Breathing in Bago

My three words are with me all of the time. They guide me and moreso, remind me why they are chosen.  It is not always easy to follow them and that reminds me that this is the very reason I need them.

Breathe ………..

Stargaze ………….

Realise ……………    they remind me.

Life continues to be intense here, the pace rapid and pressure too high.  “Breathe“, my mantra whispers to me.  “I know“, I reply to myself.  “I know.  I’m trying“.

My weekends have glimpses of rest and escape from the frenzy, but recently I found the weekends were increasingly squeezed and the weeks stretching.  Breathing was an effort.

Respite eventually came the first weekend of March with two public holidays – one on a Monday, another the Wednesday.  It was easy to take a leave day for the Tuesday and plan an retreat and space to breathe.

Energy levels were low, time was fairly short and the nervous investment as well as financial for flights to be kept at a minimum.  I decided to head out of town to Bago, a city just over an hour north of Yangon, and one which for a number of reasons I had never properly visited.

Bago is rich in temples and history.  From 1369–1539 it served as capital of the Mon Hanthawaddy Kingdom, which covered all of what is now Lower Myanmar.

I opted to stay out of town, in a tranquil haven with understated style and views across the plains. A small swimming pool and surrounds of trees, crowded with busy birds provided what I craved. The space to breathe, and gradually unwind.  I could feel tense muscles starting to relax and my thoughts begin to slow as I focused more on my surroundings and less on the mental baggage I was attempting to shed.

For two whole days I focused on breathing. I read. I swam. I wrote. I pondered.  I watched the colours of the sky change and the birds chit chat as they flitted from branch to branch and tree to tree.

Breathing

Breathing

As the hours of the third day moved forwards, I decided to venture into Bago City itself.  You can’t visit Bago and not soak in the atmosphere of the temples. The heat was already gone from the afternoon sun and soft golden rays reaching lazily across the landscape.  The perfect time to visit temples.

Impressive Shwe Maw Daw Temple is reminiscent of Shwe Dagon in Yangon.

Shwe Maw Daw Temple in the late afternoon sun

Shwe Maw Daw Temple in the late afternoon sun

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A visit to the  famous python, said to be 123 years old and revered as a nat reincarnation is important.  Money is given and prayers chanted.  Happily the python seemed to bee sleepy, even if watching carefully.

he famous python, said to be 123 years old and revered as a nat reincarnation. Happily sleepy

he famous python, said to be 123 years old and revered as a nat reincarnation. Happily sleepy

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A visit to Hintha Gon Temple was perfectly time as the sun was now orange, and throwing deep, soft beams into the corners of the temple and creating a glow in the sky.

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Steps into HIntha Gon Temple

Steps into HIntha Gon Temple

Looking over to Shwe Maw Daw as the light fades

Looking over to Shwe Maw Daw as the light fades

The view over to Shwe Maw Daw was breathtaking from Hintha Gon and I spent as long as I could, breathing and watching.

Shwe Maw Daw from Hintha Gon at sunset

Shwe Maw Daw from Hintha Gon at sunset

 

Sun streaming in HIntha Gon temple

Sun streaming in HIntha Gon temple

Setting sun through wooden carving - HIntha Gon

Setting sun through wooden carving – HIntha Gon

 

Sun setting through the wooden carving at Hintha Gon

Sun setting through the wooden carving at Hintha Gon

The light was slowly bleeding from the sky as I called in at the reclining Buddha before retuning to Bago under a night sky.

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The following afternoon, after another evening of pondering and breathing, it was time to return to Yangon. I was refreshed and revitalised and more than ever bow to the importance of breathing.

I learned that B is for breathe. B is for Bago.

breathing in bago

Thank you, Bago, and for providing this space to breathe.

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The Waiting Room

waiting roomI knew that the word “breathe” was an important one for me this year.  So important, that I do believe that the choice was not in fact mine, and more an insistence.

Nor did I realise that I have in fact been holding my breath for some time now.  For at least three months in fact, since the last round of Big Checks in October.

