Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Time & Place to Reflect

Whether or not our lives have been directly touched by the rigours or horrors of wartime experience, Anzac Day has undoubtedly become Australia’s most hallowed day of the year. A time to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their loved ones, their country, their mates and for the freedom we hold dear.

We set aside this day to commemorate a moment in history when our country took its place on the world stage alongside the Allied troops, thrown into a battlefield on an almost suicidal mission. The stories from that little cove in Gallipoli have become part of this country’s mythology, and have followed our troops all over the globe into countless war zones since.

I recently read Alex Miller’s novel The Ancestor Game, an interesting delve into the lives of several characters from foreign shores living in Australia before, during and after the Second World War. Lang Tzu is Chinese, and his telling of the invention of the gazebo structure made me think about those who take on the roles of lookouts and sentries while the remainder of the troops can rest in the knowledge that their welfare is of prime concern.

Commonly seen as an ornamental structure in a traditional English garden, the gazebo was actually a Chinese invention, a room built on to the roof of a family home for the purpose of looking out over the fields for the approach of any enemy forces. At dawn each day, the father would head up to the gazebo to sit for many hours watching and waiting in order to protect his family and village, but over the generations, as rivalries ceased and the need to keep watch became unnecessary, the gazebo lost its original purpose. With the advent of peace though, an interesting phenomenon began to emerge.

Those who’d sat for hours and watched began to miss the solitary time they’d spent in the gazeboThe long hours alone had revealed to them something which they could otherwise never have discovered for themselves in the world at ground level. Alone in the gazebo they had learned how to reflect on their experience. They had discovered the hidden beauties of solitary contemplation.

To gaze inward had become an established custom with them, and they found when they came down that they could no longer live happily without it…In the busy world of the daily routine of the village, where no one ever had a moment to stop and think but where everyone had to either get on or risk falling behind, those who had come down from their gazebos now found themselves to be strangers.

They soon found it necessary to return to their gazebos in order to satisfy the deep need for solitary reflection, in many cases abandoning their families and responsibilities to the extent where they moved or were forced to remove their rooftop gazebos and relocate them away from the house. Hence the modern day gazebo has become a structure situated away from the house, a retreat from the business of the day, a place to sit and rest and turn one’s thoughts inward while looking outward on the surroundings.

Some of us fear the world of contemplation and reflection. It can easily spiral into a self deprecating ‘woe is me’ or ‘I’m a failure’ navel gazing type of thing, so we prefer to keep barrelling on, maintaining a level of busy-ness which leaves no room for setting apart quiet times to think about the bigger picture and where we fit in it all.

Many fear darkening the doorway of a church and sitting in a pew in case they are challenged by something said from the pulpit, causing them to examine their lives. But no one has that same fear when it comes to attending a dawn service on Anzac Day. We listen with reverence to the words spoken on this sacred day, and pause to reflect not only what those who have gone before us have done, but on whether or not we would have the same degree of courage should we have to face such dire circumstances. It is often in those moments we feel we come up wanting, but there is also a sense of humility, inspiration and hope.

Reflection isn’t totally an inward activity. In contemplating not only who we are, but who and what we could be, the world beyond our own little bubble takes on more significance.  The benefits of time spent alone can have profound and far reaching ramifications as we find fresh ways of expressing who we are, as well as serving those around us. We may not have a gazebo to retreat to, but finding a quiet place on a regular basis to monitor how we’re going, how our inner world is standing up under day to day pressures, whether what we’re doing is bringing personal fulfilment, whether we’re contributing to the lives of others rather than taking, must surely be a positive thing.

Fascinating that this ancient structure designed to keep a sharp lookout for the enemy may have just lived up to its original purpose. Looking outward, while working on our emotional and spiritual well being, actually could alert us to the danger signs of self interest and complacency.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Wade in the Water, Swim in the Sea

I’m having trouble remembering exactly how long it’s been since I ventured into the ocean, apart from in a boat that is. Paddling in the shallows in Tasmanian waters is not the most inviting of pastimes, even in summer, unless you want frozen toes, and my last recollection of getting completely wet while at the beach ended in pain and suffering from a bluebottle jellyfish sting back in my Queensland days in the early 90s.

Have traversed Bass Strait via the Spirit of Tasmania on a number of occasions, a few of which have been far from smooth sailing, but there was never a question that I wasn’t safe and secure. I love walking along the beach fossicking in rock pools and watching a perfect sunset reflected on the water. Walking into a bracing wind along a pier with the waves broiling underneath makes me feel alive, and the sight of yachts and fishing boats tied up at their moorings herald a whole other world of enjoyment, challenge, livelihood and lifestyle.

