Know Your Worth; Being Hit Over the Head with a Wet Fish; and Other Things

Picture credit:

I had a startling revelation today that I seem to have somehow spent my whole life thinking that I’m unimportant and don’t matter. More specifically that my feelings don’t matter. That I have been operating under the mistaken belief that it was more important to keep everyone around me satisfied than it was to take care of my own happiness. Where I got this wonderfully warped belief from I have no idea, and I have no particular desire to look into it, either. But this sense of my own unimportance has literally directed my life; manifesting in little ways – like making it a habit of conforming to other people’s desires rather than asserting my own, and bigger and more harmful ways – such as denying myself not only the expression of, but also the experience of my feelings in relationship, because I either believed it would hurt the other person’s feelings or was painfully aware that ‘Now is not a good time’ for them. (When is it ever?)

I’m shocked at the extent of my self-abandonment and how deeply this sense of my own unimportance has penetrated, seeping into every pore of my body and every aspect of my life. No wonder I have always had a problem with self-confidence! How can you hope to be confident, when you don’t place any worth or value on yourself?

It suddenly hit me today: I Am Important. I was listening to a seminar and this one tiny sentence about how we are all an important part of the Universe’s design literally jumped out and knocked me over the head with an impact akin to being hit over the head with a wet fish.

All of a sudden, I got it: I am important.

But more; I am precious, treasured, valued, cherished, worthy, deserving, beautiful, amazing, and oh so very, very perfect. Just as I am. With all my faults and flaws; with all the parts of me that are still ‘in process.’ Because there is no one quite like me amongst the 7 billion other people on this planet. No one with my unique set of skills, gifts and winning (and some not-quite-so-winning) flaws. No one that can touch the lives of the people around them in precisely the way that I can.

And if this goes for me, it goes for all of us. Not only am I important and precious. You are important and precious. We are all important and precious, each and every one of us, all of the time; even when we don’t know it yet.

Each of us, in our own particular uniqueness, bring a set of gifts to the world that only we can bring, Our every word and action send ripples out into the world. And we have absolutely no idea how far these ripples can travel, but I would take a guess that it’s far beyond what we can conceive.

I’ve often thought I have an over-active imagination, but I don’t think this scenario is too far-fetched. Perhaps because I smiled at the lady who was serving me in the supermarket and greeted her in a friendly manner, she let another car in in front of her in heavy traffic on her way home at lunchtime. Maybe the driver of that car ‘paid it forward’ by helping her elderly neighbor with her shopping bags, and that elderly neighbor then felt moved to phone her daughter to apologize for the petty argument they’d been having. Maybe that short phone call gave the daughter enough head space to notice that her son seemed unusually quiet when he got home from after school and to ask him if he was okay. And so it goes on. Imagine how important that moment of loving attention was to that child and to the future that he is going to create. And, albeit in a very convoluted and indirect way, it may all have started with a simple smile and a friendly ‘hello.’

So know your worth. Know your value. Know your importance. Know the significance of the ‘little things.’ You are the only one who can change the world in the unique way that you already are, one small word and one small action at a time.

I’ve decided to make a list each night before going to bed of five things that I did that day that were important because they contributed to the world in a positive way. I’m hoping that this simple routine will help me to be more aware of my words and actions and to consciously send out more loving words and actions into the world. I invite you to join me. Let’s change the world one small word and action at a time. We all have that in our power. And in the owning of that power we realize our importance.


I am Supported

I recently had a spate of things ‘going wrong’ with my house and the things in it. The floor in my corridor, which had always had a severe dip at one end of it even when I first moved in about 11 years ago, has, over the years, distorted so much so that for a few years now the nails that are supposed to be holding it up have been clearly visible above the flooring, and glimpses of the weeds outside can be seen through the resultant gap.

To be honest this hadn’t really worried me all that much. I knew that my landlord didn’t plan to spend any money on the house because of its age, and that they had said they were planning to knock it down when I moved out. The floor had never felt particularly unstable, and as long as I was careful not to snag my clothes or, worse, my bare feet, on the nails, I didn’t really see it as too much of a problem; more an idiosyncrasy of the house.

Then, a couple of weeks ago the floor in the room next to it began to make ominous noises when I walked on that side of the corridor to avoid the deepest part of the dip in the middle. On the same night the sliding door at the end of the corridor also began to play up, and was so difficult to move that I was afraid I might accidentally trap myself in the toilet and bathroom area that lies beyond. I had visions of myself naked and in distress having to climb outside the bathroom window to let myself back into the main part of the house.

Living far away from my home country and the support of family members, the next morning I duly called my pottery teachers, (one of whom is also a wizard with wood and had looked at it a couple of weeks previously and said he’d see what could be done), and explained the situation to them. He said he would come by that week and, in the meantime, I started to tread more gingerly, not wanting to make the situation any worse or, as he had indicated might be a possibility, fall through the floor.

