All Posts by admin

Cultivate Compassion to Nurture Self and Serve Others

Cultivate Compassion to Nurture Self and Serve Others

"You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anyone in the entire universe deserves your love and affection." - Buddha

Make Time For a 'White' Day of Compassion

Stop, focus and remind yourself to be fully aware of what you need to do to nourish yourself. With practise and permission you can treat yourself with respect and friendliness, allowing you to then share your gifts with others.

The White Scarf

Wearing the “White Scarf of Compassion” is a symbol of dedicating some time to settle your mind and your body. Build a habit for regular moments of stillness so your mind can be free from fear, chatter and chaos. Find your heart that is open, compassionate and wise.

Wear your White Scarf or Beads of Compassion

Dedicate one ‘white day’ of compassion for yourself each week.

Simply give yourself permission to find an allocation of time that serves you to replenish your well-being regularly. This could be for an hour, a half-day, a full day, a weekend or a holiday!

Nourish yourself, so you can then share your gifts more fully with others.

The symbolic wearing your scarf or your beads is your reminder that you value time for yourself. You do not need to make excuses or diminish the practice of being worthy to your own needs.

The judging mind can always find something that isn’t quite right, particularly when it’s looking at that thing called self.

Talk kindly to yourself and let go of the mental struggle.

With practice and permission, you can treat yourself with respect and friendliness.

Build a habit for regular moments of stillness so your mind can be free from fear, chatter and chaos.

This may be 3 minutes, 10 minutes or 30 minutes to sit quietly in reflective meditative stillness.

It’s not selfish. It’s wise.

Enjoy your favourite things that soothe, settle and replenish you

• Awaken your senses and ‘smell the roses’.
• Walk alone or with a friend.
• Ride a bike or a horse, swing a golf club or a racquet.
• Be outside and feel the sun on your face and fresh air on your skin.
• Read a book or magazine that you love.
• Listen to a podcast, laugh at a movie.
• Make yourself a nourishing meal, appreciating its health value.
• Simply stand outside on the grass in bare feet and feel the ground.
• Watch the cloud formations change in the sky.
• Marvel at the stars and moon.
• Write in your journal.
• Sing out loud.
• Indulge your creativity: draw / paint / sew / build.
• Look after your physical body – do you need a nap or some exercise?
• Find your thing.

Cultivate Inner Compassion

Compassion is your offering of kindness to nurture your inner self, which then allows you to truly serve others with an open heart that is accepting and non-judgmental.

With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness we would give to a loved one.Self-compassion fosters an ability to treat ourselves with understanding and concern and encourages us to be open to giving and receiving

Be kind to yourself

Your Self-Compassion Practise

“As I breathe in, I do my best. As I breathe out, I let go of the rest.”

Wear the White Scarf or Beads of Compassion as a symbol of dedicating some time to settle your mind and replenish your body.

Cultivate a regular habit of mindfulness for the art of simply being.

Enjoy the moments of stillness that are there to be found when you can stop doing for a while and just settle.

The Movement

The sharing of the white scarf will be underpinned by education of how mindful awareness and compassion can nourish self and serve others. We will educate and encourage a western woman to wear the white scarf as a symbol of her own self-nurture in order to then respect and fully interconnect with others.

Our intention will be to provide financial support to those living in fear and physical hardship whilst simultaneously cultivating gratitude for the simple things we often take for granted in our more affluent western lives.

Nourish yourself with self-compassion so you can then share your gifts with others.

The Seven Simplicities of Self

The Seven Simplicities of Self

1. Share your secret smile.

When you share your smile every day in every way, you will generate a positive chemistry in your body that can over-ride sadness, anxiety and depressive thoughts. As you walk through your day, share your best self with others and wish them well and hope they will flourish. Anyone who sees the smile on your face will take away a good feeling from you, and you will be creating the happy juices inside yourself. The sounds of your smile may even emerge in song or laughter. A smile creates the powerful connection that can exist between humans, if you remind yourself regularly that “I speak smile!”

2. Absorb the rainbow colours in natural life 

Go green to be amongst the nature of our beautiful surroundings, glow gold for the rays from the sun, get beyond blue with the clear sky that is always waiting to emerge, regardless of the dark clouds that can make a day feel heavy. Exercise and feel the redness in your cheeks, savour the oranges of the never-ending sunrises and sunsets, soak up the joy of nature. Find passion in the violet purples of the fruits, flowers and food of our earth. Marvel at the indigo in birds, butterflies, and creatures of the ocean. Take a mindful moment in nature to sit, walk, breathe, admire, absorb, immerse and find the awe. Come to your senses!

3. Find gratitude in the simplest things in life.

Starting from a point of satisfaction instead of dissatisfaction. On waking, feel lucky to be alive and take 5 deep breaths. Realize that contentment is the greatest of wealth and that no money or things can buy it. If it helps to formally reflect on what you personally have to be grateful for, then make it a practice to write in a gratitude journal each day. You can note five things to be grateful for in your life and one thing to look forward to tomorrow. In Mindfulness we start to see the world the way it really is, not as we expect it to be, how we want it to be, or what we fear it may become…

4. Give generously - in your thoughts, time, love and resources

Do good-natured deeds for someone else and flourish in the joy of giving. Perform random acts of kindness and expect nothing in return except the delight in having brought pleasure to another person. But giving also includes receiving. Your gracious acceptance of generosity demonstrates that you respect the joy someone else has just felt in the cycle of giving. By refusing generosity to yourself, you would be denying the giver the opportunity to experience intrinsic pleasure in behaving generously too. The analogy of reaching for the oxygen mask for yourself first, before giving it to your child, is sound. You can only give to others once you have given to yourself first – yes, first! So, give yourself permission to receive from yourself. And once you can give to yourself you will find an endless reservoir deep inside that allows you to share your gifts with others. “Practice sharing the fullness of your being, your best self, your enthusiasm, your vitality, your spirit, your trust, your openness, above all, your presence. Share it with yourself, with your family, with the world.” Pay it forward

5. Cultivate compassion for self and others.

If you live by the philosophy of doing no harm to self or others, you can change your impact on the world and the world’s impact on you. Mindfulness is about observation without criticism; being compassionate with yourself in a way that is accepting and non-judgmental. The people who emit a sense of calm and content will often be those who accept who they are and feel good about their wellbeing. It is when you intentionally choose to recognise suffering and then create an environment that benefits others you will be compassionately opening your heart towards others, but also profoundly towards yourself. From this foundation of self-acceptance you can develop change which is likely to be both empowering and long lasting. See a similarity in the other person to recognise they are “just like me” to generate the offer kindness to others. Act with Kindfulness on a daily basis!

