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Fariyal Wallez
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(Extra)Ordinary Stories
(Extra)Ordinary Stories

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The brisk and fresh days of the past week, since the clocks went back, already seem to be drawing in the winter. Part of me is feeling the animal urge to stay snuggled under the duvet and hibernate until the Spring. However, I had the fabulous opportunity to run a Creativity Workshop in Lyon a few days ago, and was reminded why I love the work I do. Even in the space of a couple of hours, when there is a clarity of intention, to be able to connect to our creative vision and purpose is astounding. The projects that people took away to manifest in their lives were truly incredible!

Hence, I was inspired to write this month about my life coaching work.

When I first entered the world of work, I was the personal assistant to a highly respected executive coach. While he gave me a tonne of opportunities to build my coaching skills as his apprentice, he also often vented his anger at me, to the point of being a micro-managing bully. I had grown up in an anger-fueled, shouty household, been bullied at school and at a previous job, and while inside I cowed in fear at his aggression, I put up with it and remained silent because this was my habit. I intensely hated conflict of any kind.

UNTIL someone supported me to understand that I had to face the anger head on, to clearly say that it was not okay with me. Unused to doing this, it started by me telling my boss to 'Fuck Off!' and quitting my job. This one act, however, completely transformed my relationships with colleagues and my entire career. Ever since I found the courage to be heard as an equal, I was liberated from my fear of being sacked from any job, or being demoted, or complying to unrealistic demands from managers. I realised that I possessed the freedom to direct my career towards doing what I loved, with integrity and passion, and without the pretense of behaving confidently or always worrying about what my colleagues thought of me. I could be myself, not just "put up with..."

Today, I am able to step back and be detached, to communicate without the associated upset and emotional turmoil, to make choices that move a bad situation forward rather than feel vengeance or have fear constantly eating away at me. And not only at work, but in all my relationships, professional and personal.

As I think again about the forthcoming onslaught of Christmas advertising, I am hoping that you will stop to contemplate for a moment, the question of what it means for you to live a fulfilling, happy, inspiring life, at work and at home? What is the enduring value of the (self) gift of a coaching programme that can transform your life, versus the quick and empty pleasure of the millions we spend each Christmas on clothes, toys, shoes, games, gadgets, jewellery, home ware, hairdryers, etc? The list of products pushed at us is endless because it is designed to be this way, so that we are consumed (forever consumers) and do not have the time to look into the void and ask ourselves "Who am I?", "What is my life really about?"

Coaching is not a gift you can buy in a Christmas catalogue, or mindlessly click into "my basket" in a last minute frenzy on Amazon's shopping paradise. It takes an effort of will and courage to make an investment in transforming your relationship with yourself. You already know what needs to change (you are the expert on your life). Coaching is the external force that shifts the inertia from knowing into ACTION and DOING.

So why not make the change this year? This Christmas?
I am always available for a conversation. You just need to reach out and ask.

The attached blog is titled Change is the Only Certainty in Life!

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+Fariyal Wallez 
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March

   Been busy gardening, to prepare dharma.house for the "rehearsal retreat"  at the end of April… Did you know you can influence the programmation of future retreats? Simply go to http://en.dharma.house/retreats !
   Still working on securing the house as much as possible (just secured a good deal for a great, bilingual AED —automated external defibrillator), and if you ever feel like helping a new place to promote the Dharma, then any donation toward the security budget would be helpful at the moment: http://en.dharma.house/donate.htm (or http://koan.mu/donate.htm as usual, except for € having replaced £).
   The bookshelves for the library of dharma.house have finally arrived and are in place. I still have to unpack and organise the books though; that's the work for the coming days, on top of finalising some admin', receiving and installing tatami,  working on the content of the first three planned retreats (http://en.dharma.house/retreats.htm), translating the website in French, refreshing once again my first aider skills, etc.

   4 original contributions on g+:
International women's day
  gplus.wallez.name/Eoitrq1KGs2
Launching dharma.house!
  http://en.dharma.house
Buddhism Q&A
  gplus.wallez.name/QiyiNcoaRtW
Deciphering the Pali Canon is not for the impatient…
  gplus.wallez.name/TRCvNnyKtGN

   Many more posts are in the pipeline, notably one on a key difference between Oriental and Occidental understandings of psychology; hopefully, they'll be finalised soon, but the work at dharma.house unfortunately proved more demanding than expected, and the to-do list for April gives little comfort; the need for individual support by various individuals also was higher this March than usual.