I didn’t really think of it as anything more than a structural problem with the house, and maybe a sign that I had left things as they were for a bit too long. But then, the very next day, two of the wheels broke off the bottom of the cheap plastic drawers I used to store my computer-related things in as I moved it very slightly to one side as I had done hundreds of times before.

Now I was listening. I’ve been putting my attention on reading the signs the Universe sends me, and it seemed that the combination of these two things could be an indication that there was something wrong with my ‘foundations’ and that I wasn’t supported enough or building on solid enough ground.

I’ve been on a journey the last year or so of coming back into relationship with my soul, so I didn’t think it was that. I felt like I was building on more solid ground than I had in a long time. So what was the Universe trying to say to me? I wasn’t sure; but figured it would all become clear in time.

Sure enough, my teacher arrived on the Wednesday morning, complete with concrete blocks and thick and sturdy looking pieces of wood, and squeezed himself under the house to take a look. His verdict: there wasn’t enough room under there to get the materials in and raise the floor from beneath as he had hoped to do.

Briefly, I felt my heart sink. I didn’t feel quite up to the task of looking for a new place to live just yet, but didn’t want to live in a house that was considered unsafe.

Then he continued: the corridor was actually far more stable than he had originally thought. There was, in fact, a whopping great beam that ran right down the center of it; and the only reason the floor dipped was because when they constructed the house some space had  inadvertently been left between the beam and the flooring. That dipped part in the center of the corridor was actually the safest place to put your weight on. He even jumped up and down on it energetically a few times to show me.

Now I had my message: I am more supported than I can ever know. I have been supported all along. I’m supported now. And now. And now. And all it takes is a slight shift in perception to see it.

This rang true for me at last.

Despite a fantastic network of friends here, I have sometimes felt like I can’t ask for the support I feel I need, practical and emotional, because it feels like I might be putting them out too much. While most of us have some sort of issues with our family, at least in more cases than not we know that they can be counted on to be there for us and support us in someway if we need them. With friends I believe we often exercise a bit more restraint; not wanting to burden them with our problems when we know they have enough of their own things going on.

Until I, very recently, got my permanent residency, I hadn’t felt safe or secure in my right to be here in Japan either; fearing each time I renewed my visa, in case I somehow didn’t meet the conditions this time round.

And yet I now knew, with a conviction and certainty that surprised me, that even though I might not have seen it before, the Universe has been supporting me all along.

This has been particularly transparent this last year, as I have walked the path of awakening; gradually becoming more and more aware of such things.

When I was feeling trapped and stuck in emotional pain, along came a seminar on releasing your emotions and letting go. I decided I needed a new closet for my bedroom that was short enough to let in more light from the window behind, and my friend in the village asks me does anyone need two chests of drawers she has recently removed from her mother’s house. I noticed, again, in what bad repair the bookcase in my living room was and decided a new one needed to be procured, and a friend who is clearing out her office space has one that is the perfect fit for the very limited space I have. Even this week, I realized I needed to get some bins for the shelves that replaced the plastic case, and my good friend just happens to have two that she no longer needs.

And when I look back at my life, I can see that I have always been supported, even before I really knew that that was what it was. Succeeding in getting on the JET program and coming to Japan despite a dreadful, dreadful interview. In the past somehow always managing to surround myself with people who like to cook for me, at least enough that I’m not going to starve and go hungry despite my own, until recently, very limited cooking skills. Talking to the one person in the village who could tell me who I needed to ask to introduce me to the landlady so that she would be open to letting this house, when I had been told by others in the village that it was in no way an option.

The ways in which I’ve been supported are multifold and I could go on and on. All it took was a slight shift in perception to begin to perceive it.

I have now started to give thanks for this support as I notice it; to affirm that I’m receiving it; and to invite more of it in by giving thanks in advance for all the support that I will be given that day. As I incorporate these practices into my daily life, the support continues to flood in. I am more aware of it than I was before and notice it for what it is. I am truly grateful for all the goodness and abundance that has been given me. And I open my arms wide to receive more. I know that I’m standing on a solid foundation of support from none less than the all mighty Universe, and that however much I might feel like I’m balancing precariously on thin ice at times, all it takes is a slight shift in perception to see just how completely taken care of I really am.

Everything we have comes from and is given back to the Universe. I like to think that the Universe delights in our appreciation of its gifts, just as we delight in a small child’s excitement at and appreciation of his or her birthday presents. What can we be thankful for today? How are we being supported? When we open our eyes to these things, we realize just how beautiful and miraculous life is – life itself being the most precious gift of all.

(More on the plastic case in the next post).


Since the beginning of the year, I have, little by little, been sorting through each and every thing I own; deciding what is of use and/or value to me, and what I no longer like or use and can be passed onto someone else who will appreciate it more.

