The Viewing

It was the day of my son Preston’s funeral and I wanted to go one last time to view his body. We visit the living; we view the dead.

I pull up the to the discrete side door of the funeral home and stamp out my cigarette on the ground. Early sunrise is trying to reach the windows in the small and unnaturally cold chapel. Rain is forecast, but the sun is showing up the best it can.

There are the pews and the aisle down the middle, and as I enter I am reminded of being a bride and beginning the march. I can see his profile above the edge of the casket. There is no euphemism for casket but many words. This one needed to be long enough for my fully-grown son at twenty-one.

I had told the funeral director, ‘It’s okay, he doesn’t need shoes. I brought new socks.’

I stop a foot away and don’t rush in. I want to take it in. I feel my knees soften and then steel. I inch to the edge and hold onto the wooden, satin breach lightly with soft fingers. ‘It’s okay to touch it,’ I tell myself.

‘You can touch him,’ a voice startles me. The mortician. The funeral director. The undertaker. The lexicon of death. Today he is Bruce.

‘Here, let me show you’, and he places my hand in the hollow curve of Preston’s cupped hands resting on his navel where I’d cut the cord. There is no rise and fall. He feels wooden and lifeless. A lifelikeness.

My blearing gaze tracks to Preston’s face. Do I want a photo to remember? No, I don’t. No one wants to remember this, yet no one can forget. I have a snapshot of him sleeping and it is the same.

I inspect his face, pore by pore, starting at the crown and the fine, close-cropped hair. There is the line where the hair meets the forehead, the familiar shape it makes, and a brow too furrowed for twenty-one. Eyebrows frame smooth lids and unmoving, long, dark eyelashes fringe them. There are no circles under his eyes lightly pancaked with mortician powder. It’s the eyes that are missing. There are no eyes, just the long sleep.

Then, here it is! The half-moon crescent on the outside corner of the left eye, barely an inch long, faded, but still evidence of a two-year old running away from the babysitter in Italy and falling on the brick. This! This I recognise without a doubt. This is my baby, my boy, my firstborn. I trace it with my fingertip and brush away caking powder that falls into his ears that I must now inspect.

There’s a hole in the left lobe where an earring marks adolescence and then I am reminded he will not hear me. There are no words anyway.

I move to the smooth cheeks and his grandfather’s nose. Nostrils – no breath, no flaring of. I inspect the small expanse between tip of his nose and the top of his lip. No one knows the name for it and I study it anyway; there are whiskers there.

I believe I see the crest of a past smile on drained lips lined in placid rest. They will not, cannot open, or form any words; and like the shuttered lids that reveal no eyes, these lips reveal no teeth. He is now deaf, blind, and dumb.

‘Brush your teeth, they have to last you a lifetime.’ I was wrong.

There’s the chin, more faint whiskers, his jaw and neck end at a top button. I undo the button. Preston would never wear it like that. Bruce clears his throat as a reminder not to go further. The shirt covers the coroner’s work.

Then I slide my arm down along his right leg, because the casket is not fully open, and feel the shape of each of his socked feet. I give them a little squeeze. Could I but see those toes again, but the only flesh I have is the face and the hands. I track back to hands and see they are the hands of a man recently working. I slip my fingers in their familiar grasp again.

Leave a comment

Filed under grief

A for Abortion

Civil rights generally progress over time, but in Texas it’s harder to access an abortion in 2021 than it was forty years ago. Could it happen here?

                                                             The Alamo (

I looked in the Yellow Pages under A for Abortion. You didn’t google. It was the early 1980s and I was living in San Antonio, Texas. My fingers didn’t do the walking long as I stopped on the first entry, Alamo Pregnancy Services. I nervously dialled the number even though I was at liberty to book an appointment.

Texas, a morally and religiously conservative, gun-toting, Republican state, has always been a stronghold for pro-lifers. The control of women’s reproduction in the US dates back to the mid-nineteenth century when white men wrested back the lucrative abortion trade from women by criminalising it[1]. They’ve been claiming it back ever since. Texas wasn’t even a state then and was still fighting for its independence from Mexico. What I didn’t know was that in the decade between 1982 and 1992, the number of abortion clinics in Texas had declined by 60%, from 128 to 79.[2] Today there are nineteen.

Mexico had become a familiar playground during the years I was with my boyfriend Richard, especially after relocating to San Antonio. When a friend suggested a trip there, I was happy to accompany him and act as an amateur tour guide. He wasn’t an early riser, which gave me the mornings to myself to linger over breakfast while reading my book and practicing my Spanish with the locals and hotel staff.

