Monday, 17 September 2012

Walking The Talk - Carpe Diem And All That Goes With It

Carpe diem.  Just a phrase to some, a cliché to others, perhaps something heard in a Robin Williams movie (note 1).  But to me, this phrase has become synonymous with the way in which I try to live my life.  For me, these two words symbolise every thing.  Each time that I feel the urging of my heart, each time I here the call to arms, each time I see a path that as opened in front of me, it is these two words which push me forward.  These two words are the difference between staying static and forever wondering, and taking the first step and allowing myself to fall into the unknown. 

What is carpe diem?  It is a phrase in the Latin language, that was once spoken throughout the Roman Empire but now exists only as a scholarly language.  A quick search on the internet provides the following definition:-

car·pe di·em/ˌkärpā ˈdēˌem/
Exclamation: Used to urge someone to make the most of the present time and give little thought to the future.

I have adopted this phrase as a philosophy for my life.  Whenever I talk to other people and give encouragement for them to follow their heart, the calling they feel, I use this phrase and if I do not, then all the language that I use could be summarised by its simple two words.

When  Henry David Thoreau wrote of going to the woods because he wished to live deliberately, and that he  'wanted to live deep and suck out all of the marrow of life', this was his own way of saying carpe diem (note 2).  Thoreau went to the woods and he conducted his experiment.  He walked the talk, it was no mere idle chatter.  It was an urging to do, to be, to witness, to experience - and he did. 

Walking the talk is the hard bit.  No matter how much we talk over something, there only ever comes one single moment when we have to act and take the first step on the path that we have chosen.  It is the hardest step to take, but the comforting part of taking that first step, is that all other steps become easier.  Sometimes we wish a thing so much, that we become scared that the reality will not meet with our expectations, will never live up to the dream.  To illustrate that point, I will relate the story of my tattoo.

The Irony of my Tattoo
During 2005, before I had begun on my true journey, I had awoken spiritually to what it was that I wanted to do, but I had not yet reached the point of embarkation.  At some time, I had begun to have an idea of a tattoo, perhaps it was the seed planted by watching my brother having a tattoo the previous summer, but wherever the idea came from, it began to grow.  That summer, I took a trip to California and on Venice Beach, I had found a henna tattooist, who created exactly what I had wanted on my arm.  I wore that henna tattoo with pride and I would look at it daily and smile, until, as all henna eventually must, it finally washed off and was gone.   

A year later, I am on my journey in Asia and I started to doodle the idea for my tattoo in the back of my journal.  I knew that I wanted the design similar to the henna version, it was the words  'carpe diem' tattooed around the symbol of a sun.  The design for the tattoo needed to be meaningful and personal.  It needed to symbolise me, it needed to be something I deeply and profoundly believed in.  Where I wanted the tattoo was never in doubt - on my upper left arm, mid-point between my shoulder and elbow.  If I was going to have a tattoo, then it would be part of me - a window to my soul that I chose to open.  In my head, I knew the typeset for the writing.  It needed to be olde English, medieval.  The sun had to be simple in design but emote what I needed it to.  I could picture it in my mind but I could not bring that picture to life on a page in front of me in quite the way I wanted.

Some of my 'art' work :-)

Some of the early sketches from my journal
A rather crab like looking sun

In April 2008, I was in Wellington, New Zealand, following another calling of my heart.  The thought of the tattoo was still strong in me, but I had still not found the right place or time, the right moment to commit to it.  I knew where several tattooists were in Wellington and I decided that I would check them out.  I knew that I needed someone who would listen to me, someone who would help me make this the personal experience become a reality.  As I wondered along Cuba Street I discovered a skate clothing store that also did tattoos at the back.  Something seemed right about the place, it spoke to me.  So I booked an appointment for two days time.  

On the appointed day, I turned up at the store and I helped the guy with the design.  I had one of my very poor sketches with me which he took as a base.  He worked with it, playing with different sun designs, different fonts and sizes for the writing, until we were both happy.  Then he told me that he would need an hour to create the stencil and prepare, so I went over the road to a cafe.  As I sat drinking a coffee I thought about what I was doing.  I realised that now I had a chance to say no, to decide against having something permanent inked into my skin.  I still had a choice.  But then, as I sat there sipping my trim flat white, a thought occurred to me.  There I was, a few minutes away from having a tattoo whose meaning was 'seize the day' and I had waited three years before I was ready to have it done.  I smiled to myself.  Carpe diem indeed - oh the irony!     

All that mattered was that I finally got my tattoo and ever since that day in Wellington, I have worn it with pride.  Every time I look at it, it reminds me that I followed my heart, it reminds me that I am walking my path, in my way. What matters most is that I have the tattoo, not how long it took me to get it.  I had waited because I was not sure that the reality of having the tattoo would meet my dream.  But now, not a day goes passed without me looking at my arm and smiling.  I eventually took the step and the reality is better than I could have imagined.

