Challenging ‘mainstream’ perceptions of disability (a low key rant, in full)

This is the full version of a “rant” on 3CR’s radio show ‘Intersections’ this arvo (which wasn’t delivered in full for time constraints).  I want to encourage people to unpack and examine their own assumptions about what it means to be disabled; I have to emphasise here that it’s a process I myself have had to go through. I also straight up read a previously published piece on intersectional marginalisation. I’m sick today, not feeling my best, got caught in the rain, but still enjoyed the experience🙂 Largely because the intersectional feminists on the show are so welcoming and amazing. I’m really glad this space has been created on the airwaves.



Let me just preface this low key rant by stating I am just a regular person who also lives in a disabled body. I have no expertise in disability studies, or disability education… but I do have a load of experience – the experience of being able bodied, and the experience of being physically disabled. I also have a lot of experience going through and recovering from various manifestations of mental trauma and illness… but let’s just stick with the physical for now.

My disability experiences have caused me to radically transform the way I see myself, others, AND the world at large, many times over. I’ve learnt that attitudes, and the way we see – or rather, DON’T see – people, matters a great deal. Attitudes tend to act as a filter of what we perceive to be important. What we perceive to be important influences the agenda. So I want to take a moment to tell you about my experience, and ask you to review the way you see disability and people with disabilities.


So 18 years ago, I became a very, very incomplete quadriplegic. I sustained a spinal cord injury through illness, that affected all of my limbs, although I could still walk.

10 years ago, I became a paraplegic.

3 years after that, I started calling myself disabled.

Why is this? Why, despite having various levels of physical impairment from the age of 14 onward, did it take me so long to make peace with that 3-syllabic word?

In acquiring a disability, I discovered that I was, in fact, a closet ableist. I discovered that I had unconscious attitudes towards disability, and the disabled. I discovered that I was looking at disability through a particular lens that, I dare say, many people look at disability through.

Deep in my subconscious, becoming disabled was the worst case scenario… something I feared even more than death. And trust me, I have faced actual death more than once in my past.

This is because somehow, somewhere along the line, I, like many people, had picked up the notion that to be disabled meant to be on the outside.

It meant to be someone who was to be pitied.

It meant hardship.

It meant to be segregated from the majority of able-bodied people.

It meant to be deficient in some way, and needing extra help from society, who would benevolently bestow it upon you.

And it probably meant that people perceived your needs, your sexuality, or contribution to society as somehow “different”, abnormal, or depleted.

So when, at the age of 22, I became a permanent wheelchair-user myself, I had to face ALL of those unconscious beliefs head on. And I got to see, for the first time, those beliefs influencing how other people responded to me.

The first unconscious belief to be challenged was my perception of what people with disabilities need. After sustaining paraplegia, I spent 6 months in a rehabilitation hospital. Almost all of the other inpatients were men under the age of 25.

Prior to acquiring their disabilities, they had led active lives, and many had gained their disability in the middle of a physically challenging or dangerous activity.

They were interested in all the things that many young men are interested in – enjoying themselves, finding careers, socialising, relationships, sex… actually, mainly sex. A lot of the conversations I had with fellow patients were about concerns about this particular aspect of life.

In an adjacent assisted living facility I also met a few accident victims who had sustained serious intellectual disabilities. My heart broke into pieces one day when, sitting in the hospital courtyard, a young man from that living facility sat down next to me and proceeded to tell me, as best as he could, how desperately he wanted to get out of that place.

And I realised – really and truly understood – that people with disabilities, whether that disability is acquired or congenital, physical or intellectual, have the same basic human needs as able-bodied people. Like anybody else, we want to be loved, be accepted in society, pursue education, a career, call the shots in our own lives and be independent.


After my paraplegia I went through the same difficulties in coming to terms with my new reality as the young men did.

There’s a lot more public discussion around heterosexual male sexuality and disability in the mainstream, but I tend to see less coverage about heterosexual women or queer folk and disability. But believe me, it was on mind: I wondered how my relationships would change and even though I had no interest in having children at that point, I immediately started to fret I wouldn’t be able to have them (which, by the way, is absolutely not true).

In rehab, I luckily had a young lady sexual health counsellor to help me cut through the fears about the future I was grappling with.

Apart from the physical realities of having a disability and dealing with our structural institutional exclusion, one of the strangest things you have to face when you acquire a disability, is the reality that many people will now see you differently, and treat you accordingly.

Whether this is a good or bad thing is debatable. But, inevitably, it can have an impact on how you see yourself and your self-esteem, which will impact on your social self and your ability to pursue opportunities in life. And all of this nonsense comes from OTHER PEOPLE.

Facing the reactions and perceptions of others about my self, my life, and what I was capable of, led me to review some of my own attitudes towards people with disabilities.

I had always considered myself progressive in this regard, BUT, like so many, I realised that I had been operating with the same tendency towards pity for or over-admiration of people with disabilities.


That is not to say that disabled people should not be admired, or given props for negotiating a messed up planet that does not really want US in it.

But that mindset too often leads to the objectification and disempowerment of people with disabilities. You are either seen as a brave and tragic victim or must aspire to some “super-crip” disabled iron woman ideal so you can feature in some “inspirational” meme that shames able bodied people about everything they are not doing with their privilege. 

Becoming disabled myself forced me to move from that mindset, which I now regard as damaging to the wellbeing of disabled people, to a place of RESPECT and empathy.

But… REAL empathy; not empathy based on ignorance and faulty assumptions of the supposed tragedy of disability.

Those unconscious ableist assumptions need to be unpacked and expunged first.

The best way to do that, other than googling the “social model of disability”, is to LISTEN to what a variety of disabled people have to say about their own realities.

It is only then that you may be able to even begin to imagine, let alone understand, what it is like to be disabled in an ableist world.

And an exercise in true empathy will inevitably lead to the thought: “If I were that person, what would I want? Would I want to be pitied or patronized? Would I want to feel pressured into being some kind of super hero disabled figure in order to be noticed or respected? Would I want to be segregated in “special” spaces?”

Or would I just want to live my friggin life the way I see fit, be independent,  access all public spaces like able bodied people do without a worry everyday, have the same educational opportunities, and live a life free of discrimination and marginalization?

I’ll let you think about that.


BELOW is the second piece I wrote then “performed” at ‘Fifty Shades of Blak: Performance Night’, inside Blak Dot Gallery last night. It was an intimate, energising evening of performances from a beautiful, powerful and diverse group of women of colour, and I am really lucky to have been invited to be amongst them. You can read about the Fifty Shades of Blak Exhibition, and the first piece I wrote then performed last night, right HERE.

A brief intro for context: There is an American scholar named Kimberlé Crenshaw who coined the term ‘intersectionality’ to describe the study of how different forms of systemic oppression can intersect and overlap. This is concept that I think about frequently in terms of the world at large, but also in terms of my own lived experience – because I’m not just Black, I’m a Black WOMAN, and a Black DISABLED Woman, so I have and do experience both racism, the specific kinds of misogyny and sexism that Black Women face, and Ableism. This piece is about what it feels like to move through the world in a body that, even though I love it, and the people who love me love it, comes up against multiple kinds of marginalisation on a fairly regular basis.



(© 2016 Pauline Vetuna, All Rights Reserved.)

Living in a body that is marginalized for three different reasons feels like this: like constantly watching the traffic lights rapidly change from joyful green to halting red, and feeling the joy wane inside you every time.

GREEN light:

Black friend sends out an invite. “We’re having a party, at this place, all welcome!”

AMBER light:

Black friend says, “oh, I  forgot to ask if there’s access… I think there’s only one step…”

RED light:

Black friend says, “sorry it’s not accessible! The venue is already booked and paid for. But we’ll make sure you can be included in the next event.”

The next event is not accessible either.

This scenario repeats itself five hundred times.

I convince myself I have better things to do than be included in society.

I drive on.


White feminist friend sends out an invite. “We’re having a discussion, at this place, all welcome!”

AMBER light:

White feminist friend says, “no, none of the panelists are women of colour, but we’re talking about universal topics like breaking the glass ceiling, leaning in, and women on boards.”

RED light:

White feminist friend says, “yeah I hear what you’re saying but we want to stick to topics that affect all women; you can stage another forum that discusses issues affecting Black women and Disabled women another time.”

All women means white and able bodied women, too often. It does not mean me. It probably doesn’t mean queer or gender non conforming people either.

This scenario repeats itself five hundred times.

I stay home and read Angela Davis books.


Black male friend says, “I’m pro Black… I love my Black mother and my Black sister and Black women in general.”

AMBER light:

Black male friend says, “I just think you can be pro-Black and still have a preference for lighter skinned women”.

RED light:

Black male friend says, “I’m just saying that darker women can be a little masculine sometimes, and that isn’t attractive.”

Beware of the white supremacist who lives within Black skin.

This scenario repeats itself five hundred times.

I have to remind myself each time, “yes but not ALL Black men…”


White male colleague says, “just so you know I am a huge champion of women of colour.”

AMBER light:

White male colleague says, “I’m just saying that being against someone’s culture and someone’s skin colour are two different things.”

RED light:

White male colleague says, “I think our military should airlift every woman out of that third world hellhole so that those men can’t reproduce.”

This sentiment is echoed by western supremacists five thousand times across the media landscape.

I remind myself of who I am, of my cultural roots, of the beautiful Black men who loved me into existence, and draw strength from them. I send love to all the innocent Black and Brown men in the world who are deemed guilty before the trial they will never have.

Then, I drive on.


Former white male boyfriend says, “racism is stupid. You and I are basically the same person. And you’re the best friend I’ve ever had.”

AMBER light:

Former white male boyfriend says, tears in his eyes, after the illness that would lead to me becoming disabled, “I love you so much, but… I don’t think I can handle this, handle your condition.”

RED light:

Every institutional structure says: “Whites rule. Lights rule. Males rule. Able Bodies ONLY.”

I build up an armour, train myself to spot and avoid the supremacists around me and work hard every day not to internalize any of it, whilst staving off the aloneness that marginalization often forces upon you.

This scenario repeats itself five hundred times.

I drive on anyway.

‘Blak On Both Sides’

BELOW is the first piece I wrote then “performed” at ‘Fifty Shades of Blak: Performance Night’, inside Blak Dot Gallery last night. It was an intimate, energising evening of performances from a beautiful, powerful and diverse group of women of colour, and I am really lucky to have been invited to be amongst them.