The ocean has a lot going for it, but its moods can change, and if you’re not prepared, danger is not far away. Nightly news broadcasts offer up tragedies on a regular basis, from anglers swept off the rocks, to shark attacks, dangerous rips, an innocent day’s fishing with mates ending in loss of life, storms whipping up the sea into a frenzy from which many never return. Many a day on or in the water begun in excited anticipation has ended in disaster.

But we keep heading out there. For some reason we are not deterred and probably, somewhat foolishly, believe we are somehow immune from such mishaps. I watch with incredible admiration the exploits of those who pit their skills against the elements and succeed, but there are those like me who tend to watch from the safety of the shoreline with a degree of envy for those who are game to take the risk.

The imagery is pretty obvious here I know, but I wonder sometimes how much of my life is lived with barely a toe poked in the water. The water is inviting, lots of people seem to be quite at ease and having a great time, but there’s some pretty scary stuff out there too. You don’t have to venture far before you can find you’re out of your depth, not to mention the rocks strategically placed for you to crash into, or the creatures of the deep lying in wait to scare the living daylights out of you or devour you if they feel like it.

We all have our daily battles, whether external or internal, and both can be as debilitating when it comes to finding our place in the world and feeling like we matter and have a purpose. Facing what has to be done in the next year, month, week, day or even minute, for progress to be made, skills developed, confidence and trust to be built, for hope to rise that the future can be so much more than the present, takes courage.

Venturing from the known to the unknown always holds elements of both excitement and fear, and unfortunately most of us rarely get to see what we’re capable of because the obstacles overwhelm us. To move beyond the fear, to see beyond the rocks, we actually have to venture further than the water lapping around our ankles and make a move, a first step, a commitment.

We have to wade in the water, swim in the sea.

Friday, April 6, 2012

2012 - Not what I'd expected

So far, 2012 is languishing waaay down the bottom of my list of favourite years. Since the end of January my old war wound of a back injury came back to haunt me big time, warranting a ride in an ambulance, some unnamed weird virus laid me low, broke a tooth, had a 3 day migraine, plus a mild attack of shingles which was probably sparked by said unnamed virus, nearly swallowed a jack jumper ant which could’ve killed me, and 3 major jack jumper ant nests in the garden have since sprung up and needed to be dealt with.

No doubt they heard along the grapevine that one of their mates had been slaughtered through no fault of his own, and put a three pronged strategy into place to do away with me once and for all. In the end I won, with not a sting having found its mark, not bad seeing as I squooshed at least two hundred or more as they fled from the ant powder.

But that’s not all, or should I say, that’th not all. Bethideth breaking a tooth which wath filled a couple of weekth ago, the tooth next to it had to come out the other day. Poor old molar had been living on borrowed time for quite a while and wath cauthing an infection, tho after two X-rayth and much dithcuthon, out it came. That wathn’t the bad part though, in fact there wath altho a funny part, but the down thide wath that the tooth which wath filled now had a razor tharp edge on it which I didn’t dithcover until the numbneth went away.

Thuddenly I had thith Mt Everetht carving up the underthide of my tongue which I’m having to put up with until the firtht working day after Eathter. Hard to eat, I thound like I’m thpeaking with a mouthful of marthmallowth. Very difficult to keep your tongue behind your bottom teeth I’ve found, it really doth have a mind of itth own, but not thpeaking ith minimithing the damage.

The amusing part of the whole thing was the injections before the whole drama. After two injections I didn’t seem to be going numb in the right place, so to make sure I wasn’t going to feel anything, in went injection number 3, giving me a facial block. Wasn’t till I was driving home I realised what a facial block does. My right eye wouldn’t close, it was like I’d tripped and landed face first in a box of Botox needles, and my left eye was blinking furiously wondering why its mate wasn’t cooperating. Rather disconcerting, had to hold my eye shut, took a few hours to wear off before it could close of its own accord.

So with all these things assailing me from left and right, I’m trusting this is not a foretaste of what this year has in store for me. I’m tending towards a more positive outlook, hoping that my entire year’s ills have been dealt with in one fell swoop, and that the rest of the year is ready and waiting for me to take it on at full throttle.

That ith, ath thoon ath I get thith darn tooth thmoothed off.