How to build self-belief and not die with regrets

Photo by Edu Lauton

Photo by Edu Lauton

This day six years ago, I was walking from Bruay-la-Buissière to Arras in France. It was day nine of my Via Francigena pilgrimage and my longest walking day yet.

With few accommodation options between the two towns and still uncertain if I could make it to Rome within my 90-day Schengen visa, I felt that I had little choice but to walk the 38.5 kilometres between the two towns — and that was the shorter route; if I followed the guidebook exactly I would have walked an extra 14 kilometres. Ouch and no thank you to 52.5 kilometres.

It took me 10 hours to walk the 38.5 kilometres to Arras. I had two deep blisters on my toes that burned, arch and heel pain, and then my hips went into a spasm. The pain was excruciating. It took me an hour to walk the last 2 kilometres into Arras. Actually, it was more like a shuffle.

When I was a kid, I seemed to have the words “I can’t” pre-programmed into me and spilling off my lips whenever things got tough.

Learning (and struggling) to tie my shoelaces, I’d tell my dad, “I can’t.”

Going on a long bike ride with my dad and brother: “I can’t” make it up the hill. “I can’t” make it home; it’s too far.

My dad was ever patient and calm. He told me many times that there’s no such thing as can’t. He taught me to read the book, The Little Engine That Could whose mantra was “I think I can.”

I get it now.

I can’t usually means I don’t want to.  It can also mean I don’t know how to yet or this is really hard for me and I’m scared of failing or even just plan I won’t.

I’ve had many people tell me that they could never do what I did and walk the Via Francigena, especially alone. I never believe them because broken down to its simplest component it is just walking, one step after the other. Unless you are affected by a disability, you can most likely walk. It’s just a question of whether you have the desire and motivation to walk so far and on your own.

I was a solo pilgrim walking the Via Francigena.  I had only myself to urge me on and there really wasn’t any room for I can’t.

My mantra that day walking from Bruay-la-Buissière to Arras and every time the going got tough was I” can do it.” On repeat.

I can do it. I can do it
. I can do it. I can do it.

I repeated this over and over until I did it; I arrived in Arras. When I was saying I can do it, there was no room for I can’t.

The pain and the struggle faded away not long after arriving and flopping down on the bed in my hotel room in Arras. All these years later, I still remember that day and that I was in so much pain but the pain itself now just resembles a large grey cloud that hovered above me as I walked. I don’t feel the physical pain in my body and even if I did, I would walk the whole Via Francigena again in a heartbeat.

The Via Francigena tested me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I didn’t arrive in Rome as the same person that set out from Canterbury. My bank account may have been lower but I was far richer in all my being; deeper, wiser, stronger and with a reinforced faith that I was guided and supported by life. I still receive gifts from this journey all these years later.

Lewis Carroll has been quoted as saying:

“In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.”

Whatever it is that your heart longs for, whether it is an adventure, to learn a new skill, leave a career and start a new one, take a risk and find a way out of your comfort zone , find your way to say yes.

You can do anything you put your mind to and energy into.

Maybe you aren’t destined to be Luciano Pavarotti or an Olympic gold medallist or maybe you are and don’t know it yet…but how will you ever find out what you are capable of if you don’t try.

Imagine if Pavarotti told himself he couldn’t sing and believed it!

If you are ever in doubt that you can do what you really want to do, then borrow the Little Engine Who Could’s mantra, “I think I can, I think I can” or even my mantra: “I can do it.” Say it over and over even if you don’t believe it at first. It will still help put positive I can energy into your system.

If you’re not sure if it’s worth the risk, and if you’re still scared and struggling to take the first step then reach out to me. Working through fear and self-doubt is my specialty.

With love and courage,

Kym
xx

PS Here’s a few snaps from that hard walking day: in sunshine, a rain-free moment, in the midst of raining wearing Kermit my green poncho, my friends the cows, a lot of potatoes and the avenue of trees.

The wisdom of your younger self

photo by J R Korpa

photo by J R Korpa

When you were a kid, did you ever write a story about what you would be or what your life would be like when you grew up?

I did. And I found mine yesterday as I was tidying up and organising our cupboards.

I pulled out my storage box of cards, letters and other papers and started poking through the contents and there it was among some old schoolwork that my dad had kept for me and that I had put away and forgotten: a typed up and illustrated story that I wrote when I was 7 or 8 years old, titled When I’m grown up.