6. Listen to your body and value your physical uniqueness.

Whilst you did not get to choose the body and the brain that is uniquely yours, you can respect them for the miracle of life that they give you. Being content with who you are is the greatest of treasures. What you focus on is what you feel. When you have an attitude of appreciation and gratitude for who you are now, you will stop comparing yourself to others. Your body is always in present moment time, whilst your mind may be somewhere else in the past or the future. Your breath can be viewed as a barometer of your emotions, and can be the tool to use to regulate your nervous system responses. Observe the messages your body is giving you in view of your health- notice where your stress reactions occur in your body, notice your body’s response to food and fluid intake, notice your posture and the way your move. Notice the effect on your body when you don’t get enough sleep. Your healthy or unhealthy choices are ultimately reflected back at you via your body’s response. Become mindfully aware of what you eat. Notice your body’s response to movement. When you hold your body’s posture with a sense of uprightness, you bring strength and grace to your express your best self. Your body does not lie!

7. Notice your language...

... to yourself and what you say to others. Are you getting in your own way if you think “the world is against me”?

These thoughts are understandable yet self-limiting. Don’t believe everything you think! When a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it and notice the emotion that is arising in you. Name it. By labelling the emotion you will be more able to acknowledge your experience and let it go, rationally. Then respond with affirmations of what is good about you. “A thought is not a fact. A thought is just a thought.” (J. Kabat- Zinn). When you have positive beliefs your mind creates situations in your life that mirror those positive beliefs. Practice positive self-talk and start by following two simple rules:

>> Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to anyone else.

>> Be gentle and encouraging with yourself and use a friendly tone when talking to yourself

When you cultivate this habit of self- compassion, your self-talk will contain less self-criticism and more self-acceptance. You may also become less critical of the world around you when allow some space to let the natural tendencies of goodness arise. Get out of your own way!

Finding Your Inner Space to Live Better for Longer

Finding Your Inner Space to Live Better for Longer

We all experience stress—it’s a hard-wired response that can be advantageous in the short term when we’re working to deadline or having a particularly busy day. In the long term, stress has negative effects on both the mind and body. As a health practitioner who works daily with patients dealing with the stress-induced effects of increased pain, fatigue and inflammation, I realised it was time to expand my field of physiotherapy into the mind-body approach. For me, it is an exciting time to be part of a strong evidence-based shift towards recognising the influence of our mind over the health of our physical body.

Recent advances in science has shown that chronic stress can change the shape of your brain and the expression of your genes. The brain is a target for stress and the stress-related hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. Your brain’s survival instinct is fine-tuned to protect you. Chronic stress has been show to increase the size of the area of the brain that is designed for survival (it’s called the amygdala). Our natural instinct is to protect our existence by rapidly responding to repeated threat with a triggering of the “fight, flight or freeze” response to get out of the way of danger. This uses primitive brain structure called the limbic system. You react instinctively without rational thought or reasoning. Real dangers do exist like running from a burning house, a snake-bite or a speeding bus, but really they are few and far between.

The real problem of modern day stress is the perceived threats we create when handling difficult situations or people, managing expectations, meeting deadlines and attaining goals. These are often more what we think is going to happen, rather than what actually happens. Many of these threats are simply based on our thoughts, rather than the reality. “Don’t believe everything you think’! Negative thoughts are incredibly powerful. How you think about yourself and your life has a lot to do with whether you experience life in health and fulfilment or….. you don’t. Your thoughts affect every cell in your body and also have an effect on how you feel. These reactions have either positive or negative effects. Stress responses influence all our metabolic systems including our hormones, our cardiovascular and digestive systems, and our immune responses in fighting illness and inflammatory responses.The body is not designed to withstand chronic, ongoing exposure to these bio-chemicals Stress wreaks physiological havoc on the body.

The brain is trainable and malleable. This is called neuroplasticity. We can actually see changes happening in the brain, right up until the end of your life. Modern technology is allowing this to be observed with functional MRI scans and monitoring brain electrical circuits (EEG). The more stressed we are, the bigger the brain amygdala grows, as shown by MRI scans. In addition, chronic stress has also shown diminished areas of the brain responsible for memory (hippocampus) and creativity and body awareness (insula). We tend to lose touch with our bodies, and become “out of our minds” when we are in overload. The brain fog sets in. It’s a real thing. Your brain cannot compute, process large amounts of information or see the big picture when you are stressed. The brain does not have the insight to create solutions, (even simple ones that are right in front of our faces!)

With the busy pace of life we lead today we often feel compelled to increase our ‘doing’ and rarely give ourselves permission to for simply ‘being. However, growing body of established research is suggesting that mindfulness-based stress reduction and regular meditation with mind-body practices can make a difference. Amazing scientific advances also show that stress chemicals can shorten the length of the telomeres on the ends of our genes, which has been linked to the earlier onset of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. The flip side of this is that when we stimulate the ‘relaxation response” (the opposite to the stress response) we can actually influence not only our genes to increase our life expectancy, but there is a possibility we can “turn-off” the potential expression of disease. We can alter gene expression to reduce inflammation in our bodies, provide relief for our immune system, and lower certain health risks, leading to healthier aging.

