Monthly Archives: November 2009

A Moment’s Silence – Meditation for Beginners

It had been suggested by a varying range of wonderful people in my life that I might benefit from the practice of meditation.  Which I thought was an enchanting concept, although really, slightly ridiculous.  Now I know that I am unusually full on, and that I have energy levels that do exhaust a number of people.  I apparently talk faster than most living humans, (or so people tell me, though I have yet to work out why their two ears can’t keep up with my one mouth?  I mean, do the math?). 

However, times come when we have to take a cold hard look at ourselves, and accept that some suggestions are made with loving intentions, and that advice may be worth serious consideration.  So take a look I did….. and I’ll admit  – it wasn’t a pretty picture.  For example, when I get really excited about something, I am literally gasping for air after I try so desperately to explain it and get my ideas out as fast as they are arriving in my brain, and everyone else in the room are just looking utterly dumbfounded, and in fact feel ‘assaulted’ by the tirade of words I have just vomited forth at them.  I also like to do at least 4 things at once, and have never quite worked out why we couldn’t have 8 arms like an octopus, or why we need to sleep for more than a few hours – I mean, come on – I could read one of the 300 books I have waiting for me to devour, or watch 1 of the 248 movies on my fatso list, or paint another painting, or do another paper toward my degree, or come up with another business concept, or squeeze in an extra play, or write another chapter in my novel, or go and learn to play piano, or at the very least whack out a quick poem?    I don’t even do sleep very well – I tend to have wonderfully exciting dreams, then wake up thinking it would make a great movie, then I get all frustrated because by the time I have gotten past the memory of it being so fantastic I have completely forgotten it, so I can’t write it down.  And then I am far too wired to go back to sleep.  So I get up and I pace.  And I write lists.  And nothing stops me.  

At 36, I collapsed with heart problems.  I had a stent put it, and then went straight back to work 3 days later and just carried on like the above.  That was the norm for me.   “I’m OK”, I cried, “they threw a metal rod in there for goodness sake, I’m downright invincible”.  And I believed my own bollocks.  But this time, the bollocks wasn’t washing.  It was time to admit that the exhaustion was starting to catch me.  And I really didn’t want to scare the bejesus out of every person I worked any more.  And truth be known, my dearest friends were getting a bit worn out by me.   It was time to concede that it is not altogether healthy in the long term to go at the pace I’ve been going.  

So meditation it is!!  My first morning arrives, and the cushions are all set up, and there I head to undertake this fabulous art of meditation.  I mean, really – how hard can it be?  You just sit there, right?  And think…or not think…as the objective actually is. 

Well, after 2 minutes, my nuclear powered ‘brain’ was beside itself ….”Well, this is fun isn’t it…You know you have a heap of stuff to do today don’t you?…. And you’ve just been in bed for the last 6 hours…sleeping, like, hello, ain’t that meditation?… what do you call THIS?..Eh?..Hello?  ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME?????”   Oh yeah, ‘brain’ was ON FIRE….and as you can probably guess, my brain talks really, really fast too.  Just like my gob.  So my first meditation session lasted 2 minutes and 6 seconds, exactly. 

Yes, my old pal ‘brain’ won the game hands down that morning.  

But one thing I am not, is a quitter – so at the recommendation of a friend, I grabbed a book called “Hurry Up and Meditate” by David Michie.  The title alone really worked for me, speedy, quick, get on with it – you’re talking my kinda language buddy!

And it was a revelation.  Most importantly, it gave me the facts.  I love facts.  Scientific, inarguable facts.  With irrefutable data.  Numbers and statistics.  None of this, you just “should”, because it will be good for you.   I wanted the real guts about why it would be of benefit to me to sit on my bum for an hour doing absolutely nothing.  How could that possibly be good for you?  And the book delivered.  There were a surprising number of benefits that far outweighed the pain of sitting quietly for more than 2 minutes. 

And best of all, it pointed out that most people find it hard to start with, so no, I wasn’t just a complete failure at this thing.  It even said, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do the full hour to start with.   Just start with 10 minutes.  (Gee, it’s OK not to be a world expert on your very first try?  How do most of us high achievers cope with that idea?)  

