I Was Four When I First Saw Him

I Was Four When I First Saw Him

Written by Kirsten Macdonald

I was 4 years old when I remember my first interaction with God.  I was very scared at the time and feeling very powerless.

Remembering what my Nan had told me I gripped my hands together, and I prayed. I asked Jesus to help, to help me be brave and to help it stop. In my mind,  I could see beautiful fields of green, flowers and animals with a man sitting there. He did not look like the anglo version I had been shown in pictures. But that didn’t matter, I knew who it was. He asked me to come and sit. So under the covers of my blanket, hugging my rabbit tightly and squeezing my eyes shut just as tightly,  I walked to him and sat. I knew somehow that God was here. He told me all about the animals and how loved they were. He told me it was okay I could sleep now, to lay down my head. So I did. I fell into the deepest slumber of calm and wonder.

There began the discovery that would last a lifetime; a cryptic riddle. Did “He” stop what was frightening me outside my room at the time? I don’t think so. But, there’s a big but here; when I asked for help, it always came. Every time. Without fail. Did it stop perceived terrible things from happening every time? No. Would answers, guidance and calm come every time? Yes. Were the actions of others stopped? Not always. This started a lifelong search on the discourse of free will, divine design and science. I never told Nan that his son didn’t have blue eyes and blonde hair. But maybe we all have our own version. The other day my mother found poems I wrote as a child about my relationship with God. This friendship has been a constant in my life.

(Sidenote: I am using the word He because whilst I fight the suffocating patriarchal rule of hundreds of years, my experience of God is He. My understanding of mother is Her. I also have moments when I speak with God and right out of the pages of the book ‘The Shack’ Papa G is a woman cooking pancakes. We are so porous.) 

As I grew up, I sometimes forgot to ask for help, until I was well and truly tangled and in the darkest of messes.

My Nan once told me; if you feel distant from God, you’re the one who moved. When I did call out, I was sometimes so tired from the fight, a pile of torn pieces, it was then I  handed it over to God. In the surrender, the calm and answers would come. Forehead slap. Wouldn’t you think when you have a calming trick up your sleeve known since toddlerdom, you would whip it out every time? Faith is no party trick or soothing blanket.  It occurred to me in the last few years that intervention is a bit like a teacher telling a child the answers to a test. How do they learn if you do everything for them?

 

I have discovered through this journey with faith that life is indeed a quest. 

 

It occurs to me we indeed may be the sum of our collective choices as a species. Choices of our ancestors may have impacted our genetics, our sociological makeup and our DNA progression or regression. We may have very well created manipulated bacteria, atoms and technology for one purpose and ended with another unintended outcome. Our species most certainly has interrupted the lifespan of endangered humans and animals, along with botanical wonders of this planet. 

The myriad of choices we fashioned under this umbrella of free will is all-encompassing and has self-imposed consequences.

 

JAX Tyres for Ponderings

Choices are very, very important. As a child, we don’t get many.

Grown-ups need to teach their children well, and as a parent, I know this isn’t an easy role. We bring these fresh little souls into the world. The gravity of the responsibility can be overwhelming, we are raising future adults, and our job is to teach them how to survive and how to be fair and how to be happy, how to forge ahead in times of difficulty and we need to give them the resources for life. I am so grateful my grandmother taught me the resource of faith. 

I was going to need it. 

When you sit in an office, and a surgeon tells you are more than likely not going to live long, life is never the same again. You question the very essence of your being, what does life really mean? You want to teach your children, hold them close and never break their hearts. But the fear is as giant as a building about to fall down and crush you. You see buildings are not frightening until you think one might fall. 

An aneurysm is a sneaky taker of lives, and I know from experience that bleeding in one’s brain isn’t a pleasant experience. There are moments during this time that are etched into my soul like deep cracks in concrete. One was the surgeon conversation, the other was the realisation that I would be blind. No one told me I would be blind. No one insinuated I would be. But a solid inkling arose that I would be blind for a time. I threw a huge tantrum that day, my one and only. My Mum was there. She asked me not to think negatively, be positive. I told her to fuck off. My poor Mama. That had never happened before, and she held that space like a champion. 

