2018 Overview Of The Year That Was
With 2018 in the rearview mirror I find myself flying to New Zealand. It has felt like I have often had one foot in either country, crisscrossing back and forth.
Twice before I have attempted to undertake the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and both times bad weather has denied my adventure.
Kissed by the weather gods I join a throng of overseas adventurers, sojourners, trailblazers and hell-raisers as we tackle what is generally regarded as the countries best one day hike.
The hike over Mt Tongariro explores fields, forests and exquisite lakes which contrasts the barren moonscape and craters in between. I associate the constant presence of two active volcanos as representing the past and the future. For millennia, eastern thought has held that we allow them to loom too large, foiling our capacity to live in the present.
Yesterday I was a lush in Matamata lazily drinking in the serene green hills made famous in the setting known as The Shire from the Lord of The Rings films.
Today involves an endurance test with a 20km walk through steep hills, icy gusts, shifting ground and the foreboding of Mordor and Mount Doom. Just as the geographical setting of our life can change in a day so too our feelings.
For some years now I’ve found great satisfaction in seeing out the year by writing an end of year reflection.
In this blog piece, I’ll share my 2018 summary as an example.
There are many ways to go about it. In the past, I used to write in stream of consciousness as I remembered things from the year that was. These days, I like to create a few headings as themes. Then I reflect on the year and slot meaningful memories into the different sections before elaborating on them.
Being a language lover, I like to pop in some of the choice quotes I’ve found throughout the year. Your reflection piece might involve peppering your journaling with some of your favourite visual mediums be it art, photos or your own drawings, paintings… whatever enriches your self-expression and nurtures your creativity.
Psychics tend to say that the two most common questions people come to them with are work and love. With men typically being more concerned with the former I’ll start there.
Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be? - Charles Bukowski
What were the developments and highlights from your career life this year? Did you manage to sustain your place in the career satisfaction stakes, drop down a notch or break into that 20% minority who love what they do for work?
As a kid, I wanted to be a writer. During the process of schooling, however, I got shunted towards more formal writing, which saw my desire to be a writer wane and seem unrealistic.
During adolescence, I met a slew of teachers who had a positive impact on me and one, in particular, became larger than life. Doc McClellan became my first mentor figure. I secretly grew interested in becoming a teacher in the hopes of nurturing young fledgelings as he did. With my sensitive disposition though I worried I would get eaten alive by hormonal and hard to please teenagers.
2018 saw me splitting my time evenly between writing and teaching. Best of all, there were times where they coalesced during life story writing classes and workshops that incorporated life story work.
It has been an unexpected delight to fall back in love with writing once more. Being a rather solitary and lonely pursuit, it has felt healthier to be able to blend it with more social elements such as group work.
An enormous feeling of gratitude rises up when I think about all the individuals I have gotten to work with one-on-one this year. Their courage and desire to design their lives has sustained my motivation and humbled me.
The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings. – Kakuzo Okakaura
The dreaded dinner party setting.
Us introverts are not ones to feel anticipation for large and unfamiliar social settings. Saying yes to every invitation this year, I agreed to accompany the person who asked me along despite knowing everyone would be complete strangers. “Who knows,” I thought, “perhaps it will be as eventful as that recent Italian film about a dinner party, Perfect Strangers.”
I made some small talk, had a few strained conversations and thought I was in for a long evening until I got talking to a fellow quester I’ll call Sam. Gail Sheehy dubbed the midlife phase The Flourishing Forties, a period both Sam and I had entered.
She had always been trying to find her place in the world and this year saw her really throw herself into life. Sam tackled the Camino track, launched a business she felt passionately about and tried many things that thrust her out of her comfort zone. Along the way she was exposed to a new concept called Human Design, which she found intriguing.
Philosophy-wise, I have always been something of a bower bird and have had a particular fascination for models of human consciousness. This year I took a gander at Integral Theory but figured the last thing I need is more cerebral engagement with the world. A character I met at a yoga class invited me to a Gurdjieff group. While the prospect of meeting a bunch of eccentric mystics held some appeal I couldn’t lend any support to it having learned this year that the Armenian teacher was something of a scoundrel.
18 months earlier I met someone who waxed lyrically about the Human Design model but it didn’t really land with me. Giving it another go, I kept an open mind as Sam described me as being a Projector.
According to the model, Projectors are one of five different types. It’s claimed that the gift of this type is being able to manage, guide and direct others, particularly in terms of career and life direction. I could identify with that.
As for the challenge of this type, Sam informed me that it required waiting for an invitation for opportunities. Quite a countercultural idea when you live in a society that is gung-ho about taking initiative and making things happen.
The advice given to Projector types is to follow your passion while you wait for things to present themselves.
Hearing this, I found it interesting to reflect on the opportunities that presented this year…
After running a writing class in January a participant approached me with an offer to do a workshop at her local writer’s group.
Another participant asked me if I’d be interested in doing some editing work. I expressed my enthusiasm and waited to hear back from her after she had completed her book. When she contacted me in the spring to say her book was finished we worked together on it. It turned out to be the most stirring and enlivening experience of 2018.
More and more I realise what a gift it is to hear the entirety of a persons life story. Being able to help someone enhance their telling of it through editing and offering insights into their narrative was equally thrilling.
If one of the years big shifts was waiting for invitations, the other involved clearing out the old in order to make way for the new. The one career element that felt really out of alignment for me this year was working with forced audiences in heavy environments.
