7 Lessons Being 40 Taught Me So Far

“The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.”

– Lucille Ball –

I never gave growing older a second thought, not until I turned 40. It’s been nearly 7 months since my 40th birthday and if there is one thing that holds true about reaching middle-age (a term I passionately resist), then it is this: Everything changes… even aspects of your life that you thought were a constant.

Apart from a momentary age-related anxiety attack and minor physical inconveniences — I passed my first kidney stones a few weeks ago (if there is a hell that must be it!), my right shoulder has a crick it didn’t have before and I now permanently wear glasses — so far my Naughty Forties have been a pleasantly revealing experience…

It’s like all the pieces of a delicate watch have been spread out on the floor for the best part of 30 years and now, by some greater mystical command, all those tiny nuts, bolt and wheels are slowly coming together. The process is not painless or without discomfort, but at least it feels like all those ‘character-forming experiences’ of the past 3 decades is beginning to pay off.

Don’t get me wrong, Life isn’t perfect all of a sudden. Far from it. However, embracing the fact that it never will be perfect makes it so much easier to accept all its glorious imperfections.

Here’s my observations of my journey into my 40s so far:

1. Being Miss Congeniality is simply too much effort:

During my 20s and most definitely in my 30s, I bonded ‘deeply’ with anyone who remotely had similar-looking tattoos and almost shared the same taste in music as me, and I went through great lengths to nurture these superficial relationships.

This dance for acceptance exhausted me and it led me… well, down roads less travelled of which some are best forgotten. (Like the time I got mixed up with a bunch of past-life regression junkies and ended up making offerings of chopped liver to a gypsy spirit, under a willow tree  — a story for another day.)

By the time I reached 39, I’ve tried and tested quite a lot of what Life has to offer: cigarettes, hot yoga, prescription sleep aids, recreational drugs, at-home hair colour, eyebrow threading, energy bars, acupuncture, sparkling water, tap water, Hair Metal, Celine Dion, cruise ship holidays, face masks, quinoa, hummus, chai tea, minimalism, beige, organic food, raw milk, Rodeo, body piercings, open relationships, monogamy, abstinence, bankruptcy, Christianity, Buddhism, anger management, grapefruit diets, fasting and Botox… to mention but a few.

So, it’s with relief that I now can comfortably say: “I know how I like my steak and how I drink my coffee.” 

In other words, I recognise when I am among my tribe.

We won’t be compatible with everyone we meet and we won’t always be ‘liked’ by everyone. It’s not worth the effort to try and fit in everywhere… and that’s okay.

2. Hitching a short ride:

That girl, the one who worked behind the bar of a restaurant and who ‘loved’ me ‘f-o-r-E-V-E-R’ because I promised to sell her my Vespa at a bargain price…

Well, she took the Vespa without paying for it, moved to Australia, got married, had a baby… and we’ll probably never speak to each other again.

And that’s fine.

She’s one of many who briefly came into my life and quickly left through the backdoor.

This and other similar experiences have taught me to recognise the people who are only hitching a short ride around the block and those who will stay by my side for the entire journey.

True friendships — the enduring ones — don’t cost much. They don’t come with a price tag, yardstick or a measuring jug…

3. Those sex rumours? They really are totally true…

My 20s and 30s was a cacophony of delicious experiences — apart from two very awkward years, which my friends promised to never speak about… Ever! (Think chopped liver, gypsy spirit, willow tree… another day, another time.)

Even though the first two decades of my adulthood were a lot of ‘fun’, once I turned 40 the way I express my sexuality has moved to a whole new level. The mechanics of sex (my body, mind and all the bits in between) finally clicked. I’m comfortable with the ‘messiness’ of sex. I trust my instincts more, I enjoy (and appreciate) my body for the first time and, best of all, I no longer feel the need to justify (or explain) my sexual proclivities.

My thinking is: Everybody has something that makes them a bit kinky — for some it’s a jug of whipped cream and a feather, for others it’s handcuffs and an eager audience.

If you can’t accept your desires by the time you’re 40, when will you ever?