Investigations into the neuroplasticity of the highly developed brain structure (neocortex) indicate that the attention-control parts of the brain (prefrontal cortex) are involved in self and emotional regulation and can continually be developed. Studies on the effect of mindfulness meditation (focused-attention training) on the brain and body are indicating a down-regulation of the stress response and its associated physiological reactions. They are observing physical brain changes that are are responsible for thinking, remembering, reasoning, focus and attention. Where attention goes, energy flows.

I am passionate that people can reap the health benefits of mindfulness by understanding that meditation is not all in your mind. It begins and ends in the body. It’s never too late to invest in your health. A simple short meditation you can do in the moment is called the “Head, Heart, Gut Check-in. It is focused specifically on creating moment of higher-resolution self-awareness to be able to recognise your experience of stress. It works like this:

You take 3 breaths, at your own pace. Each breath is a reminder to ‘scan’ one area of your body- the three regions where we have the most neurons (specialised cell carrying nerve messages). Most people are surprised to learn that there are neurons not only in your head (brain) but also in the gut and heart. There are estimated to be 100 million neurons in the gut, and 40,000 in the heart, compared with an estimated 85 billion in your head.

With the general recommendation of 10 minutes daily of meditation to simply sit still and focus your breathing, it’s not as hard as it seems. Using mindfulness, we can foster both mental and physical wellness. Simply taking a deep breath, and then releasing tension with the exhale, has an effect on your nervous system responses. The slow breath out tells your brain that you are safe, and reduces the reactivity of the “flight –fight” reaction.

Calm your Breath

Calm your Body

Calm your Mind​

The recent commencement of our project called Connect with Compassion is underpinned by the vision to embed mindful awareness into our lives for achieving some balance in body and mind. We intend to use a white scarf as a symbol of self-nurture and to cultivate an ability to share gratitude, kindness and generosity to others. The sharing of the white scarf will be underpinned by education of how mindful awareness and compassion can nourish self and serve others. Find out more in blogs to come.​

Day 12 – Moments of Appreciation

Day 12 - Moments of Appreciation

Moments of appreciation- so little can make such a big difference

We are passionate about making a difference to the health and education of as many lives as we can across the globe, by sharing this concept of compassion and loving kindness for all human beings. With the cycle of giving and receiving now well and truly underway, we can reflect on how this has come about. At the end of 12 days in Kathmandu we have felt compassion, received kindness and watched loving kindness unfold in the goodness of human nature.

As a women’s health physiotherapist I, Mandy Hogan, have found a purpose and passion for educating people in the principles of mindfulness to ensure we maintain some balance in life to preserve our mental and physical health. This aligns with my dearest friend, Liz Phillips, whose teaching and management background has fuelled her passion and dedication to teaching self-identity and a sense of belonging to children. Bringing together our insight and professional interests has created a wonderful experience in Kathmandu, with hopefully many more in the years to come. The connection of the human spirit here was a powerful experience for the both of us.​

If we step back a few months to the moment we sparked this idea with old school-friends on a 50th birthday celebration, we should recognise the enthusiastic encouragement we’ve had from friends and strangers. When we got brave enough to share our dreams, people actually stopped to listen. We have seen eyes light up, and heads nod in acknowledgment, with strong peer support. So some words of thanks and appreciation to all those who validated our simple idea. We may not have been so convinced we could to step out of our comfort zone and make it happen without you!​

Back in the early planning days (which was actually only in March this year) we wanted a concept that would spread a message of understanding compassion for self and others, with recognition that we are all special with unique talents. We wanted to encourage acts of kindness, and a sense of gratitude that comes with a life that is built around satisfaction versus dissatisfaction.

So we started with the development of the Mandala of the Compassion, compliments of Wangaratta graphic designer, Emily Burke. She willingly helped us with finding the peace mandala to use and designed the colouring page with the handprint. Beautiful work, thanks Emily, especially given you didn’t even know us! Then we went on to fundraise with her Mandala colouring books, so we pay forward these books to Nepalese women who have never coloured with pencils before. There is the collections of friends who bought books, the Women’s Weekend group who sat quietly together colouring and the Revitalise Life meditation class, to bless for their assistance.​

In Kathmandu we encountered some inspiring women who were educated and purposeful in making a difference in their own organisations. There was Sukanya, the 81 year old retired school principal at Amrit Secondary school, who still taught at the school full-time because she didn’t want to stop working. She was hilarious and was keen for a physiotherapy treatment for her arthritic knees and painful shoulder. She was duly prescribed exercises and given the ultimatum that exercise only works when you do it…..

Well, two days later we returned to the school to donate sporting equipment, colouring pencils and the parachute. She rushed in to tell me I was a miracle worker throwing her arms high in the air in an over-zealous sun salute! Now, that was satisfying!

Then there was Nicole, the Swiss-Australian woman who had opened her Nag School for children of marginalised women over 23 years ago. The school provides education for over 350 students, with 200 students requiring residential care due to a lack of family support. Her original students are now her well-educated support team. She runs also medical clinics in outreach areas, and supports students in their striving for tertiary studies. The day we met her she was pulling her hair out with frustration at her lack of financial resources to make dreams happen. She had five girls preparing for final exams, and if they all pass she will need to come up with AUD$5000 per girl, to help send them to university. This seemed an impossible task, yet she fervently wants them to become nurses to help improve the poorly resourced and inadequate standards of medical care in Nepal. She finances the school only with donations, mostly Swiss. We hope to be able to help them with items for their medical clinics in the near future.​

Wisdom: Knowledge + Experience = Insight.​

We were lucky enough to be guided the by Hands-On Development social impact tour that was designed by the social entrepreneur Steph Woollard, founder of Seven Women. She recently won the prestigious UN Rotary International Responsible Business Award. Thanks to Steph for allowing the tour to be tailored to just the two of us. Our time spent with Anita was particularly special with three women sharing wisdom in health, education, and how to make impossible dreams come true. She connected us with many wonderful organisations, places and people. We love Anita, and her remarkable teamwork with Padam, our hero and guide. Bizay was our guide in history and culture at religious, political and historical sites. We are much more aware of the social issues, thanks to his wonderful knowledge. The ‘family’ of Seven Women and our interactions was poignant and filled with pleasure. My disabled craft teacher was so patient with my substandard stitching! She sat so close with her hand on my leg for encouragement the whole time.​

