I met Walter through my beloved friend and then publisher Maggie Hamilton. The minute I met him I knew this was a man so gracious and kind that it is impossible not to love him. I can’t imagine anyone feeling differently.
He writes a blog called Walterblog and generously shines a light on many books and writers.
He is an exceptional author in his own right and a vibrant, knowledgeable speaker. His two travel memoirs are Destination Saigon and Destination Cambodia, both published by Allen and Unwin, are idiosyncratic and big-hearted romps through beautiful and complex countries.
I will always treasure being taken to some beautiful Buddhist Temples in Cabramatta where Walter lives with his wonderful partner,Thang Ngo, a prominent Vietnamese-Australian community leader. Walter must know every delicious restaurant in the entire area and my late husband and I loved exploring under the guidance of our friend.
During this time of lock down I thought Walter’s blog would give hours of joyful reading. Please take the opportunity to wander through the world of delicious books and some of our most riveting writers.
Walter interviewed me back in 2012 following the publishing of my book, The Little Book of Everyday Miracles.
Below is that interview.
I first became aware of author Sharon Snir when I was sent a copy of her book Looking for Lionel to review. This book, a memoir of the way her mother’s dementia affected her family’s life, was so tender and insightful that I have since bought several copies to give to people living in the same situation. I finally met Sharon at a publishing event, and I became a huge fan of her third book, The Little Book of Everyday Miracles. I had so many questions to ask Sharon, and I thought it would be wonderful to share her wise and inspiring answers with all of you.
As well as being an author, Sharon is a counsellor, psychotherapist and healer, and you can read more about her and her work at www.sharonsnir.com
Here is what Sharon had to share:
Q1. What is the miracle that has had the greatest impact on your life?
I had moved to Israel after the painful break up of my first marriage. I was living in a windowless storeroom under a block of fancy apartments. I made that 6’x 6’ space my little castle, despite the fact that there was no shower in my room. It was not far from the beach so I would go daily for a swim and then shower and dress in the public change rooms. I remember going swimming once on the holiest day of the week, just before the Sabbath. After coming out of the water and into the change rooms, I realised my watch was gone. I fell into a pitiful heap. I sobbed so loudly that people came to see what the matter was. I spoke no Hebrew and blubbered in English, I’ve lost my watch. Understandably, most people told me that wasn’t so bad, which only caused me to sob more passionately.
I imagined all the dreadful things that would now befall me. Irrationally, I believed I would not know when to eat or sleep. I would not be able to leave my room because I would no longer know the bus timetable. And then the worst thought came to my mind. Being Friday all the shops were about to close, and would not open again until 10 AM on Sunday morning so I couldn’t buy a new one. I know it sounds crazy now, but at the time something cracked open inside me and a tidal wave of fear followed by unstoppable tears overtook me. Clearly, I was having a minor break down.
I had been given the watch as a farewell gift from my mother and although I thought at the time I would never return to Australia, it connected me to home. On walking into my tiny room, I fell onto my bed and hit my forehead on something hard. It was my watch. I began to speak to myself in a loud firm voice. “Pull yourself together girl. This is ridiculous. Get up, get out and get a life!”
I booked an eight day tour around Israel the next day, had a delicious affair with the bus driver, moved into the most beautiful Kibbutz and over the next year a new world opened up for me.
A miracle is in the eye of the beholder. What is a miracle to one person may not be a miracle for another however, for me, losing my watch allowed me to release all my fears and pent up misery.
Q2. You talk about how your publisher missed your first ever appointment. Can you explain more about the significance of waiting?
I worked as a counsellor for six year at the AIDS Council of NSW (ACON) in the early 90’s. There I worked with many incredible people who were waiting to die. After the initial shock of contracting HIV, some people began planning their death, even preparing their own funerals and, incredibly, they were given a new lease on life. As I spoke to my clients, I heard how the significance of waiting gave them renewed passion for life. They described the experience as waking up and seeing life more clearly. They didn’t have time to waste and many were doing things they had always wanted but had never taken the leap to do.
Then came the arrival of antivirals and for some it was a shock to be given back their life. “What do we do now? We have given up our job, given away our possessions and given up on living a long life. How do we just start living again?