She stood there with me, I threw porcelain at the back wall. It wasn’t my finest hour. I knew I would be blind. Think what you will, but I knew it to be true. As we sat down on the grass and picked up all the shards of cups and saucers ( we usually throw eggs when we are upset -family tradition), I prayed. Again, a calm came. 

I remember the night vividly before my first operation.

With a house full of beautiful family and friends. Watching them interact made my heart ache so much because the stark reality was that this might be the last time I see them, a bit like a soldier about to go to war. It is a very unnatural psychological event. When everyone went to bed, I paced the grass, talking to God. I cried and told him how scared I was and how I wanted to be his miracle. I knew it was a big ask, but I would dedicate my life to writing about hope, I was doing deals. (It is a survival thing and very human thing to do- seems we cannot help ourselves.) In the nakedness of that moment, I felt the calm rise and warm me. It feels cliche to use these words, but for me, warmth, love and calm are the only words to describe grace and they are nowhere near adequate. I was guided to go to bed, sleep and all would be well in the end.  

I kissed my children’s heads and hugged them without frightening them, I had to get in a car and drive away with the thought of goodbye and see you soon rolled into one. I wrote letters to them. My fears went from where am I going if I do die? What if I actually do just become worm snacks and memories at special occasions- to -what is death? Will Travis give the kids the right guidance when their hearts are first broken? Would I be scarred for life? Would I wake up with my personality intact? No small fears. I kissed my husband goodbye and waved to him as I was rolled into a room and a needle put in my arm. How did I stay on the bed? Prayer. When fear knocked at the door, and faith answered; no one was there. 

When I woke up from brain surgery, I knew they saved my life, but everything that could have gone wrong did; and I had no sight- completely blind, could not walk, was hooked up to everything possible in the ICU, and I was calm. The operation went south, and the surgeon had to cut into a deep part of the brain, in the process the nerve operating eyeballs was injured. 

When I woke up and couldn’t see, I did not panic. I was prepared. It was all going to be okay. I would walk again, and my sense of humour was better than ever. Can I explain to you how I knew? Not in a million years. But thanks to this calm, I could focus on recovery and not get stuck in the trauma. My thoughts were; I’ve never been blind before, so what can this teach me? I also knew my sight would be restored regardless of what the doctors said, there’s that. I had a psychologist demand in rehab that I share my secret, where was all this positivity coming from? He was intrigued. 

JAX Tyres for Ponderings

 

The second surgery 3 years later for an aneurysm much nastier and much more dangerous bought a different experience.

This time there was a lack of reassurance coming about my ongoing existence here with my peeps. I did not know if I was going to be okay. In fact, every time I prayed, I got very clear its all in the air. Try that one on. Ouch. I had not dedicated my life to writing about hope. I had focussed on recovery and getting well, on life and living it to the max. I felt cheated. I did not want to go through all this again. Some people very close to me thought this was negative thinking, but seriously, regardless of my faith I knew in my heart my life was up in the air and then came the process of being okay with this process. 

Deeper contemplation and conversations with God went on for hours in those weeks leading up to surgery. The question arose- what is death? A word we give to the animation of our cells here and now. But what of consciousness? Was heaven, not some Zeus like an imaginary place in the clouds we humans conjure up to save ourselves the terrible notion of no longer existing? What if we romantically returned to the Cosmos as magnificent dust, part of the circle of life? Grown-up thoughts. 

JAX Tyres for Ponderings

 

Volunteering for total surrender in true faith is not easy, even for someone who has spent a life knowing faith consistently. There was no guidance saying you are going to be blind, you are going to live, you are going… it was just peace.

A deeper, more profound understanding began to unfold. It was a mighty and vast and calm joy without needing to scratch the human itch of satisfying conclusions. We, humans, get irritated when we don’t understand when the door and its mechanisms evade us. Closure and acknowledgement oscillate around us always. 

