love yourselfI’m going to tell you my story in the hope that you will relate to it in some way, whether you are a woman, and mother, or otherwise.  It is my wish that you will take from it whatever you need, whether that is to apply to your own life, or in the very least that, through hearing my story, it will give you another reference point with which to relate to others.

I firmly believe that, being yourself, whole and complete, fulfilled, inspired, supported, pursuing your life’s purpose, and being the highest version of yourself is the greatest gift that you as a woman and a mother can give to your child, and to the world.  That can be far easier said, than done.  And ‘finding your purpose’, creating yourself, being authentically ‘you’ is a lifelong work in progress.

Or in the words of Pablo Picasso, “The meaning of life is to find your gift.  The purpose of life is to give it away”.

Like all stories and life in general, there is no clear beginning to this story, but for the purpose of conveying this particular message, I’m going to begin my story when, my daughter came into my world.  It was at a time in my life that was unsettled to say the least, her Dad and I were ‘separated’ in some sense of the word at the time (clearly not in others). But amongst all the turmoil of love and a dysfunctional relationship, the one thing I knew I wanted was to have my baby whether he was going to be in it or not.

I loved being pregnant once the “morning” or should I say, “24 hours, 7 days a week, for three months” sickness, passed.  Apart from that, my pregnancy was straightforward and uncomplicated.  I was mindful to not let myself put on too much weight (after hearing stories all my life of my mother doubling her weight when pregnant with me).  My first labour was ‘textbook’ according to the midwife.  I birthed my daughter without drugs, in a birthing centre surrounded by loved ones.  The experience was transcendental.  Enduring, riding and being present in the pain of labour was one of the those times in my life, where I came close to the great mystery of life, one of those times where you are truly alive, more alive than any other time in your life.  And at the end of it, an angel was in my arms, a gift from another realm, a small, defenceless creature that was simultaneously, and unceasingly wondrous and demanding.

Fast-forward two years down the track, a young mother of two babies under two, I was depressed, stressed, unsupported, and naïve, with a partner who was at best, emotionally and physically absent.  After having my daughter, I plunged head long into being a mum with little support, and even less idea of how to be the mother that I wanted to be to my children.  I was constantly laden with guilt over the requirement that I should be with my children 100% the time.  I had little guidance from others around me, or those who had gone before me, and was heavily fed the falsehood that I should know at all times what was best for my child, and that as their mother, I would instinctively know the difference when my child cried; whether they were hungry, or tired, or needed a cuddle I had voices from all sides telling me, “mother knows best”, and similarly well meaning, albeit misguided opinions and expressions that some people take as fact.

This implication that children should be accompanied by their mothers at all times, along with the fantasy that motherhood is all the fulfillment and purpose that a woman would ever want and need, and that one should be most grateful for the privilege that so many others are denied, coupled with the reality that motherhood for me, was truly the greatest and most divine experience in my life to date; left me and I believe, a great many other mothers, so ridden with guilt that I was frozen, held back from pursuing any career, my dreams, and my passions.  I struggled immensely with both wanting to feel that motherhood itself should be the highest reward, the greatest fulfilment and the answer to every dream I, as a women could ever possibly want or need, and at the same time, I wanted “more”.  And the “more” I craved, was ME.

Needless to say, armed with all the good advice that ‘mother knows best’ imbibes, my daughter developed severe colic, poor sleeping habits.  And my lack of sleep plunged me into a cycle of postnatal depression that I was completely lost in.  I had one friend whose baby was six weeks older than mine, who was in no position to tell me anything other than offer mutual understanding, and empathy as we both went around in circles attempting to negotiate “demand feeding”, sleep deprivation due to poor sleep patterns which developed both from not knowing when our babies were tired, nor how best to get them to sleep, and the endless cycle of cleaning and cooking.  I didn’t begin to come out of the cycle of depression and sleeplessness for two years, after I had my son who had developed, what was according to the maternal child health nurse “reflux”.  I went along to see a naturopath who had raised four children of her own and worked for seven years in the nursery of a Kibbutz.  This angel, taught me more in four sessions, about breastfeeding, and how to recognise when my baby was tired, than I’d managed to glean from numerous books, the maternal child health nurse, the nursing mothers association, many other mothers, (and anybody & everybody else who had an opinion), in over two years!  She taught me that universally, babies have 7 – 8 different indicators that they perform when tired, and that any one child will present three or four of them.  She also taught me that demand feeding did not mean feeding whenever the baby cried or was sucked on their fingers, or if they would feed when presented with the breast.  And that my healthy robust four-month-old boy didn’t have reflux …he was overeating and had become accustomed to the feeling of being overfull.  I was producing infinitely more milk than he required as much of it was being wasted and vomited up after each feed.

