Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A journey, not a destination

I work hard and I work a lot. I've diagnosed myself as a workaholic. I work continuously because when I work, I don’t have to think about all my problems. More often than not, I forget the purpose of my actions, but I continue to work.

Unfortunately, I get tired. That’s when things become difficult and my thoughts become more powerful than my actions. I start to lose concentration and my work eventually comes to a stop.  It’s at this point in time that I sense numbness in my life. It’s caused by excess stress and exhaustion, and then nothing seems to make sense.

It’s a wicked cycle, one year to the next. Now, as I near the end of 2012, I look back at the months that have flown past and I realize it’s been an incredible journey of survival, from one milestone to the next. These milestones have kept me going. They have helped me to focus on moving forward.

I watch people interacting with me and I realize, to them I am who I am, the same person I was yesterday and the same person I was a year ago. Inside, it’s a different story. I've climbed over so many obstacles in the past few months that I’m not the same person I used to be. Inside, I’m broken and every day something else inside me seems to crack or fall apart. It’s a constant deterioration of who and what I am. Nobody sees it and to me it’s never mattered because any weakness inside me is a flaw that the world does not need to know about.

Experiences have a way of stretching emotions in such a way that it often feels as if nothing will ever be the same again. I've stretched the barriers of my fears to such an extent that I often feel I can never experience joy again. Of course, any pressure I've suffered in the past has been just that, pressure! Being resilient has helped me to cope with it and press forward – even if it meant pushing forward as a workaholic to cope.

I've never learnt how to relax. I've spent so much time trying to meet unrealistic expectations, which I've placed upon myself that I've never been able to enjoy life.  I've suffered so much loss. While death comes to mind, my loss hasn't just been tangible. Many things I've lost cannot be monetized, and the pain and devastation associated with it have been hard on me. In a sense, I've never stopped grieving about my loss. The whole process of grieving is fluid, so there are no rules as to how I grieve or what I grieve about, but letting go has just never seemed an option.

Thus, my life has been riddled with bouts of depression. Yet, depression does not define me. I spend so much energy every day fighting negativity and making choices to be optimistic. I've been given this inner strength to conquer each day. I motivate and challenge people who lean towards pessimism, and somehow there’s been a certain measure of reward in that.

Going out with the purpose that I’m here to serve and not to be served has had an enormous impact on my life. It goes hand in hand with the idea that it’s better to give than what it is to receive and, then, of course, it’s better to remain humble, meek and kind …

I have two milestones in 2013: my 25th wedding anniversary and my daughter’s 21st birthday. I push onward in the hope of reaching both, but life is a journey, not a destination. To be able to live in the moment and survive it, that’s what I should be destined to do. So, these milestones are not destinations. They’re just part of the journey.

Death is hard, but living life is harder. Death needs courage, but, in the end, we need more courage to live.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Imperfections of our own

People aren't perfect and therefore life isn't perfect. Even the world we live in is anything but perfect! 

Our brains are created to think 'perfect' and even though we don't have perfect brains, we expect people and situations to be perfect. That's why so many of us focus on mistakes and errors. We complain and gossip about imperfections (forgetting that we have our own weaknesses with which to contend). 

It's good to know that our minds strive for perfection. It's also good to know that our minds and the way we direct our thoughts have an effect on our hearts and the way we feel. Having this knowledge means that it would be good to extend kind favour to everyone and every situation we encounter. 

Accept people as they are. Let them express themselves freely, wherever and whenever. Show empathy. If their words irritate you, it's you that's irritable. Don't take it out on them. Don't criticize! Until you have lived a minute in their lives or carried the burden they carry each day, you will never understand what makes them say and do the things they do. 

Self-control and self-evaluation reveal more about ourselves than we can ever imagine. Start at 'home' and tend to yourself, and then go out into the world and spread some love.

Short story:

A young couple moves into a new neighbourhood. The next morning while they are eating breakfast, the young woman sees her neighbour hanging the wash outside. 
"That laundry is not very clean; she doesn't know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap." 
Her husband looks on, remaining silent. Every time her neighbour hangs her wash to dry, the young woman makes the same comments. 
A month later, the woman is surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and says to her husband: 
"Look, she's finally learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her this?" 