And so it is with life.  The reality is always better than the dream.  I shared this story because I think it is important to know that every one shares the same fears and trepidations in life.  It does not matter how you walk the path, it does not matter when you walk your path.  All that matters is that you do walk your path.  From that moment on, nothing else will ever be the same again.  The seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years of waiting will become meaningless, forgotten in the moment you step forward.  Carpe diem.  Seize the day.

1: Henry David Thoreau - Walden, or Life in the Woods
2: Dead Poets Society (1989)

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Building An Army for Change

The other day, as I arrived back home from a cycle ride (actually more of a cycle slog), I saw, lying in the middle of the back alley, a broken and discarded, plastic margarine tub.  I stopped and I picked it up.  I leave my bike in the backyard and I have to walk the short distance back around the top of the block, so that I can let myself in the front door.  During that walk of one minute, I picked up a plastic drinks bottle and a discarded news sheet.  I took my collection in doors with me and placed it in to our recycling bin, ready for collection the following day.  I did not question my actions, they came to me as obviously as taking the next breath.  So, why did I pick these things up?

I do not consider myself a do-gooder, a goody two shoes (note 1) or anything else of that nature. I have acted in this way for many years.  I do it simply because I can.

Recently, I walked in the Christoffel National Park of Curacao and during a hike to and from the summit of the St Christoffelberg mountain, I picked up 28 empty plastic drinks bottles, that had been discarded along the trail.  I also picked up 15 or more pieces of wrapper or labelling from food and bottles.  I put all of these into my backpack, which I emptied into the waste bins at the end of the hike. 

Whenever, I used to walk along the beaches in Costa Rica and I would do the same thing.  I've done it England, New Zealand, Canada, the States, Asia, Europe, Africa, in fact pretty much everywhere I've ever been.  I pick up litter and I place it into the rubbish bins whenever I can.

I pick up litter and clear fishing lines from the coral reefs and dive sites during my dives.  Whether I am diving for work, or diving for pleasure, it makes no difference.  I take my dive knife and I cut away fishing lines, lead weights and hooks, risking getting my thumb or hand hooked in the process.  Sometimes, it is not pretty and I find myself beginning to get tangled and caught up in the many feet of line, but I manage it.  I return from a dive and I empty out my BCD (note 2) pockets - polystyrene drinks cartons, aluminium cans, fishing line, wrappers.

I think I do it because I want to show others that this is normal behaviour.  It should be considered normal behaviour for any human to clean up the environment in which they inhabit.  Some litter is not put there by a person out of neglect and stupidity.  Bins overflow, the wind blows and things inadvertently fall out or drop down.  It is no body's fault.  But we treat everything the same.

I want people to know that I care.  I want people to look at me and see a person who takes pride in this planet.  I almost wrote 'this planet of ours' but that is incorrect thinking.  It is not our planet.  It never has been and never will be.  We share this planet with all other life and for that miracle, we must surely owe it a debt of gratitude.  I want people to see a person who is not afraid to be different.  Someone who is not afraid to act when they see something wrong.  I want to know that when I reach the end of my time here, that I did my part to contribute to a cleaner better world. 

Don't we try to teach our children the morals of life?  Not to steal, not to kill, not to injure, not to cheat, to respect their elders, to respect property, not to drink and drive, not to take drugs.  And all the many other things that our cultures have determined are moral behaviours within society.  Why do we not ingrain in the minds of our children to respect the planet and to respect life?  To never do anything knowingly or willingly that can be considered harmful to the environment. 

Why do we not act when we see someone drops litter from their car, or as they walk down the street?  Isn't it true that often we say to ourselves, "Well, I didn't put it there", or, "It's not my job to pick it up"?  I admit that I have done this.  But I do not do it anymore.  It is my duty as a citizen of the planet to do something about it.  We all try to keep our homes, yards and gardens clean and tidy.  Why don't we extend this to our local environments?

The problem that we find ourselves in is that all societies are now heading in the same direction - towards a truly capitalistic way that promotes singleness.  Capitalism's ideology is all about the individual.  How can I improve myself?  How can I make more money?  What can I get?  It fails to address the fact that we live in communities, that we inhabit shared spaces - not just with other humans, but with all other life, and that people have never been individualists.  We are being disengaged from our local communities.   

And so we need to fight.  We need to fight against what we are told.  We need to fight for what we believe.  To fight for what we want to manifest in this world.  We need to form an army for change.  An army that does things not because of the financial rewards, but an army that marches to the beat and to the rhythm of life. 

