UNWRAPPING THE PRESENT
Writing my life story is emotionally draining, a matrix of strong emotions come to the surface - old wounds scratched again leave me bleeding as I ponder important memories and worry about others that are spilling over my edges. Too hard to remember? I reflect on my vocation and remember surprising moments of euphoria my early beginnings with meditation and then as a psychologist, learning from stories shared by many and I recognise the rich and abundant wisdom that sparkles within. Thirty years have passed since I began crafting this autobiography - many times I had to push it aside, too disturbing for my children, too much information, public suicide, wait till I am in a loving relationship, wait until I am older - put the manuscript away, lock it in a box, bury my narrative under a pile of storage boxes - again taking on the challenge, the desire
Flat Rock - World Heritage Listed Blue Mountains
I am standing on Flat rock overlooking the expansive Jameson Valley in the World Heritage Blue Mountains of Australia a vision is taking shape before my eyes. Soft clouds are hanging below and warm sun is beaming on my back. I am missing my sacred place at the ocean where I used to find solace and inspiration – especially when gazing out to the blue ocean and expansive line of the horizon. I have come to find a new sacred place far away in the Mountains and so I am standing on flat rock taking in a green expanse, a valley of trees, yes a tree change, with views as vast as the ocean – I am convincing myself that this place is as profound as the sparkling play of light and reflections on water, there are regrets too. I can't dive into the waves and feel refreshed and invigorated. Rather here I stand and in place of my bathing suit, I am wearing a large black heavy overcoat that I purchased from Vintage for twenty dollars. I stand breathing in the space and view, trying to calm my thoughts and prepare for the long drive to the city where I will face my ex and a Federal court magistrate. I inhale deeply and feel the fresh air, as thoughts race through my mind, I have been struggling for years now trying to cope with a hostile and aggressive man, my worst fears and yes I am in a terrible crises, my worst fear as a mother - I am fighting for custody of my daughter – being forced by my ex husband to justify myself to a Legal system and Federal Court Judge. I know that he will rely on stereotypes and rational arguments against me which he has drawn from my complex and traumatic past – Yes I know my truth my love for my daughter. They don’t know my story. Surely, it is obvious to those professionals, the judge, that I am not a liability or risk to my own daughter or Self. I have been a psychologist with over 25 years of professional history; I know that I am respected by my colleagues and clients, a woman with some standing in my community. I have been a mother for over 25 years to my son and now my young daughter. Never-the-less I feel so small as I wonder with fear and anguish will my present life be overlooked by the judge and lawyers as they make simplistic conclusions based on malicious intentions and limited knowledge about a person's capacity for post traumatic growth.
I have worked through so many early childhood issues and through my training and work as a psychologist I have acquired compassion and integrity. I practice these human virtues in every way possible. I rely on them to guide my decision making. However, my ex-husband in his rage and anger and ego pain at the end of our marriage acts as if this is a war, with one winner, Him, his mission to gain retribution and to destroy my relationship with our daughter, ruin my professional credibility and have me publicly labelled as profoundly pathological. I understand some of the dynamics involved in presenting a legal case: The professional people don’t know any of us, they can only judge from the paper work and reports they receive and my ex-husband is driving these perceptions with guidance from criminal lawyers who know how to work the family law system. I am the respondent in the case and I have no idea what is in store for me, or who my friends will be and what projections will be played out. My body is in a state of flight - fight - freeze; I feel every nerve cell overexposed and naked. Personal matters being brought back to the present, old traumas that have been put to rest for many years before I even met my ex-husband, these personal matters no longer define who I am. My ex-husband is exposing my past in the most destructive manner, he tells my daughter disturbing tales about me and my family as if these were occurring in my life now, from a young age he has distorted her view and laid some foundations that are destructive to her trust in me. I never would have told her my stories until she was an adult, when she has her own reasoning and faith in herself and her parents love of her. I can't protect her from this situation because the wheels are already in motion. I have to buffer the negative effects and remember who I am NOW and try to understand her needs, her confusion with patience understanding and compassion. My thoughts are interrupted as Nature compels me to notice a phenomenon of
a rainbow forming itself into a full circle around a black shape amongst the trees. Slowing and gradually the rainbow is growing into a complete circle and then a second rainbow circling alongside the first. I happen to love rainbows and always pause to rejoice when I see them in the sky. I am still standing in a state of rapture as I wonder if the black shape is connected to me in some way and I stretch my arms outward gasping as the shadow follows my lead. My shadow- Wow! My heart starts pumping loudly, again I can feel a gentle warmth penetrating my back, the morning sun is behind me causing this large Shadow of ME. I am holding my arms out fully and wriggling my fingers as I see the play of white light streaming out from my fingers tips. I am getting very excited now. Wow, this is pretty amazing. I wonder at the Shaman’s of old, and what a blessing and positive sign they would interpret this vision as. Possibly the healer of the tribe would be blessed with this experience and the tribe as witnesses in a state of awe. I ponder the similarity of my role and work as a clinical hypnotherapist - trauma informed psychologist.
