The Lotus Flower

In the school that I am working in at the moment, when I step through the iron school gates, and walk along the concrete path towards the school office, my heart soars with delight. Why? The grounds contain the most beautiful white and cherry blossom trees; there are planters full of smiling flowers of every colour reaching towards the sun – and I know that I am going to have an amazing day. Sounds silly doesn’t it? But the beauty of those trees and flowers assaults my senses every single morning. The vivid colours of the flowers that I don’t even recognise, greeting me, welcoming me, waving and swaying in the gentle breeze as if they’re delighted to see me – and inevitably I do have a wonderful day. The rational part of me knows it’s not just to do with the flowers – but they do make a huge difference.

I love flowers. Absolutely love them. Their colours, their shapes, the way they are tightly shut, and as they slowly get to know you better, they open up, revealing their most intimate secrets.

But I rarely have flowers in the house.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it when people buy me flowers. I’m always really grateful. Occasionally, I will spot a bunch that I simply can’t resist – not really a rose girl, I’m more of a carnation, chrysanthemum or my absolute favourite- gerbera girl.

But I don’t often have flowers in the house. Why?

Osho once said,

If you love a flower, don’t pick it up.

Because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love.

So if you love a flower, let it be.

Love is not about possession.

Love is about appreciation.

To me, the flowers in a vase, although beautiful – are now dead. They don’t smile at me as they stretch towards the sky, they don’t wave at me as though they are so delighted to see me…and that just makes me so sad.

So why is today’s post dedicated to the lotus flower? Well, as a Hindu, I grew up with the lotus symbol displayed everywhere, in our house, in the mandirs, in yoga, in the few Bharatnatiyam lessons that I took. The lotus flower was extremely significant and prevalent.

Whilst growing up, I never questioned its significance, I never tried to find out what this flower represented. To me, it was always just a beautiful flower.

What I learnt many years later was that the lotus flower only grows in murky, unclean waters. It grows and flowers in the most unlikeliest of places. The green leaves protect the most incredible petals that open and reveal, what feels like a message from God. There may be all kinds of rubbish going on around you, you may be living in the most horrendous circumstances, you may be surrounded by people or be in a place that makes you feel down, depressed or miserable- but you – like the lotus flower – can blossom and thrive, even if the odds may be stacked against you.

And I’m not making this up, as a teacher, I see this so often. There are children who live in the most dire conditions. Who see things, or have experienced things that their young souls shouldn’t have. And yet – they blossom. It matters not what they have been through, what they have seen, what has been done. They blossom. Amongst the figurative dirt and muck and the stench that could envelop and destroy them, they stand strong. Silently resistant. Unaware of their own potential. Blissfully blossoming in the adversity that they live in.

I hope that if you’re reading this, and if you are feeling that everything around you is crashing down around you, that you’re in a situation that you are finding extremely challenging, or surrounded by others who pull you down – remember that we all have the lotus flower within us. Have faith. Breathe. And know that you will be able to rise above it all – and blossom, like the powerful, mystical lotus.

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The Mirror

There are people in life who pride themselves on being able to hold up a mirror to others, in order to educate the other person about their faults.  The person holding the mirror, is of course, perfect.  They have no faults.  They invent a history about their past that qualifies them to judge, a history that nobody else can question.  And the person stares back at the grotesque reflection in the mirror that has been presented to them – and they are left wondering…how am I so disgusting?  How am I so terrible?  When did this happen to me?  When did I get so bad?

Sadly, a lot of these good people lose their confidence.  The distorted image that they are shown, instead of spurring them on to aspire to be perfect, destroys them.  They believe that they are as bad as has been described – slowly, but surely, becoming a shell of who they once were.

Sometimes though, you have to question – what if the mirror is wrong?  What if the person holding that mirror up to you – what if they are a clown?  What if they are presenting you with a mirror from the infamous ‘Hall of Mirrors’, where the concave and convex surfaces make your face look too long and your body look too short…what if we went around believing that those reflections that we saw were a true likeness of ourselves?

