Tag: reflections

To those men who defy the ‘father’ stereotype

To those men who defy the ‘father’ stereotype

I still believe that I am right. Okay, so granted that as an Aquarian, that is my default position… But I’m sure a lot of you intelligent people out there (yes, you) will agree with me on this one:

A while ago I got into a debate argument with a colleague about the roles of mothers and fathers. I was adamant that men can be as nurturing as women; that being a nurturing parent comes just as naturally to men as it does to women. I was up against the view that nurturing only comes naturally to women (expressed with some man-hating vehemence, I might add). I was – and am still – right. Obviously.

My brother and I are lucky enough to have been raised by two loving parents, both of whom were nurturing. Our dad was a hands-on, involved dad. Nappies, burping, rocking to sleep, etc. He did it all. And my husband is just as involved in the raising and nurturing of our little man.

There is a lot to be said for the way in which fatherhood is now perceived by society in general. Just yesterday I was chatting with a longtime friend about family life and she was relating how the men in her family, be they dads or uncles, play just as an important role in the daily lives of their kids. In fact, a lot of women relate these kinds of stories about their husbands and partners. The idea that fathers are there to provide financial support, discipline, and physical protection to the exclusion of all other aspects of parenting is just ludicrous.

So do I believe in ‘maternal instinct’? Absolutely. In fact, I was quite overwhelmed by the way in which it instantly kicked into gear after the birth of our son. But I also think that dads can have an incredible bond with their kids, and experience an instinctive nurturing and care for their little ones.

In some ways, I think that it’s more about personality than it is about gender. There are lots of women who choose to not have a family, and it’s hardly fair to say that that is ‘unnatural’. If you’re not the maternal type (whatever that is), that’s perfectly acceptable. In the same way, we should accept – and embrace – the idea of nurturing dads who defy those outdated gender stereotypes and shower their kids with love and affection.

So Happy Father’s Day to all the great dads out there! And let’s not forget those who have lost their dads, dads who have lost their children, and those men who are still yearning to become dads.

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Grilled cheese leads to better relationships

Grilled cheese leads to better relationships

Who doesn’t love a grilled cheese sandwich? I dare say that even those of you who are lactose intolerant will be sorely tempted. (Although ‘sorely’ might be an unfortunate choice of adjective in those instances…) In the modern world where technology is impeding, rather than fostering, quality social interaction and meaningful relationships, grilled cheese just may be the answer. Hear me out…

In my previous post I reflected on the modern trend of choosing to be stressed and strung out. Part of this phenomenon, I believe, is choosing to adopt the mindset and subscribe to the idea that there is seldom sufficient time to make headway on ever-lengthening To Do lists. Some of this is due to poor time management, but largely it can be attributed to how we choose to prioritize our time.

When we choose to be ‘too busy’ we are choosing to neglect our relationships. Take, for example, teachers who assume that any social engagements have to wait for the school holidays. Or friends who live in close proximity who seldom see each other. It’s just nonsense. Honestly, where are our priorities?

The solution? Yip, you guessed it: grilled cheese.

Social occasions need not involve extensive planning and preparation. Friends do not expect a table setting worthy of Pinterest accompanied by an equally elaborate menu (unless you’ve set that precedent, in which case you should kick yourself – hard). It’s the time you spend together that is important. Needless to say, I’m referring to quality time, not a case of we’ll-be-in-the-same-room-but-stare-at-our-phones. True friends probably wouldn’t mind in the least if you spontaneously invited them over, even if all you could offer was a grilled cheese sandwich. They’d probably love it, not because they’re dairy obsessed (guilty as charged) but because it’s about friends spending time together.  Which, going back to my earlier point, is a great antidote for all the stress and busy-ness of today’s world.

As soon as you lose the idea that everything has to be planned, has to be an event, you will find the time to invest in your friendships and relationships. Importantly, your life will be more balanced and enriched as a result.

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Are you simply talking yourself into feeling busy and stressed?

Are you simply talking yourself into feeling busy and stressed?

Have you ever realized partway through a TV programme that you have no idea what’s going on because you’ve been distracted by your phone? It happened to me earlier today. This morning the lure of social media apps on my phone meant that I lost track of the British TV game show I was watching (a guilty pleasure that I’ve inherited from my mum). The effect was inconsequential, to say the least.

