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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ni Hao China

The China trip was pretty amazing. I want to share this video I made of the highlights. I hope it inspires you to get out there and travel. 

I'd love to hear your feedback.

China Trip May, 2017 from Tracy Pepper on Vimeo.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Connection is the Answer

So what is the question?  

Why is everyone on this planet so angry?
Why are so many people suffering from mental illness such as anxiety and depression?
Why are so many people turning to drugs to escape from "reality"?
Why are people so afraid to open their hearts to others?

The list goes on and on.

My answer to all of it is CONNECTION.

We are losing it.  In a world that appears to be more "connected" than ever, through social media and mobile phones... the reality is that TRUE CONNECTION is becoming harder and harder to find.

When is the last time someone wrote you a letter?  I'm talking about an actual hand written letter that was more than just one or two paragraphs.  A letter that asks how you are and shares stories of how the person writing it is feeling as they pen their thoughts in that moment.

Letter writing is an art.  It is a form of meditation.  It requires the person writing it to be completely present and mindful.  A good hand written letter is FELT by the person who receives it.

Written to a friend who is going through a hard time and won't respond to my messages.

There is something incredibly sacred about hand writing a letter to someone.  You are taking the time to CONNECT to the essence of the person you are communicating with.  In order to write a proper letter to a person, you need to feel their energy and imagine that you are actually having a conversation with them.  You are taking time to BE with them, even though they might be thousands of miles away.  It's a beautiful gesture and one that a lot of us took for granted when letter writing was the only way to communicate with loved ones far away.

I dictated this when I was about 4 years old.
These days, we flick off a casual message on their Facebook wall or if you're being really thoughtful, you might send a private message or email. It's rarely felt the same way.  It's in passing... and it's cold.  There's nothing tangible about it.  It doesn't pierce the heart the same way a hand written letter does.

I'm starting to write to people again for that reason.  And it FEELS good to do it.  Admittedly, it takes time to sit and write to someone but it's almost as good as having a conversation with them.  You find that you share more of your heart than you would staring at one another not knowing what to say or having small talk about nothing important via Skype.  Letter writing opens a part of your heart that longs to pour out.  That's how the literary greats expressed themselves.  It's called an "outpouring" for a reason.

Our world is a disconnected mess.  People seem so angry about everything, all the time.  That angry energy erodes us and it spills over into all of our relationships.  People have CNN running on the television 24/7... while the children play in the living room with their dolls (actually do kids even still play with dolls anymore?  I am so disconnected from that world now... I admit I live in a silent bubble that is free from television or radio for most of my day and I haven't been around young children for so long... I don't know what they play with).  People have these news programs running in the background invading their subconscious minds, regardless of whether they are "watching it" or not.  They are unconsciously filling their subconscious minds with fear and terror and what's even worse, they are exposing their children to it.  Is it any surprise that anxiety is on the rise in our young people today?  Youth suicide is at it's highest.  People can't cope and no one seems to realize that we are contributing to the problem by feeding the fear.

I'm not suggesting that we all stick our heads in the sand and pretend that Syria isn't being bombed and that innocent children aren't being attacked by chemical warfare.  We need to know what's going on and we need to talk about it so that we can do something - whether it's praying (if you're not religious then just sending out loving thoughts to the people who are suffering is all that you need to do), writing letters to your government expressing your concern, sending aid to the people in the region... anything is better than doing nothing and it's certainly better than doing nothing and unconsciously absorbing the senselessness of it all.

My motivation for writing this blog entry wasn't anything to do with letter writing or the state of Syria.  I have been thinking about my upcoming trip to China.  I'm traveling to Shanghai, Beijing and Xi'an next week for 12 days.  It was a spontaneous decision, booked with an old friend and her friend.  They are both in their early 20's.

It started when I reconnected with my friend "Emily" through Facebook messenger a few months ago.  I've known Emily for over 10 years, through my volunteer work with a local cancer charity which I won't name.  Emily has always been special and I have watched her grow up from being a silly kid to now being a competent and talented adult.  Our bond has strengthened as the years have passed.  How can you explain when you connect with someone?  It wasn't about choosing favourites, it was simply just a special connecting with someone who feels like family.  At the end of the day, that's what this life is about - finding our soul family.