Raúl served my coffee and breakfast every morning, giving us time to establish an interest in and ease with one another. I sensed he was working an angle to benefit from our friendship financially, but I didn’t judge or begrudge it. I’d spent enough time in Mexico to know that the American, with her dollar and connections, represented opportunity. Raúl shared his aspirations of one day leaving Puerto Escondido for a better life North.

Puerto Escondido (Eleazar R)

We met one evening at the beach near the spot where the lounges and       umbrellas were stacked and padlocked each night. We drank and talked, then   touched and leaned back on the sand looking up at the sky and listening to the   water pushing and pulling on the water’s edge. I could just make out the   thumping of a distant nightclub. We made love.

 Three weeks after I returned home, I thought I’d missed a period. I was never   fastidious about keeping track, but my internal period-tracker signalled that I   might be late. Raúl.  Like google, a trip to the local Piggly Wiggly supermarket for a home pregnancy test wasn’t an option in the 80s. That’s when I rang the Alamo clinic believing I’d be given a pregnancy test and procedure if needed. Or, more optimistically, I’d be given a negative result and a few brochures on STIs and contraception.

I completed a double-sided form and was called into an inner office with a middle-aged woman named Rhonda. She had frosted tips in her big, 1980s Texas hair. Her nails were painted Coral Crush and she was wearing the same shade of lipstick. She sat behind her desk and gave her wedding ring a twist before clasping her hands together on top of my intake form as if to say, ‘I’m not really interested in what’s written here. I’m going to focus on you.’

I began to twig that the Alamo Pregnancy Clinic was not an abortion clinic. Rhonda wasn’t there to give me a pregnancy test and book a procedure. Then I take in the gold crucifix around her neck. Pro-life was hanging in the air as heavy as the jasmine of her Tabu perfume.

I started to panic. If I couldn’t get an abortion in Texas, could I go to Mexico? That’s what Rosie Jimenez did in 1977. A single mum, already living in poverty, Rosie couldn’t afford a legal abortion after the passing of the Hyde Amendment in 1976 that withdrew federal funding for abortions.[3] Roe v Wade (1973) assured the right to abortion but not the Medicaid funding necessary to access it affordably. Tragically, the procedure Rosie obtained in Mexico didn’t work leaving her to seek out a midwife in Texas who charged half the price of a legal abortion. She died as a result – a dirty, red rubber hose.

                         Rosie Jiminez (credit JEN REEL)

Rhonda said, ‘Your life is like a tapestry that can only be viewed from behind. There are so many seemingly random threads and knots. There’s colour and texture but no clear picture. But if you could view it from the front, you would see the beautiful life you and your Creator are weaving.’

Holy shit. God wants me to have the baby?

She continues, ‘Think about it sweetheart. I’ll call you in a few days.’

I hate being called sweetheart, especially by those that I don’t know, and then as if on cue, she handed over the brochure. It wasn’t The Watchtower, but I thought that they must use the same publisher. There’s a twelve-week-old fetus curled on the cover.

I went home and cried so hard my period came. Thank you Lord.

Forty-four years since Rosie Jimenez’s death and it’s more difficult than ever to obtain an abortion in Texas – and many other states. How can this be? And how many more women will die under the new Texas Abortion Bill?

It feels like travelling back in time. Texas has effectively made access to abortion illegal, while at the same time enlisting citizens to enforce the ban. You can expect to see self-appointed sheriffs, marshals, bounty hunters and vigilantes sniffing around the Lone Star State soon.

It’s incomprehensible to me now, at 60 years of age and living in Australia, that women are still being denied this fundamental right. How did we get back to this place?

But even here in Australia, legal abortion doesn’t mean access. Women in rural Australia are still denied abortions due to cost, including distance and time, and the unwillingness of some doctors and health services to provide the service, even medical abortions using oral medications. In a capital city, women have more choice of providers and generally they don’t need to travel far. And they usually don’t have to face the stigma that women in rural areas have to endure in a small community. Overseas trained doctors, a high percentage who are conscientious objectors to abortion, are also overrepresented in rural areas. [4]

It’s clear that we cannot become complacent. The kind of violent, vigilante civil law on offer in Texas reverberates around many western democracies today. When one constitutional right is eroded, the way is open for others to follow. Remember this. Remember the Alamo. Remember Rosie.

[1] The Insidious Origins of the “Moral” Argument Against Abortion Rights © 2021, Neelam Patel.