One day I’d teach in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, the next in a prison. I would head to these classes feeling in a good space and leave depleted and washed out. While some of the participants valued what was being offered most were heavily victimised, extremely negative or just lost in a drug-induced haze.
I’ve always worked hard to be free from “having-to-work-jobs” to “wanting-to-work-jobs.”
When I wasn’t working for an employer this year I was teaching classes with willing participants on areas of keen personal interest. The contrast between these two environments was monumental. Despite the security and financial rewards of those challenging teaching roles, I left them aside in order to lead a more integrated and peaceful life.
We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves, otherwise we harden. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
What new things did you discover a fondness for, or at least try this year?
My fondest new connection this year was meeting a master pianist. I played a few notes on her piano from the one and only tune I remember being taught as a kid. She then sat down and elegantly played a song from one of this year’s movie highlights, A Star Is Born.
Is there anything more electrifying than seeing someone in their element?
During her rendition, I was fully taken by the beauty of the music. When it was over I marvelled at the devotion involved in reaching such a high watermark of ability.
Afterwards, she invited me to try some improv with her. “Who me? I’m not at all musical. And I don’t even know what improv involves” I said. She coaxed me to give it a try, nominating I take on the black keys while she worked her magic on the white.
Except for the time of dissonance when I blundered off the black and onto the white keys the experience was a joy.
In keeping with my “Say Yes” attitude I took a trip to the city in order to hear an artist by the name of Robyn Wilson talk about her journey. She had always felt like a misfit but battled away to find her place as a creative, combining art and legacy work as a career. I admired her courage. She didn’t speak to us from an ivory tower of great success but as someone still finding their way through life’s great maze hoping to reach the centre, being an authentic life.
She had created an art product which empowers people to create the ink blot style paintings she focuses on. After her talk, I fumbled around with her art kit and wondered where to start. Noticing my apprehension she came over and guided me through the process. I gladly accepted her assistance and produced a piece which helped dispel my inner critic who was saying “Who you? You’re not a tactile artist.”
This year I made use of that Facebook feature which tells you about interesting events your friends are going to. Lyttleton, a local co-op attempting to form, was hosting a celebration and some talks. I’d not heard of the venture before and felt grateful to be living in not just a spectacularly scenic part of the world but in such a civic-minded one too.
While reconnecting with David he talked about his growing interest in permaculture and introduced me to a lady at the event who helped people design permaculture spaces on their property. I put myself down on her waiting list and marvelled at the new world beckoning.
A week or so later I noticed a poster advertising a gardening course. I had tried to get a garden off the ground a couple of years earlier with mixed results. Adopting the beginners’ mind I eagerly signed up.
The teachers had such intricate knowledge of all things green and it was a delight to be around other would be gardeners. Buoyed by the course I began my first attempt at raising seedlings indoors. As the days and weeks passed with nothing germinating it felt like a flop. Just when all appeared lost, a tiny shoot appeared. Then another. Any many more after that. My garden which contained only a couple of hardy offerings in Spring is now growing rampant as Summer begins.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve started harvesting spring water, harnessing rainwater, utilising the leaves, kindling and logs of fallen trees to keep warm and design my living quarters to be more ecologically sound. Composting and producing food has also played a role in helping me connect more with the slower, enduring rhythms of the natural world.
Learning this year that we share 99% of our DNA with lettuce makes it a little bit harder to hold onto the separation myth. As Maria Popova put it, “If the creaturely difference between us and a species as dissimilar as a salad plant is so negligible, what of the differences among us humans?”
Lucille Clifton expressed this interconnection in poetic form with her piece Cutting Greens:
curling them around
i hold their bodies in obscene embrace
thinking of everything but kinship.
collards and kale
strain against each strange other
away from my kissmaking hand and
the iron bedpot.
the pot is black,
the cutting board is black,
and just for a minute
the greens roll black under the knife,
and the kitchen twists dark on its spine
and I taste in my natural appetite
the bond of live things everywhere.
2018 has seen me spending more time with babies and young ones. Noticing the rejuvenating effects of being around young souls brings to mind something I heard Clarissa Pinkola Estés, once say. Something about the importance of always having little people in one’s life.
Swinging from life to death, I accepted an invite to what was billed as an interactive theatre performance. I was unsure what it involved but said yes anyway. Turned out that it captured the experience of what it would feel like to die. After being whisked away in a hospital bed and gown, an eye mask made things dark while audio snippets played with questions and comments that young kids might say when their grandparents have passed. It was most interesting to contemplate death in a more visceral way rather than abstract thought.
The creators of the performance have worked in theatre for decades. I wondered how many hours of flow and memorable moments they racked up over the years. I suspect it has been as equally challenging a path as it has been rewarding.
Summiting what is known as Cloud Mountain, near Uki in the northern rivers was another unique affair. I had taken in sweat lodges before but didn’t realise there were varying degrees of intensity. Having built a fire and heated up some volcanic rocks I joined a mixed gender group to enter a womblike yurt. It was pitch black, muddy to sit in and sweaty to smell. Pouring water on the rocks led to scalding waves of steam. As the heat grew more acute I found myself dropping lower and lower to the ground in order to breathe more comfortably.
Later that day we returned for a men’s session. The facilitator spoke of purposefully keeping the previous session tame, rating it a 4 out of 10 on the spectrum of scorch. Now he was really going to ramp it up. I thought I could handle a 5 out of 10 but baulked at the 7 or 8 he was aspiring to. It got so unbearable that I put my face an inch away from the bare earth and hyperventilated through the ordeal. There was tremendous relief and a feeling of exhilaration upon returning to the cool night air.