But what about when technology distracts us from engaging in the important aspects of our lives?

Phones, TVs, computers, tablets: they all provide us with constant sources of distraction. This ubiquitous distraction seems to be an ever-increasing characteristic of modern life. Sure, technology makes life easier, more convenient, and so on. There’s no denying that it has its place.

However, the benefits of technology rapidly wane when we are distracted from being present and mindfully engaging with what should be our priorities in life. And no, I’m not talking about game shows.

Consciously developing and nurturing relationships that, in turn, nurture us is an essential underpinning of happiness. At least, that’s what I believe. Unfortunately, all too often we are too distracted to give our relationships the focus that they warrant. More often than not this can be traced back to the modern lifestyle: not only technology in all its forms, but the all too common habit we have of repeatedly telling everyone (including ourselves) how busy we are. How stressful life is. That we simply don’t have time. That we have too many things to do. And yet, I’m sure we’d be appalled if we realized just how much time we devote to ‘screen time’ on a weekly, or even daily, basis.

This is precious time that is essentially wasted. It’s time that we could – and arguably should – be spending in more mindful pursuits. It’s time that would allow us to be properly present in our interactions with others: our spouses, children, family, friends, and colleagues.

It seems to me that we choose to be distracted, albeit on a subconscious level. I’m not saying that stress is not a real concern, or that we aren’t busy. I just think that we tend to talk ourselves into adopting the mindset of a stressed busybody. No matter how much we have to get done, no matter how much pressure we experience, the truth of the matter is that relationships need to be a priority. Spending time being mindfully present in our interactions with others will enhance our relationships and, ultimately, our happiness and sense of fulfilment.

And isn’t that what life should be about – feeling happy and fulfilled whilst enjoying meaningful connections with others?

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Parenting, anxiety, and smudged nail polish

Parenting, anxiety, and smudged nail polish

It happened. There’s no going back. There are certain moments and events that change your life. Irretrievably.

No matter what happens from now on, I have been forever changed.

Exactly five weeks ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. We’re parents. To be honest, it’s still a surreal experience for me. I still catch myself staring at my son in a state of disbelief. In a good way. A great way.

They say that nothing can prepare you for parenthood. And yet, we still attend antenatal classes, download the apps, follow the blogs, etc. Does it prepare you? I think that selecting the correct classes etc for you can help to prepare you to a certain extent.

The thing that best prepared me for being a mommy? My journey through depression.

And no, I’m not talking about postnatal depression here: on the contrary, I have found the first five weeks of motherhood to be incredibly fulfilling.

So just how on earth did the most trying and devastatingly dark periods of my life prepare me for the most overwhelmingly poignant experience?

Ironically, my journey through depression (“through” implying that you can in fact reach the surface and gasp the fresh air) has taught me many invaluable lessons. Not only have I gained insight into my own psyche, for want of a better word, but I have also come to understand what kind of life I want to lead, and the best mindset and approach to realise this.

The goal-oriented, perfectionist, compulsive nature of my anxiety just doesn’t wash with the daily reality of being a mom. I sat down last week to write a blog post. I got as far as switching on my laptop. That’s it; no further. There is nothing perfect about parenthood. Nothing. I decorated the nursery exactly as I had imagined: a perfect replica of my vision. Two days ago I found myself moving furniture into the centre of the room so that I could wash off projectile pee from a large section of wall and nearby furniture. As for being compulsive, it’s simply not an option. Especially when you have a newborn who has a finely tuned sixth sense that wakens him as soon you step into the shower, pour a cup of tea, or apply a fresh coat of nail polish.

My resultant level of anxiety? Nada. Why?

Before becoming a parent I decided that I would try to be as mindful as possible. I decided that I would not set goals. That I would not entertain ideas about being a supermom. That I would adapt my days to my child’s routine to the best of my ability. That I would not read a single pregnancy or parenting magazine. That I would take each day as it came. That I would trust Mother Nature to give me sufficient maternal instinct to ‘wing it’ for the most part.

