About Candida Baker

I'm an Australian writer, editor, journalist, photographer and natural horse practitioner. My books include two novels, Women and Horses, and The Hidden, a book of short stories, the Powerful Owl; Yacker, a series of interviews with Australian writers, and most recently the anthologies, The Infinite Magic of Horses, The Wonderful World of Dogs and the Amazing Life of Cats. The Wisdom of Women, stories by and about women, was published in April 2012, and there are more to come! I live in the hills behind Byron Bay in northern New South Wales, with my children, partner and an assorted collection of four-legged creatures...

The Dreamer

 

 Here Everything Is Dreaming

 

Here, Everything is Dreaming, Robert Moss, Excelsior Editions pp 170 rrp $16.94

I often envy poets.   As a writer, I frequently wish I could let my words go wild – and yet, of course, the dichotomy is that poetry at its best is also highly disciplined, a technical craft it takes years to master.

It’s this combination of technique and wild words that Australian-born, now US based author Robert Moss, brings to Here, Everything is Dreaming, his poems and short stories spanning a twenty-year period.

Take the first two stanzas of ‘If You Spill a Dragon’, for example:

If you spill a dragon,

          don’t think about washing the tablecloth.

Everything interesting happens on the boundaries,

and when you are real, shabbiness doesn’t matter.

 

You can’t see the whole picture when you’re in it,

and inside the soft animal of your body, you forget

that you are a star that came down because

         you wanted a messier kind of love.

What a wonderful visual feast is contained in only those eight lines!  And it’s a feast that is repeated right throughout this enticing volume full of love, life, death, sex – and dreams.  It is also a paean of praise to the natural world, and in particular the earthly and other-worldly animals that accompany us in our lifetimes.

As a dream-meister Moss is well known.  For many years he has taught and practiced Active Dreaming, a synthesis of dream-work and shamanic techniques.  His books include Conscious Dreaming: A Spiritual Path for Everyday Life; Dreamgates: Exploring the Worlds of Soul, Imagination and Life Beyond Death; and The Secret History of Dreaming.  His novels include the three-volume Cycle of the Iroquois – but this is his first collection of poems.  He is also an imaginative and accomplished artist, and perhaps it is this artist’s sensibility that creates the rich vein of visual imagery that runs through these poems and stories….

The cherry trees are disconsolate lovers;

they can’t hold their pink smiles

after the unkindness of that night…

 Or

Before the secret green cells in the leaf

drink from its suncatchers, light walks

all paths through the protein scaffold…

Moss wasn’t always a poet.  He began his career as a lecturer in Ancient History at ANU in Canberra, but after a move to the UK to study for his PhD he joined the editorial staff of The Economist as a writer and special correspondent.  He was an active commentator on international affairs on the BBC World Service and on British television, and also wrote for publications as diverse as The Daily Telegraph and The New York Times Magazine. He later became a full-time writer, publishing a series of suspense novels.

It’s an intriguing combination of erudition and belief in the power of dreaming that gives both his poems and stories layers of meaning.

In his story The Other, Again, Moss uses Jorge Luis Borges’ story The Other as a springboard to explore him meeting a younger version of himself, in what may or may not be a dream.

This story, written in 2010, reveals a writer at peace with the extraordinary, and, it has to be said, his move from the mainstream into his shamanic dream-work was extraordinary in itself.

In 1986, as Moss tells it, he felt the need to get away from the city life and moved to a farm in upstate New York, where he started to dream in an unknown language, which, after investigation turned out to be an archaic form of the Mohawk language.  Helped by native speakers to interpret his dreams, Moss came to believe he had been put in touch with an ancient healer – a woman of power – and that he was being called to a different life.  It wasn’t long before one of his animal spirits – the bear – made itself known to him – and it’s the bear that often guides, reveals and surprises him in his work as a shaman.

Bear

Here too, perhaps is the poet’s courage to charter unknown imaginative terrain – not easy to put aside a mainstream international career for a ‘calling’ into the unknown, but Moss embraced his new life with the same dedication he had put into his previous careers.  His central premise being that dreaming isn’t just what happens during sleep, but that active dreaming is also a source of guidance, healing and creativity beyond the reach of the everyday mind.

It wasn’t long before his work and writing attracted international attention and he was asked to present his method at the conference of the Association for the Study of Dream at the University of Leiden in 1994.

All of this long career involved in words and worlds of so many different varieties come to fruition in Here, Everything is Dreaming – at the height of his powers Moss entices us in; creating a pathway between the worlds, and a way for us more mere mortals to draw closer to the gods, goddesses and animals spirits that wish to live through us.  This is a book full of texture and wonder from a dreamer and poet in his prime.

You can purchase Here, Everything is Dreaming through the State University of New York Press:  http://www.sunypress.edu/default.aspx or directly through Amazon as a kindle or paperback, and, of course from US bookshops!

