This diary tracks my progress, from my initial decision to leave the corporate world and city life and move to the forests of Knysna, to the point at which my partner, Arn, and I had moved into our self-built, off-the-grid home. Our progress after this time period is covered in various short articles on this website and also in my blog, which is linked to this website.
25 DECEMBER 2009: LISA-ON-PURPOSE
My name is Lisa. I am about to embark upon the scariest, most illogical, most exciting journey of my life! I am leaving my well-paid corporate job, with excellent prospects, to go and seek my life’s purpose in the forests on the East Coast of South Africa. This is my personal experiment to discover whether it is indeed possible to find an authentic, fulfilling, meaningful expression of self that will create abundance in my life.
This is Lisa-on-purpose!
I have decided to start this diary as a means of creating a chronicle of my experiences in this new phase of my life. I will be writing about finding, and hopefully living, my purpose. But how did I get to this place in my life?
I have spent a lot of time and effort acquiring qualifications, firstly in science and latterly, in commerce. I have been driven by an ambitious desire to be successful, to be “The Best”. I have always been motivated by doing what I thought was expected of me and what was the “right thing” to do; what would get me the most recognition and affirmation; a desire to “live up to my potential” and not let anyone down etc, etc.
I never really asked myself what it was that I most wanted to do; what my passion could be or how I could find happiness and a sense of connection through what I did for a living. So, hardly surprisingly, I did gain a lot of affirmation and recognition through my achievements, but I often felt the lack of a sense of meaning or purpose in what I did every day. Sure, I felt satisfied every time my business achieved the budget or beat out the competition, but a whole lot of the time I felt empty and unfulfilled, despite my outward success.
In recent years I have discovered that the things that brought me the most satisfaction were the human connections I made with colleagues and customers, the growth and development of my team, the times I had a sense of creating real, lasting value for customers on a personal level. In short, the warm, soft, fuzzy things that are not really valued much in the corporate world!
Over the past eight years or so, I have been engaged in a process of finding love and acceptance of myself. As my journey progressed, I became more-and-more disinclined to do what I thought was expected of me and more-and-more inclined to find out what I really wanted to do with my life. In my chosen career, I had started to feel like a highly trained monkey, adept at creating wealth for shareholders, but not really finding connection or meaning in my daily work. This situation had become increasingly unacceptable to me. I knew I HAD to find the courage to make a change.
And then I had an experience which changed absolutely everything for me.
The event I am about to relate may sound very strange; particularly coming from someone who is not at all religious. However, this event was the main catalyst for all the recent changes in my life. I don’t require anyone to believe this story, as it is my own subjective experience. However, I am unable to ignore it.
About eighteen months ago, I was hiking with Arn in the forest near Nature’s Valley on the Garden Route of South Africa. We had stopped for a breather during a steep climb out of a forested gorge when a little voice inside told me to turn around, which I did. I gazed, transfixed, at the magnificent view before me – the steep, forested mountainsides, the azure ocean, the river winding its way through the gorge below, each individual petal and blade of grass outlined in golden light, and suddenly it felt as if my heart was cracking open. I was utterly overwhelmed by powerful emotions, the likes of which I had never experienced before. Finding that my legs could no longer support me, I fell to my knees, with tears streaming down my face, whispering, “Yes, yes, yes…” over-and-over again. I didn’t know what I was saying “yes” to, but I did know that I was irrevocably changed forever. I felt deeply connected to Life and overwhelmed by a sense of unity with all that is. Suddenly everything made sense. I knew that THIS was how I wanted and needed to feel; everything else was simply a pale imitation. The concept of career success, acquisition of wealth and belongings, approval and acceptance by society – these things seemed unbelievably trivial by comparison. Why try and acquire things to feel good about myself; why try and achieve so-called success when I had discovered the most astounding, unimaginable feeling of deep connection and infinite love?
As I said before, I am not at all a religious person, but I do believe that I experienced a connection with some Higher Power on that mountainside. In subsequent reading and research, I have reached the conclusion that what happened to me could be classified as a so-called “peak experience”, as described by the psychologist, Abraham Maslow. Of course it is possible to try and find a rational explanation for my experience on the mountainside and, as a trained scientist, I can advance all kinds of theories. However, as a human being, I knew that I could simply not ignore what I had experienced; I was dramatically changed forever and I knew that this change required some action from me. In my heart I unambiguously knew that I had to quit my corporate job, divest myself of all that did not resonate with my true self and to make it my quest to discover the unique, authentic, meaningful contribution that I was destined to make to the world. I actually had no real plan; I just knew that I should follow my heart, wherever it would lead.
After much introspection over several months, I realized that my heart’s desire was to move to the Knysna forest, and this is what I have been planning for the last year. I have latterly become aware of the fact that I don’t need to be in the forest in order to find my purpose. So, although it may appear as if I am preparing to move to the forest, I am actually moving to ME! It just happens to be easier for me to be ME when I am in the forest.
In the intervening months my life has changed SO much. The materialistic, acquisitive me has been replaced by a person who seeks meaning and connection in all things. I have been involved in a process of “weeding out” everything that no longer has meaning or contributes to my life and I have subsequently donated bags and bags of clothing and other belongings, collected over many years, to the Lifeline thrift store. I have also gifted, thrown away, recycled and otherwise disposed of, many, many other prized possessions that I previously believed were absolutely essential to my life. Every time I give something up, I feel lighter and freer. I realize that owning things brings with it added responsibilities, which, in turn, reduce our freedom. My goal is to be in a relationship of conscious ownership with every one of my possessions and to only keep the things that I truly love and which bring joy and beauty to my life. In fact, I have started to realize that I actually don’t own anything – I merely have the privilege and responsibility of stewardship over my possessions whilst I reside on this Earth.
Relationships in my life have also started to change and, sadly, several friends and acquaintances of the past have drifted out of my life as I found that I no longer resonated with them. Fortunately, many new relationships, that reflect my own growth and development, have started to enrich my life.
So, what is the plan? Well, strangely enough, for an erstwhile “control-freak” there is not much of a plan at all! I need to finish disconnecting myself from the last vestiges of my old life, take stock and then actively start creating my new life. The old me would have felt unbelievably threatened and frightened by what I am about to do. I would have found it impossible to believe that I could survive without my corporate salary, my city lifestyle, the trappings of success, my work title, my status, my possessions… When I start to intellectually analyse all that has happened I find that I do start to feel anxious, but if I reside in my heart, I find complete peace and a sense of calm acceptance that all is EXACTLY as it should be.
Thanks to our corporate jobs, Arn and I have a fully paid-up home and sufficient funds to survive frugally for 2 years. We intend moving to the Knysna forest, initially to a rental property and then to possibly purchase a property once we have sold our house in Cape Town. For the rest, there is no plan other than for me to finish the book I have been writing on-and-off for about a year and for Arn to also complete his own book. We want to start growing our own food and to investigate the possibility of living a self-sustaining life, as far as we possibly can. Other than that, our full-time “job” will be to discover and express our passion.
And, so the journey continues…
29 DECEMBER 2009: MY FINAL GOODBYE TO THE CORPORATE WORLD
Finally, there is nothing left to do.
I have checked every file, every e-mail, and every paper document and handed everything over to the relevant people. I have trained, as far as possible, my successors. I have tried to ensure that there are no outstanding issues and that nothing will fall through the cracks once I have left.
I’ve had the big farewell lunch at the fabulous restaurant. I’ve made the speeches, written the farewell e-mails and letters; I’ve informed all my customers and distributors. I’ve said goodbye to all my colleagues.
And, suddenly… after all the frantic activity of the past few years, everything is very quiet. How strange to have absolutely nothing to do. To be whiling away these last few days in silent reverie and solitude, as my colleagues enjoy their well-deserved rest between Christmas and New Year.
Despite knowing that this is what I must do, it’s been a painful process for me to, one-by-one, prise off my many ego attachments to this business; to the corporate world. After all, this was my perfect job. And, even though it is no longer appropriate for the person I have become, it is still very difficult to release all the thoughts and ideas I had about it.
During the last few weeks it was very painful for me to observe the business and the people moving on without me; to see meetings taking place to which I had not been invited; decisions being taken without my input. Of course it is absolutely right that this should happen, but it was definitely very stressful to experience it. For five years this job was my life and I put so much of my energy, my time and my passion into making it a success.
Now, as my Big Adventure starts, the very first question I am asking myself is:
Who am I as a human Being, as opposed to a human Doing?
Now that all the old motivators have been stripped away, one-by-one, what will motivate me to get out of bed in the morning? I no longer have to prove myself to anyone. I don’t have to earn recognition or respect. I don’t have to think about creating wealth or acquiring possessions or increasing my status or power or rank. I don’t have to worry about budgets and profitability or whether I’ve taken the right decisions or whether my team is doing what they need to do. How will I occupy my time?!! Who am I without my title? Without my frantic need to occupy every minute of the day with purposeful activity?
Well, I guess I’m about to find out!
What I am really sure about is that I need to create some space in my life if I want to find my purpose. I need to release all of the old attachments and ideas so as to make space for something new. And perhaps it will take a while to discover the new and perhaps I’m going to have to have the courage to sit quietly in this space for some time before my soul begins to speak to me of my real purpose. I’m prepared to do that.
And, so the journey continues…
EARLY JANUARY 2010: A NEW LIFE BEGINS
This is the first day of my self-imposed exile from the ego-inducements of the corporate world. The pupation of the new me has finally commenced.
This morning I awoke in a panic, sitting bolt upright, thinking that my alarm had failed to awaken me and that I would be late for work. When I realized that I did not, in fact, have to go to work this morning, or indeed, ever again, I sank luxuriously back into my cushions, relishing the sense of freedom. I never allowed myself to lie around in bed, even on holidays. This was going to be fun!
But, after a few minutes of relishing the unaccustomed luxury, I started to wonder how the team was coping without me. Checking the clock, I realized that on any other Monday morning I would now be grabbing my first cup of tea and sitting down to read my e-mails for thirty minutes before the normal Monday morning sales meeting. Would they still meet on a Monday now that I was no longer there, I wondered. Then I started to feel anxious because client visits needed to commence as soon as possible in the New Year and I started to worry over whether the packaging would arrive in time from the printers for the new products and whether the distributors had been informed of the new marketing approach and… before I had a chance to think about it, I had grabbed my mobile phone and was busy dialing the office.
With a muttered curse I hung up before the phone was answered. This was no longer any of my concern. I needed to relinquish my attachment to the business and let the team get on without me. I reminded myself that I had done a proper handover to my successor and that my job now was to find my true life’s purpose.
