Monday, August 11, 2014

how to live your dream life


Without exaggerating in the slightest, I can honestly say that in the last year I have come across hundreds of articles that encourage the reader to ‘follow their dreams’. I myself am guilty of writing pieces of a similar nature. After all it’s good advice, isn’t it? It’s far better to aim for what your heart really desires than convince yourself that it will never happen and live a less fulfilled life as a result. These articles are supposed to make you act; first by deciding what your dream life is, and then by devising a set of goals designed to help you reach that dream life, if only in teeny tiny baby steps.
While at first glance this all sounds great, I am starting to take umbrage with the entire idea of ‘dream life’, as it implies that the life you’re currently living isn’t good enough as it is, and is simply a waiting room for the life you want to be living.
Too often these articles ask the question: ‘are you stuck in a nine to five job?’ knowing that the answer to that for the majority of people will be a resounding yes. They then go on to argue that now is the time to start living your life, and to do so you should quit your job and open up the coffee shop you’ve always wanted/become a sky-diving instructor/make money by telling people how to live their best life. Now if that is what you want to do, go for it. However, my issue with this advice is that having an occupation that isn’t in the field you want, or simply isn’t everything your heart desires, does not mean that you are not living a fulfilled life. It doesn’t even mean that you are not living your dream life. These articles give the impression that we should not be happy, fulfilled or feel that we have ‘made it’ unless every single card has fallen into place.  
That is not to say that dreams and goals are not important, because it’s great to have things to aim for. I for one am probably the most goal-orientated person on Earth, and would probably spend all day sitting in a park with a book if I didn’t have a check list of things I wanted to get done every single day (like writing this article for instance). Nevertheless, the problem with goals, particularly if you are not happy, is that they can become a sort of life raft. You base the happiness that you may not be feeling right now on that goal, thinking that think once you reach it you can finally settle down and appreciate the here and now. However, no matter who you are and no matter how lucky you are, nothing will ever be perfect. There will always be additional goals and things that you are dreaming of that may not have yet happened, and may not ever happen. So for every dream or goal that you do fulfil, there will be thousands more waiting in the background, giving you a reason to feel unfulfilled in your current situation.
To put things in perspective a bit, eighty percent of people live on less than ten US dollars a day and 1.3 billion do not have enough to eat. If you think about that and then look around you – at the roof over your head, the food in your cupboard, the security of that boring office job – then it is quite easy to see that you are already living a dream life. You don’t need to wait for every single thing to be going exactly the way you want it to before you can stop and appreciate how lucky you are.

So despite the so-called positivity and motivation of these ‘follow your heart and live your dream life’ articles, goals and dreams aren’t what are really needed right now for many of us. Rather, we need to foster gratitude for our current situation, and the dream life that we currently have ownership of. It’s okay to have dreams – in fact, I highly encourage it. However don’t let those dreams stop you from enjoying the here and now. There needs to be far less articles that advise how to get from point A to point B in order to be happy, and more articles on how to be happy right now in the life that we are already living.

(Image credit: 1.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

how to beat those winter blues away


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Ahh so it’s that time of the year again. The skies are grey, the icy cold wind is digging its way through your thick jacket and heading straight to your bones, you have become used to sludging your way around the office in rain drenched shoes, and the faces around you are glum at best. Now I love Canberra. I am the first to sing the praises of this beautiful city. But Canberra winters are the worst. The. Worst. Clearly I’m not the only one who thinks so, judging from the stormy faces around that only seem to brighten up on unseasonably sunny and warm days. Most years I hibernate, only emerging from my apartment when the cherry blossoms start to come out. However, despite my refusal to go anywhere without adequate heating, and ingesting more tea than should be humanly possible, I still find myself hit hard by the winter blues. This year, rather than sit on my butt in front of the heater with an angry expression and a mouthful of complaints, I have decided to embracetolerate the colder months. To help me achieve this goal, I have devised a little list of ways to help keep the summer cheer going right through the colder months:

Go outside. I know, it seems crazy. Who would want to go out in this? Yet despite how much I loathe my afternoon walks in the bitter cold and sleet, I find that just getting some fresh air is enough to lift my mood for the rest of the day. Or maybe I’m just so relieved to be out of the cold that I start to gain more appreciation for temperamental office heating. Either way, it’s an effective and free way to bring some spring back into my step (Spring. Like the season. Geddit?)

