3 Excellent Daily Actions to Make the Most of Your Year

“Nothing will come of nothing.” ~ William Shakespeare (King Lear).
The concept of ex nihilo nihil fit originated with Parmenides, (Greek Philosopher pre Socrates), regarded with Heraclitus as the founders of Ontology.

Happy New Year folks! It’s generally that time of year when our thoughts turn to the year that lies ahead with excitement and anticipation. Many of us may have taken the opportunity over the holiday period to reflect on 2018 and focus on what we wish to achieve and become in 2019.

Last year was really intense, challenging, tumultuous and exhausting for me, with virtually no let-up. I just couldn’t see the wood for the trees, and in the end accepted that I was kind of lost. The barrage of challenges seem to be spilling into January, with a major plumbing problem that urgently needs sorting – most likely at great expense.

Image courtesy of Valeriy Andrushko on Unsplash

Perhaps I should get my violin out and play a sad tune…

I am more than happy to consign 2018 to history as a ‘stinker’, but upon further introspection I have realised that even though I found it extremely hard, I made considerable progress and positive change, (physically, emotionally and mentally), and experienced some memorable moments that I’ll never forget.

I’m filled with hope that the growth I went through last year will pave the way for a more productive and successful year in 2019.

If 2018 proved to be something of an ‘annus horribilis’ for you also, fear not, for a fresh energy now pervades the universe and you can create a new story. This is what I am planning to do; both literally (with a new novel to write) and metaphorically, with my dreams and plans.

I’m hoping that my new-found creative frenzy does not abate, and that I’ll be able to look back this time next year, and be able to say that I achieved some things my future self would thank me for at the start of 2020.

Someone I respect very much shared three pragmatic and inspiring ideas during his closing speech at a conference in October last year, and they really struck me as I reread my notes recently, as being the perfect focus and wisdom to live my life by for January and beyond. They remind me why I get out of bed every morning.

These actions, when undertaken on a daily basis can propel you forward, no matter your current circumstances, to greater fulfillment, abundance and happiness. Over the span of a lifetime they can create a legacy.

There are numerous helpful articles floating about the net on how to be successful, almost endless distilled nuggets of wisdom on just about any subject.

To me, these simple (but not necessarily easy), three daily ‘dos’ are broad enough to encompass the profound complexity of all human experience, deep enough to embody whole philosophies, and straightforward enough to remember and therefore implement.

Michelangelo in black and white

So without further ado, here are my three daily doses of wisdom, a kind of philosophical manifesto for life:

  1. Do something hard every day
  2. Do something fun every day
  3. Do something to serve others every day

Of course, all three actions could be combined into one, two or three different actions, depending on what you aim to achieve on a given day.

Do something hard every day

If we don’t do something that’s out of our comfort zone we don’t grow, and life can get stagnant and therefore can’t expand into the greatest version of the vision we have. This ‘do’ requires us to be brave, because we are undertaking activities outside our comfort zone. The level of difficulty may be higher on some days than others. I learnt to put myself out there with public speaking last year, and this activity will require continual growth and effort on my part to finesse and feel more comfortable.

Public speaking is the second biggest fear most people have after death, so that is a biggie for me. Any kind of creative output requires courage.

It may entail making a call or series of calls (not my favourite thing to do either), taking a series of steps to complete a project you have, learn a new skill, or create new habits around health or lifestyle.

The conservationists, naturalists, environmental scientists and eco-warriors will have their work cut out…

Earth News – New Scientist

Unfortunately the hard list is endless. Some days just thinking of three things to be grateful for can be a challenge!

It’s best to do this hard thing as early in the day as possible while you still have the energy and willpower. I have found that the longer I leave it procrastination tends to kick in. This has happened to me more times than I can recall: I’ve told myself, I’ll do that later, and life has ended up getting in the way. I either end up forgetting, or have to do it another day, when more hard tasks are piling up.

Image courtesy of Mikito Tateisi on Unsplash

It takes discipline to do the more challenging or unpleasant items on your agenda, but they are essential to progress.  I find this quote by Jim Rohn helps spur me on when I feel like letting myself off the hook:

“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.” ~ Jim Rohn

I also love Bob Proctor to metaphorically kick my butt! Where the magic is:

Do something fun every day

Life can get rough – not just on a personal level, but in our communities, nationally and globally. There will be dark days no matter what. There are always negative headlines dominating the news. Lightening up brings relief, which I covered in my post about humour recently.

Joy is an essential ingredient in life’s multi-layered cake, so make time for whatever floats your boat and brings you joy. For me that’s playing the violin, writing, reading, doing a Zumba dance class, taking a long hike in the countryside or watching a good drama, or spending time with my family.  Set sail on a sea of enthusiasm and people will want to steer a heading with you.

Even on bad days, give yourself this gift.

“The language of Play is a language that we all spoke fluently in childhood.  By the time we become adults, most of us have forgotten the language of play.  Matt uses play and joy to open people up, allowing them to be creative and impactful – even in places one might expect play to be the last thing on a person’s mind.  His analogy is that we should be so lucky as to work like our dogs.  Enjoy this creative, fun-filled romp through airports, dog parks and even prison.”