Just as I was on my way to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea, my mobile rang and I spent the next thirty minutes talking my successor through the pile of issues that had arisen since I had left on Friday afternoon. By the time I hung up the call, I was rigid with anxiety and close to getting into my car and driving to work in order to straighten it all out by myself. I had to coach myself off the ledge.
The phone rang on-and-off for most of the morning and when it finally stopped, it was even worse because I simply couldn’t stop myself imagining what was going on at work. I was a wreck. Everything felt out of my control and I couldn’t remember why on Earth I had decided on this crazy course of action in the first place. That was my dream job! I had built up that business and it was going to fall apart without me!
Today I realized that I have a difficult journey ahead of me. It’s not so easy to relinquish the habits of a lifetime.
And so the journey continues…
21 JANUARY 2010: FREEDOM & TIES THAT BIND
I never make New Year’s resolutions, but I do decide on a theme for each year that will inform and inspire all my actions and decisions for that year. Last year (2009) my theme was “Freedom” and I certainly achieved a great deal of freedom from many things last year!
Below is just a small list of some of the things from which I freed myself in 2009:
- Freedom from debt and concerns about money
- Freedom from the competition, conflict and stress associated with a career in the corporate world
- Freedom from my own expectations and the need to achieve, perform or prove myself
- Freedom from a number of foods and chemicals that were not beneficial to my body
- Freedom from relationships, situations and possessions that had lost their meaning and value for me
- Freedom from fear that expressing my true self would lead to ridicule or censure
- Freedom from demands to be anything other than my truest, highest self
- Freedom and space to discover and express the authentic me
However, over the past few weeks, I have felt somewhat like Gulliver when he awakens, only to discover that he is held captive by hundreds of tiny Lilliputian ropes! I suppose that I had, somewhat naively as it turns out, believed that freeing myself from my corporate job and the expectations of myself and others, would mean that I would finally “awaken” into a new life in which I would be free to follow my heart wherever it might lead me. What I now realize is that quitting my job was merely the beginning! There are so many other ties that bind me to the socially-sanctioned life, the life that conforms to the expectations and the needs of others. It takes a whole lot of concerted effort to extricate oneself from the responsibilities we so blithely take on when we are striving to meet the expectations of society. I am gradually cutting these ties, one-by-one, but it is an ongoing task that is certainly not easy. In the process I have also discovered that society is definitely NOT going to reward me for showing it the big middle finger!
We are rewarded for buying in, not for cashing out .
Aside from the tangible ties that bind, from which a clearly identifiable process is required in order to release ourselves, there are other invisible, and far more insidious, ties that bind us. It is not always easy to recognise these ties and it is even more difficult to release ourselves from them. These are the ideas we have about ourselves; the roles that we choose to play.
Some of us have an idea that we have to play the role of provider or the role of the person who sacrifices themselves and their happiness for others. Others find their value in seeing themselves as the victim of circumstance or perhaps as the rescuer of others. These ideas and roles are immensely powerful traps that keep us tied to the status quo.
I keep discovering new layers of previously unexamined concepts of self and roles that I have subconsciously believed that I must play in order to be acceptable to myself and to society; in order to be “worthy” of love. These include the roles of being the person who’s always on top of everything and in control of her emotions, her finances, her whole world; the role of the person who is always reliable and who cleans up everyone else’s “mess”; the role of the rescuer and many, many others.
Now, there may not, at first glance, appear to be a problem with any of these roles as, after all, they might seem to be quite positive and affirming, not to mention, useful, roles to play. However, many of these roles may no longer be authentic for the person I am becoming and certainly several of these roles keep me very tightly bound to my old way of being. For someone wishing to find, and become, her most purposeful and highest self, it is appropriate to discard any self-limiting beliefs and ideas. It is also important to interrogate whether the “love”, affirmation and recognition one receives when playing these roles actually contributes to, or detracts from, one’s quest for meaning and purpose. I will explore this theme in a future post.
So, what is on the other side of this process? Hopefully the outcome will be a more authentic, fully actualised self; a person who has discarded fear and pain as motivators. I suppose I’m taking a leap of faith into the unknown with only the gentle guidance of my heart to show me the way. But, if I become still and listen to the quiet voice within, I actually have a sense of knowing about the outcome of this journey. In any case, I am acutely aware that there is really no turning back now.
And so the journey continues…
29 JANUARY 2010: BEING HERE-NOW
I simply cannot believe that I stopped working 4 weeks ago! People keep asking me how I am occupying my time and I can quite easily find some trite response or another; but the reality is that I really don’t know. I am reading a lot, thinking a great deal, writing, hiking, meditating, spending time with Arn talking about many things, but there is no way that the time collectively spent on these activities could possibly account for twenty-eight whole days. The previous me would have been concerned that I would have found this new life extremely boring, but somehow that just isn’t my current experience of my reality.
Every now and then I feel a bit anxious because I haven’t really achieved anything (other than a deep sense of relaxation and contentment!) Of course I have reached many new understandings about myself and I have been through several processes of releasing old ways of being, but what have I really accomplished? And then I remember that that is an old thought - a thought no longer relevant to me. There is no externally-imposed measure of accomplishment anymore. My measure of accomplishment is how I feel about my life and myself in this moment. And that is… pretty darn good!
So what are our new lives like? Well firstly, structure and routine are gradually disappearing from our lives. I never wear a watch anymore and I find that mostly I don’t even know what day of the week it is, not to mention what time it is. I eat when I’m hungry and sleep when I’m tired without concerning myself about the time of day. This often means that I have breakfast cereal at noon and lunch at 7pm and only go to sleep at around 2am. Our bodies are gradually settling into their own, natural rhythms now that we are not forcing them to conform to the demands of a working life.
The days are all merging into one another. Time has become more fluid, more flexible. I find that an hour can pass by in a moment or a minute can feel like an age. Time is measured now in activities and interests, in realizations and connections. I find that I am becoming better able to enter into the “is-ness” of each moment and actually experience it far more deeply and fully than before. Without the pressure of keeping to a schedule or the need for specific outcomes to be achieved, I can be far more present in the NOW.
Interestingly, the theme I chose for 2010 was, “I am here NOW”. My current reality is definitely starting to reinforce and reflect this decision. I am really starting to understand that here-now is the only reality that truly counts and that my entire life takes place in this moment, here-now. The shifting sands of my memories are unreliable foundations upon which to build my current reality. So often the clear memories we have of people and events are distorted by time and by the stories we tell ourselves in order to make sense out of our experiences. Equally, the future doesn’t exist either. It is simply a thought in the here-now. So, really, all we have is this moment. Doesn’t it make sense then to experience this moment as deeply and fully as we possibly can?
By fully entering into the here-now, I have started to identify the first steps along the path to finding an authentic expression of self. I have started to suspect that the way to find, and express, my true purpose is to go within my self in this eternal moment of NOW and not to search outside of myself for something that might happen in the future. In the here-NOW I find the truest, most authentic version of self and probably the most meaningful and purposeful too.
And so the journey continues…
8 JANUARY 2010: ON LETTING GO
This morning I said my final goodbye to my beautiful convertible, sporty dream-car. As I handed the keys to the salesperson and begged him to, “… take good care of my baby!” I felt a real sense of loss, which could not simply be dismissed as regret at losing a much-loved possession.
This car was about pure ego-gratification for me. I loved the speed, the power, the maneuverability, the pure sex appeal of the car. I loved the way I looked and felt behind the wheel and the attention I received when driving the car. I loved the fact that I had bought, with my own hard-earned cash, the car I most desired at the time. This vehicle was truly a tangible manifestation of my will and of my ego. However, I know that a car like that simply doesn’t fit in with my dream of living in the forest. It would very quickly get ruined driving on dirt roads and it is completely impractical for the life I see myself living very shortly.
What I realized today is that I’m not actually saying goodbye to a car; I’m saying goodbye to yet another idea I had about myself. The idea of myself as a powerful, wealthy, successful businesswoman who’s made it in the world and deserves the very best. I needed people to know that I was no inconsequential “pretty little lady” and I realize that my car, my job title, my qualifications, my clothing, my lifestyle all contributed to the feeling of being someone who deserved to be taken seriously; someone who deserved respect. Now that these things are no longer there to confirm my status in the eyes of society, how am I going to be taken seriously?!
Well, I guess I’m going to have to find an ok-ness with whatever anyone chooses to think of me. All that matters is how I view myself, really. This thought does take some getting used to, though…
Actually it occurs to me that I’m mourning the loss of several things at the moment. Over the past two years I have had to give up several friends and acquaintances, who simply couldn’t accept the choices I was making; I’ve given up my partying lifestyle; many foods, including meat that no longer agreed with me, and, more recently; my corporate job; my car; my domestic helper, who had been a part of our family for eleven years; loads of possessions and many, many ideas about myself. Next on the list will be our beautiful home. I didn’t consciously decide to give up any of these things. One-by-one they simply became inappropriate to the person I was becoming and, actually, they gave ME up rather than the other way around.
Perhaps shortly I will be wearing kaftans and shoes made of recycled tires and living in a shack off brown rice and lentils, as one friend recently suggested to me! How boring that sounds… So I guess here is yet another idea about myself that I have to give up – the idea that I have to be interesting, according to society’s judgment of what an interesting person should be!
The upside of all this letting go is that releasing my attachment to each of these things, once the pain of loss has passed, certainly causes me to feel lighter and freer. As I use my will and intent to, one-by-one, cut all the little ties holding me back, I find myself better able to freely visualize my new life and suddenly… there’s a little bubble of excitement traveling up my spine. Because the idea of my new life of unfettered, purpose-filled, creative expression of my highest self is a very exciting idea indeed!
And so the journey continues…
5 FEBRUARY 2010: UPDATE
This week’s diary entry will not contain any self-indulgent philosophical musings! Somehow I’m in more of an action-oriented mood at the moment rather than in a reflective, navel-gazing mood. So I have decided to simply write a short update on the progress toward the realization of our forest dream.
We leave tomorrow for Plettenburg Bay where we will be staying in the holiday home of an ex-colleague for eight days. However this is no holiday, but rather a business trip! We will be spending the time visiting umpteen properties in the Garden Route, which we have pre-selected as a short list during hours of Internet research. We have several appointments set up with estate agents (usually a sub-section of humanity that I avoid at all costs!) We will also be catching up with several contacts we have made in the Garden Route over the past few years, as we believe that we need to find a way to tap into the social network there. This will enable us to be “in the know” with respect to finding possible property solutions that may work for us. Amongst others, we will be meeting with a young couple who opted out of the corporate world to create a self-sustaining lifestyle and it will be interesting to learn from their experiences.