#Buddhism   #TableOfContents  
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It's time to Question Whether Procreation is a Birthright?
Around the age of 30, shortly after I'd terminated a pregnancy, I had a conversation with my mother about the choice I'd made not to have children at all. I thought she would be proud that I had chosen to follow my values and not bring more children into an already overpopulated world. Instead, her angry and ferocious response came as a complete shock to me. 'You don't understand,' she screamed. 'If you don't have children, you can never be a whole woman!'

https://medium.com/@fariyal/it-s-time-to-question-whether-procreation-is-a-birthright-a6c55c1437c3
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Leaving Home
Leaving Home
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Touch Me

Imagine my delight when I discovered the Santhigiri Centre for Ayurveda in Anna Nagar, Chennai! Two months previously, during a holiday with my mother in Kerala, some of the women in our group had raved about the traditional Ayurveda massage they'd had at the Santhigiri Centre in Cochin (which for lack of time on our tour schedule, I'd not had the opportunity to experience). Anna Nagar was just a short rickshaw ride away from our house, so I excitedly booked a traditional massage for Denis and myself. 

In Ayurveda speak, the treatment is called 'Abhyangam' and is described as 'the systematic application of medicated oils,' which most Westerners mistake for 'massage therapy.' I've no idea what the women in Cochin actually encountered, but the 'massage' I had at the centre in Chennai was, without doubt, the most hardcore treatment I've ever experienced!

The treatment room was pretty basic, which I had expected, as the Santhigiri Institute's mission is more focused on reviving the wisdom of Ayurveda as the 'science of life,' an ancient and naturalistic system of healing diseases, rather than on providing a luxurious spa environment. What was more of a surprise was the fact that my treatment was to be done by not one, but two therapists.

We started with me seated on a stool while one of the therapists gave me a long and vigorous head and face massage. Then, I was moved to the traditional wooden table (droni), which has a slightly raised curve in the transverse direction and is specifically shaped at the head end for Shirodhara (pouring oil on the forehead). Sitting upright with my legs outstretched, the two therapists stood either side of me and began the body routine from the legs. They worked with a highly synchronous movement and pressure, which to experience on both sides of my body simultaneously was amazing. After the legs and feet came the back (still seated), the arms and hands, all done with fast and rhythmic strokes, using copious amounts of oil for lubrication. Then, in order to work with thoroughness on every muscle of my limbs and torso, I was directed to lay down on my back, turned to the right side, onto my front, then to the left side. Trying to hold all these positions on a slippery, oil-slathered wooden table, while at the same time being told to relax, was quite a challenge! I later read that the curved bump in the table was for me to 'grip' with my body, as an exercise to strengthen my muscles, and not for the constant discomfort of trying to keep myself from sliding to the edges.

The most peculiar part of the treatment was having intense acupressure (done with a fist) on each of the vertebrae down the length of my spine, which though I'd not felt it during the rest of the treatment, suddenly felt very risky. It brought me into immediate communication with my body and the thought of how allowing my body to go through such a new and strange treatment required a lot of trust. When I was seated upright again, I mentioned that I'd found it very painful to lie on my left side. The therapist, almost as an afterthought, did some long strokes along my thigh and hip, which seemed to go somewhere so deep, it was beyond agony. Yet, I also felt something release, and as I write this blog, I realise I've not had the stiffness in my hip bones since (almost three months).

Unfortunately, while I left the centre feeling on fire and vibrating at a different level of energy, Denis' experience of the same treatment resulted in him being more tense and feeling totally unhappy. It proved to be the culmination of a recurring experience for him in India, because in the arena of massage, it was definitely an advantage to be a woman.

The general (and legal) policy in beauty and wellness across the country, is that women are treated only by women, and men treated only by men. Whether this expectation is a result of self-imposed ethics, family values, or the wider influence of society, it was yet another aspect of how the culture delineated and widened the differences between men and women. The two therapists Denis had were male, and in a culture where one of the biggest fears men have is to be perceived as 'gay,' it was not surprising to find the male therapists lacking in their ability to work with the sensitivity needed for the client to trust the treatment. For Denis, the massage was too rough, and having his body thrown around the table showed a complete lack of understanding from the therapists about what it means to be aware of their emotional and physical connection to another human being. Their unwillingness to be 'intimate' with another male (a simple fact of life between women) is a reflection of the general lack of education and communication between the genders in Indian society. 