The interesting thing about life though – every dog has its day.  I repeat! Every dog has its day!   You simply need to bide your time.  And I believe in this strongly.  They say, don’t they, ‘those who live in glass houses, should not throw stones’?  The problem with being someone who holds mirrors up to others, to point out their flaws…how long before someone snatches that mirror out of your hand and holds it up in front of you?  Then you will notice that your own reflection is as repulsive as everyone else’s – what do you do then?

Karma.

You either learn from your mistake, repent and grow.  Or you carry on in your own merry way, for the same mistakes to be repeated again and again and again.

There are some good people who hold up mirrors though.  The hairdressers and the make-up artists, who work on you, trying to bring out the best in you – and voila! When they have finished working you, not only do you look a million times better, you feel amazing too.

If you use that analogy to think about the people who praise you and nurture you, who make you improve by developing your confidence, to bring out the best in you…think about how much more effective that is than someone who constantly finds fault with you and tells you that you just aren’t good enough.

Karma.  The lovely thing about karma is that eventually, those nit-pickers, flaw-finders, people with a superiority complex – when the mirror is turned on them, and the horror that they face when they discover that they are not as good as they thought they were…well, its deserved to say the least.

The bottom line is simple – if you want to get the best out of people – you have to see the best in people – and you have to tell them what it is, that they are really, really good at.  And if you can’t do that – then take a good long look at yourself in the mirror – and fix what is wrong with you, before you try to fix the faults of others!

Courage

When I had children, I honestly thought that because I was a teacher, it was going to be easier for me. After all, at any one time, I have at least 30 children to think about or deal with! One or two at home? That’s going to be a doddle surely?

So when my eldest was born, the apple of my eye, the sugar in my tea…imagine my complete sense of surprise and feeling of loss of control, when this tiny wriggly, independent baby, simply didn’t do as she was told. You know, basic things, like SLEEEP! Have an afternoon nap. Sleep through the night. Words cannot describe the frustration that I felt, particularly when I would meet or visit others and their little ones would nap or sleep until the cows came home. I felt very short-changed!

My youngest came along, and although she was marginally better at sleeping during the nights, we knew that something wasn’t quite right with her health because she would have constant coughs and colds that would make her feel really grisly and always wanting to seek comfort. She couldn’t say it, but her clinging onto to me and resting her head on me, she would always seem to be pleading, ‘Please make me feel better!’ A few years later, she had her adenoids and tonsils removed, and she’s been a different child since.

Over the past few years, through bitter experience, I’ve learnt a hilarious fact. At Primary school age, it doesn’t matter what your occupation is as a parent, it doesn’t matter how qualified you are – you do not know best in your child’s eyes. Their teacher knows best. And their friends know best too!

At school, if I tell the children in my class a fact, I can actually see them drink the information in with their wide, curious eyes. When I tell my own children a piece of information, I can see them thinking – I’d better fact check that on Google!

It doesn’t worry me though. I do find it extremely amusing. We had a heatwave recently, and I really was adamant that after lunch, the children should sit with their bottles at their tables and have sips of water throughout the afternoon, in order to stay hydrated. I explained how they should aim to drink approximately 2 litres of water a day and how my own bottle (which holds 1 litre), has a scale at the side so that I can monitor how much I am drinking. I recommended that the next time they purchase a bottle, they should get one with a scale at the side as well. The very next day, lots of children had swapped their regular bottles for ones that they definitely knew held either 2 litres, 1 litre or 500 ml – because we had spoken about how these measurements were easy to monitor. And some have new bottles with scales on the side ordered and on their way…

I really felt sorry for the parents at that point. I wondered how many parents had been moaning at their children at home, ‘Drink more water!’ But then their child’s teacher had said, you must drink more water – and suddenly the children take their fluid intake very seriously.

I have rambled a bit today. I am taking some time to get to the actual point of my blog today.

You see, what I never realised as a teacher- is how fearful becoming a parent makes you. Don’t get me wrong- I always took my responsibilities as a teacher extremely seriously. Taking children on day trips or residential trips is no walk in the park! You are on high alert for as long as you are with them. But – at home time – you pass these precious lives back to their parents.

As a parent, I’m constantly aware that this world is changing beyond recognition. The challenges and pressures that children face now, did not exist when I was young. Social media – needing to present yourself as perfect and aspirational all the time. Sexual exploitation and grooming – always existed but now children can be accessed behind the shell of a smartphone. Another fact is, we are in 2018 and gender inequality is still a huge issue around the globe.

