Envisioning 2020 with a three word mantra

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It was ten years ago, on New Year’s Eve in Bangkok that I first spotted that Tweet about three words which revolutionised my approach to the coming year from then onwards. It is no secret that this resonated immediately with me and three words formed with incredible clarity and haste. I am still quietly astounded how this practice has embedded itself firmly as I now embark on this process for the eleventh year running.

I am always astounded by how well my words serve their purpose, guiding, reminding and encouraging me through the year. This year has been no different and my mantra of “script, nestle and nourish” have been by my side through another year of transition. I have been reluctant to lay them gently to the side this year though. The transition has been far slower than I could ever have imagined, and I could quite comfortably take these words with me through another year and I did consider this. However, the prospect of this emotional and psychological review and cleanse is valuable and I again have found the process of identifying my priorities and the right three words one of enormous benefit. So, I will keep my 2019 words tucked away, behind my new words, reminding me that none of my words are ever discarded. In fact I believe that they build on each other, and I now have a wonderful foundation of words and mantras that remind me how greatly I have travelled since December 2009 and how much there is to be thankful for.

2010                Recovery, discovery and laughter

2011                Harmony, vitality and adventure

2012                Resilience, escapade and wonder

2013                Focus, treasure and design

2014                Dedication, integrity and flair

2015                Breathe, stargaze and realise

2016                Reorient, nurture and crystalize

2017                Emerge, explore and intend

2018                Search, settle and weave

2019                Script, nestle and nourish

These words tell the story of my life over the past decade. In particular a decade since my cancer diagnosis, but so much more than that. I can recognise each year and with it, the feelings and emotions of those times as much as the significant events in each mantra.

Before I introduce the mantra for 2020, the new year and indeed the new decade, I like to reflect briefly on those words which have accompanied me through 2019, “script, nestle and nourish“.

Script

Writing continues to play a key part in my lift. I have found a wonderful writing tribe in Edinburgh, and although I do not spend nearly as much time as I would like writing, this hour weekly provides so much more than a space to shut up and write. It provides friendship, like minds, new faces and encouragement. I still have my writing project alive, but needing an infusion of deliberate effort to move it forward and, dare I hope, complete it. I have set the path for the coming year by reconnecting with my writing mentor in a commitment to dedicating time and energy to this. Having my own space finally, and establishing a creative place in that is part of that commitment and motivation.

Script was also about being intentional in shaping my life. It meant putting effort into the things I wanted to change, and writing my own story. And that is also apparent in the other two words.

Nestle

This has been the central word to the year, appropriately in the heart of my 2019 mantra. The transition from overseas life to finding a forever home has been complex and my eagerness to finally settle in a space that I intend to stay in the very long term has taken long to realise. I finally found myself able to start searching properly in the spring of this year. This was both exciting and daunting. I knew in my heart what I was looking for – a quaint little cottage-type home, close to the city, easy to commute, in a nice neighbourhood with character and some history and tradition. Some green space and a place for a bird table and feeders. When I was looking for a place to call home in Rwanda, I put my thoughts together, and apart from a dearth of jacaranda and challenges in getting frangipani to thrive in Scotland the rest is incredibly apt.

My wishes were clear, and the search started in earnest. With it came the abrupt realisation that there was an incompatibility with many of these requirements within the means I had available. My search was wide, and weekends and some weekday evenings I would be on a bus, exploring new communities and potential homes. And there were very few which came anywhere near what I was looking for. The process was draining, but invaluable. I learned what was available and what were the key priorities for me. I knew which areas I needed to compromise. I came close to thinking about putting in an offer, but something always stopped me. I was not ready to commit, just in case the perfect home was round the corner. None of the 29 places I viewed were quite right and not how they were portrayed in the advertising. Camera angles are very deceiving and can make tiny rooms look cavernous. I had entered the year eager to settle, and now midsummer was approaching with no sign of my forever home. In early June, I arranged a viewing at another property, a quirky wee place, which looked really promising, and spotted that there was an open viewing at another place, a dear looking little cottage, nearby just beforehand so thought I would pop in there too while I was near. And it quite took me by surprise. It ticked many of the boxes that I knew were important to me, but I had to look beyond the fact that it needed a great deal of work to make it home. but I knew that the other option was more promising, so I headed to view it with high expectations. And it was also suitable, but I felt a sense of very slight, almost intangible, disappointment. It also needed work but had incredible character.

