The Power of No

The Power of No

A few years ago the large W that spelt NOW in white painted letters, fell off the window sill and broke in two. At the time I was struggling, everything seemed to be crumbling around me, I felt panicked and afraid. When the W broke I just shook my head and added it to the pile of rubble that felt like my life at the time.

The NO that was left on the window sill seemed to be calling to me in some way and it took me years to understand the large role that those two letters would play in my life.

You see I have always wanted to say YES to life, to people, to requests for my time, to help those less fortunate, to being a good mother, wife and friend. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, in fact, this YES is what makes the world go round.

There was just one problem, I hadn't yet learned the lesson of balance. I had not yet learned that my love of saying YES had stretched my life too far. Like a rubber band that had no more elasticity left, I had reached the end of the road with my old ways.

I had a lot of soul searching to do.

I had seen my mother gain her PhD in YES, and although she helped so many people, she never got the chance to make choices about how she wanted to live her own life because she was always taking care of everyone else's needs. 

And her life was filled with grace and when she died the cathedral was filled with hundreds and hundreds of people whose lives had been made better by spending time with her. And this was comforting and beautiful.

She was a shining light to all that met her, and she will guide me always, but I realised that we are different people, and the YES that informed her life had to be tempered by a NO in my own. And with learning to say NO I was starting pretty much from scratch.

I started because I had to because I had nothing left to give and I needed to go to ground, to understand myself more deeply, to heal my wounds.

And so that's what I did. I spent time in nature, in silence, by myself and with a trusted friend who understood exactly what I meant when I told her that I needed to bring NO into my life.

It takes a time to change lifelong habits, and I am still very much a work in progress but I feel relieved to have been able to make NO my friend.

I realised that I need not volunteer so enthusiastically for things that I don't really want to do. I learned that I don't need to spend time with people who don't make me feel good. I learned that boundaries are good and healthy and that I need them if I want to be a healthy person. I learned that I need to take care of myself and my own emotions before I can take care of others properly. 

And most importantly I learned that NO is just as important to me as YES and that I can trust myself with this. There is not much chance that I will become a selfish recluse because there is still within me the overwhelming desire to say YES, to help, to make things better.

But now, I have learned that I must balance this YES with a healthy and unapologetic NO.

It's funny, the world doesn't seem to mind at all when I say NO for my own good. In fact, saying NO has opened my life up in ways that I could not have imagined.

You are Enough

You are Enough

I just wanted to remind you this week that you are enough, you have achieved enough, you have loved enough, you have contributed enough, you are enough.

I don't know about you but I am sometimes pretty hard on myself. I'm always looking at what I could have done, how I could have done better and comparing myself with people who seem to be doing better in life than I am. 

"How do they have time to do that?" I ask, "How do they fit that in on top of all the other things they have to do? How can they make that work?"

And if I'm feeling weary and tired I question myself and tell myself to keep going no matter how I'm feeling.

"Why are you tired? There's no reason for you to be tired, you're just going to have to keep going," that perfectionist voice inside me says.

And I know that this way of thinking is the building block to anxiety and conflicted feelings and yet, even after all these years of meditating I find myself listening to this un-constructive voice and giving it more power than it deserves.

Last week I had a very long "To Do" list and yet I felt really tired and it was taking me longer than it should have to complete easy tasks.

I decided to go rogue and take myself down to the beach for some much needed quiet time. I made my way to the sand dunes and climbed to the top and lay there in the spring sunshine, listening to my breath.

At first I was beating myself up for all the things that I should have been doing but slowly the breathing started to slow my mind down a little and I was able to hear the waves and feel the gentle wind on my skin and watch the birds as they circled in the blue sky above me.

After about twenty minutes I felt calmer and more in tune with the natural world around me. I felt that nature herself was recalibrating my thinking into a calmer and more receptive state. From here I was able to see my life from a different perspective. I was able to see (and feel) the many blessings of my life, and this gratitude grew as I lay in the sand dunes doing absolutely nothing.

In the past, I may not have even allowed myself to do such a frivolous thing in the middle of a work day, but I knew from past experience that this time I took, would be more valuable than any other more immediately constructive work I could do.