Paradoxically, the arrival of antivirals was not always seen as a miracle for people living with HIV but surprisingly I heard over and over again that contracting HIV itself created a miracle in their life. Why? Because it turned lives upside down and inside out, and many went from being unaware to becoming conscious and present. Time after time, I heard stories of the miracles that had happened while waiting to die.
I believe that all is perfect in time and space and therefore nothing is wrong. So when someone doesn’t turn up for an appointment, or when I fall and twist my ankle, or when a diagnosis of some kind is handed over, I know there is a purpose, a lesson and a gift in that experience waiting to be discovered.
In other words, rather than focusing on the appearance of the situation, I prefer to understand the significance. The significance of waiting connects us to Universal time. Most of us live our lives as if time is our Master. We even talk about time as if it was a physical object. “Where has all the time gone? I don’t have time. We have run out of time. Do you have any time today?” Substitute the word ‘sugar’ for the word ‘time’ and you’ll get what I mean. Linear time, or the time we humans make up, ignores the greater cycles of time.
The Universe, generous beyond imagination, gave us night and day, summer, autumn, winter, spring, annual and perennial crops and plants, animals that hibernate and birds that migrate to teach us something about cycles. Timeliness is not only up to us. Things happen because it is time for things to happen. In the words of the beautiful, gracious and very present Byron Katie:
“Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don’t have to like it… it’s just easier if you do.”
Q3. You always write so beautifully about the experience of ageing. Is there any advice you can give to people dealing with the reality of ageing parents?
Accept them as they are right now, in this moment. Try not to yearn for the person they used to be. Over the past 19 years, my mother has had Alzheimer’s disease and I have learned that when I meet her in her world, when I sing with her, smile with her, move my body closer when she leans closer, she melts into the grace of being accepted exactly as she is. She becomes a warm, loving person and joy to be with.
Five years ago, when caring for my mother became too much for my 90 year old father, she went to live in a residential home for people living with dementia. She stopped doing many things she had once done, including going to the hairdressers every day! Her hair began to slowly change to grey and I decided I would go grey with my mother. Today I embrace the elder I am becoming. I have a mop of grey hair and often have to laugh when people ask me where I got my hair streaked. I tell them at a place called ‘Old Age’.
We- the older generation, 55 years and over- have a wealth of experience and wisdom to share. Living a long time turns the aged into living historians.
Although I believe we need to eat well and exercise our bodies in moderation, our addiction to youth diminishes our belief in ourselves that we are of great value and benefit to our communities and to society as a whole. We are living longer now and so we need to make some important choices. Do we embrace our elders as beings of great wisdom who have the power to contribute to every level of society or do we continue to try to look, sound and act younger than we really are?
My father is about to turn 95 and every child in our family relishes the opportunity to sit quietly and talk to him. Knowing how to listen, ask good questions and share diverse thoughts is the precious legacy my father will leave behind when it is his time to move on.
Q4. You talk about your own experiences with other worlds as a child. How do we keep ourselves open to receiving miracles?
There are three qualities that open the door to receiving miracles. Gratitude, Forgiveness and Wonder.
Gratitude connects us to our hearts and turns even the most ordinary and mundane experience into a sacred moment. Even the most profound and life changing miracle will lose its brilliance and fade unless it is accompanied by gratitude. I was an unpopular child. I didn’t like running or skipping or playing hide and seek. I loved to read and was considered weird. Life at home was also often difficult. My mother was both overprotective and at times neglectful. She could be sweet and tender one minute and cruel and dismissive the next. I was severely disciplined, mainly for making up overly creative stories that were seen as lies. So in the face of this I made up games.
I was about seven years old and I told myself that if I laughed three times in one day I could call it a good day. I would lie in my bed every night and look back through my day and try to find three times where I laughed. It created a very strong relationship between me and gratitude. So the practice of looking back through your day just before you fall asleep and recalling the events in your day for which you are grateful creates within you a magnet that calls more and more moments of grace or everyday miracles into your life. The more we focus our thoughts on something, the more we call it into our life. For example if you focus on rude people, you will probably encounter many rude people in your life. If you focus on your ailments, you will almost certainly experience lots of aches and pains. On the other hand, if you focus on compassion, loving kindness and generosity, the likelihood of you experiencing these in your life is also very high.