At this point we aren’t sure whether we may indeed find the perfect place for us (in which case we will sign an offer to purchase) or whether we will merely get a better idea of what is out there and at what price. We may simply find a rental property for now and then find the perfect property to purchase once we have been living there for a while. The perfect home will either have indigenous forest on the property or will border on the state-owned indigenous forest. It should have a water source and should have sufficient land for the growing of our own food. If there is a dwelling on the property that would be good, but if we find the perfect land without a dwelling, we will rent somewhere close by whilst we build our own home.
Our house in Cape Town is just about sold; however we are waiting to hear about bond approval in one case, and the property of prospective buyers being sold first, in another case. Once we return to Cape Town, we will be selling our cars, buying a pick-up truck and will start planning the big move.
So, after a month of relaxation and relative peace-and-quiet, it’s all happening now, which is very exciting and also quite intimidating. However, we continue to follow the dictates of our hearts and it all feels just right.
I’ll be back in a week’s time, hopefully with some good news that will take us several steps closer to our dream!
12 FEBRUARY 2010: PARADISE FOUND!
I’m writing this from Paradise. Well, my version thereof anyway.
We’ve spent the last few days viewing a myriad of diverse properties in the Garden Route, from Wilderness to Tsitsikamma, in search of the perfect place from which to create our forest dream. As the days have progressed, our dream has steadily come more-and more sharply into focus. In the process I have realized a few things about myself.
Firstly, I am definitely not a farmer! The hours spent inspecting an assortment of farm dams, traipsing through whitefly-infested citrus orchards, hectares of invader species that would require endless clearing and maintenance, pastures of silage or tracts of thorny bramble, all the while sagely nodding my head in a vain attempt to create the impression that I understood what I was being told, have certainly made this fact abundantly clear to me! We have also decided that any property larger than five hectares is simply too much for us to cope with. We have accepted the sunburn, scratches, insect bites and twisted ankles as “school fees” before gratefully abandoning any delusions that we might have been harbouring of becoming “gentlemen farmers”. Our time is far better spent in other, more lucrative, pursuits better suited to our talents and interests.
Similarly we have accepted that 100% self-sustainability might not be for us; at least not for a while until we have had time to gradually ease ourselves into the lifestyle. I realize that I definitely don’t have the courage to go cold turkey on all my creature comforts at once! We visited people who are attempting to be self-sustaining and, one look at the extremely challenging, not to mention bloody exhausting, existence they are attempting to scratch out of their dusty piece of earth made me realize that, although I am willing to forgo the malls, my sporty car and other luxurious trappings of city life, I am certainly not willing to give up on essentials such as a daily shower, electric lights, a flushing loo, a washing machine and sufficient quality food to eat. I just can’t see myself fighting a daily battle with the baboons in order to harvest enough food to keep body and soul together!
We also considered some lovely eco-village propositions. Here the idea is to live with as small a footprint as possible and to use eco-friendly materials and building technologies in the construction of one’s home. However there is still electricity and running water, although most people do collect rain water and supplement with solar power. These eco-villages are situated in very beautiful, remote places, often in nature conservation areas, which would seem, on the face of it, to be absolutely perfect for our needs. However there are problems with the keeping of domestic pets and there are many, often extremely onerous, rules with respect to what one may, and may not, do. Suddenly it all felt very restrictive and not really conducive to our dream of having sufficient freedom and space to do our own “thing”.
We looked into residential properties within developments where the “country-feel” is maintained; a sort of rural “lite” solution for reforming city slickers! Some of these have incredible views and include communal use of small tracts of indigenous forest. But, at the end of the day, one is restricted to a small piece of land (measured in square metres instead of hectares) and there are limitations to the freedom of expression and movement through voluntary subjugation to the dictates of a “body corporate”. Had we wanted this, we could simply have relocated to the outskirts of Cape Town.
So, the solution appeared to be a smallholding that had the right mix of indigenous flora, with enough space to breathe and sufficient autonomy, but with acceptable security and at least electricity provided (or so we initially thought). This is all very exciting! Our dream is starting to take shape.
A few days after writing the above, we finally found our perfect property. It is a smallholding in a remote, mountainous community, right on the border with the indigenous forest. We will have to build our own home and there are absolutely no utilities provided, so we will have to do everything for ourselves, but the view is magnificent and we have endless space and freedom to do whatever we please. Paradise found!
27 FEBRUARY 2010: WHY DO ANYTHING?
I have been thinking quite a bit lately about what motivates me to do the things I do.
I have read over-and-over that there are only two real motivators: one being fear and the other being love. I know that fear used to be a very strong motivator for me in the past. I feared that, if I didn’t perform according to certain criteria; if I didn’t exceed my budget; if I didn’t have the car, the house the possessions; if I wasn’t a “nice”, sweet person who “massaged” the egos that counted and conformed to societal expectations, then I would not receive the recognition, affirmation, acceptance, ie: “love” that I craved. The roles that I have chosen to play in the past have all been aimed at being told that I was acceptable and therefore worthy of love (because, of course, I feared that I was neither). This fake “love” is like fast food for the ego, but it always left me feeling hungry for more. It is addictive and not at all satisfying or truly nourishing.
We learn from a very young age that there are certain behaviours that are rewarded by the giving of love and treats, whereas there are other behaviours that are discouraged through the withholding of love or the infliction of punishment. This conditioning continues into adulthood. When we play socially sanctioned roles, we are rewarded in the form of approval (respect, acceptance, status, power), money, possessions etc. so that we will continue to play these roles for the maximum utility of the corporation, the family, the society or whatever other institution requires our acquiescence. When we behave contrary to what is required by the institution, we are “punished” by the withdrawal of the aforementioned tokens of approval.
If we view society as an organism that is principally concerned with its own survival, then it makes perfect sense for society to strongly dis-incentivise its members from engaging in anti-social behaviours such as murder, rape, theft etc. It also makes sense to strongly incentivise people to devote their time and energy to activities that support the prevailing ideology and maintain the status quo and to discourage ideas, belief systems and activities that threaten it.
I suppose that we all have, to a certain extent, the choice whether to support and participate in these institutions or not and there’s nothing wrong with this at all, if we are very clear about the transaction that is taking place. As individuals, of course we require (or believe we require) certain things from society such as security, infrastructure, community, a sense of meaning and purpose, and in exchange we are prepared to offer our acquiescence to the prevailing “way of being”. For me (and for others too, I suspect) the problem comes in when we mistake the rewards that we receive for our acquiescence, for love, and when we become dependent upon this substitute “love” for our sense of self or well-being.
But how to distinguish between true love and the fake substitute? Well, for myself, I have come to the realization that true love accepts and rewards me for simply BEING myself in every moment, whereas substitute or fake love rewards me for DOING what the institution wants me to do. I have also realized that no expression of love from a source external to me is ever going to feel completely satisfying unless I have found true love for, and acceptance of, myself. And then, ironically, I no longer require any external expressions of love at all!
But, coming back to love or fear as a motivator; actually I suspect that most of the things we choose to do are motivated by a combination of love and fear. For example, the motivators for sending my child to the most expensive private school could be a combination of the following: I love my children and want what’s best for them; I fear that unless they have the best education they will not have a secured future; I fear I will be considered a bad parent if I don’t send them to the most expensive school; I fear my children will come to resent me and eventually reject me if I don’t give them the very best; I love to see my children happy, secure and adjusting to life in a good school, etc, etc.
I am currently in the fortunate position of having very little that I absolutely must do (other than eating, sleeping and maintaining basic standards of hygiene!) It is actually very interesting to observe what it is that I choose to do in this position. Fear is playing a virtually non-existent role as a motivator right now. I guess it is love that is currently motivating me to keep simply choosing to do that which brings me the most joy and personal satisfaction. When viewed from the outside, I’m definitely not doing a whole helluva lot! I have never, in my whole life, been so blissfully indolent.
I suspect that I am merely pupating at the moment. Even though the caterpillar in the cocoon appears to be completely immobile and doing absolutely nothing at all, a miracle is taking place, which will reveal itself when the butterfly finally emerges. Hopefully, in due course, I will emerge from my own cocoon of inactivity as a whole new being with a great deal of purpose and fully energized to contribute my best and most meaningful gifts to the world.
And so the journey continues…
6 MARCH 2010: GOING WITH THE FLOW
When I was a child I had absolutely no sense of having any limitations. I was supremely confident and I simply never doubted for a second that I would be able to excel at anything to which I had set my mind. And so it was! People used to remark that I was “charmed” because it really seemed as if I could do anything whatsoever that I chose to do. I used to have a feeling, which I can still remember vividly from so many years ago. It was a feeling of being “in the flow” of things. I wasn’t trying or fighting or struggling – I simply decided to do something that looked like a fun thing to do, and then I did it – excellently! I didn’t have any ego or arrogance about being excellent, nor did I believe that I was somehow special or different. I never really thought about those things. If anything, I suppose I believed that this was simply the natural way for things to be - for me to be. And actually I was rather detached from the outcome of the things I set out to do. The prizes and awards were really very unimportant (and sometimes rather embarrassing!) to me. I suspect it was more about the process of doing things that were fun and interesting rather than achieving any desired outcome or the resultant accolades.
But somewhere in my teens I started to attach my ego to the things I accomplished; it started to become important to me to achieve, and to receive affirmation and recognition for achieving. And that is exactly the point at which life started to become more of a struggle for me. Things that had previously seemed effortless now took a whole lot more effort and energy and became difficult to achieve. In fact, I even started to attach my ego to the fact that I was able to accomplish things that were considered a challenge by others. However, self-doubt and fear that perhaps I would not achieve the standards, and therefore the recognition, that I desired, also started to manifest.
As an adult my ego-reality had become that I had to work really hard and long hours and show a whole lot of dedication, perseverance and resourcefulness and then I would achieve most of what I had set out to achieve. But, even when I achieved my goals, my elation was always tinged by a whisper of fear that perhaps next time I would not be able to achieve the same success. After all, you’re only as successful as your last deal, right? Life is just an ongoing struggle, isn’t it? Well… I’m not so sure about either of these statements any more!
Lately I’ve been asking myself whether life really needs to be a continual exhausting struggle or whether there is another way of being. Is it possible to recapture that feeling of effortlessness, of being in the flow, which I remember from my childhood? Wouldn’t it be great to have fun in the moment and really enjoy the process rather than obsessing about the outcome all the time?
These questions are particularly pertinent to me, as I am experiencing the transition from an egocentric mode of being to a more heart-centric mode of being. My heart tells me to set my intent and then to relinquish attachment to the outcome and simply be present, enjoying the NOW. My ego tells me this is absolute BS! How will anything ever be accomplished without constant, focused attention to detail and endless driving? The difficulty is that the reason I now have the luxury of two years in which to find my purpose and to express my heartsong is that I have been rather successful at the egocentric mode of being! And when something has really worked very well, it is extremely difficult to give up on it and try something else.