 

I did not wake up blind, but I woke up knowing. You cannot touch the ether without bringing the sand back on your feet, and the leaf you see on the surface is only the tip of a deeply rooted tree. There is much more but now is not the time. It will come. We are so visual, and limited. 

 

I can’t rely anymore on the wisdom of the world, because I have felt beyond it, behind it. An egg cannot go back into the embryo once cracked. Untangled from the clatter. An existential crisis creates a whole lot of magnificent possibility. This is not a test. This is not a punishment. This is a university with icebergs, trees and bad breath. We are magnificent, and we are loved. But we make choices, and they are a gift. So we have to spend them wisely. Death is not final. 

 

When you hold a personal truth so large in a world of cynicism and pain, hurt and disdain, you do not want to share it. Because when everyone touches it, holds it, questions it, it loses its lustre. The shine wears off, and it feels like a beautiful creature you let everyone pet until it tires out and dies in the corner. My choice has now been superseded by something much greater, the whisper in my ear to speak boldly about my faith. As Rudyard Kipling said, Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.

 

As a kid, I was bought up in a house that firmly stuck to the idea that you if you told other people about your beliefs you were shoving it down their throat or assuming your faith or beliefs were better than someone else. You had no right. Whilst this is based on mutual respect, I have discovered that for me, it leaves no room for the joy of communication or seeing each other without the small talk. 

 

The most incredible conversations I have had have been with Anglican ministers who have spent a lifetime studying God, Atheists who have spent a lifetime denying God, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Shaman and Wise women. When we speak our truth with respect, we are not condemning anyone else. I spent years studying religions of the world and different scriptures as part of an Anthropology degree (unfinished – turns out epilepsy, narcolepsy and short term memory loss are not conducive to the PHD dream)

 

One thing became evident through all that study; many of these religions- so completely unrelated and often at odds with each other shared a common truth; God is the name we give a creator, an architect so complex; defying human understanding and with a simple covenant; love and faith conquer.  It seems from texts cross-sectioned across faiths that many messengers have been sent to tell us how to survive. Many interactions have even happened with divine beings sharing the same names but in different times and different languages. Interesting right? According to many scriptures, codexes and scripts; we are pretty unique critters designed for continuing creation along with boo-boos. 

 

The words of these records have been translated, repaired,  interpreted, rewritten, repurposed and used in ways inspiring but also in some cases in ways most foul and corruptible; because the lure of power amongst the patriarchy is very strong. But when you start believing the power of people and not the message that sits in all of our hearts, we get in trouble. People start wars. Religion is the structure through which we experience and explore belief. It is a man-made construct, and in many cases, it serves as an excellent scaffolding for this purpose. Power, on the other hand, is anything but.  

 

“He wrapped himself in quotations- as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.” R. Kipling

 

We wear the social narratives we are given like coats; the stories we are told form our own threads and layers. But sometimes we have worn them so long the fibres have etched into our skin, and we forget the simple truth; so long as you seek the light and open your heart to hope you will find it. 

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Who Switched On The Light? A Book Review

Who Switched On The Light? A Book Review

Pina Di Donato’s has emerged to the self-help arena with her newly released book Who Switched the Lights On?

Self-described; it is a companion guide for the person ready to have an illuminated life.

The 158-page paperback is easy to read, down to earth, humble and give’s a first person account of the author’s journey after reaching 40; living more consciously and mindfully.

Anecdotal, the conversational tone makes it a breeze to read; like a warm chat between friends, a rarity for many self-help books.

Themes of friendships, leadership, life, children, along with timing and entanglement feature throughout and it felt like a beginners guide when you start to get that itch that says life might need some attention and some cleaning out of the metaphoric cobwebs.

JAX Tyres for Ponderings

“Who Switched the Lights On? is essentially a book about life; my life. More than a self-help book, it is a journey over time which highlights my growth and the things I was able to learn, or unlearn, along the way. It is my hope, that by coming along with me as I adjust to the light, clear out the cobwebs, and work through my process of ‘un-conditioning’, that you too will be inspired to shine a light on your own life and adjust the brightness until it’s just perfect for you” says Di Donato on her website. 

