Tolerance is Overrated

Guardian Angel
Guardian Angel

The thing with comfort zone challenges is that a) they are different for everyone, and b) you never know what lesson you are going to learn until you actually do them.  To find a worthwhile comfort zone challenge you have to do a bit of introspection, and really explore what it is that scares you.  Like all things that make life worthwhile, it takes a bit of work.  I can tell you categorically that Googling will not provide the right answer (believe me, I’ve tried).  You have to go inside… Or like me, you outsource, and ask someone who knows you inside and out.  Take note though, doing this might not give you the answer you expected, or wanted to hear.

Case in point: when hubby suggested that I go to Church for my next comfort zone challenge my first response was “Whaaaaat?”  Followed by a whole heap of excuses for what a stupid idea that was and how that wasn’t a comfort zone challenge and blah, blah, blah (are you hearing the resistance??).  But he was adamant.  So I took a few days to marinate in the idea and started to think ‘Shit, for some reason this makes me really uncomfortable.  Maybe I do need to do it’.  At this point I should point out that I am an atheist, well at least that is how I have previously identified, religiously speaking.  I’ve always been more of a black vs. white, night vs. day, science vs. religion kind of person.  To me, there was no grey.  But as a progressive, liberal-thinking individual I tolerated other people’s right to religion – at least on the surface.  Meanwhile I held a (mostly) unvoiced opinion that if you believe in God you must be stupid.  I know, I know, I hate myself as I am writing this too.  But after Sunday night, being so wholeheartedly welcomed into my first Sunday service, I feel that ‘tolerance’ isn’t good enough.  How awful that we simply tolerate anything.

It took me a good few weeks to work up the courage to go to Church.  I felt that I needed a strategy: you know, a plan or a list – or a plan to make a list!  Surely one did not simply ‘show up’ to Church.  But in the end that is what I did.  At 5:30 on a Sunday night I walked into my local Anglican Church and attended their Sunday Mass.  I sheepishly walked through the door and immediately felt like a total fraud.  ‘What if someone finds out that I don’t believe in God – what if I’m exposed!’ I thought.  Then again, given I’m not religious, what is the worst that can happen?  It’s not like I’m going to Hell after all.  But my nerves soon settled after I was so cheerfully welcomed by a young guy called ‘James’ who I assume must have been an assistant priest, pastor or other such thing.  When I told him that I embarrassingly haven’t been to church since attending Chapel at school he smiled and said, in a completely non-judgemental tone, “Well it’s nice to have you back!”  Phew, I thought, not busted yet!

As I walked further into the church I found myself a seat.  The first thing I noticed was how comfortable I felt.  Everyone smiled at me and said hi, despite not knowing me from a bar of soap.  They were kind and welcoming without being in-your-face.  Before going I half expected to have someone ‘selling’ God to me or convincing me to donate half my pay cheque.  But it wasn’t like that at all and the whole service turned out to be great.  I sang along with the upbeat and contemporary music and listened to the Priest interpret verses from the Bible, and yes I even ‘prayed’ along as the Priest asked God to provide support to the people affected by the earthquakes in Nepal.  And despite not resonating with the God part, the ideas presented were still relevant – to me and to the kind of well-functioning society that I want to be part of.  Even the prayers, whose central theme was of course God, demonstrated to me that no matter what religion we are (or are not), needing guidance, support and love is still very much part of the human condition.

As I mentioned before, you never know what lessons you are going to learn from getting outside of your comfort zone.  Initially I came away from my experience feeling sad.  I really enjoyed the experience and there was so much that I identified with and admired: a sense of community; supporting each other; finding meaning and purpose; showing kindness and compassion; and of course who doesn’t love a good old fashioned sing-a-long.  But I felt that because I didn’t have the same faith in God, the glue that held all that together, I was never going to fully belong.  I actually found myself envying these people, maybe even wishing I could be part of it.  Frankly it was quite confusing to be feeling that way when previously I would have pitied or judged everyone in the room.

Now that I’ve had time to reflect on my experience, I realise that while I personally don’t need God to find meaning and joy in my life, I can understand why others do and I actually admire their commitment to their faith.  I think the biggest lesson that I have learned from this experience, however, is the acknowledgement of how similar we all are.  While I strongly believe we are all unique and we need to embrace what makes us individual, we shouldn’t forget that when it comes down to the essence of what makes us human, we really aren’t that different.  I think that if we recognised the ‘human-ness’ in people more, that we wouldn’t have to just tolerate our differences, but understand them – and ultimately accept them.

I might not have personally started to believe in God as a result of going to Church, but I have started to see the shades of grey. Who says God and science cannot co-exist? Who says that because you believe in God and I don’t that either of us has to be right? Who says that any one of our differences should mean that we are not, ultimately, the same?

Peace Out,

Jane xx

Finding Meaning at Terminal Velocity

Yep, totally cool as a cucumber.
Yep, totally cool as a cucumber.