Some years ago I stumbled upon what is known as The Moth, a live storytelling event. I had gobbled up dozens of their stories, read their books but never got around to attending one of their monthly events. The night I finally booked in for turned out to be their grand slam event. Each of the year’s monthly winners was invited back to compete in their annual competition. The speakers were diverse and the calibre of the talks exceptional. It’s destined to be an annual highlight I suspect. Being accompanied by someone of Mediterranean background revealed to me just how restrained Australian culture is in comparison to those who laugh richly and easily.
With the Sydney Writers Festival extending its fringes to the Blue Mountains I took in a session held by Tara Westover who was there to discuss her memoir Educated. The year before I had relished reading The Glass Castle and Tara’s story was equally startling.
While our culture has arguably veered too far towards individualism it was valuable to be reminded how stifling tribal acceptance can be. Tara’s story brings to mind a point Brene Brown raised this year which was reiterated by many voices. Janet Fitch put it most eloquently in her novel, White Oleander:
“Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you'll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way.”
Talking about Tara’s memoir segues nicely into the next theme…
Is it just me or has there been a host of riveting documentaries this year? I found the pick of them to have a focus on the shadow side of following one’s bliss.
Come Inside My Mind looked at the life of comedian Robin Williams, capturing the destructive tendency of the Creator archetype, which can have us so addicted to creating and tasting transcendence that we become unable to navigate the plateau periods of life.
Another who experienced major fallout from following her life’s purpose is Jane Goodall. Studying chimps, living in a faraway country, having to constantly find sponsorship, raising a son and trying to maintain a relationship…something had to give. Jane, a documentary about her revealed what it was.
Whitney complimented last years documentary Whitney: Can I Be Me, while Generation Wealth and Three Identical Strangers further demonstrated the venality of defining success purely in narcissistic terms.
Surveying the cinematic front, 2018 was a standout for smaller, more independent fare.
Lean on Pete had me appreciating the stability of my upbringing as it portrayed the awfulness of growing up displaced and in poverty.
Adolescence may be trying but early adulthood is no picnic either. The Rider was another horse-related story but this one was based on a true story. Deeply affecting.
Finding one’s place in the world is no mean feat. Neither is the quest for companionship and love.
The Hungarian film, On Body And Soul, was the one I found to be the most tender of the year, sublimely revealing the beauty in our fragility.
Norwegian offering, The Guilty, was among the most poignant redemption stories of the year while Russia reliably produced its antidote to American fairy floss with Loveless.
Woody Allen even made a return to form this year. Or was it simply the brilliance of Kate Winslet that made Wonder Wheel so beguiling?
Lastly, there was Puzzle, a remake of an Argentinian film, which looked at how challenging it can be to break out of the midlife tombs we can find ourselves in. I recommend it be watched alongside The Visitor.
From the screen to the shelves, James Hollis’ Living an Examined Life: Wisdom for the Second Half of the Journey was the book I found most pleasingly provocative.
Darryl Cunningham’s, The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality, and the Financial Crisis might have been packaged in the lighter format of a graphic novel but it was no less confronting.
Tara Westover’s Educated got my vote for the memoir of the year.
Mari Andrew’s, Am I There Yet?, blended her illustrating and writing skills superbly.
The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep. - Robert Frost
There may be great value in claiming our victories or reminiscing over what brought us joy throughout the year but pleasantries are only ever half the equation. The more real we become with ourselves the more we have to face those unhealthy patterns and tendencies we keep playing out.
Our innate Smeagols’ constantly jostle with our corruptible counterpart in Gollum.
Dejection has always been one of my bugbears and it reared its head again this year. My internal wiring causes new ideas to forever bubble up. This year I had to let go of a vocational venture that brought a lot of satisfaction to my life but always remained somewhat stunted. I learned the necessity of grieving one’s stillborn creations.
I read some searingly honest facebook posts from friends this year who had the courage to share the pain they felt having put their all into their passion and found little yield from doing so.
Whether someone is a traditional artist, a social one, or a mix of the two, the artists’ way may be transcendent when it flows but it can be devastating when it doesn’t.
Many years ago I was leading a Rotary weekend for youth and felt some self-doubt about how effective my contribution was. Then I heard someone share a sentiment along the lines of success not being about how we are received as much as whether we’ve had the resolve to give something our best shot. It helped me tweak my attitude and is something I have to keep revisiting.
Thankfully now, it has been some months since I’ve put this endeavour to pasture. As the dust settles, I’m finding much more time and energy for new initiatives which have since sprung up.
The other major bugbear I continually battle is a sense of being on the outer. Men tend to struggle more with loneliness than women and the risks grow the older one gets. A statistic I came across this year said that chronic loneliness cuts one’s life shorter than if they are a smoker!
Over the years I’ve explored personality models and other tools for self-understanding, which have helped me move through these feelings of isolation.
Mainstream models such as Myers Briggs have me clearly identifying as an introvert.
Susan Cain made a great case for how modern culture has regarded introversion as a deficiency, disregarding the strengths it can offer.
Schema Therapy, a psychological understanding of self-sabotage, identifies 11 unhealthy patterns that people can spend a lifetime reconciling with. The one that rings most true for me has been the “I don’t fit in”: Social Exclusion Lifetrap.
After learning about the Enneagram a few years back I identified with the type known as The Individualist. At least that is the positive spin some give to type 4’s. The more cutting (or is it honest) moniker is The Tragic Romantic. Essentially it is the outsider of the 9 types.
