I have hosted dozens of young travellers here at my farm over the past three years. With each I have been privileged to witness the identity search that comes with this age.
The question that often arises from my young visitors is ‘who am I, who do I want to be and who do I have the freedom to be?’.
I have been thinking, has this question always been part of our human story? Or are the questions that we ask ourselves today to help us shape our identity a recent evolutionary milestone?
In the past, religion, class and restrictive gender roles imposed identity on us. In the absence of education, science and intellectual vigour, people tried their best to explain what they could not explain and the concept of God was created.
Religion was formulated to create rules of conduct.
As many people moved away from religion and away from imposed gender restrictions at what stage did we begin to ask questions relating to our identity? Or perhaps we always asked these questions and that is exactly why we moved away from religion, class and gender rules.
Many of my young travellers are asking themselves the same group of questions. ‘Is who I am and is what I am into ok? Am I too introverted? What about the way I look, my weight, my body shape,? Are my boundaries acceptable? What does consent actually look like/feel like? Why do I have so little self confidence? Why do I feel so vulnerable?
And so I wanted to write a post that summaries some of the most important answers I have.
With regards to ‘is who I am and is what I am into ok? The answer is a resounding yes. If what you are into does not cause pain and suffering to others then yes it is more than ok. What you wear, what you like to eat, the music you enjoy listening to, the interests you have, your body shape. It is all well and truly ok.
There is no one type of body that everyone is attracted to, or one type of personality that everyone falls in love with. And beauty, the kind of beauty that you see in magazines, it does not equal happiness. It simply does not. If it determined happiness then Hollywood would be full of really happy people in stable long term loving and loyal relationships, but that is not the case.
Your weight and body shape. If you feel healthy then your body shape is fantastic. Again people are attracted to different body shapes, they really are. And also the way you look will be the least important factor in a loving respectful, supportive, long term relationship. The way you live, the choices you make, the way you treat others, the way you communicate, the care and love that you give are the factors that have the most impact on how well your relationship will go.
Are my boundaries acceptable? And what does consent look like, feel like? Consent always leaves you feeling good or better at the end of an interaction. Consent is empowering and makes you feel cared for by the other. There are a few really good consent videos online that articulate consent brilliantly.
Why do I have so little self confidence? In many cases the reasons why a young person is lacking in self confidence is directly related to their family situation, or in response to societal pressures. Often as a direct result of a dysfunctional relationship between the parent and child. Children need their parents to be ‘parents’ but not all parents are ‘parents’. Sometimes parents do not ‘see you’, ‘hear you’ and are not present. Sometimes one parent or both will rarely if ever praise you, maybe they will even put you down. Sometimes a parent is so overwhelmed with his or her life that all that he/she can manage is to share their burdens with you, leaving you feeling responsible and sad and with a very heavy heart. When our parents struggle we often struggle too because we love them so much. The parent child relationship is flipped with the child parenting the parent most of the time. In these situations the child is overcome with the pressure of this responsibility and struggles to thrive.
Schools have a big influence on our self esteem too, the school community, teachers and peers. One of my young travellers explained to me how her school completely broke her spirit and self confidence. Because her academic performance was poor she was made to feel that she was not good enough, stupid and a true failure. She was pushed repeatedly to perform in front of her peers, tasks that she found difficult and hence was constantly exposed to bullying and shame.
During her stay we had lunch with a couple who explained that they had been denied access to every primary school they had approached. Their children, both with learning difficulties, were excluded from accessing local schools and the parents were forced to drive 40mins to a school in another town to access education. As their story unfolded during our lunch gathering my young beautiful, compassionate volunteer began to cry, as memories flooded back of her own experiences, and she cried out ‘why? why are children made to suffer like this?’.
One of the other main factors that influence our self esteem is our peers. When we compare ourselves on a daily basis it can be a little bit like self harming. We may compare ourselves a little but in excess we create a wall of mirrors that reflect self doubt and insecurities. Social media has exacerbated this situation.
Beauty and fashion magazines, are no good for us. If you are feeling a bit unsure of yourself in many cases these magazines will intensify that feeling. I remember in year seven, at my school, a girl looking at my ankles and telling me what slim beautiful ankles I had…I was confused…I’d never given my ankles a second thought and yet here she was comparing my ankles to hers and wishing her ankles were more beautiful!
I tell all my young volunteers a secret.
It’s a secret that is unknown by almost every young person, but well known by every adult…and that is that they are extremely beautiful. And then there is a second secret …all you have to be…is to be kind. I understand that kindness is hard to sell in the magazine market and yet I think some magazine publishers are catching on. I recall articles in Dumbo Feather with a huge focus on kindness and the sharing of wisdom and I thought finally something good! Kindness and compassion and going out of your way to help others is really, really important. I think it is the meaning of life.
That is all you have to be. You have to be kind. Make that the foundation of what is important and everything else the icing on the cake.
Measure your success based on kindness, compassion, willingness to try, willingness to be open to others; to diversity, to different points of view. Make the way you communicate the basis of your well being; not in terms of weather you are a dynamic amazing communicator or an extraverted one, but in terms of aiming to be honest and clear and direct and gentle in your communication and compassionate with your words. But also don’t beat yourself up when you get it wrong because we all get it wrong, sometimes immediately following the writing of a post like this.
Be that person who stands up for others in difficult situations. I will never forget how my dad as we were travelling on the VLine train from Melbourne to Ballarat stopped the train by pressing that red button because one of the passengers was being verbally harassed by another. Be that person that notices others who are having a hard time. In the school playground be that parent that while standing in a circle of women notices another woman to the side of the circle, on the outer, that needs to be invited in. Be that person that opens the circle and makes eye contact with another and confidently or very awkwardly welcomes the other in. Be that person that writes letters to governments all over the world asking them to free refugees or to support gay marriage. Be that person that brings a meal to someone who is sick or volunteers at the local school or organises a fundraiser to support a worthy cause.