4. You’re not necessarily wrong, but I’m always right:

I used to allow people to tell me how I am ‘supposed’ to feel. And I often believed it when I was told that my emotional experiences were ‘wrong’.

Talk about verfremdungseffekt.

Disaster.

I now know that my feelings are real (I have every right to feel what I feel) and my instincts are there for a good reason (it is okay to trust my gut). I don’t have to be perfectly pleasing all the time (this took me a while to grasp). However, it’s also my responsibility to own how I react to people and situations… and better still, I can change the way I feel, especially when my emotions aren’t serving me well.

You (and only you) are the master of your emotions.

5. How do you write your story:

We all have a little voice in our heads that gives a constant running commentary on EVERYTHING. Pay careful attention to it and you’ll find that this narrative is cynical, negative, judgemental, self-defeating, inconsistent (untrustworthy) and pretty much downright nasty — certainly not a friend!

Once I began to monitor this narrative inside my head — the stuff I say about myself to myself — and replaced the negatives of that ‘inner’ conversation with supportive and realistic affirmations, my relationship with myself improved radically, which had a ripple effect to all my personal relationships.

For the sake of how we show ourselves to the world, it’s much healthier to tame the psychological warfare inside our heads. However, for the sake of living with integrity, it’s equally important to ‘fact-check’ the so-called ‘truths’ we hold onto.

There’s no greater fool than the one who pulls wool over his own eyes… and sometimes it is difficult to be honest with ourselves about the ‘good’ and ‘not so good’ we carry within ourselves.

6. Nobody wins. Nobody loses:

Shortly after I turned 40, I went a bit bonkers — like a frantic bees trying to escape through a closed window.

I was wrapped up in a debilitating fear of not having ‘enough time left’, that I’ve passed my sell-by date, wasted the best years of my life on useless people and achieved nothing. (See psychological warfare.)

This mild hysteria gave me night sweats, panic attacks and anxiety tremors (not a good look on an early-morning commuter train… or on a treadmill). Eventually, on the brink of a mental breakdown, I expressed my concerns in a conversation with my stepmom (a woman whose empathy skills are slightly underdeveloped, but her heart is in a good place). This is what she said:

“You cannot resist Time. You are getting older. That’s all there is to it. If you fight it, you WILL lose. Rather work with it and enjoy what lies ahead. It will be a lot easier and in the end, you’ll see it is not at all as bad as you thought.”

Coming from a 70-year-old woman who still travels across the globe every year and who doesn’t wear a single wrinkle on her face, I took her words to heart and decided to chill the hell out…

When panic strikes, taking deep breaths. Distressing as it first may seem, the only certainty we have is that our time here on earth eventually runs out. It’s part of the deal… and there is nothing we can do about it.

Ultimately, we have a choice: Be a spectator or be a participant.

Either way, in the end when the clock stops, nobody is a winner… And that’s okay.

7. Getting down with the gods and goddesses:

I don’t care what your religious convictions are (mine aren’t great and this is not about religion anyway). There’s no denying the fact that we all carry a Divine Spark within us — the part inside us that makes us awesome, unique and resilient. It’s the Light of our Souls that attracts and creates every experience and relationship (good and bad) that we need during our lives to help us grow and to make our time on earth a worthwhile journey.

Giving myself permission (on a daily basis) to embrace and nurture my inner Light (or superhero, genius, god, goddess, artist, healer, creator… whatever you want to call it), is the best thing I have done to keep my sanity and attract ‘the right people’.

We cannot forever deny or hide who we are… the good and the not so good… eventually, through all the cracks and beautiful imperfections, our Light will shine through… and a little tiny bit of it might even cast a shadow.

Like RuPaul always says to his drag queen prodigies: “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”

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A Year of Less… And A Year Of More

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“ ‘Ask and you shall receive’ is the rule, but you must learn how to ask and how to receive.”

― Gary Zukav ―

It’s taken me a while to eventually sit down and write this post, because it’s taken me quite some time to gather my thoughts as I (still) reflect on 2014 and to formulate my expectations for 2015.