So far, I’m managing. Of course, it’s only been five weeks. I might be singing a very different tune next week. Or at three o’clock tomorrow morning. Regardless, my point is that depression and anxiety have provided me with countless opportunities for growth. Sure, I did not grasp all those opportunities. But I did take advantage of some.

It is this ongoing process of reflection and growth that I hope will stand me in good stead in this new stage of my life – smudged nail polish, tepid cups of tea, and all.

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Are you disappearing? I think I want to.

Are you disappearing? I think I want to.

What on earth is this man saying??? Have you ever read something that really made you stop and think? That made you question ‘deeper’ issues? That stayed in your thoughts, lingering for several days? Where the meaning evaded you? That’s exactly what happened to me when I came across this quote on Impromptu Promptlings (the original source can be found here)…

The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability,

how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate

through our intimacy with disappearance. 

David Whyte

The first thing that struck me was the fact that it’s taken for granted that we are all vulnerable. And sure, that rings true when you think about it. We all have our insecurities, our vulnerabilities, and they affect us in different ways. But, as this quote says, we have a choice in how we deal with these feelings. Personally, I feel that in all our interactions – with ourselves and with others – we would do well to remember that everyone is vulnerable in some way. We need to tread carefully, with empathy and sensitivity and loving-kindness, with others and with ourselves. And, I feel, we also have a duty towards ourselves and those around us to learn how to process these unsettling emotions so that they do not damage or even wreck our relationships.

The second thing  that stood out to me – and the word that really made me pause and think – was the notion of ‘disappearance’. Just what exactly does this guy mean? To be honest, I was stumped at first. Maybe I still am! For what it’s worth, this is what I think is going on…

The act of inhabiting your vulnerability implies accepting it without judgement, without fighting against it. In other words: mindfulness. And that is definitely a practise that encourages compassion. I also feel more confident when I am mindful – perhaps this is what the author is referring to when he speaks of courage. As for growing ‘larger’, this definitely seems to tie in with the sense of an extended consciousness and connecting to the energy that surrounds us.

And that, dear readers, is where we disappear. Through the practice of mindfulness, we lose the egocentric and often selfish mindset that seems to pervade our modern individualistic society. The notion of ‘self’ as a separate entity wanes in light of an expanded consciousness. And again, we have a choice regarding how (and if) we embrace this.

At first, it struck me as ironic that focusing less on the self leads to an empowered sense of identity, courage, compassion, and confidence. But then again, you have to have experienced and practised mindfulness in order to truly understand the value of surrendering what you regard as your ‘self’ in order to reach a more actualized state of being.

I choose to embrace this disappearance. Do you?

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I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing

I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing

It seems like I blinked and six months flew by without any blogging happening. At all. I can’t help but feel somewhat disappointed because I really enjoy writing. It’s a bit silly really, because it’s completely within my control. And yet, somehow it just hasn’t happened.

My life has been somewhat topsy turvy of late – but all in a good way.

In the last six months I have…

… discovered that I’m pregnant with my first child. Yay!!!

… learnt that morning sickness is not limited to the morning. Or the first trimester.

… put my work as a freelance writer on hold until I feel that I can juggle motherhood and working from home. Yes, I have reclaimed my title as a Lady of Leisure who Luncheons.

… enrolled in an Interior Design course. Possibly not the wisest timing, I grant you.

… enrolled in a blogging course. I’ve really got to work on this timing thing.

… realised just how much I enjoy sewing.

… exchanged my intense gym sessions for water aerobics with the aging population at the gym.

On Saturday I was determined to go to a yoga class. Like blogging, it simply hasn’t been a feature of my life for months. Although, truth be told, lingering nausea does make you think twice before bending and twisting your body for an hour. For whatever reason, I got a bee in my bonnet (as I am wont to do) and make my way to the Saturday afternoon yoga class. And I loved it! It felt so good and rejuvenating afterwards. I can’t believe that I managed without it for so long. So that’s what spurred me on to get writing again. I thought that if I could rediscover the joy of yoga this week, I should also plunge back into my blog.

And so here I am. But I have no plan for this post. I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. I’m also not too sure where this blog is going to go in the near future… So I have decided that I’m not going to have a plan. I’m just going to adopt a flexible outlook as I swiftly approach motherhood. Hopefully I will still find time to write and embark on other creative projects.

