Bitter Sweet

I finally made it to the Maccabiah Games in Israel but it feels bitter sweet.

The Maccabiah Games are an international Jewish and Israeli multi-sport event held every four years in Israel since 1932. It is the third-largest sporting event in the world.

I played the team sport of netball in Australia for Maccabi Club from 1984-2010. That’s 26 years!

In that time I think I won every award possible at different stages of my sporting career. and was a very proud (and somewhat boastful) netballer.

My dream was always to play netball for Australia at The Maccabiah Games. In 1993 I tried out for the team as an eighteen year old and was injured (and terrified) during tryouts. This was for the 1997 Games. In July 1997, I tearfully watched the Australian team leave without me.

As the Australian team was making its way into Ramat Gan stadium for the opening ceremony, tragedy struck as the “makeshift bridge over the Yarkon River collapsed” and four of our Australian squad died and more than than 70 others were injured.

The bridge disaster in 1997 effected me deeply and I’m not sure I ever recovered, staring at the news for weeks, all day from 6am, trying to find my friends and see who was ok and who was not. Something I never speak about.

I put it behind me as I tried out for the 2001 Games. I made the Australian netball team! I spent the next 4 years training again, almost every day for the Games with my incredibly talented and amazing team. We were damn good too.

Just before the Games came a massive debate that tore at the hearts of the Australian sporting teams, about whether to boycott the Games until compensation for the families was secured or play in the memory of those we lost. I advocated to fly to Israel as a team and play. I strongly believed that playing was the best way to uphold our lost athlete’s memories. I lost. I was completely devastated. After 4 years of training, we never got on that plane.

——–

18 years later I am in Israel. I just happened to be here in July. As much as I have ignored and suppressed my emotions on this topic, I just had to come out to watch the netball team in the 2017 Games.

So here I am about to watch the grand final of Australia v Great Britain. I am sitting outside, mostly trying not to cry and mostly not succeeding. I’m not sure how I’m going to watch this match but I will because I will always love Maccabi and forever be a netballer. I have been a player, the  President of the club and even helped train the Israeli squad train in 2004.I am outside, crying, as I prepare to head in and cheer the Aussies on. Go Australia!

Afterword: I wrote this post above and put in on facebook whilst sitting outside the stadium in tears. I felt it was finally time to ‘go public.’ I don’t know why. I just felt I couldn’t hold it in anymore. So many people were effected by this bridge disaster. I always felt embarrassed to talk about it because it was not me on that bridge, nor my brother, sister, mother or father. I felt other’s emotions were more valid than mine.

If you ever saw the footage, it was simply horrific, terrifying and chaotic. Knowing you know everyone there, but knowing nothing else, forever changed the way I view the news and the world.

I immediately received responses from my post from so many different people; from one of my oldest netball coaches from when I was a child and from friends who had never heard of this sport. The messages from my old team mates at the time got to me. Words of understanding, love and support.

I dried my eyes and entered the arena.

Who did I see? Two of my team mates from 2001. Standing right there! I held it together for a second, until one of them hugged me. She had seen my post already. And that was it, I burst out crying on her shoulder, right there at The Games, in the stadium in front of everyone, including the former President from my day. I knew everyone, and they all knew me – as a player, as a coach, as the former-President and hopefully … as a champion.

What’s Your Dream?

Do you have a dream? Have you told someone about it?

Last June, when in Australia for my book launch of The 5-Minute Guide to Emotional Intelligence, I approached some Melbourne schools. I went to heads of departments and said:

“I am a counsellor who works with adults. Most adult traumas or negative thoughts stem from when they were a child or teenager. So why are we not teaching people younger how to deal with life? – with traumas, with negative thoughts, bullying etc etc. Why are we not teaching teenagers how to cope with life? I don’t want any adult to have to go through 20-30 yrs of pain before they seek counselling. MY DREAM is to work myself out of a job. I want to write a book, design a curriculum and teach it in the classroom to every kid in the world.”

And here I am, back in Melbourne 10 months later with my new book THE KEY which is also now a curriculum.

Tomorrow is Day 1 at Bialik College in Hawthorn, Melbourne where I will teach the curriculum and I can’t wait!!!!!

SO, what’s your dream?

Learning to Breathe

Have you ever stopped to notice your breath before?

When you get a fright, you inhale and hold your breath. When you get anxious, you take short breaths, not quite big enough to actually fill your lungs and body full of oxygen. When you’re in pain you probably exhale hard but don’t really remember to inhale.

