Saturday, March 31, 2012


I am working through The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.  Whew! What a project to undertake.  It is not for the feint-hearted but rather the whole-hearted, as Brene Brown would call all those who live with courage, compassion, connection and vulnerability.  This is exactly what this process requires.  Julia Cameron's primary tool is The Morning Pages where the artist writes 3 pages of thoughts or "stream of consciousness" in her journal each morning - a relative mind-dump.  And then there are weekly tasks, one of which is to have regular Artist Dates with yourself : time spent doing inspirational things, whatever that is to you.  Today I googled.  And found many inspirational art to look at and marvel at and be inspired!

Grace Kotze
Anatomy of the Spirit
Oil on canvas

Gwenn Seemel
Potential Meal-Ticket
acrylic on canvas patchwork
 Limited edition Qalakabusha Sofa created by Ardmore Design Collection

Ardmore ceramic candlesticks

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Broken Open - Elizabeth Lesser

I am taking my time with this book.  It is heart-breakingly beautiful.  If Elizabeth Lesser could meet Brene Brown from TEDtalk, they would be best friends, for sure!  She is poetic, wise and courageous.  Vulnerability is key to her radiant humility and wisdom.  I highly recommend reading it to learn more about facing shame, blame and pain; and move towards authenticity, compassion and joy.

Live Your Life - Not Your Childrens'

 "Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent." C.G.Jung

Doesn't that just suck the life out of you?

Nikki Bush published a column in which she asks the question "What do our children really want?"  Basically, its about a recent study (Marcus Buckingham in his latest book Find Your Strongest Life) done on kids of working parents, you know, given how guilty we all are of not ticking all the boxes we fought so hard to have and hold from this day forward, until death do us part.  The results were surprising:  Only 10% of the children interviewed said they wanted to spend more time with their mothers, 15.5% wanted to spend more time with their fathers.  When asked “If you were granted one wish that would change the way that your mother’s/father’s work affects your life, what would that wish be?”, the answer was for their parents to be less stressed, less tired and happier when they were with them!!!  So it is our responsibility to make ourselves happy and fulfilled.  It is not our children's destiny to do this for us.  We are obliged to seek happiness, not only to affect the whole family's state of well-being, but also to be a great example to our children so that one day, when they are parents themselves, they do not live vicariously through their children.  Interesting!

Terry Tavner recently wrote the most intriguing article in the April 2012 Woman and Home magazine entitled "Spare me the Parenting Olympics".  In it she describes a phenomena that has always been at the edge of my consciousness without being fully realised:  Mothering is a fierce competition and it starts the moment your child is born.  What does s/he weigh?  Did you give birth naturally? What colour are her eyes? "Is she sitting up yet?  Is she crawling yet?  Walking?  Talking?"  Note the use of the word "yet" - an instant body blow when you realise your firstborn is a late developer ... The Parenting Games laugh in the face of the Olympics.  It's the Iron Man (and Woman) meets the triathlon crossed with the Tour de France and the Marathon des Sables, and it's an all-day-every-day-for-life event.  Before they're even six months, they're on that competitive treadmill with you as their coach pitted against the stiffest competition in the world: other parents."    And then she laments the whole choice-of-school race where she witnessed the sense of failure some parents have at their choice.  "And all the while, it's not he kids who are saying, 'Look at me, aren't I clever / talented / sporty?' No, its the parents. As if their child's performance is some sort of reflection on them."  And it evidently is non-stop and continues on into adulthood where the parent is questioned on her child's choice of university (or not), career, relationship (the big one, apparently) and then grandchildren. She writes: " As the year progresses, qualifying has already begun for the grandchildren event.  'When can I expect them?'  Can I just point out that it's not me who's 'expecting' anything - I think I might leave that to them...I love them to bits, I thank them for being who they are.  I am privileged to see them regularly and share a wonderfully close relationship with them and their partners.  But do I need to bore everyone I meet with their achievements?  No.  And that's why I'll never win gold at the Parenting Games.  (pg 74 woman & home April 2012)

You see, we could turn into one of those mothers / grandmothers if we don't live our own joy and bless those all around us with our own happiness and sense of well-being.  So give yourself permission today to do a few things on your personal joy-list and see how it affects your kids too.

Two Great Reads

Love, love, LOVE reading!  This was so delicious!  Especially since its the first novel I have had the pleasure of reading for a long time.  Try it out, you might like it too.  Poignant. 

