Saturday, March 31, 2007

Black Magic

When we think of black magic we might think of the three old crones in Macbeth spouting “bubble, bubble, toil and trouble”; or of the zombies created by voodoo masters, or burning at the stake and evil spells. And in the 21st century we probably feel that these are things of myth and legend and that they have no relevance today. But consider this.

If black magic involves the modification of behaviour of a person so that they make decisions they might not ordinarily make if they knew the full truth, then is that still not something that is very real even today?

The answer of course is yes. And even without frogs legs, hemlock and toadstools, spells can be cast that cause damage to people in many ways. The pity is that for the most part these things are done unknowingly, and because of that they are not expected nor noticed, they simply have an insidious capacity to damage people and relationships, be they at work or at home, between friends, family or lovers, for matters of minutes until things are clarified, or at their worst, to change a life’s journey.

I have not truly understood this until I read Don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements, but I have seen it happen and now that I understand it I know that it is the truth.

Gossip in all it’s forms is black magic. Whether it is an innocent comment about a particular person or situation, or whether it is said in spite, or with the desire to harm a person’s reputation, gossip can make people make decisions or behave in manners that they would not ordinarily do. At the best it will make people see someone in a manner that imposes someone elses reality on their perceptions, and, in some cases, we wake up and say that the gossip was wrong and therefore choose to believe the evidence of our own eyes or feelings. At its worst, however, it can totally change someone’s opinion and forever alter their opinions and belief system.

The first casualty of that is faith, the second trust and the third is the future. Make no mistake, entire futures can be altered by the whispers of gossips. They may not consider that they are casting spells, that their words are as much black magic as the witches at Macbeth’s cauldron, but those words have the power to destroy kingdoms, to make the strongest relationships crumble.

When we lose faith and trust, when we allow doubt to creep into our thoughts then the magic becomes very powerful and we must do our best to understand what is happening. If we don’t do that, if we allow doubt to become our overriding belief, if we accept the opinions of others before our own faith, or the belief of our own hearts and minds then we do run the risk of altering our future.

Beware the words of gossips. Trust yourself to form opinions that are valid, rather than grasp at the poison in the words of others.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The flutter of butterflies wings

I’m not a physicist, in fact I failed physics in Form 5 in 1973. That’s year 11 for those who are younger than I. And therefore I have no real idea about chaos theory nor about the underlying theory of the interconnectedness of matter. I have, however, read a few things that make a bit of sense to me.

Somewhere somewhen someone wrote that even the flutter of a butterflies wings has the potential to trigger a hurricane. In life things may happen with an innocence and a seeming irrelevance or with innocuous ease that can lead to life changing decisions. And sometimes even in retrospect it isn’t easy to find the first flap of those wings.

All I know is that for me at this particular point in time I need to journey back from the hurricane, through the gale force winds and the eye of the storm to find that point where the butterfly emerged and stretched its wings to the drying sun before leaping into the air. And it may well be that there were many such times and many storms. When does the flap of the wing become a zephyr which then manifests as the eye of a storm? Why do some peter out and others have such capacity for change? Which ones become destructive and what do they destroy and is the destruction always bad?

In understanding that and in finding the answers can we work out where the next stage of our journey leads?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Weight of Expectations

At various times in our lives, in fact most of our lives, people carry the weight of expectations of others. Major assumptions are made about how one should behave, or whether or not we have done right or wrong by others.

There was a little boy once who on becoming a man thought that he shouldered burdens placed upon him by others. Burdens that he carried unwaveringly all his life until he began to stagger under the weight of expectations. And the stupid thing was that while some of them were the expectations of others, most of them were the expectations he had of himself.

Once, a long time ago, he was told he was the man of the house, for a long long time he thought that he had assumed that burden and placed his recollections about how he grew up and what sort of man he had become on that belief. The truth was that he actually rejected that burden and turned inward. He didn’t want to be the man of the house at 8 years old, but he could hardly refuse, could he. An absent father, two younger sisters and a mother, no question, he was the man of the house.

So you shrug your shoulders and refuse to cry, and when you are frightened you don’t reach out and tell people of your fears, you construct a mask of calmness and rationality. You square your shoulders and carry yourself upright. You don’t let your temper show itself. And when things do get a little shaky and you find that fear or anger are coming to the surface, you clamp down even harder.

The little boy grew up alone, not in the sense of being on his own or homeless, but in the sense that he didn’t really engage socially with others. His world for much of his journey from childhood to teenager and into young adulthood was his bedroom. Things were safe there, he could read his comics and his books, listen to music and play with his toy soldiers. That was his world and he could control that, a private space where the music or the Saturday afternoon football games could drown out the outside world. And when on occasions he had to venture out into the wider world, he made sure that one or several of the masks came with him, so that little boy could hide his fears and anger from anyone who might try to place the burden of expectations upon him.