Having come out of both a long-term relationship and a long-standing job last year, it felt like the right time to embark on this house clearing; particularly when I heard that this decluttering of our physical environment is, spiritually speaking, symbolic of the decluttering of our mind and emotions; letting go of the old to make room for the new.

This held great resonance for me at this juncture in my life.

And besides, my heart had already been nudging me in this direction. Even as far back as the end of last October when, on spending four days in a beautiful gallery-like space as I shared my pottery with the public for the first time, I was struck by how calm and peaceful I felt spending all day each day surrounded by a variety of beautifully displayed handmade objects and the striking nature all around.

I decided then to create a similarly beautiful and harmonious feel to my living space. To purge my space of anything that no longer resonated with me. To keep only the things that I felt embodied the essence of me and/or were useful in my everyday life. And, at the same time, to design my space in such a way that it was both beautiful and practical at the same time.

I have to say I had no idea what I was embarking on. I mean, I knew this would be a big project. But I had no idea quite how big. I naively imagined I’d be able to get the three main rooms I live in cleared during the winter months, so that come the spring I could put it all behind me as a ‘job well done’ and focus on making pottery in my non-working hours again.

In hindsight I grossly underestimated the scale of the project. I have lived in this house for 11 years now, and in all that time I have hardly ever so much as reorganized my cupboards, never mind tackled the ever growing abundance of things. Many of them nice things to be sure. And many of them useful. But, considering the fact that I moved into this house with little more than some clothes, some bedding, some books and some CDs; and have actually bought very little over the years, it is amazing what I have managed to accumulate!

Anyone who has ever lived in Japan will maybe understand, but I have been blessed indeed by the generosity of the people in my circle. A sofa here; a washing machine there; a bread maker a few years on; a kitchen dresser; a massage chair! I have also been fortunate enough to acquire a lot of what I have needed from non-Japanese residents returning home and either selling off their belongings cheap, or kindly leaving them in my care. This is how I got my kitchen table, my kotatsu, a big closet in my bedroom, and another bread maker, which I have just given into the care of friends.

Most of these things, in fact, are things I intend to keep. But then there were the clothes that I no longer wore and couldn’t see myself wearing again anytime soon because my circumstances just didn’t really call for it; the drawers full of photos, letters, New Years’ cards, instruction booklets for appliances I no longer even used, old tax receipts…; the cups and plates someone had given me when they were clearing out and I didn’t like and had never used; and the overwhelming piles of books and DVDs that had spilled out of their allotted space in my bookcases and were starting to take over discreet areas of floor space to boot.

I have always prided myself on my ability to make my living space look nice, and much of this was hidden below the surface; but it was time to really probe those depths and take control of my space; rather than allowing it to grow organically, letting things overrun it as the years go by.

It has been a slow process; but, little by little, I am working through these things; discarding the useless; setting aside bags of things to give away to friends if they want them; and making a pile of the rest so I can take it to a nearby recycle shop when I’m finally done. It has been gratifying to discover that, of the rooms I have tackled so far, nearly everything I no longer have a use for has already been given a good home with one or another of my friends. What no longer serves me is often just what my friend is looking for. I like to think of them getting joy out of it as they use it in their daily life; for I do believe that when we use something with love, joy and gratitude we give meaning to its existence.

It is now August, and I’m still not even halfway done. In truth I haven’t even finished the first 3 rooms I had intended to do during the winter months, though they are now 90% complete.

It has been a great lesson for me in accepting and working with my limitations. I have been forced to revise my goals and substitute them with more realistic ones, as the days and weeks pass and still there is so much left to do.

More than anything, I severely underestimated my mental and emotional resistance. After an initial surge of action, I spent most of the winter months feeling depressed and unmotivated. And not just towards the clearing. I couldn’t seem to motivate myself to do anything much at all. Far from feeling peaceful and calm, everything started coming up for me. I now felt the full force of the emotional devastation and isolation from the lost relationship. Far from being able to clear space in my life for the new, I seemed to be stuck squandering my days in attachment to the old. I knew that going back to the relationship wasn’t right for me, but still couldn’t quite let it go. Sadness permeated my days and it is only as I have started to clear that – by being with it, listening to it, and releasing it bit by bit – that I have found the energy to also clear my physical space.

I believe there is a lesson here on being patient and giving ourselves the time we need, at the same time as helping ourselves to move forward by letting go of as much of the past as we can and focusing on the present moment and our vision for the future.

I believe there is another lesson, also, on the way change plays itself out in our lives. When we shake up our lives in such a dramatic way we are bound to meet with resistance. Our egos hate change – it pulls the rug out from under their feet and throws them into disarray, plaguing them with fear and illusions of danger.

If we are not bold and courageous this fear can hold us back; literally take us back into the very circumstances we are trying so hard to leave behind.

