A journey into openness and honesty… Distilling truths about ourselves, others and life from shared experiences… Learning to live consistently with that truth… Becoming free to be who we truly are…

Archive for the ‘Wholehearted Living’ Category

One day at the Pharmacy…

An embarrassing experience

Some time ago my sister-in-law Janine shared an embarrassing experience she had at the pharmacy. A staff member had asked her a very personal question in earshot of others in the store. Embarrassing at the time, but very funny in hindsight.

Yesterday I had an experience that goes one better! 🙂

An adults-only post?

I was going to rate this article Adults Only, but it’s really just PG. I’ve couched it in ‘blog and facebook-friendly’ terms, and teenagers may find it helpful and enlightening. It involves a men’s health issue and a taboo subject. Hopefully you’ll have a great laugh.

It also challenges a traditional belief that research shows is completely unfounded. In fact the belief can be very detrimental to men (and women), young and old, and can seriously impact one’s mental and physical wellbeing. Yet it still clings on in some parts of society.

I also hope that what I share, as personal as it is, will be another small step towards this taboo being brought out into the open.

Some background…

Most of you probably know that as men age, things that are meant to stay upright gradually lose their ability to do so. It’s an outcome of naturally declining testosterone levels. It may be accompanied by a reduced drive, but not necessarily. Blokes can still be very keen to satisfy their natural desires.

So what’s a bloke to do? During the last five years of being single, I’ve had advice from a number of professional people… To maintain everything in full working order it’s a case of “Use it or lose it.”

There are also medications that can help.

Now for the taboo. Some people still believe that “self-love” is ‘sinful’ or harmful in some way. But none of the blokes I’ve spoken to have gone blind, and I haven’t either. Once again, professional advice says this behaviour is perfectly normal and healthy.

So how does this apply to me?

Like many other men my age, my upbringing scripted me to feel incredibly guilty. 40+ years is a very long time to struggle with an errant belief. It demonstrates that what a child is taught can impact them for life, sometimes causing significant damage.

After years of wrestling, I finally accepted that this taboo is a very harmful myth. (I still believe however, that the inherent fantasy life needs to be healthy, and that using porn is a bad idea.)

I’ve not been in a serious relationship for the past 5 years since losing my wife. However I look forward to a new relationship when the right woman comes along. And I want to be able to share the full delights of an intimate relationship with my new partner.

Casual intimacy, if such a thing really exists, is not for me. So it’s important I ‘maintain and exercise’ my ability on my own.

Back to the story…

I spoke to my doctor earlier this week. She prescribed a single tablet as a trial run and sent the prescription to a local pharmacy.

I also had an appointment with another doctor who sent two prescriptions for my regular medications to the same pharmacy.

I went down to the pharmacy to collect all three. The pharmacist was a young woman. She looked at the scripts, and as you’d expect, didn’t bat an eyelid… she’d have many blokes on the same medication.

I headed off for a coffee, then returned to the pharmacy. There was a young bloke ahead of me so I stood in the queue at the required distance. While the pharmacist attended to him, the young female assistant called out to me in the queue. I told the her that I was picking up three scripts. She found them and gave them to the pharmacist.

The pharmacist then asked, in a voice loud enough to reach me, “Have you had all these medications before?” I replied that one of them was new. In the same loud voice she asked, “Which one is new?”

I hesitated for a moment feeling vulnerable and exposed… I was about to make a very personal announcement to my new local community! Then I thought, “What the heck”, and replied in a calm, confident voice, “Viagra”.

The pharmacist and the assistant didn’t react at all (noticeably), but I wished I could have seen the face of the young bloke in front of me!

The fun continues…

The pharmacist beckoned me to the front counter and asked if I was on any other medications. I told her which ones. She informed me all was well… none of the drugs would interact with each other. She then added, without being specific, that I could however experience a little dizziness.

Dizziness from what I wondered? A reaction between my medications? But she’d just said this wasn’t an issue. Perhaps dizziness from the Viagra? To be sure I understood clearly I asked, “Which drug are you referring to?” Instead of saying ‘Viagra’ out loud, her response was, “The new one.”

