Category Archives: Current Affairs

Journaling and the value of inner independence on International Women’s Day 2013

The creaking mechanism of my groping intellect has finally spewed out the following thoughts on independence – did you hear the clunk?

First a little bit of context: for International Women’s Day tomorrow I’m joining the women of Swindon Wiltshire in celebration at Central Library, and delivering a very short journaling taster workshop at 2pm. By way of reflecting on the links that Swindon women have with Nepal, Aghanistan and Pakistan, and with many other nations around the world, I wrote the following intro to my workshop. There are exercises to go with this and I’ll publish these tomorrow. Or, if you can get along to the library in Swindon come and join in for yourself!

“We have many privileges as western women – full and equal access to democratic processes, education, employment, and the right to live outwardly independent lives.

When we reflect on the lives of women in places like Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan we are shocked by the cultural norms in those countries that disempower women and prevent them from living as freely and independently as we do.

And yet I suspect that in the face of adversity, and barred from the outward experiences that many of us enjoy, those women have a great clarity and independence of thought. Ironically, although traditionally they have fewer opportunities in life than westerners, it is possible that they have greater mental independence than many of us in our ‘information-overload’ society.

Here in the west so much of what we think these days is subject to what other people want us to think.

When we were growing up we only had to contend with our parents, our schools, our peers, newspapers, magazines, the radio and the TV. These days it’s all that PLUS the internet, social media, websites, forums, 24 hour TV, round the clock shopping – the opportunities to be bombarded by information are endless.

Imagine living in a place where information is forbidden. Is prohibition likely to stop us being hungry for information?

If anything, preventing people from being informed only gives them a greater clarity on what it is they wish to be informed about. This comes across over and over on our news channels which conduct interviews with courageous and driven women living under the Taliban regime, at risk of rape and violence in Pakistan, or being held back from employment in Nepal and other countries.

Personally I greatly admire and am moved by the stories I read and listen to about young women who are standing up for their rights and demanding their voice be heard. For them this is the women’s emancipation movement happening a full half century after it happened for us.

We have a duty to bear witness.

And although there is little we can individually do to help (although coming along to events like this makes a huge difference to our awareness) one thing we can do, in fact we must do, is ensure that we don’t squander our own independence of thought on the altar of emancipation.

So we need to be much more careful to take the time to figure out for ourselves what we think.

One way to do this is to develop a practice of reflective journal writing. Putting our thoughts on paper is a great way to dissect them, to understand ourselves and to gain insights into our unique perspective.

It also helps us recognise our own resilient spirit, as well as enabling us to empathise with others, such as our friends in less emancipated countries.

So while it’s IWD and we’re here to experience reflective journal writing, let’s have a go at a few exercises to help us think about womanhood, and create a reflective meditation on solidarity with our counterparts far away.”

Please check out www.the100womenbookproject.com and www.pashtunwomenvp.com

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Rediscovering our natural goodness

Yesterday I was having a fabulous conversation with a journaling friend and colleague. Of the many things we discussed, over our two hour long coffee, one was the way we lose our natural creative and intuitive impulses as we go through life, bowing and succumbing to the conditioning we encounter from our culture and society.

Everything from media advertising, education, industry, what our parents and peers tell us, what our religion tells us, what our own inner critic tells us: gradually, slowly but surely, our individual spark of self-direction and actualisation gets dampened.

My friend explained how she uses her ears not just to hear but also as crap-busters, filtering out the insidious messages that might serve to overturn her positive outlook and oust her from her self-determined path.

She and I agreed whole-heartedly that we each have an inner wisdom, a natural goodness, which we can use as a resource to guide us and keep us mentally and emotionally healthy. In our own chosen fields, we each use our journals to access it.

A more striking example of how humanity has drifted away from benefitting from our natural goodness is in the infant malnutrition statistics from the developing world. This month, Feb 2013, Save the Children has published a report emphasising the importance of breast-feeding a baby in its first hour of life, stating that 95 infant lives could be saved every hour if this was the case.