I decided that I would put in an offer. And with some deliberation and to-ing an fro-ing I decided to put in an offer on the other place too. The closing dates were adjacent, and I was almost frightened that my offer on the first would be accepted, as I realised, almost despite myself, that I seemed to be setting my heart on the little cottage. I was not disappointed that my offer for the quirky place was miles short of the one accepted. Now I had to go through the same process 24 hours later, but with a very different frame of mind. To cut a long story short, the process was not clear cut, but in the end on a midsummer’s day, that truly was the longest in many ways, my offer was successful. I was delighted. I knew I had found my home. I also knew I could not move into it until some essential work was done, but I was very much closer to nestling.

A month later, I had my keys just before I set off on my Voldemort trip, with the knowledge that I was returning to Scotland by train to the prospect of my own home and under my own terms, unlike my abrupt return two years earlier. This gentle train journey homewards was truly a “homecoming”. And a few days after the autumnal equinox, with the critical elements of the essential work completed. I was finally able to move in, unpack and begin to truly nestle.

Nourish

Now, the emphasis on nestling has probably indicated that while nourish has been an important guide, it has had to fit in alongside, “nestle”. Rushing around, getting ready to search, undertaking an extensive process of viewing and then readying my home to live in has nudged my focus on “nourish” slightly to the side. Not quite neglected, but it is not to be forgotten as I move forward to 2020.

As the day dawns on the new decade, what kind of 2020 do I envision? The past weeks have seen me pondering, contemplating the year ahead and how I want to shape it. As in recent years, I have travelled in different directions, playing with different ideas and words, reflecting on the aspects of the coming year which I want to focus on and I now have the words I feel will guide me forward. And the words which have emerged are:

Still, dwell and glisten

Still

My first word is “still”. Not the adjective but that beautiful verb which means to calm or become quiet. I feel the need to still my soul, my body and my mind. Much of 2019 as spent running around. A great deal of this was readying for the search for my home, those long weeks looking and covering a great deal of ground physically and emotionally, preparing to move and then starting to settle. My mind and body have not stopped. It is still to still, to allow myself to breathe again. It is time to quell my anxieties and focus on mindful and meaningful days. There is plenty to fill my time, I just don’t need to be constantly “on the go” to do so. Amidst this stillness, I believe I will be able to keep sight of what is important. The terrible pun would be to say this would be my 2020 vision.

Dwell

My second word is “dwell”. This feels the perfect way to guide how I settle in my new home and community with the definition “to become familiar with a place and feel happy and confident in it”.

Gradually I am shaping this as my home, while I trust, retaining respect and appreciation in the history of the home I have moved into. I am settling into a space which has an evident and warm history. While there is a natural pressure to quickly have all work finished and sit back, I am also happy with the gradual process that is necessitated. This gives me time to learn how I will settle into my new dwelling, bringing my eclectic collection of Asian, African and Scottish belongings and styles into this existing history. In particular, the well cared for garden contains so much history and life – plum, pear and apple trees, many flowers I do not know the name of, wild raspberries and gooseberries. A wise friend countered the main advice I had heard and counselled me “take time and sit in your garden, let it speak to you before you make any changes. It will tell you what to do”. Those words resonated powerfully. I am sure I will make some changes, but probably minor and these must be in keeping with the character of what is already in place. I can dwell in this space by being true to the garden and to myself. And wider afield, I am eager to make connections in this community. There is a book group, a writing group, a photography club and even links through a twinning arrangement. I look forward to dwelling in my community.

