Posts Tagged 'hope'

On travelling solo.

No one can say that my life has not been interesting.  From the very beginning it appears I was destined to live a life full of challenges interspersed with an occasional adventure.

It all began in Singapore where my mother, just twenty-one, fell pregnant with her second child.  She had married my father, a slim and charming Irish airforce man at nineteen and their first posting had been to Singapore.  A couple of years later we returned to England and within a year or so we were off to Germany where I began my schooling. I distinctly remember being dragged to school through the snow… not eager to leave the warmth of our top floor flat and the sweet stories of ‘Listen to mother’ on the radio.  Three years later I had to leave my first best friend Gillian and return to England.  I cried for a week and experienced my first broken heart.

Back in England it felt like we moved incessantly.  House after house and school after school.  I became a bookworm.  The corner of the school library and a soft cushion became my friend. The books I read being familiar faces no matter where I found myself.  It was during these years that I discovered the value of knowing how to be alone and I remember my mother telling me how important it is to know how to do this.  To being easy in your own company.  To savour the very sweetness that is solitude.

Finally in my teenage years when my father left the airforce and started his own company we started to settle and yet life began to fall apart.  My father, a typical irishman was a drinker and the more money he made the more he drank.  During his airforce years he had never really been home and I was probably to young to be aware of his addiction.  Now it was glaringly obvious and his indifference to me became a thorn in my side but, at the same time, I developed a deep friendship with my mother that lasted until the day she died.

A week after my seventeenth birthday, having been dumped unkindly by my first boyfriend, I hopped on a plane and went stateside to escape yet another broken broken heart and my father.  I stood at Atlanta airport feeling tiny, afraid and incredibly vulnerable.  All I could think was ‘how am I going to survive this’….but I did.  I ended up in South Carolina and spent a year exploring life, making friendships that are still alive today, learning to stand on my own two feet and the art of ‘conversation with a stranger’.

A year or so later I returned to England and instantly regretted the decision.  Driving through the grey, damp streets on a foggy November morning I longed for the sunny skies of the carolinas, the friends I had made there and once again to be far away from my father and the shit storm that surrounded him.  Just eighteen I sat in my parents little house in England and felt lost, alone and once again incredibly vulnerable.  No plan and no idea where to start. My parents marriage a mere pile of rubble and his love affair with the bottle all the stronger.

Now so many years later I am so grateful for those early adventures.  I am eternally grateful for those early life lessons of savouring solitude and travelling solo.  Of learning to talk to strangers and of reading anything and everything.  Of knowing that broken hearts do mend and that there is power in vulnerability.  Of knowing that you don’t have to tolerate other people’s stuff no mater who they are.

Today I savour my solitude and that little armchair at the back of the bookstore is still my friend.  I have more books than clothes and still love ‘conversations with strangers’.  To hear snippets of their stories and exchange friendly smiles.   I am alone, a little lost and once again feeling incredible vulnerable…..but it feels like home.

Life will break you..but..

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In all my work I am incredibly privileged.  I get to meet and spend time with an amazing variety of people.   With my camera in hand I meet newborn babies and happy people.  I get to photograph people doing what they love with the people they love.  There is often laughter,  there is often joy and I get to capture it and give it back to them so that they can look at it forever.  Life however is not just filled with happy smiling moments.

There is laughter in my yoga classes too.  Lots of it.  There is laughter and joy but there are also tears.  There are tears and great moments of fear.  There is anxiety and anger and for some reason yoga brings it all out.  People come to class for all sorts of reasons.  The come in search of something, often not knowing what that thing is.  They come thinking they want to do a few asanas, touch their toes and sit in relaxation.  This happens, oh yes this happens, but shit happens too.  Last week a student touched her toes for the first time in her life and along with that moment came floods of tears.  Tears of joy.  Tears of release. Tears of achievement.  In that same class a student who could not find her balance instead found floods of tears in savasana (relaxation).  I held her head as her body shook with the weight of it all.  I watch as people release deep sighs in meditation.  I get to be part of their process of peeling back the layers of themselves.  I get to witness their ahh-aha moments.  I get to be part of their journey and it’s beautiful.