Well, even I can be quiet for 10 minutes, so I was pretty sure that I could negotiate with ‘brain’ to do that too.  And indeed I did.  I’m pleased to say, that we are now on week 4, and I have cracked the hour.  Many benefits kicked in for me remarkably quickly – my memory has improved 10 fold.  I am way, way calmer than I have been in years.  I do believe strangers can even understand me when I speak now, as I breathe between sentences, and even pause between words.  The blood pressure has stayed low, and I sleep better than I have in a very long time.  And I actually do just ‘feel good’.  And those ideas still come at me at the speed of light, but they enter, and hover a bit more gently, and let me pick them up and write them down in a much healthier and interesting way. 

So, come on – hurry up!  But don’t get off your butt, get on it.  Hurry up and meditate!  It is surprising who you discover there inside you when you stop to listen.

Oh, here is the one really practical tip that wasn’t in any book –  I knew I couldn’t just get up at the same old time, and then meditate for an hour – that really would be adding stress to my life, as I have never been much of a morning person as it is.  So I have had to have the discipline of getting up an hour earlier.  But let’s face it – I could get up and go for a run, or I can get up and go sit on my butt in the lovely wee spot I have created, and spend time with my new best friend – me.  Beats the tarmac any day.  And yes, some days it is a struggle.  ‘Brain’ still vies for control.  But we are working on that together.  I get the feeling ‘brain’ is starting to rather like this wee breather each morning too….and has also worked out that this means we will NOT be sitting in silence, navel gazing in the evening and missing out on any of the other of life’s great pleasures we so enjoy …. like drinking fine wine with friends and toasting this truly extraordinary life.

Michele Harrod says “Hello world!”

Hello, Hola, Bonjour, Kiaora!!  My name is Michele Harrod, and I live in Auckland, New Zealand.  And whilst many wouldn’t be shouting about getting ‘older’, I’m in fact really excited that I have the great fortune to say that I made it to 40 and beyond.  Believe me, there was a time a few years back that I was pretty sick and it seemed unlikely I’d last the week, let alone make it to 40.  And back then I didn’t care.  But live I did.  And the world seemed on a mission from that point on, to show me why it was worth caring that I did. 

And a transormation began.  Having been a rather boring workaholic for the years before, I was suddenly feeling great – and not expecting to live for long (I had a stent put in for a heart condition, and trust me, when that happens at 36, you really don’t start planning for retirement), so I PARTIED.  And I mean hard.  If there was any unrequited ‘rock star’ still embedded in my DNA, she came out and hit town between the age of 38-42.   And it was brilliant.  I could write a whole book just on the clubs and parties and Class A quality substances I was imbibing and I don’t just mean the French Champagne.   Then I got a bit bored with that.   I have an mild version of ADHD, and unless things constantly keep evolving (including me) I start to feel I am trapped in Dullsville.

So now, at soon to be 44, the evolution continues, and I am finding this age the most fascinating and exciting time of my life. 

So why am I blogging about it?  Well, I was asked recently to blog from some websites, as writing has always been a bit of a passion, and people seem to like reading it – and a few friends told me that I should do more of it and share it with the world – all that sort of stuff.  So, here I am.  Really, the only point is to make you laugh, maybe cry here and there (but in a really good way) and to hopefully help you see the world a bit like I do.  Which in my experience is …. this amazingly, wonderful fabulous ride that we are all on – and I, personally, am having the ride of a lifetime right now.   I see things every day that just amaze me, and I have these very strange thoughts invade my mind.  Sometimes I just can’t get them down fast enough – but they are all fascinating and I want to explore them further.  Or concepts that are just teasing me with a glimmer of what they are about to unfold.   Often these days, it feels as if  I get a glimpse of some wonderful simplicity in all of this madness.  A simplicity that I feel is mocking us –  as if it is a mischevious child that just as I think I can grab it, she whisks away again, and I have a fleeting sense that the hem of her dress just slipped through my fingers.  And she is fun and light and beautiful, and she wants me to understand what she is showing me… but I have to translate her pictures.  I think she has always been there, but I was so trapped in my fabulous ego of youth, that I just wasn’t ‘getting  the picture’. 