So in return, we hope we may have connected Seven Women with the future potential of working more closely with liaisons like ACP and World Vision on a broader scale. How exciting if they could spread their wings with the bigger, long-established NGO’s and INGO’s! We met the CEO women leaders and Program Managers of those organisations (Liz, Revita, Aru and Rachel) and realised they are all women in mind, women in kind. That is, hard-working women dedicating all their energy to the bigger picture. The concept of being an over-stretched woman trying to be many things to many people, in work and family roles, was certainly acknowledged by these purposeful, energetic women. They all noted their own need to consciously create a little more breathing space for themselves, more regularly, in order to be able manage the stress and demands of their management roles.​

Across the globe, people may be battling the hardship of the physical conditions they live in or suffering the hardship of the mental conditions they live with. Practise compassion with the intention to change the world for others around you, and importantly with this you will to change your own world.

The most wonderful outcome would be for Connect with Compassion to stimulate an ongoing global cycle of giving and receiving which thereby improves the mental and physical well-being of people from east to west. The sharing of the white scarf will be underpinned by education of how mindful awareness and compassion can nourish self and serve others.

​So, where to from here?

Start a Self -Compassion practice - Have “One White Day a Week”. Our hope is that we can create opportunities to educate and encourage tired, stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed women to wear the white scarf as a symbol of her own self-nurture on a weekly basis. With some time to breathe in our busy lives, we can then share our gifts to fully interconnect with others more meaningfully.

Attend a Mindfulness event to embrace the concept of the White scarf of Compassion.Events- come and watch the Seven Women story at a double documentary film screening for Connect with Compassion on Wednesday 6th September, Wangaratta. The launch of the white scarf will occur on this night. Book your tickets at

Contact Mandy by email to arrange a mindfulness event or course:

More information will be available on our website very soon.

Mandy + Liz

Day 11 – Women To Wear White Scarf

Day 11 - Women To Wear White Scarf

So, we have found THE WHITE SCARF! We started the journey of the scarf with a vision to share compassion, gratitude and kindness across the globe. Our goal for 2017 was to come to Kathmandu to commence this giving and receiving cycle of compassion and kindness. We headed to this part of the world with the hope of sourcing the “white scarf of compassion” from a fair-trade organisation. We’ve always felt connected to this place from our past and we now leave so much more connected for the future. There is a new connection of the heart and spirit with some beautiful and brave Nepali people. Liz and I have come the full circle: 30 years ago we were young girls travelling for adventure, now we are women travelling with a greater vision to share compassion. Our intention is to provide financial support to those living in physical hardship whilst simultaneously cultivating gratitude for the simple things we often take for granted in our more affluent western lives.

We are very happy to be working with organisations who passionately care for and improve the well-being of women. So, we were hugely excited when we found the supplier of the scarf to be the Association of Craft Producers (ACP) Fair Trade (this organisation was discussed in the Day 9 blog). With ACP we will create a continuous chain of women linked in the production of our white scarves of compassion, all employed under the fair-trade act. The yarn will be grown and spun by women by in India. The scarves will be woven on the looms and fringed by the women working for ACP in Kathmandu. And finally the hand-stitching of the border edge of the scarf will be done by the Seven Women workers. They can skilfully use their needles and thread to sew some love and freedom into the final product. We have placed an order for 600 scarves to arrive in Australia by the end of July. Yay!

We see symbolism in this scarf. Our mission is for Connect with Compassion to embed mindfulness in individual’s lives and also within communities for connection of the human spirit. The three rows of stitching on the border of the scarf can represent a gentle mindfulness reminder to it’s wearer; to “Calm the breath, Calm the body, Calm the mind”. The traditional Tibetan white Khata scarf symbolises purity and compassion and is used as a sign of recognition of one’s love or respect for another, and self. This seemed a perfect match of concept and design for us.

We’ve been inspired by so many stories of brave women in the past ten days. We have met many empowered women who have made change in their lives and in the lives of others, because they believed in something better than what their culture has to offer women. We believe that women are powerful when driven by a passion.

Anita Kerr is the Nepalese director of Seven Women and has a story worth telling. She epitomises the word compassion in “being sensitive to the suffering of self and others with a deep commitment to try to prevent and relieve it”. Nepali women’s lives are better for Anita being in the world. I hope I can do her story justice. She lived in a remote village and was one of seven girls. This is not a good status for a Nepali family, as every family requires a son. Anita sounds like she was a young child with a huge amount of spirit and spunk; which is a trait not greatly appreciated by school-teachers and village people. Nepali girls are raised to be submissive second-rate citizens with few rights. She was entrepreneurial from a young age, pinching plums from trees and selling them to fellow school kids, so that she could buy pencils to practice her writing. As the years progressed, she saw many awful things happen to girls in her village; stories she simply could not share with me. At the age of 14 she decided she would not take the risk of becoming a similar victim of child marriage, sex trafficking or child-labour. So she left her family a note, borrowed a few rupees from her father’s coat pocket and ran. She ran to a town some distance away, and asked a woman in a shop for some work. She was asked what skills she had to offer and she declared she loved to cook! So, she got a job in a kindergarten cooking all the children’s meals on a daily basis. She would start work at 4.30am so that all the meals were prepared in advance. Then she took herself off to school for the rest of the day, and returned to work at the end of the day. By doing this she made it to Grade 10 education. She later worked in the hospitality industry and became the hotel manager. For a female to be in a position of power was a huge testament to her dynamic, hard-working and passionate attitude. She advocated for the rights of the women workers in the hotel, and convinced her boss to sponsor a girls’ education scholarship program, that still continue today. She worked 17 hours a day to earn enough money to put every single one of her six sisters through a college education (Year 11 & 12), and some even went to university. This was not a luxury she afforded herself but she wanted freedom for her sister’s futures. In that time, whilst she was away, she learned that her father had been murdered in their village. The murder was never investigated and whilst they all knew who the perpetrator was, justice has not prevailed. The murder was apparently because her father had loaned a poor man some money, and he still had not repaid the loan many years later. Rather than bearing the irksome burden of his debt for more years, that man chose to murder the kind man who’d loaned the money; Anita’s father.​