‘Fifty Shades of Blak’ was an art exhibition held as part of Melbourne Fringe Festival this year – and it just took out the Best Visual Art Show Award!!! Curated by force of nature and Blak Dot visionary Kimba Thompson, ‘Fifty Shades of Blak’ highlighted the voices of fifty visual and performing female artists, each addressing issues of stereotyping, colour coding, racism, identity and societal perceptions of First Nations women and women of colour. It was the first exhibition in the gallery’s fantastic new location at 33 Saxon Street, Brunswick. Support Blak Dot!!! Pay them a visit in person and follow them on Facebook here.

Congratulations to the ‘Fifty Shades’ visual artists: Atong Atem | Cora-Allan Wickliffe | Dulcie Stewart | Frances Tapueluelu | Georgia MacGuire | Gina Ropiha | Ira Fernandez | Jasmine Togo-Brisby | Julie O’Toole | Katie West | Katherine Gailer | Kirsten Lyttle | Lily Laita | Lisa Hilli | Maree Clarke | Megan Van Den Berg | Paola Balla | Sarah Hudson | Shona Tawhiao | Tania Remana | Texta Queen | Treahna Hamm | Vicki Couzens | Ying Huang.

(Side note: In 2012, another Blak Dot Gallery show I co-curated with Leuli Eshraghi took out the Melbourne Fringe Festival Best Visual Art Show Award that year; I feel lucky to have even a peripheral association with the second winning show haha!)



(© 2016 Pauline Vetuna, All Rights Reserved.)


Many years ago, I made a little film called ‘Coconut’.

The uncomfortable coconut in question, was myself. It was something I was called as a young person many times. But the larger question I sought to explore through the film, was this:

“If there is such a thing as being Black on the outside and white on the inside, what does it mean to be Black on the inside?”

This is the question that plagued my entire adolescence and young adulthood; when I was tortuously straightening out my beautiful big natural afro, that both my Tolai father and my Tolai mother blessed me with, and wishing I didn’t have all the thoroughly Melanesian features I am proud to have today.

It is the question that rang in my ears as I would deliberately stay out of the sun, because the ever present hum of non-Black racists, and Black colorists, all around me, let me know pretty unambiguously that my Blackness was too Black. That my Blackness needed to be watered down with whiteness both in colour of skin and in content of character.

It is the question that lingered in the background when I was being affirmed by friendly, kindly white racist “friends” for not being like the only other Black girl in the schoolyard (who by the way was my best friend) for being more Martin Luther King to her Malcolm X, for quietly integrating and assimilating before I even knew what that was or that assimilating meant erasing… starving… myself.

It is the question that pained me, deep inside, when white people would say “you’re a different kind of Black girl”, and mean ‘coconut’, and think it was a compliment. When Black people would say “you’re a different kind of Black girl”, and mean ‘coconut’, and know it was an insult.

It is the question that represented the void within me that used to exist. The void left by the absence of a home, language and culture that can haunt Black immigrant kids growing up disconnected from a motherland long left, with indigenous immigrant parents also feeling the pain of that disconnection, and living in a colonial illegal settlement that will only accept you if you reject an identity you are strongly yet subtly encouraged at every turn to never fully develop… to instead stay cocooned and never become the butterfly.

I used to think that not developing those wings of identity would serve me well, somehow; at least allow me to live and pursue my watered down dreams in this white colony to some degree, accepting a second class reality of never feeling at home in my surroundings let alone my own skin and features. A wingless existence. In some kind of spiritual way I felt like turning myself into colourless WATER would allow me to flow into any space and become anything I needed to be to survive in that time and place.

That is true, to some degree. And I know now that this was lesson PART A in the wisdom syllabus that my Tolai Melanesian Black ancestors passed to me as I grew, through a vital and alive INTUITIVE GIFT that only in the last few years I have realised is my genetic family legacy… the gift of being indigenous, the inherited gift of my Black genetic lines on both sides. Guidance from my ancestors.

In the midst of a “rational “white supremacist culture it took me years of honing that intuition to even trust it, let alone to recognise its true origin being my indigenous cultural roots.

But now, I know. And that is my birthright identity. I claim it now, every single day.

Some years ago, a friend sent me a short story she found about the necessity of struggle as a precursor to wholeness. Sadly I don’t know who wrote it, but there is this passage in it that talks about how a restricting cocoon and the struggle that the emerging butterfly has to go through to break free of it, are the Life Force’s way of forcing fluid, WATER, from its body and into it’s wings, so that the butterfly can be as strong as it can be… and be able to fly.

In other words, the WATER came before the flight. So, today I like to think of my coconutty struggle through the confusing wasteland of whiteness and pervasive colorism that I went through, as having empowered me to be as strong as I am today. That struggle, ironically, gave me wings.

Because my ancestors whispers to me were right. Water is LIFE. Water is powerful, and forceful, it animates us and fills us and although colourless it reflects every colour we can see. It is a shape shifter, an adapter. It is an important element to understand, and master, and in some cases become… in order to survive. But once it is mastered and contained it must be directed back to the roots, to our cultural roots, to feed and nourish them,WATER them, so the life of our people can continue. In the person, the water must be forced into the wings, so that they, the butterfly, can fly.


I live so far from the land where my ancestors bodies returned to the soil yet I see with such clarity now that they have reached through time and space every day my whole life to give me guidance, even when I didn’t yet know their names. This is the gift that I say with embarrassment now that I almost forfeited to be accepted into a world that lacks the wisdom that my ancestors – my people – embodied. The gift of being Black on both sides.

Why would I ever want to be anything else?

Mic drop on ‘all lives matter’.



I AM the witch that wouldn’t burn :-)

Appreciating resilient Black womanhood, with 3 poems.


First. In the clip below, poets Crystal Valentine & Aaliyah Jihad name and shame the misogynist/racist toxins I bled out of my system long ago to be free, whole, and at ease in this temple I live in. 

After the bloodletting, my inner voice spoke thusly:

“Unconditionally love your body, Black Woman – your proud existence is defiance. And be grateful for the men that won’t come your way.”

Echoes of those words are in this poem.

Second. A celebration of the creative, destructive, regenerative, fiercely protective POWER of the Goddess and all the female bodies she animates… disguised as a defiant clap back to period shaming. Mother/poet Dominique Christina is astonishing and her swearing is divine:

Third. This poem of body acceptance as a skinny Black Woman, by Alyesha Wise, illustrates how avoiding body criticism as an everyday Black Woman is damned near impossible … any self love defiantly flourishes in the depths of some serious shit: “I am not here for the non-believers; I am not here for those who cringe when they see me seeing all of my self. This bodily prayer is strictly between my sight and the sun; and all the good folk who enter the presence of this church with no other words on their tongue but ‘AMEN’.”


Mutual liberation.

Yes, I know, it has been a long while. This year has been intense and challenging and full of unexpected curveballs… but glorious. I will have a fresh post up in a few days. Just thought I’d leave this here in the meantime.

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Connecting with our roots, by going within.

“My passage through pain gave birth to the pathway that I am able to share with you today. I became intrigued by the quality and outcome of the recovery process. I became in awe of the capacity of human potential, resiliency, and the momentum of healing. My journey has taken me from the depths of pain and sadness to the uncovering of a life that is vibrant and fulfilled.”

– Keira Wetherup Brown, Gossamer Path

Hello🙂 I’m coming out of a few weeks of dealing with intense life stuff, hence my 27 day absence from here… but rest assured that I will have two new essays up for you this week. Today I just want to share this image I randomly spotted on social media yesterday. It resonated so profoundly that I googled ‘Gossamer Path’ and found the words quoted above. The first 3 sentences resonate… I trust that the 4th will too, eventually:

Version 3

And here is a post I published two years ago that the image reminded me of: “Intergenerational healing? Papu, Mum, Me… Freedom.”

Watch: munchies, chilli balls & an airbnb.

A quick post about something funny, moving, and entertaining.

After many recommendations, I finally watched the web series ‘High Maintenance’; it really is a thing of beauty.

Below are three of my favourite episodes so far, in the order you should watch them in (the first two episodes are related).

First up, ‘BRAD PITTS’:

This second one kind of struck a nerve – and features the hungry lady from the video above. Dating after recovering from serious illness, in my experience, can be a little weird – you just hope for someone who isn’t completely freaked out by the realness of your life, and there are many people who don’t want to deal with that. But exposing that reality to someone on the second date isn’t as challenging as having chilli on your… sensitive areas. ‘RUTH’:

And I enjoyed this one about a couple doing the Airbnb hosting thing, putting up with grating house guests (including a couple of Australians) to pay the rent (incidentally the recent episode of ‘Broad City‘ in which they rent out their apartments to international visitors for one night to make money made me laugh so hard). This scenario is really my personal nightmare – I hate people all up in my stuff and personal space. But maintenance guy really helps a brother put his foot down in ‘TRIXIE’:


New post soon, as mentioned.

Media marginalisation of “the Other” in Australia.

‘The fact that they co-host the same show yet only one has been the subject of pointed attacks in the media makes it hard to argue that the problem, from the perspective of long-term TV insiders, isn’t one of race.’

– from ‘Why you should care about the casual racism on television; comparing the reaction to Waleed Aly’s Gold Logie nomination to the reaction to colleague Carrie Bickmore’s.


Back in 2010, I wrote this post titled ‘People like us: media representation and social cohesion’. In short, the post is about the importance of seeing the full diversity of a country’s population reflected in the cultural media landscape; how good storytelling and media representation can foster understanding and respect for fellow citizens, and a sense of belonging and inclusion for otherwise marginalised people.

In that post, I quoted something Waleed Aly (whom I have been critical of on various occasions) said in his interview with Andrew Denton on program Enough Rope – about the importance of positive Muslim “role models” and icons in the media and public life, at a time when mistrust and marginalisation of Muslim people had taken root in Australia:

“I think we like to see reflections of ourselves in the public space and Muslims have been really short on role models in the public space in Australia or even in the western world. We’ve had some very successful Muslims. John Ilhan, the late John Ilhan’s a very good example of that. But at the same time his real name was Mustafa and he had to become John to become a success.”

“And when you see him [Bashar Haoli, first top grade Muslim AFL player], out there, and you see him do that, you suddenly for a moment have this belief, this realisation that I could do that, if I had the talent. But the thing that’s stopping me is that I’m no good, not that I happen to be a Muslim or that I come from a Middle Eastern background, and that’s incredibly powerful. It’s so powerful, I don’t think people who don’t have that problem who have never encountered not being represented in the public space in some way understand how debilitating that can be.” [emphasis mine]

Fast foward to April 2016, and public intellectual+professional print/radio/television broadcaster of many years Waleed Aly – along with broadcasting veteran and avant garde icon Lee Lin Chin – have become the FIRST EVER non-white Gold Logie nominees (in a list that includes 6 people). The Logie nominations are awarded based on a popular vote by citizens who care enough to cast votes in this popularity contest.