The lens of the author is transparent and poised, wordsmithed with pleasing honesty and the hum of authenticity. 

About the Author

Pina Di Donato is an avid philanthropist, business person, highly experienced marketing professional and author. Pina lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her three children.

https://www.booktopia.com.au/who-switched-the-lights-on–pina-di-donato/book/9780648792741.html

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Messages of Hope From Brisbane-based Poet Tom Stodulka

Messages of Hope From Brisbane-based Poet Tom Stodulka

Written by Renae Failla

Around the world, lockdown and isolation continue with long term impacts of COVID-19 lurking, many are struggling to come to terms with what a COVID Normal will look like.

Tom Stodulka, named 2019 Australasian mediator of year is reinforcing messages of positivity in these challenging times. Contrasting COVID-19 to experiences of war, he reminds Australians of how we have overcome and survived what has been thrown at us. “Sometimes it is easy to forget that as a nation, we’ve survived wars, conflicts, depressions, and economic uncertainty all before COVID-19,” And stresses focusing on the small moments of positivity to help get us through “We should remember that life is about enjoying what we can in every single moment. Enjoy the world around you, because happiness is found in every single one of those moments, especially when you’re being active and creative.”

Tom is no stranger to life’s hardships, with his birth taking place in Bathurst 1951 in one of Australia’s post-WWII refugee camps after his parents fled Czechoslovakia in 1947 during a time of political unrest, while his older brother was born in a UN Displaced Persons Camp in Italy. His parents primarily spoke German in his childhood years which added an extra burden to his school years and English essay writing. Seemingly a very distant memory, Tom went on to study law, join the Royal Australian Navy and secure a full-time career as a mediator and facilitator.

He is now an inspiration to people all over Australian. With three reprints of his first book and the support of his loving wife and three children, Tom now hopes to spread messages of hope to Australians experiencing their own hardships.

His new book Life is a Dance, explores the way in which we are challenged as life unfolds but despite whatever is thrown our way, life is about enjoying what we can in every single moment. Hence, Life is a Dance, not a journey. 

So as we wake up each morning and type “Daily Coronavirus cases” in our Google Search Engine to read the news and lasting impacts COVID-19 is having around the world to determine when we will go back to work full time, when we will be able to see our family, ponder on when we will be able to leave the house without a mask, wonder when we will next be able to travel overseas… it’s important to find the positivity to enjoy that singular moment – Like the added time at home with a loved one, your newfound cooking skills, the opening of your new business or the introduction of a new exercise routine. Celebrate those small wins!

Tell us more about your latest book.

It’s exciting to have a second book out there called Life is a Dance it’s a follow on from a previous book that I wrote about 2 years ago called Storm Clouds and Silver Linings: My Journey and I thought rather than repeat the word ‘journey’ I would try and look at things from a different perspective and again look at things positively with ‘Life is a Dance’. Someone then said to me when they stumble they did part of a dance and I think that’s very positive.

Some people have asked me why the word dance and when you think of music and people’s need for entertainment and gaining some pleasure or joy often people meet in life through dancing, certainly in the old days – maybe not so much now but it’s nice to think of those concepts and those actions of people dancing. Whether they danced together, alone or in a group a lot of people are inspired by dancing – sometimes in a group running across cultures like for example Australian, Indigenous, European, African, Asian and South American so there is a cultural play in it too.

Fun fact: The cover of Life is a Dance features the backdrop of a painting of a Bush Fire scene that Tom’s Dad had painted in the 80s. He selected it as the cover of “Life is a Dance” as Australia was going through the intense bushfires last year when the book was being prepared for publication.

Can you tell us what inspires you to write poetry?

