Speaking love


I’m reading the very popular, The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. It has sold like hot cakes this book ever since it was published more than 10 years ago. It’s such a sweet and elegant idea: that each of us expresses love and appreciation in one of five “languages”. The languages are:

  1. words of affirmation
  2. gifts
  3. acts of service
  4. quality time
  5. physical touch.

Chapman’s proposition is that in order to have happy and satisfying relationships, we need to understand the love language the other person speaks. If we don’t, we won’t be able to hear the other’s love and appreciation. The proposition applies to romantic relationships, and to all one’s relationships: family, friends, work colleagues, and so on.

My love languages are words of affirmation and quality time, in basically equal measure. Then comes physical touch, and then a long way back, gifts and acts of service. If someone does something for me, or gives me a gift, I don’t really care. So there’s the poor person telling me of their love and appreciation, and I’m deaf and blind because words and time are the things that count for me.

When I look back, I see relationships that might have been different if I’d known this idea.

What about you? What’s your love language? To find out, do the quiz here: The 5 Love Languages Profile.


Image: One of the beautiful images from the 2014 exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, Eikon: Icons of the Orthodox Christian World; I think this image is known as Mother of God Korsunskaya, Russia, 17th century, egg tempura, silver leaf and gesso on linen over wood


The Act


I was assisting at a Landmark Advanced Course last weekend, and one of the highlights of the course is when the participants start to enquire about their “act”.

The course proposes that each of us makes a decision about who we are for the world in a moment of perceived failure, a moment that occurred before the age of five. We then live out this decision for the rest of our lives, and it is in the background of every interaction we have. It’s like the wallpaper of your life, always there, never seen. At least not by you. Others, on the other hand, can usually see it, especially those close to you, like a husband or wife. The one holiday from this baleful straitjacket available to us as human beings is to live from possibility, or, to say it another way, under grace.

It’s called “the act” because it is in the nature of a melodrama or play that we find ourselves playing out again and again, it’s full of drama and histrionics, and it’s not real.

There are a limited number of themes to the act. My act is “I’ve done something wrong” and I associate it with an incident when I was 4 when I wet my pants in kindergarten. What I remember is after the event. The red brick wall of the school playground, the sandpit, the stinking hot day, waiting for Mum to come and pick me up. Other common varieties are “I’m not good enough” (lots of high achievers have this one), “I’m bad”, “I’m dumb/not smart”, “I’m not lovable/No-one loves me”, “Don’t tell me what to do”, and so on. Each of them is the kind of declaration a small, upset child might make to herself.

Each time I hear this material, new things emerge. This time, what struck me was something the course leader said:

When you’re inside your act, people become objects to you.


All criticism is autobiography*

Two women having lunch in the cafe, sitting close together at the end of the communal table, one monopolising the conversation.

“But I told the doctor I had a colonoscopy last December … and they’re going to test my reaction to gluten … and I’d just put on something in the slow cooker and it was really annoying … and my t-cell count is down and they think it might be due to … and I’m going back next week … and then they’ll have to do it …”

Phone rings. Glance. Telegraphs decision she will not be picking up.

“It’s Jan.”

Companion makes tiny gesture.

Woman: “She’ll be moaning about something …”

Conversation resumes.


* “All criticism is autobiography.” (Oscar Wilde)

A question of honesty


“Becoming a warrior and facing yourself is a question of honesty rather than condemning yourself. By looking at yourself, you may find that you’ve been a bad boy or girl and you may feel terrible about yourself. Your existence may feel wretched, completely pitch black, like the Black Hole of Calcutta. Or you may see something good about yourself.

The idea is simply to face the facts. Honesty plays a very important part. Just see the simple, straightforward truth about yourself. When you begin to be honest with yourself, you develop a genuine gut-level of truth. That is not necessarily cutting yourself down. Simply discover what is there. Simply see that and then stop.

