slowly surfaces above the water, into the clean air, finally freeing itself from the harsh life conditions below. It is then that the lotus slowly opens each beautiful petal to the sun, basking in the worldly beauty surrounding it. The lotus flower is ready to take on the world.

And my life has (and still is) like this. I don’t really think I’m ready to take on the world. I’m still confronted by so many harsh things and difficult decisions. I’m feeling the pain of so much loss and grief at the moment.

But eventually, as Carolyn Marsden so beautiful puts it, “from the mud of adversity grows the lotus of joy.” The lotus opens slowly to reveal each beautiful petal to the sun. Mother earth is extraordinary. I find comfort and hope in how the lotus manages to push through the mud.