Matt Weinstein is my kind of speaker, he loves to dance and have fun:

Just in case you need more convincing about fun!

Do something to serve others everyday

Being a mum this one comes naturally to me. Whilst having a large family brings immeasurable servings of joy, (and a helping of worry), it also contributes to an immense work load, and when I’m feeling the pressure I don’t always do it with good grace. Such is the lot of a working mother.

I console myself that my list of things to do will never be short or accomplished in the time frame I want, as it’s more important that my family are taken care of before my own work is completed. Motherhood is an essential, yet undervalued and underrated job. If collectively we don’t do it to the best of our ability society will suffer. Mums especially know the true meaning of sacrifice.

Service to our family and friends and to our fellow man/woman is a sacred calling. The teaching of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ is as erudite and instructive today as it was over two thousand years ago.

When I can conquer imposter syndrome and take my mind off myself and focus on another person my ego gets bypassed, and the energy I expended on self-doubt is used in the action of service.

I try to fall in love with the process rather than obsess about the outcome. With hindsight I have found I need to detach myself from the results. What matters is the act of giving of one’s time, talent and love.

“You can’t pay anyone back for what has happened to you, so you try to find someone you can pay forward.” ~ Spokesperson for Alcoholics Anonymous (Christian Science Monitor c. 1944)

It could be a small act, and very often those seemingly insignificant random acts of kindness mean more to someone than the really big gestures.

I don’t advocate forcing a certain kind of help on another if it is unwelcome. We’ve probably all witnessed or experienced the interfering nature of Do-Gooderism. Service is more effective when undertaken in a collaborative spirit. The film Pay it Forward explores the concept of service to others.

Sociologist Wayne Baker offers insight into the concept of generalised reciprocity or ‘paying it forward’.

The world needs more sagacious and integrous leaders, in short: servant leaders. If service comes from the heart it is never in vain.

If I’m honest, I don’t always manage all three actions every day to the level I would like, but the beauty of each new day is to start with the right intentions; and then at least our hearts and minds are open to opportunities and ways to fulfill these actions.

Our daily habits are the checks and balances that add up to a meaningful, purposeful, healthy and happy life.

At least this post has accomplished them for today!

The Transformation of Pain Helps us see Value in Suffering

“Behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain.” ~ Bob Dylan

Pain – either physical or emotional, is something most of us seek to avoid. Yet our pain is just as valuable as our joy.

Such perceived undesirable feelings are at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum from joy and ecstasy, but are essentially all part of the same energetic material. Pain is one of those things that we strive to remove and resolve once we’re feeling it, yet it has immense value to our lives if we can use it constructively. As a form of feedback it is invaluable.

It can lead us to an expanded awareness and an equanimity that would not otherwise have been possible, but for our moments of pain.

Pain that has been transcended can be compared to the physical pain of childbirth: it hurts like hell at the time, you have no idea how long the labour will last, how long you can bear the intensity, but when it’s finally over you have a priceless gift – a new life. After a few months it’s not possible to recall the acute pain of childbirth, it is consigned to a murky memory; all you know is that it was worth it, because you brought a human being into the world.

What recondite depths have inspired composers, writers, poets, artists, social entrepreneurs and people from all walks of life, wanting to make the world a better place for others?

Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo
In 1939 Frida and Diego divorced. She was devastated and her emotions were reflected in this painting. She drew two identical Fridas, but with different personalities. One is the “Mexican Frida;” the one Diego Rivera fell in love with. The other is “European Frida” – the new and independent artist that’s recognized worldwide, but also, the woman her husband abandoned.
Their hearts are exposed over their clothing, and there is a thin vein passing through them both, uniting them. Victorian Frida holds surgical scissors that cut the vein in her lap, and the blood spills on her white dress. Frida was experiencing real sorrow, the kind of sorrow that made her feel she could bleed from the pain. Both women are holding hands as if the artist accepted she was the only person who understood her, loved her, and could help her to move on. ~ Matador Network

Such motivations do not normally emanate from pain free lives. When we have experienced profound pain we genuinely develop more compassion and empathy, and are probably more willing to help alleviate suffering if we come across someone going through a similar situation.

Pain is a powerful motivator: it can spur us into action, prompt us to change course, widen our perception, and in many cases, make us more accepting and less judgmental and align us to a meaningful purpose.

“Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.” ~ J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

For me, intense pain formed the bedrock of my determination to follow my dreams and made me a stronger, more resilient person. I learned to listen to the inner longing that wasn’t based in my head.

Through pain I liken myself to a carbon atom that has been pressured, pulverised and heated inside the earth’s mantle; a violent process that forms a striking crystalline structure which is dense yet clear, still rough around the edges, yet with further cutting and refining will one day gleam with the best of them.

I have taken the gems (no pun intended!) of my own suffering, and used them in a coalescence of knowledge, experience and imagination in the form of my novel, The Virtuoso. 

There was a time in my life when I considered making an early exit from existence, but fortunately I decided against that idea. My love for my family spurred me to turn my life around. One day at a time.

It has been said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Most people don’t want to consciously end their life, they want to end their pain. Sadly, not every one can get past their pain.

The Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis

Tarquin and Lucretia by Titian c. 1571

The other day I was reading an email from Vishen Lakhiani, the founder of Mindvalley, telling a very personal story about how a painful experience became the catalyst for the values he lives by.

In Vishen’s words:

Your values became the healing you want to give to the world because of past pain.

My first core value was sparked from a horrible incident in 2003.

Just imagine, for a minute, being forced to leave the country you love because you were put on a watchlist based on a bullsh*t idea that, because of your place of birth, you were somehow a potentially dangerous immigrant.

But that was the situation I was placed in 2003 while living in America. I don’t blame anyone…it was the years following September 11th. And this was part of global politics. But boy was it painful…

I had lived in America for a decade and it was a place I had called home. My wife from Estonia and I lived in New York. We were newly married and I’d been living in the United States for 9 straight years. This was our home and I wanted my son born as an American.

But then – one day in 2003 arriving at JFK airport I was taken into a special room and told that I could no longer travel as freely. I had been added to an early version of the same Muslim-watchlist that Trump has been recently pushing for.

See, because I happened to be an immigrant from a Muslim-dominant country (Malaysia), I, alongside 80,000 other men, weren’t afforded the same freedom of movement as everyone else. I could no longer board flights or get off a plane without enduring 2 to 3 hrs in interviews in tiny rooms at the limited airports I was allowed to fly from.

Worse, I was expected to report to the government every 28 days. Interrogated for hours, get my picture taken, and have my credit card purchases scrutinized. Sometimes after waiting in line for up to 4 hours. And I had to repeat this. Every. Four. Weeks.

The funny thing was that I was not even a Muslim. Nor should that even matter.

Waiting 4 hours in the cold New York weather every 28 days just to be subjected to a really degrading process was something I could only tolerate for so long.

That was it.

And I had enough.

I was deeply saddened that I had to leave America this way, but I felt I didn’t really have a choice but to relocate Mindvalley to Malaysia.

In the end, in 2008 the then-new President Obama ruled the whole dumb process unconstitutional and this Bush-era regulation was tossed into the garbage bin.

I was finally free to travel.

But this pain served me. It set me up for the value of UNITY.

Unity is the idea that we align not with our country, our flag, our religion, or our ethnicity first — but that we align first and foremost with humanity as a whole.

My kids are half-Indian and half-white. You know what that means? It means they look middle-eastern. I don’t want MY children ever ending up on some stupid “watchlist” because fact-challenge old men with racist tendencies think something like a Muslim-ban is somehow a good idea.

So, I made it my mission to bring humanity together.

And the result was the value of Unity in everything we do at Mindvalley.

For example, our events typically welcome people from 40 different countries. Our team of 300 people now come from 49 countries.

And we make effort to represent the under-represented. Mindvalley University for example had 55% women speakers. Our courses feature people of all ethnicities and sexual orientations.

And we actively stand up for pro-Unity politics.

Unity was a value that made me who I am.

I was once on the popular talk show “Impact Theory” and the host Tom Bilyeu asked me.

“Are you an entrepreneur or a philosopher?”

I replied that I think the label ‘entrepreneur’ is pointless. Anyone can be an entrepreneur.

“What defines a person”, I said, “is not the label – but what they stand for.”

I could lost my business. I guess that happens to many people. But it won’t make me lose my identity.

But if I lost my stand. And my stand is Unity. I would not be Vishen Lakhiani. Everything I do, including Mindvalley, is designed to bring unity to the human race.

That’s how deeply entrenched unity is in my DNA.

And you can see how PAIN – can lead to the strongest values.

The healing, transforming power of music

Nowhere is the transformative quality of pain more evident, accessible and immediate than in the experience of listening to, performing and writing music. Like all the creative arts, music can be a miraculous medium for ameliorating pain – leaving a legacy of great benefit to many people, no matter if they are alive at the same time in history.

The Violinist by Joseph Rodefer DeCamp

All types of music fulfill this role for people. Some prefer rock, pop, country, jazz, tango, rap, heavy metal, dance anthems, not forgetting the more established and earlier types such as romantic, classical and baroque.  I find my mood and activity selects the music, but the kind that reaches the parts others cannot is – surprise, surprise – classical music.

I have included a few examples of pieces that continue to resonate with audiences centuries later, due to the emotion that was fundamental to their creation. It seems many of the most loved and enduring musical works were hammered out on the anvil of pain…

As you can imagine, keeping this list short is quite impossible for me, so forgive my alacrity if we’re not on the same musical page.

The andante con moto of Schubert’s chamber masterpiece ‘Death and the Maiden’ speaks to me deeply of pain. When I hear it, any unresolved pain I feel comes through and tells me it’s there…

It connects me to the composer, to myself and to humanity.  It has even inspired the title of a trilogy of psychological thrillers, quietly brewing in my psyche.

Schubert composed the String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor, D. 810 in 1824, after he had been seriously ill and realised that he was dying. It is Schubert’s testament to death. The quartet takes its name from the lied ‘Der Tod und das Mädchen’, a setting of a poem of the same name by Matthias Claudius which Schubert wrote in 1817.