I guess all I am trying to say here is that we can all do small things that collectively will make a huge difference.  Together, we can change the way people see and do things.  Together we can make it normal and expected behaviour to clean up our environment.  Together we can make a difference.  Together, we can build an army for change.

I simply consider myself as a man of the planet.  I am made from the planet.  I am of the Earth and the Earth is of me.  I will return at the end to whence I came because all things are one. 

Moses was given ten commandments on top of Mount Sinai.  I propose an eleventh commandment:-

Protect the planet, protect the environment and protect life. Amen. 

1: Goody Two Shoes: 
2: BCD - Buoyancy Control Device.  A device that allows you to control your buoyancy in water by inflating (or deflating) an internal air bladder, with air from a compressed air scuba cylinder.

Waiting At The Window

There are days when I come up with something in my head and I decide to take the idea and write about it.  Saturday, 5 August 2006, I wrote this poem during my stay on the Perhentian Islands of Malaysia.  That was a time when a lot of what I wrote manifested itself in verse   This particular one is about waiting for the right time, waiting for the right circumstances, thinking that there is always enough time, always more time.  It follows on from my thoughts yesterday on the theme of waiting.

The Window
Claire sits and waits
"I will change", she says
Time passes
Like the cars passed the window
Each one a journey
To a different destination
And still she waits
Things will be different
Tomorrow, next week,
Next month, next year
Claire grows older
She does not realise it
But life is running
It never stops
It never sleeps 
Life goes ever on
And so she waits
I am still young she thinks
But the young look at her
And through their youthful eyes
They see an old woman
The years that once lay ahead
Now lay behind
Each one just like the next
Full of hope, of promise
But nothing realised
Claire has waited
Claire has sat her whole life
Looking out of the window
Dreaming and wondering
Poised for action
Taught and ready like the string of a bow
But the heart cannot take this
It can only wait so long
Like the string of the bow
Too much tensity and waiting
And eventually it will break
Nothing can last forever
No one can wait forever
Claire gets up to change
To start a new life
But her heart has grown old
Her legs no longer work
As they once did
When she could run
Out and across the fields
Spring sun on her face
But the winter is now here
And her heart long ago
Ceased its dreaming
Claire sits by the window
And wonders what might have been.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Waiting For The Train

Often in life, we find ourselves waiting.  Waiting for the right moment, the right set of circumstances, waiting for something to happen, waiting for something to come along.  Our hearts call to us, they show us the way, but still we sit and we wait, not heeding their call, hearing the voice inside but not listening to the words that it has to say.  I know this because I can remember it happening to me.  Many times, I can vividly recall having a feeling inside so strong it almost overwhelmed me.  A voice called to me, urging me to take up arms, telling me I must take action.  To go, to do, to see.  But I waited.

Rather than taking a positive action to do or to try something and find out a definitive answer to a question, sometimes we prefer not to know, we prefer to keep our dreams alive inside our minds, to maintain our hopes for what could be, for might might be.  The thought of losing the dream roots our feet so deeply in the ground that we become paralysed, unable to move.  And the longer we wait before taking action, the more we think about the thing, the more we analyse all possible outcomes and eventualities, the deeper our feet sink, the more stuck we become.  The head takes over and the voice of our heart is drowned out by all the noise and interference from the thoughts that are swirling around in the mind.  The result: Nothing. Inaction. Waiting.


Perhaps it is the thought that the reality will never live up to the dream.  Maybe it's because it is just not possible to see where the path will lead.  The picture perfect vision of how the future will look, how everything will happen, that you have created in your imagination, is too precious to dispel.  Fear plays its part too.  (Please see my post on fear at: ) And perhaps it is because we always believe that there is more time, there will be other opportunities.

The only way to discover where the path will lead, is to walk it and go and find out.  That perfect picture that has been created in the mind is nothing more than the most simple of line drawings when compared to the beauty of the reality.  The reality has a richness and a depth that cannot possibly be comprehended in the mind.  How can you create a picture of infinity in your head?  The reality has possibilities that cannot be imagined, that cannot be fathomed.  There are paths that will lead you in different directions.  There are people to meet, places to see and adventures waiting.  There are possibilities that will never exist until you take that first step.

This is a short story I wrote to illustrate my points.  It is loosely based on an experience I had, but rather than just telling you my story, I am going to leave you with Tomas' story instead.

Tomas And The Girl With The Golden Hair
Tomas liked Sabina.  He had liked her ever since he had been walking to work one May morning, and he had caught sight of the sun reflecting off her golden hair.  In his mind, he could still see it as though it had happened only a moment before.  But it was now four months later, the leaves that had been fresh, soft and green were now either yellow, red or brown and if they were no longer on the trees, then they were laying crisp on the ground.  Summer had passed, but there remained a golden fire that burned in the heart of Tomas whenever he thought of Sabina.