It’s something that is inspired by nature, our surroundings and people because the poems in both books are about people and about trees and the changes in weather and scenery. Many aspects of Nature are a given in our lives but its not always positive with storms, cyclones and droughts but there is always a perception that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

There’s a change in the seasons or a change in the weather. When you think of the terrible droughts across Australia a year ago and the bushfires and then it’s a very Australian thing to think of a return to a better result with sea change in the weather and people have been over the moon across the country to have their dams full again or to be able to grow plants and agriculture is thriving in many ways again thanks to the changes of the weather. There’s a connectivity between everybody and everybody in Australia is affected by the things that occur right across the country.

So many people have been looking for positives despite all the stresses that they have experienced. Just to hear today that all the kids are going back to school today in Victoria and its sort of like a new beginning for so many people – there’s an amazing hope again. There are some people who have really struggled with COVID and the lack of connection with their friends and family. As you may know, I am a mediator so I work a lot with families with conflict and dispute and that’s something that from working in the field you’re always looking at remaining positive.

With poetry, like music, there are so many ways to be creative in our world.

 

JAX Tyres for Ponderings

During the COVID-19 what has kept you inspired?

Always to think in a positive light (7.31) because magazines like yours that are real community literature, I’ve been reading those because magazines like that are able to pick up what’s happening in society and what people are doing, what’s inspiring people to keep going or do things differently. All these new ideas – fantastic new ideas like Food Services for people working in hospitals, they were really struggling to get their meals and to virtually keep going. These community incentives, community motivation and community-driven to feed thousands of people that are sort of futurists in a way whether its writers or musicians – some of these writers capture the moment noticing all the good things despite the stresses. One of these positives, for example, is the loads and loads of wattle that line this road in the Sunshine Coast.

I’m very inspired by people and what they are doing like the people living with very serious illnesses, these people that have lived through some of the most tragic experiences can come out being so positive. Like Turia Pitt for example or the lady that lives up in Sunshine Coast in Maroochadyre who had a fall doing some things around the house and it just didn’t put her off she just came back being stronger than ever before and that’s what can make life better for so many people.

I have developed this perspective as a mediator to work with the concept of a ‘glass half full’ so you can give it your best shot and get the people you are working with to adapt and adopt an idea or concept of looking at things which can be helpful.

 

Can you pick one of your most memorable poems and explain why?

On page 42 of my latest book Life is a Dance there is one that is dedicated to my writing teacher Linda Henderson. It was her amazing capacity to inspire and encourage people to recognise that they have actually got something to give by their writing. This poem talks to the influence of people around you which not only focuses on messages of hope like many of my other poems but is a different aspect of positivity.

Below is an excerpt from Life is a Dance:

Imagination and reflections 3 April 2018 by Tom Stodulka

The Commonwealth Games are about to begin.

Let the best win,

Let the other’s too enjoy the din.

And bask in the glory and the sun.

You fantasise many a thing,

What may it all bring?

Even one day a lotto win.

Reality lost, as reality is not always kind.

May even start playing on your mind.

And get you into a bind.

You try to be a cool dude.

Hopefully never rude.

Patience sometimes sorely tested.

Still staying in control.

Though not always very droll.

The drum may start to roll

Beating at your very soul.

The bell also may toll.

Sharing and caring are best.

As you ride high upon the eagle’s crest.

Full of zest.

Taken up to the very highest nest.

You still soar and conquer, but too often never rest.

Let the young give you a jolt,

Just like a young colt.

Give up some of that control,

As you accept, that you too may one day have to accept the dole.

Imagined for certain.

Just avoid the final curtain.

What’s next? And how has COVID-19 impacted your planning?

I’m hoping there might be a third book in the works. I have thought I might not be able to manage a third book with me writing less – I’ve only written 10 poems in the last year whereas previously I was writing 1 or 2 a week and I think COVID has had that slightly negative impact in some ways I should have more time but then works picking up again and there is a lot of working via zoom and phone and this completely different way of operating. The very nature of life has changed, there’s no more of that going out to have a coffee before meditation starts and that interconnection with people has been very important to my life.

The coffee culture has changed and all of a sudden we have lost that ability to meet up, we’re now so restricted and that can have an impact on you. That’s why it’s important to write about the positives.