The husband replies, "I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows."

So it is with life. What we see when watching others depends on the clarity of the window through which we look.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Nothing stays the same!

In life, there will always be someone who will try to encourage us to ignore the dark cloud, look for the silver lining, and focus on that. There will always be someone who will try to convince us that the glass is not half empty, but half full. They will urge us to think positively and then leave us with the cliché: You are what you constantly think!

We are motivated to try and be flexible in life. The paradigm shift theory is thrown in our direction. We have to change the way we think about things because in the end “everything flows and nothing abides, everything gives way and nothing stays fixed” (Heraclitus). Nothing stays the same.

It’s that simple: Change the way you think and think positively. The written message may be simple, but in reality, it’s not. The extent to which our mind will be open to change and optimistic thoughts are determined by our personality.

If nothing stays the same and we’re expected to change the way we think, how does it affect our personality? Can we change who we are?

When we are born, we are born with inherited characteristics – genetic characteristics. From the time we are born until the day we go to school, our parents or guardians are our role models. When we go to school, we change. Throughout life, we acquire characteristics through our family environment, culture, religious background, education, association, and experiences (both good and bad). Even television programmes and movies we watch, the music we listen to and other forms of entertainment leave their mark. When we recognize things that exercise positive or negative influences on our personality, we have the choice of whether we want to increase or minimize their effect. In the end, all these factors and influences affect the way our personality develops.

Our personalities can be changed. We are transformed according to what we think and feel. We have strengths and weaknesses, and we should learn to identify them. We have the power to develop our strengths and correct our flaws. The question we need to ask ourselves is: "What kind of person do I want to be?" The answer to that question leaves us with a choice. We can either dream about being a better person or we can make it a reality by steering ourselves in the direction of changing into a better person. 

While we cannot change our personalities overnight, we can improve over time. It’s not an easy task, but if we persevere we can achieve anything we decide to do. A secret to success is to be thankful for the opportunity to be able to change. If we hem our blessings with thankfulness, they won't unravel.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Go with all your heart!

There's a Chinese saying that reads: "Wherever you go, go with all your heart". This may seem to refer to a place, a destination, but, in essence, it really defines life: forward motion.

This in itself is very profound because you can never go back in time. You can only move forward. What passes can never be experienced again.

Each day is filled with moments that are either good or bad. Life unfolds in these moments. The good moments become memories and the bad moments build character. In each moment there is a simple duty to be fulfilled. If you are lazy, you will neglect the duty. If you are wise, you will put your heart into it.

You can go forward with all your heart if you are true to yourself, but you will never make progress or find joy if you are trying to do something you don’t believe in. Go out and find yourself. Discover your passion and make this your duty.

You may not be able to control the moments as you journey through each day, but you can make choices regarding the simple duties in these moments with which you keep busy.

Monday, 2 April 2012

It's not our fault.

It’s not our fault that we were born, but the fact that we came into the world makes us significant. Life is a miracle and living here on earth is filled with good and bad experiences. One of our purposes in life is to learn how to cope. Another purpose would be to help others cope.

If we want to be happy in life, we need to remember the golden rule, which is given to us in the Gospel of Matthew (7:12): "In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you." We also know, from reading the Bible, that "there is more happiness in giving than receiving" (Acts20:35). 
These verses are very important, but life is hard and sometimes, even when we are kind to people and we extend ourselves to help them, the acts of kindness and consideration are not reciprocated. How does this affect us? It makes us negative and we question our purpose of helping others. Yet, the same can be said about us by others. Are we always willing to help? We may think that we are doing the right thing, but how do others perceive our behaviour or attitude?

No one in life is perfect. Each one of us has some sort of burden that we carry. When we learn to support each other, through the good and bad experiences, we also help each other to handle the weight of that unique burden. Of course, the way we handle our burden differs from someone else who seemingly has a similar burden to carry.