Now it was my turn to laugh… to myself of course… she’d obviously realised the embarrassment she’d caused me earlier!

A happy ending…

When I got home I opened the packet… Lucky me, I got four tablets instead of one!

So here’s to a happy ending! 😉

Losing Rosie… 3 years on…

Yesterday was a tough day. For most people it was the AFL Grand Final, but for the family and I Sept 30th is Rosie’s birthday… she would have turned 61 this year.

We lost Rosie to cancer on Oct 29th 2014. Almost 3 years have passed… so much has happened and yet our feelings still run very deep on these days.

They say time heals, and yes, it does to a point. Some aspects of grief will always remain. You never stop loving someone you loved deeply for 35 years… and that’s exactly how it should be.

So what’s it like, 3 years on?

Wrapping up Rosie’s life…

For the last two years Facebook popped up reminders for Rosie’s Birthday. For many this unexpected reminder was confronting and painful. To lessen the sting of friends being caught off guard, last year I put up a post in advance.  All this year I intended to memorialize Rosie’s facebook account before her birthday. (Memorialization means we can still see her timeline, but no longer add posts or comments, and will no longer receive birthday notifications.)

But it’s not easy doing these things… after losing Rosie I’ve had to notify so many organizations… including banks, utilities and an endless number of charity groups Rosie supported at some time. I feel grief every time… not only does it remind me that I’ve lost Rosie… closing each one is bringing to an end yet another part of her life… it almost feels like I’m betraying her… there is a painful finality in doing these things.

Recently while holidaying in WA I remembered I still had not memorialized Rosie’s Facebook account, and now her birthday was rapidly approaching. When I returned home I discovered to my dismay that Facebook can take months to memorialize accounts.

One morning a few days before Rosie’s birthday  I submitted the relevant Facebook form, hoping at best that I might receive a computer-generated request confirmation in a week or so.

That night I received a response from Facebook Support. The message literally sent me into shock… what I received was a personal, compassionate message from Facebook expressing sorrow at my loss and saying Rosie’s account had been memorialized (it had taken less than 12 hours!) While I was deeply grateful Facebook had responded so rapidly and with such compassion, I wasn’t expecting it to happen so quickly and the pain of having ‘shut down’ a significant aspect of Rosie’s life hit me hard.

Understanding Rosie’s love for me…

Rosie spent the last 9 days of her life at Caritas Christi hospice.

My last two hours with Rosie as she died are among the most profoundly beautiful and painful moments of my life. Caritas Christi has been sacred ground for me ever since. I still return there on key anniversaries to quietly remember and reflect on those final hours.

Rosie loved and deeply impacted the lives of MANY people. Her love did not discriminate… it didn’t matter where people were at in their lives, she loved and accepted them for who there were. People from all walks of life received and deeply valued her love and care. Six hundred people came to her funeral… a profound testament to her huge heart for others!

As I make myself vulnerable in the following paragraphs I ask that you treat what I say with respect.

As with all relationships, despite outward appearances, Rosie’s and my marriage was far from perfect. I am not at all saying we didn’t love one another… we loved each other deeply and were totally committed to our marriage.

Nonetheless both of us suffered deep emotional damage in early childhood. This had serious consequences for our ability to fully connect in our relationship.

For decades Rosie had to suppress severe hurt as a child in order to survive emotionally as an adult. (The childhood events had absolutely nothing to do with her family).

My childhood in turn left me wrestling with deep depression and anxiety for most of our married life. Rosie spent so many hours listening to me pour out my pain but she never gave up on me. However Rosie’s own hurts limited her ability to fully grasp and empathize with my struggles… something I desperately longed for in our relationship.

Being separated from my parents for the first two years of my life left me with a deep fear of rejection. As a result I had great difficulty recognizing and accepting the profound depth of Rosie’s unconditional love for me.

Intellectually I knew Rosie adored me… she never stopped telling me her heart still leaped for joy every time I came home! But I couldn’t grasp or accept this at an emotional level.