I always used to pride myself on being ‘tough’ and ‘strong’.  I always had everything under control, I was organised and driven and un-emotional. At least that is what I thought. Until the illusion I had been living under came crashing down after the birth of my daughter, nearly three years ago. Suddenly my identity was gone, all the things I thought defined me were either not there anymore or no longer seemed important. And I realised, I had no idea who I really was. I think this is a really common experience for a lot of first time mums, but it’s definitely not limited to mothers, nor does it affect only women. For me working through this takes time (and continues to) – and a whole lot of love and support from my husband, family and friends… and my therapist.  But probably one of the biggest breakthroughs I’ve had recently came from jumping out of a plane. Really! Hear me out.

That is me in the picture above, jumping out of a plane from 14,000ft.  I can safely say that it was the most terrifying thing I have ever done, EVER.  But then again the expression on my face probably gave that away. The fear didn’t start there either, the anticipation of having to jump out of that tiny, rickety plane was bloody nerve wracking and I doubted whether I would actually do it, until 2 seconds before I jumped – and by ‘jumped’ I mean dragged along by the dude I was strapped to…  So why in the world would I do that to myself, you ask?

At this stage I could just blame my husband.  I mean technically he is the one who booked it for me, without my knowledge and then “gave” it to me (it didn’t quite feel like a gift at the time).  But quite honestly, I had been silently crying out for it.

You see two days earlier, seeing that I was moping around like a little ball of misery, hubby reluctantly asked “Are you ok?”  To which I responded (in an embarrassing-to-admit toddler-like whinge) “I’m just so boooored! Why does life have to be so haaaard.  I wish we had our old life back”.  And by ‘old life’ I meant our life before becoming parents.  I was going through one of my ‘episodes’ again. Admittedly, it was pretty mild compared to only a year or so ago where I would be curled up in a ball, not wanting to get out of bed and crying my eyes out. But it was that same heavy feeling of feeling confused, sad and trapped

So the next day hubby casually asks me “Have you checked your emails?”  Umm, no. Why would I check my emails on a Saturday, I thought to myself. I gave him a strange look and then went to find my phone.  I check my emails and found an email from Red Balloon in my inbox and thought, whaaat?  Then I get a second one pop up with Confirmation of your Skydive Booking in the subject box – FOR THE NEXT DAY!!

From the moment I read that email I started to get waves of nervousness, interspersed with feelings of complete disbelief that it was going to happen, then doubt that I would be able to do it, complete confidence that I could do it and of course fear that the parachute may not open and that I would die at the ripe old age of 37.  Those waves lasted until the moment of actually leaving the plane.  The whole flight up my palms were sweating, I was shivering and my heart was beating like crazy and I tried to keep calm by regulating my breathing (thank you yoga) and staring out the window at the beautiful view of the Sydney skyline.  Just as I started to calm down there was movement. Someone opened the door and people started shuffling towards it, one by one everyone in front of me started dropping out of the plane and I thought, WAIT! I’m not ready for this, no-one’s asked me if I’m ready!  But before I could get words out of my mouth my instructor was shuffling me towards the open plane door. ‘What the fuck am I doing?’ I thought at that point.  Then as I dropped out of the plane adrenaline and pure unadulterated fear took hold.  “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god” I kept repeating, which is weird because I am not even remotely religious.  Then I finally started to smile, the biggest joy-filled (and wobbly-cheeked) smile.

Before I knew it the parachute opened and the first thing I noticed was how quiet everything went.  There was a peace that came over me, a calm and also if I’m honest a sense of relief that the parachute had actually opened.  We gracefully floated down to the ground, and for those 6 minutes and I felt so full of joy, so full to the brim with gratitude for my life and an indescribable feeling of freedom.  Being up so high was beautiful, but for some strange reason looking down at the world like that gave me a sense of optimism, I felt that the world was an absolutely amazing place.  Somehow being removed from what was going on below made my perceived problems seem so small and gave me so much perspective on my life.

And you know, sometimes life IS hard, juggling work, children, groceries and cleaning – all the while trying to work out who you are and how you fit into this crazy world.  But one thing that I realised, as a result of my skydiving experience, is that it wasn’t so much the difficulty of it all that I was struggling with so much as the monotony.  We seem to work so hard to set up this life of a nice home, good job and nicely organised routine (that makes fitting in the aforementioned elements of life actually possible) that we sometimes make everything too “easy” for ourselves and start living our lives on auto-pilot.  It seems to me that who we are is forged not in doing what we always do and being who we’ve always been, but in challenging ourselves to grow, be better, to try things we’ve never done before and push ourselves to the boundary of what we thought we were capable of.

Since becoming a Mum I had written off the idea of ever sky-diving. I thought that it was something that I just couldn’t do anymore because I just had too much to lose. It was a risk that I couldn’t take*. But taking that leap made me realise that there is risk in everything, and I don’t want to go through my life fearing everything, not growing, not venturing beyond my comfort zone.  I want to be an example of courage to my daughter.  I want her to embrace the full spectrum of experiences that life has to offer.

So I urge you – get out there, get uncomfortable, push yourself past where you thought you could go. It’s the only way you’ll really know how AWESOME you are (and you really are, if only you’d let yourself believe it).

Love Jane xx

*Skydiving is actually remarkably safe, especially doing a tandem jump. You are more likely to die driving on the way there (not that you will… I’m just sayin’).