Of course we all know that when the stress levels increase, we tend to fall back on the old coping mechanisms, so, I have found myself applying all the strategies and techniques that have enabled me to be a success in the corporate world to my transition to the forest. And, to be perfectly honest, it’s simply not working! Which is hardly surprising, if one thinks about it for a minute. How can I be in my heart if my ego is forever trying to micro-manage every single detail of this transition? The reality is that all I am doing is causing a whole world of pain and suffering for myself, as I get increasingly frustrated and annoyed when things aren’t working out according to the schedule and plan, as set by my ego.
But, when I do relinquish control, bring myself present to this moment NOW and simply allow things to be what they are, then suddenly… miraculously… things start to fall into place. Suddenly the impossible is completely do-able. Suddenly I start to see the absolute perfection of the way things are working out, which is: far more joyfully and perfectly than my limited ego-plan would have been able to engineer.
I suspect that it is simply a choice between whether to struggle and suffer and work myself to a standstill or whether to stand back, view the whole picture and stay open to the miraculous. If I am unable to see the perfection of this moment now, then perhaps I am simply standing too close to the picture? Doesn’t it make a whole lot more sense to relax and remain in the flow rather than to struggle and fight for ego-control?
So, here’s how I think it works for me. I very clearly set my intent as to what I want by using my imagination to visualize the desired outcome, spending time on imagining the way I would feel if it were already true and accomplished. Then, I take care of the minimal admin (doing) that is required for it to happen, relinquish control and attachment to the outcome and sit back and enjoy the ride. And, amazingly, miracles ensue.
And they truly do. Since taking the decision to create my reality in this fashion, our house, which has been on the market for four months, has sold at a really great price and several other long-outstanding elements of our new life have fallen effortlessly into place, often in delightfully surprising ways. In addition, I’m feeling far more relaxed and having far more fun this way.
Of course I always have the choice to make my life a difficult struggle, but I think I would prefer to take life, and myself, far less seriously.
13 MARCH 2010: SELF SUSTAINABILITY
After weeks of discussion, debate, and intensive research, we have finally made the decision that we will indeed be building a functionally self-sustaining home on a piece of ground in the forested mountains outside of Knysna. Well, actually that’s stretching the truth just a little bit, as we will still be buying some necessities, but we will be self-sufficient with respect to water, energy, waste management and will grow most of our own food requirements. This was a daunting concept before we started doing the research, but it’s even more daunting now that we have a better idea of what will be required! However, it makes sense for us to “go green” from the very beginning rather than trying to gradually implement it afterwards. This means that we will be designing our new home from scratch to be as energy-efficient as possible, with self-sufficiency in mind. Below is a list of just some of the systems we will be installing:
- A solar heated geyser
- Solar panels and battery array for electricity requirements
- A rainwater collection and pump system
- A grey water treatment system
- A black water system with storage tank and reedbed filtration
- A complete recycling system for paper, metal, glass, plastic and organic material
- Compost heaps and a worm farm
- Composting loos (this is still under discussion, as it is difficult to justify the wastage of precious water resources required for a flushing loo, but, I must admit, a still believe I want, and need, one!)
- Solar-powered electrified fencing to protect the veggie garden from baboons
Of course all this infrastructure is rather costly, and hence the house we are building will be a really simple timber home, with a focus on optimal layout and efficiency. We have considered the possibility of building a packed earth house or even using recycled material to build the home, but I guess that’s where I put my foot down. I’m not particularly keen on living in a Hobbit-house or a rabbit hutch! I really want my home to be both beautiful and functional and I’ve always had a romantic attachment to the idea of a timber cottage in the forest. Besides, in order to optimize the view, we will need to build on stilts, which means that only a wooden house will work.
The good part about all this is that, once the systems are installed and operational, we will have very minimal further input costs, other than routine maintenance. As we will be actively involved in the installation process, we will understand how the systems operate so as to reduce our dependence on outside contractors for maintenance services in future.
I have also been planning my veggie garden and learning all about companion planting and intercropping and pest management strategies so as to ensure that we can grow 100% organic veggies.
This is becoming a very exciting and rather frightening adventure, as we venture ever further down the self-sufficiency rabbit hole. But those who know us well will not be at all surprised to discover that we aren’t particularly good at doing things by half-measures!
Our home in Cape Town has now been sold at a very good price. We are pleased that we held out and were not tempted to reduce the price in order to make a quicker sale. We plan to visit the property in Knysna within the next few weeks to start engaging with the builders and the suppliers of all the systems we require so as to complete a detailed costing and project plan. We will probably be moving to the guest cottage on the neighbours’ land within the next two months to commence the building of our dream.
And so the journey continues...
19 MARCH 2010: EGO REVISITED
In this diary I’ve often written about my ongoing battle in dealing with ego issues. Despite this, today I find myself needing to write about this topic yet again. I suppose that’s not really surprising, seeing as this great adventure upon which I have embarked is all about moving out of the ego and into the heart, in my quest to discover my true purpose.
A few years ago Arn and I went on holiday to a lovely eco-friendly resort in the Knysna forest (no surprises there!) At the reception we were signed in and given the key to our cabin by a sweet old man with an unkempt beard and shaggy hair, dressed in an ancient, baggy pair of trackpants, filthy bare feet and a jersey that had dried egg down the front. Surprisingly, we felt an immediate connection to, and affinity with, this person. We assumed that he was one of the workers at the place, however the following day we met him again, working on one of the electrical boards. He was at great pains to inform us that he had been the founder and CEO of a large corporate company which he had sold for a huge sum of money, with which he had developed the resort, after he had tired of the corporate world.
At the time, I found this interaction very sad on two counts: firstly, we had assumed that he was simply a worker because of the way he was dressed and secondly, he had needed to inform us that he was actually someone of value and importance by telling us his history. Three egos fully engaged! Why did any of this matter to us at all? Why had we not all simply acknowledged the fact that there was an instant rapport and explored this to mutual benefit?
Have you noticed that most social interactions (particularly when we meet someone new) are actual permutations of a sort of egoic “pissing contest”, as we subtly (or sometimes not so subtly!) try to establish our rank in the social hierarchy by ensuring that all present are aware of our qualifications, titles, sporting prowess, knowledge, intelligence or other forms of rank (including looks and sexual appeal)? Have you also noticed that, whenever someone else in the room is operating from his or her ego, the urge to move into one’s own ego is particularly powerful?
I had decided that I would resist the urge to inform people of the rank I had previously held once I had embarked upon my new life. However, recently I have had to confront the fact that all the old ego inducements are as powerfully seductive as ever:
My partner took responsibility for the selling of our home. As such, he has had to deal with all the estate agents and people wanting to view our property. The agent who finally succeeded in selling our home obviously decided that I was just the “little lady” of very little importance or value, as all her business dealings had been with my partner. She speaks to me in a very patronizing and pedantic fashion, as if I were an idiot child. Every time I am with her I find myself wanting to create an opportunity to work into the conversation the information that I have four degrees, that I have, until very recently, managed a highly successful business and that I’m actually someone with a working brain!
Why should it matter in the slightest what a service provider thinks of me? If she wants to earn her commission, she will do her job, irrespective of whether she thinks I’m someone important or not. Why do I feel this need to have someone, who is of absolutely no long-term importance in my life, validate my existence? After all, I have chosen to give up my impressive job title, my fancy car, my personal banker and all the other trappings of success. How can I be upset to be dismissed as someone of no real value if I choose to wear tracksuits, ponytails and no make-up instead of power suits and heels?
I guess we all have a box in our minds into which we put all of our concepts of self that we develop over the course of our lives, such as:
I am a successful businessperson
I am a wife
I am a parent
I am highly educated and intelligent
I have style and great taste
I am organized and on top of everything
I am attractive and sporty, etc, etc
And then we feel the need to defend these concepts of self against any perceived threat, which is exactly what I was feeling in my dealings with the estate agent. But, what happens if we lose some of these self-concepts (either willingly, as I have recently done), or if they are taken away from us? Well, let’s see…
If you take away my job, my possessions, my status, my money, will I still be me? Very few of us would particularly relish the thought of losing all these things, but, as someone who has willingly given up several of these things, I can confidently say, yes, I am definitely still me. How about if, in addition, you take away my relationships, my youth, my health, my strength, my freedom? I would obviously hate losing all those things, but I would certainly still be me. The reality is that sooner or later ALL of these things will either be “taken away” from us or we will willingly give them up – we simply can’t hold onto them forever (mainly because we don’t actually live forever!) OK, so how about if you take my body away from me (ie: you kill me)? Would I still be me? For myself, I don’t believe that I am my body. I HAVE a body and if you take it away, I will still be me, forever unchanged.
If I become really quiet and go within, I find that there is a part of myself that is, and always has been, unchanged and unchanging; the part of me that is the silent observer of my own life; a spark of consciousness that is untouched by the drama, the illusion of this life. This is the part of me that is eternal, that can never be taken away from me and requires absolutely no validation whatsoever in this illusory world.
I think there is a fascinating ambiguity that I need to learn to hold in my mind - the fact that I am both an actor in the movie and the screenwriter, both the author of the book and a character in the book. And once I understand myself to be both the creator and the experiencer of my reality, I am free to enjoy all the wonderful experiences this illusory reality can offer me, whilst still remaining aware that I am so much more than this. Then I can consciously use my ego as a tool for the purpose to which it is best suited, namely, to go forth and create things to experience in the world, rather than to use it for that to which it is not suited, ie: to create my concept of Self. I think the ego is a wonderful tool, if used in service to the heart.
So, next time I feel a powerful urge to start telling someone about how important I used to be, I am going to stop, take a deep breath and move into an awareness of my true, eternal self. Then I will be able to look with compassion and listen intently to what the person in front of me really requires from me in this moment. I will be able to see this moment for what it truly is: not a threat to my sense of self, but rather an opportunity to create a higher version of myself and, thereby, a more magnificent reality.
And so the journey continues…
3 APRIL 2010: FRUSTRATIONS AND DELAYS
I am probably the most impatient person I know. My talents lie in making things happen rather than in allowing things to happen! And so I have spent my life in an endless, frenetic flood of busy-ness with my eyes always firmly fixed on the future attainment of my goals. And this has worked very well for me in accomplishing most of the things I have wanted to achieve in this reality. However, right now this approach no longer seems to be working. I’m also pretty sure that it is not going to work in my new reality and it is definitely in direct opposition to my stated intent of being here-now.
But still, I often find myself frustrated with the delays in realizing my forest dream. Everything is just taking SO much longer than I had planned. Had I known at the end of December when I quit my corporate job that five months later I would still be in Cape Town, I would probably have completely flipped my lid! So, what’s “gone wrong”?