Can you see some patterns relating to the breath? Can you see how important the breath is to control and keep us calm? You don’t in fact have to do anything to exhale, to breathe out, that happens naturally. What we need to concentrate on is the inhalation – the breathing in of oxygen because our body (including our brain) needs it. It sounds obvious and you’re probably thinking, “I breathe all day”, but do you really?

Do you take nice long deep breaths that truly reach your belly and truly open your chest and fill your lungs? If you do, then you’ll be feeling completely relaxed all the time.

Let’s stop here and try.

Lie on the floor if you can, or sit up straight. Put your hand on your belly and breathe in through your nose. Breathe into your belly until it is big, until you feel it expand and your hand rise with it (you may have learned this in a yoga class). Exhale gently through your mouth and let out a long sigh. When you exhale you should feel your hand on your belly drop as the air comes out. Breathe all the way out until you literally can’t exhale any more.

Now we are going to add colours to the breath. Think of a colour that you like that makes you feel calm and happy.  Next, close your eyes and picture breathing in fresh oxygen and positive thoughts in this calm, beautiful colour full of love and happiness, all the way until your belly is big. When you exhale, breathe out all your negative thoughts, sadness and bad energy in a dirtier colour of brown or grey or whatever colour it is for you. Inhale love and all the beauty in your life and exhale what you don’t want or need. Try this a few more times.

If you are taking long, deep breaths now, can you feel how much space you actually have inside? More than you realised? Now that is a full breath!

It is not always simple and it does not come easily to everyone. I actually ended up having lessons in how to do this, because I felt like I couldn’t. I found it very stressful and scary to think that I didn’t know how to take a full deep breath until I learned and practiced. As with anything, practice is the key. Once you feel comfortable you can start using this type of breath whenever you feel you need it.

If you have had a stressful day, if you come home upset, if you have an exam coming up or have had a fight with someone, then lie down somewhere quiet and breathe. Start with one or two minutes and work your way up to five or more.

Using this breathe when you are upset, angry or confused will help you calm down and bring focus and clarity. To take it one step further, here is another little trick. Before you lay down to practice your breathing, grab a pen and paper and write down whatever is on your mind. Write without trying to understand it all yet, just write all your thoughts or frustrations. This will help clear the chaos of the mind. Then breathe. Practice the breath you just learnt. This combination really helps clear the mind and bring calm.

Step 1:

Write

Step 2:

Breathe.

If nothing else then every night when you jump into bed, take at least three of these deep full breaths. You will feel more calm, and ready for sleep. I still do this every night.

Tears in Phnom Penh

I never know when the tears will come but I know they are there.

Whenever I mention my kids in Cambodia, my beautiful kids that I lived, worked and shared my life with, I feel hot tears stinging the back of my eyelids. I secretly clench my fists, hold my breath and pray to get through another conversation about my old life that feels so far from the beach in Thailand that I live on.

Just recently, after 18 months, I landed back in Phnom Penh with a smile from ear to ear as I sat in the back of the tuk tuk and was reminded of the smells and sights of this beautiful and broken city. Chaos is the best way to describe this place. And it is home.

I saw my Khmer family and friends; my old housemates, ex-pat friends, local friends, my old boss and brother ‘KK’ and all my kids who are now grown up. I made it through the whole week without crying. Even when I saw ‘Frog’ who I met at 15 as a troubled teen with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Frog, who would run away often, get back on drugs often, who I took to Italy to visit a drug rehab community … and even ran away from there! Frog, who I hadn’t seen for five years now because he had run away when I left the country. I had dinner with him. We ate tacos. He is now 20 years old. I stared and stared in disbelief at this adult before me and the two of us got the giggles. But I didn’t cry.

I saw my two boys I worry about most. The two that have been to hell and back more times than anyone ever should. ‘Tra,’ still with his girlfriend and ‘Kha’ smiling and trying to hide the sadness in his eyes. We hugged and hugged and stared at each other. We held hands, we smiled, we chatted and we knew. But I didn’t cry.

Then one night we sat around chatting about ‘Ya’. My beautiful, beautiful Ya. Ya, with the voice of an angel. Ya, who found English mind-boggling. Ya, who sang on stage with me in Australia and New Zealand in 2012. Ya, who I spent months teaching one sentence to in English so he could perform it at TEDx. Ya, who sang to me at my farewell party ‘Srei s’art Romi, mokpi Australi, ’ ‘Beautiful girl Romi who comes from Australia.’

Ya, the incredible young man I met at 19 who took extreme poverty to a level I had never seen before, even working in the slums. Yet he was humble, generous and forever shy.