Meditate. You would be hard-pressed to find any corner of the internet (G-rated at least) that isn’t singing the praises of meditation. Gone are the days where one needs dreadlocks and a name like Daffodil to enjoy the benefits of this practice. Being a highly-strung person, I have found that just ten minutes of guided meditation in the morning relaxes me for the rest of the day, and also gives me a deeper appreciation of the here and now. Plus there are a million and one guided meditation videos on YouTube, so you can practice it from the comforts of your own home any time that works for you.

Coffee. All hot beverages of any type. This one is a given. Is there anything more comforting that having a warm beverage on a cold day? It’s like getting a hug from the inside…which is far less creepy than it sounds. While buying a coffee a day can be incredibly hard on the wallet (when I worked in a cafĂ© I thought it would be fun to tell regular customers how much they spent on coffee a year….most never came back after that), it’s quite affordable to bring your own tea and coffee blends to work, plus you can try a lot of interesting new flavours that your local coffee shop probably doesn’t provide (case in point: I have found a blend called ‘Christmas Tea’ and it tastes exactly how the holiday season would were it condensed into tea form).

Road trips. Spending the weekend in flannelette pyjamas with a cuddly dog and a mug of hot chocolate by your side seems pretty perfect, and it often can be, but let’s not forget that there is a whole wide world out there to explore. Road trips are great to break up the monotony of the colder months, as well as being a fun way to reconnect with family and friends away from the little glow of the computer screen. So in the next month you might like to consider taking a trip to explore nearby cutesy towns, heading to see a band you like that is playing in another city, or even just going for a skiing/snowboarding trip to help you remember the things that winter can do that summer can’t, like provide you with metres of snow to fall face-first into.

Cooking/Baking. While I love to bake, particularly this year as I have discovered that you can pretty much make an almost guilt free version of anything and it still tastes amazing (who knew you could make cookies out of chickpeas and cheesecake out of cashews?), it is never quite as fun in summer. Eating yummy treats is awesome, but sweating next to a hot oven in forty-degree heat…not so much. So try to use this winter to experiment with new recipes and make all of the comfort food that you avoid when the temperature starts to soar. Plus you also get to score brownie points from your loved ones by loading them up with yummy baked goods.

Exercise. Every single time anyone writes a list about ways to brighten your day/month/life, exercise always features. Why? Because, unfortunately, it works. I say unfortunately because I love exercise almost as much as I love Tony Abbott. Anything that gets my heart rate up and my breath ragged makes me feel horrendously unhappy….until of course I have finished the exercise, my body is filled with endorphins, and I feel a lot healthier, happier and stronger than I would have if I hadn’t done it. So yes, exercise is a fantastic way to boost your mood, plus keep you nice and healthy. Darn it.

Dream. Plan. Journal. Winter really is the perfect time to get your head in order. Summer is filled with far too much fun…plus things that are easy to do in summer, like go for morning walks/runs, are usually the first things to drop away once the mornings turn frosty. So rather than beat yourself up for letting your new years resolutions fall by the wayside, use all of this new-found free time to step back, take a look around, and start to evaluate where you are and where you want to be.

Get some good books to keep you warm on those rainy days. Why? Because reading is awesome. Full-stop. But seriously, how cool is it that all we have to do is skim over some symbols on a page to be transported into the most amazing adventures? So at least once this winter treat yourself to some new books, and spend the next rainy weekend relaxing in front of the heater or wrapped up in a cosy blanket to soak up some seriously great words and dream the chilly days away.

Watch television. Yep, you read that right. I know, I know, television is making us antisocial, it’s killing brain cells blah blah blah, but I also know this: having a movie night with family or friends is an instant mood lifter on an especially wet and windy day. I’m not advocating spending every free second glued to Days of Our Lives (not least because Days of Our Lives is an awful show), but sometimes what we need is a quiet night in to recuperate. We often feel guilty for taking that time to just enjoy ourselves. We worry that we are not being productive and feel as if we don’t have permission to just relax and switch off for a while. Well here’s some good news for you: I give you permission. Go ahead, enjoy your television. Heck, even enjoy Days of Our Lives if you absolutely have to watch it. You’re welcome.