It was an enlightening experience (and rather sad when I reflect on some of the truly humbling experiences of my male clients in London) to see that it is not only women who pay the consequences of repression. Communication between men and women is a primary key to the relationship we have with our body. Being touched, which is essentially what massage is, can be both a healing process for physical illness, as well as a gateway to the hidden depths of emotional pain that we carry in our bodies. 

Photo: Copyright Denis Wallez
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A Woman's Revolution

A doctor friend once told me a tale about the twisted moral behaviour, which results from an overall positive evolution in educating women in India. More women studying to be doctors, for example, leads to a bigger pool of educated, smart and 'higher' valued prospective wives, where the consequence can be a further divided society. In this elite club (in addition to the tradition of caste exclusivity), where doctors tend to marry other doctors, the male doctor becomes an even more attractive prospect. Therefore, his family can and do bargain for a larger dowry from the woman's family! Putting aside the fact that any form of dowry in India is illegal, is this really the model for female emancipation?

I am aware that I come from a British/European education (which can hardly pretend to be the most inspiring example of men's behaviour towards women). Yet, as an Indian woman in a patriarchal culture, I've also had enough 'family' education to know and feel the misogynistic stickiness of treading in honey-coated beliefs. I lived the formative years of my childhood in India with my grandparents, and during this time, I subconsciously learned from the roles of the women of the household; they prepared and cooked all the meals, washed the clothes, swept and cleaned the floors, kept the garden, did the shopping, and so on. When the women were together, there was a lot of fun and laughter. However, it was also implicitly understood that we didn't go out of the house alone and were at the beckon call of the demands and wishes of the men, which could not be delayed for anything. And while my uncle was taking exams and preparing to go to college to study accountancy, my aunts could only look on longingly, in spite of their own dreams to continue with further studies. At an age when they could have studied and trained for a profession, they were having conversations about arranged marriages. 

One perspective of such a traditional set-up is that the sharing of activities (men go to work and provide the resources, women are the homemakers) makes economic sense and plays on the 'so-called' differing strengths of men and women. However, women in this situation should not make the mistake of assuming that 'serving' their men equates to 'being of service' for the bigger picture. I witnessed all the women in my grandparents household evolve into angry, frustrated women, who felt unsupported and even thwarted from achieving their dreams/ambitions.

And in spite of the frustrations, women nevertheless habituate themselves to use the skills they learn, for their survival, whether they continue to support mental/spiritual/physical growth (or not) in later life. In Indian society, as in many other patriarchal societies, one of the primary modes women measure their self-worth by is through food. Women cook and feed. (Recall the classic phrase 'the way to a man's heart is through his stomach.')

In my own family, whenever I go to visit my mother, 'feeding' me is one of the first points of conversation. In India, I've seen women friends (educated and with professional careers) using food to buy their self-worth in the family and with friends; all other skills become secondary. However, when the pre-occupation to feed becomes the sole defining measure of our worth, then we need to stop and look deeply at ourselves, because something is seriously amiss!

It takes more than a couple of generations, and beyond intellectual, knowledge-based education, to transform the ingrained roles of women in the Indian culture, especially if they believe that the men who are in their lives don't have a clue.

The shift to an awakened reality of true 'equality' requires a revolution! But not a revolution 'against' men. It is a revolution within the self, the revolution of a strong spirit and a bold confidence to not care about what other people think. This is especially so in relation to family, because the family unit is the strongest influence on our guilt, and each member knows exactly where to push the most intimate buttons to derail the revolution. For example, how many women tell themselves, 'My kids will starve if they miss a meal,' or 'I have to send a home-cooked lunch for my husband every day,' or 'I can't possibly feed my mother-in-law yesterday's leftovers.' These are the ways women have learned to bargain for love, affection and survival. The question is, as individuals, are we ready for a revolution? 

I am not promoting that we should stop taking care of our families. A woman's revolution cannot happen in opposition or isolation from the other half of our planet, i.e. the men! However, feeling constantly duty-bound, frustrated and angry is also not the right attitude. What it takes is to stop blaming, and instead look without judgement. It takes being honest with ourselves about how we have unconsciously used our feminine wiles and ways to our advantage. We must accept that we create anger and violence in ourselves: shouting at our children, arguing with a partner, lying or distorting the truth in order to have an advantage in business, holding onto past upsets and hurts, resenting and criticising others' successes and failures, hating the way our body looks, and so on. The list is endless. 