 

 

The Mystic Cookbook

The Mystic Cookbook – the secret alchemy of food

Denise Linn & Meadow Linn

 

MysticCookbook 

Every now and then – although I might say not often enough – a book comes along that is so original, such a good idea that from the moment you hold it in your hands, you know immediately you’re in for a treat.

The sort of book that makes you think – how come nobody thought of that before; the sort of book that most literally in the case of The Mystic Cookbook gives you food for thought, and in this case, thought for food.

Denise Linn, a Hay House author from way back, and her chef-daughter Meadow came up with the idea to create a cookbook that marries food and cooking with spirituality.  For me there is a sense in this beautiful book of bringing a mindful awareness to food in the same way we might to meditation.

It made me realise that even though I love to cook, and even though the house is often full of people enjoying feasts and food, I hadn’t really realised how easy is to fall into the many traps our fast-paced world offers us.  How often do we eat on the run, for instance, or eat perched at the end of a messy table, or in front of the TV, or really without much thought at all as to where our food has come from, why we’re eating what we’re eating, or what we could do to make the experience just that bit more special.

Denise and Meadow Linn

Denise and Meadow Linn

 The book, which is full of mouth-watering photographs, and clever design, as well as tasty recipes and stories, is designed to help us understand the link between physical sustenance and spiritual awakening.

At a simple level this might be to appreciate the alchemy that occurs when, for instance, you whisk an egg-yolk and add olive oil to create a sum larger than its parts in the form of mayonnaise.  At a more complex level, Meadow suggests that everything is important when it comes to eating food, including the feng shui of the space itself, the music, the table-setting, the spiritual energy and the intention of the meal.

Indian-Spiced-Vegetables

Indian Spiced Vegetables

I literally took the book to heart, and shortly after I’d read it, I made a Valentine’s Day meal, with red food, red candles, red napkins and red roses.  It wasn’t a cosy dinner for two – but a family meal filled with the idea of ‘love’.   I might have slightly overdone it with the strawberry ice-cream and the strawberries with extra cream coloured with red food colour, but it was fun while the sugar hit lasted!

In truth, I couldn’t say I’ve completely got rid of my messy, throw-a-meal-together cooking style, but I’m certainly bringing more awareness to our meals, that’s for sure, and we are all enjoying the benefits of that.

There’s a wonderful chapter on getting rid of kitchen clutter, for example, and I must say it had never occurred to me how much this can affect the general feel of the kitchen.  The book cites the kind of ‘stuff’ kitchens accumulate over the years – broken gadgets, pots we don’t use, cookbooks we don’t open, ancient tins and condiments and goodness knows what else.  I don’t know how true it is of your kitchen but it’s certainly true of mine after over 30 years cooking for my family.  I’ve taken the Linn mantra to heart: ‘Use it, love it, or get rid of it!’  It hurts, but it works.

The recipes themselves are magical – simple and unbelievably tasty.  Try the Tuscan White Beans with Sage, the delicious Italian Prune Clafoutis or the Asian Zucchini Pancakes for mouth-watering food that is easy to prepare.

Although the book is not vegetarian per se, there is a predominance of vegetarian meals in the recipes, and a focus on dairy-free, gluten-free and fresh, home-grown or market produce.

Chez moi, we have to cater for gluten intolerance, dairy intolerance, my vegetarian diet, and my son’s and partner’s meat-eating diets!  It’s a complex matter, making a meal in my house, but thanks to The Mystic Cookbook it’s just been made a whole heap easier.

Publisher: Hay House, available from Amazon, HayHouse.com, and wherever books are sold, rrp $19.95
Website: http://www.TheMysticCookbook.com

 

Power + Colour

 

Power + Colour – new painting from the Corrigan collection of 21st Century Aboriginal Art

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To me the main difference between Western art and Australia’s Indigenous art, is both simple and profound.

Western art, no matter how abstract, portrays something seen, digested and reproduced.  Indigenous art on the other hand, is a visual language; it tells of ancestors, landscape, sacred stories, forbidden relationships, and of the creation of the universe.  Even the most contemporary paintings seem often to correlate directly to Aboriginal rock art, or tribal body painting – they have simply become an extension of the way to tell stories, perhaps in the same way that creative writing has taken off in the past few hundred years for verbal-based languages.

Take, for example, the edge of an Indigenous painting – almost always there is none, the eye is led to understand that there is simply more painting, more story, outside the frame of reference – a continuing story – to infinity and beyond as Buzz Lightyear would say.

Power + Colour more than lives up to its name, having chosen as its main theme two elements vital to Indigenous art, namely tribal law and the continually stunning and inventive use of colour used to depict both country and culture.  The book showcases 129 works by 77 artists from more than 20 communities, and includes a biography of each artist. The images are supported by an interview with Patrick Corrigan, the arts philanthropist and collector of these works, and an introduction to the paintings, including catalogue-style notes for each work. The text is written by curator, art valuer, and principal of ArtiFacts, Jane Raffan.  Raffan’s writing is concise, knowledgeable and most importantly, accessible.  She opens a generous window into this massive array of artists and art works, and into Corrigan’s love of contemporary Indigenous art.