And my mission is to make my children brave, intelligent and strong enough to deal with all the trials and tribulations that life may present.

So I do my best to build their self-esteem and confidence. They’ve started Tae kwando. I want them to be physically strong and brave. I talk to them about people throughout history who faced adversity and overcame their troubles or at least brought awareness to the world.

But yesterday afternoon, when the sun was shining but the girls were too scared to go in the garden because the next door neighbour’s cat was there – I lost my shit.

‘You have to be brave!’ I found myself yelling, ‘Stop being scared of everything! The world is only for the brave!’

I found that I had channeled my mother – and now that I had started, I couldn’t stop! Lots of key women’s history came spouting out of my mouth: Emeline Pankhurst (I used ‘Sister Suffragette’ from Mary Poppins as my point of reference); Grace Darling (my eldest has learnt about her at school); Malala Yousefzai – shot in the head but wasn’t scared to carry on studying. Finally, in order to keep it relevant for my 5 year old – MOANA! I shouted. Moana was so brave!

I specifically wanted to choose examples of females and colour to show them that you have to be brave.

‘Being brave isn’t that you’re not scared,’ I ranted, ‘It’s about doing things even though you’re scared!’ I can’t remember who said that. But it seemed a pretty accurate definition of courage to me.

I don’t know how long I went on for. But it was a looong time!

I don’t for a second think that I’ve cracked this. I know I’m in it for the long haul. I just know how tough and scary this world can be, and you have to be fearless – or learn to be that way, in order for the world to be yours.

God bless the memories of all the brave people in the world, who are an example to us all.

And a special thanks to Disney for creating Moana. A girl of colour, who was strong, sometimes scared, but never gave up.

Acceptance!

I did my bi-annual clear out of my cupboard today.  As with many women around this massive globe of ours, I have two wardrobes full of clothes, and I only wear 10% of what I own.  Along with this, I invariably have nothing to wear! My favourite clothes are actually my pyjamas.  I love my pyjamas and have many, many sets that I rotate; I look forward to Christmas knowing that I will get a new set of warm, cosy, fleece pyjamas from my mum for sure.

This evening, I’ve been ruthless.  I had been telling my eldest off about the state of her cupboards..and then looked at mine and felt guilty.  Rolling my sleeves up, I went for it.  Pulled everything out and set myself some criteria for ‘clothes-banking’.

1) If it hadn’t been worn in the past year, it was going.

2) If the last time I wore it, I felt bad about myself, it was going!

3) If it was beautiful clothing that I was loathed to part with because I had promised myself that I would fit into them again someday – they were going!

So, now I have bags of clothes that will hopefully make other women very happy, and I have masses of space in my cupboards.

Although I’m sounding quite upbeat about the tidiness of my shelves and cupboards, the decisions made to get rid of some of the clothes was not easy.  Each item of clothing carried a memory.  I know exactly where I bought each piece, who I was with, how much they cost, when I first wore them.  Skirts – beautiful fitted skirts, of different lengths, styles and patterns, which when I first wore them, were slightly loose at my waist, now, if I dare to try them on, make me look 7 months pregnant.  Tops, which once had made me look glamorous, now make me look like a bloated, distorted version of my former self.  Jeans and trousers, digging into my waist and hips.  Yes, they fit (through bloody minded belligerence from me), but when I step back and see the muffin top rolls, I know I’m deluding myself – clothes bank it is!

Anyone who does this as regularly as me, knows that you have to accept some truths.  First of all, I know it sounds like a pathetic excuse – but I’ve had two children.  My body is not the same as it was pre-pregnancy.  Ten years ago, if I felt I had put on a few pounds, I would simply eat a bit less – my body would sort itself out.  Now, if I try that old trick – I’m hungry, and grumpy, lacking in energy, my body doesn’t simply ‘sort itself out’, and it’s no good for my young ones who are dependent upon me.  Second of all, (and my mother warned me about this, but I didn’t believe her), ageing isn’t kind to a woman’s body.  I’m not that old, but I definitely notice a difference in my body, and I look back on photos of myself from even 2 or 3 years ago – and marvel at how much I’ve changed – and am saddened that I didn’t appreciate how looked back then.