She came to work at Seven Women about seven years ago. She constantly has her eye out for any opportunity that will connect her to people and programs that may improve education, training and independence for women. She spends time in remote villages implementing programs to empower local women. She wants to expand, expand, expand! The new Seven Women cooking school is nearing completion, and will commence in a month or so. But already Anita is dreaming and planning a village-based training centre closer to Kathmandu to run an eco-tourism farm. She is a diamond with strength and brilliance!! In fact she is the Shakti- which means power and love in one. She is only 29 years old. But Anita also knows she will need to self-nurture in order to fulfil her dreams. She understands the impact of stress, and had recently chosen to find a way to manage the busy nature of her mind with the demands of her job. Ironically, she had just commenced using the Get Some Headspace meditation App (this is one I frequently recommend and personally use!) prior to our arrival. Anita will be the very first recipient of the White Scarf of Compassion

“Having compassion for others frees us from turns our attention outward, expanding our perspective, making our own problems...part of something bigger than us that we are all in together.”

Thupten Jinpa (translator for the Dalai Lama​)


Day 10 – Coming To Our Senses

Day 10 - Coming To Our Senses

To come to your senses is to simply be aware. This means to be aware of the physical environment around us, of our body and of our thoughts. The magic of mindfulness was evident today when we delivered an introduction session with sixty-five World Vision Aid Workers. Liz opened the session with an outline of how we came to be here today. She has been involved with World Vision in Australia in a philanthropic capacity with her previous business and is now passionate to include her family in a similar capacity in the future. Their ideals are about acknowledging that everybody has a unique story, yet we are all essentially the same, the world over. When we can recognise our own talents and be the best person we can, then we have more to contribute to the others and the world at large.

I spent some time discussing the impact of stress on our physical and mental health. These workers have been under enormous emotional, mental and physical strain in the two years since the earthquake. They have worked tirelessly to try to deliver humanitarian aid to their fellow countrymen under exceptionally difficult times of loss, devastation, and change. The session had been promoted to over 100 workers in their head office, and 65 accepted the invitation. When we commenced we had 12 people and a room full of chairs. We were happy to have people in the room, but had hoped for a few more! What you wish for, you get! Because within 5 minutes it was like the bus had just rolled in. They started coming in droves, (arriving on Nepali time, which is never on time!), and soon we were scrabbling to find more chairs and people were squishing in wherever they could. The room was full and attentive. I led this team through a selection of different techniques including a mindful minute, a body scan and a Buddhist compassion meditation, based on the Dalai Lama’s vision for world peace. I’ve now run a few similar sessions whilst being here and each time I have been somewhat overwhelmed at witnessing the complete calm and peace on people’s faces as they experience meditation, often for the first time. There is powerful connection in the room, which I believe is love, and a sharing of the human spirit. We feel so grateful to have been able to witness this with school children, disabled women, craft production workers and World Vision aid workers. This was sense of stillness that meditation cultivates-such a gift to share.

A few more examples of being consciously aware always hits us when we are back on the streets. We have had heightened awareness of our five senses whilst wandering the streets, squares, alleyways, city roads, restaurants and stairways in Kathmandu.

​To Hear - there is a constant yet changing stream of different noises in the traffic, bells ringing, laughing children in school playgrounds, dogs howling, humming air-conditioners, the bus-boy calling for last stops, chanting from the temples, creaking of taxi door slamming us into place in the backseat. These sounds are an almost constant backdrop to life.But our favourite, of course, is the sing-song greetings of Namaste from the people!

To Feel - the sense of touch is most delightful when it comes from a human. We have found the Nepali people encountered with our teaching experiences to be very demonstrative, and always willing for a hug. In a school the other day a darling little boy in big glasses rushed at me and wrapped his arms tightly around my legs. Such a sweetie. But his lot in life has been, and will be, hard. He is HIV positive, and orphaned.​

We have felt the pelting raindrops of the monsoon rain on our heads most days. We have slipped and slid through the mud-filled streets on a every day and night. We can’t always dodge the puddles so there is the feeling of squelch between our toes from the thick clay-like mud that comes from the sodden dirt roads. The items in the shops are all covered with a layer of dust, or mud! There is a feeling of dust and grime on our hands all the time when we handle goods in the shops or exchange grimy rupee notes in transactions.

To See - the sense of sight is in constant overload. The colours of the women’s saris is electrifying sometimes. Such mixes of colours that no-one else would dare to do, but it works in harmony and grace with these beautiful women. The muted colours of the villagers clothes are in contrast to this . They are wrapped in simple fabrics designed for function not fashion. The men wear the Dhaka topi hat, and look so gentlemanly. There are cows aimlessly wandering the intersections, decorated rickshaws being pedalled by men with very strong calf muscles! The buses are brightly painted and coloured and are best dodged quickly.We watched monks mindfully walking in a clockwise direction around the Buddhist stupa temple, spinning prayer wheels. We see the red paste marked between the eyes on every Hindu here, and watch them worship at small holy sites in walls to find their red paste.

To Smell - there is the sweet fragrance of burning incense in the streets, within buildings and even in taxis. During the rain periods the stench smell of drains and the putrefying stink of the rubbish dumps on the riverbanks has us pinching our nostrils in disgust. We love the smell of cooking spices as we pass small eating houses and the aroma of ground coffee beans. We hate the smell of fumes that comes in through the taxi windows in traffic jams, and the dust in our noses when remove a plastic bag off an item from the shop.