The collection of the works in this book began in 2004 after Corrigan visited the NGV’s landmark exhibition Colour Power: Aboriginal Art Post 1984, curated by Judith Ryan.  Impressed by the vibrancy of the exhibition, Corrigan, who was given the Order of Australia in 2000 for his philanthropy and art patronage, began his new collection with works by Tommy Watson and Wingu Tingima.

One notable aspect of this vibrant collection is the ration of women to men, which Corrigan believes is probably in the ratio of 70/30.  Corrigan is one of the, if not the, most important collector of contemporary Indigenous art – nothing in this collection is pre-2000, making Power + Colour a vital and up-to-date picture of the wide variety of dynamic styles, and unbridled colour that dominates Indigenous contemporary art today.

The words of this book are carefully designed not to overshadow the works, which speak most vitally for themselves in this glossy hardback.  To open this book at any page is to be met with an image of such colour, beauty and movement that it is like a visual feast for the senses.  Immersing myself in the book reminded me a visit to a perfume shop, where a thousand scents all intermingle into a tantalizing whole.

There are many familiar names here – Judy Napangardi Watson, Yannima Tommy Watson and Lucy Napanangka Yukenbarri to name just three, but it is enthralling to also discover some newer, younger artists such as the Pintupi artist Eileen Napaltjarri, or Lance Peck and Keith Stevens, or Sylvia Ken and Tjungkara Ken.

What is interesting about these younger contemporary artists, and it’s a point that Raffan makes well, is that even though they may not seem on the surface to be depicting journeys across country, if the paintings are read correctly then the ongoing connection to land becomes apparent, as does the continuing connection to tribal law, which is often present even in the most seemingly decorative of paintings.

To me one of the most appealing facets of Indigenous art is its ability to talk on several levels.  You don’t need to understand any of these complex, colourful, vibrant paintings in order to enjoy them, but what a wonderful joy it is to dip understand a particular artist’s imperative, tribal culture and personal story, so that the sub-text can reveal itself.

One of the most exciting artists in the book, and one whose work reflects the melding of the old and the new, is Sally Gabori – she uses expressive abstract techniques on her large linen canvasses – often as much as three metres wide by two metres high.  Great juicy dollops of paint reflect miniature stories:  ‘This painting is about a story place out to sea.  You can only get there by boat,’ she writes of a green, purple, black red and ochre painting, and as soon as one has read the words, a deeper layer of understanding goes into the viewing of the apparently random blocks of colour.

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Sally Gabori’s Outside Story Place reflects a melding of the old and the new in Indigenous art

As part of a preparatory course towards an MA in Australian Art History through Adelaide University and the Art Gallery of South Australia I studied Indigenous art last semester.  I wish I’d had this book to hand then.  It’s a powerful tool for education, reflection and pure enjoyment.

 

 

 

Happy Next Month Resolutions!

It really is that time of year again, isn’t it? You know, the time when we’ve made all those New Year resolutions and now we’re finding them hard to keep.

No matter that we know full-well that we want to stop smoking, or drinking, or we want to exercise more, or be generally calmer, kinder, happier, more saint-like people, our human fallibility overcomes us, and quite soon, probably around now, we find we’re just simply back where we were before.

Why exactly is it that bad habits are so hard to break – and good habits hard to make?

Well, to begin with there’s a little thing called the brain – and its neurons love a well-trod path.

Deviate from that path – the double-shot latte at 10am, for example, or the hidden nail-biting indulgence just before bed, and anxiety sets in.

Scientists believe it takes three weeks to break – or make – a habit, and they’ve also found that people who complicate their habit-breaking rules are far less likely to succeed.

Also – and here’s the reason why so many New Year resolutions fall down – our brains and bodies need to be on the same page – fully united in the habit-breaking goal. Not easy when Christmas and New Year have left us all exhausted, surrounded by relatives, and children on school holidays, not to mention anxious about money as well!

The beginning of January is often not the best time to break a habit. A better New Year’s resolution would be to say that on February 1 you’re going to start your new regime, and give yourself a month to get prepared.

So what can you do to help yourself stick to a goal?

The first thing the habit-experts suggest is to break ONE habit at a time, so no multi-tasking – taking up exercise, giving up smoking, drinking and swearing all at once. Pick one, and make the rules simple.

Rather than telling yourself you’re going to exercise four times a week and do several activities, concentrate on something really achievable and easy – a 30-minute walk twice a week, for instance.

One thing the brain does need, however, is a replacement habit. I gave up coffee eight weeks ago, and replaced it with something just a little more exciting than my normal weak black tea – Earl Grey with a dash of sugar or an iced tea or a chai. I couldn’t say it was easy, but it did work. I also decided this year I’m going to try and pace the changes I want in my life throughout the year instead of enthusiastically dumping them on one little day.

Our New Year’s resolutions often set us up for failure, partly because, as Moshe Bar, director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at Mass. General and Harvard Medical School explains in the Boston Globe, there’s more to the issue than just willpower.