Ditch the blanket fort for some sunshine

Ditch the blanket fort for some sunshine

I love the sheer power of nature. Even in the most serene of settings, nature never fails to have a profound impact on me. To be honest, several hours before I wrote this post I felt awful. I felt that the only solution would be:

  1. glass bottle of Merlot
  2. Ferrero Rocher and Lindt chocolate
  3. a blanket fort.

But then I stepped outside and felt the warmth of the sun. A few hours later I realised that I had indeed needed three things to transform my mood. I had just thought of the wrong list. What really worked in the end was:

  1. a cup of green tea
  2. Autumn sunshine
  3. my hammock

This just reinforced my thoughts about nature that I’d had during a road trip… A few months ago whilst travelling through South Africa I had the opportunity to stay in many little towns along the way. There was one area, just outside one of these towns, that I found to be particularly magical. We stayed in a cottage luxurious unit in the middle of an ancient milkwood forest. We were surrounded by unspoilt fynbos as far as the eye could see. And where there wasn’t fynbos there were mesmerizing views of the sea and an incredibly beautiful bay. I felt truly immersed in nature. (No snide comments about the luxury accommodation, please.) In an incredibly short space of time we were able to completely relax and unwind. I really felt as though I was able to re-balance my body, mind and soul. It enabled me to be mindful, with remarkable results. Words simply cannot describe how my sense of wellbeing was completely transformed in this idyllic place. Whenever I enjoy spending time outdoors, I always have the same thought: we should do this more often. There really is a tangible healing power in nature. There’s some irony here too, because we wouldn’t need the curative powers of nature if our modern lifestyles didn’t take us away from nature in the first place. So we need nature to be a healing balm for the modern lifestyle, because this lifestyle prevents us from spending sufficient time in nature in the first place. Time for a change, methinks. What have been your healing and relaxing experiences in nature?

The scenes of poverty that challenged my belief in personal development

The scenes of poverty that challenged my belief in personal development

Have you ever had one of those moments when you feel like a complete bourgeois hypocrite? I recently had one such humbling moment.

If you know me and/or follow this blog you will know that I believe a great deal in what I see as the necessity of self development. I’m all for personal development, finding one’s purpose in life, discovering motivation and inspiration, creating fulfillment, and the list goes on…

A few months ago my husband and I spent a couple of weeks traveling around South Africa. The last week or so consisted of a road trip from the west coast, following the coastline all the way back to our home near the east coast.

(Can I please just mention here that it was an actual bona fide road trip with stops along the way etc. My pet hate is when people say they are going on a road trip whereas they are actually simply driving from Point A to Point B without doing anything along the way apart from getting petrol and having toilet breaks. That is just a drive. A commute. Stop trying to make those ordinary journeys sound like exciting adventures worthy of an art film. Okay, rant over. Whew.)

So we were nearing the end of our road trip. Many people advise not to drive the last stretch, and to simply get in a plane once you reach a certain point. We decided to drive the whole way in order to see more of our country.

This meant that we drove through some very poor, undeveloped regions. As we drove along winding bumpy roads rife with potholes, we had to avoid hitting not only pedestrians but cattle, horses, donkeys, pigs, goats, chickens, and dogs as well. What we saw was people consumed by the need to survive.

I really saw how so many people’s lives are consumed by the basic requirements for survival. We drove past people carrying water containers and large bundles of firewood. We saw people tending to crops and looking after herds of animals. And this was not some rosy idyllic country scene. This was poverty.

It was then that I felt so incredibly humbled. I’ve always known that I am fortunate to not live in poverty. But I suddenly realised that something like personal development, something that I see as a necessity, is actually a luxury. If your every waking moment is consumed with tasks and chores that are focused on looking after your basic needs, the idea of ‘working on yourself’ seems so embarrassingly bourgeois.

I don’t think I will disregard the notion of personal development. But I now see it as a luxurious indulgence. Because, after all, I now have a completely different perspective as to what really constitutes a problem in life.