As the boy became a man it became harder to shed the masks and with that happening the little boy inside retreated behind more and more doors. Sure at times he could peek out, but he never really stepped outside since that time as an 8 year old that he was told he was the man of the house.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Road to Old Mans Town - Banjo Patterson

The fields of youth are filled with flowers,
The wine of youth is strong:
What need have we to count the hours?
The summer days are long.

But soon we find to our dismay
That we are drifting down
The barren slopes that fall away
Towards the foothills grim and eye
That lead to Old Man's Town

And marching with us on the track
Full many friends we find:
We see them looking sadly back
For those who've dropped behind.

But God forfend a fate so dread -
Alone to travel down
The dreary road we all must tread,
With faltering steps and whitening head,
The road to Old Man's Town.

Childhood Affair

When I was a young lad my father had an affair. In fact he may have had two affairs, perhaps with the same person. I say may have because my memories aren't anything other than sketchy and in those days kids were more often than not told to be seen and not heard. So my knowledge of what was going on came from overheard conversations and hearing yells from behind the closed doors that lead from the living are of our house to my bedroom.

One wall separated the head of my bed from the dining room and anytime voices were raised there I could hear them quite clearly.

Dad was an alcoholic, not something I ever heard him admit, but true nonetheless, and in those days it seemed to be an acceptable thing to drink yourself stupid. If you opened a bottle of beer, inevitably there would be another and another until you fell into a stupor on the couch. I also had three uncles who drank to excess so for me it was the norm to see people in a state of drunkeness.

Dad also had a mate whose father owned a hotel, and on Thursday and Friday nights and all day Saturdays Dad worked at that pub as a barman. I don't know how he drove home some nights being as blind drunk as he was at times and I remember often lying awake at night waiting for him to come home so I'd know he was safe, even as I knew that Mum would verbally attack him as he staggered in through the door.

It was whilst he worked at the Stockade Hotel that he had the affair. And that is all I know about the woman he was involved with. I must have been around 8 or 9 when Mum kicked him out of the home. I was trying to think today about how long he and Mum were separated, but the truth is I can't remember. I do remember that he would turn up some nights, usually drunk, and bash on the locked doors asking to be let in. I also clearly remember a neighbour pulling me aside and telling me I was now the man of the house, something that affected me in many ways that I am only now coming to understand.

Dad was not a violent man, not that I can recall anyway, and certainly not that I believe, but as I sit here writing this now I have a vague recollection of Mum having a black eye on at least one occasion which she said happened when she walked into a door. Something a young boy accepted at the time because parents don't lie, do they?

Mum took Dad back in and that was supposedly in our best interests and their marriage lasted more than 50 years until Dad passed away in August 2004. But were they happy? Sometimes certainly. Other times I have no doubt that they weren't. But I cannot say with any degree of certainty that they would have been happier apart. I'm not even sure that they could say one way or the other.

I do know that their behaviour and the decisions they made had an impact upon mine and I have carried many things relating to those days of my childhood as baggage through my journey. That in turn has affected my relationship with my own children and again is something I must deal with in order to move forward to this next phase of life. Writing here is helping me to place some of those things into context.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


My oldest daughter is 18 today. Legally able to drink and drive, though not at the same time. I remember 18. It was 1975, and I was working as a public servant having deferred university for a year to build up my bank account.

They were days of platform shoes and flairs, tight around the bum, but very baggy to hide the ridiculous shoes we wore in those days.

I worked as an accounts clerk at the Ministry of Conservation and it was not only my first true work experience but my first exposure to older work mates. There was Harro who played footy for Williamstown in the VFA, Lairdy who played for Norwood and was typically immersed in the culture of drinking that is a suburban footy club, Youngy who also was a very good footballer and I think was on Richmond's list; The older of the group was GOM - Geoff O'Meara - I think married but one of the lads anyway; Paul Walker, nicknamed retreads coz he walked so quickly, my immediate boss who took me under his wing.

The tea lady used to visit twice a day - something I think has disappeared in most offices now - and most of the office workers smoked - thnakfully soething that has definitely disappeared.

I used to catch the train into the City then walk up from Flinders Street Station to Victoria Parade where the office was and nine times out of ten the train was one of those old red rattlers, jammed full of people who all vacted work at the same time each day, normally 4:36pm. You could still buy an evening paper in those days and I'd usually grab a Herald from on eof the paper boys on my walk back down to the station after work.