In many ways, for me, the New Year of 2014 only began on Monday 3 March 2014.

I had been feeling lethargic, severely fatigued, unfocused and depressed since the end of November 2013. Thinking that it was simply a relentless bout of the winter flu, I eventually took 2 days off work to rest and recover. Starting the Wednesday evening, I slept straight through until the Sunday (2 March 2014).

On Sunday, I was a bit more energised and decided to meet a friend to catch a film. However, I soon felt worse for wear and thinking that a migraine attack was looming, I went home immediately after the film ended. By the time I got home I had lost all movement on the left side of my face. I couldn’t speak, had no sense of touch, smell or taste, and couldn’t hear or see anything on the left side of my face. I was rushed to the hospital as the paramedics were convinced I had a stroke.

After 19 dreadful hours in hospital the doctors finally confirmed that I had Ramsay Hunt Syndrome — a viral infection in the facial nerve (not Bell’s Palsy!). However, the loss of my sight, hearing, smell and taste led them to believe that the virus had spread to my brain and infected the Parietal lobe — the part of the brain that controls the five senses.

The doctors predicted a 6-18 month recovery period but had little hope for me to fully regain facial function. I was sent home with no action-or treatment plan other than a potent dosage of steroids and antiviral drugs.

I always joke and say: Vanity is my favourite sin.

This is true. What is also true, is the fact that vanity often cloaks deep-rooted self-loathing.

When I returned home that Monday evening (3 March 2014) and I saw myself in the mirror — facing the reality of possibly having to live without the use of one eye and not being able to speak, hear or smell properly — I wept.

I wept, not because I felt sorry for myself, but because what I saw in the mirror, for me, was a manifestation of  years of self-abuse. All the nasty things I said to myself on a daily basis, echoed in my head: I am unattractive, fat, have too thin lips and a slightly long neck. I am not muscular enough, have a door-knob nose and receding hairline… And I went deeper than: I’m a failure. I’m unlovable. I have no talent. I’m not good enough and have nothing to offer. I am stupid… blah, blah, blah. Day-in and day-out.

Once I stopped crying, I said to myself: I’m sorry. I REALLY am sorry for treating you like this and for not loving you and for not giving you what you deserve — the Grace to be human. That will never happen again. Never. And now I will fix this.

The next day, I started a regime of facial exercises for 15 minutes in the morning and evening, a diet of brain food (containing particular high quantities of fresh and organic beetroot, salmon, carrots, broccoli and quail eggs), supplementing with digestive enzymes and super dosages of iron and vitamin C, acupuncture, meditation, relaxation and journaling. It took a lot of patience, humility, persistence and love but 6 weeks later, I had regained the full function of my face: I could smile again without looking like Beetlejuice. My left eye closed on its own, without involuntarily popping open seconds later — enter The Bride Chucky. I tasted my food again and was able to chew without shredding the inside of my left cheek — very important for someone who loves his food. Spring was in the air and I was absolutely elated to be able smell Mother Nature everywhere as she turned her colours out.

Of course, it doesn’t take a mere 6 weeks to undo the damage of a lifetime of self-harm. But in those 6 weeks a foundation was laid. One that I still frequently use to assess and improve the relationship I have with myself and my body, as well as my relationship with others and my environment.

During the rest of 2014, I continued cleaning up my act, all in preparation for my 40th birthday. I let go of negative, draining, one-sided and destructive relationships as well as dubious business partnerships that didn’t respect or value my skills, experience and creativity.

I also successfully quit smoking (the easiest ‘difficult thing’ I have ever done) and stayed on track (with a newfound fondness) with my diet, fitness and meditation regime. In part, I believe the positive steps I took contributed to other amazing blessings manifesting in more areas of my life — flourishing creativity, unexpected gifts and financial reward, traveling to some of my bucket-list destinations, old friends reconnecting with me and receiving undeserved loyalty, encouragement and support.

My mantra for 2014 became this: When I turn 40, I am going to pass through a threshold. What stays on the other side, behind me, will be done with. The door will be closed and I will begin afresh.