But it’s easy to fall into that trap of negativity and spiral downwards into that pit of self-loathing, so I have to remind myself of certain things.  I have to look at myself and the function of my body differently.  I remind myself of everything that I have to be grateful about.  My arms – they were never very toned or slim or muscular – but recently, they appear to have a mind of their own, so I cover them up to hide them from the world.  But I remind myself – my arms are good for hugging and cuddling my daughters when they need comfort; they are strong enough to carry them from the car to inside the house when they fall asleep; they are skilled enough to cook, to braid the girls hair and stroke their faces and hair so they can fall asleep.

My stomach protrudes, my abs have amnesia and have lost any muscle memory that they once had.  However, they make me more cuddly, as I am told numerous times by my girls, who want to hug me, or lie on me whilst we snuggle together to watch  a film.  That feeling makes me feel content.

My legs, which would benefit from unlimited squats and muscle toning exercises – they do their job.  They show my daughters that we can walk for miles without tiring.  We can climb slippery, treacherous rocks.  We can run up and down sand dunes, walk up and around hilly coastal paths and look at the awe-inspiring views for miles around.

So yes, I have put on the pounds.  Yes, the size of the new clothes that I purchase, is bigger.  Yes, overall, I am more lumpier, bumpier and…more ‘cuddly’, than I was before.  My vanity finds that hard to contend with.  But then I marvel with the fact that my girls don’t notice any of that.  When they cry if they’re sad, if they’re not feeling well, or if they’re excited about something that we’re going to do – they don’t notice my dress size, my sticky out stomach, my arms or legs or anything else that I’ve complained about.  They simply see me, their Mummy – and how I make them feel (most of the time)… and I try to see myself through their eyes.  And I don’t look so bad.

The best stories ever told…

It’s Good Friday today. The weather has reflected my mood. Rain, cold, even a bout of hailstones. Even though I’m not a Christian, it remains a day that I feel incredibly sad about an event that occurred approximately 2000 years ago. I remember being a little girl being overwhelmed with confusion. Why was a day, where we remember the death of a good man, who was cruelly tortured and humiliated before being nailed to a cross – why was this day called ‘Good’ anything? Of course, years later I discovered it was named ‘Good Friday’ because Jesus was was sacrificed to atone for the sins of humankind… I still can’t make my peace with this though.

As a teacher, I always love teaching the story of Easter to children. Regardless of your religious beliefs, the story of Jesus’ life is absolutely fascinating. Here you have a good man – whether you believe he was the son of God or not, is irrelevant. He was a good man, he brought hope to people, carried out good deeds – and in the end, he was betrayed by his friend, denied by his followers, ordered to be executed whilst a murderer was set free. Tortured and killed in a prolonged, cruel manner. But he had only helped others and forgiven those who hurt him. His story endures. And children who listen to this story – they are always so incredulous- how could this happen?

There are other stories that have stayed with me in the same way.

I remember when I was in secondary school and we studied Shakespeare for the first time. Sadly, it was during my A-levels – use the word ‘sadly’ because I wish I had been exposed to his work earlier. We studied: Anthony and Cleopatra, Much Ado about Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Each play could not have been more different to the other, but all brilliant stories. My favourite out of the three was undoubtedly Anthony and Cleopatra.

Prior to studying this play, all I had ever thought about Cleopatra was that she had murdered her own brother and somehow become Queen of Egypt. This play offered a different perspective. That Cleo wasn’t a scheming, power-hungry harlot who had murdered her brother and then proceeded to sleep with the generals of the Roman Empire. She was a powerful, strong woman who was a force to reckoned with. A clever strategist and a leader forging her own way in a man’s world. ‘Age could not wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.’ The most beautiful way that a woman has ever been described by any author in history.

There’s a reason why Shakespeare’s stories and work remains immortal. His stories, his characters, what they do, what they go through – transcends everything. Time. Race. Gender. Social status. Everything. The issues that he discussed and raised remain relevant to this day.

Macbeth. One of my most favourite stories in the world. Undone by his ambition and desire for power. Initially, goaded into making life-changing decisions by his wife, he then becomes a monster, scarred and changed by his actions and choices forever.