MORTAN BAY FIG TREE
These large Mortan Bay Fig trees are a local tree in my area. I have adopted the Mortan Bay fig tree as a therapeutic metaphor that I use to describes me! The roots of the tree help me explain my family of origin: the trunk represents my Self, the exterior that you see. The interior, represents my life force and nutrition that sustains my soul. My work is an expression of what sustains and nourishes me. The boughs of the tree relate to the different aspects of my productivity and how far and wide I can reach and touch people. I am by nature an optimist, always growing toward the light and continuing to grow no matter how difficult the terrain or external environment.
I relate to the Morton Bay Fig Tree as a helpful metaphor to explain who I am. I particularly identify with this enormous tree as it represents an empowering metaphor that helps me to explain the many aspects involved in my work with people and my own experiences. The Morton Bay Fig Tree is able to grow in the most obscure of places and continues to bear down new roots throughout its lifespan. It is resilient and hardy able to grow from the most deprived and difficult terrain. On my land I discovered that the roots of my Mortan Bay Fig tree had fallen over and it had re-rooted itself from it bough and grown into a large expansive tree. I too have fallen and grown new roots to support my life; from this new base I have thrived, then fallen again, only to discover my growth in another area. I automatically think in terms of life-enhancing choices and positive ways of being. Mort means death and dealing with the struggles of life and circumstances my "identity-ego" has died, and this psychological death has been an important part of my spiritual freedom and personal flexibility away from suffering. I am resilient and in optimum circumstances I do flourish. In terms of my roots, somewhere in my adulthood I discovered that my roots had come unstuck and I fell over. Indeed, I was ungrounded. I led a dangerous life and an anxious life, with many volatile relationships and a disempowering career as a fashion model and TV personality. Through personal therapy and commencing study in philosophy and psychology, I started to put down new roots. Like the Morton Bay Fig Tree, I re-rooted and I continued to grow strong. An important contribution to my wellbeing and personal journey of post traumatic growth has been through my work as a psychologist, one on one in depth work with clients, with the thousands of people I facilitated through wild at heart groups in the 90’s and early 2000. The fulfillment in being able to give back to others what I had learned from life experiences.
My work is not a career, or job, it is a path of service that I am deeply committed to. It is my Divine calling, as Christians may claim, or my Dharma as the Buddhists would claim, it is my Ikigai the Japanese term for positive future, Altruism and being with others with a focus on emotional wellbeing is my way of giving back, being connected and holding a significant place in my everyday life ….
Compassionate ecology – is my guiding philosophy of life. My gift to give.