In my early 30’s astrology became of interest to the point that I sought out a chart reading. The astrologist I met with looked at my blueprint and saw me more as an Aquarian than my designated Capricorn sun sign.
Aquarians are known for playing the role of the outsider and are used to following the beat of their own drum. The upside to being the rebel, renegade or outcast, is that they place themselves in a position where they are ready to bring about the unorthodox and the new.
Light always cast a shadow of course. Aquarians can hide behind autonomy and isolation in order to avoid the vulnerability that comes from close connection with others.
Demonstrating the element of air, as an intellectual type, detachment from emotion is a perpetual challenge.
In looking into the Human Design model, I’m told that my type is known as the Heretic Investigator.
The advantage of Heretics is that they can step in from outside a situation to offer a solution no one involved has considered. The drawback is becoming a pariah.
As for the Investigator, the temptation is to forever research and acquire knowledge while becoming malnourished in terms of lived experience.
A longstanding friend of mine perfectly fits the title of Heretic Investigator. He is also an Aquarian. Talk about learning from mirroring.
His influence in my life is unparalleled and I admire and appreciate him more than words can say.
It is said that a challenge for Aquarians is becoming so aloof that they crystallise and become rigid. My dear friend has always kept himself at arm’s length from others and finds great solace in ideas, books and his imagination. I do fear, however, that he pays a heavy toll for the absence of close companionship.
2018 has seen me work hard to fight the temptation to become too solitary.
Extroverts do better from integrating and making sense of all the experiences they drink in. Conversely, introverts become more balanced by pushing themselves into the thick of life. Saying yes to opportunities as well as actively seeking them out has done wonders to keep my hermit tendencies at bay this year.
Finding further gold from the shadow, a book idea birthed itself this year. It involves exploring the similarities I find with my mentor and how I am endeavouring to grow beyond the places I feel he has got lost in. The notion of eldership becomes more fascinating the longer I live. As it should I guess.
The last area in which shadow work has revealed itself this year has involved reciprocity and equality in friendships. Perhaps those of us with introverted tendencies are naturally more loyal to people because friendships seem harder to make.
In a culture where connection has become increasingly fraught, good listeners can find themselves highly sought out. And in an increasingly noisy world, their silence becomes ever more golden.
Psychiatrist, Paul Goodman nominated 9 kinds of silence in his book, Speaking and Language:
“Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each. There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy; the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face; the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts; the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, “This… this…”; the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity; the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear; the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination, loud and subvocal speech but sullen to say it; baffled silence; the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos.”
We give someone a tremendous gift when we listen deeply to another.
How would you rate yourself when it comes to how actively curious you are with other people? Are you more likely to dominate conversations or endeavour to create more equal exchanges?
A scene from the movie, Puzzle, highlighted how lost the art of conversation has become:
Agnes: You ask a lot of questions.
Robert: (Chuckling) Yeah. That's how you get to know someone.
Agnes: But I don't ask you anything.
Robert: Go ahead.
Agnes: I can't think of a question right now.
Being inherently curious as well as fascinated by people I tend to listen a lot and ask questions. The shadow to this is not always leaving enough space for people to ask questions in return.
Being more assertive is another thing I have to stay vigilant about. This year I’ve had to let go of friendships that have felt too unequal for too long. I’ve made it clearly known to certain people that I have not felt heard during our conversations but consciously or unconsciously they continued domineering. It is painful as it is liberating to value oneself more.
Much thanks to Gregg Levoy for his insights into the minds of conversation hogs:
Linguists call them conversational narcissists, talkaholics, and high verbalizers, and what they’re verbalizing so highly is largely chitchat, short for “chittering and chattering,” both synonyms for incessant talk. Psychologist Sidney Jourard in The Transparent Self refers to it as “irresponsible self-expressiveness,” in which the passion to communicate goes into overdrive if not warp-drive, and if my own experience is any indication, there’s quite a lot of it going around. It’s probably no coincidence that all cultures have a word for vampire, for a creature so needy it sucks the life force out of others.
I’m routinely stupefied by the number of people I run across whose idea of conversation—perhaps our primary arena of self-expression—is a rampaging monologue, and for whom I’m just a bucket in which to drain all the clutter and piffle from their minds, audience for whatever longwinded soliloquy or emotional drama they feel like getting off their chests, and they’re there to strut and fret an hour or two upon the stage while waiting for the plane to land. To them, it was “great talking to you,” and undoubtedly they leave with the impression that I’m a fine fellow. I, on the other hand, am left feeling like someone just picked my pockets.
This goes doubly for people who pretend to conversation, interrupting their data dump long enough to ask a question about me, only to use it as a form of in-air refueling before turning the conversation back to themselves. Their questions are like boomerangs; they mean for them to come back around quickly.
The writer Jane Campbell once observed that over-communicators regard life as a talk show on which they’re the star guest. “If you ask, ‘What’s the capital of Venezuela?’ they hear, ‘So tell us a bit about your early years, Bob.’”
They’re oblivious to, or ignore, a basic principle of human relations, something that’s really kindergarten stuff: taking turns. I’ll do you, then you do me. They make great use of an attention-getting tactic called shift response (constantly shifting the focus back to themselves) and minimum use of an attention-giving tactic called support response (encouraging the other guy to talk).