And scare yourself witless with this Italian translated crime novel.  I had a raised heart-beat and read until I finished it without too much of life being allowed to distract me.  Enjoy!

Vulnerability = Courage

I belong to the most amazing group of women who get together once a month and simply share where we are at for that month.  We hold the "talking stone" (supposed to be a stick, but, hey...) when its our turn to talk; and just listen when its someone else's turn; and we witness an array of emotions from joy and gratitude to shame, pain and blame.  No judgments.  No fixing. No interrupting.  Well, that's the idea anyway.  Pascale Schroen started these groups down in my neck of the woods after belonging to a similar group based in Johannesburg, run by Angela Deutschmann ( who is very talented in the arena of shame- and pain-exposing workshops, all in the name of pursuing your joy. I can highly recommend them.

At our last meeting, a theme of shame came up.  Brene Brown says that shame is the fear of disconnection and connection, she says, is the reason for living.   In order for shame to grow, it needs one of three things: secrecy, silence and judgment.  Shame leads to fear, blame and disconnection.  Empathy on the other hand leads to courage, compassion and connection - and this is exactly what happens in our group of women.  I am blown away every month how amazingly similar our struggles and joys are.  And each time someone stands in their vulnerability and voices their shame and pain and secret secrets, shame is diluted and connection happens as we bond and shout, "Me too!" silently in our heads, of course. 

Dr Brown goes on to say, "In order for connection to happen, we have to let ourselves be seen, REALLY seen."  I think this is the essence of what we have done in our group of women over the past 2 and a half years.  Apparently, our sense of worthiness lies in our sense of love and belonging.  She reckons that in a huge study conducted over 6 years, she focused on a group that had a high sense of worthiness, love and belonging and discovered that what set them apart was a BELIEF that they had a strong sense of love and belonging, that's all.  She calls them Whole-Hearted People.  What did they have in common? One : Courage - to be imperfect.  Two: Compassion - to be kind to themselves first and then others.  Three: Connection - as a result of authenticity, they were able to let go of who they thought they SHOULD be in order to be who they REALLY are. And finally, Vulnerability - they fully embraced it.  They believed that what made them vulnerable, made them beautiful; that vulnerability was necessary and they displayed a willingness to say "I love you" first or "I made a mistake" or "I am sorry" first.  Vulnerability is at the core of shame, fear and struggle for worthiness, she says, but it is also the birthplace of joy, creativity and belonging and love.

So instead of numbing our vulnerability with addictions, materialism, medication and eating, we sit with our discomfort and experience the whole array of human emotion, because when we numb the pain, we numb the joy too.  We cannot isolate the emotion we wish to numb. Instead of making the uncertain CERTAIN as we do with religion and politics, we just remain open.  Instead of blaming, we take responsibility for our choices. Instead of pretending we don't have an impact on those around us, we get real.  Instead of trying to be perfect, we admit our imperfections to ourselves and others.  Brene Brown says our job as parents is to say to our children:  " You are imperfect and wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging."

She suggests another way of being: We let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably be seen.  We love with our whole hearts even though there is no guarantee.  We practice gratitude and joy.  And we believe that we are enough so that we become kinder and gentler to ourselves and those around us.

I am inspired... thank you Brene.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Embody - Fall in Love with your Body

Hi, my name is Donna and I am a body-hater.  It has been 5 months since my last confession.

Recently, I attended a workshop with Angela Deutschmann called Embody where the intention is this :
 "At Embody, we will have a close look at your relationship with your body and uncover any shaming and blaming. You’ll engage powerfully with your past, habits, hates and the things you do when you think no-one else is watching. There will be no requirement to share or do anything unless you wish to but the opportunity will be there to release all your secret shames, pain and fears about your body...
We will be using unique, liberating processes, the splendour of the natural environment (outdoor pools, stone labyrinth) and the power of working in a small group to assist you to breakthrough that which prevents you from being in awe of your body. This is a workshop that will require vulnerability, courage and compassion. It is designed to make you uncomfortable or scared, if any fear or shame about your body exists in you. If you have it in you to play, you can finally surrender your shame and self-hatred and form an unconditionally loving partnership with your body for life.
Graduates have reported real and sustainable results including losing weight, creating long-term relationships, letting go of deep-seated habits and changing careers.
If you are brave enough to fully see and own your own body, compassionate enough to accept the bodies of others and wild enough to fall unconditionally in love with your body – forever - then I invite you to Embody." (Check out the link)

Sincerely, it was amazing!  I managed to go places in my pain and shame I have never been and I have been doing workshops for 9 years.  It was a very powerful experience.  I managed for the first time in my life to express the anger that resides in me like a tightly clamped fist.  With the help of the processes and the gentle and strong and safe place Angela created, I managed to locate my anger and uncurl the fist to release the rage and pain held there for years.  It was done in such a strong and sacred space, I felt safe enough, held enough to go there.  If I had sensed that they were not strong or capable or respectful enough, I could not have done it.  But they were, and I did.