Three years after losing her I’m still learning how much she loved me… and it grieves me deeply that I was unable to return the utterly faithful, almost childlike love and acceptance she so freely gave me.

Rosie almost never cried (another outworking of childhood hurts). On rare occasions she shed a tear or two, but in 33 years of marriage she (briefly) cried only once with me.

Many people wanted to see Rosie in the last few days of her life. One of the tough roles I had to play was “gatekeeper”. Family had unrestricted access, but I was able to only allow a few close friends into that space.

One of these friends recently shared something which ‘blew me out of the water’. The conversation went something like this…

Friend:   “Did you know, Ian, that in my final conversation with Rosie, she cried?”

Me (my interest now in overdrive):   “No… tell me more!”

F:   “Rosie said, ‘I don’t want to leave you behind.’ “

Me:   “Wow… that was a real statement of how much she loved you.”

F (looking a bit puzzled):   “Rosie was referring to YOU, not me.”

It sent an arrow straight into my heart… Rosie had cried because she didn’t want to leave ME behind! But Rosie never cried! This was an incredibly deep and precious expression of her love for me.

I so wish I could have grasped the depth of Rosie’s love for me before she died.
I used to feel terribly guilty about this… I’m slowly learning I don’t have to. Rosie and I did the best we could in our relationship. It just grieves me that she was unable to grasp the depths of pain I carried, and I was unable to grasp the depth of her love for me.

What happens to friendships…

I’m aware that some who read the following paragraphs may find them tough, or possibly even feel guilty. This is NOT remotely my intent.

Rosie assured me many times that after she died I would have an endless stream of meal invitations from our many friends. In contrast, others I spoke to said many friends simply disappeared after they lost their partners.

The others were right. To my surprise (and sadness) most people who were friends of both of us just vanished… I had very few visits, phone calls or invitations. If it hadn’t been for my family and the top-quality blokes around me, life could have been very lonely. Thankfully these friends and my family more than adequately filled the gap and I was far from being lonely or unsupported.

Nonetheless, it raised some deep questions. How could this happen? And why did it happen to others as well?

It’s taken 3 years, but I finally understand…

It’s just too painful…

Over the years before Rosie died some of her friends became close friends of mine too, most being women and couples, with Rosie being the primary connection. These ‘secondary’ relationships were no less valuable than my other friendships.

While the primary relationship is in place these relationships have an environment in which to grow. However, when you lose your partner, this environment no longer exists and the relationships can change surprisingly rapidly.

We all shy away from things in life that cause us pain. Deep grief and the need to self-protect from pain cause people to act in ways they never intended. Catching up with me was simply too painful for many people who were very close to Rosie.

Seeing me was a confronting reminder of the one who they were missing deeply. Of the few who visited me at home, simply stepping into our house caused some to dissolve in tears. I had no option but to adjust to being in the house without Rosie… for others my house was a home full of reminders of her, but painfully empty of Rosie herself.

What I expected of these friends was unrealistic and unfair… it took quite a while for me to grasp this.

Some relationships are slowly returning. I will gladly accept those that do, but I will not rush them… grief can last a long time.

And it is okay if others never return. Things change and life moves on for all of us.  I no longer feel hurt, I’m just glad I now understand.

I could add so much more…

So many things have happened since losing Rosie.  Life events large and small, ups and downs, and many new insights. A few of the significant ones…

Losing Rosie, and much that followed, was deeply painful, but I can honestly say my life has never been better than it is today. I know Rosie would be overjoyed to hear this!

The deep depression that I feared for so many years could be back with force after Rosie died shows no signs of returning. Yes, I’ve been through some very difficult patches, but my mental state is better than ever.

I no longer have the endless emotional rollercoaster stress of Rosie’s 16 years with cancer, and thankfully neither does she.

I have much more time and energy to invest in people… especially my children, grandchildren and close friends.

Relationships have become an even more precious part of life… they have been integral to my survival, and allow me to receive and give so much of value.

Being single has huge benefits. For the first time in life I can do what I want when I want (within reason). This season of freedom is an incredibly precious gift.