[2] Arndorfer, Elizabeth; Michael, Jodi; Moskowitz, Laura; Grant, Juli A.; Siebel, Liza (December 1998). A State-By-State Review of Abortion and Reproductive Rights. DIANE Publishing. ISBN 9780788174810.


[4] Keogh, L.A., Croy, S., Newton, D., Hendron, M., Hill, S. 2017. Rural GPs and Unintended Pregnancy in the Grampians Pyrenees and Wimmera Regions.


Filed under Abortion

On a woman standing at the water’s edge

She has come to the edge. She has come to the end of the dock and stands at its corner. She stands not on one side or the other, but at the angle where to two sides meet over the shadowy water as if she has a choice to make and stands between the two.

The slightest pink of the evening sky shows through the silhouetted branches of a gum tree at the far edge of the water, the lower trees too dense for twilight to penetrate. They instead form a dark and undulating horizon that is fading, yet still reflect more lightly and less densely mirrored on the surface of the small lake. Placid ducks make their way in small groups across the still water leaving calm wakes. They do not notice her still figure, or if they do, they are unmoved.

She is facing the water and her back is to me. Her long brown hair is piled loosely on her head and held by a clip on the right side. Stray wisps have escaped and form a fuzzy halo around her head, the sun just still high enough to illuminate it. She is gazing at a spot not far in front of her – not at the ducks, the ripples and wakes on the water’s surface, or the gums against the pinkening sky.

Her arms are heavy and weight her shoulders down. Capped sleeves show the strength of those arms: what they can carry, what they can move, and how they might wrap around a baby, a lover, a friend who is grieving or a parent who is dying. Today they hang loosely and her hands are empty. They frame the feminine curve of her waist and full hips where the tie of her dress sits in an asymmetric bow. Her skirt hangs like a gauze curtain with soft, full pleats. The lining of her dress ends above her knees and I can see through the white linen to the flesh of her legs.

Her legs. Bare flesh like the arms. Straight and planted at the edge of the weathered wooden platform and anchored in sturdy red shoes with chunky, high heels on narrow ankles. She is balanced but still close enough to the edge that I worry should her concentration fail, or her will. It’s as if she needed to get as close to the thing as possible to examine it fully. As if she wanted to come to the very point of it and see it intimately, and to see her reflection in it.

I wonder. What does she see in the dying light at the water’s edge at the end of the day?


Photo: Finding Perspective, Arianne McNaught: ‘This image is about looking forward into a future, standing on the edge of the unknown and wanting something more out of life. It is about contemplating dreams and earnest hidden desires.’

Leave a comment

Filed under change

When you say thin, I hear fat

BMIGod I’m tired of fat shaming. It’s ubiquitous and so disheartening. Am I fat? Well, yeah, a bit. I’m not obese on the BMI, but I am overweight. But I feel fat, and it’s the feeling that matters. Even when I was not overweight, I felt and perceived myself as not thin enough. Afterall, you can’t be too rich or too thin.

Besides, fat’s such an ugly word. I think some have tried to reclaim it as a simple adjective such as ‘she’s tall’ or ‘she has brown eyes’, but it doesn’t fall like that on the ear or consciousness. It cuts. Deep. It’s so laden with judgment. It pierces.  It’s so loaded that when someone says thin, I hear fat. It’s just hanging around in the ether like Covid19.

Comments about weight, our own and others, serve no more than to regulate us to uphold a societal and cultural norm that being thin is to be superior. This in turn hurts the fat person and disconnects the person making the comments from others. BTWs: no fat person needs to be reminded that they are not thin.

fattist definition: 1. treating someone unfairly because they are fat


Very few of us escape the societal norm of wanting to be thin. The fact that Spanx even exist, and that people wear them, is a good indicator that we are willing to suffer in the quest.  Of course this is nothing new. Remember the Playtex living girdle? The corset?

Thin porn has been around for decades. Hollywood, media and magazines bear responsibility for most of it. The ideal is thin. Thin is admired, respected and accepted. (Except when it comes to boobs. Somehow we’re supposed to be thin AND have big boobs. It’s a high bar!)

So…being fat is to be not admired, but pitied. Being fat is to be not respected, but judged. Being fat is not to be accepted, but not good enough. Here’s some of the language:


  • It’s just what they put in their mouth.
  • It’s just a lack of willpower.
  • It’s just laziness.

Here is some of what is being said but not to your face:

  • Sucks to be you.
  • You are not like me (the ideal number on the BMI chart or dress tag). You should be like me.
  • You are not in the club. You do not belong here. I need/want you to be different.
  • You should be one of the disciplined, hard working, self-motivated, self-controlled, self-restrained, admired and respected people – like me!

