Knowing and knowing…

When i started high school in the eighties, we were given a choice of four languages to study – French, German, Italian or Japanese.

I chose Italian. For no logical reason, it was just an intuitive feeling, with implications for my life that i could not have foreseen.

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In year eight, (the first year of high school), each class was streamed according to gender and language of study. My Italian class was the smallest in the year, with 24 students, 20 of whom were daughters of Italian and Greek families.

My school was located in an inner city suburb with a fairly large immigrant settlement population. Post war Australia received many southern European immigrants, all with their own culture, experience and stories to tell.

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This class, was the first time in my mostly white, middle class, suburban childhood that i experienced being in a cultural minority.  It was an eye opening, expansive and in many ways challenging experience.  Of course, you are often not aware of cultural norms and your cultural lens until taken out of your environment.

Later, in my early twenties, i travelled and experienced being in a minority in overseas countries. Truth is, i was culturally blind and naive in many ways, and these experiences opened my eyes to complexity and difference.

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One of the many things I love about other languages, is learning words for concepts where there is not direct translation into English.

For example, learning the Italian verbs “to know”. In Italian there are two words for this, “sapere” and “conoscere”.

The first, “sapere” is to know through the mind, theoretically through ‘book’ learning.  The second, “conoscere”, is to know through lived experience, to know through the heart.  For me, it’s even deeper, a knowing from your soul or your essence.

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Sometimes it feels to me that the journey of life is scattered with opportunities for the ignorance or knowing of the mind to be transformed into knowing of the heart and soul.

I had such an experience this week.

Last weekend, we were out to dinner with friends and the topic turned to discussion of the Irish living in post war England.  A time when racism took the form of violence, exclusion from jobs, education and life opportunities, social exclusion and slurs in the form of “Irish jokes”. I grew up hearing (and telling) Irish jokes, ignorant of the political implications of using humour to point out the assumed stupidity of a whole group of people, supposing it to be funny.

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During the conversation, it was implied that I, being the daughter of the white, dominant culture, couldn’t really know and understand what it was like to be an oppressed minority.

I was slightly rattled by this, hadn’t i spent over 25 years working against injustice on both a personal and political level? My husband is Irish and we share everything equally in partnership. I hadn’t been through it, but I thought i was a card carrying member of the inclusive, tolerant generation? How could it be implied that i didn’t really understand?

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During the week, i watched the first season of the series The Man in the High Castle. Based on a book by Phillip K Dick. It is set in a fantasy  early 1960’s North America. The story is located in a dystopian world, where the Japanese and Germans won World War Two.  North America is partitioned into the occupied Japanese and German States, and the neutral zone.

It is a totalitarian system, anyone who is not Japanese or German is an oppressed minority and anyone who does not support the regime is exterminated.  It was a shocking world where people were treated appallingly. This was done in many overt and subtle ways, such as standing back in a secondary taxi queue whilst the dominant culture received preference, remaining silent in the presence of the dominant culture, living in impoverished housing, employment in lowly jobs, living with curfews and starkly, arbitrary arrests, mass graves etc.

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This was confronting, but there was a deeper layer in my response. For the first time I was seeing my own culture being treated as an oppressed racial minority. My gut turned as i experienced it coming to life in the unfolding drama.

What i learned, was not what it was like to be part of an oppressed minority, but that i truly don’t know and can never know.

I knew this in my head.  I had been told many stories, read books, seen movies, spoken to people, did “brown eyes / blue eyes training” etc. I thought I was fairly aware of racism but the experience this week enabled me to “conoscere” or experience that I truly do not know.

It is often said that we don’t know what we don’t know.  The first step to knowing is to become aware of our ignorance. For me, this is to know not just in my mind but also in my heart and lived experience.

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There was a part of me that has been blind to my own racial privilege. Not in my mind, for a long time i have know this, but in my heart, to truly feel and own this.  To ‘conoscere’ this.