I feel like I’ve been braver in this past year than I’ve ever been in my life before. Fear has sometimes taken root in my mind and emotions, making me wonder what on earth I am doing, where on earth my life is now going; creating a block of ice in my stomach that has spread through my veins, dragging on my limbs and preventing me from moving forward at the pace that I envisioned. Sometimes this fear has made me wonder if it would, in fact, not just be safer and easier and altogether less hassle and hardship just to go back to the life I lived before. A life which, in all truth, was a happy one in many ways, rather than forging forward into the disquietude of the great unknown.

But through it all I have somehow been able to hold onto the quiet voice inside that tells me that it is important to honor myself and the decisions I have made; that taking a step backward will never be able to lead me to fulfillment and happiness; and that somehow, in the end, everything is going to be alright.

Along the way it has sometimes felt like I’ve taken one step forward and two back. But when I look back to where I was a year ago, I can see just how far I’ve come. And each little step I’ve taken – whether it’s been a physical space I’ve cleared in my house, something I’ve cleared and released emotionally, or a limiting belief I’ve let go of – has given me a sense of increased empowerment and calm.

I can’t deny that it’s been a rocky road; but it feels like I’m back in the driving seat again, taking control of my life and the direction it’s taking, even if it is only one kilometer at a time. While it may be a scary ride some of the time, it isn’t one I’d miss for anything. And, as I look at the wide road full of infinite possibilities before me, I, once more, consciously let go of the past and open myself up to embrace whatever lies ahead.

Riding the Crests and Trough

Picture credit:

‘Mainichi tsuchi to shoubu shite imasu,’ which means something along the lines of, ‘Everyday is a battle of wills between my will and that of the clay,’ is a phrase which my pottery teacher sometimes liked to repeat; having heard it said by a potter featured on NHK TV.

We, too, can sometimes feel like there is a battle of wills going on – whether between us and an external circumstance, or an internal battle within us – and Sunday was one of those days when I was literally doing battle with the ‘clay’ of my life.

When opening up the clay to make a pot, if it happens to be a little bit off-center the very worst thing we can do is to ‘fight the clay.’ Any attempts to assert our will against that of the clay’s only confound the problem, leading to ever-increasing frustration.

The only way, in fact, that I have found to successfully re-center clay, is to harmonize with it, to let its rhythms become your own. From this space of surrender and integration you can gently ease it back on center and cut out all the frustration to boot

As it is with clay, so it is with life.

Returning to Sunday; I started the day feeling tired, down and, yes, a little off-center. My morning practice of breathing and meditation served to ground me a little, but the feelings of sadness and unease persisted. Far from trying to harmonize with them, I did full force battle with them. In all truth, it was a declaration of war, as I resisted and fought them hand, tooth and nail. I didn’t want to feel that way. I resented the me who was feeling that way, preventing the elusive ‘other me’ from enjoying my Sunday. I saw them as something outside of myself; something separate, and ugly that was blocking my enjoyment of life. And I certainly didn’t want to have to deal with them. I just wanted them to go away – to force them to retreat backwards over the cliff into oblivion; unseen, unheard and unexamined; never to be seen in these parts again.

To add to the injustice, I then spent the day heaping blame and criticism on myself for not getting anything I ‘needed’ to done, precisely because I was feeling that way. I was in complete emotional denial; literally under fire from the one person who, in theory, I should always be able to depend on to look after my best interests: me.

And guess how all of that made me feel?

About ten times worse.

In declaring war on my feelings I was declaring war on myself. And my self felt this and recoiled in greater pain.

It was only when I started to be there for myself and integrate the feelings – to listen to them and accept them for what they were; to remind myself that I was only human and doing the best I could in this moment; to accept that I was having a bad day and that this, too, would pass; to love all of myself, including the me who was feeling this way – that the constriction in my chest started to ease and peace was able to enter my being again.

It was in giving up my resistance and aversion to the feelings that I was finally able to release them, even just a little; just as it is in negating our resistance to the clay that we are able to move it back on center.

How often do we do this? How often do we speak harshly to ourselves; heap blame on our own heads; criticize ourselves for being or not-being a certain way, doing or not-doing a certain thing?

We need to stop resisting who we are and allow, instead, all of ourselves to be heard: the ‘good’ and the ‘bad;’ the ‘beautiful’ and the ‘ugly.’ Our painful feelings are crying out to be heard and held; they just want to be acknowledged and then they can start to dissolve.

It is us who needs to do the hearing, cultivating the same compassion for our feelings that we would have for a friend. In this lies our only hope for integration. For how we can integrate what we do not first acknowledge is there? And it is through this integration of the different sides of ourselves that we come into greater wholeness.

What part of you wants to be heard today? Can you harmonize with it instead of trying to push it away? Give yourself the gift of being there for yourself; of being present and ready to listen. Gift yourself with your presence; it is the most precious gift you can give.