If you tell someone you’re having a hard day and she says, “Me too,” that’s shift. If she says, “How come?,” that’s support. It’s the subtle difference between giving and taking, curiosity and indifference. It’s the difference between a conversation that’s actually interactive—two people’s self-expressiveness swapping juices—and one that’s merely additive, one story piled on top of another; mine, then yours, then mine, then yours, the conversation really two elbowing monologues.
“The single biggest problem in communication,” George Bernard Shaw once said, “is the illusion that it has taken place.” The cruel irony is that overexpressers seldom attain the thing they’re after—receivers—because most people take to their heels, or tune them out like the boy who cried wolf, or develop covert signaling systems to indicate to others across a room: save me.
Conversation comes from a word meaning something like intimacy, but abused it’s antisocial, and talkers wind up constantly sowing seeds that don’t bear fruit. They want to ingratiate themselves but end up annoying people instead. To paraphrase Plutarch in his essay On Talkativeness, they don’t have companions so much as conscripts.”
It is a sign of great inner insecurity to be hostile to the unfamiliar. - Anaïs Nin
How have you shown courage this year? Eleanor Roosevelt famously advised to “Do one thing each day that scares you.”
Over the years I have visited a particular swimming spot in New Zealand and watched people swim out to a rock in the ocean, battle the tide to approach it and the crashing waves to climb it before then diving off it. I watched some people do it this year while telling myself there is no way I would. “But why not?” I asked myself. When the impulse came to tackle this fear I seized it and swam out (all the while wishing I had watched far fewer Jaws-themed movies this year).
It was exhilarating.
Another external act of bravery (or was it stupidity?) involved climbing Mt Warning. While exploring the Northern Rivers I asked a local shopkeeper for recommendations of things to do. He said that Mt Warning was popular and took around half an hour to climb. I did a few other things and arrived at the car park at 4:30. Being winter I aimed to catch a bit of sunset at the top and be back down by dusk.
A sign at the start of the track advised that the walk not be attempted after midday during the winter months. Curious how the shopkeeper could have got it so wrong I decided to start the track, hoping to find a lookout and then return. But I didn’t manage to find a decent lookout. At some point, I had a Rocky Balboa moment and decided I would summit the mountain despite the high likelihood of running out of light. I surmised that there was always the torch facility on my phone to fall back on. Undeterred by the faces being pulled by those people passing me on their descent I pressed on to realise just how long a walk an 8.8 km mountain climb is. After thinking I had reached the top I encountered what seemed like the 12th labour of Heracles, a final boulder scramble that involved having to pull yourself up a steep section with a chain. As it got darker it felt more and more sketchy. Was there really any great reason I had to reach the pinnacle? Not particularly. And so I descended the mountain.
It was alive with nocturnal activity. Glowing eyes stared out of the trees, creatures hopped or scurried about while glow worms littered the track on the walk back down. Driving out of the national park I noticed groups of people who must have been on some kind of camp or retreat, wandering the forest with fire lit torches. Every now and then it’s good to revisit our primal origins, push our limits and explore remote places.
The School of Life is an organisation I’ve treasured for a while. This year I took in a couple of their one-day workshops. Typically I keep to myself but this year I approached a participant who made interesting observations in class and I asked them whether they wanted company over lunch. They did and it was a connecting experience.
Some months later I returned for another course and struck up a conversation with the class facilitator. It turned out we were both interested in rites of passage work and had even been involved with the same organisation. He was a similar age and like myself, had been on quite a journey moving away from 9-5 employee work to find a more deeply authentic career path. Emboldened by my previous lunchtime canvassing I reached out to another participant who just happened to be doing work in corrections like myself.
I’d never been inside a jail until this year. It was a daunting as well as dispiriting experience. Rarely would I run a class with inmates where there wasn’t at least one alpha male challenging everything I said or disrupting things for the people who did want to learn. Initially, I remained diplomatic but it didn’t often solve the problem. Over time I summoned the guts to confront troublesome folk and found to my surprise they respected me more for doing so.
Internally, my toughest time this year involved returning to an event I worked at many years ago running a week-long class. Back then, one of the participants completed the course and said it changed her life. Another remarked on how much she got out of the workbook I designed and asked if she could buy copies of it to give to friends. Then there was someone who said she was hoping for a magic bullet and didn’t find it. Later on, she made contact to say that she realised it was up to her to take more responsibility for designing the life she wanted. But rather than focus on the successes, however, I fixated on the disappointed one, becoming hypercritical of myself and deciding I wouldn’t run further courses at the event.
So it was with a lot of trepidation that I made my way back there this year. I was nervous, to say the least. I’ve always been blessed with good health but just before the course started I had this strange illness which made it painful to talk due to a blocked ear. How was I going to run a course when I struggled to speak as well as hear? Fascinating how the body can manifest things out of emotional blockages.
As fate would have it, one of the participants was a doctor and his advice helped immensely. The course was hugely satisfying and just today I received an email from the organisers asking if I would be willing to squeeze in another participant now that the cap of 15 has been reached. It would have been so easy to avoid returning this year but how much more anaemic 2018 would have been if I did stay safe in my shell.
Over the last few months, I have been expanded on the material for that Life Story Writing course which begins with a module that explores one’s childhood and the accompanying archetype for this period of life, The Innocent.
Lieben und arbeiten - love and work are what Freud regarded as giving meaning to life.
If job satisfaction marries up with a bell curve, then it holds that only a minuscule percentage of people find themselves in a rarified position. Analyst Richard St John concluded that even those who do love their jobs, whom he dubbed workafrolics, spend around 20% of their time on mundane tasks.