The response from media gate keepers and segments of the (white) media establishment to the announcement that these two public figures were on the list was… incredibly telling. Karl Stefanovic,  2011 Gold Logie winner who has attempted with some success to put himself forth as an enlightened person in regards to Indigenous relations and gender equality, couldn’t help but betray a sizeable blind spot he has in this pathetic Today show exchange with two other well-paid white public figures:

Ben: “Where is Lisa Wilkinson’s Gold Logie?”
Karl: “Lisa’s too white.”
Ben: “Is that it?”
Karl: “That’s it.”
Lisa: (laughing) “I got a spray tan and everything, still didn’t make it. What can you do?”
Karl: “Logies controversy. Boom.”

In the segment later defended by the host network as not about race, Stefanovic also joked that despite being white “on the outside”, he was “dark on the inside”; then was hailed by co-host Ben Fordham as a trailblazer. Meanwhile, the usual suspects in the media establishment reacted to the announcement of the two highly accomplished non-white broadcasters being nominees as if a political leader had tried to steal an election.

New Matilda published this rebuttal pointing out the rank hypocrisy, inconsistency, racism and Islamophobia that characterised the bizarrely heated (but not surprising) reactions to Aly and Lin Chin being nominated. I just want you to ponder, for one minute, what it might be like to live as a brown-skinned person in a country in which one of the only public figures who looks like you, and that you may identify with – an accomplished, law-abiding centrist intellectual – is attacked based only on his status as a non-white man.

Regardless of what other privileges of citizenship you have, do you think it does an individual’s or community’s psychological state any favours to live in a context in which any success that non-white (or non-majority) people enjoy is denigrated, mocked and blamed on the ego-preserving concept of “reverse discrimination”? Or blamed on affirmative action – an often necessary policy approach to redress well-established pro-white hiring and selection bias? Even when the non-white people in question were actually selected based on popular public vote?

Think about how the reaction to these two media figures might mirror the marginalisation of unapologetically non-majority people in Australian society at large. And I use the term unapologetically in a positive sense. Both Aly and Lin Chin have been on our screens for ages. Lin Chin has endured much abuse for her ethnicity, voice, looks and style over her career; yet continues to kick ass as an avant garde icon. Aly has endured a lot of racist abuse, but continues to speak out against racism and a range of social abuses.

Perhaps the “issue” unconscious racists are having is not that mild-mannered Aly and non-political Lin Chin are not white – I can imagine the same people and news organisation wholeheartedly embracing and supporting a non-white person who attacks others who speak out about racism, cultivates a conventional style and uncritically supports the status quo and nationalism (they gave one such person her own column and regularly consult her for these kinds of opinions).

Maybe the real root to the aversion to Lin Chin and Aly is that they have not shed the things that make them ‘the Other’ in many people’s minds – whilst simultaneously owning their identity as Australians. As it should be.


Interesting fact: the proportion of Australians born overseas has hit a 120-year high (March 2016 ABS statistics) and Screen Australia recently announced a research project to ascertain just how diverse cast and storyline diversity has been in Australian television drama over the last five years. I’ll write about this in an upcoming post.

And I’m sorry this post was late – it’s been a crazy, but intensely creative, week.

Unlearning indoctrination: a conversation with Mandela’s white Afrikaaner secretary.

“What might it take for you to change your mind? Nothing simple, like what you’re going to have for lunch, but your whole ideology? Maybe even the belief system you’ve carried with you from childhood?”

– RN Life Matters, 16 February 2016.


Yesterday I listened to RN Life Matters’ interview with Zelda la Grange, author of the book Good Morning Mr Mandela: A Memoir. For 16 years, Zelda faithfully worked for Nelson Mandela – first as a typist in the new Mandela-led government in 1994, then as his private secretary for many years after. Her story is remarkable for many reasons, but one in particular: Zelda, born a white Afrikaaner in apartheid South Africa, was a racist by the age of 13.

In fact, when the referendum was held in 1992 to end apartheid, 21 year old Zelda voted ‘No’. The reason why, she explained on Life Matters, was white privilege:

“I voted no, because this serves my being, I am comfortable living apartheid, I am privileged, so I didn’t want this to end… I am on the receiving end of apartheid, the positive side, so I didn’t want it to end and I voted no in the referendum.”

Zelda was raised in a very conservative (read: racist) household that believed, as most white South Afrikaaners did, in the rightness of apartheid: white supremacy, racial hierarchy, the physical and political separation/control of ethnic groups. She describes how the ideology supporting the regime was reinforced through propaganda via the media, the education system, and white churches. Zelda says:

“We never questioned it, because we were on the receiving end of privilege.”

The system of apartheid involved the complete dehumanisation and brutal treatment of indigenous South Africans. Zelda mentions in her interview just two of the many manifestations of this dehumanisation: the births and deaths of Black Africans were not even officially registered; and the movements of Black Africans were restricted and brutally policed.*

She notes, though, that a weird sort of cognitive dissonance was in play, as so many white children were brought up by loving Black domestic workers; Zelda herself adored her Black caregiver. But, she says, these Black people were acceptable because they were serving white people; those beyond a white household’s Black servants were not acceptable or worthy of fond human regard.

In February 1990, after 27 years of incarceration for being a liberation activist and “terrorist” against apartheid, it was announced that Nelson Mandela would be freed from jail. Zelda recalls being in the family swimming pool when she found out; her father, who regarded Mandela as an evil Communist, came outside and said to her:

“Now we are in trouble… the terrorist [Nelson Mandela] has been released.”

Not knowing who he was, Zelda was unperturbed by the news and continued relaxing in the swimming pool. Her father, fully aware of both the karmic debt accrued by centuries of brutal oppression by whites of Black Africans, and Mandela’s status as a resistance leader, feared the retaliation – and the possibility of Mandela leading it.

Zelda explained the white fear:

“Retaliation, because of centuries of oppression and discrimination, and I think understanding it now that we really feared that if Black people had the opportunity, they would retaliate.”

In 1994, despite having voted against the ending of apartheid in the 1992 referendum, Zelda took a job working as a typist for Nelson Mandela’s secretary, in the newly elected Mandela government. Psychologically it was a tense time for the white oppressors, even as it was a time of hope and liberation for all who worked to end apartheid (and of course, all who were oppressed by it).

At some point during her two years as a typist, Zelda nearly bumped into President Mandela and his security detail in a corridor. The chance meeting was an unexpectedly emotional, life-changing experience for her. Not only did Mandela stop and extend his hand to greet Zelda first, but he spoke to her in Afrikaans – her language. The language of those who had violently oppressed his people for centuries and incarcerated him for nearly three decades.

This excerpt from Zelda’s book describes the meeting:

“One doesn’t really know what to do at that point except cry, which I did. It was all too much. I was sobbing. He then spoke to me, but I didn’t understand him and was completely in shock. I had to say, ‘excuse me Mr President’, for him to repeat what he had just said to me, and after gathering my thoughts, I realised he was addressing me in Afrikaans – my home language. The language of the oppressor.”

The significance of Mandela addressing her in this language was profound; Mandela had said that when you speak to a man in his language, you speak to his heart. It was a great gesture of respect, afforded to a young privileged Afrikaaner woman who had voted to keep apartheid, yet went on to be on the payroll of the new Mandela-led government.

Zelda’s tears were tears of guilt. The realisation hit her instantaneously; the warmth and gentle kindness Mandela radiated deepened the sense of guilt she felt. Zelda could not fathom why he stopped to meet her, a low ranking staffer – and an Afrikaaner one at that. Seeing her emotional distress, Mandela put his hand on her shoulder and attempted to calm her down.

Thus began the unlearning of Zelda’s lifelong indoctrination. 

It is remarkable that the charisma and calming moral leadership of one person was able to trigger in many the undoing of what remains a huge problem for humanity – learned and deliberately taught supremacist thinking. Zelda’s transformation mirrored that which other whites were going through at the time; she recalls witnessing others having the same reaction to Mandela, the same experience of guilt realisation.

Because as Zelda’s father’s reaction to Mandela’s release had demonstrated, the white fear was retaliation – coupled with the desire to maintain privileges, it basically ensured racial hostility against the oppressed population for all eternity. But Mandela subverted their expectations. Zelda told Life Matters:

“It would have been justifiable for him to have resentment, and yet he did exactly the opposite.”

Mandela’s choice of forgiveness, negotiation, and conscious peace made her and many other whites feel grateful, disabled their fear-based defense mechanisms, and enabled them to finally see the horror of what they had inflicted upon Blacks and people of colour.

Some time later, Zelda had the opportunity to see President Mandela speak at an official lunch; in attendance were representatives of the ‘rainbow coalition’ of the new South Africa. Mandela calmly (and almost fondly) shared experiences of his incarceration. Here, Zelda realised the gravity of what had been taken from him – that he had been imprisoned longer than she had been alive, for fighting against injustice.

In the interview, Zelda again describes the “awful” shame that overcame her; but it was mixed with the realisation that Mandela was not interested in white shame, but reconciliation and progress. It has to be said, though, that Zelda’s shame – really the dissolution of the ego that blinds those who benefit from systemic oppression to the evil of it – was (and is) essential to both reconciliation and progress.

On a personal level, guilt and the emotion of shame – which accompanies true empathy with the oppressed – is necessary in order for the unlearning of indoctrination to occur. 

This enables reconciliation on a societal level, too: genuine recognition of wrongdoing against an oppressed population by those who benefited from that oppression occurs when enough individuals in the oppressor group have become aware of and subdued what I call “the collective oppressor ego” (its hallmarks: defensiveness, sense of entitlement, centering of the oppressor’s worldview/history, and resentment of the oppressed group).

On the other “side”, an oppressed group’s refusal to retaliate after being empowered, and a willingness to transform the pain of oppression through forgiveness of former oppressors, is also necessary for reconciliation to occur – and facilitates the unravelling of indoctrination. Mandela understood this – though some liberation activists criticised him for giving up too much in negotiations with the apartheid government, he knew his approach was necessary in order to placate an indoctrinated, fearful and violent white minority… a privileged population who perceived equalilty as a loss.


*The current wikipedia entry for Apartheid is actually a good introduction – read it here.

You can listen to Zelda la Grange’s full Life Matters interview here.

Liberal feminism’s blind spot: material & structural oppression

“How would training women to ask for higher pay help her, as someone who earns a set award wage and has very little power to negotiate anything? How would professional mentoring empower her? How would her life be improved by quotas for women on boards?”