To learn more about Tom or purchase his new book Life is a Dance for $24.99, head to his website.

 

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Radical Tech Companies Helping and Not Commodifying Humanity

Radical Tech Companies Helping and Not Commodifying Humanity

Written by Kirsten Macdonald

Artificial intelligence is the art of a computing system making decisions with the capability of performing tasks without human prompting.

This entails assembling and evolving algorithms so quickly and seamlessly, it is a form of intelligence. Now more intelligent according to the experts than us. This is not a plot to a movie; this is the internet space of twenty-twenty. Did you get the notification? 

Seamless algorithms are a welcome agency when you are saving lives, sending information, access to education or assisting in times of crisis along with the capacity for positive social cohesion. Algorithmic designs can be like a beautiful mathematical dance of logic and coding genius. However, when used for persuasive techniques designed to capitalize on human weakness for profits we have on our hands a superpower, only a few have access to with unclear rules. A problematic dilemma one might say. 

To protect our privacy rights, our democratic freedoms, we require a code of binding and global guidelines and laws, A.K.A- ethics.

However, the chicken has come before the egg, and the horse has bolted out of the computer basement. There are currently no AI codes of conduct legally binding across the planet to protect people. Psychological growth hacking is a booming economy amongst players who are aware of what lurks beneath but do it anyway. 

Elon Musk says AI is the greatest existential threat to humanity. Where is Sarah Connor when you need her? 

Don’t panic, no need for tin foil hats just yet. Whilst some seek to profit to the detriment of our human frailties, there are those seeking to create ethical standards. In addition to a flourish of intuitive courage, there are humans ahead of the curve. There are technologists, entrepreneurs, policymakers, investors, and others who are deeply committed to humane technology. Platform founders not only ethical on purpose but with purpose with the precise intent of restoring integrity. So what does this mean exactly? 

It means using technology and building algorithms ethically, and in a way to enhance humanity, not harm it. According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, AI should be used in ways that comply with human rights law, and AI should be used in ways that minimise harm, improving our lives. We ponder two standouts in the tech sphere doing it with finesse. 

Next Address

 

Next Address is a real estate platform that has taken centre stage in disruptive prop-tech is one such hero. The buyer-seller platform has the unique intent not to destroy in the disruption process but rather to enhance and develop the models on offer. 

Founder Julie O’Donohue says “authentic relationships and radical transparency drive every action at Next Address. This is the only way we are going to bring positive change to the real estate sector. A sector much maligned for many years but a sector that all of us need to use. We saw algorithms would streamline processes and activities, and they do. But ethics are core; we use our algorithms as a tool to enable people and not to manipulate or feed the attention economy. Our algorithms match data between buyers and sellers. We do not use these clients data for any other purpose than connecting the buyers and sellers. Our proprietary technology reduces transaction costs and saves our clients money.” You can find out more about Next Address Here

 

Bounce

 

Bounce is an app empowering people via positive psychology. It is an app and an intuitive bot hybrid designed to boost optimism, increase resilience, build connections, meet goals in real life. Their catchphrase is “Practice positive thinking, and learn to notice and expect the good things in life.”

Founded by friends Christopher Weeks and Alastair Byrne, their mission is inspiring. According to Chris, they started Bounce because:

“A large number of our friends, family and close ones were suffering from mental health issues, and we found that solutions were often reactive, heavy handed and hard to access. We wanted to create something better. We wanted to create something that would take a preventative approach to mental health, while being simple, easy to access and available to anyone, anywhere at any time. We wanted a solution that is fun and engaging, while removing some of the stigma surrounding mental health. Everyone has mental health and everyone needs to look after it. Finally, we wanted our work to be based on science and help push the boundaries of mental health research.”

You can read more about them here: https://medium.com/bounce,mind/bounce-the-start-of-the-journey-to-better-mental-health-4010f1ebfe1a

We look to the future where more leaders like these make the brave step to forge AI and ethical algorithms focussed on people and positive outcomes rather than a business model with a profit first people second mentality. The possibilities give us hope. 

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