Glisten

My third word is “glisten”. It took me by surprise a little, as I had almost settled on either enlighten or illuminate when thinking of the wish to spend more time and energy shining a light on my creative pursuits. It was also articulating some of the wider context we find ourselves. In many ways these are times of polarity and negativity around us and it is important to have the courage to shine light in dark spaces. But then glisten arrived unexpectedly, and was perfect. It is more subtle, natural and everyday. It has the meaning of “shining with reflected light” and has an element of the ordinary and extraordinary about it. Most importantly, to me it emphasises cooperation and a relationship as two elements are needed (light and moisture) to make something glisten. Two simple, everyday elements that we overlook and take for granted, but which create something eye-catching and of wonder. How often are we taken aback by the twinkle of the sun on a frosty edged puddle, or the light captured in a raindrop? It is also about our attitude and approach. We all have light in us that shines, and means we all have the potential to make things glisten. This encourages me to be creative, solution focused and optimistic and to keep my eyes open for those tiny, extraordinary moments we can miss when our minds and thoughts are dark.

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Even in these short Scottish, winter days there are many opportunities for us to see that which glistens around us, and for us to be our own tiny light.

As the daylight starts to fade on this first day of the decade, I am ready to open up and gently place my three words for the year into the wide open world.

Still, dwell and glisten

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Happy New Year and may 2020 bring you everything you dream for.

Unlocking the door into 2019 with a three word mantra

As I look into my well-thumbed notebook where I have kept a note of the sets of 3-word mantras over the years, I realise that this is the tenth time that I am embarking on this exercise. It is a bit of a puzzle since it is only nine years since my diagnosis but that is the mystery of numbers and one which I will not pretend to understand.

This past year has been one of continued transition, with major tasks to work on to help me to settle. It has involved a great deal of searching and energy, guided by my mantra of Search, settle and weave. The searching has seen me find a renewed purpose, closely connected to my overseas work and an area which inspires and motivates me. I feel connected again. I am considerably more settled. Thus there has been considerable progress and the various threads of my life are slowly weaving together. A picture is gradually emerging even if the tapestry is still to reveal its full picture.

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And as the year comes to an end, and I attempt to rest and heal after many weeks of intensity and poor health, my mind has been quietly working away to clarify the best words to guide my path ahead.

In the final hours of 2019, I put my current words gently in their place in my notebook, alongside their predecessors. As I look at each set, I can identify each year clearly through each mantra,

The year I discovered this practice was Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) of 2009. Looking back, “recovery, discovery and laughter” firmly tells me “yes, that was 2010.” That was the year I moved through the months of chemotherapy, radiation and follow up with those guiding words and their reminder that a sense of humour is an extremely useful tool during times of challenge. “Harmony, vitality and adventure” and my quest to gain strength, confidence and healthy and balanced life very accurately tells me that was my 2011, and the mantra “focus, treasure and design” tells me immediately that I approached 2013 knowing that the year would be a tough one as my father’s health failed. Indeed, that year as we said goodbye to him was indeed one with cherished moments and heartache to hold on to. The last three years have been characterised by enormous change and upheaval in every area of my life – professionally and personally. “Reorient, nurture and crystalize” tells me of the guide I had set out for moving on from so many years in Asia and says “2016”. Just as clearly, my mantra for the past year “search, settle and weave” whispers “ah, that was 2018,” to me. When I first saw the prompt in the final hours of 2009 that shaped my first 3-word mantra, I had no idea that this would become such an important part of my emotional and spiritual essence.

I always approach the final weeks of the year with a touch of trepidation, unsure as to whether I will find the right words for the coming year. Each year, I reflect, think ahead, look at the areas I want and need to shape most and somehow the words come. I seem to be more finely tuned to the meanings of words at this time, often picking up on a word I read or hear as it is spoken, and draw it into my evolving thoughts. This year has been no different. In my notebook, I have ideas, priorities and thoughts, jotted down, linked together and explored.

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And from this jumble of letters and scribbles, incredibly the 3-word mantra for the year ahead has emerged.

As I sit on a warm rooftop terrace, on a sunny New Year’s day far from Edinburgh, it is time to put my new mantra into the world, and set out my intentions for 2019:

“Script, nestle and nourish”.

These are the words which will inspire, motivate and guide me through the coming year.

Script

Script is an important word with several meanings for me. I love different scripts, and in Mongolia was especially fascinated by the sweeping, curved pen strokes which would start from the top of the page and work downwards.