When I went to my first consultation with her, I was in state of exhaustion.  I was feeding my baby boy up to 17 times a day (just what I did with my daughter for 9 months), and at my wits end.  The idea that I should feed him a maximum of every 4 to 5 hours only, was at first a shock, and seemed like a ludicrous impossibility.  But I tried it anyway, as what she said made more sense to me anything else.  And gradually through all the stress of stretching out the time in between feeds, came a sense of relief as my son began sleeping contentedly between feeds, the ‘reflux’ stopped altogether.  And as he began going for longer periods of time without needing me, I slowly began to reclaim ME.

I slowly began to reclaim me, not as a mother, but as myself – my interests, my dreams and passions.  I had been studying to gain my Reiki masters before falling pregnant with my first child, and one of the steps I made to reclaim myself was to exchange a healing with a friend who during the healing told me of a vision she had of me dancing… She could see me belly dancing with swirling red and purple skirts, and veils.  Something deep inside stirred at the idea of bellydancing.  I had danced all my life, right up till I developed sciatica during my first pregnancy and, I realised when she shared the vision with me, that bellydance studios had been catching my attention while driving around of late.

I attended my first belly dance class three days later, and was immediately captivated by the sensual, powerful movement in what was in that particular class, sacred women’s space.  I was welcomed with open arms and hearts into the circle.  The music and the drums spoke to memories within me, not of this world.  I couldn’t explain it, and it didn’t need explaining, it just was.  Soulful, primal, and reverential, the music sung to me of other lifetimes and other lands.  I took it all in.  Absorbed it, let it carry me, support me, heal me.  I danced again.  And slowly, steadily, I got myself out of a depression I wasn’t even aware that I was in.  And the journey back to me, back to wholeness; began.

I performed with the class group two weeks after I arrived, it was simple choreography and I had a (very) basic feel of the movements.  A drummer was there who had played for my teacher for the evening, started playing at my feet when I was dancing around to the music, on the dance floor.  I felt awkward and untrained.  He told me I needed to do ‘more’.  I told him I’d been ‘bellydancing’ for two weeks.  He nearly fell over.  He then told me that he wished me well in my journey with bellydance and that he would be honoured to know that he was the first to have drummed at my feet.  And so another level of intrigue was added… what was this dance?  What was it that so captivated me, drew me in, surrounded and infused me?  I went out dancing socially the following week and a complete stranger came up to me on the dance floor, and exuberantly told me how much she had loved seeing me bellydance at her friends wedding last week…  Umm, yeah, it wasn’t me.  But from all angles, the Universe was holding up signs telling me to do it.  They weren’t subtle, difficult to read signs.  These may as well have been in neon flashing lights!  And so I danced this “belly-dance”.

Chasing the goal of ‘being a bellydancer’ was something I did almost accidentally, I didn’t stop to question it or doubt it.  I simply played along, studied hard, and went with the flow.  One thing led to another and I danced my way into teaching and performing.  I travelled to Egypt to study and continued on.  It was play for me.  I had danced all my life, starting with classical ballet when I was four years old, and had continued on from there.  I realised once I started to feel alive again, that the only periods of my life that I hadn’t danced, I’d been depressed, my final two years of high school and postnatally.  I realised that for me to be ‘well’ and happy and whole, I require dance in my life.  Dance is like oxygen for me.

Being a full time mum AND following my dreams required creating balance, cultivating the art of dropping everything I was doing or working on, regardless of how inspired I was at the time.  It also required of me that I continue on despite exhaustion.  The end result though, was that my love and my joy became my work.  To work at something you love, is truly the essence of life. Confucius said; “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”.  Well I don’t entirely agree with him but there is certainly a lot of truth in that statement.  It can be hard work to be employed as a professional bellydancer, as the glamorous “life of the party”, when things in your own life are not so great, when you’re dealing with personal issues that in so many other professions, you would be able to walk into work, and say to your colleagues “hey not feeling the best today, so I’ll just lay low and do my job”, is quite simply not something you can do as a performer.  And that’s just one of the reasons that working as a performer is hard work.  However, loving your work makes all the difference and is the ultimate reward for all the hard work.