A while back I was asked if I would spend some time doing relaxation and meditation with a lady who was terminally ill.  The sweet, kind, beautiful person was understandably very anxious about the road that lay ahead of her. Once a week I would go to her apartment and for an hour we would talk and then we would sit in quiet meditation with me guiding her to find just a few moments of complete peace.  We would talk of life and death, of fear and trying to really live in the few moments she had left.  I witnessed her sorrow and pain.  I held her hand when she cried and helped her breathe through moments of unease.  I was witness to her most intimate fears.  I heard her stories and sat with her when she needed to find space in those stories and it was a beautiful thing.

Life will break you.  We come into the world devoid of fear or judgement, but life will break you.  Along our journey we bump headfirst into heartache and pain.  We suffer intolerable sickness.  We loose people we love and are brought to our knees by uncertainty.  We fix ourselves with pretend plasters and glue.  We hold it all together with imaginary layers that we think will keep out all the pain….but it won’t.  Life will break you.

I had the incredibly privilege of getting to know a person intimately in the last months of her life.  During our hours together I got to ask about living.  I got to ask her where her breaks had been and where she had built her walls.  I got to see where she had put her plasters and glue and I got to see her layers peel away.

At the end of the day all those layers of ours will come undone.  In the last days of your life each and everyone of those plasters will come unstuck and the glue will melt.  We put them there because we don’t want anyone else to see our pain.  We don’t want to be vulnerable.  We want others to only see the happy pretty parts of ourselves.  What people don’t realise is that underneath all the pretend fixing is where all the real beauty is.

When I see the layers fall and the personal first aid fail I smile.  When I watch in class as the quiet person in the corner finally lets go, I smile.  I smile because the real beauty of a person is in their vulnerability.  The real beauty of the human race is in our connection and when we are vulnerable we connect deeply.  Our beauty is in the layers of who we are.  It’s in our stories and not just the good ones.

It’s hard though.  Taking off the plasters is hard and it hurts.  Something happens though when we do.  When we show another person our pain we free them up to do the same.  When we gut vulnerable we let them get vulnerable too.

Here is the best part of it all.  Like a baby or a person in their last hours where there is a serenity and grace that is breathtaking, a person without all their plasters and glue is the most beautiful thing.

 

 

On love….

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I find that themes seem to run through the weeks of our lives.  I overhear one person talk on a topic, then another will mention that same thing in class, then yet another will approach me for advice….and so it goes.  Commonality between us.  Shared energy that bounces from one to another invoking all sorts of stories within us.  A collective energy that brings issues to the surface alerting us to the fact that we are not alone in dealing with them.

It seems that the shops are filled with red.  Red hearts and cute white bunnies with red heart shaped ears.  Red negligees that are made from whispers of material and heart shaped chocolates that wink at you as you walk past.  Desperate reminders of love.  All these commercial trinkets, pretty as they are, remind us only to love others.  They sell us the story that we will be complete once we have a person to love.  That we will be whole when we can fill our shopping basket with all things red and sweet waiting to be passed on to another.  The flaw in all this is that we have forgotten to love ourselves.  Somewhere along the path of our lives we stop loving who we are.  I am not sure where and when it happens but I do know that we do not come into this world full of self criticism.  We are not born thinking our legs are too fat or our hair the wrong colour.  We do not stand as children in front of the mirror and inhale deep breaths of self loathing.

So here we find our common theme.  I can no longer count the number of times a client has told me that they do not like themselves but over the past few weeks this issue has risen to the surface like bubbles in a pot of porridge.  One after the other I hear their words and feel their anger.  A vast number of them living in a state of perpetual self disappointment.   Awash with self loathing they pour their love into others and hide their inner neglect behind layers of denial.  I hear the words echo around the studio.  I can’t…. I will never be able…. I am no good at…. I am no good… I am too short… I am too tall…. I am to weak….I don’t like myself.  Oh so many ‘I don’t like myselfs’.  I see the ‘help me’ in their eyes and I feel the ache of sadness in their hearts.  At the end of class I ask them to think of things they are grateful for and then I ask question ‘did you put yourself on the list’?

I see it when they stand before my lens.  I look terrible in photos they say…. I am so ugly… I hate my hair…. I am so fat… I hear an endless diatribe of I am not good enough, I’m not pretty enough, I am just plain not enough utterances.  Kilos of criticism and hearts heavy with the weight of it all.