“Our brains seek to be rewarded constantly, those rewards – manifested as pleasure and positive mood – are made up of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. Those molecules stock the shelves of the best opium den in the world, the one right between our ears, and we’re all hooked on them.”

To summarize, neurotransmitters are nature’s trick for encouraging us to do what is supposedly best for us, and every time we achieve a goal, we go to our ‘happy’ place. However, the little pleasure centre in our brain is also activated by drugs, alcohol, food and sex, to name just a few. Fortunately the pleasure centre is also activated by exercise, meditation, creativity, singing and movement, to also name a few.

Hence the need to replace one habit with another, and even that, say the experts, should be done with a plan. If you want to replace watching TV with going for a run for instance, and you are experiencing a lot of inner resistance, try simply wearing your running shoes in the house for half-an-hour in the evening… walk about the house instead of watching television. Give your brain the chance to get used to the idea.

And use the SMART acronym so widely employed in business: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Trackable. It really works.

So what do you do if it’s just about now that you’re feeling despondent – the memory of all those best intentions being put firmly back in their box, and if you’re really hard on yourself a little balloon in your brain going ‘failure… I knew you couldn’t do it’?

You can still do it. Just prioritize your resolutions. Take one, make a plan, replace a habit, don’t beat yourself up. Give yourself a few weeks to introduce your brain to the idea that it’s going to work with you not against you on this one, and start again on February 1.


Happy habit breaking or making…

 

 

Make Mine a Mule

The Story of a Friendship
Make Mine a Mule
By Ann Walker
Equilibrium Books pp101 rrp $24.95
Review by Candida Baker

When I was a horse-obsessed child growing up in rural Oxfordshire, my mount was a somewhat unpredictable Arab/Fell Pony mare, who had some strange foibles.  She hated pigs, for instance, and whilst my friend’s horse would walk quietly through the piggery, Hester (named after Lady Hester Stanhope), would balk, buck and bicker with me for what seemed like hours.

She was also in love with a donkey.  We would pass this particular paddock on one of our rides, and I never knew whether to be amused or furious when she would literally dash across the road to his field, and stand there talking to her long-eared friend, and taking absolutely no notice of my orders to her to “walk on”.  One day my friend and I talked about what would happen if she was allowed to run with the donkey.  “She’d have a mule,” my friend said.  “Yuk,” I shuddered.  “A mule!”

Make Mine a Mule

Not that I knew much about them, but I knew they were stubborn, and I knew they looked, well, a bit peculiar – beyond that I didn’t ever really think about them much at all.

But that’s all changed now, thanks to Ann Walker’s splendid book, Make Mine a Mule, the remarkable true story of her twenty-eight year friendship with Pepita – a beautiful, 12 hand high mule with the largest brown eyes you ever saw.

Walker is also from a rural English background, and when she and her husband – who had owned ponies and a donkey in the UK –  emigrated to Tasmania, they decided to continue their interest in donkeys, little realising that they were moving to a state where, at the time, there were none.

When Ann and her husband decided to import six donkeys as a basis for their newly-formed Keysoe Donkey Stud, the new arrivals featured in all the State’s media, quickly becoming stars of TV, radio and press.  Ann, a novice breeder, became an overnight donkey ‘expert,’ somewhat to her own amusement. It just so happened that one of the numerous people who sought Ann’s advice, was a woman from Victoria who was keen to breed a mule.  The woman wrote to thank her for her help, and a year later again to tell her that her mule filly had been born.

Fast forward four years, and Ann and her family had moved once more, this time to Victoria, where Ann had gathered mule experience in the form of Juanita, whom she had raised as a weanling. (Years later, Juanita, with her owner, Patsy Sinfield would become famous for being the first mule to complete the arduous 100-mile-Quilty endurance ride.) When she got a call from the woman in Victoria, offering to sell her Pepita, Ann jumped at the chance of owning her.  Assured that she was quiet and had been taught all the basics, Ann decided that Pepita would make a perfect family mount.

As it turned out, Ann was right – but not before she found out to her cost that, as Ogden Nash once wrote, ‘In the world of Mules, there are no Rules’.  Quiet Pepita certainly was, but mules, seemingly endowed with much more brain than either horse or donkey, need to have confidence in their owners before they will allow themselves to be persuaded to do something.  But the amusing to read although no doubt les amusing to experience trials and tribulations in the end created an extraordinary bond between Ann, her family and Pepita.  After a somewhat rocky start, Pepita even became a Pony Club mount, taking part in all Pony Club activities, including jumping, which she was remarkably good at – always clearing the jump by just a few centimetres – another mule trait, as Ann discovered on her mule journey.

The wonderful stories in this book will delight, entertain and enthral animal lovers everywhere.  There’s the story of Pepita’s first mule class, when she realised it wasn’t her beloved Ann behind the long reins, and dashed the entire length of the ring braying the entire way, to stand beside her; or how Pepita saved Ann’s pony, Peppi, one day when Peppi fell down a steep bank, and in her anxiety was struggling so much she was in danger of falling into a ravine.  Ann describes how Pepita stood there and ‘talked’ Peppi into becoming calm.  Many years later Pepita saved Ann herself from a ferocious ram that was about to charge into Ann with full force.

