Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Lion's Larynx

I’ve been in the ‘City of Trees’ for almost two months now. Fifty one days to be exact. It’s been almost six months since I last blogged. One hundred and sixty three days to be exact.  Has anything changed since my most recent entry? I cannot do it any justice, so my simple answer is ‘yes’.

Above was my convoluted way of saying ‘I’m back’. Perhaps the two words alone would have sufficed.

Years ago, Columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, Herb Caen, wrote this: ‘Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle; when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.’

I’ve always been fascinated by the African Lion. Picture books and images taught me at a young age that it was the King of the jungle. I never asked any questions, nor did I give it a second thought. It’s fact – it’s black and white. Going off that foundation, I want to look into one of the things that makes it such a beautiful animal. A key element that separates it from the sheep we see grazing in our paddocks.

One of the things I’ve come to realize is that setting doesn’t necessarily matter. Whether you’re in Sydney, San Francisco, Orange County or the African Savannah, your bones are either wet, dry or on fire. Of course, our environment can be the catalyst for inspiration…and after all, Hans Christian Andersen notes that ‘to travel is to live’. However, there are some people in this world that will yawn at a Yosemite sunset and others who will fall to their knees in their living room. The reality is that some individuals simply lack conviction. That’s the word I’ve taken three hundred and twenty five words to finally get to. Conviction. You see a lack of it on the train and in the park. You see it in the mirror. Like I’ve written about before, we get swept up in just living life and we end up barely surviving – we end up with bones that might as well turn to dust.

Speaking of dust, the African Lion’s roar has enough force to raise an enormous cloud of it and can be heard up to five miles away. Now that, in one word, is conviction. When I hear sheep, I don’t hear animals that are about to shake the pen. I don’t hear animals that are ready to leap over their barriers, or jump up to eleven metres like the lion can. I hear dull, monotonous sounds which quite frankly resemble our own lives sometimes. Don’t worry, this isn’t yet another ‘carpe diem’ blog. This is just my heartfelt encouragement – that in all that we do, we draw on conviction.

Winston Churchill, while in power, asserted that he ‘was not the lion, but it fell to (him) to give the lion’s roar’. I love this quote. Maybe in your group you’re not the leader, or in your relationship you’re not outspoken, or in the morning you’d rather stay in bed, or at the checkout you’re not friendly. But what if you are being drawn to that extra mile? What if it has fallen to you to be the best that you can be?

Over the centuries, individuals have yearned for longevity and even immortality. To me, one obvious way to be younger than we are right now is to simply tweak our daily attitude. The Lion’s roar is actually much like the cry of a human baby.  Obviously, a baby’s vocal-cord anatomy is different to that of a lion, but the principle is the same. Lions are able to sustain their sound because of a layer of fat and lung pressure. Babies, because of a gel-like layer, are similarly able to vibrate their vocal cords hard enough to be heard a mile away (or worse still, keep their parents up all night). When we were tiny we had a heightened level of wonder. Do you remember that? We were awed by little things and we made the boring activities fun.

In the end, why don’t we seriously take the time to think about the world we live in – rather than pouring all our energy into simply trying to stay above the surface. There’s a society out there that eagerly awaits the lion’s arrival and return.

Quote Bank: "You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough." - William Blake

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Art of Opening and Closing

G.K. Chesterton asserted that “lying in bed would be an altogether perfect and supreme experience if only one had a coloured pencil long enough to draw on the ceiling.” It’s one of those lazy spring mornings where it takes a while to get out of bed and even longer to make a cup of tea. Yearning to make something of these early hours, I've decided to sit in the courtyard and breathe some life into my blog.

Today I want to pose an important question, yet one that is perhaps a little less confronting than those raised in previous posts. It’s a question that simply calls for self reflection and I’ll try to make it clear through an analogy of mine. Now, before I begin, I want to note that I’m not a fantastic writer and I don’t pretend to be. My analogy will most certainly be flawed because in the words of C.S. Lewis, I am a “layman and an amateur” in this department.

Anyway, it starts and ends with the echo of a voice you vaguely perceive:

“Where are you now?”

You’re in a whitewashed room. The floor is white. The walls are white. The ceiling is white. There are several doors and they too, are white. You gaze upon the numerous doors and you see no difference, nor do you smell or taste anything. The only thing that you possess is a desire to move forward, and that’s exactly what you do. You randomly pick a door and you venture through, only to find yourself in a room that looks identical to the last. You don’t close the door behind you because there is no point. You pick up the pace and begin to open doors in a rhythmic and monotonous fashion.

