A personal review of 2016 through the lens of the 3 word mantra

As I sit in these emerald hills, on retreat, I have much to occupy my mind and my body in the coming days. This is a time of replenishment, to build energy and health after a year of immense change. This is a time for reflection over the past months, and a time to focus on the coming year. It is a time to open my eyes to see what is new and extraordinary around me, and a time to close my eyes in rest and meditative thought. It is a time to pick up the pen and notebook and shake off months of silence. A time to pause and lift up my camera when I see a new type of bird or flower. These are days to walk in the hills, listen to the roar of the waterfall and marvel at the lava rocks. To sit in a hammock and doze. There is much to do on retreat.

This is a fitting time to look back over the year and where it has taken me, through the lens of my 2016 three word mantra “reorient, nurture and crystalize”. I have, in past years, reflected back on the mantra from which I am moving on, and shared the new set of three words at the same time. This year, I find that I am separating these and as the days of 2016 draw to a close I share a review of the words while still refining the words I will choose for 2017. They will be revealed when they are ready, as early into the new year as possible.

Reorient

At the end of 2015, I had already experienced a great shift but I knew that there would have to be even more significant change ahead. I knew that this was likely to involve a new job and possibly a relocation. Furthermore, I knew that I had to recalibrate my inner compass. This was apparent in the choice of my first word “reorient”. I had no idea of the massive changes ahead, ones which have been needed and exciting, but demanding physically, mentally and emotionally. I had no idea that as the mid point of the year approached, I would be leaving Myanmar, my home, my colleagues and friends and my familiar surroundings. It did not for a moment occur to me that I would also leave the continent which had been my home for the past 16 years. Leave Asia? Impossible! But that is what happened. In the early hours of a June morning, just before daylight, I was on my way to Yangon airport with too much luggage and a little dog, with a ticket to Africa in my hand, a yellow fever certificate, a thick folder full of canine export/import documentation and a contract for a new and inspiring position a day’s travel away. The transition has been rapid, with little time for adjustment or recuperation before launching into the new life where I have had so much to learn.

Reorientation has been such an apt word. I have truly been going through a process of reorientation mentally, physically and professionally. I had not realised how “Asia-centric” I had become. My compass has been firmly set in Asia. I know how far it is to Europe, to Australia and other parts of Asia. I know how much the time differences are, and I know how long it takes to get to these places. Living in Africa has shaken my compass. I cannot get my mind to understand that I am only one or two hours ahead of UK time now, depending on the time of year, yet the journey is so long. How can it be that the flight to Amsterdam takes seven or eight hours, yet I do not need to change my watch? This is reorientation I could not have imagined. It has been challenging, but revitalising to realise that such a shift is underway.

Nurture

My second word has been “nurture”. This has been important, because with such great change comes mental and physical exhaustion in a new and unfamiliar place. It is important to nurture the soul and find like minds, to nurture my professional and personal growth, and to nurture my health. I feel as if I have been transplanted, and need to be nurtured and looked after in order to thrive. This has been more difficult, and I have work still to do here. The journeys of the year have been demanding, and in a post cancer and “not getting any younger” life, there have been health blips. I also need to nurture my creative side, which has been neglected. In that, there could be a suggestion for the coming three word mantra.

Crystalize

The final word of 2016 has been “crystalize”, a beautiful word which mirrors “reorient”. After change and tumult, there needs to be a settling into the new. All aspects of my new life must take shape and crystalize into a firm shape so that I can truly settle. This has also complemented “thrive” in that it is important to be deliberate and intentional as I settle. I brought few, but a few possessions from my Asian, and especially Burmese life into Africa. Now I have a little creative writing corner in my African home which is distinctly Burmese in character.

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I am working on finding creative spaces, similar to the writing group, the book club, and photography group which were important aspects to my life in Myanmar. This process of crystallization will take time, but is underway.

This year has been one of journey. I have travelled a greater distance than ever before, in every sense. I have tales to tell of these journeys and stepping foot on new continents. But for now, through the lens of my three words, this is my personal review of 2016.

This has been a tumultuous year globally, and I cannot begin to relate this to the changes in my own world. While the year has been kinder to me than most of recent years, this has not been the case for many close to me, and certainly not a global trend. I am thankful for 2016, yet appreciate and understand that this is not the case more broadly. I wish for kindness and humility across the world in the coming year.