Not that Pepita was always perfect – with her delightfully stubborn mule streak in evidence, Pepita would try and persuade Ann that she didn’t want to take a particular route by lifting a hind leg, and gently tapping Ann on the heel.  If Ann persisted in her desire to go her way, Pepita would try once or twice more before reluctantly giving in.

But perhaps the two most moving messages to come through this enchanting book are the level of telepathic communication available to equine owners if they should choose to listen (and it’s something I’ve experienced myself), and the intense loving friendships that animals can have with one another (also something I’ve witnessed).

Pepita lived to the ripe old age of 32, succumbing, sadly, to colic, when Ann had to make the decision to have her put to sleep.  Shortly after, she received communication from a clairvoyant with messages that Ann knew could only have come directly from Pepita.

This story of a lifelong (and beyond) friendship is heartfelt and humorous, and full of wisdom and insights into the world of mules.  It’s a perfect gift for all ages.

The only problem is that now I want a mule!

Order Make Mine a Mule through Equilibrium Books: http://www.equilibriumbooks.com

The Reluctant Vegetarian

It’s only a few days until Christmas, and I’m in a right pickle.

You see, for the past 30 years I’ve done something special to feed the ravening hordes. I cook, from scratch, a smoked raw leg of ham. The process takes place over a 24-hour period – first I soak it overnight, then I boil it with cider and herbs, and then roast it in the Weber or the oven. The result is a mouth-wateringly tender, juicy home-roasted ham that lasts right up until New Year’s Eve.

But something strange has been going on for me this year. After a lifetime as a carnivore, I’ve found that for some inexplicable reason, I really don’t want to eat meat.

As an animal lover I wish I could take the moral high ground and say that it began as a philosophical stand, but having grown up on a farm in England where we were quite likely to be saying hello to Harry the Calf, and be eating him a few weeks later, it isn’t that – or at least, it’s only partly a newly-acquired meat-eating conscience.

It seems as if I can’t any longer tolerate the idea of eating meat if I don’t know where it’s come from, how it’s been raised and treated, and how it’s been killed.

This is mildly inconvenient in my household to say the least. I’m surrounded by meat-eaters, and so I can’t fully embrace my new-found tofu, soy and lentil personality without a degree of difficulty which includes cooking two meals at a time.

To be honest I miss my meat-eating days. I was one of the World’s Great Carnivores.

When I was a child we lived in a small village that was part of a large farming estate. Our regular diet included local lamb, beef, pork and free-range chicken. As I grew up I even acquired a taste for raw meat – one of my best meat memories was being taken out to dinner by my film producer uncle to a star-studded restaurant in London. I was more impressed by my first steak tartare than by the fact that Julie Christie was eating there as well.

I’ve always been adventurous when it comes to eating animals.

I’ve eaten frogs legs and snails in Paris – not to mention steak so blue it was just about mooing – warthog and crocodile in Zimbabwe; goat in Pakistan; haggis, venison and pheasant in Scotland and snake, kangaroo and shark in Australia. (My father even persuaded me to try tripe once, but that was an experience I’d rather forget. Tripe seems to be a ‘man’ thing. My Dad belonged to a sort of secret tripe society – they’d meet in someone’s house when the rest of the family was away and have tripe orgies. Yuk.)

So Christmas for me has always meant a wonderful meaty indulgence – the home-cooked ham, the turkey and an entire fillet of beef. But here I am my desire to please the masses fighting with my desire to indulge in a mouth-watering mung bean salad overflowing with mushrooms and sunflower seeds.

The other worry is that giving things up seems to have become a bit of an unintentional habit. First there was alcohol 12 years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter, then there was a food allergy to – how unfair is this – chilli and chocolates, and in the past few years wheat’s hit the dust due to middle-aged spread, dairy’s ok in moderation, and just a few weeks ago my body made the also not very welcome decision to give up coffee.

I wish I could be virtuous about it all, and claim a higher philosophical ground, or a raised consciousness, or something, but I think it’s a bit more basic than that. I think that as I’m beginning to look 60 in the eye, with a sort of wary sideways glance, my body seems to be kindly suggesting ways to stay healthy. I guess this is good for me, but it’s not easy adjusting to this new way of living.

I’ve been pondering the ham conundrum for the past few months, and I’ve found a solution – I’ve ordered the ham, but not the turkey or the beef. Is it a compromise, or being chicken, so to speak? Anyway, it’s done now – and the ham will be served hot and dripping with spices and honey and fresh mango on Christmas Eve.

And beside it will sit my delicious mini-soy nut roast and vegetarian lasagne.

Happy Christmas to everybody no matter what your dietary persuasion!

