Month: June 2016

That time I was a pin cushion…

Donating blood is one of the most important things you can do as a member of the human community. It is the gift of life to a stranger and what could be more wonderful than that? My husband has done it and because it was one of my fifty 2016 challenges, yesterday I fronted up to the vampire van and signed up to hand over my pound of flesh….or a 400ml sack of blood as the case may be.

I wasn’t nervous. Needles don’t phase me. Given the choice between a Tim Tam and a needle, I would always go the biscuit but I’m not one of those people with hypodermic phobia and the sight of blood fascinates me rather than the opposite. I am a fan of Tarantino films. I wanted to be a vampire as a child and also briefly considered being a surgeon so blood and I…we go way back…we are tight…we have no problems with one another.

So after checking my general health, ticking all the boxes to say that I hadn’t had a threesome with a mad cow in Timbuktu any time recently or shot up green caterpillar juice with junkie Oompa Loompas in Loompaland in the last three months, I was good to go.

The whole thing was like plugging into headphones. Lie back, insert mosquito-thin needle into arm, squeeze squishy ball and make small talk with the other people being drained. We chatted about the weather (cold), the mushy brains associated with pregnancy (smushy peas) and general chit-chat. Time went on (minutes). I was cool and chilled out and relaxed thinking this is a piece of cake while thinking about the actual piece of cake I would get as a reward for my altruism.

And then…the nurse-woman-vampire looked at me weirdly and asked if I was alright. A bit dizzy I said. And then……a lot dizzy, a lot cold and a lot passing out.

My blood pressure dropped to something silly and they whipped out the needle and put me in the shock position, lying back with my legs in the air. Feeling somewhat foolish, I waited for the nausea and light-headedness to pass. It took a while.

This happens sometimes apparently.

I hope to be able to try again in a few months. I hope they sapped enough out of me to save the lives of a couple of small people (as I didn’t fill the whole bag).

Giving blood is a worthwhile thing to do. Do it. Just be aware that even if you are fine with it…sometimes…your body isn’t.

I have fifty challenges for this year. I’ve done the silent meditation retreat and now the blood donation (kind of ) and next I’ll be volunteering in a soup kitchen. I may not be totally brilliant yet at being a generous community-member or enlightened person….but at least I’m trying, eh?

 

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WINTER MAGIC

Once a year in Katoomba in the beautiful Blue Mountains behind Sydney, the place transforms into something out of a Harry Potter novel. On the Saturday nearest to the shortest day of the year (winter solstice) the locals and thousands of eager visitors dress up in the spirit of the festival and descend upon the small township.

This year was even better than last. It is becoming an annual family tradition for us to attend. The streets were filled with a diverse and crazy mob of dressed up loonies and it made my heart glad. Just to prove that the place is magic on that day, the rain and wind that had been pestering the mountain since early morning, cleared and parted, warming to an unseasonably sunny and mild day, perfect for the massive, musical, vibrant street parade full of music and dancing, drums and horns.

The highlight of the parade for me was the zany and very pink-themed LGBT mob who carried flags bearing the word ORLANDO. As they passed we hooted and applauded and it was heartening to see the crowd so supportive. There were tears of grief and sadness but also tears of joy that we could all come together and cheer as we were reminded of the incredible global support and sympathy extended to that community in the wake of the tragedy.

Many, later that afternoon, descended upon the (allegedly) haunted historic hotel, The Carrington, and it really was incredible to see the bizarre characters lining up at the bar. That scene from Star Wars was happening in front of my eyes.

There were spectacular fireworks displayed over the top of the Carrington at nightfall and it was hard not to believe that you were at a party thrown by Jay Gatsby.

Then came the Fractured Fairy-tale Ball, a sumptuous feast enjoyed beneath a canopy of chandeliers and mock forest in the beautiful dining room. The entertainment provided by the Porcelain Dolls, a dance troupe, was the crowning glory of the entire festival and embodied the zany, sexy, bizarre theme of the day. We were entertained with a circus/burlesque version of an Alice in Wonderland that made the diners feel that they had indeed fallen down the rabbit hole.