Othello – a strong, smart general who happens to be black. His success makes him a target for others. Betrayal, deceit, insecurity, racism. Still relevant in 2018.

But another story by Shakespeare, that I never studied at school, and read, because I wanted to, watched different versions of it because it is such a fascinating story is…Hamlet.

We’ve all heard the famous sound bite ‘To be or not to be, that is the question.’ In this part of the story, Hamlet is considering his mortality. His father has died, his uncle had claimed the throne and married his mother. His father’s ghost has appeared to Hamlet, and explained that he was murdered by his brother. Hamlet needs to avenge his father’s death. But the consequences of this revelation are all too terrible. I often hear people jesting about Shakespeare’s tragedies. Everyone dies at the end, people laugh! Particularly, Hamlet is the butt of all these jokes. It’s true, at the end of this play, Hamlet does avenge his father’s death. He does murder his uncle. His mother does discover the truth. But at what cost? The girl that loved Hamlet, dies; her father dies, her brother dies; Hamlet’s mother dies; Hamlet’s uncle dies…and Hamlet dies.

Revenge is achieved- but at what cost? Was it worth it? What if everyone had somehow just lived with the uncomfortable truth? At least they would have been alive?

So here ends my blog today. Almost abruptly. With no real answers or conclusions. Just musings.

All I know, there are some stories that are so incredible, that they endure. They stay in people’s minds and hearts forever. I only hope that one day, I am able to write such a story. Until then, I’ll keep thinking, dreaming and reading as much as I can…

Integrity

The best way to judge someone’s character? See how they treat people, who they believe, are not as important as them; who they have no vested interest in trying to please or impress. The very fact that they believe that other people are not that important- what does that tell you about them?

It’s true isn’t it?

How many times have you smiled at someone, and they haven’t responded in return?

How many times have you been ignored in favour of someone who perhaps because of their status, was more deserving of attention?

It’s interesting, watching those people in their everyday interactions. They are oblivious to how they behave to the ‘lesser ones’. They have absolutely no idea how they appear to people who they deem to be not important.

My brother said something interesting to me once; the high profile company that he works for, has a culture where all employees have to take feedback from both senior AND junior colleagues.

This actually stuck with me. What a fantastic, forward thinking concept. People who you are naturally trying to impress, will see your positives because that’s what you will do your best to present…but those people who traditionally, would not decide if you’re worthy for promotion or not…if they give feedback to you, AND IT MATTERED, what could you learn?

So many people spend so long trying to impress – and let’s call a spade a spade – kissing the backsides of their superiors- they ignore, disrespect or simply disregard others.

What a shock it would be, if you were told by a junior, ‘You’re actually quite rude. You walk past me as if I don’t exist and reluctantly talk to me when you need something!’ More than likely, if you’re that type of person, you wouldn’t give two merry hoots anyway!

As you’re reading this, you’re making a mental list aren’t you? You’re listing in your head, people you know who would push you under a bus for their own gain, faster than you could say, ‘you’re an arse licking fraud!’

I’ll let you into a little secret…sadly, there are more of those people around than you could possibly imagine. Millions of them.

So that’s why, when people are showed respect by someone who traditionally ‘doesn’t need to’ – people are shocked! Those are the people of legends. People, when you meet them and spend time with them, you never forget.

So, who are you then? The fraud, without integrity, who is only nice for your own gain….or the rare, genuine, kind person that is like that for absolutely no damn reason at all?

Ask someone who you don’t speak to very much because they aren’t as important as you. They’ll tell you the truth that you need to hear.

And remember that old cliche: be nice to the people on your way up, because you’ll meet them on your way down.

Choices…

As I fell asleep last night, I was filled the most immense feeling of gratitude.  Now, this may seem like absolutely nothing to some, but to me, what happened was a huge deal.  Let me explain…

My daughters are young.  They are growing up extremely quickly – I remember the times when I was crying to my mum about the lack of sleep I was having, and how I was worried when they would cry and I couldn’t understand what they needed – and she would say, this part won’t last long, they won’t be little like this forever, they will grow up quickly.  And I didn’t believe her.  And I was angry because her wise words didn’t help me at the time.  But looking back, when they were crying in the night, or when my eldest refused to sleep, or my youngest felt so poorly but couldn’t tell me what was wrong, she just felt miserable and needed comfort from me…I’ve blinked – I have literally blinked, and we’ve time travelled, where the girls are articulate, self-sufficient and incredibly grown up, to the point now, if I’m not feeling well, they will look after me.