Well firstly, as I have decided to take responsibility for my creations, I have to accept that even the most frustrating delays are of my own making and are therefore absolutely perfect. I am no victim of circumstance, so, perhaps on some level, I am creating this breathing space, this moment in which to take stock and to prepare myself for what is coming.
And when I actually do stop, take a breath, and think about it for just a moment, I find it really difficult to explain exactly why I am in such a hurry. Everything is steadily progressing toward my stated intent, albeit slower than I had anticipated. Why am I in such a hurry to get to “the rest of my life”?
My life is right here, right now .
In addition, there are no external time limits or deadlines, other than those that I choose to impose. Is impatience merely a bad habit, a learned response that I must unlearn if I am to find lasting happiness in a new way of being?
The Buddhists tell us that, in this reality, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. What they mean by this is that being human inevitably means some physical or emotional pain at some point, but that our response to that pain is what causes us to suffer or not. And most suffering is caused by resisting THAT WHICH IS.
My current “suffering” is caused by my resistance to being where I am right now and my desire to be somewhere else (ie: the forest). I am so busy rushing at top speed towards my future happiness that I have failed to notice how amazing this present moment is. And actually I have but a split second left in which to enjoy the city life. To be able to walk across the road and enjoy eating at six different restaurants in our street, to amble down the road to the DVD store at nine pm if I feel like watching a movie, to be within walking distance of two different malls, and all the other benefits of city life. I have but a few moments in which to cherish my beautiful “yuppie” home and all its wonderful memories before I have to hand it over to the new owners. I have a brief interlude in which to enjoy entertaining old acquaintances before moving on to my new life in which I definitely will not see them as often as in the past. Why not enjoy this moment right now instead of wishing it were over?
It’s equally useless to hanker after the past; to wish that relationships could be the way they used to be or that I could have the body I did ten years ago. Because, of course, ten years ago I wasn’t appreciating the body I had, but was rather focusing on all the things I needed to do in order to “improve it” in future. What a terrible waste! Right now I am the youngest I will ever be. Why not enjoy and cherish this moment? For it too will be over before I realize it.
I think we do ourselves and the world a thousand small violences every day by resisting what is, rather than simply accepting things the way they are and enjoying them, knowing that this too will eventually pass.
So, this morning I got up and made homemade muffins for breakfast and relished the fact that my dearest love and I could sit for over an hour together talking, drinking tea and listening to music. There is nothing we have to do and no place we have to be. This breathing space is a blessing and one I intend to enjoy to the fullest.
And so the journey continues…
18 APRIL 2010: CHALLENGES
I’m standing ankle deep in mud in the pouring rain on a deserted gravel country road at dusk, kilometers away from the nearest farm. I’m shivering from the cold because I’m dressed in a t-shirt, flip-flops and thin cotton pants, but also because of the shock of what has just happened. Before me is the appalling spectacle of our car balancing on two tires at a 45-degree angle on the sandy verge of the road. The only thing between the car and the precipitous drop into the deep gorge below are a few scrubby bushes and small saplings.
Whilst negotiating a steep downhill turn, our car tires slipped on the treacherous wet clay on the road surface and the car careened across the road before coming to a halt in its current position. Climbing out of the car was terrifying because we feared that our shifting weight would send the car plummeting down into the gorge. It was also quite a feat for me to climb out uphill, over the handbrake and across the driver’s seat, with the car at that angle. Fortunately we were both absolutely unharmed and the car only required a wheel balancing and alignment and a bit of panel beating work on the front fender. A miraculous escape indeed!
Despite the drama of this situation, it has turned out to be an incredibly wonderful experience. We have learnt a few important things:
Firstly, ABS brakes can only do so much – zooty city cars are just not suited for life in the forest! We definitely need a 4-wheel drive vehicle if we’re going to be able to drive safely in all weather conditions in our forest hideaway.
Secondly, no person is an island, particularly when living in remote and wilder parts of the world. As city dwellers we have come to anticipate that assistance will not be forthcoming if one finds oneself in a difficult situation and that considerable financial or other incentive is required in order to get out of a pickle. However, it seems that country people are very different from city people. We were overwhelmed by the kind assistance and support with which we were showered in the forest. A neighbour came to fetch us in his 4-wheel drive vehicle. He personally phoned around to find us the cheapest rescue service (after ascertaining that it would be impossible to tow us out himself), even going so far as to telephonically enlist his son’s assistance to find us the best deal. He sat chatting to us in his vehicle for over forty-five minutes until the rescue truck arrived and then stayed with his vehicle’s lights flashing so as to warn oncoming traffic of the rescue underway. Then, when we discovered that our car could still drive, he took us back to his place to stay in his guest cottage overnight. I have never appreciated a warm shower, a hot meal and a soft, warm bed as much as I did that night!
The third thing I learnt is that moments of physical danger and heightened adrenaline result in unsurpassed clarity about one’s priorities. Whilst standing on that lonely country road, a strange sense of calm descended upon me and I realized that, despite the current difficulties, I was EXACTLY where I wanted to be and doing EXACTLY what I wanted to be doing! In addition, I had created this experience to show myself EXACTLY that! All the petty and irritating little details and uncertainties of the past few days of dealing with agents, builders and architects just seemed to melt away into insignificance and I knew again with absolute certainty that following my heart to the forest is the right thing for me to do. The details will all work out in the end; the important thing is to get myself to my heart’s home.
As an aside, our neighbour told us that the people living in the area had declined the municipal offer of a tar road and that they would in fact sign a petition against the treacherous gravel road being tarred in future. Despite our recent experience, I’m pretty sure I would sign that petition as well! The place is special and unspoiled exactly because it is so remote and inaccessible and it should be preserved just as it is.
Only one more month to go and we will be moving to Paradise.
And so the journey continues…
23 APRIL 2010: RESISTANCE FROM FRIENDS
Yesterday I had a very interesting and challenging discussion with a dear friend and erstwhile authority figure in my life whom I had not seen for several months. This friend told me that, in his opinion, I was being selfish and cowardly in relinquishing my previous life, my career and all its responsibilities in order to follow my heart to the Knysna forest. He also said that my ideas made no sense at all to him and he indicated that he thought I was deluded or possibly under the influence of some external influencing person or circumstance. Furthermore he told me that he thought I considered myself more “noble” or somehow superior to others because of the choices I was making about the kind of life I wished to live.
What struck me very powerfully about this interaction is that, just a few short months ago, I would have been absolutely devastated to have heard this person’s negative opinion of myself and my venture. It had always been really important to me to do the “right” thing in order to be considered in a favourable light, particularly by the authority figures in my life. I suppose I believed that I really needed “daddy’s” approval in order to survive. I had always gone to some considerable lengths to determine what I thought would be the “most right” thing to do, and then I would do it, whatever the personal cost. But it didn’t actually bring me that much satisfaction or happiness; certainly not the level of happiness that I now experience whilst doing what my heart guides me to do.
I guess I find that I am now far more interested in being happy than in being “right”!
So, although I can see that many would view what I am doing as wrong or misguided or selfish or ignoble, it somehow doesn’t really matter that much to me because what I am doing is making me happy in a way that I could never have imagined before. This doesn’t mean that I no longer care about my friends and acquaintances from my past – quite the opposite – I care a great deal and I wish for them to have happy and fulfilled lives doing whatever brings them the most satisfaction. I am just no longer willing to sacrifice my own happiness in order to be accepted and loved or in order to have the dubious, and rather empty, satisfaction of believing myself to be doing the “right” thing.
The second thing that struck me about my conversation with my friend yesterday is that it was an immense gift.
Initially when I took the decision to follow my heart I had anticipated all kinds of resistance from friends, family and colleagues. I was really surprised when that was not the case. Mostly people just told me that they wished they had the courage and/or the opportunity to do what I was doing and just about everyone expressed support and good wishes for my new life. Subsequently I have met many new friends, both online and elsewhere, who have expressed support and comprehension for what I am doing. So I suppose I have started to develop a very distorted picture of how most people would perceive my choices. Probably those who found my ideas and choices strange or weird or threatening chose not to interact with me.
Yesterday’s meeting was a huge eye-opener and therefore a gift. It allowed me to see my situation and myself from a completely different perspective.
This meeting gave me a much greater insight into what I am requiring of my loved ones in expecting them to accept the choices I am making. And I can also see that some of my choices are causing a great deal of pain and discomfort for people who have been really important in my life. While my friend was talking I found that I was able to look behind his rather harsh words to see the hurt, loss and sense of betrayal that he had experienced as a result of my choices.
When we decide to assume certain roles in life, it is like putting on a set of clothing. After a while our friends and colleagues grow accustomed to seeing us in those clothes and it can cause a great deal of confusion, anger or even a sense of betrayal if we decide to reject the set of clothing in favour of another. It is possible that some could even experience this as a rejection of themselves, their friendship or their value systems; possibly even an act of aggression. I had spent a whole lot of time and effort and energy in building up a “persona” which people had come to know and rely upon and I can imagine that it could have been really difficult for some to relinquish their attachment to that specific version of me.
Does any of this make me doubt whether what I am doing is a valid choice for me? Absolutely not. I know in my heart that what I am doing is completely right for me and, for the first time in my life, I don’t require the approval or the validation of anyone or anything external to myself to corroborate that for me.
Do I know where this journey of mine will end? No, again! When some accuse me of not having a proper plan, I have no defense at all, because they are completely right! But somehow that doesn’t really matter because I don’t feel the need to defend my choices or myself anymore. I don’t feel the need to be “right”. My plan is to simply follow my heart in every moment to that which brings me the most happiness.
Is this cowardly?
Is this irresponsible?
Is this selfish?
Does that matter to me anymore…?
And so the journey continues…
8 MAY 2010:
I have been rather resistant about writing the following diary entry. The reason being that I know that what I have to say sounds extremely flaky! However, I have undertaken to chronicle my ongoing journey toward discovering my life’s purpose and each week I write about that which is top of mind for me at the time of writing. And, after all, this is MY diary and I don’t compel anyone to continue reading it! So, here goes:
I have had quite a few people lately asking me versions of the following question, “But, Lisa, what is it that you DO all day?” I think this is mainly because I have always been such a busy, active do-er that it is difficult to comprehend that I have spent the last four months doing nothing much at all! However, these questions from friends and family, and my own uncertainty, have led to some anxiety and I have started to ask myself whether I have progressed at all in finding my life’s purpose, which is what I set out to do at the start of this adventure. As I was unable to answer this question with any degree of clarity or certainty, I decided to hold the question in my mind whilst meditating and specifically request input and assistance from my spiritual guide.