What about you guys? Do you have any helpful tips for beating the winter blues away?

(Image credit: 1.)

Stand by the Refugees

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On Saturday June 28, myself, my brother and over 1200 other Canberrans braved the bitter winds and rain, making our way to Llewellyn Hall to show our support for the people currently locked away in the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres by one of the cruellest governments Australia has known.

The Stand by the Refugees protest meeting was organised by the Canberra Refugee Action Committee, and included speeches from Professor William Maley, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and Julian Burnside QC. This meeting was organised both as a protest and to show community support for a motion that will be delivered to the Federal Parliament. The motion calls for the humane and dignified treatment of asylum seekers; including speedy processing of claims and timely resettlement, as well as permanent protection for those found to have refugee status.

I have been to a couple of protests over the last few years, but never before have I seen a group more passionate. Cries of ‘shame’ and ‘hear hear’ filled the hall, with loud applause ringing for the speakers after almost every sentence they uttered. It was without a doubt one of the most inspiring nights of my life, and made me realise that the human rights atrocities currently being committed in Australia’s name are being noticed, and vilified, by many of its citizens

The speeches themselves were incredibly eye opening. They touched on the myths about asylum seekers that have been perpetuated by both the previous government and the current one, such as the idea that seeking asylum is illegal (it’s not) and that there is a queue (there’s not). However, the theme that was strongly focused on this time was that of deterrence – the word that seems to be most loudly proclaimed when being used to justify cruelty and ignorance. The government is claiming that the detention centres are being used as a deterrence method, in an attempt to stop the number of lives being lost at sea as people flee to Australia to escape dangerous conditions. As pointed out by Professor Maley, while there are numerous flaws in this logic, there is one main thing that people aren’t realising when they hear the word ‘deterrence’: for deterrence to work, the detention centres and how we treat asylum seekers must be inherently awful. Clearly drowning at sea is not enough of a deterrence, which makes it apparent just how terrible the conditions asylum seekers are running from are, and just how awful our treatment of them has to be if our aim is to deter people from seeking asylum in Australia. One only has to consider the human rights abuses that would arise from this to see just how cruel the idea of deterrence really is, particularly as it would cost far less, both in terms of money and lives, to process asylum seekers quickly and let them live and work in the safety of the Australian community while doing so.

Julian Burnside discussed other flaws in regards to the deterrence policies, including the fact that if asylum seekers don’t come to Australia, they will be forced to make even more hazardous trips to reach asylum: essentially we would not be stopping deaths at sea, just deaths in Australian waters. The government’s aim to reintroduce Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) shows that the government doesn’t give two hoots about saving lives. TPVs stop people granted refugee status from bringing their family across to join them, and the reason they were stopped in the first place was due to the sinking of the SIEV X in October 2001; a boat that was full of woman and children trying to reunite with their loved ones who were in Australia on a TPV. If compassion were really the motivator behind the creation of the detention centres (though how one can read about the conditions inside them and even consider that compassion plays a part is beyond me), TPVs would never again have seen the light of day.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young also gave an inspiring speech, adding an oft-overlooked personal side to the asylum seekers debate by talking about the individual experiences of these laws. She shared stories from the refugees that she had spoken to, as well as what she herself had seen in the detention centres: including detainees having to line up for hours in the hot sun for food and having three-minute time limits for bathroom use.

While I have always advocated for the rights of refugees, I am ashamed to say that I have not done all that much about it aside from a few heated debates with colleagues. This year in particular it has been so easy to put it all out of my mind – without news coverage and with the public being kept almost completely in the dark, it is so easy to fall into the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality. But unfortunately, not acknowledging something does not make it go away. It does not make us, as Australians, any less culpable.

This is our generation’s White Australia Policy. This is our generation’s Vietnam War. This is our generation’s shame. However, like the generations before us, this is also our opportunity to make our voices heard, and to tell the government that we, the public, will not tolerate human rights abuses. That these abhorrent policies are not ones that ordinary Australians endorse. It is events like these that get the voices of everyday Australians heard, and I am so proud to live in a city that will come out in droves in the middle of a Canberra winter night to fight for the rights of fellow human beings, and to let the politicians know that we will not sit back quietly and let them treat refugees as if they are another species not deserving of the same rights and respect that we are.

(Image credit: 1.)