Telling our Stories to the World.

‘Did you see any cattle in the long paddock?’ asked a local woman in her 40s, as I stepped from my car in Julia Creek after a 234 km drive from Mt Isa. 

‘No,’ I replied, ‘I didn’t see a long paddock.’ 

‘You would’ve been in it, Luv. I’m talking about the highway. That’s what we call the long paddock around here. The cattle are allowed to graze on the side of the road but you have to keep an eye out for them. Don’t want to run into one of those at 100 km an hour.’ With that, she gave me an “I’ve won the Gold Lotto” smile, that welcomed me to the town. 

The students from grades three, four, five, and six at Julia Creek State School were very pleased and delighted that I was bringing the Queensland Writers Centre workshop, Telling Our Stories to the World to them. They learnt how they can share their unique stories through the use of postcards. 

The children talked of other towns where they have travelled: Normanton, Karumba, Hughenden, Charters Towers, Townsville, Bundaberg, Longreach, Barcaldine, Winton, and Mareeba. They dreamt out loud of countries where they might travel in the future, and of relatives – grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, and cousins – scattered wide over this continent and other continents across the globe. There was lots of discussion about their environment and how they fit into their land, what they notice on the horizon, what they see when they look out their windows at sunrise and sunset, and their deep love for the outback. 

They became so excited about writing their stories; a grade four student unexpectedly leapt up and told the captive audience her compelling story about a car running into some cattle, and just missing her family as they were getting ready to muster. Her excitement in telling her story was contagious. Tracey, their teacher, told me how when she wore her much-loved beach hat to school, one of the students asked her if she’d been mustering, as her hat looked like it had been trampled by stock. She was new to the area at the time, and this question introduced her to the outback way of thinking.

Another young student talked of the Min Min lights her family experienced whilst driving late at night to their property near Boulia. She recounted that the lights followed their car for some time, then disappeared only to reappear a little later beside the car. She was entranced by the experience and proud that she had experienced this much spoken-about phenomenon. 

She said that some Aboriginal people believe the Min Min lights are the spirits of their ancestors, protecting their land. In 2018, Wyndham local, James Birch said, ‘As a kid growing up the old people used to tell me, that the Min Min lights were old peoples’ spirits looking after country.’ 

‘There’s a suggestion that they perform a “guardian’s role” to check on sacred sites and perhaps to scare off people who aren’t supposed to be there,’ commented Dr Curtis Roman. Another legend purports that anyone who chases the lights and catches them, will never return to tell the tale.

Located between Boulia and Winton, the Min Min Hotel and mail exchange is said to be the place where the lights were first observed by a European stockman. Famous for its connection with the Min Min lights, this hotel burnt down in 1918. Stories of the lights abound, with students from Camooweal to Julia Creek re-counting their experiences.

My drive back from Julia Creek to Mount Isa was overflowed with thoughts of the Min Min lights, of mustering, and of the environment and its changing patterns. Halfway to Mt Isa I stopped to stretch my legs. A local woman who had also pulled up to do the same offered me a cuppa from her thermos, and a piece of cake she’d made that morning. Her smile was as big as the horizon as she told me about their property 200 km north of Julia Creek. Her pride and resilience shone through in her words, and her passion for the land and its surroundings. She spoke of the difficulties they had to overcome: drought, distance, and isolation. The outback certainly brings life into perspective. 

Between Julia Creek, Cloncurry, Mt Isa and Camooweal, nine school groups and many locals were included in this Telling Our Stories to the World initiative. QWC also presented two Journalling workshops for adults eager to tell their stories. 

One night while preparing to settle into my bed in Mt Isa, an advertisement on the TV declared, “This regional community holds outback values, and we are global citizens”. I thought about the children of this harsh outback land; their stories of their home, their ideas, creativity, and willingness to embrace this wide, brown country of north-west Queensland. I agreed with the bloke on the tele, closing my eyes, thinking about the kindness of the lady with the cuppa at the road stop, and her openness to a stranger. Her values will stay with me forever. 

I now carry this wild place in my imagination, to remember and to wonder about. A place carved through with a long paddock, where cattle graze on the native grass. 