The ending of summer was always marked by the occasion of the harvest dance, that took place every year in the square at the centre of the village.  It had been tradition for as long as memory served and was written in the Book of the Ancients, kept by the village Elder.  It was a time when the people gave thanks for the reaping of the harvest and it was a time to celebrate the ending of another summer and for the villagers to enjoy themselves before the coming of another harsh, cold winter.  As described in the Book, the dance always took place on the day of the second equinox.  All the preparations were complete, the square had been made ready and all that was now required were the people, the drink, the food, the celebrations and the dancing.

Tomas woke early on the day of the dance, feeling excited and nervous.  The day had finally arrived when he was going to ask Sabina to dance with him.  Everything had been thought through and planned.  He would walk over to where she was sitting, look down at her and smile, then he would say, "Hello Sabina, would you care to take this first dance with me?", and he would put out his hand so that she could take his, so that he could escort her to the centre of the square.  She would blush a little, then she would look up to him, look into his eyes with those beautiful green eyes of hers and she would say yes.  They would walk to the centre of the square, he leading her gently, the musicians would strike up the beat and the melody of the traditional first dance and then they would lose themselves in the rhythm and in each other.  Tomas had it all worked out in his head.  It would be a perfect day.

The first chime had sounded and everyone was now assembled in the square.  The Elder, seated in a well worn and ornately carved high backed chair, looked to the sun in the sky, before his eyes fell to the Marker Post.  He noted the length of the shadow, then he nodded his head, once, twice, before lifting his left arm.  With arm raised, he looked around the square, seeing the faces of the expectant crowd, each and every one of whom he knew personally.  Then he let his arm drop.  There was a chime, then another, then another.  Three chimes marked the commencement of proceedings.  The celebration was under way.  It was time for the men and boys of the village to find partners for the first dance.  They had only until the bell chimed again three more times, after that, the music would start and the dance would begin.  It broke all the writings in the Book to find your partner and begin the first dance after the chimes.  It was never done.

Tomas, heart bounding in his chest, looked to where he knew Sabina was seated.  As he knew she would be, she was seated with her family, each of her younger sisters on either side.  Katrine, the next eldest after Sabina would dance for the first time this year, but Tilde, was still too young and could only look on.  Tomas started to walk across to where Sabina sat.  The bell chimed the first chime.  All of his hopes and dreams rested on these next few moments.  Everything that he had imagined over and over again in his mind was about to come to fruition.  But then he stopped.  A thought came unbidden to his mind.  What if she said no?  It had never occurred to him before that she could say no.  That she could turn him down and leave him standing there in embarrassment.  To suffer the indignity of walking away alone, rather than together towards the centre of the square.  All of his dreams, all of the thinking how it was going to be!  Tomas stood rooted to the spot.  The bell chimed for the second time.  His heart urged him to move, to continue to walk but his head shouted loudest.  Sabina remained, seated, waiting for a partner.  Tomas, plagued by doubt and fear continued to hesitate.  And in those moments of hesitation, before the third chime of the bell, Christophe, the son of the thatcher, walked towards Sabina and put out his hand.  She rose to her feet, glanced briefly in the direction where Tomas was standing and then walked hand in hand to the centre of the square with Christophe.  The bell chimed a third and last time.  Tomas had lost his chance.  The opportunity was gone, never to be recovered.  He would never know whether she would have danced with him, he would never know the feel of her hand in his, nor the delight and the pleasure of dancing with the girl with the golden hair.  But at least he could still hold on to his hopes and his dreams.

The End

You can spend your entire life waiting for the right moment.  You can hesitate for too long, just like Tomas, just like I did, and lose the chances that are placed along the road for you.  There will never be a perfect time because the perfect time only manifests itself the moment you lift your foot and place it down ahead of you.  In that moment, you will discover that the time was right, that everything is right.  Don't wait.  Don't hesitate.  Seize the moment, seize the day, and walk.

It is my experience that the reality is far more amazing and beautiful than I could ever have imagined.  And so I say this:-

Go suck that marrow out of life and see just how far you can ride the train.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Seeing The Signs