Yes, I feel a vacuum, but it’s a very healthy one. For the moment I am discovering “the new Ian James” and (mostly) enjoying the adventure.

Looking forward…

Rosie was adamant that I should marry again. I greatly appreciated the freedom she gave me here. In typical Rosie fashion, she even wanted to give me a list of ‘recommended’ women!  I politely but firmly declined her offer… I’ll be making my own choices here!

I expect I’ll partner again, but there’s no hurry.
Part of discovering who I am is discovering what I want both myself and the other person to bring to a marriage.

It’s not simply a matter of finding ‘a woman who can satisfy my needs’.
Genuinely loving your partner means fulfilling their needs as well. And fulfilling one another is just the beginning. Actively facilitating growth in each other is an even better place to be.

A final word…

As profoundly difficult as losing a loved one is, life goes on.

When Rosie woke each morning she was always so excited to have another day. Her motto and legacy was ‘Live well and die well’.

Like Rosie, I want to live this new chapter of my life to the full.
ian-dingo

 

Ian James 1st Oct 2017

© 2017 Ian James, http://www.onlivingauthentically.com

A new light in my life…

A single candle

There is something primal about a candle burning in the dark. The warmth and light provided by fire since the early dawn of mankind is captured in one small flame.

A candle offers security and comfort. Just one flame keeps the darkness at bay, along with all that is hidden by it.

A candle allows us to see. We can safely navigate a path through the dark, avoiding obstacles and holes that would otherwise cause us to stumble and fall.

A candle deepens our connection with others. It reveals only those nearby and focuses our attention on them. Seeing those we love in the soft, gentle light enhances the intimacy we experience together.

A candle touches our spirit with a profound juxtaposition. The tiny flame is so fragile it can be extinguished with a single breath, and yet, if set free, it has the power to become a raging fire. Holding that power captive in a single flame allows us to master one of the most powerful forces on earth. But still it commands our awe and respect… allow it to escape and it will pay us no heed as it sets our world on fire.

Exploring mindfulness

Over recent months I’ve been doing daily mindfulness exercises using a mobile phone app called Headspace.  Fifteen minutes a day has already proved its worth many times over. Becoming aware of my thoughts and feelings moment by moment is enabling me to understand and manage my thinking and decisions in a way I’ve never been able to before.

Instead of automatically reacting to situations, being aware of what I’m thinking and feeling at that time allows me to choose how I respond. Instead of being controlled by negative feelings such as anxiety, frustration, anger and depression, I am better able to acknowledge they are there, accept them, and make life-giving choices in the face of them.

I’m becoming more aware of what is happening in conversations with others… What is the other person really saying? Why are they saying it? How are they feeling? Instead of being absorbed by the impulse to ‘have my say’ and respond with my opinions, experiences and solutions, I can listen more intently and focus on understanding them. It is usually better to say less and listen more, in order to be more empathetic and  contribute more value when I do speak.

The mindfulness app began with a 30 day introductory pack called Foundations. You can then choose from a range of topic specific packs. So far I’ve worked through Anxiety, Acceptance, Sleep packs. Along with the mindfulness exercises each pack provides simple tips and techniques for getting the most out of the topic.

There is much more to mindfulness to than this but let’s get back to the candle…

My bedtime candle

One of the tips suggested in the Sleep pack was to set in place simple habits that tell your brain it’s soon time to sleep. These habits help your body and mind to begin relaxing even before you get into bed.

I now have a bedtime candle…

2017-03-24 Bedtime candle 1

My candle is mounted in a beautiful old brass candle holder… the classic design that allows you to safely carry a lighted candle from room to room. Each night after I’ve cleaned my teeth, taken my tablets and been to the bathroom, I light the candle in the kitchen and carry it to my bedroom, turning off the lights as I go. Placing the candle in front of the mirror on my chest of drawers fills the room with a beautiful, soft light. I change into my pajamas by candlelight, get into bed and blow out the tiny flame as my last act of the day.

It’s such a simple habit, but it is beautiful and profound at the same time. I guess this is how (healthy) rituals develop… simple acts that take on a much deeper meaning beyond the acts themselves. A pre-sleep habit encourages our minds to let go of the busyness of the day, and prepares our bodies to release all the physical tension that builds during the day.