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands I travelled through – the Mitakoodi, Kalkadoon, Indjalandji-Dhidhanu, Yulluna, Mitakoodi, and Wunumarra people, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

Vicki is an author, artist, and speaker. She has written thirty books and covers many genres: personal development, children’s, young adult and adult fiction. Her books include:  Two Pennies, The Little Stowaway,Oliver’s First Big Spy Adventure, The Book of Hope – Antidote to Anxiety, and The Flying Angel. She has written and co-produced a documentary, Never Forget Australia. Vicki also helps other writers as a coach and mentor.

This article was first published in the WO Climatic issue 276, March 2022.

Healthy boundaries = self-respect

Having our own set of personal boundaries influences the quality of our inner life. 

Boundaries solidify the ground we walk on and create a safe place in our internal and external life. No one necessarily needs to know about our personal boundaries. They are not something to be negotiated with others. They don’t require recruiting other people to our viewpoint; someone being right and the other being wrong is not a boundary. Having clear boundaries is at the heart of effective self-care. 

A boundary is set when you decide not to blame or shame another person, or yourself in your internal dialogue. You automatically become more respectful and kinder when you have a strong internal boundary of what you will and won’t do. You have the right to determine when, where, how and with whom you want to do things. When you set boundaries, you demonstrate self-dignity – a powerful message. 

A boundary roadmap consists of the following:

  • Being clear with yourself about what you can and can’t do. 
  • Caring more about yourself than what others think about you. 
  • Trusting your instincts by listening and acting on your feelings. 
  • Not deciding if you’re not sure of it. 
  • Trusting your decisions. 
  • Not be too hard on yourself, treating every experience as learning. 
  • Letting go of people-pleasing. 
  • Finding time and space for yourself.
  • Accepting that you don’t need to share everything by creating more privacy in your life. 

To implement this roadmap, you need to hear your own voice, to be able to shut out the noise and clutter of the world. To go where it’s quiet enough to truly hear your voice above everyone else’s. 

Empower yourself with clear boundaries. Use visualisation to imagine what living with these boundaries will look like; picture yourself as a strong, independent thinker. Make healthy choices that take responsibility for who and what you are and what you want to become.

This excerpt is from The Book of Hope – Antidote for Anxiety by Vicki Bennett.

It can be relatively easy to be kind to someone else but how kind are you to yourself?

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Kindness begins with being thoughtful about how you speak to yourself about yourself. Be aware of negative thinking about the past or the future as it can be very painful. Draw yourself back into the present moment by searching out three things you can see and focus on, noticing three things you can smell, and three things you can touch. Doing so helps you to concentrate on what’s working in your life.

Self-talk tends to be repetitive. Telling yourself stories about what you believe happened, or what you think will happen is painful. Thinking these stories will protect you from failure, or make you feel safe, is a form of avoidance. Blaming yourself over what has happened in the past is unkind and isolating. 

Maximise the present moment by reading or listening to something inspirational, then share this with a friend or family member. By sharing small moments, connecting to others can help overcome the sense of isolation that you may feel. Make sure you look for and make several connections in a day.

Self-compassion is a powerful tool for kindness. Don’t bully, guilt, or shame yourself about what’s happening around you. As soon as you feel yourself ‘should-ing’ yourself around, talk to yourself in a kind, supportive and caring way so that you can do better next time. Nothing beats the loneliness of being unkind to yourself. 

Heightened self-care is an act of personal bravery. Focus on improving yourself before saving the world. If you’re tweeting about what’s going on somewhere else in the world and not looking after your own levels of stress and anxiety, you’re going to feel hopeless. 

The approval and validation we seek is an inside job. Hope is a by-product of the strength and dignity felt inside. We contribute most to saving our world, by saving ourselves first. When we board an airplane, the flight attendant tells us that in case of an emergency, first give ourselves oxygen, then help others. When we take steps to develop our emotional health, we can then put our hand out to help others. A key question you could ask yourself about your relationship is, ‘If I were married to yourself, how long would it last?’ I am surprised to be constantly told by seemingly kind, caring people that, for them, they doubt the marriage would last very long. The most intimate relationship you can ever have, is the one you have with yourself.