Taste - our taste-buds are alive whenever we open our mouths for food. We’ve enjoyed dahl baht, tasty thupka soups, coriander enhancing flavoursome curries, spicy samosas, roti, rice, refreshing lime and sodas, delicious mo-mo dumplings, milky cups of tea- all a way of life here.

The essence of mindfulness is being aware. We actually found our seven senses on this journey- to see, to hear, to feel, to taste, to smell and most importantly to laugh, and to love.


Day 9 – All Things Are Not Equal

Day 9 - All Things Are Not Equal

What does it mean to be a marginalised person? We can easily find a definition “to put or keep (someone) in a powerless or unimportant position within a society or group”. But how does reading a definition actually give us insight as to what this really means for a human being? Spending time here in Nepal is highlighting for us how different people’s lives are when their society chooses to exclude certain groups from basic human rights of equality. The week has brought this message home – hard enough to smack us right in the middle of our hearts and feel it constrict with the injustice.

A true moment of realisation came to us when we looked closely at the handprints drawn by the twelve members at Seven Women. In each of their drawn fingers they had the opportunity to include what they value most in their life. One word seemed to keep appearing as a core value: it was freedom. It was my gut-wrenching realisation that this is what it means to be a marginalised woman: the absence of freedom. It struck me that I have taken for granted my status as an independent western woman who is free to choose safety and protection, happiness and health, and a certain measure of peace in my life. The life of a Nepali woman is so hard. Malnutrition and poverty hit women hardest. Women usually worked harder and longer than men. If a Nepali girl is not in school, she is three times more likely to be married under the age of 18, and she is twice as likely to die in childbirth than, if she completed primary school.

Child marriages lead to pregnancy and birth at young ages, which often result in health problems, such uterine prolapse. Women can die from complications during childbirth while attempting to reach the clinic from outlying villages. Their knowledge is poor about their health and they believe the spirits and the witchdoctors will save them if they become ill. Their lives remain centered on traditional roles —taking care of most household chores, fetching water and animal fodder, and doing farm work. Their standing in society is mostly contingent on their husbands' and parents' social and economic positions. They have limited access to markets, productive services, education, health care, and local government. Women frequently experience violence against them, and child labour is a product of their poverty and caste- system. Only 40% of girls are educated beyond primary level. When 10% more girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases an average of 3%.

​We have also encountered the Dalit population who are the “untouchables” of the Hindu caste-based system here. The Dalits make up 15% of the population and are discriminated for their lowest status in society. Whilst this discrimination is illegal, it frequently occurs with them being denied access to religious sites, resistance to inter-caste marriages, and refusal by non-Dalits to touch anything they have been in contact with. They have low life expectancy and high levels of poverty (usually living off less than USD$2 per day). Dalit women suffer double the discrimination due to their gender and their caste. There is very low literacy and an exceptionally low 11.8% enrolment of Dalit girls in secondary school. The Gandharba community are the lowest caste musicians who play the sarangi instrument, and sing and dance, and are ostracised for these skills. We were entertained last night by their fun loving street music in their social business restaurant, Sarangi, set up by an Australian to assist this community to become self-sufficient. However their original restaurant was damaged by the earthquake and are slowly recovering. Sadly most of the community come from villages who were in the earthquake epicentre and are still struggling for shelter, blankets, schools and education.

We’ve been so lucky to be involved with Seven Women who socially and economically empowers marginalised and disabled in Nepal through skills training and employment. It links closely to other organisastions who work with the same philosophy, such as Maiti Nepal for anti-sex trafficking) and Nag Nepal school . This school was started by a Swiss-Australian woman who has provided 23 years of residential schooling for up to 350 children of marginalised women. Her original children are now grown adults who also to manage the school and medical clinic.

The Association of Craft Producers (ACP) Fair trade started 30 years ago in a small two-room building, aiming to provide fair access to employment for marginalised women needing to improve their status. ACP recognised that women are often involved in the hobbies of traditional craft and felt these hidden skills could be explored for their own welfare. We spent a few hours wandering their five storied extensive building full of workshops of ceramics, screen printing, carpentry, glassware, knitting, felting and so much more. We saw laughing, happy women sitting at tables, workbenches and in clusters on the floor creating beautiful contemporary work that is well-designed with style and sustainability. Three decades later ACP are fully sustainable and employ 120 women producers and administrative workers, on site, under the fair-trade act. They outsource to 1000 women producers as home-based artisans in rural areas and provide fair wages that to women to make substantial contributions to their household income. We were impressed at the monthly wage, and the inclusion of sick pay, maternity leave, food allowances and more. ACP now has an annual turnover of USD $1.1 million! But more importantly these women have gained self-confidence, and increased respect from other family members, especially their husbands and in-laws.

I happened to mention my profession as a physiotherapist and my concern for the repetitive postures of workers whilst on site with the craft producers. They were very keen to improve the health and safety of their workers. So before I knew it I was offering to run a training session in postural exercises at work and mindfulness for stress relief. My afternoon session there today was delivered to 45 workers (via translation) who stretched and released their muscles and joints with exercises and refreshed their minds with meditation. There was lots of laughs, and nodding of appreciation for the education. They will proceed to train their 100’s of production workers in these in the next month with my material.

ACP source all raw materials from fair-trade growers and aim to minimise their environmental impact whilst working towards sustainable and economical development. So, here we have found THE WHITE SCARF! We are very happy to be working with organisations who passionately care for and improve the well-being of women. Now we can wear the white scarf with compassion for self and particularly for those women involved in its production from growing for yarn, weaving on the loom, then the hand-stitching by the Seven Women. Wearing the white scarf will nurture women of the east and the west.​


Day 8 – Mindful Women

Day 8 - Mindful Women

Finding time to simply be was the theme today. We were to enjoy watching the women of the Seven Women centre experience moments of calm, happiness, curiosity and flow.

In co-ordination with Anita, the director, we had planned today to run some mindful colouring sessions, meditation and stretch classes, and for Liz to spend some time highlighting basic nutrition principles so that all women cared for there will have the best opportunity for good health. These are women who have had many, many difficulties in life. They may have been born disabled, married young and then abandoned, or have been victims of domestic violence or destitution.