As I don't have family here in New Zealand, I cherish the friendship that has developed between Em and myself.  Over the years, whenever she was in my neighbourhood, she'd get in touch and we'd catch up.  She would talk about her woes with her boyfriends and her fears about passing university... I was/am an Auntie to her.

It's been many years since Emily and I have been involved with the charity we first met through.  For separate reasons we both saw the changes occurring in the organization and decided it no longer fit with our values.

I had been a volunteer for 12 years.  I devoted all of my free time to this organization because I felt I had so much to offer.  I was an adult role model to the kids and they looked up to me.  In their eyes if I could do it, so could they.  I was an awesome volunteer.  I was just like them and I connected with them all in their own special way.

But then a few years ago, as with all big charities, changes started happening.  As the organization grew, more staff were hired and salaries were rising.  A new area manager was hired and there were cut backs to the programs on offer for the kids.  There was more pressure to "sell" the idea of charity for profit (even though this is a not for profit organization).  The pressure was on to pay the big salaries to keep the organization going.

On an outing that I was volunteering at, this new area manager spoke to the office manager who I worked (volunteered) for and told her that she noticed that I was overstepping my role as a volunteer.  She didn't think that I should be having so much fun with the members and she pointed out that the office manager and I were "too friendly" towards each other.  I needed to pare it down and basically change my personality.  I think she was threatened because I was so comfortable with the members and had a much better connection with them than she did.

I was furious and deeply offended when I heard what she'd said.  She'd been in her position for a few short months and her objective was clearly about working her way up the corporate ladder. This role was merely a stepping stone for her.  How dare she try to tell me that I was over-stepping my boundaries. She didn't know me.  A few weeks later, I received a follow up letter from her, outlining my "role as a volunteer" with their organization.   I was not to engage with members or have any outside friendships with staff.  As a volunteer I was expected to clean, keep areas tidy and assist with any jobs that the staff needed help with.

Where I come from, volunteers are cherished and revered.  Volunteers are vital for charities to exist. Before charities became these big businesses, they were run mostly by volunteers.  In most cases, they were founded by volunteers. This woman knew nothing about the value of volunteering, it was obvious.  I was there to help but I was also there to connect and to share my strengths, talents, gifts and love with the kids.  I was not giving up my free time to do all of the cleaning up.

I was so offended, I stopped volunteering for that organization for more than 2 years.  And then I heard she got fired.

Emily stepped away from her involvement years ago for her own personal reasons.  She was finishing her degree at university, so she was pretty busy.  She moved to another city. We haven't caught up for ages so when we were chatting on Facebook a couple of months ago, I suggested we get together to do a hike somewhere... I was thinking one of the Great Walks in New Zealand... but then Em suggested China to do the Great Wall!  I didn't even think twice.  I was totally in and we booked it a few days later.

A few weeks ago I caught up with my friend who is still the office manager for this charity.  She's recently returned to work after a year off on maternity.  There have been lots of changes in the organization, including a new CEO who has stripped a lot of the old ways of doing things... basically taken a lot of the soul out of the charity and made it into a more viable business model.  I get it, but I hate it.

So as we were catching up I was excited to tell her that I was going to China with our old friend Em who she also hadn't seen for years.

A few days later she rang me from the office.  She told me that she'd been thinking about our conversation and she was very uncomfortable with me going to China with Emily.  I was shocked.  I haven't been involved with the organization for years other than a Christmas wrapping fundraiser that she asked me to help at.  As far as I knew, Emily wasn't a member anymore as she is now an adult and hasn't been involved for years either.  Not to mention that Em lives about 3 hours away in a different region altogether.  But the office manager said she'd looked into it and Emily is still officially an "Inactive Member" and I am still on their books as a Volunteer.

So she put it to me like this:  "You either cancel your trip or you give up your volunteer status with this organization permanently."