Being 18 was good in those days, probably still is, with a lifetime ahead of you, no real inkling of what lies in store, and no real expectations or problems to live with in the here and now. My darling daughter, I love you very much and wish you a wonderful life. Remember it does have ups and downs, that's what living is about. Try not to get so caught up in the future that you forget to experience the here and now.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Outdoor Dunnies and Blowies

My kids are amazed at some of the things I tell them. When I grew up there were no inside dunnies. In fact, like many, ours was in the backyard in a shed made of asbestos cement. It had a wooden seat which rested on a galvanised steel frame and a door in the back of the shed through which a nine gallon drum could be placed in which the crap and pee resided.

It stank! In summer the blow flies congregated and the bottle of phenyl did little to take the edge off the stink. I can't remember how often the pan was changed, probably weekly, but I remember thinking that it was a job I didn't want. The truck driver who collected the pans wore a cowl and cape made from an old hessian sack draped over his head and shoulders and he was strong enough to lift that full drum up on his head and stagger back out to his truck.

We did not have electricity connected to the shed so if we had to go at nightime it was either done in the potty under the bed or we had to do it by torchlight. Night or day it still stank.

In around 1963 the sewer came through and we appreciated the luxury of finally having an indoor toilet.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Burwood High School - Form 2 1970

1970 - no longer the grubs of the school. Playing kick to kick with our woodwork aprons on the hill before school until one day someone decided to bring an egg along and we'd toss them back and forth. Inevitably they'd break and splatter sending yoke and eggwhite over our trousers. My first pair of jeans - Amco superheavyweights. Dunno why I bought them, most people wore either Lee or Levis which were worn as low as possible to expose the crack at the back and the pubes at the front.

Started playing basketball for Wattle Park Saints - won a premiership in our first season. Remember being terrified at my first teenage party and having to play spin the bottle. Was so scared that I would be laughed at that i had to walk out of the room.

Burwood High School - Form 1 1969

Days of caps and blazers. Cold winters with frozen puddles and hot summers. Gardiners Creek floods, emporer gum caterpillars in the trees along Eley Road. Moving from grass traps, scid pans, games of British Bulldog and Slagger at Bennettswood Primary to the bigger world of Burwood High. Collars and ties for the boys, straw hats for the girls. New friends from different State Schools. Tarax lemonade at the canteen and lollies.

Brian Abbott collecting tarax bottles for the two cent refund. Sex education for the first time and watched the movie "Birth of a Red Kangaroo". Never have been able to work out where a human females pouch is.

Introduced to woodwork, metalwork, music and home economics. Made same bad wooden bowls and even worse scones. Got my first ever pair of long pants during this year at some stage. Winters were never the same again.

And yes I am in the photo.

The Second Agreement – Don’t take anything personally

Don Miguel Ruiz says that the second agreement grows from the first and stems from a belief that “everything is about me.” Thus when someone says “God you’re stupid”, even if they don’t know us we take it on board because we assume they know more about us than they actually do.

He says that even when people insult us it is not about us but about them because they say things as a result of their experiences and the agreements they have made throughout their lives. We take it personally as a result of trying to impose our world and our beliefs on what they are saying. Additionally when we do take things personally we are accepting the black magic that their word brings to our world. When we take on the tenets of this second agreement those words no longer have power over us.

He also states that our own beliefs are not necessarily compatible with each other and that sometimes they can create conflict in our own minds which makes us uncomfortable, or guilty, or confused. So the second part of this agreement is to not take everything our own minds tell us personally either, but rather to recognize that at times the conflict is real and does make us feel bad about our actions or parts of our lives. That is not to say that what our mind tells us is always wrong. The challenge is to recognize the truth when we hear it, even if it hurts, because when we hurt we can begin to heal.

“As you make a habit of not taking anything personally, you won’t need to place your trust in what others do or say. You will only need to trust yourself to make responsible choices. You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you. When you truly understand this, and refuse to take things personally, you can hardly be hurt by the careless comments or actions of others.”

Monday, March 12, 2007

The First Agreement – Be impeccable with your word.

Ruiz writes that words have power for both good and evil – an example of the latter are those used by Adolf Hitler to bind an entire nation and draw a world to war, but an ordinary person also has the power to cast black magic by using words.

Words can be misused when we offer an opinion that a person accepts as fact. An offhand comment to a person that they are stupid may become something accepted by that person and become entwined in their belief system and therefore they reinforce that opinion whenever they do something that they perceive to be stupid. Ruiz calls this black magic and more often than not it is not done with malice, but is a result of carelessness. Thus we come to the concept of impeccability.