– Eleanor Robertson in her Meanjin essay ‘Get mad and get even’, talking about her sister, a part-time childcare worker.


The week before last I read Eleanor Robertson’s critique of hyper-individualistic liberal feminism – and pop feminism – in the current edition Meanjin Quarterly. It is a thoughtful essay; you can read it HERE. Robertson challenges the popular discourse around empowering women in the workplace and society at large; “solutions” that focus on individual actions (of a particular class of women) that, she argues, only benefit the individuals themselves. Robertson asks: “Shouldn’t our demands be for universal changes to the structure of society that will help all women?”

For example, Robertson argues that Sheryl Sandberg’s self-help philosophy, ‘Lean In’, is the manifestation of liberal feminism’s Enlightenment values of individual choice, meritocracy, and “acceptance of the basic structures of capitalist social organisation.” She points out that Sandberg’s idea – and by extension, liberal feminism – completely fails to acknowledge or address an array of structural barriers that prevent many women from realising the liberal feminist dream. [This is a point I emphasised in section 3 of my post ‘Diversity Feminism’].

Robertson writes:

“This mythology is only available to women who share most of Sandberg’s own social positions: middle- or upper-class, white, educated, heterosexual, able, employed. It doesn’t really attempt to engage in analysis of material or structural factors that circumscribe women’s freedom. Few modern liberal feminists are pro-Sandberg, but her views are the logical distillation of liberalism applied to women. The concepts it excludes from its analysis—solidarity, collective action, bottom-up democracy—are the ones most essential to the project of emancipating women as a class.[emphasis mine]

A valid and sharply made point. Robertson’s critique of the pursuit of entertainment diversity, however, is less so. Whilst I do agree that equating diversity in marketing and entertainment products with broadscale empowerment is misguided and naive, the cultural products that surround us do shape (not merely mirror or distract) our consciousness; only someone who is accustomed to being in the historically oppressive ethnic majority (and educated, heterosexual, able bodied, employed, cisgender – as the author appears to be), or simply detached from society, would dimiss the idea that diversity in culture (including visual culture and storytelling) has value at all.

That being said, Robertson highlights the inefficacy of the so-called “offense model of feminism” in regards to protecting women’s human and civil rights, which in places like The United States are under persistant and increasing attack from reactionaries. Moreover, all this focus on individual action and choice, she argues, is funnelling time and resources away from “sites of real struggle” – and preventing us from seeing the need for collective action organised around a vision for a world that is fairer and healthier than the one we currently have.

A world where “being poor, being black, and being a woman didn’t mean being ground into the dirt by arbitrary power”.

You can have a read of the essay in full HERE. Though I am not 100% on board with all of Robertson’s assertions, there is a load of food for thought in this piece.


Another recent essay that captured my attention (and a great many others) was Richard Cooke’s piece for the Monthly, ‘The Boomer Supremacy’; about the demographic hoarding political power, securing their own economic advantage, imposing their cultural dominance, and crapping on younger generations at every opportunity.

Highly recommend reading it HERE

Sanders, Trump, and the problem with populist ‘anti-elitism’.

Sorry for the delay in posting – have had technical issues since Thursday. This entry continues a theme from my previous post. Anyone interested in the relationship between consciousness, democracy and freedom would be wise to tune into discussions currently being had around threats to both democracy and freedom, posed by the collective consciousness of deviant and/or harmful political movements.


Last week, Wendy Rahn and Eric Oliver published this article titled ‘Trump’s voters aren’t authoritarians, new research says. So what are they?’ on the Washington Post’s political science research blog.

Rahn and Oliver assert that there is “no evidence” that Trump supporters are any more “authoritarian” (at least by common measures) than Ted Cruz or even Marco Rubio supporters; rather, Trump supporters are distinctly populist. They include these useful definitions of authoritarianism and populism:

Authoritarianism, as understood by political psychologists, refers to a set of personality traits that seek order, clarity and stability. Authoritarians have little tolerance for deviance. They’re highly obedient to strong leaders. They scapegoat outsiders and demand conformity to traditional norms.

Populism, on the other hand, is a type of political rhetoric that casts a virtuous “people” against nefarious elites and strident outsiders. Scholars measure populism in a variety of ways, but we focus on three central elements:

  • Belief that a few elites have absconded with the rightful sovereignty of the people;
  • Deep mistrust of any group that claims expertise;
  • Strong nationalist identity

The authors acknowledge, though, that “authoritarians and populists can overlap and share dark tendencies toward nativism, racism and conspiracism”; and that populists tend to “see themselves in opposition to elites of all kinds”. This contrasts with  authoritarians, who “see themselves as aligned with those in charge.”

I appreciate the distinction, but I think populists easily morph into authoritarians when their populist candidate of choice wins power – or in support of their populist candidates of choice, when said candidate is trying to attain power. Over at, this piece highlights how the authoritarian impulse is expressing itself quite clearly at Trump rallies – both by the crowds, by security, by Trump himself, and by police.

(Side note: a number of observers have described Trump’s supporters as ‘Authoritarian Populists’ and ‘American Authoritarians’ – see end of this post for links).

But back to Rahn and Oliver’s post. 1044 adult U.S citizens were polled for it; Rahn and Oliver explain how they collated the data informing their assertion here. I was particularly interested in the chart below. It shows how supporters of the candidates compared on four key psychological traits: Authoritarianism; Anti-Elitism; Mistrust of Experts; and American identity.

Note that the supporters of Democrat Hilary Clinton and Republican John Kasich have varying degrees of the same traits: anti-authoritarianism; elitism; reasonable trust of experts; and a sense of American identity.  Furthermore, the differences – and common ground – between Sanders and Trump supporters are significant:

Psych traits of supporters of candidates 2016

As a Bernie fan (I am not a U.S resident, but became familiar with his politics in 2007) I was unsurprised by the psychological traits of his supporters as revealed here. But Sanders supporters and Trump supporters share one important psychological trait, one that supporters of the other candidates do not have: a significant degree of anti-elitism. This is how Rahn and Oliver define it:

Anti-elitism. What separates populists from authoritarians is their alienation from political elites. We measure this with statements like “It doesn’t really matter who you vote for because the rich control both political parties,” “Politics usually boils down to a struggle between the people and the powerful” and “The system is stacked against people like me.”


A small percentage of Sanders supporters will be doing something utterly reckless if Sanders does not pick up the nomination: they will vote for Trump. Data journalist Mona Chilabi and journalist Ed Pilkington – from The Guardian – this week published the results of a call-out to Sanders fans, asking whether they will switch allegiance to Trump if Hilary Clinton secures the Democratic Party’s nomination.

[Side note: This kind of switching, it should be noted, is not without precedent – for example, I vividly recall a subset of Hilary fans – including PUMA and racist Democrats in rural areas – who swore they would vote Republican after Barack Obama won the nomination in 2008.]

Chilabi and Pilkington’s surveys uncovered 500 pro-Trump Sanders supporters (out of 700 who responded). The reasons for their planned vote switch varied; as the Guardian article says, the 500 offered “a variety of passionately held views on their shared commitment for protecting workers and against new wars, on their zeal for an alternative to the establishment, and on their desire to support anyone but Hillary Clinton.” [emphasis mine]

I bolded the text “zeal for an alternative to the establishment,” as it correlates with the data published by the Washington Post above – data that confirms Sanders and Trump attract voters who are staunchly anti-elitist.  So it makes sense that anti-elitist Sanders supporters would elect Trump as their “fuck the establishment” second choice. Chilabi and Pilkington report that controlled surveys by polling companies have also identified this “small but not insignificant” percentage of the Sanders crowd.

This quote from one male Sanders supporter was striking to me: “Trump is an obnoxious vulgar blowhard who says foolish things. However, unlike Clinton – but like Sanders – at least he is an outsider who understands that the government and the economy are broken.” The article also highlights the shared motivations of Sanders and Trump fans: a belief that their favourite candidates understand their concerns; opposition to free trade; and negative feelings towards Hilary Clinton.

In terms of ethnicity, both Trump and Sanders supporters are overwhelmingly white and lower income; non-white voters from either party are more likely to vote for one of the rival candidates than Trump or Sanders. Those who responded to The Guardian’s callout were also from lower income groups. The main demographic differences between Trump and Sanders fans seem to relate to age (Trump’s tend to be older, Sanders’ younger); and location (Trump’s more likely to be rural, Sanders’ urban).

So what does this all mean? It means that there is a percentage of the population who are understandably frustrated with the political class and the status quo – so much so that they will vote for ANY candidate who is seemingly not a part of it. Unfortunately, as is always the case, these anti-elitists are useful to extremists on both the far left and, more pertinent to this U.S. election cycle, the far right.



Whilst I appreciate Wendy Rahn and Eric Oliver’s distinction between Authoritarianism and Populism above, a number of political scientists and political reporters have been describing Trump’s most troubling supporters as ‘Authoritarian Populists’ or ‘American  Authoritarians’. Here are a couple of articles discussing this:

Donald Trump 2016: The One Weird Trait That Predicts Whether You’re a Trump Supporter

American authoritarianism: the political science theory that explains Trump rally violence

This is an excellent article in Democracy Journal that links Trump supporters to what Seymour Martin Lipset called “working class authoritarianism” (definitions discussed):

Who Are Trump’s Supporters?

This article in Pacific Standard is a primer on the authoritarian personality and what it responds to:

Donald Trump’s Appeal to the Authoritarian Personality

This article discusses the current rise of authoritarian populism across the western world:

It’s not just Trump. Authoritarian populism is rising across the West. Here’s why

Conservatives who view authoritarianism positively and resent it being linked to Trump (whom they hate) or who believe left-wing authoritarianism to be equally toxic, may appreciate this piece in The American Conservative:

Are Trump Supporters Authoritarians?

And this was Nick Gillespie’s ( write up on Rahn and Oliver’s article – it is flawed, but an interesting take:

Donald Trump Supporters Are Less Authoritarian Than Ted Cruz Voters

How Donald Trump reflects his voters.

A transcendental meditation teacher once told me that in her belief system, the leaders that emerge and are chosen to lead a particular collective of people, are the direct product of the collective consciousness of that group of people. So what are we to make of Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination? And what does it say about the consciousness of the people who gravitate towards him?

I must admit that I am not in the least bit surprised by his popularity in the race for that party’s nomination. Any level-headed observer of the tone and “quality” of politics on the U.S right – both in the lead up to the 2008 election of moderate President Barack Obama and after that historically significant win – will remember, that when Obama moved into The White House, the right wing moved into the nut house (to paraphrase one comedian).