Disturbingly, as countries in Asia and Africa take on more modern and Western practices, the rate of breast-feeding is falling dramatically. This is due, the report states, on cultural pressures, a lack of maternity nursing, and inappropriate marketing by milk formula manufacturers.

Why is it that humanity should turn its back on its innate natural goodness, in this case a mother’s breast milk, in favour of artificial and unsustainable products and attitudes? It doesn’t make sense that women should feel pressured into doing something other than what comes naturally to them, which is completely sustainable, highly beneficial and above all free.

As the world becomes increasingly short of food, energy and financial reserves we need to rely more and more on our own capabilities and resources, be they physical, economic, mental or emotional. We each have an innate natural goodness. It’s high time we each rediscovered it, and started making the most of it. It can save lives.

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Filed under Current Affairs, Self-Awareness

A writer’s intuition

My favourite news story of the past five days has surely been that of the confirmation through DNA testing that the remains unearthed in a Leicester carpark are indeed those of Richard III.

This story appeals to my fascination with archaeology and tangible clues about our history. I get the shivers imagining that the skull and the bones discovered once carried the almost mythical character of one of our most famous kings.

But the aspect of the story I have most enjoyed has been that of Philippa Langley, secretary of the Scottish branch of the Richard III Society and the woman whose knowledge of the last Plantagenet brought her to the site of King Richard’s final resting place. It was however her intuition, as she stood in the carpark, which compelled her to organise the dig. She describes getting goosebumps and chills on a boiling hot day, and even asserts that the former monarch was somehow calling to her.

As a result, the archaeological dig that was scheduled to last weeks made its discovery in days. And Philippa, who is writing a screenplay about the “real” Richard III, having read a gripping biography of him, finally got to meet her king.

To me this is testament to the power of words, read and written, to heighten our intuitive attributes, and, what’s more, give us the courage to act on them. Three cheers for the king. Three cheers for the intuitive hit that has restored him to us.

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Journaling in the face of tragedy

Six days since Sandy Hook.

Throughout the week my mind has periodically reached across to Connecticut to be with the grieving families – the Mums, Dads, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends. Periodically I have felt my own tears fall at the horror of what has happened – the desolation and the unimaginable grief and pain being suffered.

But I’m daring to imagine it. To put myself in the shoes of those who have been so dreadfully affected. To reach out with my thoughts and to say “I hear you, I feel you, I am so sorry, and I promise to tread on with love and conscious awareness in memory of all those that lost their lives, especially the children , so vibrant, innocent and full of promise.”

And I’m doing this in my journal, in order to bear witness, to acknowledge the precariousness of life, its preciousness. Our journals are where we can extend our thoughts to those who are hurting; where we can name and own our own vulnerability, and pledge our intentions and commitments in the name of the victims.

Don’t talk about the end of the world this Winter Solstice. Remember that for 27 families in Newtown this has already happened. And it’s happening all over the world too. In Syria, in Palestine, in Pakistan. Every day the world ends for someone as they lose their most precious loved one to violence, war, disease or poverty. Three out of four of these killers are man-made, and are the result of people not bearing witness, not reaching out with compassion nor admitting and sharing our vulnerability and our precariousness.

This Winter Solstice let’s use our journals to apply ourselves to the particular reality of the last days, months and years of suffering that we have escaped while others haven’t.  Let’s remind ourselves what it is to be grateful, and how we must treat others the way we would like to be treated ourselves. Let’s individually and collectively reflect on what we each might do. And let our shared appalled reaction spur us into making a new resolution for ourselves – to live well in our place, and to turn the horror into compassionate action for those people on our doorsteps.

The world will not come to an end this Winter Solstice. But let’s hope something does. Let’s hope it’s our tendency to sleep-walk through life without paying attention to what’s really needed, nor to the part we each can play.

RIP Sandy Hook victims.

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Filed under Current Affairs, Journal Writing