Back in the Wild at Heart days - telling our stories through the Creative Arts 1990 - 2000
THE SHADOWS OF MY PAST
I missed out on forming an emotional attachment to a parent figure, too many separations before the age of five, therefore I was unable to hold present or constant a caring person in my mind. As a young adult, the effect of sudden unexplained disappearances meant emotional isolation – incredible loneliness “Out of sight out of mind” That was a literal experience for me as I grew into a young adult seeking to have a love life. For example if a boyfriend went away for any extended period I would loose my loving connection to them, sometimes forgetting them and getting on with life, sometimes I would forget friends, girlfriends as well as intimate partners. I would forget them and then if they did return, I had to build my trust and friendship all over again. I would feel awkward and detached. For me any separation meant indifference from both parties. I had moved on so much in my life, I had nothing in common with them. I never questioned this about people leaving, I wasn’t even curious about it. I moved on with new friends, new boyfriend, new job, and new life style. The only way I remembered my Self, was through my diaries. I wrote in my diaries most days, especially I wrote about my feelings and emotions. I stored all the volumes in suitcases and carried these suitcases where ever I travelled, each new town I lived in.
I was full of fear and this chronic anxiety reaction created some hopeless and unhelpful beliefs and behaviours about me and about others. My mother and father met at a dance, ended the night with some wild and unsafe sex, and conceived me. It was the late ‘50s and still sex and unwed pregnancy was perceived by many as scandalous. So according to the conventions of the day my father was urged to marry my mother. My father Louis was Czechoslovakian, handsome and violent. He beat my mother while she was pregnant with me. My mother, was Australian, from a German background, 19 years old, and naïve, headstrong and emotionally immature. My mother told me that after I was born she and my father spent a violent and emotionally tempestuous six months living together in a flat in St. Kilda. My mother claims that she was attentive and nurturing during this time; I was breastfed and loved. My mother left my father, actually moving out while he was away on holiday with friends on a leisure boat cruise, and we moved in with my maternal grandparents. I found out many years later from my uncle a different story; that my mother was not attentive, that she left me with my grandmother in Brisbane and then with my father who took me with him to Melbourne. Back and forth between the two parents I travelled. Finally, before my first birthday, my father was banned from ever visiting me again. My uncle was 18 when he drove my grandparents and me back to their home town of Brisbane. I remember from photos that I loved my Uncle RG. Eventually, after more moves back and forth between Brisbane and Melbourne, my grandparents travelled to Melbourne permanently to care for me.
My father had nothing to do with me until much later in my life. What went missing all of a sudden in my very young life? The familiarity of my home, my bed and my father—his touch, his tone of voice and his unique body odour. Now, I wonder what effect the separation from my father had on me as an infant as I lay waiting for his familiar figure. Did I feel restless and hungry? The infant searching, fretful where are the familiar smells, sounds and touch. I didn’t meet my father again until I was 13 years old. He was a fantasy figure in my mind from that point on too. I didn’t actually see him face-to-face or communicate with him—but I held him in my mind, in my imagination—people would ask me about him sometimes and I would remember him as handsome and a tall, strong man bringing me presents. When I was twenty one he died and I found out I had a younger sister living on an island somewhere remote. I rang to speak to her at that difficult and confusing time. The circumstances surrounding my father’s death were complex and I was forbidden to connect with her. There are some conflicting stories about those early days of my life. I was living with my grandparents and my mother was away working as a fashion model. She didn’t take care of me instead, she lead a dangerously unhealthy lifestyle, drugs and other men. Finally when I was 18 months old, my mother left me with my grandparents. She didn’t come back; she never visited me and I never felt her love or attention in any nurturing way again. I am crying as I write this, connecting to the loss, the loss of her attention, and abandonment from her. I lost my mother, I had no father, and I was still in nappies. I couldn’t walk, neither could I talk. At that age I was totally dependent for my survival, physically and emotionally, on an adult caregiver. My grandparents worked and had their own difficulties. I was really a problem, a big problem that wasn’t going to disappear. At that age I had no ability to reason, to understand where my Mummy had gone or what my life was about. Father, mother, familiar contexts all suddenly gone. Too many separations, no person stayed for long. I was placed in a long-day care Centre and in the early 60's that wasn't the best place for an infant to be. I had no say in what happened to me. I was just a baby with uncomplicated needs. My grandmother tells me that I was a very “good baby" I just lay where I was placed. I lay quietly with my wet nappies and my boredom - staring absently, uninterested in anything—I had learned quickly that it was futile to protest, to cry out, more often than not, no-one came to attend to my needs. Yes, I had Nana and Pop, and my grandparents (grandmother took charge) they felt responsible for me and cared for my basic needs, but they were new beings to me—they were different; they smelt and sounded and felt different. And they were busy working, Nan working three jobs, Pop working for Council and losing money at the races. Even as a young child I was left on my own most of the time. In Melbourne, I went to long day care and my physical needs were met: I was fed and my nappy changed—no-one took care of my emotional needs—these emotional reactions and experiences continued to be neglected throughout my young life.
