Reading Dad's Journals

My beloved Dad kept journals for many years. He died in 2008. And now I have to read them…

Month: May, 2013

Hands up for wealth and success? Plus a generous, open heart? And are they really mutually exclusive?

‘Raise your hands if you want to be rich! Let me hear you say “Yeah!” ‘

‘Turn to the person next to you; shake their hand. Tell them “You have the power to achieve great success!” ‘

Clearly I’m not just doing my weekly supermarket shopping.

‘What am I doing?’ That was the question I asked myself a lot during the two days I recently attended a ‘Wealth and Success’ conference. I’ve never been to anything like that before, and had to explain my behaviour to friends and colleagues alike.

‘I’m going because  a) I got a free $150 ticket  b) I’m curious about who else will be there, and what goes on (plus I’d like to be richer and more successful), and  c) How do I know that I don’t belong there unless I actually go?’

So I went. It wasn’t hard to find the entrance:

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 There were a lot of ‘power suits’ there, queuing importantly for their VIP tickets. There were lots of regular Australians there too, a real cross section of society, from the retiree couples to the covered Muslim women, from the young cocky men to the well-kept 40-something women (ooh, Hello, I think that’s me).

A program of 15 speakers over two days, 9-6pm, in a massive auditorium filled with hard, white plastic chairs, (except for the VIPs, who had padding- and I don’t mean either egos or arses).

Now here is my first, and SIGNIFICANT gripe: not one female speaker. NOT ONE. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. And after sending an email pointing out this bias to the conference organisers (with no reply as yet), I raised the matter with the very nice, well-trained, well-groomed customer service manager. His response? (And I quote exactly):

‘There aren’t any good ones around.’

I can’t believe he said that. Can you? But he did. So I told him they needed to look a bit harder. And I also told him I knew several women personally who would be excellent speakers e.g. Sheridan Stewart’s http://secretsofconfidentwomen.wordpress.com/about/ and that I’d also be quite happy to do it myself if needs be; I clearly have lots of good stories in me

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[photo by Heath Britton (c) 2013]

Anyway, back to the presentations. Two warm-up speakers, talking about overcoming illness, and buying their Mum/Dad a car/house. Then the first serious subject: currency trading.

Guaranteed success. No one gets hurt. Investment of only $10 a week will turn into $1000 week etc etc.

A 90-minute pitch, which became a real hard sell in the last five minutes: a training course & software to learn how to do it for only $13,000…

But a conference special, for today only, for $5000- grab a form from the back of the room.

I kid you not: people RAN to fill out the joint application & payment forms. Old people, young people, fat people, tired people. And you know what? I didn’t run, but I went to the back of the room, and found myself doing this:

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 Why? Because I’d decided to go to the conference with an open mind and heart, and to see how it all resonated with me. I’d admitted that I DO want wealth and success, and that perhaps there is a new way to do it, as I haven’t particularly achieved either of those things (yet)?

 What I have learnt though, and this conference confirmed, was that through trial, error, and reflection, (plus thousands of dollars and/or hours on various therapies, healings, and written exorcisms), I have a good heart. ‘Good’ as in open, generous, loving, strong, active. While the focus of every speaker I saw was the creation of freedom through wealth, with a token nod to charitable work (‘probably as a tax write-off’, she added cynically), I was left with a nasty taste in my mouth about the ethics behind the program presenters. They were feeding into our wants for comfort, for security, for freedom from fear. Which is laughable when compared with someone living in the Gaza Strip, or a refugee camp in Ethiopia, or a child soldier in Africa, I know!

[But here we are: blogging and thinking and commenting and living with our laptops and our mobile phones. So don’t bag me for my status as a Westerner. Believe me, I know it, and Ben Lee’s song sums it up perfectly, we are indeed all in this together]

http://youtu.be/geZehkuUvuk

Amazingly, so often does Life offer lessons or realizations on multiple levels. Like it’s emphasizing the point, so I don’t miss it. This week, I sustained a tiny tear in the fabric of my intimate world. A romantic interest acted without due care or diligence, and caused me to take a step back from the path I was enjoying. As the conference powered its way to finale, I reflected on the importance of ethical standards of behaviour, of honest communication and trust, both professionally and personally. If I gave my $5000 to the currency trading man, would he genuinely teach and support me? Could he have a heartfelt connection with every one who signed up for his program, and enhance their lives? Would he validate them as fragile and worthy human beings? Hmmm, I’m not so sure.