Ya, who in 2012, was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people.

Ya, scared and penniless didn’t have any money to pay the police or eventually the judge to get out of what would become a 12-year sentence, later reduced.

Back at the bar, one of my girls picks up her phone, dials, hands it to me and says ‘Ya.’ And Ya is on the phone. I run outside for some quiet and start talking to him in Khmer language. He answers in English. I do it again. English again. I am confused and start to wonder if it is actually him.

“Ya?”

“Yes”

“Ya?”

“Yes mum” and I know it is him.

“But you’re speaking English.”

“Yes, I study English in jail,” and he giggles.

He tells me he is ok and will be out in three months. He wants me to come back to celebrate. Three months!

We hang up and I am left standing in the streets of Phnom Penh in silence with a phone in my hand. And I cry.

I cry and cry so much my chest hurts. I can’t breathe. The owner of the bar Darin, comes out to me, her eyes full of concern. Darin who herself understands my kid’s lives better than anyone. Darin, the greatest success story off the streets of this poor country.

“What’s wrong?”

“Ya… jail … he speak English … three months… all grown up … my kids, they all grown up … Frog, Tra, Kha … all of them … they ok … they all grown up … I hug them … I see them … I know them …”

She stops my words by hugging me deeply.

“I know, I get it” and I know she does in a way that maybe no one else in the world could.

Asia Pacific Writers Conference, Manila.

“APWT is the largest, longest running, functioning literary network I know of in South East Asia and the Pacific”

Says Philipino Jose Dalisay better known ‘Butch.’

What an absolute pleasure it was for me to join this gang of amazing writers, publishers and translators. This is my third year at this conference which is in a different country every year. 2015 was in Manila with the theme ‘Against The Grain.’

To summarise my time there, I:

– I was on a panel titled ‘True Stories Need to be True’ with Beth Yahp (Malaysian), Irena Cristalis (Dutch), Neil Garcia (Philipino) and moderated by Qaisra Shahraz (Pakistani).

– I attended Tim Tomlinson’s incredible workshop on learning how to write/say a pitch.

– I did a public reading of my story ‘Climbing the Walls’ published in Griffith Review: New Asia Now to a full room. I was also pleasantly surprised (actually straight out shocked and excited) to arrive at the reading and find my name and a photo on a large projector… naturally I took a photo of me… and me… having a moment 😉

“One day I just let go…“

I love what I do!

Last month I held my ‘Writing from The Source’ workshop and the beautiful Mannu joined our group. By the next day he had written and posted his gratitude and expressed his new found voice, which I feel compelled to share. He wrote the most magnificent piece from one of the exercises we did in the class. Just stunning. Below is his post and story:

Today I went to a workshop called “Writing From The Source”, led by my lovely new friend Romi Grossberg.

She is a very inspiring and loving woman and I’ve been very lucky to share some very interesting conversations with.

Yesterday, as she was explaining me more about her work not only as a writer but a counsellor and therapist, she very kindly offered to put together a workshop where she could help me face some of my fears and blockages when it comes to writing.

I’m very excited to put to use all the tools I learned, not only for writing more intuitively and authentically, but also for writing more often even as self study and examination.

One of the exercises consisted in finding something in the nature around us and then write about it in only 3 minutes.

Immediately I thought I was not going to choose randomly but I was really to search for something in this nature that I could really relate and connect with. Something that maybe was going through the same process or “life” circumstances that I’m going through right now.

This is the result of that:

“And after all this time and all this struggle, I let go.

I held on to you for as long as I could. Maybe even longer. Like a drunk to an empty bottle.

I breathed just for you. I held on through pouring waters and typhonic winds until I realised there was no point anymore.

One day I just let go. I didn’t clench anymore, I just relaxed and let go.

It was very peaceful. The same winds and gusts I always feared just seemed to caress me as they floated and danced me around.

At the end I didn’t even hit the ground hard. I just flowed into it with grace.

To you and most, I might just look old and rugged and beaten; rotten and perhaps dead.

But trust me I’m everything but dead. I’m the possibility of life itself once again.

As I slowly melt into the earth, I just wait in blessed silence to see what I’ll become tomorrow.

A Dry Dead Leaf”

 

I am a Writer not a Hooper

“I am a writer not a hooper.”

These words somehow gave me comfort. They were also a pretty good excuse not to try. I have spent years watching incredible hoopers – dancers, performers and tricksters – Francie, Nola, Adam, Charlie and newcomer to our bay, Tammy Firefly. Many hoopers float in and out of our hooping bubble and I sit and watch … watch being the operative word.