It’s not our fault that we are who we are. From the moment, within our mother’s womb, that we were able to experience life, our brain has absorbed information and stored it. Throughout our childhood, when we were vulnerable, we were formed and fashioned according to different experiences and our personal reactions to them. We were influenced to experience emotions, but there wasn't always someone there to help us deal with the emotions and our reactions to them. There wasn’t a real support system for us to help analyze and understand what we were experiencing. Whether they were good or bad, we just had to cope. Our minds were conditioned to think positively and negatively. We either learned to tolerate or fight against the negative influences and experiences, or we learned to ignore or thrive on the positive influences and experiences. Whichever we did, our thoughts have made us who we are today.
Our biggest problem in life is that we underestimate ourselves. Our minds, for example, are amazing. We never think about it, but our minds are like sponges. Our minds have stored up so much information, all the information and experiences that we have ever heard, seen, felt, touched, smelled, and tasted. All that information and all our experiences are inside our heads. Sometimes in life, we experience something that has an incredible effect on us and we don’t know why. It’s because somewhere in the back of our minds there is a similar experience that happened in our past, which had either a good or bad effect on us. The emotions we struggled with back then suddenly re-surface and we are forced to deal with the present situation, while a past situation has not yet been resolved. The past situation doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad one.
Many people hate themselves and their lives because of the emotional storm that brews within them. They don’t understand how they feel or why they feel the way they do. They are overwhelmed by negativity and criticize themselves, other people, situations, and life in general. They become figuratively blind and learn to break down even the good things in life. They learn to appreciate nothing and eventually respect nothing. They learn to lead an ungrateful and selfish life.
We all have inner power. It is the most incredible thing. We can use it to change the way we think and behave. We can use it to help ourselves and others cope in life. If we are truly motivated, we can do anything we believe. Unfortunately, so many of us don’t believe enough. Our power of belief is so weak that we learn to give up before really trying to do anything.
We all have a passion. It's this passion that is supposed to drive us and make our lives worth living. Without passion, we often miss the whole purpose of having to cope in life ... and even more so, the purpose of helping others to cope. That's why so many people succumb to depression and anxiety, and eventually break down. We need to find our passion. If we take the time to be patient with ourselves, we will discover what it is.

There is a saying: "To know other people is intelligence, but to know yourself is true wisdom." Keeping this saying in mind, we need to focus on discovering and developing our passion before we can go out and really make a difference in the world. The reason why we don't understand ourselves is that we believe we have no time. Time is very valuable. Once it's spent, we cannot get it back. While we believe we have no time, we may need to ask ourselves what it is that we're busy with. We have so many choices. Every day we have the choice of allowing laziness, technology, addictions, lust for money, the lives of other people, and our work to control our time. We spend so much energy focusing on these things that we lose control and our focus in life. We neither know who we are nor do we understand why we are.
If we take some time to sit alone in a place that is beautiful, in absolute quietness, we will learn to discover what really makes us happy. We will discover what our passion is. If we make our passion the central theme of each day, we will find the strength to live a life with purpose.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Avoiding imbalance!

While I was walking into the schoolyard today, I realized how tired I was. I also realized that I was suffering a bout of depression. I wasn’t sure which one had triggered the other because I was tired in a defeated way.

I tried, in vain, to focus on positive thoughts as I dragged myself across the schoolyard. I then wondered what I looked like to the school children who were standing around individually or in small conferences. In the past, many children have commented on the fact that I smile a lot. Today my smile was dejected! I remember looking around at some point, wondering if anyone actually noticed it, but every face I saw seemed to reflect what I was feeling. (It isn’t unusual to see this. Ten weeks into an eleven-week term, it’s quite normal for the children to feel fatigued.)

In retrospect, I don’t know how I coped today. Being tired makes a person’s emotions go all over the place. Yet, I kept it together. I went through eight lessons and one of my break times without stopping once to rest. After the second break, I had an hour’s invigilation for a test period and two more lessons to deal with before the bell rang for home time. Then I sat down to do speech and reading assessments for another hour. I went through the motions unmotivated, but willing. I was calm and in control.