I have worked as a professional bellydancer for almost 13 years now, and have questioned whether I wanted to continue many, many times, however there was always something leading me to the next gig, the next show, and the next class, even when I thought I was at the point of stopping altogether.  Recently I’ve also begun working on two new major projects, one of which I’ve been studying, and practicing towards, for the last three years.  In the process I’ve come face to face with most, if not all the things that I the past have stopped me from achieving my dreams – fear, doubts, insecurities, lack of commitment, and really any form of resistance I can come up with.  Despite these blocks I put in my way, I’m choosing to pursue my goals anyway.  This in turn leaves me with no choice but to get past those things that I allow to stop me, and has led me to look back on the journey I travelled to ‘become a bellydancer’, what I did and how.

Analysing the process I realised that the single most defining aspect of my journey in becoming a bellydancer is that I didn’t take any of it very seriously.  To be clear, I worked hard, I trained intensively, and I studied with as many teachers as I could.  I travelled all over Australia to study with teachers visiting from overseas, and to Egypt four times in ten years on my quest to gain as much knowledge and understanding of this dance I was so consumed by, and over the last thirteen years I have literally practiced for thousands of hours.  And yet, there was a playful attitude to the whole adventure.  Through careful observation, I’ve broken down that attitude of play into two aspects.

The first aspect I’ve already mentioned was that I had danced all my life, literally.  I danced when I was happy, sad, tired, angry, elated and indifferent.  I danced through every stage of my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood.  Those of you who have seen me perform will have seen the childlike quality I bring.  I use the expression ‘childlike’ to mean, that when I dance, I access joy, love and pure emotion.  It flows through me and out of me when I dance, and I would not want to stem it even if I could.  When I dance, I come alive, and am truly closer to the divine, more myself in those moments than at any other time.

The second aspect is that despite dancing all my life, I’d never been encouraged to ‘work’ as a dancer or performer.  I had in fact been discouraged and told that I’d never make a successful career as a dancer.  As a result, when I started “working” as a dancer, I never took it too seriously myself, hence it took me a very long time to market myself, advertise, build my website, and compete for work.   For the first eight years ‘working’ as a dancer, I got all my work via word of mouth and referrals.

This second aspect is fundamental to why it’s now and always has been, so difficult for me to pursue my dreams and ventures.  It points to a general underlying lack of self-esteem, self-confidence and ultimately, lack of self-love.  Except for dancing, I didn’t pursue my dreams and goals because I was caught up in all the things I had always been led to believe that I “should do in order to receive love, and be happy”; all of those things which take us further away from ourselves, laid over the top of what I really wanted, clouding what was important to me.

What started as a desire to follow a new creative venture and business idea, has led me to come face to face with my own lack of self-love.  Whilst I didn’t truly love and honour myself, it was easy to be pulled away and redirected from the things I was inspired to do, from the things I loved to do.  But once I started to love and honour myself through the process of becoming a professional bellydancer, I came closer to my true essence and therefore my true gifts, and I started to see with clarity, that I had existed within a space of lack of self-love, for years.

I have realised also that all the things that used to take me away from following my dreams were only effective when I didn’t love myself enough to make myself a priority.  Now that I am able to love and honour myself, and the gifts only I can bring forth, none of those things have the power to stop me.

I believe we each come to this life with a set of gifts that we intend to bring to light.  Whether we do them or not is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, as we always have choice, there is no judgement day, and what truly matters is the journey of self-love.  Only through following the inspirations and intuitions we have that are significant and specific to us, do we find what is in our hearts, and only finding what is in our hearts will be ever truly know ourselves.  Only making ourselves a priority will lead us to know our true self, and only through the process of loving ourselves enough to honour our deepest dreams, hopes, and aspirations can we truly embody self-love.

Serendipitously I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve and asking the question, do I love myself enough to bring the gifts I have into this world?  Have I finally reached a point in my life where I’m free to love myself enough to give myself permission to let my light shine on the world, without dimming it to fit other people’s expectations of who I am, or who I should be?  At this time of the year, we ask ourselves, and each other what our resolutions for the New Year will be.  I only have three main goals I wish to achieve this year and all of them hinge on whether I love myself enough to make my dreams, my health, my creativity, and my message manifest in the world.  Do I love myself enough to withstand other people’s opinions, other people’s criticisms?  Do I care?  My only answer to that right now is that last year I did not love myself enough to do them, last year, I procrastinated, last year I found excuses, last year I put it off, and last year I was too scared of what might be.  I played with the idea of my dreams, but did not truly take them to the playing field.  Now the only question I need to ask of myself is not whether I love myself enough, but what if I love myself more?

What if the only resolution I made this year was to love myself more?

What if the only resolution you made was to love yourself more?