Until three or four years ago I had a spirit-guide called Elizabeth. She had a very warm, nurturing energy and she simply held me in her unconditional love until I was able to find love for myself. After this I became aware of a “changing of the guard” and I knew that Elizabeth had moved on to do other tasks, her work with me complete. I was assigned another guide about whom I knew very little. He had a far more “masculine”, sometimes rather intimidating, energy and I always experienced his presence as a vast cloud of intense blue light. I had a sense of immense integrity, clarity, truth and trustworthiness about my new guide. This was a far less personal relationship than the one I had enjoyed with Elizabeth and I was led to understand that this was a “grown-up guide for a maturing soul”. I haven’t really felt the need or the desire to find out more about my new guide during the past few years. However, my question about my life’s purpose led me to directly ask for his assistance for the first time this week. Below is the conversation that ensued.
Actually the conversation did not take place in words at all, but rather, I was immediately presented with fully formulated concepts (some of which were quite surprising to me!) every time I held a question in my mind. I subsequently “translated” the concepts into words (losing a great deal of the richness and meaning in the translation, I might add). However, even the final version in words, below, offers a great deal of insight and value to my current situation.
Lisa: Am I “on course” in my life; am I doing what I am supposed to be doing?
Guide: Do we really need to regress to childhood again at this point?!
You know that you are exactly where you should be and doing exactly what you should be doing. It is artifice and counter-productive to pretend that you don’t know. Life is not served by your acting small or ignorant.
Lisa: OK, I guess I do know, but it seems to be taking so long to find my life’s purpose. What is it that I need to be learning right now?
Guide: Patience and humility.
You are done with accomplishments for now. It is Arn turn to shine. You need to sit quietly in the ever-expanding knowledge of who you really are without constantly feeling the need to remind everyone of who your ego thinks you are.
Lisa: But isn’t this a terrible waste of my talents and abilities?
Guide: Do you really believe that your greatest talents are associated with the personality, called Lisa? Your greatest talents lie in your BEING, not in Lisa’s DOING. In this lifetime you chose to have the potential to do anything you wanted. However, now you have to realize that your true value and worth have absolutely nothing to do with Lisa’s achievements, talents and potential.
You have been viewing the finding of your life’s purpose as yet another achievement to add to your long list!
That is why I tell you that, until you can sit quietly in the knowledge of who you truly are and relinquish your ceaseless hunger for achievement, affirmation and sense of accomplishment, you will not find your true life’s purpose.
Purpose can never be about ego. So, sit still and BE.
Lisa: OK, I accept all this because I know it to be true. But what should I DO in the meantime?
Guide: In every moment, ask yourself, “How best might I serve Life in this moment?” Then, do that.
Lisa: How will I know what that is? Sometimes I feel so alone. Will I receive help and guidance?
Guide: You are fully aware that you receive absolutely all the assistance you require whenever you need it.
Well, I guess it couldn’t get much clearer that that! I can tell you that my ego didn’t like this conversation one little bit! My ego wants to have big and important and serious stuff to do and patience has always been one of my weaknesses. So, I guess that is exactly why this is the perfect place for me to be right now to learn this lesson.
And so the journey continues…
21 MAY 2010: Moving on
For me this is a time of endings, a time of nostalgia, a time for farewells.
My next diary entry will be written in our new rental forest home. Between then and now lies a rather daunting to-do list, not to mention an exhausting list of concerns and anxieties about the move. We’re not just moving five hundred kilometres away to a new town; we’re actually moving an eternity away to a whole new reality.
Suddenly, after all the months of talking about it and preparing for it, the time has finally come for us to start creating and living this new reality we have dreamed of for so long. Although there is a great deal of uncertainty and some fear about our new life, we have already mostly disconnected ourselves from our old life and we find ourselves in a rather unsettling place, betwixt and between.
As this weekend will be our very last in the city, we had planned to enjoy the best that city life has to offer. However, when we sat down to plan the weekend, we both realized that there was absolutely nothing we wanted to do other than stay home and cook a quiet meal, to be eaten amidst the piles of boxes. Just as well, I suppose. It would have been rather problematic if we still hankered after the city life.
However, there is still some attachment left to the old life. It’s quite amazing to discover how very closely I have identified myself with my home and I find myself experiencing periodic anxiety about whether the new owners will take good care of the pool, the garden and whether their furniture will look good in “my” home and worrying about whether they will repaint the walls which I so lovingly and painstakingly painted myself with specially-selected, textured paint. I know I have to relinquish my attachment to this house. I guess I’m really experiencing first-hand the suffering caused by what the Buddhists refer to as “attachment to form”. It’s been so interesting to note that every single possession I have released, from my home, to my car, to my clothing, to my furniture etc was something that, once upon a time, I specially chose and loved very much. However, there comes a time when we have to release every last thing, including ideas and thought-forms and abstractions. And our attachment to those things, our identification of ourselves with those things, is what causes us pain and suffering.
I suppose mostly what I am having to let go of right now are the final vestiges of the previous ideas I had of myself; the go-getter, the yuppie, the “successful”, busy, upwardly-mobile career person. I don’t really know who the new me is, but I need to create the space for her to come into being and the only way to do that is to finally discard all of the old.
I am suddenly acutely aware of the fact that I am really taking a leap into the complete unknown with only my heart to guide me home.
During the past few weeks, as I’ve said my final goodbyes to friends and family, I have been aware that several of these goodbyes will, in fact, be goodbye forever. My journey is taking me in a certain direction and I know that, despite the good intentions to visit, many will find their life journey simply makes this a remote possibility. So there’s been a lot of sadness and grieving for what was, but also a lot of reflection and many beautiful memories of journeys undertaken with some very special people.
So, now… here I am… standing on the edge of the cliff, with a very thin bungee cord attached to my ankles… waiting for the moment… heart pounding with excitement and a touch of fear….
Three, two, one… BUNGEEEEEEE…….
4 JUNE 2010: WHAT I LOVE
What I love the most:
Being woken by the rooster crowing before sunrise
Watching sunrise, sunset and Venus setting every day
The brilliance and exhilarating number of stars
The unbelievably breathtaking vastness of the silence
Watching the multitude of birds feeding on the fynbos with binoculars from the balcony
The friendliness and helpfulness of small-town people
No rush hour traffic, no noise, no pollution, plenty of parking in town
Time and space to breathe, to think, to BE
Watching the ecstatic happiness of the dogs running at full speed for as long and as far as they wish
Falling into bed by ten pm, bone-weary from physical work
The heart-stopping, gut-wrenching beauty of this place
Feeling safe in a way I have never felt in the city
The bumpy, treacherous, incredibly beautiful, mountainous dirt road to our home
What takes some getting used to:
The pitch-blackness of the night
The fine dust that settles over everything, regardless of how much I clean
The brown colour of the river water due to tannins and the funny “scum” it deposits round the rim of my teacup
The realization that we need to make sure there are “belts and braces” in place for everything we might need – a dramatically increased awareness of the need for self-sufficiency
No distractions - nothing I have to do and nowhere I have to be
In this place one is confronted with the reality of who you really are. There are no places to hide and you need to be very happy with your own company.
10 JUNE 2010: ADAPTING TO MY NEW REALITY
Up till now I have spoken a lot about all the amazing and wonderful aspects of living my forest dream. And all of this remains true. However, for the sake of honesty and a balanced perspective, I have decided to report back on some of the difficulties I have been experiencing over the past few weeks.
I suppose the first, and least significant challenge, has to do with the lack of externally-imposed structure, boundaries or sense of purpose. It is surprisingly difficult to decide what to do when faced with a completely empty day with nothing which one HAS to do, when one is accustomed to having the entire day mapped out in hectic activities, responsibilities and general busy-ness! Also, because we are really “off the beaten track”, it’s simply not realistic to jump into the pick-up at a moment’s notice and rush off to town to find some entertainment or distraction. We plan our trips to town so as to ensure that we don’t waste fuel and time and we always have a well-stocked pantry so that there is food for at least a month in case the river comes down in flood and we need to survive for a period of time without a visit to the supermarket. In any case, the town of Knysna is really small and does not offer big-city entertainments. However, I have started to discover the joys of vegetable gardening, baking, stargazing, walking with no destination in mind, photography and just simply chatting and connecting in front of the fire with new friends and my Arn. Also, there is the odd excitement, such as a helicopter flip with the neighbour this morning and the need to rake the driveway of our two ha property or pull up alien vegetation from time to time! So, this challenge is actually a minor one that I am starting to resolve for myself.
By far the bigger challenge is the nagging sense of discomfort I have that something HAS to go wrong soon. I guess that somewhere deep in my programming is a hidden belief that it’s just not permissible for humans to have this much happiness and freedom to do exactly what they want in every moment. Somewhere, somehow, there has to be a payback. Could it be that I find it easier to believe in a reality that is an uphill toil rather than an easy, fun, relaxed reality?
This belief is also manifesting in a fear that I am, due to some external calamity or something I have forgotten about or miscalculated, going to have to leave here before I want to. It’s almost as if I can’t relax and fully enjoy this amazing place and experience because I am afraid that it will somehow be “taken away” from me or end abruptly before I am ready, or before I have fully experienced all I wish to experience. This is actually spoiling my enjoyment of this incredible reality I have worked so hard to create.
My dear Arn helped somewhat by reminding me that living this perfect, beautiful life in this incredible place is not what my journey is actually about. The journey is actually about following my heart toward my purpose. It is important to remember that this is a journey and not a destination. My life in this magnificent place is simply the current manifestation of that journey. It is absolutely guaranteed that we will not stay here forever and that things WILL change, even if only because we are currently renting this place and will soon start to build our own home on our own piece of land! If I attach myself to this place, then I am guaranteed to experience suffering when I have to leave. Change is inevitable.
Attachment causes suffering. I know this. And yet I keep feeling the temptation to attach myself to something external to myself. I suppose it’s because I have really cut myself adrift from all my previous ties. Even if I found them extremely constricting to my growth, they were comforting and provided a sense of being somehow anchored in the world. I have the most disconcerting feeling of lightness, of disconnectedness, of unreality. How surprising it is to discover how dependent and even, addicted, I have been to externally imposed structures, routines, expectations, restrictions and definitions of self! It seems to be a frightening thing indeed to create ones own sense of self with no external input. However, every time I try to create a routine, boundary or restriction in my new reality, I find myself kicking against it, despite my uncomfortable feelings of being adrift. Perhaps it’s necessary to simply sit in the fire of these challenges for a while without rushing to try and find quick-fix solutions.
It has not escaped my attention that I could interpret all this as me creating problems simply because my life is so free of any real difficulties or challenges! However, I think a better interpretation would be that Arn and myself have created this reality without any real troubles or worries so that we can spend our time and energy focusing on our real journey toward self, instead on focusing on any perceived lack or difficulty that might serve as a distraction.