Having a kind and honest relationship with yourself can be the ultimate in human understanding. Let go of seeking approval from others, look after yourself physically and emotionally, and being true to yourself. Integrity-based sacred service begins when you treat yourself with the same integrity as the external customer: family, friends, and colleagues. 

A key question you could ask yourself about your relationship is, ‘If I were married to yourself, how long would it last?’ I am surprised to be constantly told by seemingly kind, caring people that, for them, they doubt the marriage would last very long. The most intimate relationship you can ever have, is the one you have with yourself. Having a kind and honest relationship with yourself can be the ultimate in human understanding. 

The Long Game to Freedom

For much of my life, I shrouded myself in toughness and wrapped myself in a blanket of looking like I knew what I was doing, which is what overachievers do. I followed all sorts of spiritual healers until I realised that there are no quick fixes for the human condition. We are complex, nuanced, organic creatures who carry the stories and the trauma of the generations who came before us. Being human is the long game, nothing quick about it.

We are born and remain physically vulnerable longer than any other species on the planet. Wishing we could just snap out of painful experiences and be happy and upbeat only brings more suffering. Pain calls for clear, direct, open presence: this is listening to and releasing the part of the experience that is not ours and feeling the raw, wild part that belongs to us. This is what’s real; hiding, avoiding, trying to remain positive is more painful and dishonest. This is where lies and myths take hold. 

What if you brought deep presence into your feelings of pain, anxiety, grief or discomfort? What if staying present was the way through when sitting in the mud of emotional turmoil? 

So why all the quick fix healing dogma? Fix your mind-set in 30 days. Trauma healing in 90 days. Less wrinkles in 6 weeks. New body in 60 days. Everything convenient and fast, almost instant.

Now is the time to draw on your resilience. Knowing that, not only can you survive the painful and hard aspects of being alive, but your resilient spirit ensures that you thrive in every moment — painful or not. 

We’re built to bounce back naturally from difficult situations. The human condition is incredibly robust. What keeps us from this durability is believing that we’re not naturally resilient. 

Some of us come from backgrounds where we’ve been taught to believe we are weak and fragile and need looking after.  We’re not. Allowing time and space is required to be fully human.  Don’t hurry.  Use the tools and skills that resonate with you. Don’t follow someone else’s dogma. As you are unique, the map for your healing and life is also unique.

This blog was drawn from The Book of Hope – Antidote for Anxiety. 

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Anxious about 2021?

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Are you torn between feeling excited about a New Year, or are you a little anxious about the coming year?  I am osculating between the both of these and bearing in mind the kind of year we have just come out of, it’s not surprising.

But let’s break it down.

Anxiety is thinking about future projected disasters or unknown problems from the future.  The levels of anxiety felt here are dependent on how we manage this. When feeling anxiety, don’t add anything to it by saying ‘I should or shouldn’t feel this way’ or try to find the ‘why’s’ or running a narrative about it. Just identify anxiety for what it is, a pattern, and it’s okay to feel it, but it’s not okay to hurt yourself about it. 

Mainstream personal development is about adding to the narrative, not honouring it as an emotion. Meet the fear with compassion, ‘I’ve got you, I feel you’. When you notice thoughts arising about the ‘why’ of it, just stay there with the feeling. Be kind to yourself by not allowing the narrative to try to make sense of it. Don’t be afraid of feeling it and try not to attach a story to why you are feeling it, just feel it, stay with it, nothing else is required. You don’t need to be fixed, just kindly sit with the anxiety until it let’s go of you. 

Talking about emotions gives us freedom but feeling our emotions gives us liberation and feeling our emotions without fear can be a big step towards self-soothing. 

Each of us has our brand of anxiety, which is completely unique. As children many of us were not taught to self-sooth. I do this through journaling. Making sense about what I’m anxious about on paper. I write in vivid detail my concerns and issues and more often than not, find a way forward in the writing of it.

I also walk in gratitude every day, and use the words, thank you with everything I am grateful for. I notice the small things that give me hope.