So, first, look at yourself but don’t condemn yourself. It’s important to be matter-of-fact, on-the-spot. Just look. And when you see the situation in its fullest way, then you begin to be a warrior.

When you acknowledge that you feel so wretched, you can be fully cheerful. That is the interesting twist. You are being a wholesome, honest person.

Usually, we aren’t this honest. You may think you can cheat the universe. And out of that, you develop all sorts of naughty or neurotic potentialities, convincing yourself that you do not have to look into your situation honestly.

However, when you are just there, then if you see the actual darkness, that will inspire light or sunrise. You begin to find that you are a genuine person. You begin to feel good and solid, and beyond that, more than solid, more than real, you realise that you have guts of some kind. Buddha nature is in you already because you are so true to yourself, true in the sense of being unconditionally honest.

In fact, there is no such thing as the true self, the solidly real self. When you see yourself genuinely, you find that the concept of reality actually starts to fade. Instead, you find a very large space there, which is unconditional and contains ventilation and breathing space. When you have seen yourself fully, you begin to feel unconditionally good …”

~ From Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery by Chögyam Trungpa

Image: “Make sure you get my dark side”; sourced from Facebook, captioned by one of my Landmark teachers, Zoe Masters.


There’s a moon in my heart

Supermoon rises over Auckland, New Zealand - 10 Aug 2014

“Imagine the full moon coming through your living room window, coming closer and closer and suddenly entering your heart. You might be freaked out, or resent the whole thing, but usually it’s a tremendous relief.

Phew! The full moon has entered my heart. It’s great. Wonderful, in fact! On the other hand, when the full moon comes into your heart you might have a little panic. Good heavens, what have I done? There’s a moon in my heart. What am I going to do with it? It is too shiny. 

You may panic much more than if you discovered you were pregnant. When the baby is born, it is going to be tiny. It’s not going to come out and start minding your business right away. It has to learn to breathe, suckle, walk and talk. It has to be toilet-trained. But this moon is fully developed.

It may have just entered your heart this morning, but it’s fully, totally there.

That’s it! We have absolutely no choice so we might be somewhat fearful. The mind of the ego may feel that it’s been deflowered. You have lost your stronghold. We are used to calling ourselves ‘I’ and speaking of ‘my’ or ‘mine’. I would never let anybody into my world. My self is my self.

Now that toughness known as aggression has been overcome. The moon has been transplanted into your heart and you may not like it. Sometimes, it feels terrible. What have I done? You hope it’s just a dream, another phase. Unfortunately, it turns out not to be a phase or a trial run, but it is real. Absolutely real.

We have planted the full moon of enlightenment in our heart. By the way, that moon cannot wane. It never wanes; it is always waxing.

In the process of realising that, we may also begin to feel very sad. We have lost the virginity of our ego, fundamentally speaking. We might feel somewhat good but at the same time, we feel a sense of loss. We want to hang on to our good old ego. Good old Joe Schmidt or Susie Doe used to be full of ego and used to have tremendous courage, flair and aggression. We used to take tremendous pride in our jealousy and we never experienced defeat. We used to do just fine. If people got in our way, we used to get rid of them one way or another. But now, life is a mess. We let that silly moon come into our heart. We became softened and saddened, and we cannot carry out our machismo anymore.

In extreme cases, you might want to destroy anything connected with that principle of wakefulness … You think it could drive you crazy. On the other hand, if you look at this from an unconditional view, this is the greatest breakthrough that you could ever have in your life. If you really look at the moon in your heart, you feel so good. It is the first step. For the first time, you have discovered yourself as a real person, as opposed to being a fake.”

~ Chögyam Trungpa, Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery


The myth of “I”

“Everything I had always thought about myself and about my world – all of my ideas, opinions, thoughts, attitudes, memories, hopes, worries, beliefs – all of it had suddenly revealed itself to be a hopeless tangle of chattering, machine-like voices. All that stuff which had made up ‘me’, suddenly wasn’t me. My view of myself had shifted dramatically. ‘I’ was somehow now the space, or context, or awareness, or Self, within which that old ‘me’ occurred.