We remember John McCain, the 2008 nominee (who sold out so many of his own long-held principles to maintain the support of hardliners within his party) trying to calm down the enraged crowds who attended his rallies, whilst simultaneously trying to harness their energy and stoke the fires of opposition to the prospect of the “foreign” named man becoming President. One incident, described in this Politico article, is stuck in my memory: when a middle-aged white woman was given a microphone and told McCain she didn’t want “Arab” Obama in the White House. On that particular day, McCain wasn’t prepared to let the factually wrong statement go uncorrected. He told the woman:

“No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about. He’s not [an Arab].”

The statement appeared to be a moment of decency, McCain stepping away from the “red meat” script, and yet, the insinuation of the correction was that to be an Arab (which of course, Obama isn’t) also means to not be a decent man or citizen of the U.S. Still, McCain was booed relentlessly by the Republican rally attendees that day, every time he pleaded for reason and calm, in the face of outlandish or slanderous statements regarding Obama being a terrorist, a socialist, and so forth. Politico documented the dynamic between him and the crowd:

McCain promised the audience he wouldn’t back down — but again sought to tamp down emotions.

“We want to fight, and I will fight,” McCain said. “But I will be respectful. I admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments, and I will respect him.”

At which point he was booed again. [emphasis mine]

“I don’t mean that has to reduce your ferocity,” he added over the jeers. “I just mean to say you have to be respectful.”

Gone are the days when a Republican front-runner called for civility and respect from their own flock. But where do people think the mob booing – and the seething xenophobia and reactionary impulse that inspired the booing – went? Those people, and their energy, obviously did not disappear; and going by their reaction to McCain during that campaign, they were already pining for a new, more extreme, less civil leader. Meanwhile, outside of that arena, Donald Trump was becoming as angry about Obama’s ascendency as the woman who used “Arab” as a pejorative. Trump emerged as a serious ‘birther‘ – one of the conspiracy theorists who wrongly believe Barack Obama was not born in the United States – in 2011.

In April 2011, NPR published this post on its politics blog, ‘Donald Trump, Birther In Chief? Poll Has Him Leading GOP Field With 26 Percent’. It says: “This poll […] indicates there’s a hardcore birther segment in the Republican Party that will reject any candidate who says unequivocally that Obama was born in the U.S. And those birthers are rewarding Trump, who has become something of the birther in chief with very strong support.” It also provides this excerpt of the poll findings:

“23% of these voters say they would not be willing to vote for a candidate who stated clearly that Obama was born in the U.S. 38% say they would, and a 39% plurality are not sure. Among the hardcore birthers, Trump leads with 37%, almost three times as much support as anyone else. He comes in only third at 17% with those who are fine with a candidate that thinks the President was born in the country. Romney, who recently stated he believes Obama is a citizen, leads with 23% with that group but gets only 10% with birthers.”

I took articles like this seriously at the time, and hence have not been surprised by Trump’s popularity amongst Republican voters over the past year. Back in 2011 NPR also published this piece, ‘The Nation: Confronting Trump’s Coded Racism’, which identifies the historical context and racist nature of the accusations that Obama is not a U.S. citizen, and provides links to several excellent pieces (by people of various political stripes) that directly take on Trump’s race-baiting. It also contains this assertion:

“Still, racial dog whistles only work when a lot of people play along. Otherwise a coded attack — aimed at the racists but clinging to deniability — curdles into public, blatant racism. (That’s bad in politics and business, so it would restrain even a business candidate like Trump.)” [emphasis mine]

It would only restrain someone who knew they did not have the support of a large group of xenophobic nationalists and racists; at this point Trump does have their support. And right now, much like the meditation teacher asserted, he is a conduit for their frustrations, resentment, hatreds, fears, and (this is crucial) their egoic aspirations for grandeur. Furthermore, it is not unusual for uncivil language and extreme statements like the ones Trump produces regularly to be rewarded by right wing voters. Anyone who has ever watched a Republican debate that did not include Trump would have still witnessed extreme, violence-endorsing statements being cheered by the audience.

And yes, that audience isn’t only “white”. Much was made this week about the fact that a good percentage of Latinos in Nevada voted for Trump; it is wise to remember these voters were Republicans when processing that information. There are of course other people who are not traditional partisans, who consider themselves to be reasonable people, and who find Trump appealing for one position or another. One Latino man who plans to vote for Trump told The Daily Beast this, when asked what could possibly turn him off Trump – his naiveté is telling: “if he came out and used the ‘N’ word or something like that, I probably would not vote for him. But what is one racist thing that he said? The guy’s never said anything racist.”

Trump recently levelled a ‘birther’ accusation against his Republican rival, Marco Rubio. It has followed a distinct pattern that has characterised his other ‘birther’ accusations. The Atlantic published this piece recently, titled ‘Trump’s Birther Libel’, which makes the case that he is attempting to make American citizenship a matter of “race and blood”. It is important to note that Trump has the endorsement of people for whom race and blood are an obsession: white supremacists. Including a former KKK leader. The reason for this is obvious to all but the most naive.

John Oliver’s show ‘Last Week Tonight’ just aired an excellent, well-informed segment addressing Donald Trump’s bid for the White House, the reasons for his popularity amongst right wing voters, the gulf between the image/brand he has cultivated and his many failures as a business man, his pathological lying, and his unwillingness to outright condemn and distance himself from white nationalists (in essence, his base). Oliver makes an important assertion: that both being a racist nationalist and pretending to be a racist nationalist in order to win votes makes a candidate contemptible. Trump is guilty of one of those.

You can read Vox’s article on the segment HERE.

WATCH the segment below. Or if you live outside the U.S, you should be able to watch it HERE.


A grown-ass woman.

This is a quick post for those of us on an intuitive life path; who follow our inner compass, come what may.

My Facebook profile pic this year is the words ‘grown-ass woman’ – which I created to celebrate this painfully hard earned phase of adult life I have entered. So naturally I got excited when I stumbled across this video on youtube yesterday :-) Titled ‘How to be a Grown Ass Woman’, it is a WNYC panel of four public figures discussing the major moments of transition in their lives – when they knew they had each gone from (mousy) young lady to grown-ass woman.

I freaked out when I read the description and noticed comedian Sara Schaefer (whose twitter presence I enjoy) and The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams (who I am truly infatuated with) were both on the panel. I related to Jessica’s story, about having to be tough and doing what needs to be done to protect others and ourselves.

But it was Katja Blichfeld, co-creator of web series (and TV show) ‘High Maintenance’ (which friends have raved about but I still haven’t watched) whose ‘transition’ story resonated with me the most… completely, actually. She essentially articulated why I feel like a grown-ass woman today.

Katja tells her tale from 23:39 to 29:54. The quote below is the heart of it, though – what made her realise she was already a ‘grown-ass woman’. 

When deciding to turn down solid career opportunities to pursue a “side weekend project” she had little experience in (High Maintenance) she looked back at her other life experiences and noticed something: that despite the constant objections and judgments of multiple people in her life about Katja letting her inner compass direct her choices (rather than just going with the stable salary, the rational path) Katja had done so anyway – and discovered her intuition was a BOSS:

“I started surveying my life before that, and thinking about just how I had ended up where I was. And it was a series of decisions based on gut intuition, over and over again. 

A lot of those decisions, I realised, were similar, in that they did not make a whole lot of sense on the page, and I realised ‘Oh, I’ve kind of lived my whole life in defense mode, having to explain myself or why I am doing these things that don’t make a lot of sense, but I feel the pull towards doing these things’. 

I kind of just had a realisation, like, ‘Oh, I have wisdom! I’ve collected some wisdom and I’m in my thirties and I know some things, and I can look back over my life and see how me following my intuition has yielded these incredible results, time and time again, even when those said decisions didn’t make a lot of sense in the moment. 

And I think that’s kind of when I felt like ‘I’m a grown woman’, because I can sort of look and see that I’ve accumulated these experiences and that they’ve yielded wisdom and that this wisdom is worth listening to, and my intuition is worthwhile and worth listening to… and I’m just going to trust in that and do it. 

And I did, and obviously it’s worked out pretty great… that was my growing up moment, realising I have wisdom, that I know what’s best for me, and other people don’t know what’s best for me. 

And that’s that.”


I will keep listening to my BOSS. My day-to-day mind may be hopeless, nervous, sometimes unsure of itself… but the Boss knows what’s good.


You can check out the full easygoing panel discussion right here. NY Magazine writer Heather Hasvrilesky is the fourth woman. This is what she said about being in her forties:  “I’m the happiest I’ve been, for sure. but I’m still insane.”

Diversity Feminism.

I have both a spiritual and justice agenda in life. Simply put, it is the empowerment of the Feminine and the healing/balancing of the Masculine – in my country of citizenship, in my country of birth, in the Pacific/Oceania region, and globally.

The text below has been sitting in my hard drive for eight months. I wrote it one evening, for myself, in the midst of one of those frustrating public discussions that occasionally arises regarding what feminism is and isn’t, who is and isn’t a good feminist, and why some women distance themselves from the term altogether.

It was inspired by innumerable disagreements I have observed on social media, about ‘white feminism’ and the bizarrely controversial term ‘intersectionality’; and my frustration with how essential conversations about the diversity (different realities) of women are often handled in this public sphere by otherwise intelligent, brilliant people.

And it was my first ‘stream of consciousness’ attempt to articulate my personal feminist framework in my 31st year of life – specific to my experience as a citizen of a ‘settler society’ (Australia) and the barriers that exist in this context. It takes into account the diverse lived experiences of women here (the experiences I am aware of), and how some women face additional barriers due to the intersection of gender discrimination with class, race, et cetera. 

Specifically, barriers to what liberal feminists would regard as the goals of feminism: equality in the public sphere and individual self determination. I did not consult any feminist theories whilst writing this document – my views expressed below evolved over time, shaped by diverse texts, debates, public intellectuals, and lived experience.


So here it is. what I will refer to as my version of ‘Diversity Feminism’.


1) Is focused on settler societies, and their diverse populations.

The locus of my Diversity Feminism is within ‘settler societies’ such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States – countries broadly built upon the displacement of Indigenous peoples by European colonisation, racist population and border control, and waves of migration. Some of these countries have historically also accommodated forced migration – various forms of slave labour. Australia included

Justice necessitates a full acknowledgement of these histories and policies, and the legacies they produced in terms of persistent intergenerational trauma and cultural, systemic inequalities – which adversely affect some groups in society whilst privileging others. Diversity Feminism seeks to understand – through history and other disciplines, the sciences, the humanities, and the arts  – the root causes of group disadvantage, and discord.