Suddenly, something changes! Your sense of smell comes alive and you begin to understand that the rooms behind different doors encompass different dynamics. One room has a pungent odour while another is sweet and inviting. Of course, the decision is obvious. You keep moving forward because that’s what your heart tells you to do.

Suddenly, something changes! The room you’re in comes alive with colour and you find yourself standing on a patch of grass with the sound of water trickling from a nearby fountain. You approach the doors that lie before you and you press your cheek against each frame. You sink down onto your stomach and peer under them. Of course, the decision is obvious. You pick the door that invites you with a beautiful smell and promises you a radiant environment. You keep moving forward because that’s what your mind tells you to do.

Before long your existence is filled with a wealth of knowledge and understanding. It’s all too easy. You’ve been to the mountaintops, you’ve splashed in the ocean and you’ve smelt the luscious scent of strawberries. You know exactly which rooms to avoid and you smile and laugh in the years of your innocence. You’ve become an expert at opening doors.

Suddenly, something changes! The room that you’re in gets bigger and is filled with the sights and smells of the past. You turn around to see a myriad of open doors and you instantly understand what is happening. Between your toes you feel the same golden sand that you encountered many rooms ago and you smell the sweetness of lavender in the air. The room is a culmination of every decision you’ve made thus far. Joyous, you select your next door because you can hear the clang of cutlery and can almost taste the gourmet dishes that lie behind it. You keep moving forward because that’s what your gut tells you to do.  

You enter the room to find that there is no cutlery and no food...only rusty chains and the sharp scent of rotting meat. For the first time in your life, you discover what it means to be deceived and understand that you have the capacity to make mistakes. Before you move forward, you hesitate and you pause for a long amount of time. Indecision and doubt has entered your world.

Years pass and the wheels keep on turning ever so slowly. Some doors bring fortune while others bring despair. There are voices inside your head telling you to open doors that you shouldn’t, and now and then you fall. You keep moving forward because you know that you should, but sometimes you stand still and sometimes against your will, your feet compel you to act.

Soon enough, it all feels the same to you. You’re sick of the tiresome routines and the familiarity of opening doors. You smell the sweetness of lavender for a second and then you’re completely overwhelmed by rotting meat and the lingering stench of manure from a previous room. The grass beneath you withers and is covered in snow. Does the world around you have to be the result of every decision you’ve made thus far? You long for an answer.

Something within you tells you to turn around and set out to close some of the don’t completely comprehend it but you hope to make a difference nonetheless. You spend the next few months of your life sifting through your past decisions, yet there are way too many to count and the ones that smell the worst and make you feel the worst are impossible to find.

Weary, you return to your most recent room and in an extraordinary and desperate act, you shut the door behind you. Suddenly, the air smells different. There is no stench. Your feet feel different. They are comfortable and warm.

Dancing in your mind are the fragmented memories of times gone by...but they can’t hurt you.

A voice whispers in the distance:

“Where are you now?” 

Quote Bank: “Even the rivers ways to run, even the rain to reach the sun, even my thirsty streams, even in my dreams...I am restless, I run like the ocean to find your shore. I'm looking for you.” – Jon Foreman

Saturday, 9 June 2012

The Wentworthville Flower Picker

Wentworthville is an interesting suburb. Some people love it, some people hate it and most people don’t even know it exists.

When I was younger I used to ride my bike through its many streets, venturing out to Toongabbie creek which never really looked that pleasant. I used to count the amount of trolleys embedded in the mud and try to locate the fish beneath the brown, sometimes black water. In saying that, there were endless fields of exuberant greenery and forests that harboured my attempts at building a cubby house (where the final result was always a chair stuck at an odd angle in the lowest and strongest fork of a tree).

One day when I was 10 or 11, I noticed an elderly man walking near the station – he was wearing a faded navy blue beanie which nearly covered his eyes, a tattered brown jacket, chino pants and frayed black boat shoes. He was Middle Eastern, visibly thin and carried around a satchel bag which sat comfortably on his left shoulder. At the time I didn’t feel like scootering on the road, so I followed the footpath and before I knew it, I was waiting patiently and awkwardly behind him. I noticed that he was highly focussed on the aesthetics of every house that he walked past. Being a curious kid, I rode my scooter at a speed of less than 2km/hr to see what he was up to. After a while, he paused beside a rose bush, reached over the fence, took a handful of roses and placed them gently in his satchel. From there, house by house, he continued to pick flowers and fill up his bag. Captivated, yet increasingly restless, I swerved off the path and took off.