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As the sun sets on the outgoing year, let us all pledge to do what each of us can to make 2017 a good year.

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Retreat

If there is something I have learned over the past years, it is this. I thrive in retreat. I embrace being in nature and far from crowds, madding or otherwise. I don’t need entertainment or sophisticated surroundings. I can sit and listen to the river flowing, the breeze in the trees and the sounds of critters and birds about their daily work. I have learned that this is important for my wellbeing and in fact is the most effective way to replenish energy and refresh my body and soul.

This year has been intense. Globally, we have seen and felt shockwaves we could never have believed, and we have heard the anguish of those affected by hate and conflict. The year has been one of enormous change for me personally, and one which has been healthy in many ways but its intensity has left me drained and spent. I need to face the coming year with energy and renewed enthusiasm. And for that I have again retreated, and ventured far to do so.

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This means that the silence of the past weeks on this space is being gently lifted as I put together reflections and share with you some details of this retreat. I am working on the three words for the coming year and catching up with the past months. The Feisty Blue Gecko has been but resting and is ready to emerge refreshed.

To set the tone and provide a taste of what is to come, I share now a picture of my new neighbour, a sweet little blueish bird the likes of which I have never seen before, who was busy eyeing up this avocado while managing to pose for me.

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My eyes are open, my ears are listening and my mind is letting go of the intensity of the past months. Let the revitalisation begin.

Seasonal reflections of Glasgow and Glaswegians

We are reminded that lie is fragile, precarious and precious especially in the past few days. I have lived in many places in my life, and the most years I have spent in one spot happens to be Glasgow.

Glasgow is city of extraordinary people.  A city of humour which makes my sides ache, quips and comments in the everyday chatter which are insightful and so often wickedly funny.  A city of rich diversity and resilience.  A city of culture and kultyer. A city of unique fabrications and real wits such as Rab C Nesbitt, Rikki Fulton and his Reverend I M Jolly, and Billy Connolly.

I heart Glasgow.

It is a cruel and random tragedy which strikes the city and its people days before Christmas, in the heart of the festivities. A city which is one of the most “alive” I have ever lived in.

Now the Christmas lights have been switched off and the flags flying at half mast.  Candles have replaced the lights and flowers cover the area which had been designated “Glasgow loves Christmas” with events, shopping and festive Fun in the heart of the city.  Now the people of Glasgow are holding each other close and digging deep into their resilience.

glasgowNo matter where we are in the world, whether or not we celebrate Christmas, we must remember to hold our loved ones close.

December already?

At this time of year, I am always caught by surprise by the sight of snowflakes falling across my home page.  I found this seasonal (well, northern hemisphere seasonal) function years ago, and switched on the “let it snow” feature.  Every December since then there have been snowflakes falling on tropical vegetation and other background images.

Once the snowflakes start falling across the screen, I am usually working my way through another annual process.  The three words.  Any “down” time, such as sitting in a taxi, waking in the middle of the night or other time where there is a space for reflection I am thinking of the past year and the coming year.  Have the words worked well this year?  How do I want to approach the coming year.  Which words will capture my aspirations and guide me as we move into the new year?

This 2014 has brought its challenges and intensity, some of which had been hinted at, some unexpected and some less welcome. As the year closes, I will have brought my reflections together and turned my focus to the coming year.  Already, the mantra is taking shape and words are dancing around.  I know, though, that the decision comes later, that the words form their own shape and settle together as the time to set the mantra approaches.

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Nearly twelve months ago I shared my 2014 words, and now already I am preparing for their successors.  And I find that this process is as relevant and meaningful for me as it was when I first chanced upon it in 2009. And for as long as it works, so shall I keep living with and through my three words.