It seeks this multi-faceted understanding, in order to find holistic and innovative solutions to these disadvantages themselves, and create a more just society.

2) Is committed to reconciliation and respect for Indigenous peoples.

Full acknowledgment of history – in particular Indigenous history, both prior to and after white colonisation – is an essential condition of reconciliation, equality, and social cohension. 

The seismic injustice and wounding that occured at the time of the foundation of settler societies, and the destruction that policies governing Indigenous communities wrought over centuries and upon generations of people, must be acknowledged – as a precursor to a healthy society, the wellbeing of Indigenous peoples and, in particular, Indigenous women and girls.

Diversity Feminism upholds that justice requires SELF DETERMINATION for Indigenous communities, and recognises the esssential leadership role Indigenous women play in this self determination. These communities are diverse – geographically and otherwise. Their histories, needs and preferences will differ. The aim of government policies should be to work with communities in order to design and tailor programs to suit them and uphold human rights.

A committment to long-term funding and a ‘self determination’ approach is crucial – communities, Indigenous women and girls, have suffered tremendously as a result of myopic funding cuts and frequent policy changes. In many cases, successful, self determination oriented policies formulated with or indeed by community leaders have been attacked and shelved as a result of the ideological biases of politicians, bureaucrats, and activists. 

Top-down, radically assimilationist policies have in many cases caused much harm. Knee-jerk resistance to “paternalistic measures” required to interrupt cycles of dysfunction can also be harmful. Again, the specific conditions and needs of each community, and the vision and wishes of each community, should determine the policies designed for them.

Finally, policy makers, the broader society, and certainly diversity feminists must acknowledge the deep racism that lingers towards the Indigenous peoples within our countries. This is undeniable – reflected in shameful statistical disparities and documented lived experiences of Aboriginal people. To deny these disparities in 2015 is, in and of itself, an act of racism. And will continue to be until those disparities are fully eliminated.

Much progress towards reconciliation has been made, and this is to be acknowledged and celebrated. But both systemic racism and incidences of personal racism towards Indigenous peoples remain ubiquitous. Respectfully understanding the histories of our nations – not just the relatively recent white settler histories, but Indigenous histories – and how they have shaped our national consciousness, is essential to understanding why.

We cannot truly close the empathy gap and support the empowerment of all Indigenous women and girls without this understanding.

3) Asserts that diversity is reality.

My Diversity Feminism obviously recognises areas of “universal” concern for women and girls in settler societies: legal equality for women; healthcare and family planning services; equal access to education, jobs, and public spaces; equal pay for equal work; progressive restructuring of education and work institutions to accomodate and value caring duties and child rearing responsibilities; freedom for girls and women from violence, abuse and harassment in all its forms.

However, by putting the locus solely on “universal” concerns, many western iterations of feminism within ‘settler societies’ fail to acknowledge or address a vast array of specific, complex obstacles that inhibit marginalised or “Othered” women within them – and prevent such women from enjoying the rights, freedoms, and equal participation in society enjoyed by the more privileged – i.e. white, able bodied, middle class women.

[This has always been the case. An historic legal example: “women” in general were not granted the right to vote in Australian Commonwealth elections in 1902; white women were. Indigenous women had to wait until 1962. In 1920 British subjects were granted ‘all political and other rights’, but South Sea Islanders were still ineligible to vote despite being British subjects. Natives of British India living in Australia were allowed to vote in 1925.]

To remedy this, Diversity Feminism centres its focus on the diverse realities of:

  • First Nations women
  • Ethnically diverse women, and linguistically diverse women
  • Women living with neurological differences, chronic illnesses and disabled women
  • Women living with psychiatric conditions
  • Elderly women
  • Transgender women
  • Single mothers
  • Women carers
  • Women who struggle with English literacy
  • Women stuck on a low income (the working poor, and welfare supported women)
  • Women trapped in abusive and/or violent relationships
  • Homeless women and women who require public housing
  • Women in remote, rural or underserviced communities
  • Same-sex attracted women
  • Women sex workers
  • Exploited workers (including non-citizens & forced/coerced labourers)
  • Women in the prison system
  • Women who have sought asylum in our countries.

These women may in theory share some of the aforementioned “universal” concerns and seek the same gender equity that white, middle class, able-bodied women do – but they face additional external barriers to the realisation of full empowerment due to factors like location, class, “race”, cultural background, literacy/language competency, and disability that can prevent them from doing so.

Diversity Feminism therefore centres the experiences of these women and seeks to examine these barriers, to understand how they intersect (“intersectionality”) with gender – in order to find multi-disciplinary, holistic policy solutions for them. Diversity Feminism is committed to ensuring all women are valued, supported, and empowered to live safe, meaningful, productive, and self determining lives.

4) Upholds and supports individual human rights, both in mainstream national culture and for women within culturally diverse communities (First Nations women included).

For the purposes of this document, cultural patriarchy is defined as: cultures in which the desires, drives and demands of men carry more weight that the desires, drives and demands of women; within which women are restricted to defined gender roles, mores of behaviour, and life paths; and within which women are prevented from ascending to leadership positions due to their sex.

Diversity Feminism supports progressive cultural change away from rigid cultural patriarchy, towards equal opportunity and rights for all women and girls – within both the broad national culture AND within its various cultural communities.

Diversity Feminism also understands that sustainable cultural change comes from within – in this case, led by women and men inside the communities in which change must occur. It therefore seeks to offer firm support to women and girls in culturally diverse communities – and their allies – to instigate progressive change within those communities.

In doing so, Diversity Feminism aims to both respect the unique identities of various cultural communities that are important to many women, AND augment such cultural communities to include recognition of human rights for women and girls. Diversity Feminism affirms those who seek to be agents of change from within.

Fundamentally, Diversity Feminism recognises the reality that many feminists successfully mediate between different cultural identities, in ways that affirm and empower them – and that cultures can change. It therefore aims to foster progressive change across all cultures towards the recognition of human rights for ALL women and girls – and more broadly, all people.

5) Upholds and supports individual human rights for women globally.

Supporting ‘change from within’ is a principle applied in relation to women and girls in other countries too. It is expressed through supporting grass roots initiatives in other countries – and between countries – to secure the rights and empowerment of women and girls around the globe. In particular, the voices and leadership of women in the “Global South”, and conflict zones, should be elevated and affirmed. Overseas movements of men for progressive cultural and legal change – the empowerment of the women in their countries – should also be supported. 

6) Understands that the nation states we live in exist within a bigger picture – a global economic system, that entrenches inequality and relies upon exploitation. 

My Diversity Feminism recognises that Western nations enjoy the level of development they do in large part as a result of centuries of mass human and resource exploitation in the “Global South”. Western colonial projects also planted the seeds of many conflicts and territorial disputes. The international relations objectives and foreign policy of countries (notably the United States) since the development of the nation-state system, have created both immense wealth for some and immense suffering for millions of others globally. Obviously, women and girls are amongst those affected. 

And Diversity Feminism recognises that the material wealth and many of the products we rely upon/enjoy are stained with the suffering of unseen, unheard, exploited workers throughout the world – many of whom are women and girls, or the family members of women and girls.

Diversity Feminism therefore supports progressive government/legislative regulations at a regional, national and international level that protect ALL people, fauna and ecosystems from:

  • human and labour rights abuses
  • unsafe and unethical business practices in all markets (including practices harmful to animals)
  • unsafe and unethical supply chains in production of goods and services
  • unsafe and unethical resource extraction and/or processing

On a personal level, my Diversity Feminism compels me to try, as much as possible, to approach consumption with a sense of responsibility to both the wellbeing of workers and responsible resource extraction in mind – supporting businesses operating ethically in accordance with regulatory measures, or of their own volition [e.g. B Corps]. 

When exercising ones political, legal and consumer freedoms, the Diversity Feminist should endeavour to make choices that align with any or all of the above.


And… that was it. First attempt to articulate my approach to feminism as a citizen of Australia, a lady with roots in the Global South, a disabled woman. The idealist in me actually believes settler societies have the potential to be the freest, healthiest, and most harmoniously diverse societies on Earth, if they examine their national souls and do the necessary progressive justice work; my diversity feminism is very much about getting us there. I will continue to refine the vision.

© 2016 Pauline Vetuna, All Rights Reserved.

My Guide to Meditation.

This is a quick post for everyone who struggles with strong emotions.

I used to be one of those people. I still feel things deeply, and I am slightly bipolar – it is mild, gives me intuitive and creative blessings, is not severe enough to require medication. Nonetheless, I do contend with my natural pendulum swing of emotional highs and lows.

There isn’t one magic solution that will “fix” people like us. A disciplined, holistic approach to ones mind, body, and spiritual health is necessary in order to keep us all in a good place – fit enough to make the most of our lives and be happy, functional people contributing to the world.

However, over the years I have found one practice that has helped me profoundly to balance during times of emotional turmoil: MEDITATION.

Intuition during hard times has led me to try and practice many forms of meditation over the years: Eckhart Tolle’s presence method of detaching from ‘the Thinker’ and ‘the pain body’; mindfulness meditation; numerous guided meditations, and Transcendental Meditation (TM).

All the methods I have tried are aiming for the same thing: to enable the practitioner to get beyond both their thoughts and their emotions – which are intertwined – and become the Overseer of everything that is going on both inside and outside of them. 

Many people have a permanent and regular meditation routine that they follow, but I find that I use meditation regularly only during periods of instability and emotional turmoil. This is mainly because I am able to stay in ‘Overseer’ mode for long periods these days.

Tolle talks about practicing presence all day, everyday, and I actually find I do this – primarily because my family – whom I am in regular contact with – present constant challenges to my emotional state. In his books, Tolle talks about how simply staying ‘conscious’ with ‘unconscious’ relatives is the ultimate way to become a Master of presence. I think this is absolutely true.

Tolle also says having to transmute intense suffering can lead to the ultimate ‘awakening’ in the person who is forced by circumstance to transcend their suffering… and the only way to do so, again, is presence – going beyond thinking and emotional reactions, stepping into a higher consciousness. Transmuting suffering into consciousness is the ultimate alchemy. I have multiple experiences with this scenario, too.

So, I highly recommend giving meditation a go. And if you can, check out Eckhart Tolle’s books – I listen to his audiobooks regularly. If you’re on a tight budget (as I am!), see if you can order them in at your local library. There are numerous free meditation podcasts on iTunes – I love the ‘Meditation Oasis’ podcast. And you may be able to find affordable, accessible meditation classes at community centres in your area.