When I got home, I couldn’t help but think about what I had just witnessed. I had two burning questions dancing around in my mind. Who was he? Why was he picking flowers?

Since then, I’ve seen the same man, dressed in the same attire, doing the same thing on at least 15 recent as yesterday morning.

I’ll never know why he constantly fills his bag with flowers because I’ve realised that it’s better that way. It’s better to be uncertain. A few of my neighbours aren’t happy with him raiding their precious gardens, but I say let him keep going. Maybe he puts them around his own house and replaces them every week? Maybe he hands them to a loved one, or maintains them in memory of a loved one? Maybe he simply has an appreciation for the beautiful and ornate things in life?

In the end, the reason I’m blogging this experience is because it’s a poignant reminder of how our public world can be so different to our private world. People can judge the flower picker and write him off as a thief, or admire him for what he does – but the truth is, they don’t know who he is and what’s going on in his mind. I genuinely believe in the importance of humans not having two sides to their story. My hope is that if people are feeling broken on the inside...that they tell someone instead of wearing a face and putting on a smile.  If emotions are suppressed and locked away, they can’t be dealt with and are much harder to overcome.

Quote Bank: “People function on the basis of their world view more consistently than even they themselves may realise. The problem is not outward things. The problem is having, and then acting upon, the right world view – the world view which gives men and women the truth of what is.” – Francis A. Schaeffer 

Friday, 23 March 2012


“Most of our life is a series of images. They pass us by like towns on the highway. But sometimes a moment stuns us as it happens. And we know that this instant is more than a fleeting image. We know that this moment, every part of it, will live on forever.”

Tonight was the first time I set foot on the Opera House’s hallowed steps and ventured through its welcoming doors.

I was deeply expectant, yet my mind was helplessly filled with a thousand other thoughts that kept trying to break through and steal away my attention. Sometimes you don’t mean to carry your baggage around with you – it just tends to follow you.

Through the clutter and through the mess however, came an intimate acoustic session unrivalled by any I’ve experienced before.

I honestly don’t think music has ever touched and spoken to my soul this much.

When I say I could have listened to Kina Grannis forever, I mean it.

Though, it wasn’t so much her breathtaking talent as a musician that got to me, but rather the way she presented herself on stage. Her humility is something that I won’t forget. Every word that left her lips pierced the silence of a captivated studio and echoed her genuine personality.

I guess this is more of a devotional than a blog about something in particular, but oh well.

It’s hard to describe how inspired I feel right now. I could write and write and write but it wouldn’t suffice.

Quote Bank: "So I kept treading so carelessly,
Thin lines that splintered my ground,
But I closed my eyes to them,
I closed my eyes to them." – Kina

Friday, 2 March 2012

Silent Conversations

"Human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and can't really get rid of it." – C.S. Lewis

I once read about a man who was so angry and dissatisfied with his life that he found himself yelling at a bowl of cereal...and it seems that he’s not alone - there’s a page on Facebook titled ‘Yelling at inanimate objects’, with over 2.25 million likes. From time to time, particularly during summer or the football season, I tend to have conversations with the rain. I ask it to stop. I beg it to stop. Why won’t it stop? In this world, it’s too easy to let ourselves be disappointed.  We yell at the toaster when it burns our toast. We yell at the concrete when it stubs our toes. We yell at the grass when it makes us itch. We live; it seems, in an unfair world.

What I’d like to focus on specifically though, are our silent conversations. This life is full of them. I use the term ‘conversation’ very loosely because the term ‘monologue’ also comes to mind. Paper doesn’t reply when we curse it for giving us a paper cut. Dolls and soft toys never talk back or give us advice (much to my dismay as a little boy). These conversations are fuelled and generated by the mind.

Before any big speech, you’re never surprised when the orator is seen talking to themselves and gathering their thoughts. One thing I observed while playing cricket and watching it on TV is that as a batsman, you talk to yourself and pump yourself up just before the ball is bowled. What drives us to do this? Who are we talking to? Personally, when there’s a lot on my mind, I love talking out loud because it somehow brings me to a faster decision, or a hastened moment of clarity. I suppose the real danger with these monologues or silent conversations is not the fact that we have them (because they’re essentially the workings of our mind), but rather the fact that what is said often leads us astray. It’s not rocket science, how we behave is often a reflection of how we feel.