One fellow at a table near me was dressed in full body white paint and a furry white g-string with a glow-in-the-dark unicorn horn. Where else would you find someone sitting on a baroque chair at a $150 a head ball, basically in the nude? This is why I love this festival.

I cannot wait for next year. Bring on the winter crazies. I love you all. For the shortest day of the year we sure packed in a lot of fun.

THAT TIME I WAS A PRETZEL

My son once observed that I vacuum like a possum on speed. This is a keen observation because I should point out that I have ADHD. While life might be more manageable with medication, I do without and just skate through life like a runaway train.

What might pose the greatest challenge to someone like me? How about a ten day silent meditation retreat? I know I’m sometimes a complete masochist but even I couldn’t come up with such a torturous idea…. except that I did. I turned a significant age and while my peers were off on mid-life crisis P&O Cruises, I decided to do a boot camp of the mind. What could possibly go wrong?

This is me. I wake up each morning before the sun and leap out of bed freaking out because the clock is ticking and I am running out of time to write my next book, go on that diet, win an Academy Award and change the world. The expression take a chill pill was invented specifically for me. I am the least calm human I know. I am a walking cyclone and it unnerves my fairly relaxed family. I am go-go-go and yet when I turned ‘that age’ I decided that I wanted to learn how to …..just stop. I wanted to learn how to be still. So when I read about a ten day retreat teaching Vipassana meditation, I knew I’d found my sabbatical. The retreat closest to me was in the Blue Mountains (they are scattered all over the globe) and I promptly booked in for the ordeal…I mean enlightenment.

I talk a lot. A. Lot. So most people thought the idea of me being silent for ten days was a complete joke. I would show them. My teenage son said that if I lasted the ten days he would book in and do a retreat as well. He was that sure I would fail. Challenge on!

The place rested on the escarpment in one of the most beautiful Australian bush-settings you can imagine. A hundred of us signed up and after our first hour of meditation we were banished into a state of silence, forbidden eye contact with others, no reading materials, writing materials, any form of technology and no dinner. Listen to me! No dinner except for two pieces of fruit but they were half pieces so technically one piece of fruit. No coffee. No wine. No meat. No touching. No laughter. No words. Nada. Nothing. And the wake up bell calling us to the meditation hall came at 4.15 a.m. each day, early even for me.

So for ten days I got up in the cold dark, trying not to be crushed by a stampede of kangaroos on my way to the hall where I sat like a garden statue and contemplated the true reality of existence by realising that everything is impermanent except the pain you feel in your hips during long bouts of meditation because that hell is endless let me tell you! Eleven hours a day of sitting like a human pretzel, contorted on a cushion on the floor, eyes shut, concentrating on the space beneath your nostrils taught me pretty quickly that anything that I have ever complained about in the comfort of my own home was trivial by comparison.

Stillness? Silence? I was inwardly screaming, chanting four letter words, sneaking glances from between crocodile slits of eyes, at the others, liking one girl’s snazzy pants, hating on the hippiest poser with the perfect posture. I itched and sneezed and coughed while others around me farted and faintly snored.

Back in my basic but comfortable room, I began reading my shampoo bottle label from sheer boredom. I was truly more alone with myself than I have ever been in my life and it was unnerving.

The not speaking was the easiest part and actually quite liberating. I came to see that so much speech is just idle chatter. My bones were taking a beating from all the floor-sitting but the lack of stimulation was hardest. Tears came on day four. By day six however, I was looking better, feeling better, slowing down and feeling that elusive thing that I never feel….I felt relaxed. The vego lunches were delicious. I was sleeping well. I started to get it. Life. The blinkers were off.

And I survived. Did I become a Jedi mind warrior? Now, now, baby steps. I may not be enlightened yet but my knee-jerk reactions to life have become less violent and my ten days as a pretzel taught me that I control time, not the other way around. I also learned that ditching dinner is an awesome way to drop kilos. Now it’s time for the teenager to go get some shut-up!