When I came home, I made myself a quick sandwich and a strong cup of tea. I then started marking tests. All this was done with great effort and a lot of double-checking. I knew that I was tired, but I ignored what my head and body were telling me to do because I had “work” that needed to be done. I knew that once I had finished all the work, I would be able to relax.

The point is, when I work all the time, there’s no balance. This leads to anxiety and depression. In the end, I feel tired and defeated. It takes so much inner strength to do what I did today, but I think it takes even more inner strength to properly navigate my days so as to avoid imbalance. If I could do less to achieve more, I would. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work out the way I want it to.

My term and my days are well-planned. The problem is, the minute an unexpected situation occurs, it becomes the catalyst for disorganizing everything. It is impossible to stand ready and prepared for these hurdles.

The good thing is that teachers get holidays and I’m really looking forward to the Easter break. It’s a week that will help me recharge for the new term.  

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

O, ye of little faith ...

More recently I had the privilege to edit another writer’s book. After reading it, I found myself thinking about something she expressed in her book and now it’s etched in my mind: God meets you there where you put your faith. 

I suffer from depression. Because I know how hard it is to cope during an episode, I am committed to being positive. I am always telling other people to focus on the silver lining and not the dark cloud. This has helped me to suffer less.

Reaching out and making a difference in another person’s life seems to motivate me to be positive. I believe in the power of positive thoughts. I believe in the power of faith. Having this belief doesn't mean that I always apply it in my life. There are times when I am weak when I find myself losing courage and sinking into the realms of negativity. This ultimately takes me into a new episode of depression.

My faith is tested the most when I become anxious. My anxiety levels fluctuate daily, but I can cope with this. It’s the extreme bouts of anxiety that knock me off my feet. These bouts usually peak 48 hours after I start becoming anxious and by then I’m ready to pass out. 

Last Friday I went to my usual weekly tea party with three friends. I told them that my husband had applied for a job in town. Just before we parted ways, we prayed together. My husband went for the job interview on Saturday. After the interview, he was told that he would be contacted on Monday or Tuesday at the latest. I kept the faith until Monday. Then, as the day progressed, I felt myself sinking into the muck and mire of negative thinking. On Tuesday, I went to work and suffered a migraine aura. The day was hell to pay.

My migraine auras are visual. My vision is usually distorted and any movement around me is exaggerated, which initially makes me panic. Once I realize it's a migraine aura, I calm down. I see flashes and wavy lines in my peripheral vision for an indefinite period of time. There is pressure, but no pain. It’s difficult to speak and express myself clearly, and I lose a sense of my balance and concentration.

Being a teacher, I tend to slow down at work when I suffer a migraine aura. I move and speak slower. I tolerate the whole process because I know exactly what it is. I am brought to a halt only when the debilitating pain settles in, but until then I carry on as if nothing is wrong. Many people do not notice what I am suffering. There is one specific teacher that always sees it when she makes eye contact. I marvel at her excellent observation skills. What amazed me during this particular aura was when one of the students (15 years of age) picked it up immediately in class. You have to be attentive to notice or nonchalant to miss it.

I don't know what triggers my migraines. I link this specific attack to my anxiety level. The fact that I harboured negative thoughts made the anxiety persist. I was worn down and this lead to a lack in faith. I kept saying, "God meets you there where you put your faith." I believe this, yet I continued to doubt. In the past, whenever I lost faith, I felt guilty. Now that I know God meets me there where I put my faith, even though I fail to live up to it, I don't need to be plagued by guilt. Daily feelings of anxiety, or even a momentary lapse of faith because of human weakness, does not mean that God will leave or forsake me.

My husband got the job. I cannot find the words to express my gratitude. I regret being weak. I put all my energy into believing that God would help my family in this difficult time that we are going through, so yes, it’s true! God meets you there where you put your faith. What makes this so amazing is that the power lies within me. It lies within you! If we truly believe, God will never disappoint.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance!

Ah, for the want of a good healthy mind, body, and soul! Mr. South Africa 2011 came to visit our school last week and brought a very confident personality and inspiring message for the teenagers and teachers.