I wonder if the proportion of people in a relationship who feel passionate about their partnership is 20% or less also. Love may give meaning to life but it can also be regarded as one of the thorniest aspects to master.
It can take an expert watchmaker like George Daniels 3 years to make a finely crafted watch. He works with tolerances of 4000th of a millimetre to ensure his pieces are reliable and will outlast its owner. Ironically, it seems like we are all transferring our expectations of a supremely built watch onto our relationship hopes while becoming less willing or capable of contributing excellence in return.
I guess that when it comes to love few of us can, or should, approach it with the objectivity of a Swiss watchmaker understanding their machinery. Emotions are nothing if not messy.
In his most recent work, The Course of Love, Alain de Botton suggests dispensing far greater compassion on ourselves and our partners:
“It’s not just children who are childlike. Adults, too, are – beneath the bluster – intermittently playful, silly, fanciful, vulnerable, hysterical, terrified, and pitiful and in search of consolation and forgiveness.
We’re well versed at seeing the sweet and the fragile in children and offering them help and comfort accordingly. Around them, we know how to put aside the worst of our compulsions, vindictiveness and fury. We can recalibrate our expectations and demand a little less than we normally do; we’re slower to anger and a bit more aware of unrealised potential. We readily treat children with a degree of kindness that we are oddly and woefully reluctant to show to our peers.
It is a wonderful thing to live in a world where so many people are nice to children. It would be even better if we lived in one where we were a little nicer to the childlike sides of one another.”
Even when the complexity of all our working parts lines up with another’s, simple timing can dash the most promising of connections.
If there was a lesson for me on the relationship front in 2018 it was realising it is better to enjoy a connection for a brief season than have either party attempt to contort themselves at the expense of some core value.
With a predilection to avoiding conflict, I’d like to think that perhaps my time in the sweat lodge purged some of this tendency. This year I was far better at asserting myself while looking at surfacing tensions through a more compassionate lens. That said, it can be damn hard to discern where unconditional love ends and acquiescence begins.
Whilst in a relationship earlier this year I accompanied my then partner to an event that she had previously attended and spoke highly of. I soon discovered it was not for me. My choice was to politely endure a week of it, withdraw from it altogether or find a balance between attending some activities and opting out of others in order to devote time to things I found enriching.
I went with the last option but she took it as reflecting poorly on her image. She also felt aggrieved that we didn’t end up sharing this deeply held passion of hers, saying that in her ideal world her partner would love ceremonial work as much as she did.
My intuition told me going into the event that it would be the making or breaking of us and it was right. An interesting dynamic that unfolded with the relationship demise was finding myself become the pariah of the group. Fortunately, I had begun Tara Westover’s memoir and recognised the strength she showed in remaining true to herself.
Desiring greater reciprocity in friendships this year has also had me seeking out more asymmetry in a relationship while being just as elusive.
That brilliant Bulgarian blogger from Brooklyn, Maria Popova, captured how heart-rending this can be for the one who feels more. In her example she spoke about Emily Dickinson feeling greater intensity than that of the target of her affection, Susan Gilbert:
“Emily’s feelings for her were not of a different hue but of a wholly different color — one that Susan was constitutionally unable to match. Or perhaps Emily had always misdivined the contents of Susan’s heart, inferring an illusory symmetry of feeling on the basis not of evidence but of willfully blind hope.
Few things are more wounding than the confounding moment of discovering an asymmetry of affections where mutuality had been presumed. It is hard to imagine how Dickinson took the withdrawal — here was a woman who experienced the world with a euphoria of emotion atmospheres above the ordinary person’s and who therefore likely plummeted to the opposite extreme in equal magnitude. But she seems to have feared it all along — feared that her immense feelings would never be wholly met, as is the curse of those who love with unguarded abandon.”
This year I’ve found myself on both sides of the asymmetry equation.
Ahhh love, what divine madness you unleash!
Interaction it turns out is the high road from merely human to full humane. - Rebecca Abrams
The year began with meeting a fellow writer who has become something of a mentor figure and whose life has inspired a new book project in me.
Another cherished soul I met was a lady in her 80’s who reminded me of an Echidna. She appeared prickly on the surface but I quickly discovered that was merely a protective mechanism to safeguard her very tender side.
Elders, elders, everywhere.
Midway through the year, I met another lady in late bloom. Her professional life was spent as a dutiful psychologist but in post-retirement, she had become a free-spirited traveller and in many respects, a child again. How radiant are individuated beings twinkling through their twilight years.
In keeping with my “Just do it!” mantra I took up an invitation to accompany a fellow chess enthusiast in his 80’s who was heading a bush walk to a place called Bungleboori. It was a remarkable spot. The highlight, however, was witnessing a pack of wild brumbies dance in what appeared to be a choreographed celebration of their freedom.
Another writing connection grew as the year went on. Initially, we had something of a more formal connection but in writing and sharing more of our life stories an endearing friendship grew.
Being replete with wisdom and engaging stories is evident in those mature in years but what I’m finding most enviable is their equanimity.
Midway through the year, I pushed through my reluctance to attend a friends 40th birthday party. I didn’t know anyone who would be going aside from the host. I spoke to a handful of people and noticed various cliques forming. One guy seemed on the outer sitting by himself so I struck up a conversation. He’d had a hard year battling a health condition. Coupled with his inherent shyness it didn’t seem like he was too at ease. Finding some commonality I asked a bunch of questions and got a broader picture of his life. He made a concerted effort to enquire about me and my life too. A couple of hours later I said farewell to the birthday girl who remarked on how great it was to watch her friend open up with someone. It was equally rewarding for me too.
