This evening I finally remembered to take a couple of pics of the stunning sunsets we can see from our apartment. I love being back in the Northern Hemisphere because I’m far more in tune with what, for me, is the normal seasonal pattern – spring in March-May, summer in June-August, autumn in August-October, winter in November – February. And the sun and moon appear to be in different positions, although I realise that it’s we who have changed our position on the planet. In Australia we’d look to our right to see the moon rising, here we look to our left to see the moon rising. And here in North Cyprus the sun moves around to the north, the west and then the south, whereas in Australia the sun moves around to the south, then the west.
So now I also have the various seasonal celebrations the right way around, I also want to remind you that May 1st is Beltane, the cusp between winter and summer. It’s a fire festival (which is why I thought the setting sun was pretty appropriate!) and it celebrates fertility, new beginnings, creativity, letting go of the old and embracing the new. So perhaps between now and May 1st you might like to give consideration to what can be released from your life that you no longer need, and what is waiting to enter your life now that you are making space for the new.
A ritual is always a good way to honour festivals, so perhaps you might also like to create your own ritual to mark this particular procession of seasons. You don’t have to do anything complex. As I’ve mentioned sunrise, the start of a new day and adventure in your life, you might like to honour the sun as it rises. Or perhaps say a small prayer or invocation to yourself, or perhaps create a small space or altar with whatever items you feel appropriate and, as it’s a festival of fire, light candles or incense. You can also write down on a piece of paper what you feel can now leave your life, and affirm what you are opening to in the future. And if you aren’t certain of what you’re opening up to, you could simply use the following phraseology: “I am open to and embrace those new energies which the universe considers in my highest interests. Under grace, in a perfect way.” Or however you feel you want to phrase your words. And then burn the paper, perhaps flushing them down the sink, or scattering them in your garden or in a place of nature which nurtures you.
The other day we went to check out a cafe in a lovely spot on a cliff overlooking the coast of North Cyprus close to Kyrenia. It was a beautiful day, bright sunshine, and the view across the Mediterranean to the Taurus Mountains in Turkey was brilliant.
And what happened? As soon as we sat down, just as another group of four turned up, the owner of the cafe turned on music. I noticed this happen in another restaurant we visited – sat down and on came the music. There are many restaurants we don’t visit simply because there is either loud music playing, or there are huge television screens blaring out programmes.
Why have we become so scared of living with silence? I say “with silence” and not “in silence” because I’m certainly not averse to conversation with others, I love a good natter with the best of them. But I love living with silence, to appreciate the ability to hear clearly birdsong, to appreciate the variations in the wind in this area, but most of all to enjoy the pleasure of silence. No noise. No radio. No TV. No music.
I’ve decided to follow this through into social media. I don’t need to read constant Twitter updates. They’re like noise in words. I simply don’t feel the need to have my time taken up with constant Tweets. They aren’t necessary to my life. They are, in fact, a distraction from my inner life, from creativity and from enjoying life on this lovely planet of ours without distraction.
Similarly, I do not possess an iPad, iPhone or iPod. I don’t want to be owned by a machine, to be beholden to constant phone conversations, or the latest apps or the latest music downloads. To my mind, Apple may be innovative and astounding, but I don’t like their market monopoly, and I find it quite mind-boggling that people are so suckered by the lure of the latest gadget that they’re willing to queue for hours and days to get the latest i offering from Apple.
My conscious decision is to keep my computer in my workroom, to check on e-mails and Facebook in my workroom, and to have a simple mobile phone which is pre-paid so I’m not stuck on expensive and incomprehensible monthly phone plans. To me, it’s like being on a treadmill – you have all sorts of gadgets which cost squillions, which constantly need upgrading so you’ve got the most up-to-date gadget, which cost quids to maintain with contract and download costs so you need to work to be able to afford these money-guzzling monsters.