Stop being so hard on yourself.  Just stop.  You are all beautiful.  Every single last one of you is beautiful.  How do you expect anyone else to love you if you do not love yourself.  Stop hating your arms that you believe are imperfect.  If they can hold and hug then they are good enough.  Stop hating your legs that you believe are not long enough or thin enough. They carry you where you want to go…thank them and be grateful for them.  So when people ask me how to stop hating themselves I say this.  Stop standing in front of that mirror and criticising everything you see.  Start by liking one thing.  Be thankful for that, whatever it may be and how ever insignificant you think it is.  Then tomorrow find another thing. If you can’t find something to like then just find something to be grateful for.  You may not love your eyes but you can be grateful that they enable you to see.  You may not love your feet but you can be grateful that they carry you where you want to go.  Keep doing this and one day the dislikes will turn into likes and the you will slowly start to see all the beauty that others find so endearing.

I am not suggesting for one moment that we don’t all have room for growth and improvement.  Without doubt we all have areas we need to work on be it in the physical, mental, emotional or spiritual planes of our lives.  There is always work to be done but you can start by being kinder to yourselves.  Get over that initial hurdle and then start working on the things you can change and gradually accepting the things you can’t.  Go back to being that kid in front of the mirror.  The one who believes in his reflection. The one who believes he is invincible and strong and just perfect the way he is.

Loving someone else will never make up for not loving ourselves.

 

 

 

So many brave warriors

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This last weekend I braved an early and somewhat cold start, attached my fastest and biggest lens to my camera and headed off to take some action shots of the Ironman triathlon being held in Durban.  As I left my house the sky was alive with promise of a beautiful day and I felt the sweet breath of anticipation somewhere deep within me.

I arrived at the starting point just as the sun was edging its way into the new day, creating black palm tree silhouettes against a flaming red sky.  Three and a half thousand men and women stood shivering in their wetsuits waiting to start this half ironman competition that started with a two kilometre swim out past the back line and in again further up the beach.  From here the competitors cast aside their wet suits and head out on a one hundred kilometre bike ride. When done with that they would then have to face a twenty one kilometre run before they make it to the finish line.  My goodness this is only a half Ironman!! Families, friends and strangers mill around waiting for the start before walking the distance to where they come out of the water to start stage two.  I am struck by the tense sense of excitement.  An almost breathless anticipation of the day ahead.

The competitors came in all shapes and sizes along with all ages.  Each one of them prepared to push themselves physically and mentally beyond the norm.  Each one of them setting themselves an seemingly impossible target.  The waves that day were enormous.  Probably over three metres and to be honest, not being a water baby, there is not even a possibility I would have ventured out there in a worthy vessel let alone under my own steam.  As the swimmers came back towards the shore you could see the massive waves filled with tiny black dots being swept high and pounded down to be tossed about like buttons in a shaker jar.  Not for the feint hearted.  However, age was not a deterrent to these people.  There were plenty of competitors considerably older than me.  Size was not a deterrent.  They came in every possible guise.  As they stumbled out of the water I was already in awe.

They set off on their bicycles and we made a dash to drive to a half way point.  Firstly because it had coffee (having been up since five thirty this was becoming a priority in my life at this time) and secondly so that I could get some photographs like the one above.  This guy is smiling.  Seriously!

Then we drove back to the finish line to watch them run.  The run was done by way of a ten or so kilometre loop so the runners came past several times.  Supporters lined this route, leaning up against the barrier and passing endless words of encouragement to the runners who by now are starting to look like finishing is not even a possibility.

I was overwhelmed by the support these complete strangers gave to the competitors. Every man and woman that passed was handed a huge dose of kindness.  Their names would be called and words of encouragement would follow.  The people next to me made sure not to miss out anyone.  They clapped and cheered and gave courage to those that had seemingly lost their own.  This was beautiful.  By now the sun was warm and I found myself surrounded by strangers helping strangers.  The unknown supporting the unknown. I soaked it up and revealed in the joy of being human.  How incredibly sweet this all was.

We are capable of so much more than we think.  As humans we have the mental capacity to overcome almost anything.  Seeing these people push themselves to the limits of their endurance and physical capability moved me in a way I cannot describe.  They were truly courageous.  Each facing whatever it is they have to face and doing so for their own reasons.  Each with their own story.