They say, and we believe, only when you are thin will you be happy. They believe you cannot be happy as a fat person. And the main reason you will not be happy as a fat person is because they (including your friends and family), society, the media and strangers on the street, are going to constantly remind you of your deficit, your flaw, your failing.

I want you to stop doing it to others and I want you to stop doing it to yourself. I want to stop it too.

I understand that very few people will say these things directly to the face of a fat person. Though apparently mothers are among the worst offenders because after all, they’re saying it for your own good. No, what happens is the fattist comments are clothed in pro-thin vernacular.

fat shame

When thinness is constantly praised, we know it means that fat is the enemy. Thin is the benchmark. Anything less than thin is just not trying. It’s just putting food in your mouth.

Am I just being overly sensitive? Am I the victim/prisoner of my interpretation of the ‘praising thin’ comments? If I push back, the people making the comments will say that I am too sensitive, or that they’re not talking about me. But even if they aren’t talking about me (and they probably are, I’m not a size 8 afterall) they could be talking about my friends, my family members, my children and the little fat girl who lives inside of me.

Then I began to wonder if the thin people are equally held captive by this zeitgeist of thinness? I’ve always thought ‘Ah, to be thin!’ I feel like it would be freedom. Freedom from judgment, embarrassment and shame! Freedom from restriction, discomfort and lack of confidence. But maybe thin people are prisoners too. Maybe they aren’t free but constantly thinking: Am I thin enough? Should I eat this? I wish I hadn’t eaten that. I’ll go for a run after. I won’t eat tomorrow. I’ll just have the fish (grilled) or the salad (no dressing) while inside screaming, I want the fucking french fries!

Maybe thin people look in the mirror and think, ‘not thin enough’ too. Maybe making pro-thin comments (in lieu of anti-fat ones) is a thin person seeking affirmation. Constantly seeking affirmation would kind of suck too.

Another thing about thinness is that’s it’s comparative: I’m thinner than her. She’s fatter than me. I win! She loses! I’m more. She’s less. I’m more disciplined. I don’t put food in my mouth. Sucks to be you.

food in mouth

Why is she fat?  She puts food in her mouth.

Why is she thin?  She does not put food in her mouth.

So fucking simple! Fucking hard to live in a culture where being overweight is directly analogous to being a lazy cunt.

Like a good racist who all have friends who are Black, same with the fattists. Of course they have fat friends and sadly (for them), they have fat people in their families. We tolerate the fat friends, we’re good and generous people after all (and they always share their french fries with us so there’s that). But the fat sister, niece or granddaughter kind of brings us all down. We’re too well bred and educated to call it out directly but the thinking is: Such a shame, she’d be much prettier if she lost a bit of weight. I wonder how we could support her to be thin? She should lose weight. She’d feel better if she were thinner. People might think I’m a bad mother.

In fact, it’s possible that her being overweight is making you uncomfortable because you believe it reflects on you. And, by the way, she can probably feel your judgment in her skin.

wheelchairSo instead of speaking the truth of our damaged selves and society, we flip it. We are pro-thin, not anti-fat. We are good and kind people. We have compassion and empathy. We know this because we don’t expect people of colour to be white, we don’t expect people in wheelchairs to get up and walk, and we don’t expect short people to suddenly become tall.

We say things like:

  • You look so good*! Have you lost weight?
  • He looks good*.
  • She looks good*.
  • Well* done.
  • Good* on you.
  • Bet you feel better*.
  • How did you do it? (Even though they already know how you did it, you stopped putting fucking food in your mouth. It’s so easy.)

*Another word for ‘good’ in English is ‘thin’ BTWs.

So I know you feel enlightened because you’re not calling fat out to its face, but worshipping at the altar of thin and projecting that on to everyone around you is not kind. It’s keeping a good number of people in our community and family down and destroying your connection with them. So, please be kind to each other and keep your thin comments to yourself.

PS I love Lizzo.

Lizzo Performs At O2 Academy Brixton, London




1 Comment

Filed under Body image

on walking

dsc_1346Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road. 

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

— Walt Whitman

It’s a bit over an hour when I reach the creek. It’s running fast from recent rain. I am alone and the empty space fills my soul. I have carried dry wood and a billy can to boil water for coffee. I hear the water rushing past and there is bird song.

The wildlife on my walk were quite shy. I barely caught a glimpse of bounding kangaroo. There are no other people and this is what I like the most. I am a novice here but that is okay, I find my way.