My eldest is now 7, at the moment she is still a part of the ‘infants’, in September, she steps into the world of the ‘juniors’.  The infants at her school always present their annual ‘Mother’s Day’ assembly, which I’ve never been able to go to before.  My youngest started school in the September just gone and was really excited about all the Mother’s Day rehearsals that were taking place.  I overheard them talking…my youngest was enthusiastically explaining to her sister that she couldn’t wait for Friday because Mummy would be coming to see the songs and poems that they had prepared.  And then I heard the expression in my eldest daughter’s voice…it was so difficult to explain.  She sounded so much older, like someone who has been through a lot of pain, can see that someone else is heading in the same direction, and decides to give them advice in order to help them through what they are about to experience.  She softened her voice, like she has heard grown-ups do, and spoke very slowly and carefully to her sister, explaining that Mummy wouldn’t be able to come because Mummy had to work.  There was a stunned silence as my youngest processed this information.  Then came the denial from my youngest.  ‘No, no! Mummy is going to come, it’s her assembly’  I couldn’t see her face, but I could tell from my eldest daughter’s voice, there was a sad, knowing smile on her face – ‘No, she can’t come, she’s working..’

Before matters got out of hand, I decided to interject and surprise them both by explaining that in actual fact, I was coming this year.  With howls of delight they both leapt on top of me, my youngest was relieved, my eldest – her eyes shining with astonishment and disbelief.  Once the news had sunk in, and the drama had subsided, we  sat around the dinner table enjoying a delicious home-cooked meal prepared by my husband.  Suddenly, my eldest turned to me said, in a very matter of fact way, ‘I never told you this Mummy, but last year when you didn’t come to the assembly, at the end of assembly I cried.  My teacher had to give me a hug.’

I turned and looked at my husband, who cautiously looked back at me, searching my face, wondering what my reaction would be.  There was a pain in my heart.  It felt like a knot in the centre of my chest.  All this time, to spare my feelings, this little girl didn’t let on how disappointed she was that I couldn’t come to her assembly because she didn’t want me to feel sad.  She was trying to prepare her sister and make her understand that Mummy wouldn’t be able to go to the assembly in order to shield her from the pain and disappointment that she would inevitably feel.

However, I also reminded myself, that as a family, we had taken steps in our life, to ensure that we had choices.  Never again, by the grace of God, would I miss a Mother’s Day assembly, or an achievement assembly, or a Sports Day, or a class assembly.

Those of you, who read my blogs frequently, or know me of old, will know that one of my most favourite mottos in life, is a couple of lines from a poem by Dylan Thomas.

‘Do not go gentle into that good night, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’

I read these words when I was 17 years old, and they had such a profound effect on me.  Thomas wrote this to his father when his father was dying.  He didn’t want his father to pass away in a gentle, weak way that was so unlike the way that he had lived his life.  He wanted him to fight against death, die the way that he had lived – in a wild, defiant way….

Years later, those words, that sentiment remains with me.

I will not go gentle into that good night.  I will not accept being in a situation where I cannot be there for my children when they need me.  I will not let my daughters weep secret tears because I could not be there for them.  I will rage against that.  I will make choices where I can live my life according to what is acceptable to me.

And as my blood boils, and as I rage…I am also extremely grateful to God.  I thank God for giving me choices.  For being able to grab opportunities and be there when it matters before it’s too late.  I am grateful that God gave the chance to not just accept fate, and not let me simply shrug and think to myself ‘what else could I do?’  I am simply grateful to God, for everything that I have.

Amen.

PS: I went to the assembly.  I saw both of them together.  Singing their songs. Reciting their poems.  My youngest had her eyes fixed on me for the entirety of the assembly.  My eldest was the consummate professional, performing, and smiling with delight throughout it all.  I managed to give them both a hug before I left for work – and walked on air for the rest of the day.