Shadow, reflection and showers

I feel as if the dry season has stretched a little this year.  Weeks and months creep past, with hardly a drop of rain.  Showers which we can mark in the calendar.  Yes, that was the week it rained, we remember. A January rainstorm and an April downpour.  Aberrations, punctuating the increasingly stifling heat building around us. We start to dream of rain, to imagine we hear drops falling.  The wind rises, whispering promises of rain soon, soon.  My heart soared two weeks ago, on a stuffy Saturday afternoon when I heard that unmistakable sound of large, bulging raindrops falling outside. Raindrops I could count, and see their mark on the ground briefly before they were swallowed by the parched ground.  There is only one thing to be done on hearing this sound, and catching the scent of fresh rain in the air.  Before I know what has happened, I am in the garden, face upturned and arms outstretched, welcoming those first delicious rains onto my face, smiling and laughing like a child.  The shower might be brief but so refreshes the mind and body and sharpens the anticipation of the rains.

The rain came again on Tuesday, hidden while I was inside the airport building and unseen until boarding.  Such a sense of disappointment and being cheated, at not being able to watch or feel the rain as it swept in.  The rain on a runway is not the rain I had been dreaming of, nor the rain streaked horizontally across the cabin windows in the aircraft. Nor the dramatic rain storms underneath while we were kept on hold above our destination. It might have been “not quite the right kind of rain” but it was a renewed promise of monsoon.

It has rained every afternoon since then.  Bulky clouds with attitude gathering in the sky, thunder rumbling and cracking, spirited breezes materialising from nowhere and rains teeming down. Alongside a renewed energy and exuberance within each of us. The frogs are wakening and critters being washed from their hiding places. The landscape will quickly change.

And so too does my image for now.  Over this dry season, I have become increasingly fascinated with the play of light, of shadows and of reflection as I struggle to get to know my camera, and try to capture glimpses of magic I see around me.

I am also a little naughty with the concept of “selfie” photography and have my own version which protects my privacy yet places me in my environment.  The “Shadow Selfie” is what I call it.  Now that the rains are moving in I am sure there will be less shadow and I have therefore chosen an image which comes from this very special time when the season starts to turn, and the trees come to life with their array of colour.  I particularly love the jacaranda and could not resist a “shadow selfie” under a blossoming jacaranda tree as I paused on my cycle home from my early morning swim.

Shadow selfie and fallen Jacaranda blossom
Shadow selfie and fallen Jacaranda blossom

The jacaranda is already shedding its colours as the season changes.

All the more reason to preserve it just a little longer.

Pondering

This is a time of year for reflection.  As yet another year comes to an end we tend to find ourselves looking back over the past months.

Can it be almost a year ago I wrote a long trailing ponder prompted by my morning encounters with my kingfisher friend? And can it be a whole year since I was working through mazes of words as I moved towards my three words for 2013 – (focus, treasure and design)?  How did those words fit my year?  That is also the subject of great pondering.

It is indeed a whole since the three wordly ponderings. And I have again been pondering, reflecting on what has been a tough year, thinking of how I want to guide the coming year and playing with words which might be a fitting mantra for 2014.

A shape is forming.  There is one word at the core of my coming year which draws from some of this year’s challenges and which I want to be at the heart of my mantra.  There are two other words which feel right.  Let’s see if they feature in the final choice.

As always, a great deal of my pondering takes place in what we often call a “pond” during my morning swim.  Recently my kingfisher friend returned after a long rainy season absence and it feels to me as if we have spent companionable pondering time.  He watches patiently as I plough up and down the pool, and I watch him as he calls out and now and then swoops and plucks a wriggling worm from the grass. The perfect fodder for my friend’s breakfast and for my mind!

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My Kingfisher friend watching my daily swim

There are many things I love about this time of year.  The cooling weather, the sunshine and blue skies.  And the draw towards reflection.

Soon my “three word” pondering will work through its natural course, and soon I will have three wonderful new words to guide and inspire me, and to share with you.

Loy Krathong revisited – three years on….

As I headed to the airport yesterday afternoon, I passed an increasing number of roadside displays in preparation for Myanmar’s Full Moon Tazaungdaing festival celebrations, keenly aware that I would miss the festival. However, thanks to an article in the in-flight magazine, I was pleased to learn that the Thai Loy Krathong festival would be today.

I was pleased, but the realisation also hit me with a jolt.  I was instantly transported back three years to my first experience of Loy Krathong. In 2009, the Festival fell on November 3rd, one month and one day since life changed.  On that day, three years ago I had just had my first chemo, I had had two rounds of surgery and I was starting to lose my hair.

I wrote a short blog post, which makes emotional reading for me.

It is another day for quiet reflection and deep gratitude.