The sun is still the morning one. It warms my back and casts a shadow on my page when I sit at the water’s edge to write. The track continues in the dry season, but today it ends at the overfull creek and I am not unhappy to have to stop here.


dsc_1318-1The pack feels good on my back and my boots familiar. I hold two walking poles in my hands. My feet aren’t as sure as they once were. It’s been too long off the track.dsc_1339

I take a stick to poke the fire that I have set at the creek’s edge. I imagine the smoke cleansing me and recall the Aboriginal. This is peace. This is contentment. This is nothing, and it is everything. This is something I can cultivate and invest in.

The stones around me, next to the creek’s edge, are innumerable — each a different shape, size, texture and colour. I think to take one away to hold on to my experience. How were I to choose one when on this day I fancy this one, and on another day I am drawn to the next? Better I admire them all today and do not collect one. It is the experience, not the obtaining of the thing.

dsc_1348I have made a circle of rocks for my small fire. That satisfies me more than anything I might do during a workaday week. It is a picture. I choose a seat in the sun on the ground. The temperature is mild, and the wind is still, so I can barely feel the air on my skin. There is no breeze and I do not wish one. Everything is as it should be.

There is something in me that makes me want to jump into the flowing creek. But I know that I will not. Yet I am happy that the want is in me. I smile at my primordial.dsc_1340-2

 Then there is a breeze and I realise the tips of my hair are wet with sweat on the back of my neck. I have used my body and it is glad, and I am grateful for it.

 dsc_1351The colours of the forest are muted, but the wet and the warmth of spring brings the first sprinkling of pale yellow wattle and colourful correa. The green moss on the long fallen logs is vibrant and soft. The stark white of the noisy cockatoo flashes overhead.

What do I want? And why do I keep asking this question? Could I be happier than in this very moment?

My fire is coals now and the last of the coffee is in my cup. This is the greatest peace that I know.


I will pack my things and sleep a short while on the ground, on the earth, by the water and the small fire. Just for a while, just for my soul.

Lerderderg State Park


Filed under Uncategorized

Transitions and Self-Compassion



Filed under My thoughts on...

Healing conflict in the workplace. Begin where you are.

Conflict is less likely to arise in a workplace when people are feeling safe, satisfied and connected. When one, or a combination of these, is threatened we can feel stressed and our best selves don’t show up.

If you’re experiencing conflict in your workplace, can you identify which of these three basic human needs isn’t being met?


In our workplaces our feeling of safety could be threatened because our job is stretching our capacity in terms of difficulty and complexity. Or it could be a fear that we won’t have the available energy to meet our home/family/community commitments.

The money we earn through our jobs is one of the significant and tangible ways we meet our need for protection and security. It’s how many of our physical needs are met and how we provide for our families. So when we experience stress or a threat to performing in our job, we can feel fearful and vulnerable.

Here’s how Ellen expressed it:

‘I’m feeling really stressed at work and I don’t know if I can sustain it. How am I going to keep doing this for the next 15, 20 or 25years? But everything I read says we need to have over $700k in superannuation. I have to keep working…’

The stress could be a mismatch between Ellen’s skills and the job role, an imbalance between her need to be at work and her need to be at home or in her community, or working in an environment that doesn’t feel like a good fit for her. And working in an environment that doesn’t feel like a good fit includes the people that she works with.

If you get a situation where the three of these stressors come together, i.e. skills mismatch, work/life balance and less than compatible team members; conflict can arise as individuals grapple with a situation in which they feel threatened or unsafe and where they have very little choice or control.


When you experience satisfaction at work you have feelings of accomplishment, gratitude and having enough. Your hard work and striving results in successfully achieving your aims and objectives. It’s likely that your work is stimulating and you’re motivated to do well, complete tasks and take initiative.

But what happens when things don’t go your way and you can’t get any traction? Conflict can arise when you feel someone else might be thwarting your efforts and standing in your way of progressing. Or maybe you’re not being stretched and feeling bored and disengaged. Alan shared the following:

‘I really wanted this job and worked hard to get here. But I always end up being the lackey. I do all the work behind the scenes but on the day my supervisor takes the limelight and credit. What do I have to do to get noticed around here?’


As human beings our sense of belonging is so important because throughout evolution our survival relied on being part of a group. Given the number of hours many people spend at work, it’s no surprise that being appreciated and recognized in a supportive environment is something we long for.