To be impeccable means to be without sin. Therefore to use words impeccably means not that we should always tell the truth to someone, but that we have a responsibility to ourselves to ensure that what we say is not designed to hurt or destroy someone else. And the reason for this is that when we use words to hurt, in the end we hurt ourselves more than we hurt the other person. If we call someone stupid, whilst they may accept that as part of their belief system, they will also lose respect for us. If you tell someone you hate them, it is more likely than not that they will return that hate. Thus the black magic binds not only the other person but ourselves.

How many of us can remember the exact moment in time when as a child we felt mocked for something we said? We may have been laughed at when we offered an opinion in class, or told to stop singing because our voice was horrible. How many have then retreated and not been confident to offer opinion or to sing in front of others.

Ruiz states that one of the worst misuses of the word is gossip which we use to hook other people into believing what we believe. It is obvious that gossip has the power to do great harm. When you also understand the concept that we use the word against ourselves, in reinforcing a belief that we are stupid or that we cannot sing for example, we are also using the word against ourselves. Self esteem suffers and we are bound not only by our own beliefs but by those of others.

If you are able to accept the first agreement, gossip becomes anathema and the power of people to harm us by gossip or by negative opinions diminishes. If we learn to love ourselves it becomes far easier to love others and in turn to have that love repaid.


I have been reading “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz and whilst I won’t yet say it is life changing I will say that it has the potential to be and I will reserve my judgement for the time being. In any case, it is worth exploring some of the themes he raises.

I am a rational man, at least I have always seen myself as one. So new age concepts and things that can’t be empirically measured or demonstrated by scientific experiment have in the past been things I would scoff at, or ignore as irrational or whacky.

“Somewhere between the time you arrive and time you go may lie a reason you were alive but you’ll never know’, said Jackson Browne and as I’ve gotten older I’ve found the need to begin looking for those reasons. My exploration of Miguel Ruiz’s agreements is part of that search.

Ruiz says that our perception of reality is coloured by those that went before us and the collective consciousness of the society into which we are born. And I do not claim to speak for him here and state at the outset that what I write is my interpretation of what he is saying. But even the rational man in me can understand this concept.

We have opinions foist upon us from the moment we are born – laws, social mores and family lore are fed to us and like sponges we suck it up. Ruiz calls these rules that we live by agreements and he says that they are not necessarily all ones that we should accept unquestionably. Some of them cause us great grief because we accept them as truth when in fact they are simply opinion, or at the very least, an interpretation of the truth as seen by the person offering them. He describes things like gossip as black magic because they can be words of evil that determine how we perceive other people and can do untold damage when spread and repeated without any real justification for their spreading.

Ruiz speaks of the power of the word and in reading this I am reminded of some things that occurred in my life that have had a great impact on how I behave or on how I perceive the world I live in. Words can be used fr great good as in the praise given to a child, or they can be used in a way that binds a childs behaviour in ways which we never truly intend.

He states that by the adoption of four agreements we can begin to take control of our own lives and begin to unwind those spells of words which have begun to bind us from the moment we are born.

The four agreements are –

1. Be impeccable with your word.
2. Don't take anything personally.
3. Never make assumptions.
4. Always do your best.

I will deal with each of these on this blog as I digest what they mean. Thankyou to the friend who gave me the gift of this book.

LJ’s School Days

Bennettswood State School was typical of those built in the 1950’s in Melbourne. Grey besser brick, asphalt quadrangles, and weather board shelter sheds. I arrived there in 1963 in the typical school uniform of grey shorts and grey shirt along with a class full of around 40 other 5 and 6 year olds.

Sitting here now more than 40 years after it is a little hard to sort through the memories and to put them into chronological order so this will be a broad brush jump around tour of my memories of the school and things we did and of some of the characters who crossed my path.

The school was around 2 miles from home and I think that most of the time in those early years I must have been driven. Mum had an old Vauxhall and I have vague memories of being driven to school in that, brown leather satchel hooked over my shoulders. Around grade 3 or 4, perhaps at 8 or 9 years of age I began to walk home.

School days always seemed hotter or colder than now. There was neither heating nor cooling in the class rooms and schools seem to me to be much more of a community these days than what they were back then. There were no school concerts and I can’t really recall any open days.

At the back of the school was a paddock usually covered in long grass in which we would tie together grass traps then lie back watching as kids who ran around tripped over as there feet caught.

When it rained we created skid pans and would slide in the mud inevitably falling over and laughing as we did so each recess or lunch time not worrying about tramping the dirt into the class rooms as we returned after play time.