On a comedic note, below is a link to a 2 minute soothing guided mediation: for those of us who strive for “nirvana”, but adore the F word🙂

Next post in 9 days. Have a great week.

I will live the life of my dreams… in *this* body.

[sorry this post is a few days late – I’ve been having issues with my wordpress admin page]


This post is about living, loving, and joyfully navigating the world in a body that may be culturally stigmatised, socially marginalised, and structurally discriminated against. I experience the pleasure, the privilege of insights, and sometimes the pain of inhabiting one of those bodies.

Because when your body is the target of discrimination, it is a challenge to not internalise some of the nonsense that is directed at you by others. Even when you are a strong individual who powers yourself from within – which I am (most of the time). I re-listened to a podcast earlier this week, that reminded me of the importance of body acceptance work – for people whose experiences moving through the world are coloured by other people’s prejudices against their “different” bodies.

The podcast was Lena Dunham’s Women of the Hour, Episode 2. In it, Girls star Aidy Bryant shares what it is like to be an actress happily living in an overweight body. Ethiopian writer Hannah Giorgis discusses the politics, style and magical bonding that connects Black women who embrace their (often stigmatised) natural afro locks. Young musician Mindie Lind, who has no legs and rides around on a skateboard, explains how being a “crip” is a daily creative process (a brilliant description), and talks about being the object of sexual desire.

Episode 2 also features writer, TV presenter and activist Janet Mock, answering questions about her experiences of being a transgender woman of colour; plus filmmaker/writer Rachel Fleit, who has alopecia, sharing truly beautiful insights from her journey of “coming out” as a bald woman. Rachel says the way she handles people’s weird reactions to her baldness, completely depends upon what she calls her “spiritual fitness” on that day – something that really resonated with me, in general.

In fact, aspects of the experiences of all of these women resonated with me: Aidy’s carefree joy in her body and positive professional experiences within it, despite the rampant discrimination people often warn her about; Hannah’s bonding with her Black girl friends over hair and politics; Mindie’s sense of both power and vulnerability regarding her sexual life, and the creative adaptability that being a “crip” necessitates; and Janet’s simple desire for reciprocal love – a loving, public, respectful and equal partnership.

To me, the experiences shared in the episode highlight how people who inhabit bodies that are socially marginalised, often need to develop – through persistent, loving, self-acceptance work – a confidence in themselves and their being that can withstand and transcend the dumb shit they will encounter in the world. The late poet and disability rights activist Laura Hershey wrote: “Remember, you weren’t the one who made you ashamed, but you are the one who can make you proud […] you get proud by practicing”. For me, this simply means to continuously embrace and love your body.

I am practicing doing that again. In my previous post I wrote about how I am in the process of gaining my physical strength back after recovering from PTSD – integrating a new health and exercise routine into my daily life. At the age of 31, I am closer than I have ever been to realising a permanent, unconditional love for my body, that transcends all the harmful false beliefs I have allowed to exist within me in the past – all of which were internalised from negative experiences in the world, related to the way my body has been accepted (or rather, not accepted) by others.

These experiences started from the age of three. This is the age I was when I first experienced racism. A Japanese girl (funnily enough) at my pre-school told me at length and in great detail (quite alarming, given her age) why my Melanesian body – skin, hair, facial features – were ugly and not as lovely as people whose features were Asian or white. I was the kind of completely open-hearted child who believed everything the world told me at that age, so naturally, in that moment, I internalised it.

But it actually didn’t scar me too much, as I grew into a sensitive but confident child, with many a limerence-afflicted boy admirer and a healthy amount of affirmation from the people in my life. Nonetheless, the “bug” of that incident of racism was still embedded in my psyche, reinforced by the pro-white biased culture I was immersed in, and triggered whenever experiences of racism occurred. And when I say triggered, I am not talking about merely remembering the first experience – I am talking about feeling, in the moment, as inferior and uncomfortable in my body as vulnerable 3 year old me did in that pre-school playground.

I cannot pinpoint an exact moment when I started to “de-colonise” my mind, and completely purged it of the white/light supremacism that permeates much of the world. But I do know it had everything to do with connecting with other Black people who already had unburdened themselves of the bullshit. Since racism begins as body-based discrimination, the unburdening process naturally involves a positive reclamation of the body – specifically, of all the traits that white/light supremacism deems unacceptable. Going natural with my afro-curly hair in my mid 20s was not only an aesthetic choice; it was a political act. A freeing, personal expression of both my antiracism and my feminism.

Becoming sick at the age of 13 presented another psychological challenge to overcome – more layers of body dysmorphia, discomfort with my physical form. I was a naturally athletic and sporty child, so losing the ease I always felt in my body was a shock to my system. And, just as my unconscious discomfort with my Melanesian features owed completely to the experience of being immersed in cultural white/light supremacism, my discomfort with the effects of illness (which in my awkward teens included scoliosis, scars and reduced muscle tone) owed largely to the unkindness of other people – and societal attitudes about “different” bodies.

Unburdening myself of that particular form of internalised -ism, happened strangely and miraculously when I became a paraplegic, at the age of 21. Given my medical history (the illness I battled in my early teens affected my spinal cord), becoming disabled was the one thing I was most afraid of. Ironically, though, I became healthier in the aftermath of that particular trauma. For the duration of the year after that life-changing event, I worked out every day, my skin glowed, my appetite improved and I felt extremely present (and, yes, fly as fuck) in my body… until I started full-time work in an office and no longer had time for it. Different story.

So here I am now, 10 years later, recovering from another extended period of trauma. Not only can challenging times in our lives seriously harm our physical and emotional health – they can also seriously damage the relationship we have with our bodies. For me, I think these last six years have really been marked by a desire to take care of and embrace mine… but an inability to do so consistently and effectively. The PTSD symptoms totally depleted me of the energy, stability, and clarity I require in order to be able to take care of myself as a disabled woman.

2016 for me is about giving myself that energy, stability, and clarity. I have designed my new health/body routine to ensure I am maximising the amount of vitality, gratitude and joy I feel within it. Because it is this amazingly resilient form – this Melanesian, disabled, female body – I will live my long, long life and dreams in. And it is by really, truly loving and caring for it – embracing everything the unconscious world around me signals in subtle and overt ways is unacceptable, every day – that I will be strong enough to make those dreams come true.

Just watch me🙂

The practice of being well.

“For it to get better, you need to get better.”

This is a post about healing; and the previous six years of my life.

Yesterday I had a 5 hour lunch with two friends – married to each other – who have lived for over a decade with the painful, heavy reality of severe injustice and mental illness: the invention of the husband’s mental health issues by an incorrectly diagnosed bout of cerebral malaria; a serious head-trauma inducing car accident; and the subsequent fuckery of a pseudo-scientific, inhumane and dignity-stripping psychiatric system – one that long ago incorrectly appraised my friend’s neurological diversity as a danger to society and to his beloved wife.

They have experienced first hand how being deemed by the authorities as ‘crazy’ in a dangerous way, can in practice render ones human rights null and void. He has endured years of dignity-stripping observation and treament from supposed professionals – forced sectioning in psychiatric facilities, forced medication and injections, forced electric shock treatment. She has endured the continuous heartache of fighting on his behalf for his rights and his dignity, whilst also having to live with the sometimes trying – never dangerous, but trying – neurological results of this in his personality and behaviour.

Over the years through my friendship with this brilliant scientist and kindhearted man, I have had a glimpse of these neurological results, which are as distressing to his own analytical mind as they are to his equally intelligent but soulful and present wife. Through no fault of their own, this is their lot in life. And the other day, we really, really talked  – joyfully – about living with circumstances we cannot change, and finding light and hope daily in the midst of such circumstances.

I have some insight into living that kind of life, for various reasons. My friend, she said to me that I’ve experienced an unusual amount of big loss in my life – certainly for someone my chronological age. Most of this loss I am unable to talk about or articulate; but I still feel the pain of those losses. Often I am unable to connect the pain I feel with the actual losses, though. Because of this, I have had these moments in life where I’ve had to get real with myself about me not coping so well with the stuff I cannot change; then seek new methods to alleviate the distress I have tried my best to hide from people.

Last year was a big year in terms of admitting to myself I was not coping so well, and seeking professional help for that. I’ve always been slightly bipolar, and I go through phases of having to withdraw into myself to rejuvenate, followed by a return to “normality” (until the next time). I have learned to live with these cycles and now recognise the profound gifts that come with the pendulum swing – intuitive insights, healing, bursts of creative inspiration and intense joy just being solitary and listening to… well, the universe.

Beyond that natural disposition, in the past I have dealt with various manifestations of psychological distress that followed intense losses in my life – depression, self-starvation, self-harm, suicide ideation. These behaviours and thought patterns I thankfully transcended by the age of 21. But in the last six years, I have been dealing with a different set of symptoms that I frankly was in serious denial about:

extreme anxiety, particularly in social settings; extreme dread and amorphous fear; feeling phobic of particular places; panic attacks following being “triggered” by what I thought were random things – music, the sound of a stranger’s voice, particular words (god, I wish I was joking about that).

I had to take unfathomably heartbreaking but necessary steps to remove myself from a toxic situation that I thought was merely contributing to my mental distress, and the distress of another. I thought that this would give me the psychological space I needed to at least have a chance to heal, and live life. The problem is that I didn’t actually pursue healing – at least, not in the right places. I was merely suppressing parts of myself I actually needed in order to fully live and fulfil my purpose (which was oddly the one thing I continuously gained clarity about throughout. I have a magenta folder on my desk now – my own personal life manual – full of insights about this).

I also thought I was weak – which could not be further from the truth. My self talk got pretty dark and I interpreted these bizarre developments – which were actually symptoms of something – as me just not being on top of things; unfortunately, the symptoms themselves caused me to not be on top of things. For six years – despite some typically lucky success – I have had to constantly cancel projects and plans because of these symptoms. This was demoralising. In conjunction with the usual dysfunctional problems within my family and my ever-present worry for them, I felt completely bound up and trapped in my life.

All of this was of course the universe trying to get me to STOP, and heal; but I am a slow learner. So slow in fact that despite living with all that shit and inner chaos for six years, it took me until May 2015 to acknowledge to myself that “the shit”, as it were, might actually be symptoms of something – although I didn’t have the foggiest idea of what it might be. I hadn’t made the necessary connections yet.

It was a fantastic psychologist who did that for me. She very generously treated me in her home, as her office was not wheelchair accessible. When she officially diagnosed  “the shit”, it was as much of a shock as it was a relief. PTSD. Post traumatic stress disorder. I could not believe it, but I could not deny it made sense. I had no references for the experience that had caused the trauma so it never occurred to me that I could actually be seriously traumatised. In that office, it dawned on me.