This was perhaps the most important teaching from the est training [now, the Landmark Forum] that has stayed with me 30 years later: the incessant voice that lives inside my head, calling itself ‘I’ and ‘me’ and constantly narrating the story of my life, is not who I really am. Rather, that constant mental chattering I normally think of as ‘my mind’ was revealed in the training to be nothing more than an automatic and mechanistic thinking machine. It sometimes has great ideas, but more often than not it simply perpetuates a problem-riddled, grim interpretation of life, and is ill-equipped to be in charge of me and my decisions.”

~ Eliezer Sobel, The 99th Monkey, 2008




It’s the first day of winter in the southern hemisphere, and the ivy’s transformation is speeding up. Only the small red leaves remain unwithered. The large leaves have mostly dropped. Their stems point at nothing. A few days later, they follow their leaves to the ground. Crimson-coloured bracts with indigo nodules emerge. Look at the colour combination! And the form? A molecular diagram.

Thich Nhat Hanh says we too once had a stem by which we were joined to our mother. While it’s no longer visible, our stem still exists. As the leaf gives the tree, and is given by the tree, we give our parents and ancestors, and are given by them.

Dedicated to my friend, S, and her little baby boy born on Saturday.




Hope vs Intention


While this post is about my writing to potential business prospects, you can substitute your own subject and have it be just as fitting because the distinction between hope and intention is relevant to every person and action.

Last week, I was contemplating emailing 20 potential clients for my business, most of them the CEOs of big legal or consulting firms, because I was telling myself “I haven’t done any prospecting for ages and I should do some”. I’ve already told you the thought “I should” is a warning sign I’m about to do something inadvisable, but as is often the case, I was blithely charging on nonetheless.

Cold canvassing, as any business owner can tell you, will drive up every fear you’ve ever experienced, and worse, those you fear you haven’t yet feared. I wrote various versions of an email, spent hours wondering which approach was better, sent myself test emails, and still after a few days, I hadn’t sent it.

Then I had lunch with some entrepreneur friends and got present again to the possibility of my business, and I realised I’d been about to do something I’ve done many times in the past. I think of it as lobbing something slightly disreputable over the fence and seeing if it will fly. Like throwing a dead cat and seeing if it will bounce :) I’d been about to throw the email over the fence and then hope like hope someone would pick it up.

I’d been about to send out the email without creating any intention for it. No wonder I’d hesitated; no wonder it’d had no life or joy for me.

It was all about hope and nothing about intention.

I got afresh that something only lives to the extent there is an at-stake-ness. Having something at stake is what makes something a game, what makes it enlivening. Without the at-stake-ness, it’s mere busywork. I promptly created the intention that as a result of getting the email, two of the 20 prospects will do business with me, and straightaway, I wrote the email and sent it without further ado.

Later, I checked and saw 27% of the recipients had opened and read the email which in itself is a great open rate. I have no doubt that if I hadn’t created the intention upfront, the open rate would have been far lower.

You may be asking: what if you don’t end up winning the business of two of these prospects? To which I would reply, so what? It’s not about being right or having every action be a “success”; it’s about being in the game, truly in the game, and about being up to something that matters to you.

Inside intention, all these goodies emerge. Outside intention, there’s simply hope and failure.


Image: Cahill Expressway (1962) by Jeffrey Smart

Question as gift


“Darling, do I understand you enough, or am I making you suffer? Please tell me so that I can learn to love you properly. I don’t want to make you suffer, and if I do so because of my ignorance, please tell me so that I can love you better, so that you can be happy.”

~ Question to ask those you love, as suggested by Thich Nhat Hanh; from Peace is every step.


Image: The first camellia of winter.

Who are you wearing?