We played british bulldog and humpo bumpo in the quadrangles and games of slaggar which could last for days. The latter in some other places may have been called tiggy and tag but the rules were pretty much the same with people who were “it” having to signal thumbs down if the got within a couple of yards and those who weren’t giving you the thumbs up. They were all anarchistic with no captains nor foot soldiers, everyone one was equal, and the winners were those who displayed cunning and fleetness of foot.

We also used to play brandy, a game in which we lined up against the brick walls whilst someone through a tennis ball at us – if you got hit you swapped places. One day a number of boys including myself decided we’d play with oranges and we all laughed as we got splattered with the pulp and orange skins. Unfortunately we were caught by the teachers and marched into the headmasters office where we all got six belts across the hand with a yard long ruler. It was my bad luck that the head master, Mr Allsop, had come from a school at which my Uncle was head of the School Council, so I also copped a lecture about how ashamed he would be off me.

We went through regular fads, playing marbles in the dust, or walk the dog with yoyos [coke ones were definitely better than fanta] and even hula hoops at one stage.

I struggle to remember the faces of my teachers. In fact I cant remember who I had in Grade 1. In Grades 2 and 3 I had Mrs Cannon, a tough lady, who did dish out a whack over th had with a ruler on the odd occasion. Miss Gash was my Grade 4 teacher and I have no real memories of her. In Grade 5 it was Mr Nicholson and his son was a World Champion bike rider and I remember him speaking very proudly of that – from memory the next year his son John won a silver medal at the Mexico Olympics. In Grade 6 I had Mr Fulton and the odd thing about that was that his son Ian was also in my class.

The school had an oval – albeit a small one, which baked hard in the summer sun and turned into a mud pile in the winter. Spiros Tamarus, a year ahead of me was in the school football team and could kick a goal after kicking out when a point was scored at the other end. That won’t mean much to anyone who doesn’t know a thing about Australian Rules, but it is an impressive thing to do even on a small ground.

The oval had been excavated into the side of a hill and the embankment was planted with succulents to prevent erosion. We always used to laugh when an announcement would come over the PA system just before lunchtime reminding anyone who played on the oval to please keep off Mr Stafford’s pigface – he didn’t want his precious succulents trampled.

Mr Stafford was Vice principal and in around Grade 5 he would come in and teach us each morning giving us updates on lone sailor Frances Chichester’s solo voyage around the world.

Music lessons consisted of listening to ABC school radio and singing songs from a book that was given to us at the start of each year. My first reader was John and Betty – how boring was that – but as we got older we graduated to puffin books which were all packed into a box of sorts through which we could search and choose what to read. I learnt to love the roman adventures written by Henry Treece and discovered the science fiction of Robert Henlein. Reading remains a joy to this day.

School canteens carried pretty Spartan fare in those days, pies, party pies and sausage rolls, sunny boys, razz’s and zig and zag icy poles. But still it was a treat to be able to buy lunch. Most of the time we brought vegemite and cheese sandwiches and an apple. Occasionally Mum would make me tomato sandwiches but I hated the way the bread went soggy. There were no plastic bags in those days so the sandwiches were wrapped in grease proof paper and placed into brown paper bags, which we never had a shortage of because Dad worked for a paper merchant.

Just before morning recess we were always given a third pint of milk. It was always better drunk cold in winter than after being left in the sun for an hour or two on a summer’s day. Being a milk monitor was a privilege and there was always a competition to see how much milk we could drink from left over bottles.
The toilets were unroofed and boys being boys we would stand at the urinal and see if we could piss over the top of the wall. It was bad luck for the kids who were bending over to take a drink from the water fountains on the other side if someone did manage to reach the top of the wall and beyond. Gross ladies I know, but boys wil be boys – to the best of my knowledge no one died from it.

There are Doors

There are doors in our minds. Some are easily opened, others you may open a crack and peep through, then slam them shut again because there is a fear of what lies beyond. Still others you would welcome family, friends and strangers through.

From the moment we are born we construct our memories into rooms in which there are many doors and windows. Some are fresh painted, bright and sunny, others shine with the light of a single lamp. There are doors behind which parties are held and which hold the photographs of happy times, yet others are hung with the moribund curtains of failures and false memories.

There are doors in our mind through which we can travel to visit friends, where grandparents still laugh and jiggle grandchildren on knees, where school mates still jostle and laugh in corridors and team mates live the joy of victory and the fear of defeat.

There are doors through which we will never again set foot and others that open onto wondrous vistas of times yet to come and offer promises of love and peace.