A dear friend had a framed saying on her wall for years, which I often admired: ‘Do what most kindles Love in you’. Which is a wonderful sentiment. But now I’m wondering if I prefer ‘Do what most kindles Love in others’?

Goodness knows I don’t want to get into a ‘quote-off!’. Both are good. And while I’m in no way promoting a religious framework, the ‘wealth & power’ conference made me want to call for a heightened sense of ethical behaviour, and heartfelt action.

You see, I believe we all know when we’ve acted badly. I think we often know beforehand too. I know I’ve made deliberate choices to act selfishly, or thoughtlessly, perhaps even cruelly sometimes (oh my youthful recklessness at university). I know my teenage son knows when he’s being slack to me in our conversations- I can see it in his eyes, or hear it over the phone. I know my love interest knew he was being unworthy when he acted as he did; apologies and regrets unfortunately don’t prevent damage. However, they can guide new, more heart-centred behaviour, and offer conscious opportunities for breaking old habits and reactions.

I didn’t feel genuine warmth and heart-centred trust coming from that speaker’s stage (and not just because I was so far back on a hard plastic chair). Only one presenter’s speech touched me, and he was the token black man, selling nothing but the story of his adoption, double prostate cancer recovery, and love of God.

Why can’t we be more caring and loving without the drama of life-threatening illness, or the promise of eternal life?

Why isn’t America wringing its hands and examining its heart-based value-system after the shooting of those kindergarten children, and now at the Mother’s Day Parade? Why isn’t the UK doing the same in the light of the mass anti- Thatcher celebrations? Why isn’t India doing the same after the focus on its treatment and abuse of women? And similar questions for Korea/China/Bangladesh/insert your country of choice here.

Natural disasters are a tragedy; but deliberate, socially-conditioned or condoned ones are a NATIONAL AND GLOBAL DISGRACE.

 And we in Australia have our own complex issues: indigenous rights/refugees/Catholic child abuse/poverty. How long do the research committees or royal commissions or political debates have to drag on for?

 Those of you who came here to read about my Dad’s journals might be feeling a bit confused right now. What’s all this got to do with Lawrence’s innermost thoughts you ask? I’ll tell you. Attending that wealth and success conference made me wonder about Dad’s reactions to it. He had achieved both of those things, and retired well before 60. He went on to volunteer countless hours to valuable causes, such as the environment, literacy, indigenous programs, and cultural understanding programs. I’m very proud of him for that. But his journals aren’t happy; they are not happy reading. He has wealth and success, but a heavy heart.

Which makes him drink.

Heavy hearts make lots of people drink; I imagine my ex-romantic interest will have downed a few glasses of red, reflecting on his foolishness. We’ve all gotten ‘pissed’ because we’re ‘pissed off’. And we all know the problems or uncomfortable feelings are still there the next morning… The next month… The next year.

 My Dad drank all his life. Once, while I was living in Canada with him, after a huge argument about alcoholism, I challenged him to not drink for a day. Watching him get through his evening without a glass of wine was torture. For both of us. And I know he didn’t want it to be that way; he references his struggle with alcohol several times through his first journal.

 It seemed to me that many attendees at the conference were struggling. With finances obviously, with boring jobs, with a disconnected family or relationships. The small 60-something man I sat next to was struggling; when we shook hands, and I wanted to tell him he had the power within to achieve any success, all I could see was his dull desperation, unable to hold my open gaze or wholeheartedly wish me the same thing. He raised his hand when a speaker asked the audience who was working for more than 50 hours a week in a family business; that’s no way to live your only life.

 I’ve watched the following TED talk by Nigel Marsh several times in the last month, and if you’ve already invested 10 minutes reading this lengthy Blog post (THANKYOU), please do the same for this:

http://youtu.be/SXM7MpoVAD0

What impresses me most about this clip, apart from his fantastic clear pace and delivery, is his assertion that we, as individuals, must change our work/life balance culture. That every one of us, and there are indeed millions, can change our world– “…We can change Society’s notion of ‘Success'”.