It is 18 March 2006.  I am travelling on a ferry boat heading from Kota Bharu, on the north east of the Malaysian peninsula, across to the Perhentian Islands.  It is my first full day of travelling alone.  The day before, I had left my travelling partner behind in Krabi, Thailand.  Early that morning, I had sat in the minivan that was to take me down to the Thailand / Malaysia border, asking myself over and over again, what was I doing?  I had contemplated getting out and running back across the road to the hotel, but then we had started to move and I knew it was too late.  My fate was decided.  I looked through the glass of the window, trying hard to fight back the tears I knew were so ready to fall and I could see her sitting there, all alone on the steps outside of the hotel.  She was crying, and it had broken my heart.  It would be the last time I would see her.  After a day of minivan rides into Malaysia and a night in a backpackers in Kota Bharu, I am on my way to the Perhentian Islands, where I have decided to continue my scuba diving education and training.  I have not thought past that point.  It is too difficult and I cannot see through the darkness.  I have some idea of what awaits me, since we had both been on the islands together for a few days, just a couple of weeks before.  But I have never travelled alone for extended periods, it was never my intention or wish to be backpacking in Asia alone, I am completely outside of my comfort zone, I don't know anyone on the islands, I don't have a place to stay, I am apprehensive, anxious and scared.  I lean my head out of the stuffy interior of the boat and air hits my face refreshing me.  I look forward to the bow of the boat and watch it bouncing up and down as it cuts through the water, sending jets of spray outwards, that will become our trailing wake.  And there I see them.  Small arcs of rainbows created by the miracle of refraction, as the sunlight penetrates the spray of water.  It is all I needed to see.  I can feel my heart reassuring me.  I know that I made the right decision, now I know that whatever happens, everything is going to work out and I now know that I am on my intended path.  I have seen a sign.  I instantly feel calmer, reassured and I give thanks.

For me, this was a very strong sign and indication that what I was doing, in following my heart, was the right thing for me.  In fact, the summer before, when I had still been in England, I can remember being caught in a dilemma.  I had two options in front of me and I could not decide which one to take for the best.  I could see the goodness and the possibilities that both had to offer, but I knew that taking one would inevitably close the door on the other.  One evening, as I drove over to visit my parents, across the flood plain that stretched from the foot of the hills to the coast, dark heavy clouds of a summer storm moved in.  The rain began to fall in the distance but the sun still shone through a patch of blue sky and as it did so, it created a double rainbow effect.  Both rainbows arced fully, gracefully and beautifully across the plain, their colours shining brightly against the backdrop of grey.  My eyes saw both rainbows and I can distinctly remember the feeling that came over me.  Which ever of the two options I chose would be good for me.  All I had to do was to go with my gut feeling - to follow my heart.  And I did.

The signs of life appear to us in my guises, in many shapes and forms.  It is not possible to know when they will appear, or even if they will appear, but when they do, it is my belief that you feel it through to the depths of your soul.  They cause your heart to speak with a voice louder, clearer and more certain.  A feeling of reassurance sweeps through you.  You no longer feel that you are alone, and indeed, if you listen to your heart, you never will be.  These signs are personal, unique to each individual.  No one else can interpret them for you.  Yes, they can try, but no one else will ever be able to deduce the true meaning of a sign meant for one person only - for you.  A sign may lead us to the beginning of the path by helping us to take the initial decision, it may show us that we are walking the right path by giving us reassurance, or it may indicate that this part of the journey is complete and that it is time to begin another.

A sign will take the form that it needs to take in order to help you.  It will reveal itself when you need it.  When I think back over my life, I realise that I had always been seeing signs along the way.  The offer to hike and camp on the trail one weekend in South Africa was a sign.  It was an offer made by a colleague at the time, who would become a dear friend.  It led to a conversation and to the beginning of the awakening of all that I felt and had buried deep inside of me.  The overwhelming feelings I had, standing in Vörösmarty tér in Budapest, on a bitterly cold January day.  A friend reaching into her bag and pulling out a book to lend to me, as we shared a taxi ride one evening.  The rainbows I have encountered along the way.  Perhaps you can recall coincidences, things that occur just as you begin to think about something, about making a change in your life?  It happens.  I know it happens because it has happened to me and because I know it has happened to others.

Recently, someone I know begun to awaken their spirit, they had commenced listening to the call of their heart.  At the end of their vacation, they boarded a plane, just like they had done many other times.  They were travelling alone, so there was no knowing who was going to sit next to them.  It was random, completely open to chance.  My friend boarded early and sat in their seat, waiting.  A person appeared and sat next to them, the two begin to talk and slowly they realised that one of them was delivering the message that the other needed to hear.  That the other was now ready to hear.  A message of hope, encouragement and inspiration.  The same message that has been passed on through the ages, from walker to walker, as it always has been and always will be.  That coincidence was a message, and that message was a sign.