IMG_5417.JPG

 Here’s what I wrote:

When I’m grown up.

When I’m grown up I will be a nurse. I will also be bigger. And instead of being a nurse, I might be an artist. If I am an artist I shall draw wild birds and wild flowers. When I’m grown up I shall get married and have children. I shall buy a house and get a pool, I shall have fun with the children too. I shall take them to the circus. We shall go on holidays. When I have finished being an artist, I shall be a ballerina. I shall go over the world as a ballerina. When I am a bit older I shall quit being a ballerina and go back to my own country.

                        THE END

(because when you’re young all stories must formally end this way.)

I giggled joyfully when I read it and studied the pictures which include a red-framed painting of the wild flowers I would draw when I was an artist, a self-portrait of me as a very happy pink-crowned, purple tutu wearing ballerina, and a picture of me and my future husband with orange hair surrounded by colourful confetti.

It wasn’t just the pictures that delighted me but the innocence of the story and although I never became a nurse or ballerina, and haven’t had children or bought a house with a pool there is still a very sweet truth that lives within those words that has played out in my life.

I didn’t know then but I would help to care for my mum from the time I was age 11 as her muscular dystrophy deteriorated her physical condition and she became bed bound.

I also used the qualities of the nursing in my financial planning career by trying to improve systems and cultures, to care for what is sick or ill or not functioning well and finding ways to bring ease and joy.

I am a writer and a poet. I also dabble in painting and pastels for fun. Coincidentally (or maybe not so coincidentally), my last two paintings were of an owl and tulips.

I have always loved being in water, from dad taking us to the swimming pool to beach holidays at my nana and papa’s house in Rosebud West.  Swimming, scuba diving, being in or near water is like oxygen for my soul.

My younger self used to love putting on her leotards and choreographing her own dance routines, especially to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I’ve never studied ballet or taken any other type of dance class for that matter except for line dancing and ballroom dancing that was part of compulsory physical education classes at school, but I have actually danced my way around the world: I’ve danced in Thailand, India, Bali, on boats in Indonesia, and I dance-walked parts of the Via Francigena in France and Italy —I dance-walked into St Peter’s Square when I arrived in Rome and completed my pilgrimage.

And yes I have come back to my own country. I’m living in Melbourne and not dancing all over the world at the moment but I don’t think I’m done being my version of a world-travelling ballerina just yet.

When I re-read my story of When I’m Grown Up, I can’t help but marvel at how my younger self easily and innocently dreamed up her life. She knew what she liked and what mattered to her and easily declared her willingness to follow her curiousity without second guessing herself.

Of course this was before all the seriousness of growing up and being an adult and having responsibilities and taking on ideas about what it means to be an adult and live a meaningful life took over.

Often we look to our older or future selves and even our higher selves for advice on how to live our lives and which direction to go, but I think that our younger selves have their own wisdom to offer that was gained before we unlearned our innocent ways and were taught how to succeed and fit into this world.

What wisdom does your younger self hold for you?
Is there something you forgot along the way to being an adult that you could pick up again that would bring you joy?

With love and courage,

Kym xx

Why you should slow down and take your time

Sometimes it seems this world is in such a rush to get somewhere and especially to cram as much as possible into the short time we have to live this human incarnation.

But doesn’t rushing feel like skating on the surface?

And doesn’t cramming it all in feel confining and stifling and like there’s no space for joy to wrap around the experience?

In our efforts to realise our dreams, we skip over uncertainty, and we don’t mine the gifts of our procrastination, fears, avoidant tendencies and other blocks.

I’m a proponent of slowing down and taking your time.

In my work place, I see time and time again how too much focus on getting the job done often in a rush and not enough focus on the unfolding journey called process causes errors, sub-standard work and re-works making the journey take twice as long and a whole heap of frustration and lost goodwill. A lot of business studies have shown that slowing down is the way to speed up.

As a scuba diver, swimming too fast has two implications:
The first is that you will suck your tank dry of air quickly and your dive time will be greatly reduced;
The second is that you won’t see all the camouflaged, hidden and tiny creatures as you swim right past them. You might see more of a big site but really you will see less.

As a pilgrim (or hiker or every day walker), walking through the world brings you into direct contact with the world around you, the ground, the sky, the weather, the sounds, the smells, the textures, the small and hidden details, in a way you can’t experience it in a bus or train or car.

As a meditator, your experience of life slows right down to this moment, this breath, this inhale then exhale, the thoughts floating through like passing clouds and all the sensations that are here to be noticed and felt fully.