I have, of course, reached this position after years of listening to non-stop radio, playing non-stop music and feeling that I have to fill my life with sound. Now I feel I’ve gradually been de-cluttering my noisy lifestyle addictions to prune back to a world where silence feels bliss and where I carefully consider what sounds I want in my life.
It’ s not everyone’s choice and I do wonder whether I’ve reached this stage of my life because I’m in my ‘sixties and somewhat out of the rat race. I think I’m moving into an Aphrodite phase where I’m choosing what I love, what nurtures me, how I provide pleasure in my life, and not what other people think is trendy or necessary. But actually I don’t really care what others think. I believe the sound of silence is very precious. It brings us back to ourselves, to living with ourselves, to listening with ourselves, instead of being out there as a refuge from being with ourselves.
North Cyprus is an Islamic country and, if you live near a mosque, you hear the call to prayer five times throughout the day.
I’ve always loved the call to prayer, I find it devotional, mindful and soulful. I remember hearing it when we lived in Nelson and the call to prayer rang out near the supermarket we were about to enter. A sour-faced looking woman beside us looked startled and asked what it was, another woman nearby told her it was the call to prayer, and I could see the first woman’s face start to tighten, so I said brightly: “It’s a lovely sound, isn’t it?” before she said anything negative.
When we were living in Buyukkonuk, when we first arrived here, we were close to the village mosque and used to hear the call to prayer. I still love it. It reminds me to take a moment’s pause, to enter a quiet space, and simply to reflect on whatever comes to mind at the time. It seems to me that hearing the call to prayer reminds one of the sacred in life on earth, and allows us to reconnect with the sacred, in whatever way it means to us.
I’ve also found that, since arriving here, I’m being drawn to quiet time, reflection and going within. As we’re in a cramped flat, it’s rather hard to get some alone time, but that’s okay. Just withdrawing from an outer life and sitting quietly for a few moments feels really good. And when we move into our new apartment, my workroom – which is at the back of the apartment – will be the ideal venue for meditation and quiet reflection. I’ve also got a dinky little verandah off this room so I can also sit outside and connect with the sounds of nature, as we’re at the end of the block and beside a field full of grass and wildflowers.
I should say that North Cyprus is a very tolerant Islamic society. There is no dress code and you see modern dress, some women wear a scarf and traditional clothing (outside of the main cities, it’s very rural and traditional), there is no observance of Ramadan, and if you want to wander around in light clothing (as British tourists do), there are no restrictions on dress. In fact, when we were in Buyukkonuk and the villagers had turned to repair the thermostat in our water tank, I saw a young man looking (what Ithought) reflective and I thought he was observing a quiet pause. Then he yelled out “Okay” and he’d been helping his father on the roof! There is no observance of the traditional Friday day of rest, instead Sunday is the day of rest here when all shops close except for the supermarkets.
I did read that a religious group had established itself in North Cyprus to spread a return to Islamic religious observances but, as the writer drily observed, they had so far had no success whatsoever! It’s what I love about North Cyprus – the tolerance, openness, friendliness and willingness to give a lending hand at the drop of a hat.
I love being here and I love the call to prayer. I’m at peace.
In a moment of insanity a couple of weeks ago, I decided to join a diet group here in North Cyprus. I lasted one session and packed it in. Why? Because I think it’s quite appalling to have your life and happiness ruled by whether you’ve lost one, two, three or more pounds. Yes, I’m bounteous and Reubenesque, but I’m very lucky to have a loving husband, terrific friends and to be happy to be alive.
We all sat around clapping in the diet class when our group leader read out weight losses and I’m afraid I decided then and there that life is too short, too important and too interesting to obsess over weight loss, the worship of thinness that characterises so much of present-day society and an obsession with food that teeters on paranoia. I’m lucky in that I was brought up in an era when home cooking prevailed, so I’ve seldom eaten junk food, and pretty much always cooked healthy tucker. But now I’m also resuming the fitness regime I worked out for myself in Bowraville and I’m enjoying getting active again, but pacing myself so I don’t get a flare-up of fibromyalgia and end up flat on my back with chronic fatigue again.