Much more than a candle

One night when I put the candle on the dressing table I was fascinated by the reflections in the mirror and the way the light fell on some special items I keep on my dressing table.

The ‘Willow Tree’ Grandfather and Grandson statuette caught my eye. The soft light and shadows added a new dimension of beauty to an ornament that captures the precious relationship between myself and my 4 year old grandson Flynn.

I then noticed how the candle lit up a collection of three dice I have created over the years out of redgum, softwood and talc stone. Creativity is a gift that I value greatly. To be able to bring ideas to life using my own hands gives me a great deal of fulfilment. My writing and photography are other aspects of this gift. Each time I build, write or capture a ‘Wow!’ image, I feel like I have been given a gift to both enjoy myself and share with others.

My childhood teddy is very dear to me… as a very young boy I loved my teddy very much and cuddled it every night. But even more important is that provides a direct link to my Mum, who died unexpectedly when I was only 8 years old. I remember sitting next to her in the back seat of my Uncle’s car on a long holiday trip. Mum was knitting the jacket my teddy still wears to this day. This jacket captures the fact that my mother, whose severe illness left her unable to care for me for much of my early life, did in fact love me deeply, rather than being a woman who abandoned me during those critical years.

A new light in my life

I find it amazing that a single candle has brought to life so much more than I initially expected or hoped for!  Not only does it help my mind and body settle for sleep at night. It highlights the precious gift of creativity which inspires, fulfils and humbles me. It reinforces the connection I feel with my beautiful grandson. And it allows me to see that the mother who had no control over leaving me at such a young age was not only my mother but my loving Mum.

ian-dingo

Ian James
29/03/2017

If YOU don’t choose your future…

… SOMEONE ELSE WILL, and YOU MAY NOT LIKE IT!

How many elderly people do you know who are happy, fulfilled, have a strong sense of self-worth and purpose, and spend much of their time relating to family and close friends?

Growing old in our society

Experience with three elderly family members in their 90’s has raised serious questions about the future all of us are facing.

Western society has come a long way in improving the physical and medical care for elderly people, but when it comes to valuing their wisdom and experience, and maintaining their mental, emotional and social well-being we’re falling dismally short.

As people age we tend to view them as having little value to offer; they become a burden on society; we let them become progressively more isolated in their own homes, or send them off to retirement villages and ultimately nursing homes, where they are kept warm, clothed, fed and cleaned and spend their days being entertained by activities suitable for children. Meaningful social contact fades away, and their sense of worth and purpose wither. How many elderly people sit day after day doing little more than passively waiting to die?

Is this the future you want for yourself when you are old?? I doubt it.

It’s tragic that unless we die young, all of us are heading inexorably to this place, but few of us (me included until recently) are doing anything to change our direction or destination.

The bottom line is that if you don’t make choices to determine how you will live your elderly years someone else will make them for you. Even if family and medical experts genuinely care they may not fully understand your needs and desires at this stage.

A common response is, “Of course I’ll make these decisions for myself… But not now, I’ll do it when I’m older.” Here lays the big trap…  leave the decisions too late and you may have limited options available or have lost the ability to assess what is best for you. Change is gets more difficult as we age; unless we make plans in advance we will likely resist even considering it until circumstances force our hand or remove the choices from us altogether.

Please share your thoughts…

How can we do things differently?

What choices can we make now to ensure we maintain a happy, fulfilling life that provides value, purpose and meaningful social connection (as well as adequate physical and medical care) in our elderly years?

Sharing your thoughts will not only be help me and others who read this blog. You will also help yourself to begin the journey of ensuring you have the future you want. (And, you will be helping the group of blokes I meet with once a month discuss this topic at our next meeting.)

ian-dingo

Ian James
12/02/2017

Breaking free of fear…

Shortchanging ourselves…

How often do we give ourselves second best in life, or choose to not do what we are capable of, because of fear?