I was very impressed with the young man, but much to my surprise picked up a negative vibe amongst some of the boys, girls, and teachers. It made me think about a game of darts. The purpose of any game of darts would be to aim and hit a specific target, not necessarily the bull’s eye every time.

Let me tell you about Adriaan Bergh’s message. He came to our school to share four things with the learners:
  1. Have a dream. Visualize the dream. If you don’t see it, you won’t work towards achieving it. Nothing comes without effort.
  2. Have self-acceptance. If you can accept yourself with all your strengths and weaknesses, you can achieve so much in life.  
  3. Have a balanced life. Participate in life’s activities. Have a healthy mind and body, as well as a healthy emotional and spiritual life. 
  4. Remember God in your life. This was emphasized as a very important aspect of life.
The trouble with the people who voiced their negativity is that they don’t exercise these four things in their lives. While they were listening to Adriaan Bergh, they became so caught up in his confident attitude, that they lost the whole point of his message. They focused their energy on what they thought was ‘arrogance’ and missed the bigger picture.

What does it take to become Mr. South Africa? Adriaan Bergh applies all four steps in his life and has gained success.

There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. People should always try to spot the difference. Oh, if only teenagers could live like this every day of their lives: focused and with purpose.

Not everything is about physical appearance and this is what I admired about Mr. South Africa 2011. His success lies in striving to achieve his dreams, having self-acceptance and balance, and strengthening his faith in God.

So many people throw the darts of life without aiming for any specific goal. They live a life without purpose. Those who exert themselves physically think they have balance, but what many don’t realize is that in trying to achieve a healthy body they destroy the health of their mind, which eventually breaks them down emotionally and spiritually.

Imperfect people with no vision, self-acceptance, or balance do not like listening to a successful person.

You will never be perfect, but like in a game of darts you can practice to shoot for any goal you have in mind. All you need to do is apply these four steps in your life.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

I couldn't sleep last night!

As a child, I couldn't sleep. We didn't have technology like cellphones and laptops to keep us busy all hours of the night, so I sat for hours at the window looking out at the garden. I shared a room with my older sister and sometimes my movement in bed would wake her up. She always thought I was mad, but I feared disturbing my parents and didn't dare to leave the room. Where would I go, anyway? What would be the point of sitting in the dark lounge? 

I was fascinated with the shadows and the movement of wind-affected things, like a wrestling shrub, a swaying tree, or a plastic bag dancing in the street. I watched stray dogs and cats and sometimes caught the glimpse of a bat flying across the dark sky. There was life outside in the garden and I was fascinated by it. Even the night sky with the moon, clouds, and stars kept me intrigued for hours.

Throughout my life, I've climbed into bed with the hope of sleeping until the next morning. Sadly, I always sleep for a while then wake up and lie awake for hours on end. I blame it on my restless mind. I've spent a lot of time wondering about the cause of this restlessness. Specific thoughts wake me up. Thoughts that move through my mind will not affect me, but because I allow myself to dwell on one specific thought, I find no peace of mind. Louisa May Alcott once said, "A man may dwell so long upon a thought that it may take him prisoner." I am more often a prisoner of my thoughts than I wish to admit. I allow a thought to linger. By repeatedly thinking about it, I allow it to settle in my subconscious mind. It takes root and I nourish it with attention. With all the attention it gets, it gains strength and affects me in so many ways.

Thoughts are incredibly powerful and when repeated, these thoughts eventually influence attitude, words, actions, life, and other people. My motto for many years has been: "We are what we constantly think". So, yes, I believe repeated thoughts shape my life. I can waste a lot of energy and time on useless negative thoughts, but I can also control my mind and decide which thoughts to keep and which to reject.

Having control doesn't mean I always apply it. I still spend a lot of time and energy on negative thoughts. Why? The answer is simple. Emotions and feelings energize thoughts and give them power. In my life, one of my greatest motivators is fear. I allow fear to control my heart. This is communicated to my mind and fear filters into my thoughts. Because I constantly fear the negative consequences of certain activities in my life, I end up losing quality sleep. 