It is only when we are able to see and admit those aspects of our femininity that have had/will have damaging consequences (including for the men in our lives), that we can truly grieve for our previous lack of awareness and learn the lessons to move on. And ultimately, each of us needs to be willing to take 100% responsibility to act. To 'embody' our intellectual knowledge into the every-day-ness of our lives, we must let go of what is familiar and habitual, and each action must come from our individual decision to act. We do not necessarily know, and cannot be certain of the outcome, and we will make mistakes and fall down. When a child is learning to read and write, we do not scold her for making mistakes. To learn a new language, including the language of revolution, takes time and patience. And this is what we must give to ourselves.

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Who On Earth Do You Think You Are?

At the renowned Meenakshi Temple in Madurai (in the south of the state of Tamil Nadu), a large notice at the front of the long, bustling queue to the inner shrine clearly stated that anyone who was not a Hindu would not be admitted. I told the priest at the door that I was a Hindu and even though Denis was not a Hindu, that he was my husband. He shook his head. I said that Denis was a Buddhist priest and he wished to be blessed by the temple deity. He hesitated, then said, 'You can go and get a signed certificate saying he has converted to being a Hindu. Then he can come back and go in...'

...which was practically impossible, of course, as conversion is not a normal practice in Hinduism today; people are born into a Hindu family and generally die as such, whether you are a believing/ practising Hindu or not. I wasn't sure the priest knew this, or the fact that the Buddha had been absorbed into the Hindu religion as an avatar of Vishnu. Either way though, Denis could not enter the inner sanctum. It was an incredibly sad experience because not only did the temple staff happily take our money for the entrance fee without informing us of their non-Hindu policy, but for Denis, it was an experience of what it felt to be on the receiving end of racism.

During the months I've lived in India, I've been very reluctant to go to temples, or to feel any veneration for the farce of the ritual of offering prayer to the gods. Contrary to the Western belief that Indian religions are mystical and spiritual, the truth is that most people go to the temple to pray for material wealth and status, not liberation or freedom. After reading The City of Djinns by William Dalrymple, an enlightening history of Delhi, I recognised how the Rajputs and Hindu Maharajas of a millenium ago were no more enlightened than the Indians of today's modern, 'emancipated' society. The Hinduism that is practised by the majority is a crude and primitive religion, maintaining rituals and violence and racist habits that serve only those who hold the power, and who will do anything to maintain it, i.e. the priests (Brahmins).

Religion has been used for millennia, and still is today, to in-form identity. Growing up in a Hindu family, with a religious grandmother and mother, I used to enjoy and celebrate all the festivals of the religious calendar. I felt part of a tradition that gave me a sense of place and a strong identity of self. This culture, however, also shielded me from exposure to other religions, and particularly in relation to having tolerance for people who had different beliefs and cultures from my own.

All the religions in India fight for their identity, whether by a specific code of dress (e.g. the hijab or burka for Muslim women) or markings on the forehead for Hindus. They display photos and stickers of Christ, or numerous Hindu gods, or scripts from the Koran prominently at the entrance of shops and restaurants, and on the windshields of auto-rickshaws and cars, etc. Everyone advertises loudly how pious and holy they are, yet have no thought about extorting four times the price of a rickshaw ride from a customer. Many times, I have actually felt ashamed to call myself a Hindu and to be part of a religion and culture that is racist and stuck in the dark ages with regard to caste and a person's worth (even though caste discrimination has been illegal since the creation of India's Constitution in 1949).

I have also realised, however, that I am no less of a worthy person when I make the choice to let go of this part of my identity, whether I am born a Hindu or not. As with all habits and beliefs, we do not need to hold onto what is no longer constructive for our present and future. We can upgrade our perspective of God.

India won its Independence in 1947 and contrary to all predictions, has remained the largest democracy in the world. Which by all accounts has been no mean feat, particularly when one understands that before 1947, India was a feudal land and had no history of democracy as a nation. In most western countries, some variation of Christianity is the main religion by an overwhelming majority, and in the modern world, many of these societies have the challenge to maintain a religious/spiritual identity with the younger generations. In India, religion is so intimately bound with all aspects of life and self-identity that the question of religious tolerance is not an easy one to navigate. Because not only does it mean having to admit that 'my belief' is not the only 'right' one, but also that accepting different beliefs necessarily implies that my belief may not be as hard and fast an identity as I imagine. In reading about the numerous periods of Indian history, when huge portions of the population converted from Vedic religion to Buddhism, then later to Sikhism and Islam, it was clear that identity was changed according to what made sense or what was needed to stay alive. Interchangeable religious identities can in fact be a more creative way to engage because the game is to adopt whichever story proves useful and inspiring in order to live and embody a meaningful life.