Only one who suffered such as Schubert could have written it. Much of Schubert’s music reflects the deep chasm of human emotion. It some of the most heart-felt music I think I will ever hear.

“My compositions spring from my sorrows. Those that give the world the greatest delight were born of my deepest griefs.”
~ Franz Schubert

An incredibly moving performance of Schubert’s Piano Fantasie in F minor, D. 940 for four hands, by Dutch brothers Lucas and Arthur Jussen:

The bittersweet quality of the melody and their sensitive, nuanced interpretation makes me well up.

The touch of a master makes the Impromptu No. 3 Op. 90 sound like it’s coming straight from Schubert’s heart…

“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” ~ Rumi
Variations on this sentiment:
“There is a crack in everything God has made.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Antelope Canyon – by Madhu Shesharam on Unsplash

“The crack is where the light gets in.” ~ Leonard Cohen
“Blessed are the cracked, for they shall let in the light.” ~ Groucho Marx

Beethoven similarly expressed profound depths through his music, in way too many pieces to share here. Works that could only have come about because of his physical and emotional wretchedness. He was the epitome of the tortured genius!

The Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 (Apassionata), was written at a time of great political and personal turmoil, and it seems that Beethoven has bared his soul within the notes. The famous triadic motif from his fifth symphony can be heard in the opening movement, indeed, it pervades much of his musical output.

You can hear the violent rage, anguish, torment, passion and determination expressed either consciously or unconsciously by Beethoven, as if he is unashamedly showing us his inner core, which was clearly on a stormy setting at the time.

He was reeling from a broken heart, just when his brother Karl announced his marriage to Johanna, a woman Beethoven despised. He could not bring himself to dismount from his moral high horse and be happy for them.

Oh my, it was quite the maelstrom… I think Richter played it like the mercurial maestro would have:

Prior to publication of the Apassionata, Beethoven erupted with fury in a disagreement with a great patron of the arts, his aristocratic benefactor, Prince Lichnowsky. The altercation supposedly took place one stormy night at the prince’s country estate near Graz.

Lichnowsky asked Beethoven if he would perform for him and some of Napoleon’s officers he was playing host to. Beethoven refused in his combustible, irascible manner, and strode off into the rainy night with his Appassionata score under his arm; but not before telling Lichnowsky that there were many princes, but only one Beethoven!

The blotches caused by the contact of rain and ink from that fated evening are still visible on the original autograph manuscript.

Even though Beethoven never quite forgave Lichnowsky for his transgression, he still wrote to his estranged patron sometime later to complain of his “thoroughly lacerated heart.”

The pain of parting is so beautifully transferred to the ivories by Alfred Brendel in this recording of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat major, Op. 81a, ‘Les Adieux’:

In his brilliant analysis of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Charles Hazlewood highlights that the piano and orchestra are in a conversation; a dialogue that becomes increasingly tense through the first and second movements.

He enthuses that Beethoven created a new era for the role of the piano by not starting the concerto with a grand orchestral opening, as was the custom, but instead with a tentative phrase on the piano, which seeks to dictate terms to the orchestra.

Discord permeates each phrase of the conversation as the tension becomes more pronounced in the andante con moto. When the piano finally breaks out it seems that the gulf between the piano and the orchestra is unbridgeable, until the third movement brings about resolution and reconciliation. The piano mollifies the orchestra and they unite musically.

I could not leave out the incomparable second movement of his Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-Flat Major minor, Op.  73 (Emperor), which seems to encompass the entire history of mankind at the molecular level within its sublime, poignant melody.

The whispered opening makes me hold my breath for eight unbearably beautiful minutes, floating in suspended animation, soaking up the apotheosis of all that is…

James Rhodes blends notes and emotion perfectly in the third movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109:

Backed by Stanford University’s Ensemble in Residence, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Robert Kapilow, (composer and radio commentator), explores the notion of illness as a potent source of creativity, (e.g. appreciation for existence) through Beethoven’s ‘Heiliger Dankgesang’, which Beethoven wrote in thanksgiving after recovering from a life-threatening illness.

Tchaikovksy could also pack in the pathos, as expressed in his Serenade Melancolique Op. 26, via Itzhak Perlman on his violin:

The sobriquet ‘Suffocation’ is a fitting description for Chopin’s Prelude No. 4 in E minor, Op. 28:

I think the addition of the cello brings out a lyrical, lugubrious quality to the melody:

The original lyrics to ‘So Deep is the Night’ by André Viaud and Jean Marietti were set to Chopin’s Etude No. 3 in E Major, Op. 10 ‘Tristesse’, perfect on its own:

In the medium of opera and vocal works suffering finds an outlet through the voice. I find  Camille Saint-Saëns’s ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix’ from Samson et Dalila one of the most moving arias ever written. Maria Callas was no stranger to emotional pain, and you can hear it as she pours out her heart:

Callas is also unmatched as Norma in Bellini’s eponymous opera singing the aria Casta Diva:

Puccini and Pavarotti are a match made in heaven…

I love the strong sentiment in this interpretation by Marita Solberg of Edvard Grieg’s ‘Solveig’s song’ from his Peer Gynt Suite:

Bach’s eternal, prayerful and beseeching ‘Erbarme dich mein Gott‘ (Have mercy Lord, My God) from his epic St. Matthew Passion:

Get the tissues ready for Handel’s signature aria ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ from his Opera Rinaldo.