That was my focus, my preparation and my mission. By all intents and purposes, I was going up the proverbial hill at a steady and strong pace. I was motivated, positive and most of all, ready to embrace the future.

Two days before my 40th birthday one of my best friends of 17 years, committed suicide. When I heard the news, it felt like someone had hit me with full force in the face with the flat-side of a shovel. I have never felt such an instant, terrifying amount of pain ripping through my entire being. My body went into lockdown. It was physical. It was emotional. It was spiritual.

My stomach still turns when I think about my friend. My heart still breaks. Sometimes it terrifies me, because I know that there once was a time when my own thoughts easily could’ve driven me to the same fate. It saddens me deeply that my friend lost the struggle against himself. I wish on nobody to ever stand alone in such a despairing place.

In his book, Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav says that sometimes it takes an intervention — a massive trauma or deeply moving experience — to reconnect a person with his or her core. 2014 has left me in awe — humbled and inspired. I consider it one of the most profound physical and spiritual interventions of my life. I’ve learned a lot and would like to share some of my lessons with you:

1. We do not attract what we want. We attract who we are.

2. It’s okay to put yourself first. There is a difference between being selfish (acting with self-love) and being self-centred (acting with little or no regard for the feelings and well-being of others).

3. The human body is a powerful and magnificent instrument. It can teach you a lot about yourself. Respect it. Learn to listen it.

4. Your thoughts (and inner dialogue) can be your greatest asset as much as it can be your worst enemy. Everything begins with YOU.

5. Do business with people who either match your skills, experience and expertise or those who compliment what you bring to the table. Don’t lower yourself.

6. True friends don’t tease with empty promises of “doing lunch sometime” and they don’t need cheap flattery to win your favour. Instead, their actions (more than their words) almost always confirms their love, loyalty and support. There is a big difference between people who only know you when they need or want something from you, and those who want to know and be with you simply because you are you.

7. Life is not fair. Life is not always kind. However, Life is always what you make of it.

8. Love. But love the things that nourish you and the people who love you back. You are worth it.

9. Find some silence for a few minutes every day, in a place where you can hear only your thoughts.

10. Once you have found your silence, pray. What else is prayer but a conversation with yourself that connects you with the part of you that yearns, and hopes, and delights, and hungers? When you pray, talk about what you have done and what you have failed to do; who you are and who you aspire to be. Talk about the people you love and the ones you dislike. Talk about the things that matter to you… Who knows, if you are lucky, God might listen… and who knows, perhaps He (or She) will lend you a hand.

However, even if you don’t believe that anyone is listening when you pray, at least you are listening. Everything begins with YOU. Pray.

As for 2015, I can’t express my wishes any better than what my sister has already done in an email that she sent on New Year’s Eve:

“Dearest family & friends,

As the year draws to a close I started to think about all the things I didn’t do this year, and immediately started to make resolutions for the New Year in an attempt to make amends for the unresolved issues of 2014.

But then I had a new thought, a thought that started with my message to our family on Christmas Day. It is based on an old Jewish proverb that says we will have to give account on Judgement Day of every good thing that we refused to enjoy when we might have done so. What an interesting and sobering thought… and I will probably have to give account for quite a few of those in 2014.

Therefore my thinking is this: God created each of us in a unique way with a unique purpose and I firmly believe He wants us to enjoy ourselves, our families and our journey through life not in a mediocre way; but to live life to the full with true joy in his creation & blessings!

When I then think about the things I haven’t done, I am inclined to be less critical of myself & others and to celebrate the past year; thankful for all the blessings we’ve received, all the wonderful moments of laughter with my kids and husband and the amazing grace I have experienced in 2014.

Therefore, I want to embrace 2015 with both arms and the only resolutions I have is to make the most of every opportunity given to me, to enjoy this great life I have with the people I love and to help bring joy to those around me.

For all you wonderful people, I pray that 2015 will be a year filled with true joy, love that is unconditional, grace for yourself & others and lots of laughter!

May you all be blessed with good health & success in whatever it is you decide to take on this year!

Here is to 2015 & a joyful new chapter!”

Happy New Year.