Lately, I've been trying to focus all my energy and time on making decisions that are not based on fear. I'm also trying to stop worrying about negative consequences, focusing more on the positive consequences. The outcome is that my sleeping pattern has improved.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

You are amazing!

You are amazing. Oh yes, you are. You are made with organs that do awe-inspiring things. 

Take your heart as an example. When you think about your heart, do you ever consider that it is more than just a muscle pumping blood and maintaining circulation? Most people believe that the brain controls the heartbeat. That’s not true. In an unborn fetus, the heart starts to beat before the brain has been formed. 

Your heart has its own independent nervous system and is well supplied with sensory nerve endings. Its nervous system contains around 40,000 neurons, called sensory neuritis. It is also intricately connected to the brain by the nervous system.

Your heart has its own intrinsic nervous system that operates and processes information independently of the brain or nervous system. 

It communicates this information in four ways:

  • neurologically (transmissions of nerve impulses);
  • biochemically (hormones and neurotransmitters);
  • biophysically (pressure waves); and 
  • energetically (electromagnetic field interactions).

This communication system shows that your heart has a very important influence on the function of your brain. Your heart communicates with your brain in ways that significantly affect how you perceive and react to the world. 

Your heart sends emotional and intuitive signals to your brain. It is an intelligent force behind your intuitive thoughts and feelings. It helps your brain to arrive at conclusions. All your emotional and motivating capacities are built within it. This means that all the emotions that motivate you come from your heart. 

Your mind gathers information, thinks about it, and processes it through reason and logic. It then reaches conclusions. Knowledge, wisdom, and understanding are achieved. Your mind then feeds your heart with this information, received either from a present moment or from memory. 

Although your heart and mind are separate and distinct, they work together closely. Your mind feeds your heart because, in reality, you see, hear, feel, and receive the effects of your physical senses through the use of your brain. Your heart again feeds your mind. It has the ability to move or motivate your mind. 

From a very young age, your mind exercises a strong influence on your heart. Your mind is like a sponge. It is constantly absorbing information. It also acknowledges all the things that influence you, whether it's at home, at school/work, or in your neighbourhood. Conclusions and impressions are made. These experiences are communicated with the heart. Good conclusions and impressions will have a positive effect. Bad ones will have a negative effect. Your desires and motivation are then either good or bad. Good or bad traits take root in the heart and are reflected in your personality.   

The questions you have to ask yourself are: 

  • Is your heart motivating you in the right direction? 
  • Are good traits being reflected in your personality?

If there are bad traits, you have the amazing power to renew and strengthen your mind and your heart. Everyone is always talking about a paradigm shift, changing your way of thinking. It's also important to change your heart by paying attention to what you think and feel. You have the physical, mental, and emotional power to change. You alone can determine the quality of your life. Positive thoughts and feelings add energy to your system, while negative thoughts and feelings will only exhaust you. 

The power of motivation lies within reach. You need to feed your mind with positive information so that it communicates this through to your heart. Your heart will respond gradually as you impress good things upon it. 

Fill your heart with love, forgiveness, patience, gratitude, appreciation, compassion, sincerity, courage, and empathy. When you do this your feelings will affect your heart's rhythmic patterns.  

There are three important steps to follow in your daily routine:

  1. Learn to do everything slower. Breathe more often. This will help to alleviate stress. Stress has an effect on the rhythm of your heart. If you learn to do things slower and remain focused, you will end up being more productive.
  1. Plan your day and stick to your plan. Do everything you can to eliminate distractions and really focus on what you have to do. You will be amazed at how much more productive you can be. Less is more. You have the power to control your daily routine. Make sure that you don’t do more than what is required. 
  1. Find time to be still. When you are quiet and on your own, it will not only calm your mind, but it will also calm your heart. When you start to relax, and your mind is clear, your heart will send impressions and ideas to your brain and you will find solutions for many problems. You will be more intuitive.

Do you now see why you are so amazing? Enjoy who you are and live with the purpose of perceiving your world with a healthy heart and mind. Only you can make the difference. The difference not only affects you but everyone in your life. 

Help others to see how amazing they are.

When I look at myself ...

  The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that yo...