Go to http://thehoopla.com.au/category/wellbeing/ for more columns, or visit my website:  www.candidabaker.com

 

The Green Eyed Monster

O! beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.
William Shakespeare, Othello

I sometimes wonder to myself about the purpose of what you might call ‘negative’ emotions.

After all, it’s easy to see why, in an ideal world, we should all be filled with love, compassion and kindness, but not so easy to fathom why our human condition comes complete with the other side of the coin – our list of seven deadly sins: anger, avarice, jealousy (or envy) pride, lust, sloth and greed.

Of all of those, perhaps the most mutable is jealousy. It seems, to me at least, to be made of a shifting quicksand of emotions, ready to strike in the most surprising of ways.

As a parent, I’ve often witnessed my own children when they were little become jealous if I’ve given too much attention to another child, or even to an adult; and whilst not prone to an overload of emotional jealousy I certainly have experienced it on occasions, and I’ve also been in relationships where the male of the species has felt threatened not just by my male friendships but even by female friendships – and even by my connection with animals.

Of course, there are different types of jealousy, and for the purposes of this article at least, we will distinguish the idea of jealousy and envy by using the philosopher John Rawls’ definition of the difference between the two is that jealousy involves the wish to keep what one has, and envy the wish to get what one does not have.

So I may well be envious of the person or people who win $100million in the lottery; or envious of someone who has a job I think I could do, or envious of someone who owns my ideal horse (my personal envy demon!), but I would become jealous if someone tried to muscle in on my closest relationships, my family or friends.

Perhaps too, if we follow that line of thought, jealousy seems more associated with emotions, where envy is more associated with a desire for something material.

In terms of emotional jealousy, the obvious adult minefield is, of course, infidelity.

According to a 2004 research paper by Buss, Green & Saboni, and perhaps obviously to most of us, men are more threatened and made jealous by sexual infidelity, whereas women are more hurt by emotional infidelity (emotional withdrawal by their partner), or abandonment.

But whilst sexual jealousy is probably the kind of jealousy most of us have either experienced from someone, or suffered from ourselves, there are many other kinds of jealousy that can affect our daily lives.

I know I, for one, was extremely jealous of my younger sister, although not jealous of my younger twin sisters below her in age. I spent – or wasted – years being unpleasant to her and then had a hard time making up that spoiled ground later in life.

Jealousy in the office, romantic jealousy – even friendship jealousy – in all its forms jealousy can tear at our hearts, and it has a curious way of magnifying the situation as well, so something that many years later we look back at and laugh at as being so trivial as to be hardly worth our attention, becomes all-consuming.

As a generalization little girls, it seems to me, experience jealousy long before little boys. (In fact a wise man of my acquaintance recently said to me he thought little girls practised every single emotion between each other in order to hone their skills by the time they got into relationships, so their significant others could remain in a permanent state of confusion!)

We’ve recently been experiencing the classic two’s company three’s a crowd syndrome, which I well remember from my own childhood.

Something to be said for emotions such as jealousy and anger is that they are emotions we practice – particularly when we are young – to protect us from perceived or real threat. As such their presence in our emotional make-up bag is essential, but it’s when they become reactive or obsessive that things go wrong – and, if as an adult, we don’t adjust our emotional radar to something a little more calm and centred!

So if we suffer from jealousy, what can we do to overcome it?

As with any emotional reaction or unwanted behaviour the first key is awareness – we have to understand that just because we tell ourselves something is ‘true’, does not necessarily make it so – we have to shift our point of view so we can step back from the story in our minds, and identify our emotional triggers.

It’s hard to believe when we are in an emotional state that we can make a choice about what we feel or how we react, and for most of us mere mortals, even when we do acknowledge it there are times when reaction gets the better of us.

But I think most of us would acknowledge that jealousy is based on feelings of insecurity; likewise if someone is projecting jealousy on us, they might say that we are causing them to be jealous, which is really a statement of the fact that they are feeling insecure and powerless.

As quotation anthologist Terri Guillemets writes: ‘Jealousy injures us with the dagger of self-doubt.”

Practicing Compassion

Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed
~
 The Buddha

Whenever there is a disaster in the world, natural or otherwise, it does a curious thing – it brings out the best in us.

All of us stop for a moment, don’t we, and feel a mixture of gratitude that we and our loved ones are safe, and sorrow for those suffering from the earthquake, tsunami, bushfire, flood or, in the case of Haiti and the American eastern seaboard, a hurricane called Sandy.

New York workers prepare for the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy
 It’s then that our natural compassion comes to the fore. And yet, curiously, compassion, the virtue of empathy for the suffering of others, is not necessarily as readily available to us at other times.

In our ordinary, everyday lives it seems – on the face of it – that we have less need of compassion than at those times of crisis, be it family, community, or world-wide.

The etymology of compassion is Latin, meaning co-suffering; whereas empathy is the more simple attribute of understanding, compassion contains the desire to stop the other person’s suffering.

Deepak Chopra writes in his book Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul of the Tibetan Buddhist monks who developed ‘compassionate brains’ as the result of practicing a meditation on compassion, thereby transforming a spiritual quality into physical manifestation, erasing the split between body and soul.