The one-way conversations we have with inanimate objects don’t bother me. They’re a way of venting. However, the negative conversations we sometimes have with ourselves in private, or write about on tumblr, or wordpress, or blogspot, or facebook...they bother me. We write ourselves off too easily. 

I believe that if we try and try to find flaws in our appearance, or our personality, we will always find them. If we live a life where we prepare to be disappointed, we tend to be disappointed. If we look for pain and anguish, we tend to find pain and anguish. Much in the same way, if we look for goodness, we will find it. If we search for happiness, that love that burns in our hearts, we will find it.

I know people who have silent conversations. They continuously argue with the negative and even suicidal voices within them. Who they are in public is not who they are in private. Why do we let those negative voices overthrow us? The voices that tell us that we're worthless, and that we don’t deserve to smile? I obviously don't have all the answers, and am not going to pretend that I do. I don’t know what people have been through...but I do know that even the best fall down. I find that suffering can shape character, and character, hope. Those disheartening and pessimistic conversations we occasionally (or more frequently for some) have with ourselves - they don't always have to be like that. Our conscience can most definitely sing a different tune.

In the end, my hope is that people never stop searching for that heightened sense of self-worth and rejuvenation. No one should be satisfied with dissatisfaction. No one should be kicked down, only to stay down.

'Ain't nowhere to go but up'. - T.D. Jakes  

Heaps of people around me prove, time and time again, that indomitable happiness can be found in a world that seems to be etched with pain and darkness. It's possible.There is always light...and I’m confident that if we seek it, we will find it. 

P.s. check this out if you have the time! 

Quote Bank: “You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is required. The stars neither require it nor demand it.” – Annie Dillard

Monday, 6 February 2012

What happens next?

A year ago I predicted that this very summer would be the hottest one to date. I guess saying my prediction was a little off would be a huge understatement. Anyway, the mercury finally rose above thirty degrees on Sunday, so dad and I decided to hit the beach (having first jumped onto coastalwatch to carefully examine the surfcams).

Bungan beach was pumping out some beautiful waves off the point – and before long I found myself feeling out of place amongst a pack of at least twenty surfers. For some reason it’s hard to be aggressive and win the fight for a wave when you’re on a bodyboard. Anyway, I managed to catch one of the biggest ones of the day and was cruising across the face of it until a surfer dropped in on me. As we collided and simultaneously plunged into the whitewash, I did my best to protect my face and brace myself for the impact of his fibre-glass surfboard. It felt like the force of the wave kept me under for a long time, and I began to think – what happens next? Countless times before I’ve seen surfers and bodyboarders alike get incredibly angry and explosive towards the person that just ruined their wave. I’ve heard many four-letter words thrown around out there and they’re never ‘love’. Surely enough I felt the bitterness growing in my heart as I resurfaced and looked up at the surfer. I felt like glaring, or at least shaking my head...but I didn’t. I guess I realised that it was something so insignificant, and something that I just needed to accept and forget about.

What’s the point of being bitter over such a small issue? People get annoyed about so many things these days, some that I understand and some that I don’t. Isn’t it weird that one thing that gets a person fired up might not even bother someone else? It’s no secret that a fair few people in post-modern society have a tendency to lean towards individual gain. Often you can predict what’s going to happen next in certain situations – this person is going to be very disappointed, or very upset. Isn’t it a great feeling when you get it completely wrong? When they simply say ‘it’s okay’ or ‘that’s life’? I’ve come to understand that in MOST circumstances, we’re able to stop for a moment and ask ourselves, ‘what happens next?’ We could be angry...or spiteful...but also forgiving and understanding when someone hurts us. Everyone is human, so everyone makes mistakes. Lately I’ve realised how stupid I am for getting annoyed at certain things that mean nothing in the long run. How different would life be if we constantly halted and thought about the consequences of our actions?