I have been on six monthly checks since reaching two years on from diagnosis apart from a glitch following the embolism, and more recently with my endocrinologist requesting 3 month reviews.  My last set of checks in October were difficult in that there were some question marks around the tumour markers in particular.  Dr W2 did not find them alarming enough to warrant immediate further investigation, but he felt that 6 months was too long to wait for the next review.  Hence I turned up at the hospital doors on Thursday, clutching my appointment slips, my best nervous smile and that familiar sense of letting go as yu are led through the coming hours of medical process. As always I had fasted overnight, and as always turned up first of all at Counter 2 to set things in motion.  And that is where I was met by surprise Number 1. Yes, I should have the blood draw first, but then was X Ray.  X Ray?  I had no idea that had been requested and when I expressed my surprise the nursing team showed me the slip and the tick against X Ray box.

Things happen so quickly and in no time the blood had been drawn and I had had my surprise chest X Ray, was dressed again and back at Counter 3,  It was not even 9 am! The team suggested that rather than waiting to see Dr A, the endocrinologist later in the morning, I should come back at 5 pm and see both Doctors. This was a real bonus as it meant I could return back to the hotel and have the breakfast which I usually miss due to the fasting and subsequent appointments.  It was surreal being back in the hotel, breakfasting with fellow guests yet feeling that I had somehow already spent the best part of a day at the hospital. The surgical tape and dressing on my arm were a clear sign though that I had not imagine this.

Then begins the Waiting Time.  I adamantly refuse to use this time well because I feel it tempts fate to do anything which resembles planning or makes any assumptions about the future.  The hair appointment is a classic example.  I will not even phone for an appointment to rid my hair of an encroaching silver topping until I have met with the Doctors.  No point in planning a hair cut if the hair were to go again.  Paranoid thoughts, I know, but having had to change plans so many times in the past due to unexpected tests and worries means that I have swung to the opposite end of the planning spectrum during the the time of the checks.  Not until I am at the pharmacy counter with a new bag of meds and an envelope with my results and appointment slips for months ahead, do I return to a planning frame of mind.

After breakfast I headed out to do a few errands, and then headed to a favourite waiting place, a peaceful tea room in a quiet corner of an otherwise manic shopping mall.  This place feels peaceful and although my mind is not, I take comfort in extended pots of tea and people watching.

Eventually, it is time to return to Counter 2 and the start of the nervous, serious waiting.  By this time, I know the score.  I have a number of conflicting scenarios in my head which range from “everything is fine, I am worrying about nothing” through to “I must savour this time, because it is all going to change again…”.

Soon I am called to see Dr A.  Smiles all round.  He is pleased with my bloodwork and examination.  Sugar is stable, so diabetes still held at bay, thyroid stable, kidney and liver functions all fine and the cholesterol has gone down a good chunk.  I had been really upset when the switch to Femara had been accompanied by rising cholesterol levels which diet and exercise did nothing to slow.  So he was very pleased and happy to extend the review time a little.  Though when he saw that Dr W, the surgeon will see me in April, he suggested that we align the checks to save the need for separate visits. Very encouraging indeed.

I left his consulting room with a smile, and returned to the Waiting Area. I realised that he had not given me the set of results as he usually does, and I had not been able to catch sight of the tumour markers. And those were the key results which were in the spotlight.  It was those results back in October which had concerned Dr W2.  And I know that it is not the number which is important, but the trend.  This set of results would show whether there was an upward trend or not, and if so how dramatic that might be.  I started on a new worry trail.  That Dr A had seen the markers and knew that there was no point in worrying me before I would discuss with Dr W2. When I have commented on tumour marker results in the past during Dr A;s appointment he will agree that the result is good or that needs some conversation with Dr W2 if raised.  The longer I waited, the more I found it difficult not to speculate on the number, again veering between willing it to be low and fearing it to be significantly raised.

I never manage to read or distract myself in the Waiting Room.  I sit quietly, watching, waiting and worrying. Soon I heard Dr W2 arrive, his voice reaching his room before he did. The waiting cranks up a gear.

And then I am called to his consulting room and we exchange Happy New Year wishes.  He never beats about the bush and told me that everything was fine, bloods good and the surprise X Ray fine.  And the tumour markers?  I venture.  “33” was his answer.  And that was a good answer indeed. Still above the reference range (which is up to 22.  22 “whats” I have no idea, but up to 22 of them is “normal”.)  When switching to Femara my results jumped from around 20 to 32m which prompted the bone and CT scans and Great Angst.  They have since hovered between 30 and 32 until the checks in October which showed another jump to 37.  Not a huge jump, but again it is the trend which is important. A drop to 33 was good. Dr W2 was happy.  He asked usual questions about bone pain, and continues to keep an eye on bones.  And then he suggested that he review again at the same time as Dr W and then if all is good return to 6 monthly checks.  And that was the BEST piece of information possible, all things considered. Perfect.