Now I’m in my 50s, I look around and see little on offer when it comes to inspiring archetypes in dress and appearance. Where I live, there’s pretty much just two styles: Toorak Woman – caramel tones, black Range Rover, highlights, shops at Thomas Dux – and The Artistic One – red flats with leather daisy, stripey top, grey bob (she also has a cousin who only ever wears variations on a theme, the theme being, as a friend put it, “menopause mauve”).

So. Boring.

In fact, the deficit has been there for decades, only it’s covered up till a woman gets into her mid-40s by the whole paraphenalia that goes with playing the role of the “desire-awakening maiden”*. Once a woman outgrows the role she’s been obliged to play since she was 12, she looks around and sees … what?

I’ve been lucky. I grew up to be tall and willowy, with the square shoulders and long legs of a model and people would say, “hey, you should be a model …” I could wear a sack and make it look good. I was confident and inventive in what I wore. I made clothes by knitting or crochet – I crocheted myself a sky-blue bikini when I was 12 – and was mad about customising them, cutting off sleeves or sewing on braid or ribbon. I’d pick up bits and pieces and turn them into things to wear. A man’s tie I found somewhere I wore for years as a belt, and in Balmain market I found the beautiful buckle below which I also made into a belt. It touches me today to see what a good job I made of it and how tiny my waist was.


Fast forward several decades, and now what? I realise writing this that I’ve been asleep in the “delight in dressing up” department for years and I’ve mostly become a conventional dresser. So where to next? The game’s not over. I can walk into a room and turn heads. I know it’s in response to a certain presence, rather than fresh skin and child-bearing potential, and it suits me fine. In fact, it suits me better than it often suited me in the past, for then I felt owned by men looking and some of the crude and frightening stuff that went along with it.

What does it look like if I want to take up another version of that earlier delight in dressing? Have you done this yourself? What did you develop? Ideas welcome.


* The quote is from Polly Young-Eisendrath, Women and Desire

Image: Michelle Jank (right), Australian-born designer and stylist, a former style inspiration for me, with model

“Standing quietly by the fence …”

“Standing quietly by the fence
You smile your wondrous smile
I am speechless
And my senses are filled
by the sounds of your beautiful song
Beginningless and endless
I bow deeply to you.”

The you refers to a flower, a dahlia.


Quoted in Peace is every step by Thich Nhat Hanh, written by a young friend he once knew.

How do you tell when there’s a piece of the past in your future?


I’ve learnt that whenever the thought occurs to me – “I should do [x]” – that is the very reason not to do [x], and instead, I need to bide my time and let something else emerge.

The “should” thought is a barometer, a register, for those times when I have a piece of the past in my future. To say it another way, it’s my own personal register for when a breakdown has occurred or is about to occur.

No good ever comes of the actions I take under the influence of that thought, and in many cases, it’s associated with something going unmistakeably pear-shaped. I cause trouble for myself and others whenever I act on this thought.

Last week, I was speaking to a woman, a Landmark graduate, who told me of her personal register for having a piece of the past in her future. Whenever she starts telling herself Landmark is all about “sales and marketing”, she said, she knows she’s in troubled waters, and she stops and gathers herself, and looks afresh at what’s going on for her. While it’s a common thing that graduates say when something’s not working for them, it’s less common to go on to get the insight she’s gotten about it.

Another woman I know of uses the state of her purse as her personal register. Whenever it’s stuffed full of dockets and store receipts, she knows something is up and that she needs to start paying attention to something.

What about you? Do you have a personal register for those times and occasions when there’s a piece of the past in your future?



The ladder


“My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognises them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)”

~ Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)


“Death is not an event in life …”


“Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in just the way in which our visual field has no limits.”

~ Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)


Image: Glory with Brocken Spectre created by the photographer’s shadow on a rising cloud at a South ridge of Peak Korzhenvskaya during a summit day on August 14th, 2006, classic route from Moskvina glacier. Part of a photo collection of Pamir 2006 expedition led by Dmitry Shapovalov. Expedition members: Dmitry Shapovalov, Alexey Nesterov, Ekaterina Ananyeva, Sasha Kornienko. Courtesy of Wikiquote.