I’d love to hear your views on this topic…

It’s time to ‘fess up

It’s time to ‘fess up

I have a confession. I’m becoming one of those people. The people who make you sigh, grimace, and roll your eyes. I’ve been sucked into the world of leading an organic and natural lifestyle. If you know what ACV is without referring to Google, then you’re one of us. And there’s no way out!

Coconut oil is a fad that might actually be worth all the fuss…

Just to be clear: this does not mean that I’m becoming some sort of woo-woo hippie who doesn’t adhere to modern hygiene. I shower daily and wash my hair regularly (more on ‘no poo’ later).

It all started innocently enough. Well, as innocent as it can be with Pinterest. As far as I can tell, only women suffer from this addiction.

Pinterest addiction

Beware: I have heard that men can adopt the tough love delete-your-app approach. But I think this only applies if you have a DIY Project board. Something about the words ‘but it shows you how on Pinterest – it’s so quick and easy’ is akin to an evil curse.

In our household the wording is more along the lines of ‘but I found it on Pinterest and it’s natural and doesn’t have chemicals’

This latest compulsive sage started when I happened across a few posts about natural alternatives to chemical detergents. I thought it was worth trying out. They sucked me in! It was the gateway drug of all things natural and organic. I read a few articles about the ingredients in ‘conventional’ detergents and toiletries and then there was no going back. (What’s worse, I’m not only guilty of addiction, I’m also guilty of dealing – leading to others’ Pinterest addictions.)

And then it snowballed: from detergents, to all sorts of products. In this way, Pinterest has an unfair advantage over those of us with a compulsive streak. Pinterest led me to Thank Your Body. Google led me to Faithful to Nature – and they courier the stuff to you. It’s all too easy and available. One kitchen cupboard is now dedicated to my stash.

Not that I’m a die-hard organic-or-nothing gal. I mean seriously, could they not have come up with a better term for ‘no poo’? It sounds like a constipated toddler rather than an alternative to chemical shampoo. Terms aside, I still believe in the aim of all things natural.

My aim from the beginning has been to eliminate as many chemical toxins from our home as possible. And I feel good about that. But it got me thinking about the broader meaning of toxicity. Make sure you read my next post about emotional toxicity and how it’s everywhere and needs to be eradicated (just like those carcinogenic germs)…

I’d love to hear from you. What’s your take on going the organic and natural route?

The best time to adopt a better lifestyle

The best time to adopt a better lifestyle

I have this theory that the timers on cardio machines were developed in Hell. They operate slowly in order to extend your torture and agony. There is no way that twenty minutes on a treadmill is the same as twenty minutes in real time. It’s some sort of Hellish cosmic joke where we’re all victims of this never-ending hoax. And then, to add insult to injury, we keep on returning to gym.

Sometimes I get the better of the hoax and avoid the gym. But then I get sucked in again. And the agony is always worse once you return after a break.

You know that feeling when you are sweating it out and you need to distract yourself from what you are enduring? I was on the rowing machine at gym, looking out the large glass windows at the trees on the surrounding hills. The beautiful colour of the changing colours of Autumnal leaves captured my attention.

There was one tree that really caught my eye. The changing colours were incredible. Perhaps it stood out so predominantly because the forest behind it was still green. Even in Nature, things grow and develop at different times.

So it was okay that I was only on the rowing machine in May, my first real attempt to kick-start what should have been New Year’s resolutions. If trees can adapt to the seasons at different rates, so can we.

I had been beating myself up (not literally – that would be too excessive even for me) about the fact that it had taken several months for me to get my A into G. I realised that ‘should’ often involves undue criticism. We worry about what we should be doing, what we should look like, what we should be earning, and when we should achieve all this.

But that just focuses on the negative and fosters criticism of ourselves and others. It’s not about a specific date. It doesn’t matter when you start. So what if I only got back on track with a healthy lifestyle in May? The point is that I have. Who cares when I will get to the level of fitness that I once reached? The point is that I will at some point. Hell, I might even surpass it.

healthy lifestyle

So when is the best time to adopt a better lifestyle? It’s not about when. It’s not even really about how. It’s about developing a habit organically because you enjoy the process. And that is what my next post is all about: the truth about developing new habits.

When did you do something later than you ‘should’ have, only to realise the irrelevance of the timing and your self-criticism?