This enabled me to realise that I have carried a belief for most of my conscious life that "Men are dangerous". This was huge.  Moving through life afraid of half the population on this planet! I didn't know this about myself and I have 3 sons.  This was facilitated bravely and sensitively and cleverly by Angela's husband Garrick who taught us the difference between sensuality and sexuality - another breakthrough.  This in itself has been life-changing for me.

So you can see how valuable this journey was for me.  I felt liberated enough to enjoy the feeling of being in my body and could feel how it felt to find pleasure in uncharged touch, whether from swimming in a river or massage.  And marvel at the pure strength of my body in doing handstands, cartwheels, climbing a small waterfall and doing sit-ups whilst hanging upside-down from a staircase that I had hooked my legs into.  Strength, power, sensuality, release of fear.  And dance: moving my body to moody music, whether angry, sad, joyful, powerful, loving or not, it was pleasure, using my body to express myself.  I am so used to using my mind and my voice but not my body.  This was a revelation : my body as an expressive tool.

But yesterday, I received the disc of the naked shots of the last labyrinth walk on Embody.  I am shocked and disappointed at my reaction.  I still can't believe that I did all those things on the course - particularly cavorting around naked in full sunlit view of everyone, male and female alike!

Photo by Celine Cruse (

I have translated a lot of the course into my everyday life - especially nakedness, as I now sleep naked, swim naked in our pool and really enjoy my sensuality much, MUCH more - which has in turn, made me more relaxed about my sexuality.

I am enjoying my body and feel its strength and power and there is pleasure in that: I use joy as my guide in exercise and do yoga. I swim and run around on the beach with our Labrador.  I started kick-boxing and LOVE the physical release of pent-up aggression and the amazing power that comes with the knowledge that I am strong enough to defend myself.  And my eating is much calmer and guided by pleasure and how it makes me feel.  It has been a real shift.

BUT, and its is a big but, when I saw the naked shots of myself 2 weeks later, I was somewhat horrified at the flabby, fat, aged, thickness of it all.  Repulsed, to be honest.  They are very honest photos - no touch-ups - and I can see what I have been hiding from for so long : intimately knowing myself, flab and all.  I have been living in denial by not looking at photos of my physical self for nearly 20 years now (I haven't done a photo album since our honeymoon 19 years ago).  When I did a painting of my body 2 years ago, I thought, "The light must be wrong.  I'm not that fat!"  But, sincerely, I am.

And this sense of repulsion and rejection make me feel like I passed Embody with a  D aggregate.  So, I sleep naked...but I don't LOVE my body when I see it.  When I feel it, yes.  When I see it, no.  I just don't picture myself being in a body that looks like that.  Simple.  I can accept all the freckles and odd body shape and short neck and generous butt, BUT it needs to be at least 10 - 20 kg's lighter.  End of story.  That's what I want.

Angela says its about feeling good, not being good...  Maybe this is just another step in the journey towards complete self-love and self-acceptance..."just another brick in the wall", as it were.  3 steps forward, 1 step back and so it goes.  I do feel that I am more fearless: trying out new things, going naked, less apologetic of my mere presence, able to feel like an equal to the men in my life, stand my ground, bolder, more joyful, having more fun. And maybe that's good enough for now.  After all, a D is better than an F.  Loving photos of myself may come later ... on the Re-Treat, a weekend workshop for graduates of Embody.

The single most powerful event on this journey is exposure.  It translates as truth, honesty and, in my mind, truth is the same as love.  So if telling the truth and exposing myself IS loving myself, then this blog is a love story to myself.  So I am back in the confessional box, exposing my shame and pain and fears and making myself vulnerable, so you can understand how this is sometimes overwhelmingly scary and hiding out seems like the only option: going back in my tortoise shell until I feel safe again to come out and live a little - on the edge of my comfort zone, sharing, caring, loving, braving the world again.