I left his room beaming, really relieved and realised that it has in fact been a long time since all of the Doctors have been happy and that things are properly back on track.  As I slowly breathed out I realised that I have been holding my breath for a very long time. I had been particularly despondent at the last set of checks with their “five year” status holding such significance, and with me taking a step backwards it felt.  At last now, I feel I am moving forward.

As always, even with the best of news, I am never of a mind to celebrate or leap around “high fiving”.  Rather I find myself subdued and reflective.  And emotional.  By the time I was in the taxi back to the hotel, I was struggling to hold back those tears, trying to quietly blub.  But that is not easy – I am not good at silent sobbing, and found myself trying to swallow back the strange noises and not give the taxi driver cause for alert!  It was fortunate that the Bangkok traffic was typically busy and provided ample time for composure before I arrived back at the hotel, Relieved, depleted and quietly thankful.

I know that the Waiting Room in April will again be tense, and that there are no guarantees that the good results this time will automatically follow through.  But I do know that I feel lighter than I have for a very long time.  And that is something to hold tight and savour as I continue to breathe deeply and thankfully.

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Moving into 2015 with three words to guide and inspire

Written 1st January 2015

As the New Year of 2015 dawns I find myself in one very special place on the planet. A space in the remote hills of Laos, amidst unspoilt, undeveloped nature with only the sound of water falling and birds singing..A serene and tranquil space for a mind wishing to step aside from the bustle and noise of the 21st Century. For this is also a space without internet connectivity. This means that you will only read this several days into 2015, when I return to the world of instant communication.

LP hillside 6The first day of the year has dawned unexpectedly bright. The past couple of days have seen cloud and a heavy, cold mist bathing the hills. This first day of 2015 sees no cloud in the sky, a whispering breeze nudging leaves and branches. Butterflies are flitting from bush to bush in a silence so deep you can almost hear their wings fluttering. In the distance, a cockerel is wishing a Happy New Year to any soul who may be listening.

This is the right time for me to set out the three words I have chosen to guide and inspire me throughout 2015.

This is a process I have been following now since the close of 2009. At that time I was truly in the thick of treatment with two rounds of surgery, three cycles of chemo and that life-changing stage 3 cancer diagnosis only just behind me. As Facebook feeds were filling with New Year’s Resolutions, I spotted something different. This suggested selecting three words to shape and guide the year ahead. This resonated powerfully with me and I had no trouble choosing three words for 2010. These words stayed with me throughout the year and as that year came to a close, I found myself reflecting and thinking of the year ahead and how I wanted to shape that. It is no secret that this has become a practice which has been truly alive and meaningful for me, not just at the start of the year, but throughout every month, week and even day of the year. They keep me on track and motivated and the practice of choosing the words itself is one which helps me to focus on the way ahead.

Before I share my words for the coming year, I want to spend a little time reflecting back on 2014 and how the mantra has served me.

My first word for 2014 has been dedication. This has had a variety of meanings for me. I selected it to build on the previous year’s choice of “focus” which had been particularly useful for me. Dedication pushed me to ensure that I devoted attention to those matters which are important and which often I do not enjoy, or put off, as well as the ones I do. This also relates to the importance of taking care of myself, physically and emotionally and to set aside time and attention for people and activities which are important and not necessarily those which are the most demanding. This was also a prompt to give time to those mundane but necessary tasks and chores but also those creative and wellbeing activities which can be swept aside if we squander our time.

I found dedication a challenge in that I struggled to stay true to the notion of dedicating time and attention where I aimed to. I knew that there were challenges in the year, and this is linked to the middle word, integrity, and I found it extremely difficult to maintain a balance especially. The five sticky plan, as quirky as it sounds, certainly helped to ensure that I did focus over the weekends, but more and more I have found myself squeezing out elements related to my creativity and wellbeing, and have fallen behind in personal emails and connection with friends and family. However, this does not tell me that I have failed. That is where I find that the words have a beauty and a value which I have not seen in a “resolution”. There is in fact, no such thing as fail. It means that as I reflect and review the year’s words, this helps to refine and sharpen how I need to focus and concentrate for the coming year.