To be very honest, I’m also very happy to be in North Cyprus and leave behind the Western, grim addiction to the fitness industry. Here on this lovely island there’s a much more relaxed, laid-back attitude to life, there are very few gyms around (and what there are, are generally for visiting English people), very few unhappy looking joggers (except for visiting holidaymakers who still look unhappy jogging), and only the occasional lycra-clad cyclist peddling past with a look of smug, pained fanatical obsession on their face. It’s good to leave behind the Western addiction to the fitness industry and I don’t miss it one little bit.
Don’t get me wrong – when I criticise the phobia with thinness I’m not equating it with slender or slim people or women who are naturally thin. I had a friend who was 5′ 6″, weighed 6.5 stone and ate like a horse. Luckily, she had a sensible doctor who asked her if this had been her metabolism all her life and, when she answered yes, simply told her that was natural and to see him again if things changed.
I’m concerned with the focus on thinness when being thin is not natural for so many women and, more latterly, men. Trying to force your body into an unnatural state and size is antithetical to your life purpose of being the best person you can with your natural size and shape, not one dictated by the diet industry, the pharmaceutical head honchos raking in profits, and the medical establishment blindly buying into the obesity myth.
I’ve got nothing against being fit and eating healthily, and that’s mainly why I joined the diet group- to get support for exercise and getting fit. I’ve been so knocked by the move to North Cyprus, then getting hit by the two dog bites which stuffed up my calf muscles, that I’ve simply focused on resting and recovering from what is a lot of upheaval and change at my age – 64.5 years old.
Nevertheless, I did start to feel the need for the exercise programme I’d been following in Bowraville, Australia, before we moved to North Cyprus. And as I thought a diet class might provide the moral support to keep on the path of getting fit, I joined up. It was not to be, however, because it was mainly based on English food and because I feel that if you’re in
North Cyprus you try to eat what the locals eat and to be adventurous, not to peer at the local hellim cheese and say you can’t eat it because of its fat content. Nor was there any talk of fitness, exercise and moving one’s body.
And since then I have been further incensed by two more reports put out by the fat-obsessed health industry. I ask you – where would they be if they didn’t have obesity and fatness to bang on about? They wouldn’t know how to fill in their time.
The first item concerned an absolutely whacko idea to stuff a pill (yes, another pill, the medical establishment’s solution for far too many health challenges) down so-called overweight women who are pregnant to ensure their babies aren’t born “fat”. Of course, no mention of the side effects of the pill on the growing child or the problems both mother and child might face later in life. And as one commentator said, it’s another obsession with women’s reproductive rights which right now characterises the Loony Righteous Right in the US, Great Britain and Australia.
When I was young, in the ‘fifties, no-one took any notice if a child was chubby as it was expected that weight would reach normal proportions when a young person hit their ‘teen years and started a growth spurt. There was no ritual humiliation of weighing kids and solemnly pronouncing them a healthy weight or that dreadful word, obese. Nor did social workers threaten to take children away from their parents if they weren’t following a state-sanctioned diet programme. Nor were there unrealistic notions of what is a healthy or unhealthy weight for kids.
The next item which incensed me was the sudden notion that the BMI index, the holy grail of the fat phobic industries, was wrong and people were actually – shock, horror – fatter than shown by the index. Now you might be interested to know that the BMI is not based on any health science or anything like that. The book that debunks the BMI myth is currently in one of the boxes of our goods headed from Australia to North Cyprus. So here’s what the website, “Adios Barbie – the body image site for every body”, says:
“Though the BMI has long been touted by medical and athletic communities as the greatest tool of measurement to determine someone’s health, stricter academic scrutiny and authentic scientific study is finding that the BMI as a gauge of health is flawed. Contrary to what you have probably heard several times over, the BMI is not an accurate indicator of how “overweight” you are. And it’s certainly not a viable indicator of your health.