There’s a time to leap and jump and swing through life, and there’s a time to bust through your procrastination and other blocks that hold you back, but mostly I think we need to slow down.

The fullness of life is not in how much we do or how far we go or how much we achieve but in how deeply we experience and treasure each moment that it presents, even the ones we want to bypass or reject.

With love and courage,

Kym xx

What do do when you don't know what to do

There will be times on the journey when you lose your way, lose your vision, become directionless, disoriented, confused and you don’t know what to do, who or where to turn to.

Don’t panic.

Don’t rush to take the first step that comes to mind to get you out of your experience and away from where you don’t want to be unless the house is on fire or you are in some other kind of immediate danger.

You don’t have to scramble to retrace your steps to find out where you went wrong to end up in this place for nothing is wrong despite what you may think.

Instead, take a deep breath and rest exactly where you are.

Melt into this place of stuckness, confusion, unknowing, uncertainty and visionlessness, deeper and deeper with each breath you exhale.

Another breath will come without you having to do a thing.
You are alive and life is supporting you exactly where you are.

The discomfort you feel isn’t a sign that anything is wrong nor is it something you have to escape or even figure out.

The flow that you may have had and lost doesn’t need to be rediscovered right this very moment.

Slowly you will adjust to what at first felt uncomfortable and made you want to scramble to find your way again.

You will find that you can look around at where you are now with curiousity, love and compassion; the fog will lift, the mountain may dissolve.

You can listen more intently and hear more clearly what is arising from within you.

You will discover that you are standing on sacred ground, that being stopped in your tracks or the way forward disappearing beneath your feet came to serve a sacred purpose: a time for rest, renewal, reconnection or redirection.

This sacred pit stop may help you strengthen and recommit to your vision or allow a new one to arise along with a new path to walk. Or may be you discover that you really did take a wrong turn and you can retrace your steps to that point and continue on, but not before opening the gifts of your wrong turn.

Don’t jump ahead and miss this step.  

Don’t be in a rush to carry on and arrive.

If you were really meant to be there already, you would be there.
If you were meant to know what to do, you would already know.

The fruits are always in the journey not the destination.

Slow down and just be here where you are, with your palms open in gratitude and receptiveness for the knowing to arrive in its own divine time and way.

The constant inbetween

Dear ones

This week I recommenced a regular walking practice. I call it a practice because I don’t just walk for exercise, I walk to see the world around me slowly on foot, and to invite inspiration for writing as well as for inner knowing and guidance on my life path.

A few nights ago, I left the house a little later than usual, it was very late dusk but not quite nighttime. As I walked I reflected on this particular time of day where it’s not dark, but not light. It’s an inbetween time. And I remembered this poem that I wrote while I was walking the Via Francigena pilgrimage route…

 

You see the road

stretch long before you.

Just as you begin to fall

into despair’s embrace,

you are caught by grace,

set back on your feet,

to do the one thing

you know you can do;

take one step

then one step more.

You are here

where you have

chosen to stand.

The goal is never arriving,

which of course you will

then leave again.

Accept there will always

be a long road,

a coming,

a going.

That stillness you crave

only a temporary possibility.

Let go of the clinging

and the desire

to be other than where you are.

Learn to love this life

in the constant inbetween.

I wrote this poem on Day 15 of my Via Francigena pilgrimage while I was walking from Laon to Corbeny in France. While it was only a 27 kilometre walking day, I felt like I would never make it to Corbeny and that I would be walking forever. To distract myself, I decided that I would write as I walked. I asked for inspiration, opened up a writing app on my Ipad called Textilus and this poem streamed out. With it came a deep peace and acceptance of where I was on my journey and trust that I would arrive when I arrived as I had done for the 14 days I had been walking.

For me, this simple realisation (and re-realisation) of living in the inbetween still brings me much peace and acceptance in my life now. I am inbetween leaving a career and starting a new one but I am filled with peace and faith that I am being guided and supported by life no matter how slowly things seem to unfold.

I hope that this realisation serves you in your life too.

And if you are contemplating a journey such as Via Francigena, I hope you will trust the whispers of your heart urging you to go. The calling is sacred. The insights that are waiting to be revealed to you may continue to serve you for the rest of your life too.