If we feel excluded or not part of the ‘in crowd’ it’s easy to feel resentment and jealousy. This is fertile ground for conflict as our connections with others are threatened. Jane said:

‘It really hurts when my manager asks the supervisors to planning days and never asks for my input. I’m the one who works directly with the clients and understands our products and services best from an operational level. I know I’d have a lot to offer and I’d appreciate the opportunity to talk and share about what I do. I guess you have to be more senior to have any voice or input here.’

What’s the conflict telling you?

Try to listen to what the conflict is telling you and your workplace. Of the basic emotions, i.e. love, joy, anger, fear and sadness; conflict is in the realm of the so-called negative emotions – anger, fear and sadness. (I say so-called because all of our emotions are useful and serve us in important ways. The trick is to respond rather than react.)


For example, anger tells us that our needs aren’t being met and/or that someone is messing with our boundaries. Try to identify if this is the situation for you. Following are a couple of typical examples from the workplace.

  • Are you being recognized for your contributions? (Worse than that, is someone else being recognized for your contributions?)
  • Do you have some control and autonomy over how you do your job? Or is someone else always encroaching and directing. (An example of this might be the manager who always feels compelled to edit your written work even in very minor ways.)
  • Sometimes feeling powerless, or less powerful, can raise anger as we are thwarted from expressing our abilities and skills by a lack of opportunity.


Fear tells us that something needs our attention because our well-being is threatened.

As humans we are hard-wired for social interaction. Our ancestors didn’t survive long outside of the tribe on their own. So our need to belong continues to be important to our well-being. If we’re feeling on the outer at work, that can feel pretty stressful.

Sometimes engaging with others through gossiping and forming alliances feels like we’re connecting with others and feeds this need. But as most of us know, these behaviours make a day in the office emotionally charged and sometimes awkward. It sucks so much of the energy that we could be applying to expressing our skills and talents and making a difference in our organisation and community. Is that really how we would choose to spend our precious lives?

Fear can also be caused by changes at the top. For example a new manager or CEO will disrupt the equilibrium and we’ll have a heightened sense of potential change which can feel like danger e.g. fear of the unknown.


When you feel sad, ask yourself ‘What have I lost?’ Is there some loss in the workplace that could be stressing you and/or your team?

Maybe a restructure has changed valued relationships and activities. Or a colleague has been promoted and you’ve lost that peer whom you relied upon. Maybe everyone’s workload has increased, or the work has become more complex, and you’re longing for the good old days when you used to have longer lunches and Friday night drinks.

Chances are that all of these emotions and their causes are at play in a workplace. What can we do?

Building inner strengths and resources

It’s been said that happiness is an inside job. While it’s important to talk to your managers and co-workers about what is happening around any conflict in your workplace, the place where you can have the greatest impact is often within yourself. A powerful antidote to addressing the stress that can lead to conflict is identifying and cultivating your inner strengths.

Rick Hanson Ph.D is a clinical psychologist and author[1] who teaches Positive Neuroplasticity Training. He provides the following chart to suggest the strengths that can be developed to deal with common negative issues or material.

These inner strengths are organised and aligned here to address the three basic needs mentioned earlier: Safety (avoiding harms), Satisfaction (approaching rewards) and Connection (attaching to others).

Safety (avoiding harms)
Weakness Strength
Helplessness Agency
Freezing/immobilisation Action/venting
Inflated threats Protection/calming
Alarm Relaxation
Tension Feeling alright now, making a plan
Irritation/anger Big picture, peace


Satisfaction (approaching rewards)
What I don’t have What I do have
Scarcity Enough-ness, fullness
Disappointed, sad Gratitude, gladness
Frustration, failure Accomplishment
Bored, numb Pleasure, excitement
Grief Loved and loving
Giving up Aspiring
Driven-ness Feeling already satisfied


Connection (attaching to others)
Left out, excluded Belonging, wanted
Inadequacy, shame Appreciated, respected
Ignored, unseen Receiving empathy
Lonely Friendship, caring to others, and oneself
Resentment Recognise it hurts you
Envy, jealousy Self-compassion, take action, good will
Feeling stifled Skillful assertiveness


Once the antidote is identified, you can cultivate that inner resource in your mind which overtime will strengthen that neural pathway in your brain. To put it simply, cultivating a ‘state’ helps you to turn it into a ‘trait’. The science is very clear on this: ‘you can change your mind, to change your brain, to change your mind…for the better’.[2]

There is a lot of useful information on the internet about the efficacy of mindfulness practices on our well-being including Rick Hanson’s website I’d certainly encourage you to seek out and use this information.