Twelve years of volunteering comes down to this.

We discussed it.  It just doesn't "look good". I could see her position and she understands how this situation is unique.  She is simply doing her job.  It came as a shock because outside of work, she is as sensitive as I am to matters such as this.

I've known Emily longer than my friend has been in her role as office manager.  Emily came to my wedding.  Emily was around to cheer me up through my divorce.  That was a lifetime before the office manager came on the scene.  Now that Emily is an adult, she's become my friend as well as a member of my soul family.  But there are rules, and boundaries that need to be maintained.

After lengthy debate, I forfeited my role as Volunteer.  It was a sad day.  They just lost their best
volunteer and I was let go without even receiving a thank you letter for all the years I gave wholeheartedly. 

This is part of the reason why I'm so disillusioned with charities these days.

In my heart I knew it was the universe's way of telling me it was time to let go.  I've outgrown my role with that organization.  There is something better waiting for me.  My energy will be better used for something else.

So you see, the world is changing in so many ways.  Connection is viewed as a bad thing.  Don't get too close to people, they will hurt you.  Don't form bonds at work, it's unprofessional.  Don't tell someone you care about them, it might scare them.  Don't get to know your neighbour, they might not hold the same values as you and you might actually learn something new.  Don't say what you really think, you might offend someone.

The list goes on an on...

Anyway, I'm off to China in a few days with my friend.  We are going to walk part of the Great Wall of China, climb Mount Huashan, visit the Terracotta Warriors and explore Shanghai and Beijing before ending our trip at Disneyland Shanghai.  I expect we are going to have a wonderful, amazing time.

I refuse to harden and change to fit in.  I guess I'll always be rule breaker and a change maker.  I'll always choose to connect because that's how I'm wired.

There's a big difference between being connected and remaining detached.  Detachment is another important quality to have.

I'll save that subject for another blog post...


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Taking a Mental Health Year... or Two


In light of Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I'd break my silence with a confession.

I have been hiding a secret from everyone for years.  I suffer from anxiety and depression and have been dealing with it in silence for most of my life.  I was officially diagnosed with it in my early 20's but I suffered from the age of 11.  Having cancer, losing my hair, my school friends, my mother to alcohol, siblings hating on me and dealing with death every week when someone else I met died. I was too busy surviving to let depression get me. It's one of the side effects of chemotherapy as well.  I certainly was a strong kid.

The depression hit me at it's worst from the age of 21-25. I went through a period of agoraphobia where the thought of being around crowds of people gave me such intense feelings of anxiety, I barely left my apartment for 3 months.  The depression was heavy and dark and I battled suicidal thoughts daily.  It was a very difficult time but when I reached out to my family for help, was told to "snap out of it".  "Life is hard, just deal with it."

So I did and I learnt that I couldn't depend on my family for emotional support.  I saw therapists for years and took medications to help boost my mood. The side effects of the medications were horrible.  I was taking one to counter the effects of another.  I lost my zest for life in every way.  I lost my desire for sex.  I was too young to be messing with my hormones.  No one tells us what the long term effects of taking these drugs are. My body had already been through so much, drugs were not my friend. I sabotaged my relationships, rejecting love so that love didn't reject me.  The hardest years were between 1997-2006.  It's probably no coincidence that I started practising yoga regularly in 2007.

Somehow, I got through it.  It took some extreme life changes - moving across the globe to start a new life in New Zealand was the first step.  Some people thought I was running from my problems but intuitively I knew it was the only way to re-create myself.  I was not free to be my authentic self in my "old" life.  I felt I was living a lie, trying to please everyone else but I didn't have a clue who I was.  The only way for me to get in touch with my purpose and authenticity was to cut ties from my past and re-invent myself.

I was smiling but very unhappy.  I needed a bath.
I caught a glimpse of the person I wanted to become on a three-month solo backpacking tour around Europe and the UK in 1998.  There is something about travel that allows you to escape and you develop the character you want in the book of your life.  Elizabeth Gilbert captured it in her book Eat Pray Love.  My journey of self-discovery was similar... but I'm still working on my ending.