Spending a lot of time this year researching the Midlife Passage it was serendipitous to attend a social event and meet someone who was just coming out the other side of a midlife crisis (or was it a midlife opportunity?).
On paper, she had attained the ideal life as held by society. She had a husband, son, daughter, high profile job, wealth, house in an exclusive area and fulfilling social life. What more could she have asked for?
Reminiscent of the TV series Doctor Foster, she was blindsided by a betrayal that saw everything stripped from her life in short order. Rather than collapse into despondency or victimhood, she managed to completely reinvent her life. New passions were birthed, spirituality discovered and a whole new vocational chapter opened up.
Navigating my own midlife transition, I found it heartening to reflect on her journey and embrace, rather than fear, the changes that have and continue to occur in my life.
My daughter often expresses how much she would like more friendship with kindred spirits. I encourage her to attend more events and try new activities. Moving into fatherly advice mode I said, “Often you’ll meet dozens of people you have little in common with but every now and then you’ll find someone you really gel with and the discomfort will have been worth it. The only thing for certain is that if you don’t make any effort things won’t change.”
Had I not taken my own advice I wouldn’t have made the connection that led to me learning about Human Design and enjoying being able to hear about another seeker’s questing.
This year, like so many others, I’ve met some fascinating people with whom I had hoped friendships would grow. Being too far removed geographically from them or finding they have enough friends already, most connections I make are temporal but that just makes the enduring ones more appreciated.
There we both sat and rested for a while, facing the rising sun the way we’d climbed, for looking back can sometimes help you on. - Dante
When I was younger I didn’t see my grandfather on my father’s side very often as he lived in New Zealand. He was cantankerous and closed off, the polar opposite to my exceedingly warm and loving grandmother. It wasn’t until after his passing that I found out he was a writer and a poet. At 28 his life must have felt full of promise. Taking a sabbatical from working on his parent’s farm he undertook a 6-month cycling trip around the North Island.
The roads were rough and his bike was nowhere near as flash as our modern ones. At times he found it so cold sleeping by the side of the road that in desperation he would knick a paling or two from a farmers fence so he could make a fire. Perhaps he also did it to provide some light so he could journal about his trip.
As I take up gardening, which was his vocation in life, I wonder what other traits I might have inherited from this man who felt like such a stranger growing up. Hearing that he was plucked from his peaceful life and drafted into WWII I suspect the horror of that period must have contributed to him hardening as a person. Things couldn’t have been helped by him having a stern father who never offered so much as a skerrick of encouragement.
My father broke that cycle. He chose to follow the example of his mother who lavished goodwill on everyone she met. Although she was bullied as a child for being poor she never became bitter and went out of her way to accept everyone, offer positivity and a kind smile. With my father turning 70 this year, my two brothers and I celebrated the occasion by taking him on the Otago Rail Trail, a 150+ km ride on the South Island. Sustained by wild apples and hearty pub meals we wound our way through spectacular scenery, rugged drought lands and through pounding rain and winds.
Roadtripping the North Island with my son and daughter has been a great way to see the year out. In a year that began surrounded by the glow of elders, it fittingly ends with the presence of wide-eyed and appreciative youth.
We must die as egos and be born again in the swarm, not separated and self-hypnotized, but individual and related. - Henry Miller
Over-extending myself is a continual challenge, particular with a creative nature which forever dreams up new projects. Focusing on one thing at a time and learning to tick something off the list before moving down to another has been life-altering.
Listening to my body when it comes to finding better balance has been equally transformative. So has it been to live healthier, grow more of my own food and learn from health-conscious people. Discovering watermelon slushes has been among the finds of the year (simply freeze chunks of watermelon then blend with some freshly squeezed lime juice and mint from the garden).
Becoming diligent about being more unplugged has helped counter my habit of pushing myself till exhaustion. This year has seen me confining the mental, or creative work I do on the computer to the morning when I’m clearest and most refreshed. Then the remainder of the day has been devoted to gardening, reading, cooking, bush walks, connection and all manner of things.
Living in greater harmony with the seasons this year has led to me noticing which flowers appear at different times and has had me anticipating the seasonal produce at my local co-op such as lemonades, tamarillos, feijoas and other things not readily found on the supermarket shelves.
Joseph Campbell was an advocate of people finding a sacred space - a place to regularly inhabit where one could forget about their day to day concerns and reconnect with deeper meaning and larger feelings. This year I’ve found such a place at a particular waterfall on an almost uninhabited rainforest walk not far from where I live.
Having always had a penchant for dour drama it has been nice to lighten things up by looking for more laughs. Carl Barron and Chris Rock produced some of 2018’s finest stand up performances while series such as The Good Place and The Marvellous Mrs Maisel brought plenty of amusement.
With my grandmother living to 96, I have always thought my father would follow her footsteps, particularly being so fit and healthy. But only a month after he completed the 150km bike ride he became unwell while travelling through Europe. What I thought was just a blip in his impeccable health record has proven otherwise. While he may yet bounce back the likelihood is that he will remain in the heavily subdued state that he is now in. 2018 has really rocked the idea that my parents will live forever.