Our desire was to bring to them some moments of peace and awareness of their own special attributes. On the first visit the women had loved being guided through a short meditation session the floor. So I conducted another session together today. I simply use a technique that involves some initial deep breaths to start to calm the breath, then we bring awareness to acknowledge our five senses and notice what can be heard, felt, smelt in the nearby environment. Following this is a body scan to release tension and calm the body. Then it is simply focus on the in breath and out breath, to calm the mind. This time there was a great deal of background noise of hammering and sawing in the new Seven Women cooking school that is being built next door. I needed to explain that noise is a normal part of life and to not be distracted by it but to simply notice it and allow it to be there, and come and go from our attention. The same attitude is used for dealing with constant chatter and thoughts in the mind; not to be frustrated or distracted by them but to simply notice them and allow them to pass by, with the next out breath.

Naturally my mastery of the Nepali language is not quite up to these simple instructions of how to meditate and I’m pretty sure some was lost in translation! But it didn’t matter as the women were more than happy to simply be in the moment and enjoy a new experience. After the meditation we moved into a mindful colouring activity. This was designed by Liz and myself to combine the concepts of sharing compassion to others and also to self. The mandala of compassion was created by the Dalai Lama for meditation focus on world peace. The woman settled quickly into doing something they had never done before: colouring in. Silently and mindfully their pencils followed the shapes, curves, symbols, and repeating patterns of the mandala. For 30 minutes they were completely absorbed in colouring and creating and enjoying the simple flow of being focused on a task. It was actually very poignant to watch them at work. There was a simply innocence in them that belied the harshness of their existence before coming to the Seven Women centre.

We had done $1200 worth of fundraising for Seven Women by selling the Mandala colouring books as a pay it forward approach of buying one for self and one for each of these women. They were so appreciative of the gift.

When we returned later in the day, we had to negotiate the streets flooded by lunchtime monsoon rain. It was a deluge as we ran ankle deep through the streets running with water. Whilst I usually find the experience of walking in rain very mindful, today the additional stench of sewerage made me realise it probably wasn’t just rain water we sloshed our way through!

Back at the Centre, it seemed that the women had put down their sewing tools for most of the afternoon and the pencils had dominated. Already they had decoratively filled pages of their new prized possession- a colouring book. It was humbling to watch how much pleasure this small gift brought today and again for many hours in the future. A group from a Women’s Wellness Weekend in Melbourne had coloured a mandala page each to give to these women with each book. The pages done today by the Seven Women will be attached to Mandala books that will soon be delivered back to those same Melbourne women. The cross-culture sharing of mindful moments is an acknowledgement that women need to find some time to stop and settle our busy or fearful minds, and take some time for simply being. Mindful colouring was the opportunity for simply being.

The lower part of the colouring sheet was blank for the women to draw an outline of their hand and then to write five words that best describe their values and who they really are or want to be. This activity was also repeated on squares of calico to be hung as bunting around the workshop room. With their names, creative hands and core values displayed, it was to give a sense of belonging and sharing to all who come to the Seven Women Centre. Whilst some did not have the literacy skills to write the actual words they felt, they were assisted by Anita if needed. One woman asked for the word grateful to be written on her handprint as this was her way of expressing to Liz and myself the gratitude she felt for the opportunity we have given her to experience such new and wonderful things since we arrived. Another word seemed to keep appearing on many of the handprints of the twelve women as their core value in life. It was freedom. It was my heart-wrenching realisation that this is what it means to be a marginalised woman: the absence of freedom. It struck me that I have taken for granted my status as an independent western woman who is free to choose safety and protection, happiness and health, and a certain measure of peace in my life. The life of a Nepali woman is so hard. But whilst life offers difficult times, it can offer beauty too. Today there was beauty in the simplest of things.


Day 7 – Children Just Like Me

Day 7 - Children Just Like Me

Children in mind, children in kind. Without education, life is dark. We need education to lead a successful life. $5 can buy us a coffee or it can help a girl in Nepal attend school for one month. This means that she is reading, writing, learning with her friends and stretching her imagination for all those days spent in a classroom. When 10% more girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases an average of 3%. If a Nepali girl is not in school, she is three times more likely to be married under the age of 18, and she is twice as likely to die in childbirth than, if she completed primary school.

We had an opportunity to immerse ourselves for a couple of hours in the classrooms of up to 300 Nepali school students today. They were 4-17 year olds ready and waiting for us, starting the day with hopes of learning. Assembly was starting and was delivered only in English. They all stood in orderly rows and performed a set routine of calisthenics style exercises, led by a senior student on the microphone. This was followed by a prayer and the National anthem. They even marched off to the beating of the drum!

We were asked to introduce ourselves in assembly and give our words of wisdom to the children.

Liz spoke to them about how important it is to try your best and have fun but to listen to their parents, family members and teacher in order to learn, so they can becomes the best person they can be. She advised them to eat the fruits and vegetables provided to get all the goodness from food they need for energy to grow up big and strong. She encouraged them to try new things and learn different skills whenever they get the opportunity. She was passionate in telling them they should do activities that interest them and follow their dreams. “Dream of big things and work hard towards that, even from a young age”. The essence of her message was for each child to know they are special and unique. This was to be the theme for the activities she had planned for our classroom sessions. She had children drawing and colouring the outline of their hand on calico bunting that was to be hung in their classroom to ensure every child had a sense of belonging, in their learning space. They were asked to draw or write why they were special and what values are important to them. The teaching rationale was about having a sense of identity, a sense of wellbeing, and to contribute to the world.