Let me weep

over my cruel fate,

and sigh for freedom.

Let my sorrow break the chains

of my suffering, out of pity.

Dimitry Shostakovich takes us to the abyss as he performs the andante from his Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Op. 102 in this vintage recording:

Albinoni finds a sorrowful voice for the oboe in the adagio of his concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 9:

I couldn’t leave out maestro Mozart, who proved he was equally at home with a deep and meaningful as well as a galloping allegro.

Vladimir Horowitz always takes me to another dimension with this recording of the adagio of Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488. The heartache is palpable…

In my humble opinion this is no ‘feeble adagio’ as Brahms had labelled the slow movement of his Violin Concerto in D Major. The oboe, bassoon, brass and violin share the profound melody.

To me it is poetic and purifies the soul.

Franz Liszt wasn’t always a showman, as he proves in his nostalgic and tender Consolation No. 3:

Love hurts and pleasures at the same time when Wagner gets involved! The immortal Tristan und Isolde, Prelude & Liebestod:

The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs is a symphony in three movements, composed by Henryk Górecki in Katowice, Poland, between October and December 1976.

In the second movement a solo soprano sings the Polish message written on the wall of a Gestapo cell during World War II, from the perspective of a child separated from a parent. The dominant themes of each of the three movements of the symphony are motherhood and separation through war.

The symphony is constructed around simple harmonies, set in a neo-modal style which makes use of the medieval musical modes. The nine-minute second movement is for soprano, her words are supported by the orchestra and the movement culminates when the strings hold a chord without diminuendo for nearly one and a half minutes.

The final words of the movement are the first two lines of the Polish Ave Maria, sung twice on a repeated pitch by the soprano.

Maternal Affection by Adolphe Jourdan c. 1860

Górecki dedicated the work to his wife, Jadwiga Rurańska. He never sought to explain the symphony as a response to a political or historical event. Instead, he maintained that the work is an evocation of the ties between mother and child.

You can certainly feel the fathomless pain of parental separation, as well as the music’s roots in the Holocaust, and indeed every war:

Honestly, I could go on forever, but I think you get the idea!

In his book, The Joy of Music, Leonard Bernstein makes a point about the futility of trying to extract the meaning of music, contending that it stands in a special lonely region, unlit…

The composer and musical artist bring their own ‘wounds’ and life experience to their work. In the process there is catharsis, release, healing, beauty and meaning. For them, and for us.

For violinist Ji-Hae Park, music was part of the pain and the resolution:

One could go as far as to say that a completely happy life provides no substance for a creative individual.

Hirzel, Switzerland by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

I have had my fair share of pain, but also incredible joy, and it makes you appreciate the good times. I’m reminded every day to extract every drop of life from each precious, present moment…

Letting go

Letting go of pain takes patience and practice. At least for me.

When I finally decided I was sick of the perverse way my ego was getting off on my pain, I decided to let it go. I could stand in the fire and not be burnt by it. But that took time and awareness.

In hindsight we can understand how our painful experiences have made us who we are, and how they may have served us, but rarely is this possible when we are in the thick of it.

When we step out of the victim archetype we regain our power.

I find this profound teaching by Dr. David R Hawkins (in terms of the paradigm of Content and Context) really helpful in managing and transcending pain. The best course of action is to focus on the totality of the experience, (context) and not the specifics, (content).  He was a wise and wonderful real-life Yoda!


I recently had a candid chat with a good friend of mine, who happens to be a spiritual coach, and I was relaying what a horrendous first six months of the year I’d had, and how I’d struggled to maintain my usual positive outlook and get back on track with my plans. I put on a humorous slant, relieved that I’d got through it. She listened and smiled, and gave me the most amazing advice.

She said, “Ginny, be the bowl!”

I must have looked a bit dim and confused, because she went on to explain that in Japan, they have a custom of not throwing out damaged or broken things. So a precious vase that may have been knocked over and smashed is glued back together using a special gold lacquer.

Rather than cover up the imperfection of the object or throw it away, they appreciate and celebrate it.

I really love that ethos. The practice is known as Kintsugi.

I thought #BeTheBowl would make a great hashtag  to embrace life in all its manifestations.

We all go through rough patches, but rather than bury the hurt, or wallow in it, we can always bring it into the light to mend it with our personal application of liquid gold.

Our life experience comes moment by moment through our thoughts, emotions, words and deeds, and to expect that it will always be perfect is setting us up for unnecessary suffering. We have to just roll with the punches, knowing that they are coming, but not necessarily how hard, how many, where or when…

It seems a much more reasonable proposition to love and accept each other despite our random gold seams.

#BeTheBowl is my new mantra whenever I’m feeling low or the proverbial hits the fan.

#BeTheBowl helps me see myself and humanity as a work in progress.

Khalil Gibran’s poem On Pain, from his timeless book, The Prophet,  is a great reminder that pain is the divine taking us to a different dimension of life. It’s futile to oppose and resist the inevitable.