I was watching Mr Bean a while ago and at one point in the movie he is led to believe that the rude finger is actually a welcoming gesture. Man I love that scene. After watching it, I told one of my good mates that we should start a revolution and change the middle finger’s meaning to ‘hello’. Of course, that was never going to work. However, what if we didn't take it to heart when someone flipped us off? Every time someone on the football field swears at me or abuses my teammates, I feel like saying that words are only words, and there’s no validity in what you yell out of anger at someone you don’t truly know. What if we had the type of attitude that didn’t retaliate at all? I don’t think it’s a sign of weakness, but rather, of strength. To not care about what other people think or the little mannerisms that have the potential to be frustrating as hell. I’m not talking about a superior attitude – where pride gets the better of us and we constantly yearn for a moral victory. I’m talking about acceptance. We have time to think – and that’s enough to get over the heat of the moment (or avoid saying something we’ll regret).

Wouldn’t it be cool if we carried an attitude of acceptance into every sphere of our lives? Alanis Morissette wrote a song called ‘Ironic’, which details some of the ironies many people face. I’ve grown to accept the fact that bad things can happen to good people. There are so many imperfections in this world, and that’s part of the reason why I love it.

For every bad situation I’ve been in, someone’s been through something worse. It’s the biggest cliché ever, but I’m just grateful to be alive.

At the end of the day, we generally have a say in what happens next. Our words have the power of life and death. I could list a thousand things that annoy me, but I think I could also eradicate over half of them with some simple self-evaluation and logic. That's definitely something worth thinking about. 

Quote Bank: “Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you when you think everything’s okay and everything’s going right. And life has a funny way of helping you out when you think everything’s gone wrong and everything blows up in your face.” – Alanis Morissette 

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Bottleneck

As a little guy I used to always wake up at 6am on a Sunday morning and plant myself in front of the TV until it was time to go to church. Needless to say, I didn’t usually get much out of those early sessions which were filled with music videos and shows like ‘Martin Morning’, ‘Jimmy Neutron’ and ‘Blue Water High’. However, the decision to change the channel one day proved to be of great benefit to my mental health – in other words, a show came on with a plotline that was seared into my memory a whole 10 years ago, and it still remains there today. It was an animated version of a story called ‘The Bottleneck’ written by the one and only Hans Christian Andersen. I loved it so much that I used to write it out daily.

To sum it up, it’s basically a recount of a champagne bottle’s life. Some of you are probably thinking that I’m a bit weird, and you’re not wrong...but the messages within the story are very relevant to the human condition.

Isn’t it funny that we can find so much in common with a character that is well and truly fabricated? Art is so powerful in that sense. It can create a world which seems unbelievably real, and a personality that shares our exact mannerisms and even thoughts. Sometimes the meaning these art forms generate is far more than what was initially intended, but that doesn’t matter. The important thing is that a staged character’s downfall or a staged character’s decision to get up could be enough to push us over the edge and catalyse change in our own lives.

Andersen’s tale concludes in cyclical fashion, and yet the ending bears two key differences: time has passed and the characters have changed.

Life consists of a bunch of cycles, as I’ve briefly mentioned in a previous blog. We get up in the morning and we go to sleep at night. We work throughout the week and we unwind on the weekends.  My question is: how many of us are stuck in a cycle that we don’t want to be in? More importantly, how many of us are stuck in the same cycles that we were in a year or two ago? Time changes, but sometimes we don’t. I think one of the problems is that we base too much on what we cannot control.  We throw our emotions on other people. We throw our emotions on the weather bureau. When it rains outside, it often rains inside.

Ultimately, what is it going to take to break the bonds and open a new door?

We often cry out for change but we never put ourselves in the position for change to be outworked. We want a new cycle, but we sit in our old cycle and wonder why nothing’s happening.

I think it’s about persevering. Making a decision and sticking with it.

Andersen’s story begins and ends with the finding of purpose (the bottle starts as a celebratory item at a wedding and finishes as a container for a bird to drink from). Whether you read this or not...whether you know me or not, I hope you find your purpose. I have so much faith in people. I don’t believe we were born to live a mundane life filled with the same routines and the same ups and downs.

We have plenty of time to right our wrongs...and that’s why I treasure those rare moments in life where a movie or fictional story reminds us of that very fact. 

Quote Bank: "Spend all your time waiting for that second chance, for a break that would make it okay. There's always some reason to feel not good enough, and it's hard at the end of the day. I need some distraction, oh, beautiful release. Memories seep from my veins. Let me be empty, oh, and weightless, and maybe I'll find some peace tonight." - Sarah Mclachlan