In the meantime there are simple (but profound) things you can begin to do today.


Practice gratitude – take a few minutes each day, or throughout the day, to think about what you are grateful for in life including at your workplace. It’s well proven that what we focus on shapes our brains and lays down new or strengthened neural pathways.

By focusing on and taking in the good, we are re-wiring our brains for a more positive experience of the world. As someone put it, ‘if you tune into a country music radio station, you’ll hear country music.’ Direct your mind to ‘tune in’ to the positive. Overtime you’ll know all the words to your favourite songs. There are many resources readily available on Mindfulness including Rick Hanson’s website.

Or jump in and have a go with these simple guidelines:

  • Notice…something you are thankful for.
  • Stop…what you’re doing and focus on the object of that gratitude.
  • Acknowledge…why you feel thankful for it and that it is in your life.
  • Breathe…it in and let it expand and flow around in your mind and body.
  • Repeat as often as you’d like!


 Cultivate inner strengths – using the tables listed earlier in this article, consider what inner resources might be useful in giving you more peace, love and contentment in any of those challenges listed.

For example, if you identify that the challenge for you is Worry/Fear, an inner resource that would be useful to cultivate would be Focusing on the Big Picture or Being at Peace.

Use Rick Hanson’s table as a guide, but also consider identifying for yourself the inner strength that would be most useful for you in a given situation. Maybe it is one that has worked for you in the past. Once you’ve identified the relevant inner strength, Sit with it. That means create some space and time to contemplate this inner strength as a ‘felt experience’.

Rick Hanson provides an easy guide to taking in the good — H+E+A+L:

H — Have the experience – rest your mind on that quality or strength you wish to grow/cultivate.

E — Enrich it – stay with it for at least half a minute and as long as what feels right for     you. Use the following prompts to support having a fuller and felt experience of it, e.g.:

Thoughts: What are your thoughts, beliefs, perspectives,  expectations, images, memories or ideas about this strength?

Perception: What sensations, sights, sounds, tastes or smells resonate while your mind is resting on this strength?

Emotion: What feeling or mood is invoked? Feel it fully.

Desire: What wants, wishes, hopes, values, drives, motivation, purposes, dreams, passions or determinations are activated?

Action: What behaviour, postures, knowledge (knowing how to) would be useful or demonstrated here?

A — Absorb the experience.

Absorbing makes memory systems more receptive by priming and sensitizing them. Create the sense of the experience sinking into you by using imagery, e.g. water into a sponge; or a sensation, a warm soothing balm. By ‘giving over’ to the experience, you allow it to change you.

L — Link positive and negative material (optional).

When we activate (have the experience) and install (enrich and absorb) positive material, there’s an opportunity to soothe, ease, put in perspective and even replace negative material. Negative material includes painful or harmful

  • thoughts
  • perceptions
  • emotions
  • desires and
  • actions.

To do this we have to hold two things at once in our minds and not  be hijacked by the negative material. We can do this by holding the positive experience more prominently in our awareness. If the negative starts to take over, drop it or recalibrate it, i.e. make it smaller.

The idea is that the positive material goes into the negative material like a ‘soothing balm’ filling up the hollow places. You will have a sense of the receiving the positive into the negative and end with just the positive.

Next steps

It’s understandable that conflict is going to be part of our lives, especially our working lives, as we all negotiate to get our needs met — feeling safe, satisfied and connected.

Our best chance at managing the conflict in a healthy and productive way is by working on our response. With greater self-awareness we can recognise when one of our basic needs is threatened and call on the inner strengths and resources to deal with those threats.

Every time you ‘take in the good’ you build the resources to match external challenges and internal issues. While conflict may not ever completely disappear, you’ll cease to engage with it and enjoy greater well-being.

So while it can be tempting to place the problems of the workplace or the world outside of us, that is not where our power lies. Sure, work where you can on the organisational and systemic issues that contribute to conflict in your workplace, but start where you can and that is with yourself.

Suzanne Gatz

Suzanne works as a Coach, Mediator, Facilitator and Trainer in her freelance business Open Window — She’s recently completed a six-day Positive Neuroplasticity Training course with Rick Hanson PhD ( and acknowledges his work in the writing of this piece.