The only reason we suffer with our pain is that we don’t want to accept its existence and don’t recognize its value. We think that pain is not fair, that we didn’t deserve to experience it, that perhaps we are being punished for something we have or haven’t done.

My biggest question to God during the depths of my despair was always, ‘why me?’ In truth, pain chooses us when it sees that we are ready for transformation.

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.” ~ C.S. Lewis (The Problem of Pain)

I can’t think of anyone who transformed his pain into such beauty and an enduring legacy more than Beethoven…except Jesus!

As I tell the W.I. ladies whenever I do a fiction talk, there is no greater fodder for your fiction than that of your life, or the lives of loved ones.

Grampians National Park, Australia by Manuel Meurisse on Unsplash

The soul has to be breached to be opened, and wounds do the breaching. The deeper the wound, the richer your story will be, the greater the journey, and the more satisfying the transformation.

This is just as true for real life as it is for fiction.

“Only the wounded physician heals.” ~ Carl Jung

Martial Arts: The Best Kick-Ass Cure for Troubled Teenagers?

“A black belt is just a white belt that never quit.” ~ Genesis Martial Arts                            

When my younger son, now 15, hit his early teens my lovely, polite, happy and kind boy transformed into a being unrecognisable to me.

I knew the hormones had hit – big time.

It must have been hard, he had all that testosterone circulating round his still relatively childlike body and it made him antsy, aggressive and confused. At this time his OCD became a real problem and he stopped doing his extra curricular dance and drama. I was worried. I didn’t want him to get sucked into a gaming obsession.

I tried not to pressure him and just let him be, but at times I was pulling my hair out. He wasn’t interested in music, but I remembered Genesis Martial Arts – a local company run by passionate, principled and well qualified instructors, specialising in kickboxing and mixed martial arts (MMA).

I floated the idea to William, who was not keen to do anything his mother suggested at that time. I managed to get him along to a trial session, as I suspected afterwards he might feel differently, and rather than railing against it because of me, he would experience the benefits it could offer him.

Three years down the line I can honestly say it was the breakthrough and blessing he needed in his life. Recently William did his kickboxing green belt grading; a tough, two hour session alongside his fellow Genesis students.

The green belt grading

I watched as they were first asked to stand and have their attire and kit inspected. This is the basic making sure your belt is tied correctly, you are properly dressed and have the appropriate sparring gear to hand.

There is no room for sloppiness in this sport. Attention to detail is key. The physical aspect of the grading began with three bouts of skipping, each for two continuous minutes, mixing up different styles as you see professional boxers so effortlessly doing.

It was like watching a room full of Rockies!

Then they spent time split into two organised rows doing the green belt syllabus moves; a series of kicks and punches in a certain order.

Green belt moves – Will in the middle facing forward.

After some water the group got out their gloves and mits to do some set moves in pairs, then donned the full gear and did several bouts of full sparring, changing partners each time.  When the sparring was completed they were required to each do thirty sit ups, thirty crunches, and set defensive moves.

At this point they all appeared just about done for, but they were asked to hold four minutes of horse-riding stance.  This is the closest thing to torture you can get to!

With legs apart, toes outward, sitting on an imaginary seat with a straight back and arms stretched out front, hands at right angles. The position has to be held without moving for the allocated time.

The lactic acid build up in the quads, hamstrings and glutes is intense. After a couple of minutes it’s sort of mind over matter.  William has gradually built up to that length of time, and when he takes his purple belt next year he will have to hold it for five minutes.

4 minutes of horse-riding stance

Brown belt is six minutes, and when he reaches black belt horse-riding stance must be held for fifteen minutes. Luckily that is a few years down the line… I’m hoping he’ll achieve his black belt by the time he turns eighteen.

I’m glad to say he passed his green belt grading with flying colours! The only segment he failed on was the horse-riding stance!

William sporting his new green belt.

These last three years of regular kickboxing lessons have been instrumental in the amazing young man William is becoming. He has been able to channel his aggression into a worthwhile physical pursuit.

He is laser focused on his school work and is highly goal oriented.

He is doing drama lessons again, he is strong and fit and loves physical exercise, he doesn’t smoke or do drugs, he is respectful (at least to his teachers), as they usually extol his virtues to me whenever I meet them. I rarely have to remind him to do homework.

With ten GCSEs to take in six months time, and a goal of getting into a local Sixth Form, Will is now doing an average of two to three hours of homework and revision a night. He also studies at weekends.

I am in awe at his work ethic.

William is a self-starter, has a healthy self-esteem and is well on his way to a bright future.

He still has has his narky moments (mostly when he’s hungry), but don’t we all?


But it could so easily have gone the other way.  I’d rather have an insatiable teenager than a monster who’s smoking, doing drugs, partying all the time and generally slacking.

My love has always been a constant, and indeed that of his family, but I feel what has made a big difference is his overwhelmingly positive involvement in martial arts. He has made massive progress physically, emotionally and mentally since he started.

