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Focus Village People

This month I’m running a half marathon that winds through Angkor Wat near Seam Reap, Cambodia. There are a lot of reasons why I’m doing this, yet one of the great bonuses in doing this run is that it supports some wonderful people in two helping groups, one called Hearts of Gold, providing prosthetic limbs for land mine survivors and encouraging sports for the disabled, and the other called Village Focus International, doing great things in Laos, India and Cambodia. One the projects that VFI supports is to especially help children who, through limited access to education and resources, are left vulnerable to a multitude of risks. Land Mines? Survivors? Village? Focus? Race? Children? Protection? There are so many links between these and the subconscious mind, so I’ll take a few moments to connect these ideas with the mind, as well as aim to give closure on an ‘old’ year and prepare for 2009.

The Land Mines of Our Lives

While the widespread death and destruction of the Khmer Rouge and civil war which occurred during the recent history of Cambodia came to a cease-fire in 1998, the tools and trappings, or ‘litter’ of war – from land mines to lack of proper education or nutrition – has lasted to the present. Similarly, there are times, relationships and situations that seem to have deposited land mines in our mental and emotional fields. While they may have happened in the past, these hotspots appear to take us down at the most unexpected moments. They may take the form of, directly or indirectly, a person, a place, a situation, or may happen just before successfully achieving what you want or need. What we need is a crack anti-mine team to sweep for these. This may require some time scanning over some of your personal terrain. You may know it well – work, relationships, money, organisation, anything…

Now you have to look even closer – very small indicators can open a mine to revelation. While obviously bomb squad experts are humans, they are well known for their ability to keep clear and objective self-control during these high risk exercises. While these mines may have had devastating consequences in the past, we need to keep that razor-sharp objectivity in looking at them – giving ourselves some dispassionate distance to these highly personal problems. It may help to pretend that you’re doing this for a loved one so that you can focus on the goal of resolution rather than get involved in its politics and subjectivity. Starting now in December gives you a few weeks to prepare either for holidays (which sometimes tend to raise issues of the past when family is involved) or for the New Year (the subconscious mind loves rituals and meaning, so a clean slate of a new year is a great thing for which to get organised). Left untouched many of these mines, in the ground or in the mind, can explode leaving remains or destruction and despair.

Local Focus, Global Focus – Where to Focus?

A thought extracted by Malcolm Gladwell in “The Tipping Point” (2002) speaks about our functioning social networks and their limits.

“The figure of 150 seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuinely social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who they are and how they relate to us. Putting it another way, it’s the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.” Robin Dunbar

With all the trouble spots around the world, the natural disasters going on in the far reaches of the globe, as well as areas of local strife that demand our attention and resources – in our day to day life we usually have WAY more than 150 people in our network and sometimes feel pulled in many directions at once. Often people are paralysed into thinking that they can’t affect change in any place. My belief is that the human condition is geared towards compassion and support of others, yet with the globalisation and 24/7 instant communication of today, we feel bombarded and worry that our choices may not be optimal in helping others. We wonder how, in any number, we can lend a hand.

The number I start with is the number one – you. Until we are self-possessed and comfortable within ourselves, it makes it difficult to look outward to support others. From there I work within my network – a year and a half ago I participated in a fund-raising for Children’s Cancer Foundation (www.ccf.org.sg) by shaving my head [this is a bonus for me – I love getting physically involved while I’m giving, hence the Cambodian run] as well as other groups that have meaning to me or people I care about. Cambodia came to my awareness because of an earlier trip there, and I felt I could help this group through my own donation as well as from those I know. The world needs more people like you – in whatever form you feel is most relevant using the resources you have (time, skills, money…) Start from yourself and look inward to find what outward opportunities exist to help others while being aligned with your own meaning and priorities. Whatever direction you move in, at least you’re moving.

It Takes a Village to Raise a Child

This is a saying that really resonates with me. I’m often aware while I’m in public spaces that spongy little people are looking to all of us as models for behaviour. If stopping at the top of escalators, or pushing into queues are what we adults do, then why would children learn otherwise. While there are giant outcries about childhood obesity around the world, why would it be otherwise with the increasing size of portions (make mine an appetizer!), and the multiplying of easy but nutrient poor pre-fab foods that fill with empty calories not sustenance. Maybe it is our job to question more diligently, protest more vehemently, and watch our own behaviour more closely when we complain about ‘those young people’ and their habits and patterns (an objection which has been passed down from generation to generation).

What can we do for ‘our’ children? They may not be related but be younger, less experienced, newer… It may be to show a child how to compost, to support a friend who is just starting an exercise regime, give some time or money to projects in your community that support literacy or understanding, or give to www.villagefocus.org at https://secure.groundspring.org/dn/index.php?aid=27286 (you can put in my name as the participant). Now before you think this is a thinly veiled squeeze on your December funds, I’ll let you in on its connection to mind. Studies have shown that nerve cells in the caudate nucleus and the nucleus accumbens – those that usually fire when you’re eating your favourite treat – fire when people altruistically give money to charity. So that donating to something bigger than yourself appears to have a brain reward-centre reaction. How great is that – give away, and get more (feel better) in return!

Protecting Our Kids

No, I’m not talking about your offspring or even those children who are being helped by worthy organisations around the world. I’m talking about your own ‘inner child’. The end of the year often has us tallying up our successes (sometimes) and shortcomings (more often). If we are reunited with family for holidays, there are often old ancestral issues that raise their head at the most inappropriate times. And while ancient discords or grievances may be aired between members, often they pale in comparison to the criticism within (at any time of the year). Over the past few weeks I’ve been questioning myself, labeling myself a ‘non-runner’, and giving myself a bit of a beating for falling off the training wagon now and again over the last months. Often that sort of internal beatings make me feel worse, creating a vicious cycle of self-imposed limitations.

Then I think, if this person (me) was a niece or child of mine, what would I be saying? Probably not “what’s your problem, you lazy slob?” More likely it would be a lot more supportive – understanding the setbacks and internal questions that sometimes come up, and propping up her self-challenging goal and perseverance. With that sort of genuine support, I’m more inspired to put on the running shoes again and hit the track or the road. There are many children around the world who need your support, yet the most in need is often the one who’s reading this newsletter right now (got ya!) Make an early resolution to put your own child on the ‘protective and support’ list.

Does it Matter How You Get to the Finish Line? And Where Is It Anyway?

While many people have run this far and further, twenty-one+ kilometres feels like a long way. I understand that many of the participants in the race are either in wheelchairs or wearing prosthetic limbs. And I’ve heard that it is one of the most spirited races around. Often I notice the undying spirit of those who have experienced horrific events in history yet defy their experience with positivity and resilience. I’m going into this race with that quiet defiance backed by my understanding of what this run means to me. I’m not going in it to break a world record, or become an elite athlete, or win prizes and fame. I’m going to complete a goal I’ve been working towards, and experience an unique and possibly magical historic environment while supporting important work in the area. I’m excited and a little nervous and convinced that this will be a sensational experience. If only life would be that easy.

Wait. It is. Not so much a ‘rat race’ many people are focusing on, but instead a challenging but meaningful journey. I’m aiming to take the ‘race face’ approach to other aspects of my life, and just as I’m not sure exactly ‘how’ I’m going to finish it, I know I can and will. If you looked at 2009 as an important and personal half-marathon, what might be at the finish line, what might be along the path, who might you be running with, what might you leave behind to get there? Because the mind loves stories and metaphor, this ‘road trip’ may just give your brain food for thought, and start you on an interesting and enchanting route.

Focus – 2009!

All the best for the rest of 2008,

Jennifer

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