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I was able to read modern Mongolian as Cyrillic is now used, with a couple of extra letters, my days studying Russian at university providing me with the key to at least sound out the Mongolian words, but with little or no comprehension of their meaning. In fact, in all of the Asian countries I lived and worked in, there were different scripts (Devanagiri in Nepal, Tamil in the part of India where I worked, Singhala and Tamil in Sri Lanka and the beautiful circles of Burmese script in Myanmar.

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I am fascinated by the relationship between these configurations, their pronunciation and their meanings. I would need to live for many centuries to begin to unravel some of these amazing puzzles.

Script also obviously relates to the practice of writing, and is important to me because it has been a neglected area of my life for too long as I have been working through practical tasks. This will remind me to set aside time and energy for writing, and to be courageous and regain confidence. I need to follow through the various writing goals I have set before they wither. I will find a creative space which will remind and encourage me to write.

There is another, important meaning to this word though. I am conscious that over the past months and more, I have been reacting to events which have happened. My work finishing earlier than planned, a return to Scotland which was abrupt in the grand scheme of things, and health glitches – these are all things which need to be dealt with. Of course I cannot change what happens, but I can take control of how I deal with it. I want to script my own story, to manage the various practical tasks in a constructive and appropriate way so that the tapestry is one which I believe in and own.

Nestle

This is taking forward the idea of settling from 2018. After so many years on the move, and with life plans changing, a priority is to find a place where I can nestle down and be cosy, where I can unpack my weird and wonderful bits and pieces from my life in so many corners of the globe. I want to find a little space where I can plant some seeds and watch them sprout, and where I can put a little bird feeder for the Scottish birds I am getting to know again. Where I can make tea and build a hearth to welcome family and friends. Where I can “coorie down”, – a wonderful Scottish expression for tucking yourself in, making yourself cosy and protecting yourself from the cold and outside troubles. It is linked in my mind to nesting which is also an important part of what I am eager to do. The long term fallout of cancer and divorce play mayhem with previosuly established long-term plans and bring a sense of uncertainty and vulnerability. Nestling seems to be the perfect way to create a sense of belonging.

Nourish

My third word for 2019 is “nourish”. This is also a word which encapsulates many meanings. The most obvious relates to a nourishing approach to maintaining and rebuilding health. I miss the seasonal and fresh foods of recent years, with local markets and variety. This winter and a persistent bout of seasonal ill health remind me of the importance of eating nourishing foods and natural resilience. I am also reminded to nourish the soul as I have access now to sources of reading, writing and inspiration on my doorstep. In Yangon, I had developed over the seven years, a lively creative life with a writing group, book club, photography club and regular film nights. Focusing on this area will strengthen my sense of belonging and connectedness as well as nourishing the creative self. This will help me to nestle as I also nourish those little birds, and seeds to establish a peaceful and inspiring space around me.

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As I gently place my 3-word mantra into the big wide world, I reflect especially on a weekend in early October. I was fortunate to be able to join like and inspiring minds on a mindfulness and writing retreat, run by friend and fellow blogess Audrey and poet and writer Helen. We were welcomed to the perfect space, tranquil and surrounded by a lifetime of gathered treasures and mementos, trees changing and shedding their leaves and a busy woodpecker. Far distant from the chaos of the outside world, set right in the outdoors. At the start of the retreat, we were asked to select a picture from a number of available images. I was immediately drawn to a key, which spoke to me of a childhood fascination of old keys as well as the notion of unlocking doors to the future. As the weekend drew to an end, we all made a pledge for the future. My own pledge featured an old rusty key and a box, to lay to rest my anxieties and harboured tenderness from the unexpected transition and encourage me to move forward in a positive space.

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As I move forward, I know that I have many untold stories which I am eager to script. Stories of the singing fishermen of Lake Kivu, of trailing my little travel bag around the Galapagos and of humming birds under the shadow of Mount Tunguruhua with its rumbling Strombolian promises of fire, tales of Rwandan weddings, African sunsets and safaris and many other adventures.