He is very fortunate to be taught by Corey Cain, who is a black belt (triple Dan). Corey’s titles include: five times world kick boxing champion, World Tae Kwon-Do Champion and British Kickboxing Champion.

Corey has high standards and expects his students to give their best, but he doesn’t ask them to do anything he is not prepared to do himself. He is highly skilled, but more than that, he is able to teach others how to attain that same skill should they desire it.

Corey pushing himself with the 100 Burpee challenge:

Corey is dedicated to his young acolytes and teaches them skills for life. His students listen, because if they don’t they will drop and do thirty or more push-ups. Lateness is the same outcome. Disrespect even more so.

William is translating all of these values into every aspect of his life and has set the bar high for himself.

“Fall down 7 times, get up 8 times.” ~ Japanese maxim

Martial arts is not necessarily for everyone – my daughters did not quite manage a year, but for those who embrace it there are many, many benefits. Kick boxing has invigorated William as it suits his drive and personality.

It has certainly helped to preserve my sanity…

12 kick-ass ways martial arts changes young lives for the better:

  1. Mutual respect – Respect for the teacher, your opponent and everyone is paramount. Students face their teacher and press their left fist into their right hand as they bow. This attitude of respect underpins the entire sport.
  2. Discipline – Students are encouraged to practise their sport, improving their skill and fitness level.
  3. Punctuality – Good time keeping is a lifelong habit that impacts every area of your life even into time management. Lateness is not tolerated and on more than one occasion Will has had to do 30 press-ups.
  4. Stamina and strength – Mental strength is just as important as physical prowess, both are developed in classes.
  5. Definite goals – Working towards each subsequent belt teaches the students to break down the overall goal into smaller steps that they build on progressively.
  6. Patience & perseverance – It can take time to master the techniques required for each belt, plus injuries may delay gradings, (as has been the case with William). He does not want to rush taking his purple belt, but to thoroughly learn and be fully ready when the time comes.
  7. Reward for effort – Even though he appeared physically tired I could see a sense of achievement in Will’s face. The presentation of the belt is a reward, but so is the knowledge you have worked hard and achieved something worthwhile.
  8. Self esteem & confidence – Ever since Will achieved his white belt, then blue, orange, and now green, he has grown in confidence in all areas of his life. The knowledge and the belts are part of his male quest, and being as the teenage years are a particularly vulnerable time for boys and girls, any achievement is a feather in the cap for mental health.
  9. Love of learning – They learn new skills on an ongoing basis, but they don’t run before they can walk. The learning is embedded, and later contextualised into everyday life. They learn that they can do anything they put their mind to.
  10. Focus and fortitude – Single mindedness of purpose is at the forefront of achievement in the sport. Techniques and values are instilled until they are expressed. If a student cannot get a move right they are encouraged and shown time and again to overcome perceived failure and push through mental blocks and barriers.
  11. A form of meditation – Just like playing a musical instrument is a form of meditation for a musician, the form and movement of martial arts quiets the mind to the movement itself, taking the person out of worry and distraction.
  12. An attitude of service – Students not only work to improve their own skill, but also partner with other students to teach and help each other in the process. Lessons are inclusive and everyone’s contribution is appreciated.

A love of martial arts at this crucial time has provided a steady course that has enabled William to steer his teenage ship unscathed on turbulent emotional waters. I’m grateful to Corey for being such a great role model and mentor and for how much he has helped William develop.

Black belts training in the Genesis gym:

Martial arts does not indoctrinate or aim to make students something they are not, but harnesses and encourages positive traits and builds strength (mental and physical), in a structured and supportive environment.

When hormones are raging and things might not be great at home, martial arts is a valuable outlet that channels energy and anger into a more productive pastime.

Anyone who undertakes martial arts with integrity will embody these skills for life and will undoubtedly make a difference in the world in their own unique way.

“The tragedy of life lies not in not reaching your goals, but in having no goals to reach.” ~ Benjamin Elijah Mays

Why Attitude is the Greatest Alchemy of Life

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” ~ Marcus Aurelius (Meditations)

One of my favourite books is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Its prose is poetic and its theme, wise. In a nut shell, the ancient art of alchemy is the coveted ability to turn lead or mercury into gold. Imagine what a valuable skill that would be…

The Alchemist by David Teniers the Younger

The Alchemist by David Teniers the Younger

Everything you touched transformed literally into gold…  But in a broader sense we are all alchemists. You see, attitude is the raw material of personal alchemy.

By harnessing our most helpful and positive thought processes we can turn any perceived negative situation to our advantage, thus transforming undesirable substances into the elixir of happiness.

alchemy - Jabir_ibn_Hayyan

I love the saying, when life gives you lemons make lemonade. We’ve all known people who can step into a pile of steaming dung and seemingly come out smelling of roses. And there are others who appear to have it all: beauty, talent, fame, money, and on the surface they seem to be highly successful. But if you were a fly on the wall you might understand that issues can plague them just as much as the rest of us. Illness, heartache, family strife, or any kind of situation could be causing them misery, sadness and anxiety.

We all have our ‘stuff’ to deal with. Not least of which is that annoying little voice that likes to chirp up at the most inconvenient moment to tell us that we’re not good enough.

Or is that just me?