[1] Buddha’s Brain and Hardwiring Happiness

[2] Rick HansonSuzanne professional pic

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Developing a Self — Part 1

I began my Coaching Training in 2010 following my own experience of being coached. During the training I was asked to identify something in my life that prevented me from “showing up fully – in life, and in my own, emerging coaching practise.” My Coach Trainer, Teri-E Belf, shared some examples. Some Coaches in Training had wanted to write that book they were always going to write; another was going to lose 10 pounds; a man was going to be more responsible. I could easily understand that the choices were as numerous as the individuals as each of us might try to master the theme or the obstacle that always seemed to cast a shadow over, if not even block out, the sun entirely.write a book

Having learned from Teri-E about ‘reticular formation’, I became aware of how often the intention of my practicum began to show up in life – “to have patience and self-compassion for where I am now.” Just holding the intention (the cause) had the effect of bringing this to my awareness.

I also noted my resistance to this way of being. Patience and compassion are things we might proffer to a baby, the disabled or the elderly; but to an industrialised, capitalist, Western man or woman our cultural is less benevolent. When things get tough, the tough are meant to get tougher (and in my case I was tougher on no one more than on myself). This new way of being that I was attempting to undertake was counter-culture yet not fully counter-intuitive. I intuited and knew, at a very deep level, that continuing to make myself “wrong” or “not good enough” was going to keep me fixed in a way of being that wasn’t attuned with the Divine, or my Life Purpose.

So, I simply had to catch myself not being patient and compassionate with myself and then to apply those qualities to myself. Being patient and compassionate was to be forgiving when I couldn’t get to the end of a task, or complete it to the level I though it should be. It was resting when I was tired or booking a massage when I needed that kind of nurturing. It was tending to my health and eating well. It was the ability to say “no” to requests that didn’t support me. It was to love my body even when the reflection in the mirror didn’t match a societal or cultural template. It was lingering in bed with my books and journals on a weekend and allowing my soul to be fed in this way. It was sleeping in the hammock on a warm afternoon when the grass needed cutting. hammockIt was a lot of things, small things, nourishing little waterings of patience and self-compassion. And it was surrender and awareness that listening to that inner voice of knowing was somehow connected to the Divine, like tuning into a radio station. I remember someone once saying, “If you tune into a country western station, you’ll hear country western music.” The Practicum statement had tuned me into the station of patience and self-compassion.

And then there was the second part of the statement: “and to cultivate a Divine Self I can return to more quickly.” Allowing that I could not always achieve equanimity through patience and self-compassion, I thought to develop a “Self” that would somehow “rise up” and save me from my (little-s) self. So it seemed that my task was on the one hand to practise patience and self-compassion and on the other, to develop this Divine Self.

To be continued…


Filed under Uncategorized

Life’s Lessons

I was once asked, ‘What has been life’s most valuable lesson?’

My response was, ‘The death of my child.’

hongi babyThe second part of the question was, ‘What were the lessons?’

The lessons were:

To have the courage to express what is in my heart with the ones I love so that I will not grieve what was unspoken.grandchild hongi

That every life has purpose.

To stop being so afraid – the worst has already happened.

That I am not in control.

That to be present is the greatest gift I can give and the memories of the quality of those times will sustain me.hongi14april12

That many things in life just aren’t important and many other things are.

Not to let the suffering be for nothing. Find the gift. It is there.

That my world can change very quickly.

That there is very little that is certain in the world. In fact, I can think of nothing except that it will end. My life will end. And the lives of those I love will end. And many of those endings I may have to experience.

That having to see your children in terrible pain and anguish possibly hurts as much as the pain they are in.

That the tighter you hold onto something, the more painful it will be to let it go.

That it is better to try not be attached to people, things or ideas – holding on to them does not make them so.  And to try to walk in the world with my hands loosely clasped or open.hongi men

That when I begin to feel attached, to try to feel presence instead. That is love. So if you embrace your elderly father, or your young son who is now a man, or your baby daughter – breathe into the moment, a few deep breaths, it is a way that honours your love for them and grounds the moment in your being. Share your spirits. One day, maybe tomorrow, or maybe in the future, I may recall that moment of shared presence and take comfort in it.

That the Maori of New Zealand have a beautiful expression of this in the ‘hongi’.hongi baby

That living and working for the future is not honouring of my life today.


That death is final but that the hope of knowing my beloved again is not.

 maori kids hongi


Filed under My thoughts on...

On waking in autumn

I wake up too soon.

The window is open to last night’s rain and autumn air.

The skin on my exposed arm is cool.

tumblr_mceos0G78b1qh3nd2o1_500I touch it with my cheek and smell its coolness.

The skin of my arm, my skin —

I observe my self

And fear less what is beyond.

But I would miss my cool skin,

in the morning,

after autumn rain.


Filed under Uncategorized