Image: Meenakshi Temple at Madurai
Copyright: Denis Wallez
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The Habits of Time

I am sitting writing my journal. The dawn is rising fast. Just ten minutes ago, it was pitch black and already the light is beginning to form the garden, the trees and the house, as well as calling the birds to a new morning. It is stunning to watch, as the colours paint the world into being each day.

Yesterday, people all over the northern hemisphere celebrated Winter Solstice, the astronomical phenomenon that marks the shortest day of the year, the point at which the axis of the North Pole is tiled at its furthest from the sun in its orbital journey. Bar variations of a couple of weeks, due to the fact that a 'solar' day is not exactly the same 24 hours we measure on a clock, in general the mornings become light earlier and the sun sets later, as we move towards the Spring. When I lived in London, I would notice this movement over days and weeks and look forward to having more daylight hours. In India, however, as I am much closer to the equator, sunrise and sunset are easily missed. The process from daylight to darkness, and vice versa, occurs in the space of about ten minutes, and though this phenomena forces me to be in the present, I do not often remember to notice it.

In my journal, I've been writing a lot about time and also reflecting on the relationship of time to writing. How ungrateful and unappreciative I am of the process of time. I forget to celebrate the words I've written each day because instead of focusing on the production I've achieved, I focus on the fact that there is yet what seems an insurmountable way to go (an average novel comprises approx. 80-90,000 words). That I choose to feel like an amateur most of the time is wasted energy and a sleight towards my creativity.

The habit of 'time' and 'schedule' is such an ingrained part of our lives. It begins at a very young age. When we are children, we have a time for everything; lunchtime, dinner time, playtime, bedtime, bath time, TV time, and so on. This continues through school, university and work; lesson timetables, break times, homework deadlines, exam schedules, 9-5 job contracts, etc. Then, there are 'life' events, also set to a structure of time; an appropriate age for dating, marriage, having kids, a house, a pension. Our lives become a set of agreements that we implicitly live with for years and years without question.

In the modern era, the clock has been one of the best and worst inventions for humans. It has transformed the process of factories and the production of goods, where every hour of work or rest can be monitored, and work may start at any time regardless of the position of the sun   or moon or planets (early societies did not require such precision for their sundials and water clocks). For human creativity, the clock has been a disaster!  Creativity simply does not work to a clock. It can manifest at any time, be it the morning, the middle of the day or late at night. How many times have I had to justify feeling tired or sleeping in late when I've been working on an artistic project until the early hours of the morning? 

After so many years of both building and fighting against forming the habits of time, supporting my creativity has been about freeing myself from the clock and being open to the abundance of space and time. For example, when I write, I often worry about how long it takes me to write a 1000 words (because I've read that for many professional writers, 1000 words is a good day's work). Why do I limit myself to this expectation? Because I've been programmed since childhood into the habit that I must complete my writing by a certain hour so that I can have a certain number of hours sleep, and then wake up refreshed to write the following day for a certain number of hours, and so on...

Logging time is simply that, a log, and nothing more. Unfortunately, I've spent my entire life learning to log time, in my mind and body. Most of my jobs have been on the basis that earning money to pay my rent and bills necessarily involved 'suffering,' where I counted the hours from the beginning to the end of the day and rarely enjoyed the tasks I did in between. It is also interesting to see the consequences of my cultural education, where, for a girl, physical occupations such as cooking, sewing clothes, keeping the house, raising children, etc. was valued more than intellectual activities and 'thinking' type work. Intellect and education were measured only in relevance to getting a good job with a high salary, rather than as a valuable hobby in an of itself, e.g. reading, philosophy, creative writing.

John Gardner, in the Art of Fiction, says that when writing, have the attitude to write as though I have infinite time.

My husbands says that doing work he loves takes energy, and it does not have to be 'suffered.' All types of work involve effort, and what I'm learning in writing my novel is that it is my privilege, as a human being, to use my energy in creative endeavour. Why would God, or the universal unfolding of life, want me to suffer? The truth is it does not. We suffer in both space and time because we have somehow lost the way. We do not understand that our true nature is to create with joy.

Image: Sentinels by the Sea, Maes Howe at Winter Solstice, Orkney
Copyright: Jim Richardson
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