No matter what is going on around us, if we stop comparing ourselves to others and just focus on being the best person we can be, we can handle these sticky situations and mutate them into the precious metals of our lives…

The Alchemist by Joseph Wright

The Alchemist by Joseph Wright

When I look back on my saddest moments and greatest life challenges, I know that’s when I grew the most. When the chips are down you learn more about yourself than you do when it’s all plain sailing. My inner strength was forged in the fire of suffering. But it’s like Jesus said, “This too shall pass.” With the benefit of hindsight I’ve been able to get some perspective and see how my attitude either helped or hindered me in those times.

When I was faced with the ultimate choice to either change or die, I think you can guess when I finally created my gold.

Attitude is a very fluid thing, it can change according to our mood and circumstances, but the trick is to be aware of our thoughts and our self-talk, and when it dips be able to alter it accordingly. I know that I’m normally quite a ‘high’ sort of person but I can sometimes get pulled into a ‘low’ when things don’t go my way, which tends to happen fairly frequently.

Attitude - Charles Swindoll

I try to be a constant practitioner of gratitude, because unless you’re dead, things can always be worse. There have been days when, as Zig Ziglar so aptly put it, I needed a ‘check-up from the neck up’.

“Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” ~ Zig Ziglar

Speaking of Mr Ziglar, here’s the man himself. Attitude Makes All The Difference:

Gratitude lets you see the beauty of your life which opens you to possibilities and better, more positive outcomes. We can’t second guess the universe, we can only play the current hand that we’re dealt with and try to make the best of it. Sometimes a duff hand is the most amazing blessing in disguise, even though in our despair we may ask, “Why is this happening to me?” The answer may not always become clear until after the event.

attitude - gratitude

Wounded souls have undergone healing, and are capable of deep compassion, empathy, strength and love.  The desire to serve and make things better for others often comes from experiencing a hardship that we want to spare our fellow man. Pain, whether it be emotional or physical is the main ingredient in our noble quest for transformation. Heartache is metallurgy for the soul.

It’s not our intelligence that will make the difference.  We could be the brainiest person in the world, but if our thoughts about us and others were negative, a high IQ wouldn’t count for much. If we have the attitude to know that we don’t know everything we can always learn from someone who has gone before us.

Our attitude is the thing that makes the biggest difference. If we evaluate where we’re at and adjust our settings accordingly we won’t get thrown too far off our course. It’s the only true thing we have complete control over.

attitude - living-success

After conducting countless experiments Thomas Edison might have rightly announced he was never going to invent the electric light bulb, but after being questioned about his apparent lack of results Edison was quick to respond:

“Results!  Why, man, I have gotten lots of results!  I know several thousand things that won’t work!”

So our thoughts and beliefs either elevate our attitude or they drag it into the gutter.

The sheer exuberance, innocence and enthusiasm for life that my children regularly demonstrate shows me how important that sense of wonderment really is. Magic is real to children.

Succumbing to wallowing in our weaknesses and problems is probably the biggest roadblock to leading the life of our dreams. When we have a purpose and passion in our lives it provides motivation to ditch these badly formed, ill-informed thoughts for ones that will better serve our inspiration. Brendon Burchard nails it in this clip where he talks about shifting our dominant frame:

People with charisma and warm, uplifting auras are a pleasure to be around, we are drawn to them like metal filings to a magnet. On the other hand, the moaning minnies of this world tend to repel both people and happy circumstances. They are caught in a perverse cycle of victimhood which makes it harder to manifest the life they want.

It’s like the crab that’s  trying to clamber out of the bucket, but is caught in the pincers of another crab who wants to hold him back and prevent him from escaping. The remaining crabs pull him back in, sealing their collective their fate. Only this time, the pincers pulling us downward are our mind, and sometimes other people. Great explanation of the crabs-in-a-bucket theory.

Helpful tips

  • Sometimes it can be useful to imagine we are shape-shifters, and metaphorically use the qualities of the creature best placed to deal with our current situation so that we can run with the challenge.
  • Learn to reinvent ourselves.
  • Balance our time between the external, fast paced world we live in and our precious inner world. Meditation is a great way to do this, as is playing a musical instrument, getting immersed in a hobby or time out in nature.
  • To live by our values and protect what we hold sacred, even in the face of troubles.
  • To be creative, go with the flow and have fun always lightens one’s burdens.
  • If we see ourselves and others with a sense of humour it balances our seriousness.
  • Live with humility in the present moment and be grateful for our blessings, for life is a privilege.
  • Learn to balance patience with action and always be bold and courageous to know that we can achieve whatever we set our minds on.

Rather than understanding the ancient philosophy and practice of alchemy and the nature of matter, we can be masters of the chemical impulses in our own brains. When we change our attitude we change ourselves, and it can happen for better or worse in an instant.

I thought I’d share Der Alchemist by Carl Spitzweg  complete with atmospheric chamber music that totally fits the painting and the ethos!

It’s how we handle our base emotions and thoughts that determine how much ‘gold’ we will convert. We can decide how we’re going to lead our lives, what legacy we’re going to leave the world, and if that isn’t true alchemy – I don’t know what is.