 So this post is asking you to commit, with me, to acting in a more heartfelt and ethical manner. Every day. In small ways. In how you do your work, in how you treat your boss or co-workers. In how you treat the bus driver, the shop assistant, the bank teller. In how you think about and relate to your partners, your flirtations, your long-term friends and family. Little by little, step by step, with constant practice, we can expand our generous, heartfelt place in our community. And we can still have wealth, and success (just watch me!), but not at the cost of a good heart.

 In five years time, I’d like to be one of several female speakers on the conference circuit for achieving wealth and success. I’d delight in travelling the world, walking onto stages and lightening people’s heavy hearts. I’d like the banner that shows you how to find the conference entrance to be a symbol of money, love, and success, equally intertwined.

And you, my dear blog readers, have not only witnessed the planting of this loving, ethical seed for me, but will get free entry. How does that sound?

 

Birthdays can suck. But not as much as Deathdays.

It was Dad’s birthday ten days ago, April 24. He would have been 78. As usual, his far-flung family and friends toasted him with a good wine (or organic lemonade at my house), and ate Indian, his favourite food. It’s become a bit of a ritual every year now, as the time passes without him.

This year my son was with me on his school holidays (hence the lemonade), so we went to visit Dad in the Adelaide Japanese Gardens where we had (sneakily) scattered some of his ashes into the lily pond in 2009.

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 I enjoy going there very much, ‘to sit with Dad’, along with the sadness that that inevitably brings. He and I had gone there together several times when he was visiting Adelaide the week before he died in 2008; we both enjoyed the peace, and the ordered beauty of the greenery.

Sometimes when I visit, I see couples lying on the grass, snatching a quiet intimacy in the middle of the city. I see new brides, posing in their big dresses, standing on the clichéd bridge across the pond between their old life and the new one they’re beginning- honestly, sometimes there is a queue of brides waiting to be photographed- my highest tally so far is four.

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 Occasionally there is a small picnic, with the glitter of birthday food being shared. I smile, but I’m envious too. For the rest of my life now, and my son’s life, there will be a Dad-shaped hollow. No phone call, no silly card, no even sillier gift. And his family all feels sad on his birthday, but enact our comforting rituals to honour him.

 So birthdays can suck. We all know that. We’ve all had one that fell flat, whether we were 6 or 36. Hell, once I even missed one all together: camping for a week in a National Park on an island near Townsville, roughing it in tents, with no time-keepers or contact with the outside world… We just sort of missed my birthday Wednesday. Not a bad place to lose one though:

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But Deathdays? They’re harder. I don’t know what else to call it: the anniversary of the day you lost your loved one. Is there another word for that day in our culture that I don’t know?

 In Mexico (and other countries) there is The Day of the Dead, usually November 1 & 2, a National holiday, when “… families and friends gather building private altars to honor the deceased using marigolds and skulls, and the favorite foods and drinks of the departed, visiting graves with these as gifts.” (Wikepedia)

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I would find great comfort in a day like that.

I could dress up and walk the streets with all the other people who are permanently mourning, yet also celebrating the loss of a loved one, while embodying the knowledge that we too will one day be celebrated in our turn by those we’ve left behind. I feel a lack of openness in my Western culture, where to refer to dying or death is almost taboo; corpses are hidden away, cremated behind curtains, buried in closed coffins. Grief is too much of a challenge if you feel it for too long; echoes of the British ‘stiff upper lip’ still permeate our social norms.

 Even more poignant for me in terms of honouring the departed are the Japanese Jizo shrines, dedicated to lost, miscarried or aborted children.

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 Many women I know, myself included, have had miscarriages or abortions, and even, most terribly, lost a child at birth or soon afterwards. Yet it remains so often an unspoken loss, or covered over quickly by well-meaning neighbours: ‘Oh you’ll be fine as soon as you have another baby, just try again’. If only it were as simple as that.

 I have a friend whose daughter’s birthday and deathday is the same day. I can’t imagine the profound sadness of that date. And I wish we had more meaningful public acknowledgement of the personal tragedies that can forever mark a person.

Perhaps if we all gathered, united in our physical experience of the ceaseless cycle of birth, life, and death, there would be greater social cohesion and empathy?

After all, everyone’s tears taste the same when we weep.

 Still, I’m grateful that I enjoyed my Dad for over 42 years of my birthdays before I had to learn a new way to acknowledge loss on his deathday of October 30.

 Thus even though April 24 is now forever bittersweet, it is still a day of celebration for many of us who knew and loved Lawrence…

 Happy Birthday Dad xx

 

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