The kindness that humans show to each other is so beautiful it is beyond words.  Why I ask myself do we have wars and why are people so intolerant of one another.  It is not our nature.  We are not born this way.  We are born with soft open hearts and this is how it should stay.  When people come together like this, hold each other up and open their hearts to one another there is an energy that sinks deep into your soul.

It should be like this everyday.  Be kind to one another.  Open your hearts and hold each other up.  We are all courageous and we are all just writing the pages of our own stories.

As in the words of Ram Dass – “We are all just walking each other home”.

 

How the universe gave me a lesson in humility

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Last week I was taught a big lesson in humility by the universe.  Life lessons are rarely easy and often sent to us with such impeccable timing it is hard not to laugh at the synchronicity of it all.

I arrive at the national gym chain where I teach my yoga class.  I go to the studio to prepare my music  (I like to do yoga to the likes of George Ezra and Phillip Phillips).  I plugged in my iPhone, rolled out my mat and glanced at the clock.  Exactly seven minutes before class is due to start.  I love the number seven and was feeling pretty good about life.

If I have not already managed my own practice that day I like to spend a few minutes before class warming up so that I can at least touch my toes!  I also like to spend that short time thinking about what I will say at the beginning of class.  It is nice to start the lesson with a few words about some aspect of yoga philosophy.  I decided that I would talk about how there is no room for ego in yoga.  How it is about your own particularly journey back to yourself.  That it does not matter what the person on the mat next to you can do.  That you should not compare yourself to them.  I have a deep belief that ego is a very dangerous thing and responsible for so much of our worlds destruction so it is a matter close to my heart.  Now I say this but somewhere in the back of my mind is the awareness that there is a degree of ego attached to teaching.  There you stand in front of people, knowing something they do not and being able to physically do things they can not.  I am acutely aware of this and yet it still sits there in me.  I admit I get a kick out of the fact that I am probably well past my half way mark in life and able to do things with my body that most of the class cannot do despite being decades younger than me.  I hope I use it to inspire but I suspect that at times it feeds my ego.  It is a human thing.

Inhaling deeply I stretched up in Tadasana (mountain pose) and folded forward to Padahastasana reaching to place my hands flat on the mat in front of my feet. Something I do every single day at the start of my practice.  As I did this I felt a sharp and rather excruciating pain in my lower left back.  I collapsed onto my knees and muttered some exceptionally non yogi words under my breath. Actually I think I said them quite loudly! I tried to stand and could hardly straighten up.  I am sure you can imagine some of the very unpleasant things that were being uttered by me at this time.  I stayed on all fours and tried to roll my spine.  This was not good.

Only minutes to go and no time to call in another teacher.  Deep breaths Niki.  Deep breaths.  Keep calm and carry on. The doors open and bright eyed students appear with all the eagerness of the sun making its way into a new day.  Meanwhile my eyes are watering as if I have been peering into that sun for far too long.

I welcome everyone and go with what I had planned for this particular class.  I inhale deeply and talk of ego and how there is no room for it in our lives…and so we begin our practice.  I was able to do forward bends and most of the balances, however there was not even the tiniest hint of hope that my back was going to go past the vertical.

Humility.  I explain to the class that I had hurt my back and how yoga teaches us to be aware of our bodies and surrender to what they cannot do and rejoice in what they can.  I then tuck my ego firmly where it should be and ask a student to demonstrate all the poses that are quite frankly completely inaccessible to me right now.

Believe me when I say this was not easy. I admit I had to dig deep to find that humility.

Those guys upstairs must have been listening to my every thought and delivered that message to me with astonishingly beautiful timing.

What have I learnt from this.  I have learnt to show a certain tenderness to those students that find poses difficult.  I have learnt that I too must surrender to what my body cannot do and love it for what it can.  Most of all I have learnt that lessons will come to you at a time when you least expect them and you might not always like it but you really have no choice but to be as graceful as you can possibly be in that moment.

We are here to learn and grow.  To always try and be a better person tomorrow than we are today and   to try to do that with as much grace and kindness as we can muster.  When we don’t be sure that the universe will come along and give you a big flat slap as a reminder.

 

 

 

 

 



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