Things have changed and come a long way in our society, but there is still so much further to go in achieving peace and justice among all peoples, especially for Aboriginal people.  One of the deep fears of an oppressive culture is being treated as badly as we have treated others. When I look around, I sometimes wonder how we can ever get to a place of reconciliation.

Racism, particularly subtle, internalised racism, is both a dirty secret and an uncomfortable truth. Yet when we look it straight in the eye, we can own it and move beyond.

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The courage to do this gives me hope for the future.

What this experience does for me, is to strengthen my resolve to stand against oppression.  To not take my freedom for granted and to demand that others be free. To challenge injustice that any person, race or class experiences.

I’d love to hear your story or your experiences where knowing of the mind became knowing of the heart and soul.

Sending big love today!

Sarah

 

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Lighting the path…

Last night I had a rather unusual, yet insightful experience…

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I received a phone call last week inviting me to a market research consultation with my superannuation company. Two hours of my time to give my opinion and receive a payment. Sure – I’m not working, some extra cash is always handy!

I dressed in my work gear for the occassion, it would have been a more accurate reflection of my current life to wear my overalls covered in mud, but i was stepping back into my work persona for the night!

I arrived at 5.45pm, as instructed, sat in the lobby with a big group of others, awkwardly crammed into a small space, waiting quietly, unsure what lay ahead. I started chatting with a lovely woman next to me, had she done something like this before? Did she know what to expect? You know small talk…

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Running a bit behind time, we were ushered into a corporate meeting room, complete with cameras, recording devices and silent observers in another room. We met the guy who was to facilitate the discussion, a bit older than me, a relaxed and friendly man.

It was as group of seven women in the 35-44 demographic, gathered together to discuss superannuation, financial planning, life expectations, retirement etc. It was a fascinating, random snapshot of women in my city, my peers, checking in about our lives and how we’re travelling, both financially and in other ways. I rarely get a chance to step outside my mileau, so i was pretty intrigued and honoured to hear everyone share their stories.

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I must confess to recently watching episodes of Sherlock Holmes, so at the start, while we were waiting, I quietly observed each person to deduce what i could about them. The truth is not very much, the facilitator wore a wedding ring, many of the women looked tired, fatigued, perhaps overworked, parenting pressures or some health concerns?

Thankfully, I didn’t have to rely on my ‘deductions’ alone, we did introductions around the table.

A younger lawyer recently left the government, a woman working in admin with three children, a teacher with two children, the creative woman i met at the start worked in film and tv, a woman with no children who was very focused on financial security and retiring as early as possible, then me, who is ‘cough’ between jobs or how do i describe it? Having a forest change?

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We got chatting in a friendly and open way, each providing comments and insights, listening to each other. The atmosphere was friendly and calm, this was going to be a breeze!

About 15 minutes later, the final participant arrived. She was late due to a large accident and horrendous traffic. She was a single mum, casual work, struggling, health issues that she described in some detail. I could feel great empathy for her situation.

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Despite being late, she went on to take most of the oxygen out of the room. She would have spoken for a good 50-60% of the time – long winded answers, jumping in when others took a breath, talking over others, commenting and asking questions about everyone else’s comments – strong opinions.

Well the energy in the room changed immediately, everyone took a step back into heavy silence, less willing to openly share and it became a matter of enduring what time remained. The facilitator did his best to keep redirecting the conversation to others for input, but it was a challenge without direct confrontation.

I had a series of responses, firstly tolerance and openness to the diversity of people who make up the world. I tried to remain calm but something inside me started to well up, feeling annoyed, should i say something or let it just pass through? I did the latter and wondered how many other people just walked away from this woman, how isolating and frustrating for her to experience this reaction from others.

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The most fascinating thing was the insight into each woman. The life choices they had made and how they reflected on this at mid life. A few women had lived for long periods overseas, some had children, some did not, others were very career driven, others keen to leave the work world behind. It was interesting to see the impact of these life choices on the women themselves.