So now, I am on a mission to ‘get the picture’.  I have had the great privilege of being able to take a step back – from the ‘corporate world’, the ‘rat-race’ the ‘bullshit’ (whichever nom de plume for ‘the organised chaos we have made our lives’ best works for you) – to get a slightly better perspective.  And truly, the view is just glorious.  So I guess that is why I am here – to share the view from my middle-aged, fresher than ever, eyes.  And while  they certainly have a broader view as I get older, that comic act of having to hold a letter arms length away to read it – it is so true.  That struck about a week prior to my 40th.  Didn’t even have the courtesy to wait until after the party.  If I could give a proverbial ‘finger’ to aging – mine would go to the eyesight.   I know, it really does help first thing in the morning, that it’s all a bit fuzzy, I mean, it does get harder to look at, but still – reading????  Are you nuts??  That’s one of the highlights – I finally have time to?!?  And you make me half blind??   Thank goodness for the designer reading glasses on the market now. 

I have entitled the blog ‘Miraculously Middle-Aged’.  I went through a couple of options – from Musings of a Middle-Aged Miss, to Middle-Aged Mutant Ninja Witch (you know – an aged version of those teenage turtles).  But Miraculously Middle-Aged seems to fit best – for a number of reasons.

1. It is a complete miracle I made it to middle age.

2. Now that I’m here, I’m actually starting to spotting a few miralces all around me… often, and

3.  I have huge confidence that there are a heap more of them to come.

And when they do, I’ll be here to share some of them.  I hope, if you find this page in the ether, some of them can make your day too.

So for now, I’ll start with my first blog I wrote for my friend’s website – I had just returned from a trip to beautiful Samoa (just 2 weeks prior to the terrible tsunamia that cost them so many lives) but my sentiments are still the same, and Samoa remains one of my favourite places on the planet.   And it’s where the evolution really began….

“Well I have had a wonderful few weeks of contrast.  I decided I needed a well earned break for some quality R & R and a good dose of Vitamin D to shake off any residual winter blues, so I decided to head off to Samoa.  I knew things would be back to basics there, so just before heading out, I had the pleasure of spending a wonderful long leisurely Friday afternoon with an good friend at Sails, one of my favourite Auckland restaurants.   They were running a fabulous ‘lunch special’ – of Crayfish, served with a glass of Nevis Bluff Pinot Gris.  The crayfish was just superb, and I really fancied one of those good old fashioned ‘long lunches’ that seemed to die a bit of death earlier this decade.  Bring them back I say – I think some of the finest ideas and the best win/win business deals are done over long Friday lunches.  And they are a good stress buster for the end of the week.  Just make sure you have arranged transport home of course!! 

So I went from lunch at a 5 star restauarant, to home, to pack the bags with little more than 8 pairs of togs, 4 sarongs, a pair of shorts and a couple of t-shirts (oh, go on, I threw one dress in for good measure).  This was no resort holiday for me – picture a fale on the beach, with nothing but a mattress on the floor, a pillow, sheets, a mozzie net, and one light bulb.  A few friends were horror stricken at the idea of such a place, and found it even more astounding that I was staying any place without a refrigerator full of champagne (in my fridge, even the vege bins are chocker with Champagne, all the time – so it really seemed outrageous that I would consider this a ‘holiday’).  But this is, in fact, my idea of paradise and not even the threat of a tropical cyclone would have kept me away.  Of course, I had no clue at that time that a tragedy of a similar sort was headed for this beautiful paradise. 

There is a whole lot to be learned in Samoa.  Like the art of sitting still.  The art of afternoon napping.  The art of moving slowly.  The art of smiling and waving a lot.  I love Samoa.  I adore her people, I worship her beaches, and I secretly believe that someone closely resembling God resides in Samoa.  You find Him there in the tiniest places, laughing loudly and mockingly that it took you so long to get there.  And saying ‘see, this is how simple it is meant to be’.  This was my second visit to Samoa.  After the first trip, I walked back into my house and felt claustrophobic with the amount of garbage I had accumulated over the years.  I got rid of nearly half of what I owned.  All that ‘stuff’ just seriously felt like it was bogging me down. For in Samoa you see the happiest people, with very little ‘stuff’ at all. 

 And I left it a bit long before going back, and sure enough that materialistic western monster had crept back in to my life and started the ‘need’ routine again.