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And perhaps first, will be the tale of a little Scottish grandmother, trailing around the souqs of Marrakesh, haggling over the purchase of a rusty old key with absolutely no practical use, yet with enormous personal significance and optimism…

Tip Toe Tapestry

Many weeks have passed since the chattering pebbles of Findhorn beach whispered on these pages. Months have slipped by, and have seen the short wintry days gradually stretch into one of the hottest summers Scotland has known under long, light days. Time keeps its steady march forward and another autumnal equinox has passed. The days smartly shorten as the pace towards winter gathers speed, hewing daylight minutes daily until those times when the working day starts and finishes in darkness, and we see little of our neighbours.

And still the pages have been empty, my writing soul not yet ready to pick up the pen.

The longer the silence continues, the more deafening it becomes. Venturing back onto this space means I must tread softly and gently, testing the firmness of the ground as I timidly move forward.

At the start of the year, I set out my three word mantra. Search. Settle. Weave. And over the past months I have been pushing forward with a long search. I have been nurturing my soul and seeking to encourage the growth of roots ready to settle, slowly drawing out the threads to weave the tapestry of what is my new and different life.

Tapestry – The Tree of Life

As the year began, I knew that I had a long and deep search ahead. I had been looking for meaningful work, but not quite sure in which direction I was headed. My age definitely counted against me, and experience which seemed not to match needs back in my home country made it difficult to find clarity around a professional role. Oh, and the winter which swept through with a rare ferocity which kept us in a grip of unusual cold and deep snow over a number of weeks making it hard to move forward. A meeting of like minds and a timely opening brought some interesting tasks my way and the opening of a meaningful role which I have been delighted to take up. Slowly my search for purpose has found a path and direction. With this stability, I am extending my search for a place to call “home”. These things take time, and energy which I need to muster as the threads of this part of the woven picture emerges. I look towards the end of the year with hope and optimism that I will have a clearer sense of where this search might lead me. Thus, when I look back to my first post of the year, I am encouraged to see that my searching has brought me a renewed sense of purpose, greater clarity and stability.

I have been longing to settle. The past three years have seen such enormous change in every area of my life and now gradually I feel that the turbulence is calming. Search and settle are intertwined and almost interdependent. Settling relies to an extent on the searching leading to finding. But not entirely. Stability through work, as well as processing the various painful elements of being lone again and moving towards a more healing place, combine to lead to a more settled state. Settle is a comforting, healing goal to aim towards. I am gradually settling and the threads of this part of life are also beginning to form an image.

My third word brings the other two words together figuratively as well as literally. They provide the necessary foundations for the third word – weave. Those threads of my life which were loose, cut or unravelled are all becoming apparent. I feel now as if the weaving has begun, the different strands are emerging, growing and moving into place ready to weave a picture which has strength, stability, clarity and which can shape into an image of beauty and inspiration.

I am ready to move gingerly forward, tip-toeing softly as the tapestry of my future begins to form. There are many images in that tapestry to define as that process of weaving begins to move forwards.

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.

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.

Settling into 2016 with a three word mantra

I slept nearly 12 hours on Friday night. And for the first morning in over three weeks I knew where I was when I awoke. I both love and hate that feeling when you are traveling and on first awaking you have absolutely no idea where you are, what day it is and what that very important thing is that you have to do.

I have been on a journey. Both physically and emotionally, and only Friday evening did I come to a halt. I realised that my journey has covered many miles. An astonishing 13,000 or more miles or over 20,000 kilometres by air and road, and including a wonderful 2,200 miles by train. There is another very long story in there, but that is not for now.

Although I returned to Myanmar earlier this week, I was travelling again within 48 hours of my arrival and was inordinately glad to return home and allow my mind and body to rest and recalibrate.

It is not coincidental that my three words for 2016 have not formed until the past few days. My being needs need to come to rest and be still for the words to settle. It is hard to reflect and explore the world of words when there is a great deal happening, people to spend time with and new experiences to embrace. So the words are late.