My second word of the year, my core word has been integrity. I knew that this would be critical. I knew that there were challenges ahead and that I needed this guide to ensure that I approached these in a way which did not compromise my principles, yet which I would be sure to make decisions and act in the right way. Indeed many of those challenges did materialise, and I did find them demanding, draining and often upsetting. Many though, did not transform. Other unexpected ones of course did appear too. I found myself placing the “integrity lens” in front of me more and more as the year progressed. In major decisions and actions, just taking time to pause and think whether I was acting with integrity was enough to confirm or rethink what I planned to do. Increasingly, though I found that I was applying the integrity lens to so much more, the most everyday of tasks. I found myself pausing for the most tiny of actions, like taking a moment to pick up litter which I saw dropped in front of me for example, to seek out the jasmine seller instead of scurrying inside the building if I did not have the right change handy, to make an extra effort and send an email which I knew would be welcomed. I cannot pretend though that this always comes easily. I know that I operate most comfortably with the path of least resistance and distinctly dislike and avoid conflict and argument. So this has often pushed me into uncomfortable terrain, but I have found that rationalising this an ensuring that it is the true and right thing to do, that it is consistent with my true principles and values, then I have found that this gives strength to do so.

Using the integrity lens is something which will stay with me. ”Is this the right thing to do?” “What is the right thing to do?” these are questions which frame so many of my decisions now that it has become a reflex.

My third word of 2014 has been flair. My creative and writing year has been a landmark one in many senses with the most significant event being the publication of the Dragonfruit Anthology. This has been a huge milestone for me, seeing my name in print, in proper pages on real paper and even available on Amazon! Of course, my name is on the back of the book as I am but one contributor amongst 26 women writers. But this is a major step forward in my writing self, a Biggie on the Writing CV. More than this though, is what I have learned through the process. My short piece was selected from a number of submissions and then we went through a process of editing, contracting, selection of title and cover art and then the subsequent promotion and reviews. I learned a great deal from my writing being edited by a Real Editor, seeing my work from a reader’s perspective and understanding a great deal of the publishing process. As well as how much I was sheltered from the hard work which accompanies this. Reading reviews of the anthology has also taught me a great deal and has helped me refine and re-think my current writing projects.

Perhaps I have not been able to devote as much time as I would have liked to the flair side of my life. I know that this has been compromised by the demands of living and working in such an intense environment of change. But still, I feel that I have made major steps forward. Working on Dragonfruit has helped me to refocus on my main writing work, the memoir. In addition to this, I have started working closely with two others from our writing group and set up a “writing buddy” system. We are all working on very similar projects, and in addition to sharing our work as it evolves in the writing group, we are working closely together to provide peer support and critique on our very specific topics. This has given me an enormous boost and has helped me to completely review and refine the nature of the memoir. That I will talk about in more detail in the coming days or weeks, but for now I feel that flair has been a very welcome guide for the creative side of my year.

With these reflections, it is now time to look ahead and share my chosen words for 2015.

This year I have been surprised by the process of selection of the words.

Indeed, I believe that at least one of the words has not been selected by me, but rather the word has continuously spoken to me, whispering in my ear consistently and over several weeks. Instead of me deliberately selecting this word, I feel as if this word has persuaded me of its importance. I am convinced.

I very much see the need to be more deliberate and intentional. I need to prioritise balance and well-being and not allow myself to be sucked in and swallowed up by matters which are pressing and urgent but not the most important necessarily. I need to take time to breathe. My first word, and the thought foremost in my mind as I move into 2015 is breathe. I need to savour the “now”, to pause and breathe in a way I have forgotten to. I have been drawn to practices of meditation and mindfulness in the past and I am keen to drawn on these now. Breathe is also a reminder to look after my health and wellbeing. My daily cycle and swim do far more than provide an hour of exercise. During the swim in particular, I find myself breathing, and reflecting. So many problems have been solved, ideas have come into being and been nurtured, challenges have been faced and tears have been shed. I must take time to breathe, regenerate and heal this year.