So, when it was my turn to address the assembly, I took on the aspects of wellbeing and the contribution to peace in the world. I used the example that we know exercise is important for a fit, active and healthy body. But I added the element of wishing the best for others and for our self to keep a calm and peaceful mind. I talked about finding love in the heart for the special unique person they are, and then expanded into the concept of sharing compassion. I asked them to wish for others to be safe and protected, to wish for others to be happy and healthy, to wish for others to live with peace of mind. And to then wish this for themselves. My classroom activity was a replica of the one I did with 130 Wangaratta primary school children prior to my departure. It involved a short meditation session to calm the mind, then some mindful colouring of the mandala of compassion, followed by drawing the handprint and core values. I brought books of these colourings from Australia to give to the Nepali classrooms and will take theirs back home to share with other students. I was with the older students and they nodded with enthusiasm as I spoke. They sat so peacefully in the meditation, and got themselves very involved in the colouring activity. It was comforting that the girls were in equal numbers in the classroom and were not displaying reticence or shyness with learning. Let us hope this good education for these girls allows them to grow wings and fly with independence in their adult lives.

Looking down at these children we reflected on the similarities to our children back home in the western world: uniforms, pigtail, study subjects, respect for their teachers. The differences to our children back home was the amenities and resources available to the Nepali students. They did not have coloured pencils for the colouring activity. Whilst we had gone to the local little shop and bought out the last packets of crayons, pencils and textas to donate, we simply did not have enough to go round. There was only 2-3 pencils to share between 4-5 children. If only we’d had more! But the children never complained. They probably did not notice as ‘going without’ is what they are used to. Their classrooms were crowded and stuffy and very bare. The toilet block was smelly. They go to school 6 days a week here. The surrounds of the school was the local slum and massive rubbish dump in and along the river banks behind the school. This was filthy and very disgusting and thankfully not a sight we would see back home.

The final activity was recess in the playground with Liz and a 6-metre colourful parachute which over a hundred children held and jiggled and fluttered and ran in and out under. Liz threw a toy koala onto it and soon the children were squealing as the parachute was hurling the koala into the air bouncing all over the place (it should have been a kangaroo- a koala has never moved so much!) It was so much fun. We were exhilarated watching the joy, delight, happiness, and fun at being involved with these happy little (and big) students. Even the principal was running in and out gleefully under the parachute. The beautiful thing about learning is that no-one can take it away from you.


Day 6 – Giving and Gratitude

Day 6 - Giving and Gratitude

There are some people in this world who are born to give. Let me share the stories of two inspirational people we are spending every day with here in Kathmandu.

Our number one Nepali man of the moment is Padam. He is 34 years old and is one of the most caring and compassionate men ever born. I call him Vishnu after the main Hindu god, meaning the protector. He is everywhere and anywhere, looking after us. He is checking on us as we slide our way through the muddied streets of Thamel that are under construction. He guides us through the chaotic mayhem of trucks, buses and over-zealous motorbikes when we cross the roads. Together we dodge the motor bikes, battered Suzuki Swift taxis, pedal rickshaws and bicycles. He tells us every day that he is here for us 24/7. He shakes our hands and hugs us goodnight every day! He is our protector.

And he is lovable. He is always smiling and talking very fast! His use of past and present tense when talking about “our” becomes “your” so we often get confused easily. But there is much teasing and joking in our day. Even when we are walking the streets we are talking. Daily we just kept on learning more; on any topic we need to know about, including the earthquake, the education system, the status of disease, women’s health, cultural taboos for women, sex trafficking, Hinduism and more. But whilst we are walking and talking, he is greeting everyone in the streets of Kathmandu with a grin and a handshake. We have usually had to stop 8-10 times in the first ten minutes of leaving the hotel as he is everybody’s friend. He loves people and people love him!

Padam has two passions in life; volleyball and the Seven Women organisation. He has been part of Seven Women since its inception. Padam is the Superman behind the growth and development of the inspiring vision this centre has for empowering marginalised women with training and education. He can lend his hand to anything and is always willing to do whatever is required, right on time. He can negotiate hard and fair and will always stand up for women’s rights. He has studied a Bachelor of Sociology at university and is also a master Mo-Mo maker (Nepali dumpling!) in his brother’s restaurant. When given a chance to talk, he speaks with enormous admiration for Steph Woollard, the founder. He and his co-worker Anita are dynamic duo: a powerhouse of energy, compassion and teamwork. His eyes are intense with feeling as he expresses his gratitude for the opportunity he’s had in developing and working with this organisation to make a difference. He has been a national volleyball player since a young age. He plays two hours every day. He voluntarily organises the National Volleyball Festival every year and fundraises everything for it himself. He liaises with the government to make this national sporting event actually happen. This is what makes him a celebrity in his own town!​

He is here to make his mark on the world. And he will move heaven and earth in the name of justice, and compassion. As an example, yesterday we were taken to a viewing site of the Himalayas a couple of hours from Kathmandu. And whilst he tried, he couldn’t shift the clouds to give us our view of the snow-capped mountains we long to see again! But he tried. We have seen those wondrous mountains before so we accepted now was not our time.

What is striking about Padam is he constantly tells us how lucky he is and how happy he is!

He talks about the earthquake and describing his personal experience of being on his motorbike and trying to keep it upright, watching the buildings falling into the road toward him. He claimed he said, “oh my god, I am alive”, when the first shaking stopped. What followed was frequent after-shocks for another fortnight before the second earthquake struck them again. And the aftershocks were still happening months afterwards. There must have been so much fear in living with that. Yet he keeps saying how lucky they all are. The luck was in the fact that the earthquake happened on a Saturday which is their weekly holiday. If it had been a working day, thousands more would have died, including children in schools and traders in their stores. Even if it had happened at night, more people would have been in their houses asleep and unable to escape the collapsing buildings. And still he continues to claim how lucky they were. Luck? But this is his natural way of finding gratitude for everything. He is grateful that more lives weren’t lost and he is grateful he is alive. He is grateful he has a daily opportunity to help others and make difference. He lives this quote.

“Practice sharing the fullness of your being, your best self, your enthusiasm, your vitality, your spirit, your trust, your openness, above all, your presence. Share it with yourself, with your family, with the world.”​