Sometimes, we might see a sign and we will ignore it. Actually, it is not that we ignore it, it is just that we do not see the sign.  It is there, it exists, it manifests itself right before our eyes at precisely the right moment, but we fail to detect its presence.  This is not a problem.  The sign will reappear when you are ready.  Perhaps it will reappear many times before you finally notice it.  It does not matter.  The path of our lives is not a race.  We all find it at different times and at different points in life.  There is no end to the path, no destination, no final resounding victory, only the beginning and the next step.  All that matters is that we awaken our souls, listen to the call of our hearts and follow their urging.  All that matters is that we keep on taking steps along our way, that we keep on fighting for our dreams, and that we look for and see the signs that will guide our way.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Oak Tree and the Butterfly

I felt inspired to write a story about the opportunities life presents to us, walking the path, and fulfilling your destiny.  I was helped by an oak tree and a butterfly.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Oak Tree and the Butterfly

In the middle of an ancient forest stood a mighty old English oak tree.  No one knew for certain how old the tree was, but had Columbus walked in this forest of England, rather than sailing for the Americas, he would have cast his eyes not on a new land, but on an already old tree.  The leaves of this great oak gave shelter from the rains of the spring and shade from the sun during summer.  Its acorns fed the squirrels, mice and deer of the forest in the autumn.  And in the winter, it stood naked and weathered the snows.      

One fine spring morning, when the fawns were running rings around their mothers down in the meadow and the young stags were examining each others new antlers, a butterfly came fluttering by and settled down on one of the green leaves of the oak tree. 

"I hope you do not mind my resting on you a little while Mr Oak", the butterfly spoke in a soft and delicate voice, "for I have already travelled far this morning and I am in need of a short rest."

"No, no" boomed the oak, "that is quite okay.  Actually, I like it when things come to me and stay a while and I can have a talk."

"You do flatter me Mr Oak, for I am only a young, small and insignificant butterfly compared with your great size, strength and age.  I am sure much grander and wiser creatures than I have graced your branches and leaves."

 "I like all the creatures that come to me.  They tell me such wonderful stories of things that I could never have imagined.  Tell me of your travels little butterfly.  Please tell me all that you have seen."

"But I would not trouble you with what I have seen, since you are of an age innumerable, you must have seen all that I have seen and probably a whole lot more besides!"

"You are right little butterfly.  I have been here many a year, I have seen seasons come and go and I have seen the changes that have come to the forest.  When I look out, I can see the forest all around me and I can see the sky above me and I can watch the clouds drifting over my head.  I can see the animals that come to take my shelter and my acorns.  But..."  The oak tree stopped and became quite sad.

"Have I upset you Mr Oak?  I am so sorry.  Please ignore this foolish butterfly, I really don't know what I'm doing sometimes.  I'll be going now and I'll leave you alone and in peace.  Good day!"

The butterfly started to flutter its wings in readiness for its flight.

"No, please don't go little butterfly.  I continue, just give me a moment to gather my thoughts.  Hmm... hmm..."

The butterfly was a bit perturbed because it had never known so mighty a tree to become upset.  It realised that even the things that appear to be the biggest and strongest must also have weaknesses too.  The oak tree gathered its thoughts before continuing once more.

"Hmm... Now where was I?", it asked the butterfly.

"You had just said that you could see a lot around you but..."

"Ah yes, that was it.  I can look over the forest but I would like to walk through the forest and pay visits to my friends.  I would like to be able to go and talk with the other trees, to ask of them what they have seen and share with them all that I have witnessed in my many years.  I would like to go and pay my respects to the deer, the badgers, the foxes, the squirrels and the little mice, all of whom come and rest under my branches, eat my acorns and talk with me.  I long to see what lies passed the edge of the forest, I have always wished to see what is over the horizon.  I have heard talk from the birds of a great expanse of water, larger than any forest you can imagine, and talk of lands that are beyond with magnificent mountains, rivers and valleys.  I would love to go and see and do all of these things but alas, my feet are rooted so deeply into the earth, and here I must stay."

"But you are the mighty oak tree!", exclaimed the butterfly.  "You are the strongest and eldest of all the trees in this forest.  Surely you could lift up your feet and walk if you so wished it?  Please try Mr Oak.  Try it now!"

"Little butterfly, my new friend, I have tried many, many times.  When I was still just a small sapling and I had first heard the stories, I tried and I tried.  Although my roots were not yet so deep, I could not manage it.  The other trees towered over me, holding me in their shade, taking all of the sun and rain for themselves, and they laughed at my attempts.  They said that I was foolish for trying and they did not understand why I wanted to move.  I tried so hard, every day for a whole year.  There was one night when the wind howled like never before and all of the forest shook with fear.  The rains came too that night and softened the soil.  I watched as some of the other trees, some of whom were my friends, lifted their feet and tried to walk but they just fell over.  I guessed it was because they had not used their legs in a very long time and they did not know any longer what to do with them.  I knew that if the other trees could lift their legs, then this would be my chance and so I tried with all of my might and all of my effort, but it was no use.  My legs were stuck and would not budge a single inch.  I was blown this way and that and because I was a still a young sapling, I bent one way, then the other, as the wind howled harder and harder.  I was able to move as one with the wind, even though I wanted its help to lift my feet from the earth.  Eventually, morning came and the sun rose and I saw that many of my friends had fallen during the night, but I had not."