With love and courage,

Kym xx

After the rain comes sun (and an excerpt from my book)

Looking down at the cemetery on the way into Berceto (Italy) on the Via Francigena

Looking down at the cemetery on the way into Berceto (Italy) on the Via Francigena

It’s been a tough 6 weeks with constant stomach pain, and grief and stress all coming up to be loved and healed.

Last weekend my body voiced its need to rest, heavy and lethargic with no desire to go anywhere or do anything. So I rested at home watching a new favourite series, Call the Midwife. I adore Sister Monica Joan with her poetic, mystical, deeply emotional and wise nature.

Contemplating what I would write about today in light of my current challenges, I remembered when I was walking the Via Francigena, how the ever-changing weather and the mud that clung to my boots tested me almost daily.  And so I felt inspired to share some excerpts from my forthcoming book, The Path We Make.

“After the rain comes sun. It managed to break through the clouds for large parts of the day. I welcomed its warmth on my skin, pausing to bask in the simple pleasure of it. Yet after the rain also comes wet grass and mud. Although my map showed that the canal path continued all the way into Châlons-en-Champagne, I followed the guidebook’s detour via Juvigny and trudged through 500 metres of thick, gunky mud that clung to the soles of my boots, gluing my feet to the ground. I hated the mud to the point of repulsion. I hated how it felt under my feet and I hated getting dirty. After stomping along for a time, I was relieved to turn onto a gravel path, but after 900 metres the gravel led to more wet grass and thick mud. The last 100 metres I walked through were a tangled mess of knee-high grass and blackberry bushes. The Red Beasts were wet again and so were my feet. My soles were clumped with mud and my pants smeared grey-brown. I missed the turn onto Rue St Martin that led to another field, but I didn’t mind walking along the hard bitumen for a while longer. At least my feet weren’t getting wetter or coated in more mud. Two kilometres down the road, I turned onto a gravel track back towards the main trail that became four more kilometres of clay and wet grass.

If I had to choose between walking all day in the rain on bitumen roads or walking in the sunshine on muddy wet tracks, I’m not sure which I would choose. They were both short straws: the bitumen punishingly hard, the rain a pain and the mud just plain repulsive. I tried to find something positive about mud and wet grass but couldn’t. It was annoying and gross and that was all. I was so happy when I finally turned back onto the concrete towpath and scraped the mud off my boots with a small stick. I had never spent this much time outdoors with limited shelter, exposed to whatever weather swept through, and with the need to keep moving. Unlike the week I walked through Tuscany in summer, when it was hot and hot only, I was experiencing four seasons almost every day, often numerous times each day, and it was testing my ability to accept what is.”

The Via Francigena pilgrimage tested me deeply and consistently on emotional, physical, spiritual and mental levels.  But for all the challenges, there were many gifts. Here’s another excerpt from my book from when I was walking from Berry-au-Bac to Reims in France. Kermit cloak is the name I gave to my green rain poncho.

“During the day I cursed the weather frequently. Melbourne is renowned for having four seasons in one day, but on this road it was four seasons every hour. Kermit cloak on then off, warm layer off then on again. Repeat, repeat, repeat! As frustrating as the weather was, it had its blessings too. A sudden shower forced me to put Kermit back on and then five minutes later the sun came out scorching, leaving me cursing as I ripped the Kermit off again. I rounded a corner and saw a host of yellow and purple wildflowers glistening in the sun. My cursing turned into cries of amazement.”

Amidst the frustration and trying times can be great beauty. And if there’s no beauty to be seen, don’t lose faith. The weather will eventually change, as will the seasons and the terrain you travel. Keep breathing.

With love and courage

Kym xx

What you are capable of

When you are tired and your feet are throbbing from the forty thousandth step and the fourteen kilos loaded on your back.

When your hips muscles spasm rebelling against the thirtieth kilometre you have walked today alone.

When your body is crying its song of pain only you can hear and begging that you stop.

You do not.

You question why you do this day after day and if it is the only way to find what you seek.

But each morning you still wake to walk, and you keep going until you reach the place you know you must be to find shelter and warmth and nourishment to thank your body for its service despite its complaints.

As you pass through another village, the chalky smoke of old fires burning invoke desire for rest.

The dark whispers tell you that it’s okay to stop, that you can quit and just go home.

But your spirit surges through your heart, strong and determined.

It tells you, laughing kindly, that you still don't know what you are fully capable of and you will never know if you skirt the flames.

You did not come into this world to live easy.

You came into this world to find out who you are and to discover the enormity of your own power.

You came into this world, to live this ordinary human life extraordinarily.