Hope is optimism and action engaged. Seeing ourselves as part of the future. To have hope is to want an outcome that makes our life or the life of others better in some way. Visualising a better future motivates us to take the steps to make it happen. We are the masters of our interior life. Happy New Year.

Hope is optimism in action

When my publisher asked me to write a book encapsulating everything about living a hope-filled life, I was thrilled and terrified at the same time. Thrilled to be sharing my ideas but terrified that by opening up, I would be forced to navigate deeper levels of my understandings of anxiety. Why poke the sleeping bear?

As an adult, I’ve struggled with being enough. Overachievement and the need for approval have always driven me, often to the high end of anxiety and, when I was younger, to depression. Like many others, I have had lots of counselling to help pinpoint where my anxiety started, and this exploration has helped me to live a life of curiosity, love and passion. That’s why I decided that The Book of Hope – Antidote for Anxiety would be a handbook based on what I’ve learned about handling the ups and downs in life. 

The book was published in February 2020. Little did I know when I was writing it, that the looming worldwide pandemic would turn our lives upside down. 

Over 2 million Australians suffer from anxiety. Research suggests that 45% of Australians are expected to experience some form of mental health issue in their lifetime. These staggering numbers are growing in our 21st-century living. When we add the level of anxiety and stress created by COVID-19 there seems little opportunity for peace.

We are becoming increasingly anxious, frightened, depressed, and overwhelmed, but let’s not kid ourselves; we were already anxious, frightened, depressed, and overwhelmed before COVID-19. 

Human evolution relied on fear as a critical response to physical threat, our in-built mechanism of fight-flight-freeze is how we survived as a species. If we didn’t feel fear, we couldn’t protect ourselves. But now our survival-based fear has evolved into overwhelming anxiety, which we accommodate by soothing, avoiding, or numbing it down. 

What kept our ancestors alive is killing us slowly. 

Our ancestors were able to put aside their anxiety, to rest until the next battle or event. Our fast-paced technology, TV, social media, and texting drives us to feel like we are never quite free of pressure. Anxiety has become our new normal, and high levels of anxiety can smother hope in a heartbeat.

Recognizing anxiety is the first step. Identify when cortisol and adrenaline are activated; when our mind starts to race, hands tremble or there’s a shaking sensation in the chest. When you feel anxiety, sit quietly and breathe into that feeling, resist attaching a story of ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘who’ to the feeling. Don’t argue with yourself about it; don’t try to blame, shame, or guilt the feeling away. That’s never worked. Identify the anxiety as early as possible and breathe through it until it lets go of you. 

A pioneer of dealing with anxiety Dr. Claire Weekes wrote, “To recover, we must know how to face and accept panic; to go through panic until it no longer matters … Recovery is in our own hands, not in drugs, not in the avoidance of panic, not in ‘getting used to’ difficult situations. Permanent recovery lies in the patient’s ability to know how to accept the panic until they no longer fear it.”

We may not be able to control the outer circumstances of our lives. However, by identifying and taking notice of what’s happening within, we can develop resistance by taking small moments of mindfulness, awareness, and being in the current moment. 

My definition of hope is optimism in action. Hope won’t stop the challenging things from happening, it just helps us to understand that they are transitory.

We need to create new neural pathways in our brain – those stimulated by gratitude, kindness, optimism, cheerfulness, buoyancy, and hope. When we think more hopeful thoughts, our bodies release dopamine and serotonin, two types of neurotransmitters that relax the nervous system. Both of these chemicals are linked with happiness. 

Stop constantly accessing the news or having it on as background noise; at least take it down a couple of notches. Being hammered with the same event over and over again is not healthy. 

Spend time in the outdoors, read more, meditate, experience art, literature and music, these are the things that nurture our hearts and make us more peaceful and wise. 

As a small child, I remember the excitement of saying goodbye to my favourite aunt as she boarded a luxury liner from Sydney Harbour, heading to Southampton. She threw a yellow streamer from the upper deck and I eagerly caught it and held on tight, smiling and waving with my other hand. This encounter left an indelible mark on my imagination. Now as an adult, hope for me is the streamer between the ocean liner and the dock. Between me and my future. 

This article first apeared in Your Life Choices on 1st October 2020.