One woman described how exhausted she was with three small children, mortgage etc, she was into phone apps, and loved using them on the train home. Others described having virtually no superannuation and not being able to rely on it, they were very subject to the changing policies of government. One was very focused and in control of her financial planning, with a view to retirement as early as possible.

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One woman, described the unbearable pressure of being on a moderate salary and paying for two children to go to private school. Another 5 ½ years of this pressure to ensure her children have access to the best education that she could provide. The single mum challenged her “well you’re lucky you can afford to send your kids to a private school”, she softly replied “we work really, really hard to afford it, we forgoe many things.”

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At the end of the session we all left as quickly as we could, as we exited the building some women expressed disbelief and anger about the woman who dominated the group. I could feel their frustration, but at the same time i felt for her, as she would wear the consequences (as we all do) of who she is in a social context. Perhaps she constantly experienced the anger and rejection of others? What complexities drive behaviour?

I had a wee chat with the lovely woman who i first met, and then we jumped into our cars, driving off into the night, never to see each other again.

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Life is such a fascinating journey. We can make a lot of assumptions about people’s lives but this can deepen when we hear the story from within. When we consider who we are, the choices we make, perhaps our lives could only be exactly as they are, a mirrored reflection of ourselves. If we wish to make changes in our lives, perhaps the initial change is internal?

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Making life choices can also be really tough, especially when the way forward is unclear. We live in a complex society that can be difficult to navigate. We rely on personal qualities, social skills and fortune of circumstance to have friends, mentors and wise elders who can assist.

Almost like negotiating your way through a maze, one can get lost in the detail. It feels like a combination of active decision making and plain dumb luck has led me in life. Whilst who i am is a big factor, it’s not the whole picture either, as the choices i’ve made have also created me.

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Ultimately this whole experience felt like a gift from the universe, to pause and reflect, to consider my life and a small snapshot into the lives of others. It has brought into greater focus the blessings, and i feel honoured to share stories with others.

Wishing for you great insight, harmony and peace in you life choices.

Much love
Sarah

 

Keep the change, perhaps…

Recently a friend of mine invited me to an upmarket women’s lunch, a beautiful invitation to a fashion event at a swish hotel. Quite an ‘out of the box’ thing for me to do. It later transpired that i couldn’t go, but that’s another story. The lunch cost $95, even when i was working that was a lot of cash, but it was a one off treat. I caught up with my friend a month later and i gave her $100 to cover the cost. I started to say “keep the change…” but then i stopped. In the intervening time, I had stopped working, so my relationship with money and physical resources had shifted. I gave myself permission to receive the change and be clear with myself about it’s value to me, and no guilt trips for seeming ungenerous.

It’s about perspective. Once $5 was a couple of times daily cup of coffee or some loose change…

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but now $5 looks more to me like this…

IMGP0049A $5 bargain box from the local fruit shop.

I wanted to start by saying that this post isn’t intended as some lecture from the moral high ground about material resources. It’s a reflection on my journey, some of which may resonate for you. If you are living on a low income, a single mum with three children or another low income circumstance, then I’m telling you nothing new. In fact you’re probably highly conscious of the value of money and a total whiz at making the most of very little and i could learn a lot from you.

The experience above, caused me to pause and reflect on my relationship and attitude during my life to physical resources. To acknowledge the privileges i have in my life and highlight areas or attitudes of lack. Sometimes this has been blind privilege, not just in relation to  physical resources, but to other gifts, such as health, personal attributes such as intelligence, motivation, opportunities for education, family and friendships, the capacity to love etc. In fact when i open myself to it, i am so grateful and thankful for these blessings. I sometimes think we’d be such a kinder society if we were not so blind to our own privileges and blessings.