The oak tree became very sad again as he thought back to this night of terror and destruction in the forest, and the loss of so many of his friends.

The butterfly felt sad about the trees friends and wanted to say something.  Just like so many of us in these moments, it felt awkward and didn't really know what were the right words to use.  It didn't know that any words spoken at such a time are words of comfort because they let the other person know that you care and that you can feel their loss and sorrow.  "I am so sorry about your friends Mr Oak", said the butterfly, "really I am.  It must have been a terrible time, seeing them lying there on the ground all around you."

The oak smiled at the butterfly.  "Thank you little butterfly, that is very kind of you to say.  But do you know what my little friend?"

The butterfly really didn't know what and it told the oak exactly that. So, the oak went on.  "Then, let me tell you little friend.  It is a funny thing this life," he said, "the great storm of that night took my friends and in so doing, it cleared the ground all around me.  I was able to feel the sun on my leaves all of the day, when before, I had stood most of the day in the shade and I had only received small patches through the leaves of the other trees that had surrounded me.  And because there were no longer other trees surrounding me, I could take all of the rain water for my own nourishment.  Because of this storm, I was able to grow large and strong and I was able to endure for many hundreds of years.  Sometimes in life, we find that we are in a bad situation, maybe we have lost those that we loved, maybe we have lost all that we had worked for, maybe we just feel lost at that particular moment.  But what I have realised little butterfly, is that life is actually giving us an opportunity, it has cleared the way for us and it has given us a chance to grow, to become all that we were destined to be.  Whether we like it or not, life moves us on in our journey and it gives to us all that we need, if we are able to see it, if we are able to see the opportunities that it places in our paths, and if we are able to take them."

The butterfly was confused.  "But Mr Oak, you wanted to walk and to see the world beyond the forest border.  How can you say that life gave you an opportunity and gave to you all that you needed?"  The little butterfly felt embarrassed to challenge the mighty old oak, but it continued, "Shouldn't it have helped you to lift your feet from the soil if what you are saying is true?  Wouldn't it have given you an opportunity to walk, as you wished?"

"Little butterfly, what you say is right.  If my destiny was to see what lies beyond, then life would have helped me to see it.  But that was never my destiny.  I am an oak tree, little butterfly.  My destiny was always to grow as tall and mighty as I was able and to give my acorns to the animals of the forest, and to give my leaves as their shelter.  And life gave to me that opportunity.  Although my feet have never left the earth, although I have been here for longer than all of the other trees in this forest, I was given a gift by life that night of the storm, and I have achieved my dreams."

The oak paused for a moment and looked out to the edge of the forest.  He felt as happy and contented this day, as he had since he realised what had always been his true calling in life.  The little butterfly was still a bit confused.

"But you wanted to walk!"

"Little butterfly, life has allowed me to walk.  Every day that I have been living, I have been able to walk my true path in life, the path that is and always will be mine.  And for that, I give thanks to the world and to life and I am happy."

The butterfly thought about it and knew that the oak was right.  It had been born a hairy caterpillar that crawled slowly, then it had spun its chrysalis and emerged as a beautiful butterfly that could fly and go wherever the wind took it.  It too was following its rightful path in life.

"Thank you for you leaves Mr Oak.  I feel rested and ready to go on.  I bid you farewell for today."

"And thank you for the conversation little butterfly."

And with that, the little butterfly flexed its wings once, twice, and was off.  The oak tree watched it go until it could see it no more.  The fawns still played down in the meadow and the stags still paraded their new antlers, and everything in the forest was exactly how it should be.  

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Decisions, Decisions

There are many times in life when we are faced with decisions.  Some decisions are minor and seemingly without consequence - vanilla or strawberry milkshake (vanilla for me)?  Others can be life changing - do I take the offer of promotion that means I will have to move overseas?  Every decision affects us, every decision alters something, every decision opens doors and every decision closes doors, every decision changes the scenery along our journey, every decision alters the direction of the path.  Whether we are aware of it at the time or not, every decision always has consequences.

When I was a young boy, I had a little bit of pocket money I had saved and it was burning a hole in my pocket.  I went into town with my mother and told her I would go to the toy shop and meet her back at the car.  I made my way to the toy shop, it was called Lorimers and was on the high street, just down from the bank.  I recall that the ground floor was full of office supplies, paper and stationery, you had to walk to the back of the store and go up to the first floor via the narrow wooden stairs that were found on the left side.  This is where the real treasure was located, the toy department.  I have no idea how long I spent wandering around looking at all of the various toys on the shelves and in the display cabinets.  All I can remember is looking at something and thinking to myself that this was the toy that I would buy, then I would see something else that attracted me and this would become the thing I would buy.  And so it went on.  I walked around and around, looking, thinking, trying to decide between all the toys that I liked and wanted.  All the time I was either saying to myself or muttering out loud, for I cannot remember which it was - perhaps both, "What should I buy, what should I get?".  But I could not decide, I could not commit myself to any one thing.  In the end, I walked out of the shop with nothing except the coins that remained in my pocket.