Everything I needed for 3 months
That first solo backpacking journey was the catalyst to my awakening.  It was not all "Yummy Food" (I could only afford to eat bread, beer, cheese and yoghurt.  I was so happy to eat broccoli when I got home!), "God-Consciousness" (I was still very unconscious at the time) and "Unconditional Love" (I didn't even know what that meant, let alone felt like).  It was a heart-wrenching time in my life.

I experienced my first real heartbreak and I had no idea just how badly I broke or how many years it would take to mend (it took 10 years to get over that one).  I tried to heal with new love but it opened "Pandora's Box" and left me searching for more, leaving a trail of broken hearts and years of disconnected self-preservation.  I appeared reckless and heartless.  My mother thought I had an addiction to sex but it was so much deeper than that.  It was an awakening process I needed to have, developing an empowerment I'd never known before.  I was angry, and that powerful energy was a step up from depression.  I wasn't conscious enough to understand it at the time.  I was simply going on a strong survival instinct.  I had no idea how my destruction was hurting the ones who wanted to save me.  No love was ever going to be strong enough to save me from myself.  It was all part of my evolution and development.  Hindsight is a beautiful thing.  How could I love someone else if I didn't even like myself?

The Bachelorette in Sydney
Five years later, in 2003, I embarked on another journey of self-discovery.  This one was different.  I was empowered, strong and in a good place in my life, even though I unconsciously knew there was still a lot more to learn about myself.  I had also received some concerning news about my health and longevity.  My organs were aging rapidly as a result of the chemo I had as a child.  I was told I was not going to have a long life ahead.  As my friends were buying houses (how I cringe now knowing I had my chance to buy a home for under $200,000), I headed off on another three month backpacking trip to Australia and New Zealand.  I found my connection to my God-source in New Zealand and my true awakening of consciousness began.  I made the decision to give up everything I knew in Canada to build a new life and reinvent myself in New Zealand.  I wasn't running from anything, rather towards a new opportunity to become the person I wanted to become.  There were too many memories and negative influences in Canada.  To truly change and evolve, I knew I needed a fresh start.

Finding my happy place in New Zealand
I found a different kind of "love" in New Zealand.  My vulnerability and naivety softened me and I found myself drawn to men who took advantage of my generous nature.  The next decade of my life would be a period of "karmic" repayment for all of the hearts I broke.  My empowerment was toned down and I developed compassion towards my parents who were broken human beings who did their best.  The process of self love began through desperately trying to convince men that I was lovable.  Those were some hard years.

Freedom in solitude and wide open spaces
I was conflicted.  I loved my life in New Zealand but I wasn't finding the love I knew I deserved.  My consciousness opening like a lotus flower, I realised that the only love I needed was inside of myself.  So the process began.  In 2007, after another health scare where I developed another ovarian tumour and opted to have a radical hysterectomy at age 32, I reconnected with myself through yoga, meditation practice and intense self-love.  I married myself and made a commitment to love, honour and cherish myself for as long as I lived.

My depression and anxiety pretty much disappeared.  I wrote frequently and found positive affirmations through social media platforms like Facebook and Pinterest.  I found my joy in the simple things, walking to the gym, writing, cooking healthy meals, meeting friends for coffee.  I dated but was unwilling to settle for something that didn't feel right.  I was empowered again but it wasn't selfish, I was full of love and looking for someone whose heart would match mine.

I thought I met that man in 2011 and we married.  I was 37 at the time and I was ready for a life commitment with someone. In our haste and whirlwind romance, he failed to mention that he wanted me to give up my friends, my career, my freedom and independence so that I could be a housewife.  After our marriage, he got insanely jealous and insecure. I had a false sense of security in our vows and held my ground.  I thought he'd calm down eventually when he realised he had nothing to worry about.  Five months later he left, saying I was never going to change.  I believe we constantly change but I was certainly not going to be forced to change for anyone.