I often thought if I had I joined in years ago at our weekly hoopjam instead of watching, drinking coffee, juggling, socialising and dancing, maybe I could be good too. But I hadn’t. What if I wasn’t? So I didn’t. Their tricks were advanced, their routines seemed flawless and their grace effortless.

I can poi,

I can juggle

and I chill…

Don’t get me wrong, Sunday’s hoopjam has always been my favourite event of the week. The energy is contagious as are the smiles on everyone’s faces. But to hoop? No, not for me. I am a writer… not a hooper. I did recently pick up poi though. It is great fun. I love that I can dance, laugh and make mistakes whilst spinning these things and it always looks deliberate. I can’t do that with a hoop though. Why? Well, because I am not a hooper of course.

I am told “you are a natural” but maybe they are being nice and saying that to everyone? I hoop and spin and follow each Master’s steps until I find myself lying on the ground spinning a hoop in the arch of my foot held high in the air. Seriously? I learn a bunch of tricks and then work out how to piece them together in to a sequence that looks like I have been rehearsing for years (well that might be a slight exaggeration, but you get my point).

The longer I go, the more my confidence grows and I am learning more tricks, more transitions and dancing, yes dancing, with my hoop! I am exhausted but cannot stop. One more trick. One more try. My favourite trick is what I call the ‘bum move’ that Francie taught us. Hayley and I dedicate some time to perfect this bum move whilst giggling and cheering each time we get it. I then very proudly call out to Francie to show her the little sequence I practiced that of course ended in, the bum move. It was like being a 5 year-old and getting your first hand stand down. And yes, I felt like a 5 year-old wanting to call out “Look at me, watch this, look what I can do!”

Adam yells out across the floor,

“You can no longer say you are not a hooper, Romi.”

Oh oh. Is he right?

So at the end of the day, after the sun has gone down and the rain trickled in, I make my trek over two hills home. My body is exhausted and I can barely move. I feel like I have been in a boxing ring. I arrive, order a fresh coconut and instead of sitting down (or lying down, or passing out), I start dancing. I dance with my imaginary hoop and start my lessons from the day all over again.

Oh oh. Another hobby. Another love. I am exhausted thinking about it. My body is so tired but can’t stop. So much more to learn, so much now to practice, get that booty move down pat! Yeh baby. I am starting to wonder – Was this all a ploy to get me to hoop?

But I am a writer not a hooper? Ha. I can be both.

Australia – you amaze me!

I planned a 3 week trip to Melbourne as an International guest of the Melbourne Jewish Writers Festival.

I planned a 3 week trip to Melbourne as an International guest of the Melbourne Jewish Writers Festival. When the time I came I must admit nerves set in, with the main question being, ‘Who is going to buy a ticket to hear me talk for an hour at 5pm on a Monday?’ The answer? Over 50 people! This turned out to be the first of many events and an extended trip in my old home town. Thank you to my family who came to support me too, from my 12-year old cousin to my 93 year-old grandmother.

Watch the interview here:

Part 1.

Part 2.

My next event was presenting along side the amazing Natasha Corbin at Lisa Entwistle’s Wellthy Living Collection Wisdom; Inspired talks and authentic connection. An incredible bunch of women who come together each month to share and learn from each other. Here is a selfie pic of Lisa, Natasha and me.

Then came the workshops – my first back in Australia. Again I wondered how the work I had been doing in Thailand with students from all over the world would actually work in Australia but I was more than presently surprised. My first workshop was booked out within a week. I held one workshop through Jewish Women of Words and the other I organised myself, hiring a beautiful space at Healing Delight (pic).

My Book Launch

The week after I landed back in Thailand from my book launch in Australia, the Tea Temple crew at The Sanctuary threw me the most beautiful book launch party. Family, friends and new friends came to help celebrate.

We chatted, did speeches and lots and lots of book (and a boob) signing. A magical day full of love and support and I am forever grateful.

 

 

  

My amazing trip to Samui

Once again I was invited by the amazing Anna Sugarman to host my ‘Writing From The Source’ workshop at her yoga teacher training in Bo Phut.

A small group this time but what a fantastic day of sharing, learning and fun. The girls-only group were certainly up for the challenge and were both brave and honest in their writing and discussion.

A special mention to Michelle who had the courage to face me in the ‘hot seat’ and discover the breath/writing based decision-making process I like to share through the art of gutism.

Of course it was not all work and no play, not with the combination of Anna and myself. She introduced me to delicious fancy cocktails at a gorgeous bar on the beach.