Forgiveness is another door to opening miracles. When I met Sandy Macgregor and heard his story I knew then that nothing was unforgivable.
Eighteen years ago, Sandy lost his three teenage daughters and their friend when they were shot dead in their Sydney home. Few people would ever get their life back together again after such an event, but Sandy went much further than that and found a way to forgive. In his book Peace of Mind he describes the technique he used to do this. He also makes it clear that forgiveness is not about condoning an action. Forgiveness is only for yourself. What the does perpetrator with your forgiveness is up to them. Whatever they do is not your responsibility. You are primarily responsible for yourself only. The miracle that comes out of forgiveness is freedom.
Wonder clears our lenses and allows us to see and hear and touch and taste for the first time, everyday. Connected to wonder is innocence. That childhood sense of playfulness and purity that heightens everything we do. As we experience wonder, life simply becomes more wonder-full.
Q5. Can you give 5 brief pieces of advice to someone who wants to take the leap and explore their own creativity?
1. Be in your element
To be in your element means doing something that you have an aptitude for. According to Sir Ken Robinson, we all have an aptitude for something. Cooking, cleaning, playing guitar, doing mathematics or writing may be things you love and have an aptitude for. But you don’t have to be good at something to be in your element. All you have to do is enjoy and love it and then naturally you will be in your element.
2. Re-establish a relationship with your imagination
When was the last time you thought it might be a good idea to plan a dress-up party? My daughter just went to a sequin party and I was only sorry I didn’t know the person having it. Do you remember when you were a child, when you were not distracted by technology and would use bits and pieces of nature to create a cubby, or a tea party, or a battle field? Exploring our creativity requires us to regularly turn off the computer, iphone, ipad and go out into nature. Look around you and see the faces in the bark of the trees or the animals in the rocks, or the dragons and angels in the clouds. Exercise your imagination. It is a muscle and like all muscles you have to use it or you might lose it.
3. Practice Spontaneous Stupidity
Spontaneity is letting go of control. Releasing our rigidity and need to create structure, strategies and order in our life. Stupidity is a lack of knowing, allowing ourselves to not know and to explore freely. Many of us are absolutely terrified of looking stupid but that is because we have misunderstood the true meaning of the word. Not knowing something is the only way to learn. I coined the term Spontaneous Stupidity many years ago when I found the only way to cope with five children under seven was to be both at the same time! I love being silly and laughing at the ridiculous. Most of us lose that ability to be silly and are overly concerned with how we appear to others.
In the Middle Ages, the most spontaneously stupid person was the court jester who was also the closest ear to the king. He was able to offer guidance and wisdom by being creatively silly. He would speak in rhyme and riddle but his wisdom lay between his words. In a Danny Kaye movie called ‘The Court Jester’ he speaks these words of warning to the King: “The vessel with the pestle has the pellet with the poison and the chalice in the palace has the brew that is true.”
4. Play Games
Invite some friends over and instead of an elaborate three course meal, host a game. It could be a writing game, a drawing game or murder mystery game. My kids, all adults, now love games and “What would you rather?” is one of their favourites. So what would you rather do, kiss old aunty Daisy on the lips or clean all the toilets at central station with a tooth brush? It gets worse. The laughter becomes louder and louder and the creative ideas more and more disgusting but laughter lights us up. It literally bring us to enlightenment, switching on all our creative senses.
5. Eat, Move and Rest
Confession: I am guilty of not always doing this. I can be sitting at my computer six or even eight hours until I am seconds away from being totally brain dead, without eating or moving all day. We need to eat to keep our minds working. I can literally feel my energy seep away if I leave too long between a snack. Writers’ block is a very common phenomenon and the only way I know to shift the energy is to get up and go for a walk. I clear the brain by breathing deeply and reconnect to the spirit within. And finally, not only do I recommend going to bed at a reasonable hour but taking a few minutes to meditate on retiring and rising allows the mind to stop thinking. After ten or fifteen minutes of breathing and allowing thoughts to rise and dissolve something quite lovely happens and we enter into a place of true communion with our self. This is the source of all creativity. A sacred space where everything and nothing exists in harmony together. A place where we can align our own spirit to the infinite flow of universal creativity.