And, in the vast, magnificent stillness of this place, I detect the quiet unfolding of some new, and fragile, and infinitely precious thing within my heart.
And so the journey continues…
25 JUNE 2010: THE BIG CON
After four weeks of watching sunrises and sunsets, breathing clean, fresh air, being woken by the rooster crowing and listening to birdsong all day, being surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty and doing exactly what I please in every moment of every day, I have come to the conclusion that I have been the victim of a gigantic con my entire life!
We are taught from early childhood to delay our gratification, to set our teeth and “grin and bear it” for a reward to be received at some future date. These rewards are mostly tangible “stuff”, which we are conned into believing that we need in order to be happy, in order to be acceptable. And so, many of us become big, greedy babies, constantly demanding more-and-more, and bigger-and-better possessions to feed our ever-growing, insatiable hunger, none of which ever makes us feel really happy or acceptable and all of which is actually a vain attempt at filling the deep vacuum we feel inside. Of course, in order to afford the “stuff” (ie: to pay off the debt, which will actually never be paid off because we keep buying more stuff), we need to work even harder and longer than ever before. And so we find ourselves trapped, going round-and-round the hamster wheel of materialism, becoming exhausted, depressed and ultimately unfulfilled and very definitely “ungratified”!
Some other, very enticing, rewards we are conned into delaying our gratification for, are intangibles. These intangibles include: a sense that we are being somehow “noble” and doing “The Right Thing” by sacrificing our happiness for others, such as our family, our employees, the Company or even, the World. Other intangible rewards are a sense of meeting (and exceeding) others’ expectations, “getting ahead” in the world, or the good old ego polishings associated with being “The Best” or “irreplaceable” or “climbing the ladder”. These rewards are even less satisfying than the tangible rewards and invariably lead to a sense of disillusionment or resentment, as our sacrifices can never be valued enough by those for whom we are doing the sacrificing, and the ego buffing just never seems to satisfy our deep hunger for love and recognition.
But, if not for some future gratification, why do we need to work? We are told that it is a way to make a contribution, a way to create meaning for ourselves. But I reckon that there are very few people for whom that really is the case. I think that most of us work because we believe it is expected of us and because we believe that we have to have money in order to buy the stuff we have been conditioned to believe we want and need. Most of that stuff would not be required if we were not trying to live up to some expected lifestyle measure or if we were not requiring to anaesthetize ourselves against, or compensate ourselves for, the pain and frustration of living a life that is not congruent with our deepest being; not congruent with our heartsong.
Living in this beautiful place I have realized that I actually don’t need the fancy clothes, the car, the gym membership, the expensive entertainments, the overseas trips, the fine restaurant meals, the jewellery and all the other tangible and intangible trappings of “success”. Most of what I need is given absolutely free of charge by God and the rest is easily obtainable by spending a fraction of what I thought I needed in order to survive in my previous life. I just have to stop living my life in comparison to, and in competition with, others, and find my own measures of value, meaning and purpose. I have to find the courage to listen to my own heart and follow its calling. And, suddenly, a life of magnificent abundance ensues. Abundant health, abundant happiness, abundant time, meaning, connection and beauty.
I would like to suggest that we stop delaying our gratification. I think that we have to IMMEDIATELY, AND IN EVERY SINGLE MOMENT, move toward that which we most love. Don’t delay it for even a second longer. The trick is getting to the core of what it is that we love the most. I might think that what I love the most is beautiful possessions, more money, bigger and better toys, recognition, titles, status etc, but if I get really honest and become still and listen to my heart for a moment, I realise that what I most love is to feel connected: connected to God, connected to Nature, connected to others, connected to my self. What I really want is to feel that there is real meaning and purpose in what I do and that I am making a real difference in someone’s life. I want to feel that the world will have been a better place for my having passed this way. No amount of “stuff” and no amount of ego buffing is ever going to provide me with this. The only way to find this is to go within and listen carefully to my heart. And then all I need is to have the courage to follow what my heart tells me to do.
I believe that each of us has a very special gift, a God-given purpose, which we have to contribute to the world. When we find this gift and start giving it, we will never, ever, ever have to work again. We will simply be playing – it will be effortless and fun and will give us a sense of meaning and purpose in every moment, and true abundance will ensue.
Of course all this is very easy for me to say, as I have the time and the space and the leisure to find my heartsong. But a year ago I would have said that it was impossible for me to do what I have done, as I had far too many responsibilities and there was no way I could afford to leave my job, to move to the country and to spend two years finding my purpose. And yet…. Miraculously… Here I am! Somehow, when I was ready to listen to my heart, the impossible became possible and the way appeared.
I definitely don’t have all the answers yet. But I am starting to discover some very interesting questions and I am starting to see a little more clearly and I’m definitely starting to have a lot more fun!
And so the journey continues…
2 JULY 2010: TREE POPPING
We’ve been spending a couple of hours every day gradually removing alien vegetation from the land we are in the process of purchasing. This is all we can do at the moment, as there are some delays before the land will be transferred onto our name, and so we cannot start building our home as yet. The biggest challenge we face is an overgrowth of Black Wattle, which is an alien invader of the Acacia species from Australia and a huge problem in Knysna. Wherever land has been cleared, it takes over, growing very rapidly, depleting the water table and spreading its seeds everywhere so that, even if one removes all the wattle trees and saplings, next season there is always more. The only way to permanently deal with the problem is to reclaim the land with indigenous species, which obviously takes a lot of time and concerted effort. However, our vision is to eventually eradicate all non-indigenous species and to fully rehabilitate our land.
We have purchased a piece of equipment called a “tree popper”, which combines muscle power with the power of the lever to remove trees of up to five cm in diameter, roots-and-all. So, every day after breakfast, we pile the dogs and the tree popper into the pickup and drive the two km to our land for the kind of exercise you’ll never get in the gym.
In the first few weeks, I found myself becoming disheartened at the sheer magnitude of the challenge lying ahead of us, as, after a few exhausting hours spent “popping” over one hundred trees daily, it hardly seemed to make much of a difference at all, and I could only see the massive task that still lay ahead. Then I decided to change my perspective. I realized that I am doing this work as an act of service and love to the forest and so, every tree I remove is one less tree that will spread its seeds in future. This is all about the process and not about the end goal of having the land completely cleared. As Arn commented to me, this job will never actually be done, as this is not a perfect city garden, but rather a wild piece of land that will constantly require work. If I make the shift in my mind from goal to process, then I find that I can actually get into the “zen” of tree popping, as it were. And, ironically, then I can actually start to see my progress – as we gradually chip away at the job, ever larger pieces of land are starting to become clear of invaders.
The larger invader trees will have to be cut down and the stumps treated to prevent re-growth. We have decided to plant five indigenous plants for every large invader tree we remove, but it is still a sad day indeed to cut down a beautiful big tree. Hopefully we can use some of the wood to make our kitchen cupboards and the rest will either be used for firewood to heat our home or will be chipped for compost, so at least the trees will not have died in vain. And we will leave a legacy of hundreds of indigenous trees and shrubs for future generations.
As our soft, lily-white, city hands gradually become callused and strong and as we start to find all kinds of new muscles gradually making their appearance, we are slowly, but surely making this piece of land our own, through service and through love, not to mention, good, honest sweat!
Archimedes is reported to have said that he could move the world with a big enough lever and a stable place to stand. Well, we have our stable place to stand on this magnificent piece of land and, by applying the lever of our intent, we are gradually moving our world to create the heart-centered reality of which we have dreamed. And we discover that it’s not about tree popping at all; it’s actually about love.
And so the journey continues…
15 JULY 2010: FINDING MEANING
Seeing as this diary is all about finding my purpose, I have decided to take stock of where I am in the process, seven months into my “Grand Experiment”.
I know that I have spoken ad nauseum about dealing with ego issues in this diary. And yet I discover that, despite my best intentions, my quest to discover my true purpose has once again been motivated by… yes, you guessed it! EGO! The starting assumption for this diary was that there is some great and wonderful purpose for my life that I will find and, in so doing; uncover my “gift”, thereby making a huge and important impact on humankind. It’s actually all about ego! All about the need to be recognized as being special and different and therefore worthy of love. In retrospect, I’ve actually always been rather susceptible to such grandiose visions of my purpose – when I started studying science I had ideas of myself finding a cure for cancer or AIDS and thereby “making my mark” on the world. I smile indulgently at the naiveté of my eighteen-year old self, but actually I don’t really seem to have progressed very much from that position, have I?
I suppose that we all want to feel that there is some meaning to our lives; some reason behind the toil and hardship, the boredom and sacrifice and, for some of us, this becomes a noble and lofty goal that could possibly raise our lives up from the mundane to glorious, meaningful heights. Often this is merely a hedge against the deep, often unexamined, fear that perhaps this life is simply random; a meaningless struggle on an inexorable path from birth to the ultimate annihilation of self. I choose to believe that there must be more to my existence than that, simply because it makes my life far more joyful if I hold this belief and because the alternative is simply too dreary and depressing to live with! But what if I’m simply deluding myself, I hear the pragmatists ask. Well, in that case, I suppose I’d rather be happy than right! But I have found some support in the literature for my need to find, or create, meaning in order to live a happy life.
I’ve recently read Viktor Frankl’s excellent book, “Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy”, in which describes his experiences as a Jew in Nazi Germany’s death camps during the Second World War. These experiences led to his developing Logotherapy, which describes mans’ “will to meaning” (in contrast to Freud’s “will to pleasure” and Adler’s “will to power”). Frankl discovered that those prisoners who had a sense of purpose, those who could therefore find (or create) meaning in their suffering, had a far better chance of surviving the inhumane conditions than those who did not. It would seem that a sense of personal meaning and purpose is actually vital to the ongoing survival and well-being of a human.
Perhaps it’s important to differentiate between “meaning” and “purpose”. For me, purpose is an endpoint, a goal to be achieved, whereas meaning is something personal that I derive on an ongoing basis from the day-to-day activities of my life. I suspect that one could find a lot of meaning in even trivial, minor activities and events if one had a sense of overall purpose and direction for one’s life. But what if, like me, you’re not sure about what your life’s purpose could, or should, be? How do you then find meaning in everyday life whilst discovering your purpose? Well, I have recently started to think that by deliberately choosing to create and express meaning in my daily life I could actually be directly led to my purpose. Let me explain:
I am starting to discover that I can choose to experience a great sense of meaning in doing really small and seemingly insignificant things. For example: I find the time I spend physically toiling and sweating over the removal of non-indigenous trees on our land to be deeply meaningful and fulfilling. I find meaning in baking homemade goods or in preparing a beautiful meal. I even find meaning in cleaning the house or brushing the dog or any number of other previously boring chores that I rushed through in order to get them done so that I could move onto other “more exciting” (read: more ego-gratifying) activities.