It turned out that 2015 was a complex and painful year. I leaned heavily on my words “Breathe, stargaze and realise” and brought in three more (to my surprise) to see me through the most difficult times – “Dignity, contemplation and beacon”. I cannot share any details of those times in the public domain, other people are affected and it is not appropriate or correct to speak out. The word “dignity” was critical in reminding me that the most appropriate action was to remain silent, and that has been unbelievably hard.

dignityAs usual, since adopting the practice of adopting the three word mantra in 2010, I started thinking of the approaching new year in the final weeks of 2015. My process is to reflect back on the previous year, look at my priorities and then look ahead at what I want to be the key focus of the coming year. The three words enable a balance across different areas of life, and usually pick up health, family, wellbeing, practical and professional direction areas and the creative side. A balanced mantra encourages a balanced approach in the year. I enjoy the process of crafting my mantra as satisfying as the final selection itself.

Finally, my words are in place – and the three word mantra for my 2016 are:

“Reorient, nurture and crystalize.”

Reorient

The first word came easily. The coming year has to focus on healing and finding my true north again. All that I had believed to be sure turned out to be fragile and turned to dust under my feet last year. The foundations crumbled under my feet and I found myself directionless. The greatest priority for the coming year is to “reorient” myself and move forward purposefully.

Reorient will be at the heart of much of next year. I need not only to re-think my future, but also to set steps in place to ensure that my physical and emotional compasses have been truly re-set.

Over the past months, I have feared that my inner compass had been smashed beyond repair. Gradually, though, I have come to realise that while the exterior casing had indeed been decimated, somehow deep inside the inner workings could be coaxed back into action. If the inner workings can be repaired and recalibrated minute part by minute part, the casing can surely be repaired. The key part of repairing my inner compass is to find my true north and ensure that my path ahead navigates in this direction and keeps me on the right path.

Change runs deep, and this inner reorientation accompanies physical transformation too. Already I have made changes in my living situation and been adjusting to new practical arrangements. I need to think very carefully about the longer term future. I have no idea where I will be this time next year, nor a clear sense of my direction. I need to place trust and energy into the process of reorientation.

Nurture

Alongside the need to reorient, is the importance of healing, replenishing and investing time and energy especially in my creative activities once more. Nurture is a word which suggests growth and nourishment through love and careful attention. My health is good right now, notwithstanding the weight of side and after effects, but I know that I need to pay attention to my wellbeing and focus on gaining strength. I especially need to devote time and energy to creativity and particularly writing. The blog has been very quiet, and my commitment and writing goals had to be put to the side while the bigger stuff was worked through. I want to get back on track, nurture my creativity and produce more writing. I still have the goal of completing the first draft of the memoir of my first year in Myanmar. I need to tend to these areas and see new life and regrowth appear.

secret garden

Crystalize

My third word was, as often happens, most elusive. I played with a number of words but none was “quite right”. I had a little imaginary pot with many words in it, such as “reach, deliver, embark, embrace, pause, revise, stretch” along with many others. I wanted to convey the idea of committing to the new path and orientation once I had clarity. And then, in Singapore airport of all places, my third word appeared. “Crystalize”. My perfect third word.

Crystalize has a number of meanings, including its scientific term which is the process of forming solid crystals from either a solution, melt or more rarely from a gas. It is also regularly used with the meaning of making something definite and clear. Crystalize is the right third word for many reasons. After reorientation and with nurturing it is important to achieve some stability and clarity. I do not yet know what that will look like but I do know that this will appear through this process of crystallization. From a situation of flux and change, stability will surely appear. Tiny crystals of hope, which will settle and grow into a formation and foundation for me to move forward.

Crystals are complex and beautiful. Crystals absorb and reflect light and colour. Crystals are one of nature’s brilliant treasures. Quite simply, crystals are exquisite. A future which forms through crystallization will surely be beautiful.

blue crystal

Now that my words are in place, I have a sense of both peace and purpose for the year ahead.

Where am I?

Where am I?

There continues to be silence in this space, and I am working to introduce some sounds and move towards more constant presence here. So here are a few words to break the silence. I am still around, still thinking and reflecting. Still kicking, still laughing and still crying. But not writing. Not writing nearly enough.

Usually I have three words to share at the start of the year, a practice which I discovered at the end of 2010 and which has worked incredibly well for me. However, these words are late in coming to you this year. To let you into a secret, they are a little late coming to me too. I have been offline a great deal in the past weeks and on the move too. Not enough time for reflection, but in a good way.