Compassion: a Victorian firefighter cares for a koala left homeless by bushfires. Photo by Russell Vickery via smh.com.au.

 But why are some people more compassionate than others? Why is it that psychopaths allegedly have no compassion, and are able to inflict cruelty without even the comprehension of what they are doing?

Chopra wonders whether even psychopaths might be brought to understand the nature of compassion through a change of brain activity.

To become compassionate, or more compassionate takes practice …as does every emotion, both good and bad.  It’s not good enough to just think about being compassionate, or even learn about it, it’s about somehow rewiring the brain so you walk in other people’s shoes; and again growth is exponential, as we begin to feel and practice compassion in one area of our lives, it begins to flow into other areas.

In Hinduism compassion is called daya, and is one of the three central virtues, along with charity and self-control. Vasudeva Datta, a 16th century Vaishnava holy man prayed to Krishna to deliver “all conditioned souls” because his heart “breaks to see the sufferings.”

In Judaism, God is known as the Compassionate and invoked as the Father of Compassion, and in Buddhism compassion, or Karuna is the transformative heart of his teachings, both for the self, and others.

Or as the Dalai Lama has said: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

How do you practice something you can’t see? It’s not like riding a bicycle exactly, but curiously the steps are very much the same. You choose to be genuinely interested in compassion, you pursue your interest spontaneously – choosing for instance to feel compassion instead of critical towards someone whom you believe has slighted or behaved badly towards you. You stick with the practice until you get good at.

One of the ways to cultivate compassion is using it to defuse anger, which is considered a low-level emotion, and usually disguises fear, and one of the very best ways to cultivate it, is to try feeling compassionate for yourself – which, when you stop and think about it is much easier said than done.

In fact, it’s downright difficult to be compassionate about what may seem afterwards to be obvious mistakes we’ve made, and yet if we can’t feel true compassion towards ourselves how can we feel it towards others?

Children, of course, can swing between compassion and sympathy, to cruelty and scorn in a millisecond, but as we grow up, our ability to be compassionate is often diminished by what we perceive to be condemnation towards us, and by the time we are adults, our natural compassion has got buried under a ton of beliefs about ourselves and the world around us.

But when one of the largest cyclonic wind systems on record has caused sixty deaths in Haiti before it even reached its destination of the Eastern States of America, then for most of us compassion becomes a natural response – and thank goodness for that.

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.
~ Thomas Merton

Sing, sing a song, sing out loud, sing out strong…

I love to hear a choir. I love to see the faces of real people devoting themselves to a piece of music. I like the teamwork. It makes me feel optimistic about the human race when I see them cooperating like that.
Paul McCartney

Last week I witnessed a wonderful event.
My 12-year-old daughter, Anna has been in her school choir for a few years now, and was fortunate enough to be picked to sing at the Sydney Opera House as part of Sydney’s week long choral festival, showcasing students from New South Wales public schools.

The Australian Girls, National Boys & Gondwana Indigenous Childrens Choirs perform in a Qantas TV ad.

When the kids that formed the full choir came together last week for the performance, it was pure magic from the first moment. The sight of the concert hall filled with 700 children, and the sound of their voices filling the air around us, was quite extraordinary, as too were the other musical offerings of the night, with everything from big bands, wind and string orchestras on offer.
There’s no doubt that without singing – the sound of the human voice in all its varied glory – the world would be a poorer place; but why exactly do we sing? After all, we are the only land-based animal that indulges in the activity – apart from the odd singing dog that is!
Birds sing, of course, gibbons (apparently) sing, and the rest of the world’s singers – whales, dolphins, sea-lions and seals, are marine mammals. Research suggests that it’s a predator thing – singing is a sound that could attract enemies, so only those animals able to get away quickly – birds and the tree-based gibbons for instance – or those that have very few predators, such as the water-based singers, and humans, indulge in what might otherwise be the somewhat dangerous practice of  letting predators know your location.

Photo by RhiannonDaire on Flickr.

Who would have thought that the simple act of opening our mouths and allowing sound to come out, could be so fraught with meaning?
When you think about it, it is a rather extraordinary thing that the mechanism of using our lungs as an air supply, our larynx as a reed, and our head or chest as an amplifier, and the tongue as the mechanism for articulation, can produce everything from opera to rap.
Nobody knows exactly why humans started singing, or even when.

Conjecture has it that the voice was the first instrument, long before instruments were invented and that perhaps it was used as a way for a voice to carry much longer distances.
It’s also possible that a tribal society used singing for each individual to be recognised by their sound, since all of us have a unique ‘voiceprint’ in the same way we have a unique finger print.