Twice in the past weeks, and again now for longer, I have stepped out of the 21st Century and the dependence we seem to be developing on connectivity in particular. Something which I am increasingly finding to be rather a double edged sword. I love what connectivity has brought to me, particularly living so far from friends and family in Scotland and in connecting me with others in a similar situation. I love being able to track down answers when a puzzle catches me, or share my latest photos, speak with family and friends around the globe. But at the same time, I find myself losing and squandering time. The same connectivity brings so much also takes away. As a butterfly I am too easily distracted and can surface from a path I have been drawn down to find that too much time has passed. It is time to pause, disengage with the fast life which we now live, and breathe, refocus on what matters.

The second word has been a little elusive. I have been looking for something to emphasise the creative side and continue to push myself. I toyed with various words – imagine, muse, ponder…… Dream was one word which especially resonated, one which made me look beyond and push myself. I also liked stretch which conveyed my desire to push beyond boundaries and my usual comfort zones, to experiment a little. And then I stumbled upon stargaze. This has a variety of nuances which all capture what I want to convey. When I was little I was fascinated by the night sky following a visit to London Planetarium. Suddenly the sky had taken on a whole life. I had charts of the constellations in my bedroom, and used to gaze upwards at night time when the sky was clear. I lived in a remote part of Scotland when I was young and there was absolutely no light pollution at all. On a clear night Orion and his belt and the Great Bear, or Ursa Major as I consistently called it, were clearly visible. While I was in Mongolia, one of my most vivid memories is that of gazing at the night sky out in the countryside where there was the greatest expanse of land and sky imaginable. The climate is so dry and arid, and the country mostly at altitude so that this all combines to provide a sky bursting with life at night. The sky is almost milky and crowded with an unbelievable amount of stars. I have never seen anything like it anywhere else. This nightsky fascination is also evident in my wish bucket, you will see that I maintain a longing to see Saturn and its rings through a telescope.

So stargaze is a good choice for me, in its mix of meanings – literal as well as figurative. It speaks to me of imagining, of going beyond, of limitless opportunities and scope. It provides a limitless landscape for creativity and musing. It speaks of shining through darkness. It reminds me not to be constrained by practicalities and things which can be overcome.

How apt that I spent the passage from 2014 to 2015 under the stars, quietly reflective and appreciative of the peaceful space I have been in.

As the mantra for 2015 takes shape, there is one dimension which is also important to me. This builds on focus from 2013 and dedication from 2014. I wasn’t to take this a stage further now and ensure that I produce results and tangible outcomes. Like a book. With my name on the front cover. Or at the very least, a manuscript.

In one of my previous jobs I had the opportunity to do a Belbin assessment. This is a tool which identifies your predominant traits an provides labels for them. The types are plant, resource investigator, coordinator, shaper, monitor  evaluator, teamworker, implementer and completer/finisher. I was predominantly a plant, and very happy to be so. A plant is creative, unorthodox and a generator of ideas- an original thinker. I love the idea of being a plant. I also found that my lowest feature is that of being a completer/finisher. That did not come as a surprise, but rather a realisation and confirmation. I am that butterfly, caught by new ideas and inspiration and although I love a perfect and finished product I am the world’s worst at doing this myself. I am useless at seeing something through because I get bored with it and am drawn to new and exciting projects, leaving them strewn around me as I bound off towards ideas anew.

This year I want to realise many of these projects and see them through. I want to make it happen and actually finish many of the half baked pieces of work I have. I want to see dreams turn to reality by applying myself more and making that conscious effort.

Realise also has a variety of meanings, which resonate. The importance of being aware and understanding is a priority and links nicely to breathe. It pushes me to think things through and understand the whole process of my undertakings. It encourages me to commit to the wholeness of projects, not only my writing goals, but particularly related to those goals. This year I want to deliver.

So my mantra is complete for 2015 and although I cannot share these until I return to that 21st century connectivity which I have stepped away from, I am grasping them eagerly as I move forward, whispering them to myself in reassurance in motivation.

Breathe, stargaze and realise.

Since I started this in 2009, every year my words have served me well and many stay with me. I can remember each word and each three word mantra, and the year to which it relates. As in previous years, my 2014 words have provided a guide and inspiration and kept me on the path I want to tread. I find that my 2015 words additionally have a logical flow to them, they set out a direction. First of all I must remember to pause and breathe. I can look upwards and allow my mind to move beyond boundaries.  Then I have to aim to realise…..

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Yes, indeed. Breathe, stargaze, realise……….. Good morning and welcome, 2015.