My experience in the toy shop taught me a great lesson of life - that if you are really not sure about something, then it is better not to be hasty and not to commit until you are ready.  It is far better to come back another day with more certainty and to take the correct decision, than to rush into something feeling unsure of what you are doing.  You may think to yourself that choosing a toy is not an important decision, but for a six year old boy, with no responsibilities in life and his entire worldly savings in his pocket, what greater decision can there be?

I have come to realise in my life that making decisions is not a matter for the head.  For me, it is always the heart that decides.  Yes, there are decisions that only the head can make, like choosing the most beneficial saving plan for instance, but the decisions that affect my life and decide the direction of my path, those are always made from my heart.  Although I may not have released the true voice of my heart until I was in my early thirties, it is my believe that I have always been connected to my heart and I must have heard its whispers, ever since I can remember.  Some of my decisions in life have been mad - dropping out of school before finishing to work in a factory, quitting one job only to go back to it a week later and having to face the embarrassment and the ridicule of my colleagues, being so madly in love it almost cost me a very good friendship, moving to Budapest because of a feeling, quitting a successful career to go backpacking in Asia, going to university in New Zealand to study for three years at the age of thirty-seven, going to South Africa on a whim because of the thought of adventure, becoming a scuba diving instructor.  Major life decisions all made because of the call of my heart.

Have I ever regretted any of my decisions?  No.  Never.  It is my belief that if you make decisions from the heart, the decision is made for you and only you.  The decision is made on your terms.  There are no outside influences, there is no one else to blame, only you are responsible for what comes after.  And if you accept the responsibility of each and every decision that you make in life, then you can never regret anything.  I often find myself smiling for no reason as the realisation that I am here, I am in this place, doing this thing.  Everything that came before led me to here, led me to now.  Each decision, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant at the time, shaped my path, altered the course of its direction, until I reached where I am now.  How can you regret walking your own path in the way of your own choosing?  It is just not possible.  It is the key that unlocks the door to happiness.

Even if you take a wrong turn, which will happen - I can guarantee it, it can lead you to some place that you never expected, an unforeseen set of circumstances arise.  These can be better than you hoped for, or they can be worse, much worse.  Things can seem wrong, feel bad and you become unsure.  These are the times that we may question the path.  Our resolve is examined, our survival skills are tested, our desires are questioned.  But inevitably, if you keep going, if you keep on listening to your heart, it will lead you out, you will find solutions, you will rediscover the path and set things right again.  And even though you took a wrong turn, even though the darkness was upon you for a while, you will eventually step out into the sunshine once more, into a place of beauty and wonder that would never have come to you, but for the wrong turn that you made.

That happened to me last year.  I took a decision and ended up in a situation that was really not good for me.  I got myself into a mess, I felt out of sorts, I felt separated from my path and I could no longer find the voice of my heart.  I fought my way out of this situation and found myself in a place of solace and solitude.  I needed to rest and reassess my situation and I had to question what it was that I was doing and what I desired.  While I was resting, a friendly hand reached out to me and made me an offer to go and stay with them for some time, until I was back on my feet.  I was unsure but I took the hand because it was friendly and something inside of me said take it.  What I was to discover by taking that hand was an abundance of joy, love and happiness.  I was welcomed into a family and I was made part of that family.  The goodness of those people remains with me and will be with me forever more.  It was completely unforeseen and would never have happened if I had not taken that wrong turn.  Good always follows bad, just like day always follows the night. If you find yourself in a wrong place, keep the faith and wait for the light to shine upon your path once more.  When this happens, you will see that every wrong turn is actually a right turn.

Every twist and turn in the path leads us somewhere.  Every decision we make has consequences.  Every step we take leads us towards are destiny.  Decisions help to shape that destiny - the good and the bad.  But no matter what happens, we must eventually take those decisions, even if they seem impossible to make at the time, in order to grow and to move on.  By taking no decision in life, we are in affect like a boat adrift on the ocean, being blown where it will.  Our path is not our own.  Our choices are not our own.  We become victims of everything around us.

So, find solace and solitude to be one with your heart, seek out the wonders of nature and allow them to flood into your soul - these are fuel for your heart, go and open your heart and listen to what it is telling you.  And then follow its urging. Decision taken.  Step made.  Adventure and the unknown awaits.