That's when I realised just how much I've evolved.  But I'm far from perfect.
Kilimanjaro, the highest free standing mountain in the world!  I am NOT a mountaineer.  I just loved the metaphor.
I was at my strongest in 2013 when I embarked on another journey of self-discovery, joining a group of cancer survivors to climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa.  That trip sparked a deep desire to help AIDS orphans, Maasai girls and the Porters of Kilimanjaro.  I returned to Tanzania again on my own in 2014, after driving across Canada collecting items to ship to Africa for charitable projects.  I spent three months in Tanzania doing the most rewarding and life changing work.  My heart burst open and I loved myself more than I thought possible.  This isn't the "ego" love that we associate with when people take lots of selfies to say, "Look at how great I am".  I'm talking about the love we search for our whole life.  A love that says, "I'm important to others and my life has purpose."

AIDS orphans
I experienced heart-break but it didn't destroy me.  I was deeply disappointed by people I trusted and believed in.  I became choosier with whom I associated.

I struggled to return back to the Western world, people with all their "first world problems".  That was when I felt the old familiar grip of depression.

For the last 18 months, I've suffered silently with minor depression as I recovered from adrenal fatigue.  I'd simply "burnt out" from giving away more than I could emotionally afford.  I reached out a few times on Facebook, always cheerfully looking at the silver lining.  I withdrew into myself deeper.  Being the sort of person who enjoys her own company, no one had any reason to worry.  My weight fluctuated, a real sign of my imbalance.  My blood pressure rose and I knew I needed to take care of myself again so I joined a 12 week cardio fitness program.

I'd just completed it, when nine weeks ago, while on a mini vacation in the Pacific Islands, I slipped on a wet patch of concrete and fell, smashing my left wrist into smithereens and damaging the nerves to my hand.  That was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back, so to speak. I'm a healer and I work with my hands.  I lost my Ambassador job just as the season was about to begin.  I only qualified for a very minimal amount from Accident Compensation because they only considered my income from 2014 when I was away for 6 months collecting items for Africa. I couldn't work and I had no idea how I was going to pay my rent.  How did I get to be in this situation?  Too focused on everyone else and not putting my security first.
Big time ouchy.  Dislocation fracture of the radius and ulna.

I was angry at the injustice, of such a nasty break and the lack of support I got from a system that didn't look after me when I felt most vulnerable.  I was angry at my sister who was visiting at the time.  She is a very strong character and I naturally become a shrinking violet so she can take centre stage.  After my accident, I was disappointed with her lack of compassion or empathy.   It hurt me deeply.  I felt like I was a 10 year old who ruined everything by getting cancer.  So, people were right, I can't run from my problems.  Old hurts remain, suppressed deep in the crevices of our heart.

I have been holding steady in my anger for two months but my grip started slipping, like holding a rope, afraid of how deep this depression will be.
Bionic woman
That's a lot of hardware.

Last night I let go of the rope. I am exhausted.  I could barely sleep, my heart was racing and I felt that old familiar, overwhelming sense of doom.

I'll be honest, I just want to give up. That's just not who I am but when anxiety and depression sets in, it's so hard to see a way out.

I know I'm not alone... so many people suffer from ‪#‎anxiety‬ and ‪#‎depression‬. In light of ‪#‎mentalhealthawareness‬ week, rather than suffer in silence I'm swallowing my pride to share this side of myself. Hiding it brings a feeling of shame and embarrassment.

Now you know why I've been so quiet. It's been a difficult time.  Admittedly, talking about it makes it feel not quite so overwhelming.  I know what I need to do, yoga and meditation will bring me back to the light.  Getting started is the hardest part.

I seek comfort knowing that from an astrological perspective, there are quite a few planets in retrograde this year (Mars, Pluto, Saturn, Mercury) and we have a Full Blue Moon tonight. If you feel the shift and changes happening (as I do), trust that it's an opportunity to look inward at the parts of yourself buried long ago. Accept that you are not longer that person, it's time to open your heart to evolve into the higher version of your soul. Trust this... you will come out of this stronger and more yourself than ever.   ‪#‎keepclimbing‬ ‪#‎dontgiveup‬ ‪#‎retrograde2016‬