A lesson from life…

Earlier this week I literally had one of the best nights of my life because I pushed through that fear, stepped out of my comfort zone, and did what I really wanted to do…

I was late buying tickets to see one of my favourite artists, Passenger (Mike Rosenberg), in concert at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne. I got a seat in the back row at the extreme edge… the furthest I could be from the stage while being in the seated area.

When the support act finished the security guards motioned for people in the front rows to come forward to the rail in front of the stage. As Passenger started to play others from the audience made their way down as well.

I wanted to go down too but fear glued me to my seat. What was I afraid of? Some childhood fear of “getting in trouble” or being rejected? It was completely irrational and yet I just couldn’t move.

I stayed in my seat for the first two songs, my desire to go join the crowd pitted against this irrational fear. When the third song started I mustered enough courage, stood up, walked down the steps to the front, and found a superb spot just one person back from the rail.

Passenger and the band were only a few metres away, I had a near perfect view of the stage, and also the whole audience behind me when I turned around.

The music was incredibly loud, but not as deafening as I expected. The huge ground-level subwoofer stack was at chest height just on the other side of the rail… I could feel every base note pound through my body.

I had just stepped into an amazing space, physically and emotionally. The fear was gone. I never went back to my seat…

Being entertained by Mike Rosenberg is like having your best friend on stage sharing about his life, his empathy for others, and concerns about where the world is heading, and then translating this into his powerful heart-felt songs.

The concert was an awesome and profound experience. I stood there for the whole evening soaking up the atmosphere, joining in with everyone else clapping, yelling and singing at the top of my voice. I was high on feel-good emotions and having loved myself enough to step our of fear into freedom.

What I could have settled for…

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What I experienced after putting aside my fear…

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The impact of fear…

Had I stayed in my seat I would have had a great time… but I would have denied myself the best. How often do I do this in other areas of life? How often does fear hold me back from doing what my heart yearns to do, or stop me doing things that I am actually capable of doing?

My early childhood left me scripted with deep fears of rejection and failure. In response I adopted behaviours to minimize the possibility of these things happening.
Fear of failure has trapped me in my comfort zone… stretching or challenging situations are “too dangerous” because I might fail.
I’ve stayed silent so often instead of expressing valuable thoughts and opinions that could have impacted others lives… the fear of possible rejection was too painful.

These fears are irrelevant to my adult life and yet it has taken decades to realize this and start identifying them in action, distorting decisions large and small every day.

Keys to becoming free…

  1. Develop self-awareness of how you make choices. Raise a red flag every time you think “I can’t”. Are you choosing against worthwhile activities because of fear? Is saying you don’t have the ability/time/desire really valid? Or is it just an excuse to give in to your fear?
    For some months now I have been using a Mindfulness app called Headspace… it has helped significantly with being far more aware of my fears and how they impact my decision-making.
  2. Challenge fear-based thinking. Am I limiting myself because of a valid reason or because of fear?
    Sometimes there are good reasons to not do worthwhile activities… none of us have endless time and energy… some things in life (like climbing Mt Everest) really are outside our capabilities.
    However, our fears are often invalid and irrational. They frequently come from long-past experiences that have no relevance to our life today.
  3. You don’t have to suppress your fears but you don’t have to follow them either. Feelings are neither good nor bad… they are simply feelings. Accept that the fear is present and make your choice independently of it. In time the fear will likely dissipate.
  4. Choose what is most life-giving and do it. This is the tough bit… but it is also the doorway to freedom and fulfilment! Overcoming fear takes courage… but the more you choose against irrational fear and experience the good things that flow from it, the more you empower yourself, and the easier it is next time.
    (Yes, sometimes things may not turn out as hoped but instead of allowing “failure” to reinforce your fears, take the opportunity to learn and do things better next time.)

The theory is easy… applying it takes time…

Becoming free of fear is a process. It takes persistence and hard work.

I expect I’ll be working at it for the rest of my life…
… and every new step into freedom will be worth it!

Ian + dingo

Ian James
27/01/2017

P.S.
To experience a video of Passenger’s reflection on world events of 2016, the heartfelt song that followed, and the crowd’s powerful response, check out my facebook post…