This week, my wish for you (and for myself) is that we take the time we need to feel balanced and peaceful. That we give ourselves the rest and replenishment we need, free of the guilt that sometimes stalks our most precious moments.

Take an inventory of all you have done for others this week (your family, your work colleagues, your friends, your pets) and also consider all the ways you have made the world a better place.

You are so much more precious and worthy than you think. You are doing so much more than you give yourself credit for. You are spreading love and kindness in the world. You deserve to take some time to rest your body and mind.

You are beautiful

and you are enough

you are enough

you are more than enough.

Can we please rest in this knowledge for even a short time this week?











9/11 and the mission of Freedom Song

9/11 and the mission of Freedom Song

Today is September 11th and I am reminded of the many ways the world changed on that fateful day, 17 years ago.

Mark and I were living in downtown Manhattan at the time, and when we were finally allowed back into our apartment we found it covered in the toxic, white dust that settled all over our beloved city.

The city that we loved, that had provided us with all we needed to make our creative dreams come true, changed almost overnight into a place where scared immigrants displayed the stars and stripes in their front windows, hoping it would be enough to save them from attack.

We read with horror accounts of sikh shop owners who had been killed for wearing turbans and we watched as fear mongering nationalists hijacked the city. 

Within a month of the attacks we decided to return home to New Zealand.

Since then the world has become a darker and more divided place than ever. The fear and division caused on that day has grown so much that when I look at America today I feel desperate about the future.

There are more refugees and displaced people than ever before, (67 million at last count) and new nationalist movements are taking the fear and anxiety of our age and using it to fuel their political ambitions.

I think many of us are feeling apprehensive about the future.

When the attacks happened all those years ago, I took refuge in my faith and in words that helped me to make sense of the chaos all around me. Freedom Song was a touchstone poem that I carried around with me back then, and I remember reading it during my toughest times to bring clarity to the confusion.

And now 17 years later that same poem is now a beautiful hard cover gift book and the message it brings is more relevant than ever. It looks at the world and all its heartbreak and gives a solution for these strange and divided times we are currently navigating.

The message is simple but very important at this time. We know deep in our hearts that our shared humanity is all that really counts, and yet sometimes we need a timely reminder.

People have told me that they have cried or choked up when they first read Freedom Song. This makes me happy because I know that it is doing its work and making us think about the big picture, and more importantly helping us to tap into how we are feeling about the way the world is right now.

Freedom Song didn't spring from a focus group or to plug a gap in the market, the words sprang from the depth of my soul, as it struggled to make sense of the human suffering it encountered.

It brought a message of love and connection to me at a time when I most needed and it and it exists now in the form of this book to connect with your soul in an authentic and healing way.

Freedom Song has changed and evolved with me through the last two decades. I was lucky to find the unique and wonderful paintings of Ewan McDougall to illustrate the deep themes running through the words. 

I wrote the first draft of the poem when I was in my early 20s and working as a journalist on a documentary with Rena Owen from the award winning New Zealand film, "Once Were Warriors". We were talking to people whose lives were similar to those depicted in the movie.

I was shocked when we met a young woman who told us the story of the death of her baby at the hands of her partner and how she had taken the rap and blamed post-natal depression to save her partner the jail time.

I thought I was pretty worldly twenty something but this confession broke my heart. There seemed to be little emotion in the woman's retelling and I was shocked and saddened by the lack of love, and devastating violence that was at the centre of her life. 

I felt helpless to do anything to make this woman's life any better and  her story was only one of many sad stories I heard through my research. I went to bed that night with a very heavy heart.

I fell into a fitful sleep and in the middle of the night woke to a urge to write. What emerged was the first draft of "Freedom Song". The words somehow distilled my distress and pain into a rhyming poem that answered some of the deep questions that I couldn't answer in my woken life. 

The words came from a deep well within that was working hard as I slept to bring meaning to my world. The whimsical tone, and compassionate words brought me peace that night and it has done the same thing on many nights since.

Freedom Song is a celebration of our shared humanity and a song of hope in these strange and uncertain times.

It came to me as a gift of clarity at a time when I really needed it. Now I offer it to the world with the same intention...may it bring peace, clarity and joy to all who come across it.

And in this same spirit I will donate a percentage of profits from Freedom Song to the Save the Children charity.