Credits.
Images: FR Lubbe For Little Red Shoes
Text: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes
Letter: Carolien Andrews


Conversations With God

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It wasn’t only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding; above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you.

– Ian McEwan –

As the sun sets today, Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement will begin. It’s the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people and is traditionally a 25-hour period of observance during which they fast and pray. Being the tenth day of the month of Tishrei, Yom Kippur completes the High Holy Days or Yamim Nora’im, or Days of Awe.

According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into a book, the Book of Life, on Rosh Hashanah, and waits until Yom Kippur to “seal” the verdict. During the Days of Awe, a Jew tries to amend his or her behaviour and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and against other human beings. The evening and day of Yom Kippur is set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt. At the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes that you have been forgiven by God.

I’m not Jewish, but in my search for God (if that is what you can call it) and in trying to find a deeper meaning to my life, I’ve always been interested to observe other faiths, religions and traditions. I’ve honoured the celebration of  Yom Kippur twice by going to synagogue services and preparing the food for breaking the fast at the end of Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is the one day (so I’ve been told) that even non-practicing Jews honour – known as Kippur Jews. In the context of mass participation it carries pretty much the same significance as Christmas and Passover for Christians (not that we fast), Lent for Catholics, Diwali for Hindus and Ramadan for Muslims.

Jerusalem Nun

There are also three more common elements to the religious festivals or days mentioned above:

1. There’s the promise that participation will make the world a better place and turn us into better human beings.
2. We are expected to give some kind of offering or make a sacrifice.
3. Human beings acknowledge the good and evil in ourselves, and need a conversation with God (or other Deity) to pardon us from our wrongdoings.

Conversations with God… I’ve had plenty of those since my childhood. Not praying. Talking. As a boy, I believed that God was the go to guy when you wanted things and my conversations with Him were all about asking (sometimes demanding):

‘Dear God, please let Mom allow me to go and play at Jono’s house.’ (Jono was my best friend.)

‘Dear God, don’t let Mom find out about the hole I burnt in her new carpet.’ (I used to be a budding scientist.)

‘Dear God, if You let me get a bike for my birthday, I will never, ever again be nasty with the nanny.’

My mother had a silver tray and tea set. It was probably the most valuable thing she owned. In more desperate moments of negotiation, I used to say ‘Dear God, if You stop Mommy from giving me a hiding, I will give You her silver tea set. When I die, I will bring it with me and you can have it.’

As I grew older, God portrayed many different roles in my life. When he did not ‘save’ me from my homosexuality, He was the one who had forsaken me. When I fell into a deep a depression, He was the one who punished me for my ‘sins’ by burdening me with melancholy. When I excelled in my career, He was the one who gracefully provided all my riches. God was always either one thing or the other… never everything and inside everyone.

When my mother passed away, I inherited her silver tray and tea set and it became one of my most prized possessions. Every time I looked at it, I remembered my negotiations and consequent promises to God (though I also panicked a bit, because I was not sure how I would navigate carrying the tea set into the heavens and beyond). Then, during a house move that happened at a particular difficult time of my life, the tea set went missing. When I discovered my loss, my first thought was ‘Now I have lost my bargaining power with God.’

That was nearly thirteen years ago. Since then, I have stopped going to church and God has become much more than just someone who is cloaked in traditions and rituals: things that are, if we are really honest with ourselves, just for show. Neither is he a ‘bearded old man in the sky’ who’s wroth and fiery should be feared. I’ve learned that the conversations I am having with Him today, are really conversations with myself and that the best way to start any of those is to always first say thank you for what I have. My inscriptions in The Book of Life is largely written with my own hands (and actions) and my blessings are of my own making.

We can all write a good page for the next year if we pardon ourselves and persevere in doing better the next time around. This will obviously demand some personal sacrifice, be it then by letting go of pride, allowing humility into our lives or being more truthful and less cowardly.

Gamar hatimah tovah — a good completion to your inscription.

Me at Via Dolorosa – Way of Grief, Jerusalem


Credits:
 Text: Francois Lubbe
 Images – Francois Lubbe