In July of 2009, Keith Devlin of the National Public Radio shared with the world 10 reasons why the BMI is bogus. Urging listeners and readers to take the BMI—and their next meal—with a grain of salt, he patiently explained that, at its core, the BMI was a nonsensical, physiologically inaccurate formula created by mathematician Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet in the early 19th century. Quetelet’s method to create a measurement was calculated by dividing one’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters.
Although it may seem scientifically sound at first blush, the methodology creates no distinction between the weight of muscle versus the weight of fat, despite the fact that fat takes up roughly four times the space of muscle. In other words, there can be quite a difference in your weight and size based on your body type. By failing to evaluate the two body features separately, the BMI delivers faulty results that make being classified as overweight a virtual certainty. And though BMI has some level of success with whole groups of people, its use to determine how healthy one adult can be is questionable at best.”
The BMI was later changed on a quite ad hoc basis, which resulted in almost half the US population suddenly finding that they were overweight overnight, when previously they’d been categorised as a healthy weight.
I have found it interesting that, since the women’s liberation movement and its successor, feminism, hit the scene, more and more pressure has been put on women to be think, to take up less space and to lose their sense of identity because they’re told their bodies aren’t perfect unless they’re thin. It seems to me that it’s a very subtle way to control women, undermine their self-confidence and – in the long run – keep them in their place of being Barbie dolls instead of grown-up women, not girls.
If you look around (and I do this quite often when I’m sitting in cafes looking at the world passing by), you’ll see that people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, it’s the nature of the human race. Some are sturdy, some are short, some are thin, some tall, some bulky and, yes, some are fat. Of course I acknowledge that it’s not good to eat fatty, fried food and to have a diet which doesn’t include fresh fruit and vegetables. I’s not good to be unfit and take no exercise and be a couch potato.
But it also has to be recognised that all too often low-income people eat crap food because it’s cheap and they can’t afford good quality tucker which is more expensive. In recent years too people are so knackered after working the long hours demanded of them these days, or working two or more jobs to make ends meet, that all they want is to sit in front of TV and be utterly mindless. And if you’re unemployed, you’re likely to get depressed and, perhaps, stuff food down yourself to provide some emotional compensation and consolation. Whether we like it or not, life happens and judging people solely by their weight is senseless, insensitive and judgmental. Remember that old saying: “Walk a mile in my shoes” before you start criticising someone or sitting in judgment on them.
But you’ll find that people who do eat a good, healthy diet and who are active don’t fit into the stereotypical picture of the BMI index. All that’s happening with this index is that people are getting stuffed into weight boxes which don’t fit or suit them, and they’re forgetting what their natural size and shape is. I think, for example, that it’s crazy that those luscious lovelies of yesterday, like Marilyn Monroe or Jane Russell or Rita Hayworth would now be categorised as obese.
I think what also gets up my nose is the way in which the term “obesity epidemic” and “obese” and “morbidly” obese are slung around leading to so many people who aren’t thin or who don’t fit into the straitjacket peddled by the diet industry being pilloried, insulted, treated with scorn as greedy or weak-willed and subject to verbal abuse and disdain which wouldn’t be acceptable if the insults were directed at a person’s sexuality, race or religion.
I also look around women my age and see regularly women who would be characterised as obese but who are the natural weight for their age. Women do tend to put on weight as they get older, particularly after the menopause, and it’s – a word we don’t here too often – NATURAL and part of ageing! And these women are leading happy, productive and fulfilling lives which aren’t stunted by diets, thinness and so on, and they look absolutely GREAT!
The criteria for good health is eating good food; really appreciating good food and not obsessing over every item that goes into your mouth and calculating the calories so it’s a misery eating; making good choices about what you put in your body; enjoying the sensuousness of food; and moving your body because that’s what bodies are supposed to do. Above all, being happy, having many laughs every day, loving your body because it’s doing a good job carrying you through life, have good friends and love in your life, and loving being alive is the best and brightest way to live your life.