And Trump. When a young person staying with me tells me they feel that they are not good enough or have nothing to offer the world I say ‘how do you compare to Trump? If you are nothing like Trump then you are fantastic and we really, really need you’!
Find your tribe.
Groups and tribes. Find your tribe. We all crave being part of something a little smaller than the 25 million people that live in our country or the 7.53 billion that inhabit the earth or even the 3000 that inhabit a small place like Daylesford. Most of us, once we have found the confidence to articulate who we are, crave being part of a small group of people who we see on a regular basis that support our world view or ideas and principles. This group is a spring board from which you can then branch out and get to know others who belong to different tribes. Once we traded tools and supplies with different tribes and our health and well being was intrinsically dependent on it. Today too we need our tribe and we need the ideas and experiences of others. This transference creates more resilient compassionate and caring people. If we close ourselves off from the ideas, needs and viewpoints of other tribes we create easy pathways for harsh misunderstandings and unjust decisions. There are some tribes that express so much anger and hate that it’s really difficult, if not impossible to share ideas with them…try not to be a part of that type of tribe.
One on one.
We all need one on one time. We need one or two people in our lives that know us really well and that we feel comfortable to share absolutely everything about ourselves with. These people are really, really important. These are the people that you will on occasion have a disagreement with but that make you feel loved and needed regardless of those difficult moments. People who have the confidence and self love to see past the hiccups and are able to stay focused on the core values and gifts that the friendship brings. People who value kindness and honesty, loyalty or reliability beyond a simple misunderstanding or miscommunication. Look for your one on one people and be a faithful, loyal, long time forever friend and let them know you need them to be your long time forever friend. Your ‘we will grow old together’ friend.
Find something you really love doing. Having a relationship with something other than humans is very healing and a meditative like experience. Find and create a relationship with your nearby forest, with furniture building, with dancing, with pottery, with reading, with films, with wildlife and botany, with an instrument, with mathematics, with science, with long distance walking…with something that is a wonderful constant regardless of the ups and downs of your life.
I am determined to share on a few topics this post. My longest post ever. So here is a note on village life partly prompted by a post by Honey Atkinson.
Village life. Many of us crave it, many of us want it and many of us feel empty without it and yet it can be so hard to access, so hard to articulate. When called upon to describe what we mean sometimes we are at loss to explain what we feel. But at its core I think what we mean is that we want to feel supported, we want to share our day to day in a really meaningful way with others and we want to share the responsibility and joys of our life with others more often.
So why do we struggle to create this village?
I think the answer lies in our equally great need to refine and express our identities. Or to ensure that we are thriving with minimal compromise, where we think that might be possible. Our homes become a central focus for defining and refining our identities and individualism. We use our homes as places where we can uncompromisingly (this is never the case as most of us share our homes with someone else who will have a different take on things as well) express our values, our ideas, our stories and our identities.
We purchase our home at a great financial cost to us and then to maintain it and to allow this built form to express our identities, dreams and life choices, we work really, really hard with little time left for maintaining the commons and supporting the broader community. Then some of us hit that point where this home that is meant to fulfil all our storytelling, fails to deliver as much as we had hoped. But we are in too deep, so what can be done.
For me sharing my home with volunteer fairies has been part of the answer. By hosting young people from all over the world to come and live with us I get to share my home, my life, the responsibilities and joys of it with others, and in return I have the opportunity to share my experiences and understandings of the world in the hope of being able to provide a safe and compassionate place for those who come and stay.
The other part of the answer for me has been attending as often as I can, community gatherings where information, skills and knowledge is shared.
Today was a fantastic example of village life for me.
There were seven of us. Marta and Connor and their five month old son Ray, Victoria my French Australian helper, Rob, Ros and Melissa, my Italian students.
Marta, Connor and Ray needed a break from their home and the intensity of nuclear family life as they craved the companionship and theatre of others.
Victoria needs a break from Melbourne and the intensity of supporting herself on her own and wanted a nurturing place where she could offer her help in exchange for a welcoming home.
And my three really funny, living life to the fullest, Italian students, who’s passion for the Italian language makes me feel great.
Connor helped in the garden by cutting back our perennial grasses, Marta and Ray caught up on sleep, Victoria took cuttings of Teucrium and Elaeagnus while Ros, Rob Melissa and I cooked up a feast for us all and at 1pm we all came together for lunch.
Today as I looked around at all the beautiful people in my home, who seamlessly worked together and shared their gentle care and mischievous humour with each other I felt a great deep warm tear laden joy. I texted my partner to tell him how much I loved him and to thank him for helping me create our home, then I sat down with the others, in the sun filled, warm dining room and filled myself with another fulfilling substance, a creamy yellow ragu coated polenta.
And now ‘How to make Lemon and Lime Marmalade’.
Harvest lemons from unwanted neighbouring trees, forage here, forage there, ask your friends, there are plenty of forgotten lemon trees everywhere.
Peel lemons and limes with a mandoline of your liking so that the peel is thin and small.
Weigh lemons and limes and their peel.
Weigh an equal quantity of sugar to match the weight of the peeled fruit and peel.
Place fruit and peel in a saucepan and cook until very, very soft.
Add sugar and bring to a simmer.
Citrus fruits are very rich in pectin.
Cook until the marmalade is sticking to the walls of the pot or place a small dish in the freezer at the beginning of the cooking process. When you think you have reached setting point, place a teaspoon of the marmalade on the frozen dish. Run your finger along the marmalade so that it parts and if the part remains then the marmalade has set.
Place in very clean jars and then hot water bath for 10 mins.