Australian author, David Tacey spoke of the crossroads our society now finds itself when it comes to locating significance and meaning:
Jung predicted the demise of secular humanism and claimed we would search for alternatives to science, atheism and reason. We would experience a new and even unfashionable appetite for the sacred. Educated people however, would not return to unreconstructed religions, because these do not express the life of the spirit as discerned by modern consciousness. The sacred has developed a darker hue, and worshiping symbols of light and goodness no longer satisfies the longings of the soul. The new sacred cannot be contained by formulas of the past, but nor can we live without a sense of the sacred. We stand in a difficult place: between traditional religions we have outgrown and a pervasive materialism we can no longer embrace.
Depth psychology, time in nature, recognising synchronicities, feeling more interconnected through hearing the life stories of others and many other things in my life have contributed to finding this ‘new sacred’ and moving beyond what Max Weber called the iron cage of rationality.
2018 had led to deeper layers of understanding being added to my exploration of the metaphysical sciences of astrology and numerology.
It wasn’t solely an archetypal view of life that led to Carl Jung recognising that we are patterned beings living in a patterned universe. He became intrigued by the insights of astrology, once saying “The starry vault of heaven is in truth the open book of cosmic projection.”
The big change impacting us all this year, astrologically, has been the planet Uranus moving from the impetuous and pioneering Aries into the earthy and grounded sign of Taurus. The impulse of Uranus includes an emphasis on greater equality and prompts us to individuate more.
Instead of protesting against the existing model of capitalism being inequitable and unsustainable (think of the Occupy movement), people are now going back to grassroots change through permaculture, supporting local economies and taking part in shared economies like Airbnb, Uber etc.
Neptune has been in its home sign of Pisces since 2011 and is now halfway through its transit, not moving on again until 2025.
Positive aspects from this include people gravitating more towards creative expression, greater openness to spiritual growth and becoming more compassionate and selfless. Pisces shadow involves the havoc that illusion, fantasy and addiction can wreak.
Think of the illusion of separatist politicians like Trump, climate change denial or old paradigm delusions around money and power leading to happiness.
Escape through fantasy ratchets up as screen time soars, production of TV series becomes exponential to feed Netflix binges and computer gaming proliferates.
As for addiction, the scourge of methamphetamines has been worsening as has self-medicating in order to numb the ennui or anxiety so many people seem to be struggling with.
In drilling down from collective influences to more personal ones we can make greater sense of what is colouring our day to day lives.
Saturn is the great taskmaster that constantly chides us to be more disciplined and focused. Now that it situates itself in Capricorn, the sign it rules, most people find this placement to bring restriction and austerity. But for Capricorns such as myself, it is welcomed and leads us to be enormously productive. Knowing this detail has made me more willing to make hay while the sun shines.
Going into 2019, Capricorns have their 1st house of self as the strongest in their horoscopes. They will naturally be more self-reliant (rather than needy) but the downside for relationships is coming across as too aloof. Next year we will have to make extra effort to express our concern, appreciation and warmth for others.
From the viewpoint of numerology 2018 has been a universal 2 year (2+0+1+8=11. 1+1=2). The 2 essence is all about cooperation. The greatest opportunity for growth this year has been through partnership and connection with others. Our big lesson has involved letting go of relationships that aren’t healthy and investing more in those which are.
As we move into a global 3 year in 2019, we will feel a stronger urge to communicate, create, socialise and enjoy life more.
Just like with astrology, our personal blueprint has its own unique promptings. This year I have started a new 9-year cycle and have seen such a glut of new beginnings and excitement for fresh projects.
To learn more about your astrological or numerological blueprint as well as the influences they bring for 2019 book a session with me.
A gift of narrative therapy is being able to consciously look for meaning in day to day events rather than feeling we are living in a psychic washing machine getting battered and thrown around by pure chaos.
I loved reading something this year from the extraordinary storyteller Tanya Batt:
“Humans live a double life: in the world that we can manipulate/interact with directly and then the world we mediate through language.”
This year my outer world has seen major events take place which has helped to fulfil my dream of creating a retreat centre for people to explore writing, reconnect with nature and utilise numerous personal development tools to help them grow and individuate.
If I was to write one story about this year it would involve the shower of synchronicities that took place which has made this vision many steps closer.
What better way to see out the year and welcome in the new than undertaking an End Of Year Exploration.
As T.S Eliot pointed out:
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.
Consider all the remarkable events and fascinating happenings from this year. Do you find a bountiful assortment to trawl through or are there slim pickings? How much do your outer circumstances reflect your inner life?
Moving into the Jupiter (an expansive, optimistic essence) ruled global 3 year in 2019 it seems fitting to finish up with a poem that challenges us to create more and to feed our passions lest we go hungry, ”Amid the giant granaries this world is.”
We’ve all been taught that the crux of being an adult is to be responsible, practical and realistic. That we should defer passion till retirement. Resignation then retirement. Something is amiss there.
I’m not sure about you but I’m yet to meet anyone who has endured decades of a 9-5 job they felt ambivalent about and then suddenly blossomed like a century plant upon retiring.
The Danger of Wisdom
We learn to live without passion.
To be reasonable. We go hungry
amid the giant granaries
this world is. We store up plenty
for when we are old and mild.
It is our strength that deprives us.
Like Keats listening to the doctor
who said the best thing for
tuberculosis was to eat only one
slice of bread and a fragment
of fish each day. Keats starved
himself to death because he yearned
so desperately to feast on Fanny Brawne.
Emerson and his wife decided to make
love sparingly in order to accumulate
his passion. We are taught to be
moderate. To live intelligently.
~ Jack Gilbert