I imagine that for a significant time I would have missed my Mum—then I would have forgotten what or who I was missing. I bonded with my Nan and Pop and spent many hours talking with my cats, watching ants and being alone. I did what I was told and always smiled for the camera. From the age of 18 months into my adult years I remember that I had a deep longing to be reunited with that original feeling of being truly loved and cared for. I lost my Nan and Pop when I was 5 years of age, as one day a woman came to take me away, I was told to call her mummy and she changed my life forever.
NATURE METAPHORS AND TRANSFORMATION
We jump now past the many years of emotional and physical pain to my life in adulthood. A mother now to my son aged three at the time. I had recently moved into a new home as a single mum and had invited my three parents to visit, Lenore (my mother), Nan and Pop. I was recently divorced from my husband caring for our young three year old son. My marriage had ended and I was still distraught trying to put all my pieces together and be an attentive and loving mother. I had no future positive stories to call upon. I was living in a hopeless state of mind, my heart broken. My whole world crashing in on me. I was still looking for love and support from my own family.
My mother presented a gift to me. She told me as she held it out in the palm of her hand that it was her prize creation - a four year old bonsai Mortan Bay fig tree in a dish. I could see the pride in her face as she held it out for me. My mother told me that the tiny tree didn't need much attention, it didn't need to be watered very often, and could live inside or outside and telling me that all I needed to do was cut off any new growth and snip off the roots from time to time and it will stay just like this. I began to feel hot and uncomfortable, I was horrified as I looked at this twisted small stick with a couple of leaves on top, I felt a surge of pain and rage draw up from my depths as I realised this poor little tree was receiving the same treatment as my mother had given to me all these years, and here she was instructing me how to continue to keep it small. I was in shock as it became so clear to me, that my mother would never be sorry for what she had done to me, as she really was quite proud of herself and completely oblivious to the pain she caused me. I decided on that day that I would take that tree out of the tight boundaries and plant it where it could grow to reach it's potential. Later that Christmas day we went to the park for a lunch where we sat underneath a row of enormous Mortan Bay fig trees. I gasped inside, the messages from Nature were clear to me - I needed to get away from the destructive control of my mother and family. So my years of indepth three times a week therapy continued. Compassion and kindness encouraging me to go deeper into the pain of my past. My sessions nourishing me and soothing my hurts and giving me clarity around my worth.
Many years later when my in-depth therapy had completed, (not that it ever really does), I purchased my dream home overlooking Newport beach. My son and I moved in he was now 17 years of age, with out realising it at the time out the back of the property was a hidden Mortan Bay Fig tree. It was completely covered with a vine called morning glory. It needed to go so the tree could survive. When I started to clear the land, I uncovered the exposed roots. The tree had fallen over exposing it's roots - I liked the irony of this as it had continued to grow from one of it's boughs, which had grown new roots to support the now growing trunk. You can imagine it was a labour of love. I fell in love with this tree and took great care to remove the morning glory that could have suffocated it from reaching it's fullest potential. I loved to go down and sit under the growing canopy and feel nourished and inspired. Of course I identified with this beautiful tree and I enjoyed watching it grow in my back yard. My metaphor from Nature a gift of hope. I too could keep growing regardless of my childhood past and I could enjoy the flow of love and creativity in my life. I continue to be grateful for my psychotherapy with my Buddhist psychiatrist Dr. Eng-Kong Tan, and soaked up my somatic-body treatments. Creating and delivering the wild at heart retreats and circles.
Meditation practices, kind and compassionate practitioners became my dear confidants. Mortan Bay Fig trees reminded me that I could keep growing strong and lead a life full of purpose, joy and wholesome interconnections.