What all these activities have in common is that they are actually tangible, active expressions of love. Love for self, Arn, our dogs, our land, Life. As such, they are deeply meaningful and valuable, important things for me to be doing. Each small task or service that I do in love leads to a sense of my heart opening just a little bit more. I guess I’m finally starting to understand why I was told by my guide to, “Ask how best might I serve Life in this moment.” Doing service definitely leads to an opening of the heart, which is, I believe, the portal through which we can (and will) access our unique spark of the Divine, our spirit. A direct experience of my own divine connection must lead me to an understanding of my unique gifts of love and service to the world and to humanity. Note, however, that it starts with the heart connection and not with the grandiose visions of ego gratification created by the intellect.
It’s all about intent, I believe. A person could do amazing and far-reaching works of philanthropy, which are recognized by people all over the world. However, if the intent is the gratification of the ego, these works will never lead to a personal sense of true meaning and will not, I believe, be to the ultimate good of humankind. In contrast, I believe that the smallest (even invisible) act of loving service can make the biggest difference in changing for the better the reality we inhabit. I suspect the measures of spirituality are very different from those of this illusory world.
So, my current understanding of my purpose is to find and express my true self, which will naturally lead to my giving my greatest gift.
So, for now, I will continue to seek out, and gradually discard, all false concepts of self and consciously strive toward an ever-clearer concept of true self. Through meaningful service I will continue to open my heart, a little bit more every day. In daily meditation I will bring myself always to the portal of the heart. Perhaps if I listen very carefully I will hear that there is a knocking on the other side of the door to my heart…
"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me" (Revelation 3:20).
And so the journey continues…
MID-JULY 2010: FINDING THE FEMININE
Despite being a woman, I have always divorced myself from my feminine side and striven to enhance my masculine characteristics of ego, drive, ambition, the ability to “make things happen” etc. I’ve always rather despised weakness, vulnerability, passivity, attributes which I characterized as feminine. And, of course, I was amply rewarded for honing my masculine attributes and all of my worldly success was the result of these attributes. Now I’m starting to feel as if I’ve really disabled and disallowed some of the most powerful parts of myself.
I think the transcendent moment comes when we are able to “marry” the masculine and feminine energies in ourselves and access the very best of both. The magical alchemy lies in the combination of both.
23 JULY 2010: HEALING THE EGO
Reading my diary entries over the last few months, I suspect I should have called this diary, “Lisa-on-ego” rather than “Lisa-on-purpose”, as I spend so much time talking about ego! However, this week I had a very powerful experience, which led me to the conclusion that I have not been completely correct in my assumption that ego is the “enemy”. This assumption is repeatedly presented in many New Age, Buddhist or other spiritual and philosophical texts and so I am aware that I will be challenging some very entrenched beliefs in the following entry. As usual, I simply present my personal journey, which is true for me. If my story rings true for you too, then I hope you will find value here. If not, then simply discard.
For over a week I had been struggling with bad heartburn and a painful, uncomfortably bloated, inflamed feeling in my stomach. At first I thought it was simply a case of mild food poisoning but, as the symptoms lingered, but did not worsen at all, I decided that this could not be the case. I know what an ulcer feels like and this was nothing like that. Besides I have absolutely no stress in my life anymore! As I had not changed anything in my diet or in my normal activities, I suspected that there might be an emotional or psycho-spiritual component to this malaise and so I decided to do a meditation to discover what that might be. I decided to do Zingdad’s meditation on visiting my sacred temple, as I knew I had always found immense healing in so doing.
As I followed the instructions on the meditation track, I found myself in a beautiful, lush forest, filled with massive, ancient trees festooned with “old man’s beard”, enormous tree ferns, mosses, lichens and brightly coloured bracket fungi, with a crystal-clear stream winding through and the whole populated with a multitude of frogs, birds and other wildlife. I could see my stone temple in the distance, but I found myself unable to go there. Something was holding me back. Gradually I became aware of a small walled garden to my left (somehow it was inside the left side of my head!) and I found that I could not move up the hill to my temple until I had explored this garden. I found a door in the wall, opened it and stepped through the doorway. What a shock! In contrast to the beauty outside the wall, inside the walled garden was dark and dank and all the plants were either sickly or dead and decaying – it was rapidly becoming a stinking wasteland.
How miraculous that our subconscious offers us these incredible insights if we simply pay attention for a few minutes! I immediately knew what the dying garden signified. It was in my head on the left side, which would seem to indicate a left-brain problem, or a problem associated with the masculine side of my being. It is this masculine side of myself which is most expressed in my ego, in Do-ing. It also dawned on me that the ego center is located in the solar plexus chakra, which was exactly where I had been experiencing distressing physical symptoms.
I moved my consciousness to my heart chakra and from there I questioned my ego chakra to find out what the problem could be. I immediately had a sense of an unloved and unwanted child rebelliously “acting out” in order to attract some attention. I realized that, for some time, I have been demonizing my ego; making it “wrong” for simply wanting to do that which it is best at doing. In every single moment I have been thwarting my ego and preventing it from finding a useful outlet for all the energy it had previously used for non-stop Do-ing. So, this energy turned inward and started to cause damage to the ego, which manifest as physical symptoms in my body. I also realized that I have been terribly ungrateful to my ego, which, after all, was the part of myself that did all the doing required to move myself from my corporate job and city life, to my current amazing dream-existence in our forest paradise.
I visualized the small, unhappy child in my ego center and then I focused on sending it gratitude, recognition and endless love. I pictured myself picking up this child, cradling it in my heart chakra; holding it and loving it and giving it everything it could possibly want and need to be happy and healthy. After some time the child was no longer unhappy and I placed it back in my ego center. Then I turned to my left to look at the walled garden again. To my surprise, the wall was gradually disintegrating and beautiful, healthy vegetables were starting to grow where previously there had been dead or dying plants. This too, was a message for me. The ego is that which allows us to DO in this world. We would not be able to get out of bed in the morning without the ego. Everything beautiful and useful we experience (as well as the things we may perceive as negative) is made possible through the action of the ego. The ego wants and needs to be given something to do. The problem comes in when we let the ego run the show. The ego needs to be managed, needs to be given useful things to do (hence the vegetable garden, which will nourish and support the functioning of the whole being).
I informed my ego that henceforth it would no longer have to function alone and unsupported. It would become an invaluable member of a team, under the direction of the heart, which would allow me to create my perfect life and my perfect expressions of love. When I finally left the garden, I could sense that my ego was feeling happy and purposeful and I knew that my physical symptoms would soon pass.
And I was right! Two days later I feel healthy and well. Now, I know this all sounds a bit far-fetched, but I have experienced this type of imagery before in my delvings into the subconscious and I know the unbelievable efficacy of dealing with psychosomatic illness in the imagery with which one is presented. By the way, by using the term, psychosomatic, I definitely do not mean that the illness is imaginary in any way – the pain and discomfort felt are very real indeed. Rather, I mean that the soma (or the body) is made ill by problems encountered in the psyche. It is my belief that almost all illness is actually psychosomatic. We can literally think ourselves ill and think ourselves well again.
So, what have I learnt from all this? Well, firstly I have to marvel at the incredible mind-body-spirit integration and at the fact that we are given all the tools we need to live healthy, fulfilled lives if we would but stop and pay attention for a few minutes.
Secondly, I have realized, yet again, that ego is definitely not the enemy. I believe that, whereas the path outwards, away from Source is all about differentiating myself - defining who and what I am in opposition to the Other; the path back home to Source (the Ascension path) is about realizing that all is Love and that the Other is, in fact, me. We are all One. There is nothing anywhere that is not love and that is not me. And so, even on a very local level, I simply cannot differentiate myself from my ego and make it wrong or evil. I am love and my ego is me. Read Zingdad’s excellent blog posting about this topic.
My ego is a wonderful, useful tool for expression of self, if properly guided and managed by my heart.
And so the journey continues…
I didn’t write any further diary entries, as Arn and I were focused on building our home and creating our new off-the-grid lifestyle, not to mention writing, editing and publishing his first book, The Ascension Papers. But I wrote the following short article for our small community newsletter, almost two years later.
MARCH 2012: CONSCIOUS LIVING IN KNYSNA
Almost two years ago my partner Arn and I traded our yuppie, city lifestyle and our corporate jobs for our dream of eventually living a mostly self-sustaining life on the outskirts of the Gouna forest. After several months of back-breaking labour to complete our new house, using only the strength of our own bodies and the competent guidance and assistance of Francois, the builder / Guardian Angel, we finally moved into our off-the-grid home seven months ago.
Living in a completely solar-powered home without Eskom backup or any of the Municipal services we had relied upon in the city, has meant a huge adjustment to our lifestyle and to our expectations. We have had to sacrifice electric toasters, kettles, hair-dryers, tumble driers and even our beautiful imported Italian stove for a gas version. The biggest challenge for me has been to adjust to the fact that my much-beloved long, leisurely, candle-lit bubble baths are a rare treat that is only possible if the rain tanks are full and we have had a sunny day. Otherwise it’s quick showers or sometimes, if we have had a few days of cloudy weather, sponge baths with water heated on the gas stove. Of course, when the sun shines, we can use the vacuum cleaner, the iron or watch DVD’s to our hearts’ content. But, if it’s cloudy, we have to be very, very conscious of our energy consumption because even our water pump is solar powered. The stark reality is: no sun, no water!
As there is no waste removal, we have learned to reduce our waste to one black garbage bag a month, containing mostly non-recyclable plastic packaging, which will gradually become even less as our veggie garden starts to produce. Paper, plastic, tin, glass, everything is either re-used or driven down the mountain to the recycling depot in town. Organic waste is fed to the worm farm or composted and we clean and recycle our own waste water through a biological filtration system, which will hopefully eventually become a beautiful artificial wetland at the edge of our property.
We are gradually learning to distinguish between that which we really need and that which we had simply become accustomed to wanting (and getting!) Slowly, as we systematically reduce our footprint on the Earth, we are starting to realise that it is possible to live a very simple, yet incredibly abundant life on very little money. For me, this has been a process of relinquishing my ego attachment to much of what I had previously believed was crucial to my sense of well-being. But I have found that the rewards of a more heart-centered life include having the time and space to breathe; to think; to simply BE. My new life has increased my sense of connection to the Earth, to our community and to myself. I have become far more conscious of what I consume and of my impact on this beautiful place.
A more conscious life… Definitely worth the sacrifice of a few bubble baths!