One of the extraordinary things about singing is that despite many peoples’ protestations that they can’t sing, anybody can actually learn to sing – it’s simply bad luck that many of us are wounded when we are children by well-meaning or even badly-meaning adults telling us we can’t sing in tune.
Not surprisingly, in fact, not that many small children can sing in tune because like taste buds, the voice box is not fully developed until we are at least teenagers, and so those early judgments that have possibly cruelled many a budding singing career are based on a false assumption.
For years I thought I couldn’t sing – and was told by my father on numerous occasions that was the case. Not that many years ago I decided I wanted to find out if it was true that I really couldn’t sing – so I got brave and joined a choir! Well, I wouldn’t say that I’m the next Big Thing, or Any Thing at all, but I loved it and it allowed me to discover that as long as I am singing along with people, yes, I can definitely sing.
I felt wonderful after a singing session, and so I wasn’t surprised, researching this piece, to find out that a survey of students participating in choral singing found numerous health benefits – improved mood, stress reduction, not to mention the social benefits of being included in community group.
Apparently just listening to choral singing relaxes the mind, reduces stress and positively influences the immune system, according to a multinational collaboration to study the connection between singing and health which was established in 2009, called Advancing Interdisciplinary Research in Singing (AIRS).
Even better still, it doesn’t matter if it’s in a choir, in the shower or in the car – so open up your pipes, rusty or not and sing out loud. It can only do you good!

Quote of the week:
The only thing better than singing is more singing.
Ella Fitzgerald

Hair today, gone tomorrow…

Hair brings one’s self-image into focus; it is vanity’s proving ground. Hair is terribly personal, a tangle of mysterious prejudices. – Shana Alexander




The Princess turned 12 the other day. “Mum,” she said. “My life is just going too fast.”

I laughed. “You should see it from my end.”

She looked so depressed I tried very hard to be sympathetic: “Never mind,” I said.

“You’re not even a teenager yet. Twelve this year and 13 next, that’s how the numbers go.”

“Thirteen!” She positively bounced upright. “That’s right. Everybody has that big party when they turn 13 – you know, it’s like turning 18 or 21, but there’s a special name for it.”

“There is?” Plenty of things sprung to mind – the start of the highway to hell, the teenage tunnel, the flouncing years, but not anything specifically connected to 13.

“That Bar Mitzvah thing,” she said.

Right. My no-religion daughter wants the religious ceremony Jewish boys have when they turn 13 for her party next year.

Notwithstanding that living in the Byron Shire has enabled her to study an eclectic mix of Bahai, Buddhism and even Catholicism during her school years, turning male and Jewish, not to mention learning the Torah, seems a tall order.

But it did start me thinking about rituals connected with age, and of course, as well as the Bar Mitzvah, there is the Bat Mitzvah for Jewish girls when they turn 12.

Both of them are a rite of passage – the recognition that instead of just studying the Torah, the young adolescents are now capable of understanding it.

Catholics of course, have their confirmation, but what do we, those of us who have put conventional religions aside, have to celebrate the arrival of the teenage years?

Somehow the English ritual of going from Brownies to Girl Guides and leaping over a giant mushroom with Akela and Brown Owl on each side of you doesn’t seem to quite cut the mustard.

It made me think about the 12th birthday too. What were we doing as a mother and daughter, to mark it as somehow special? What could we do?

I suddenly remembered my 12th birthday, and that my mother had taken me to her hairdresser for the very first time.

I remembered the smell of the salon, the pleasure of getting my hair washed – that I even had my nails polished. It might not have the deepest religious significance I thought, but at least I could introduce her to one of the true lasting joys of womanhood – the regular visit to the hairdresser.

As American comedian Fran Lebowitz once observed: You’re only as good as your last haircut.

And thus it came to pass, that Anna, once nicknamed Voldemort for the torturous sleeping regime she inflicted upon her parents, sat up in the highest of chairs, and received the benediction of Richard, my hairdresser.

Baptized in the basin, trimmed, very lightly, a side fringe artfully created, and her locks blow-dried to golden curly perfection, an 11-year-old girl went in and a gorgeous young woman came out.

It was a wild success. Even for a Leo the mirror admiration became obsessive. She tossed, and flicked, and twirled and gazed at the new perfection of her. The next day the hair was even better, which fortuitously coincided with her sleepover party. She was in seventh hair heaven.

But then came the fall. The first hairwash and the next day there were anguished tears. “It doesn’t look the same,” she wailed. “I want it back just like it was when it was cut.”

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry with her. I felt for her. We receive a beautiful moment, but it passes, all too quickly. Our highs are followed by lows. And life passes, all too quickly.

But marking occasions, creating rituals, acknowledging the importance of our lives is vital to our sense of self-worth, and to our ability to reflect on where we are and how we’re travelling on the journey of life.

The idea of a Bar Mitzvah, or even a Bat Mitzvah, has set me thinking about a 13-year-old party, what it could be, and how it can be made meaningful beyond the inevitable pizza, popcorn, tween-dvd sleepover – or even haircut, if that’s possible.

“Life is an endless struggle full of frustrations and challenges, but eventually you find a hair stylist you like.” - Anonymous

Check out my Midweek Mediation on http://thehoopla.com.au/ in the Wellbeing section…