As one of the world’s most impressive Do’ers, I’ve been doing it and earning it, and spending it, like nobody’s business for the last 20 odd years.  And I realized lately, I don’t even use half of the things I buy.  I think I actually just like the idea of things.  When I see nice things, I buy them.  As if to say, “hey, what a great idea, good on you for inventing that!”  I personally didn’t need one.  It’s that and the evil slogan “because you’re worth it”.  Oh yes, I cry!  I work hard, and I’m a good person, damn right I deserve it.  Don’t need it, or even particularly want it, but I sure do DESERVE.  Like I really deserved those 1,000 thread sheets, that I fall into in such a state of exhaustion after working 60-70 hours a week, I doubt I’ve even noticed the difference to any other old sheet in the last 18 months.  I could fall asleep in an empty bathtub some days, I am so exhausted with it all.

So I knew that a return to Samoa was imminent.  The place for me to get pulled back to earth and reminded that it isn’t the ‘stuff’ that makes you happy.  Those great big smiles, and the laughter that floats on the air as the kids play rugby, or the village folk play volleyball at around 5 o’clock each afternoon.  You can hear the “Thwack, thwack, thwack” of the ball being played, and then the ball goes out, and every player on that Volleyball court is simply bursting their seams with laughter.  There is no malice, this is about fun, not competition.  They are playing for the sheer joy of it.  And when that ball bounces off your head and shoots off over the back of the court, it is the greatest cause for hilarity and celebration, so far today.  It is impossible not to smile a lot yourself in Samoa.

And as you do, on long hot holidays, I was pondering life.  Lying on the beach, wondering what on earth I wanted do when I got back home.  What really made me tick?  And I realised one thing was true for me, something I hadn’t actually thought much about before.  And that is, that many of our greatest pleasures in life come from the things that we share.  The things we buy, the moments that count, the love we feel.  I mean, read a great book and don’t you just want to tell the next person how great it was and pass it on to them?  Imagine a great chef putting together the most sublime menu, but never actually cooking it for others?  A wine-maker creating their finest blend, then hiding the barrels away where they are then never tasted by anyone else?  I know for sure that real pleasure comes from lighting others lives with our creativity, as well just our own.

I have worked hard, and I loved my time in Samoa, but I did sit there and think wow, it would be so great to hire this place out and have all my friends here with me – way more fun than telling them about it when I get home.  I wanted to share the moments, not just take pictures and ‘tell’ them about it.  This has inspired me on many levels.  I have been insular and solo for quite a few months.  I have hibernated and gone underground to regroup.  Now it is time to get back out and share with the world.  I find great inspiration in others, and I need that ‘sharing’ to let ideas take shape and grow.  It is time to open my home again, as what use is this couch or these glasses, or these chilled bottles of champagne, without friends sitting here sharing them with me?  It is time to open the doors of my heart to let in some of this spring sunshine.

So my challenge to you is simple – think of everything you have, and imagine that it is all only borrowed.  Tomorrow it could all be gone, (and believe me, this would not be the end of the world.  Just the end of the world as you currently know it).  But while you do have it, go and seek the greatest pleasure from it that you can – and share it with those you love.  Whilst the sun and the Vai Lima beer were just fabulous in Samoa, they were a far cry from my crayfish lunches, and so I know that I am lucky to be back in the land of plenty.  But most importantly, it is wonderful to have been reminded once again, to take the time to appreciate what we have here – and to share it more often”….

Postscript : Needless to say, 2 weeks after I returned and saw the news of the tragedy that had struck Samoa – I went on another mighty rampage to clear out my home of all the things I didn’t need or use, that I could send in one of the the thousands of containers that Kiwis filled over the next 2 months for our island brothers and sisters.   I was so proud of the enormous outpouring of sympathy and support our people gave for Samoa.  And I realised, that this was indeed sharing in one of it’s purest forms.  Completely with love, expecting nothing in return.  And in fact hungering to give more.  Humanity, in it’s finest form, evolves in times of crisis.  I dream that one day we will hold this shape, and  the world will not have to throw natural disasters at us, to elevate us to this condition.  We will do it naturally, and often, simply because it has become our nature.  Now that is a vision I ‘d like to just sit with and hold in my head for now…..

Till later, Mx  

(and below, a shot of the fale on the beach in Samoa)

"Paradise Revisited"