The three words will be ready soon, and once they are, they will be here. I am moving forward from my mantra of 2015 which reminded and pushed me to “breathe, stargaze and realise”. I leaned on an unexpected three words during personal challenges with “dignity, contemplate and beacon” which have been invaluable and for sure influenced my actions. My 2016 words are still morphing and whispering to me, the mantra still taking shape.

This year has been tough. I know I seem to say that each year, but I have crumbled more under unexpected challenges in recent months. So it is important to embrace unexpected gifts as well. Like this one……. A couple of weeks ago, while walking in the lanes in Yangon I happened to glance upwards. The dry season’s typical blue sky was interrupted by a random, feisty cloud.  It was clearly grumpy and dark but the sun was shining brightly behind it and casting clear rays from behind the cloud.

The silver lining and sunshine were clearly visible.

IMG_5494

This is such a powerful reminder that in the darkest of times there is indeed light and sunshine even if we cannot immediately see it.

Very soon my three word mantra will be ready to motivate and guide me forwards, seeking light and laughter, sunshine and smiles, happiness and healing for us all.

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

bago 3

 

bago 4

bago 5

bago 6

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

bago 8

bago 9

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.

bago 10

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.

bago 17

bago 18

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.

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…..

LP Hillside 4

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

Keeping your eye on the ball

I am a lonesome soul on the planet these days, being utterly disinterested in Football. Yes, even the World Cup! In fact, I am oddly proud of the fact that I have never been to a live football match and never been able to watch a game the whole way through. It is just not for me. Even hubby has not followed games this time as we have been shocked by the loss of lives, homes and livelihoods in the preparation for both Brazil and Doha tournaments. That is another story though. It is rather helpful to live on the opposite side of the world as the games take place at a time when I am usually asleep. It has meant that World Cup life has hardly featured on my radar in terms of the matches, and that is fine by me. (I might confess to some amusement however, when my Facebook feed displayed rather contrasting sentiments following one of the England matches, but that is another story too)

world cup

But while much of the rest of homo sapiens has been absorbed in the World Cup, I have been trying to keep my eye on the ball figuratively, but not terribly successfully. My guide for the year has to be my three word mantra and more than ever, I have needed my words this year. As I revisit them here, I know I have to get my eye back on the ball and stay true to my intentions and values.

kanchanaburi 1

My first word is dedication. This one is proving tough as it aims to ensure that I dedicate time and energy to the things which matter. Those include time to do those tasks which I love to put off, or those which I cannot summon the energy for in the evenings. They include the tasks and work I need to focus on to make sure I keep moving forward. My writing goals especially feature here and there are no quick scores. I want to see results by the end of the year so must dedicate time and effort to realising these. I am struggling to do so. A number of bouts of ill health, not serious but debilitating, more travel than expected and continued intensity in an environment of great change all combine to drain time and energy. But I must keep my eye on the ball if I want to be anywhere near my year end wishes.

My second word is integrity. This was my core word, at the centre of the mantra and intentionally at the heart of everything I do. This has been such an apt choice and I find that I use it and refer to it very often. Even in small decisions or actions I find it such a useful check. Before I act, I think “is this the right thing?” This works well for me, although it often does throw up challenges of what I guess is self interest. If this is the right thing for me, then can I also be sure it is the right thing more broadly? My eye is on the ball with this one, but the ball is one which spins off in unexpected directions.

My third word is flair. This especially reminds me of the importance of giving time and energy to creativity and to ensure that I try and innovate and create something unique and unexpected. My year has been enormously boosted by the publication of the Dragonfruit Anthology and keeps me moving forward to the Next Big Step in my writing. A book with my name on the front cover! But I am under no illusions. This process has been very gentle. As a contributor, I have been guided through the whole period of development of the book and very much protected for the enormous work that is involved. My eye is on the ball, but I have to keep running as well as watching if I want to keep moving this goal forward.

If I am honest, I know I am off track and am striving to get back onside. While I cannot control the external factors which are causing me to keep moving forward, I am very glad that I have my three words. They have a hard job to do this year and are working hard to make sure that the ball is well in sight.