When i stopped work i received a payout. A useful amount that we put straight onto the mortgage. When the payment came into my account, i expected to be filled by joy and relief. It was the celebration of the end of this phase of my life, the culmination of a dream and a handy payout to accompany it. Instead I panicked and was filled with dread. I was struck with the reality that this was the final pay, no more money was coming in from me for the foreseeable future. A friend of mine who’d made a similar leap of faith a couple of years ago, reassured me that this was normal and she experienced the same. So it wasn’t about lacking gratitude, it was my fear of stepping away from a secure income into the unknown. For me money had become a symbol of security, independence and freedom. I now question that. Was I actually a slave to this belief system? Was I compromising my essence to earn the money?

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Since i’ve been working i’ve been reasonably canny with money, bought a house early to minimise paying rent. The hard work and forgone opportunities over the years have set me up with a few more options. This has been a conscious choice. Mostly though, i haven’t had to think too much about money, no clear budget, i have been accustomed to being able to purchase items at will, as there was pay coming in next fortnight. Fortunately my financial aspirations were never too high – no yachts, concord tickets or high fashion items in my wardrobe, but i’ve always had enough to buy a book here, a crystal there, a take out meal out without thinking too much about it.

When i stopped work i worried that i would find it hard to stop spending. To my suprise, it was very easy. The day i stopped work, spending just came to a halt. I realised that i used shopping as a balm to nurture myself and as a reward for the amount of time and energy i was giving to others. Once my time became my own and i stepped into my own self nurturing power, the desire to spend just fell away.

Now i have the time and energy to scour the shops for bargains, to do the research and find the best prices, to keep an eye on ebay, go to garage sales, 2nd hand shops, school fetes, to come back tomorrow or next week when things are on special. I am now consciously aware of what i have, and have the headspace to work out how to be clever with it. The difference between needs and wants is now so much clearer. I now have time to grind the beans and make myself coffee each morning.

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Study after study has shown that money only affects happiness if it makes the difference between surviving or not. Beyond survival, money has no impact on happiness. Once your basic physical needs are met (food, water, shelter, health care, physical safety etc), happiness beyond that is about expectations and attitude.

So abundance and happiness are an internal state of being.

(Although i still laugh at the joke that i might not be happy but i can anchor my yacht next to happiness and have a great view of it! )

Some dear friends of mine are from a pacific island country and i am blessed by their perspective. They grew up on subsistence level living, where having crops for food and a few pigs and chooks was abundance. I learned from them that wealth is not about material resources. A person’s wealth can be measured by their relationships with family, friends and community. My dear friends spend a lot of time, energy and money on sending money back home, nurturing their relationships, taking time to yarn and tell stories, they would literally give the shirt off their back if someone needed it more than them. When my friends go back home, everything they take with them, all their clothing and material possessions are given to their community. They come back with love, memories and beautiful connections that are far more valuable.

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A couple of years ago when i travelled to the middle east and north Africa with my sister, i was confused that items often didn’t seem have a price on them. “Why?” i asked. The answer i was given was that there is no fixed price, the value of something is how much someone is willing to pay and what the vendor is willing to sell. So the value of something depends on attitude and negotiation, how much it means to the vendor and buyer.

In the last year, when work felt more of a drag and effort, i started to look at the price of items in a new way. Previously i was accustomed to having a pool of cash or credit and just drawing from it if i felt like it. I had disconnected my own work and effort required to bring in that money. The shift happened when i started to calculate the price of items according to my hourly rate of pay. I began to say, that item is 2 or 4 hours work. Is that item worth two hours work to me, or not?  This helped me to value my time in a new way.

Today i splashed out and bought a take away cup of coffee, i took the time to savour it, taste it and it felt abundantly luxurious to not have to make it myself. Best coffee i’ve had in ages!

Wishing you a day of peace and abundance!

Much love
Sarah

PS I’d love to hear some of your experiences and perspectives on money.

PPS Just been sent this. A good link to the economics and manufacture of desire.. When i was 19, i studied marketing at University, it was mostly about psychologically manipulating people to spend money on products they may not need. Interesting read!