Miraculous things started to happen after just getting the diagnosis, and shining light on the thing within my psyche that I had not been willing to look at – until that day. In the days and weeks that followed I experienced a massive unblocking of energy and regaining of physical strength; I “looked” different and people noticed – are still noticing. In my sessions with the psychologist we worked through the pain memories causing the distress.

But I did most of that on my own. My psychologist proposed, in addition to what she called for me cognitive behavioural “scripting” (I am a writer, after all) and extremely effective “mental filmmaking”/visualisation (I am a dreamer, after all), EMDR treatment. It kind of strips the pain from the memories. I agreed to it; but I found that in the two week period before we started EMDR, my mind processed the problematic emotions on its own. Now I had the memories, but stripped of the associated painful emotions. This particular “pain body”, as Eckhart Tolle would say, had gone.

I cannot put into words the relief I felt. And I felt it immediately, not just in my mind but in my body. Weird ailments that had developed in it lessened or completely disappeared. And it was a good news year physically, too – my first scan since 2006 revealed the syrinx that caused my disability has reduced in size, without any treatment in that period; and the rest of my spine is clear. At the end of the year I reconnected with a physiotherapy service to work on my strength in particular areas of my body that had weakened since the PTSD symptoms developed; and with stress related lethargy now gone, I can focus on working out my body and mind again.

Most importantly, I know that I have to. I have learned this lesson before, but I keep fucking forgetting… this time, though, I have got it. I have to work on all aspects of my health – staying in tune with what is happening in my mind and body, and my heart; continuously practicing the methods I have been taught over the years to keep my mind and body clear, and my heart open. Without it, I cannot do the work I came here to do. I have to practice being well, everyday. 

For people like me, this is our only choice – there is no other way. It is a state of surrender, living this way… a state of presence. I feel very strongly I am going to live a very, very long life; mastering this practice will be essential to that. Some days are easier than others; the key thing to remember is that you have to take each one as it comes. Just keep practicing. Over time, you get better. And because you get better, *it*  – life – gets better.

I know it will.

New Year Resolution: Pure Connection.

296 post - connection


No Masks.

Sometimes what seems like a tragedy, or the manifestation of your idea of “the worst case scenario”, is actually a tremendous blessing in disguise. I know that seems like a glib line; but it is actually a lesson I have lived and learned, over and over again, thus far in what I feel will be an unusually and extraordinarily long life.

When I suddenly became a paraplegic in 2006, weeks after undergoing spinal cord surgery to decompress a syrinx that had crippled me over the course of two years, and at the end of a 9 year period in which everything that could go wrong in my life went painfully, irreversibly wrong, I was already an in-patient in the rehabilitation hospital where I would learn how to negotiate life in a wheelchair – and experience my first adult spiritual ‘awakening’ (there have been many, since childhood. Each one leads to a new level of awareness).

I was in a dangerously dark place psychologically before the decompression surgery, having sustained trauma upon trauma from physical degeneration, profound loss, relationships with others and a tortured and hateful relationship with myself, whilst having no outlets whatsoever – nor the emotional tools – to process the grief and trauma that filled the ocean within me like an oil spill. During that period I wrote so much and drew so many charcoal and black biro sketches; they were beautiful in the way that a sad depressing song or a dark art film might be, yet brought me no closer to the catharsis I sorely needed.

It is hard to find your way out of a dark place with no one there to guide you how to do it. People in my family, despite their deep and powerful love for me, were not equipped to guide me out of the abyss I was mired in, and barely knew how to cope with their own life aches and wounds – let alone the trauma of seeing me go through circumstances they were powerless to save me from.  I needed serious, holistic psychological lifesaving – but the only experience I had had with a psychological professional – a very young, earnest, but out of her depth school psychologist I had to see as a result of truancy – had shattered my trust in them.

In lieu of the help I needed, false tough exteriors had masked for many years the inner turmoil that I feared would engulf me if I ever really acknowledged it. This went on for almost a decade; I tried on the mask of party girl, loner, stoner, freak. I suppressed my natural interests and was ashamed of the purest, most earnest, most vulnerable and most real parts of myself; taking cues from my environment, friends, boyfriends, society, I understood that these parts of me were not acceptable – they made me different in ways that I did not want to be. Ways that I feared being.

But a door to healing opened in rehab. It was a door that those vulnerable parts of me had been silently petitioning the Universe for, even as my conscious mind was clueless as to how to lift myself out of the mess I was in. I was a zombie in the days and weeks that followed losing the normal use of most of my body. And I am a stoic motherfucker; so my instinctual reaction was to focus completely on my physical routines like a factory worker might focus on an assembly line. A set of steps. A job to be done. A ‘to do’ list. Day in, day out, doing the things to make the physios and doctors and nurses all say “good job Pauline!” before retiring to my room at night and releasing a flood of tears silently into my pillow. I was a day zombie, but I was a productive zombie. I was doing what needed to be done.

That is when I learned a very important life lesson: mind and body are truly connected. The physical rehabilitation routines eventually developed into a love of the routines; the love for the routines grew into a love for training in the gym. I became a morning gym junkie, weirdly – became physically strong, kind of ripped and ironically fitter than I had ever been when I was able to walk. I experienced an unexpected unblocking of energy and rush of joyful, sensual, creative and intuitive inspiration; I made art with rainbow colours, made music, rediscovered my sense of humour and went on moonlight strolls through the patient gardens listening to alternative music and feeling, for the first time since childhood, connected to all that is.

And simultaneously, without effort or planning, I accepted my new life in a wheelchair. And kissed goodbye to the past. It was FREEDOM; my first taste of what that word truly means. I was disabled, but man, I was free.

In tandem with this physically induced clearing of psychological blocks, I also – for the first time – had free and immediate access to compatible and intuitive psychological professionals. The resident sex therapist was a beautiful intuitive named Alexa – from memory, she rocked white cowboy boots and a retro dress daily like the fucking star she was. I’d roll pass her office on the way to my weekly meditation class (another first for me, delivered into my life courtesy of my new disability) and peer into the room adorned with rainbow cushions, rainbow stationary, aglow with warm lighting – and feel supernaturally compelled to go in.

One day I did. At the end of my first two meetings with Alexa she gave me two postcards which I still have in my bedroom and meditate on today. The first one was a print of a painting – a beautiful big banyan tree with huge roots in the earth and extending into the sky; one side of the sky was day, and the other night. Throughout this scene are symbolic creatures and sacred symbols. Before rummaging through her desk to find this card for me, she rubbed her belly and told me she had an intuition this picture would somehow be important in my life. I accepted the card with a grateful heart, but sceptical mind; yet the card has been, and continues to be, a signpost of revelations.

The second postcard she gave me moved me on a level that I had forgotten I had; shattering the false social masks that had been holding me together yet imprisoning me for a decade. We had been talking very casually about my life up to that point, and some of the realisations I was having on the other side of “the thing that I feared most” (disability) happening; but she had begun to intuit that despite making serious progress in such a short space of time, there were still some toxic blocks I needed to address – once I left this womb-like centre of rehabilitation and affirmation, and went back into the world. On the card, was a simple black and white photograph of a masquerade mask-covered face in Venice.

After leaving her office that afternoon, I turned the card over. It read:

In my darkest hour silence spoke louder than words
I am lost in a floating dreamscape
I see my face behind a mask
with knowing steps I am lured closer
reflection strips my guise
in the heart of darkness
I see a light
I hear my voice and I am found.

In those words I intuited another important lesson: beyond the artifice of social masks, constructed in the darkness of the fear that who we really are is too broken, too weird, too ugly or too vulnerable to see the light of day, is who we really, truly are. A Light within.

I am learning to live openly as the Light.

The Mask Venezia by nikita

The Mask Venezia by Nikita


‘Tonight I love you in a way that you have not known in me: I am neither worn down by travels nor wrapped up in the desire for your presence. I am mastering my love for you and turning it inwards as a constituent element of myself.’

Words by Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir.

Stella Mag Blog posts (May – Oct)

Links to all my posts for the Stella Magazine blog published since mid-May below – newest to oldest.



25 OCTOBER 2015

Film: Tanna (2015)

Shot completely in Vanuatu, award-winning film ‘Tanna’ tells a true story of forbidden love.



23 OCTOBER 2015

Music: ‘Once’ by Ngairre

Ahead of the release of Ngaiire’s 2nd album, we’re tuning in to our Issue 7 cover girl’s latest single & performances.



22 OCTOBER 2015

Women candidates in Pacific elections

We take a look at some of the recent stories about increasing female representation in parliaments across the Pacific.



07 OCTOBER 2015

Music: Blue King Brown & Nattali Rize

Check out what Stella’s Issue 13 cover story BKB are up to now, & the fantastic new solo EP of frontwoman Nattali Rize!



01 OCTOBER 2015

The ‘trickle down’ aid myth

Australia has been urged to adopt a new approach to aid in PNG: one that empowers its grassroots citizens & civil society.




Free And Equal in the Pacific

How do we free our communities of homophobia & transphobia? This awareness campaign leads the way.



07 AUGUST 2015

The ‘Chocolate Voyage’

A look at Melanesian cocoa making, as a Fijian crew sail to Bougainville for the ‘Wellington Chocolate Voyage’!



22 JULY 2015

Climate Change & “Refugees” from the Pacific

We look at recent Pacific climate change stories making headlines. It is all connected.



06 JULY 2015

Primer: Pacific Games 2015

It’s finally underway! Today we take a glance at The Pacific Games – its past, present, and future



30 JUNE 2015

Exposed: Corrupt Australian professionals exploiting PNG

How foreign professionals bribe PNG politicians – and launder dirty money in Australia.



18 JUNE 2015

Film ‘Blackbird’ shines light on Pacific Islander sugar slaves in Australia

Filmmaker Amie Batalibasi’s period drama explores Australian South Sea Islanders history



10 JUNE 2015

Josephine Getsi’s historic win

An unprecedented number of women ran for open seats in the recent Bougainville election. Josephine Getsi was one of them.



29 MAY 2015

Thank You, ‘Haus Krai’ anti-violence activists

Stories and photographs of some of the women and men who joined Haus Krai 2015.



15 MAY 2015

Haus Krai 2015 & The Leniata Legacy

Join demonstrations in PNG, Australia & the U.S tomorrow for ‘Haus Krai’: a call to action to end violence against women.


Stella Magazine Issue 15 on sale now!

I know it has been a lot longer than 3 days since my last post… sorry. All I can say is that life is requiring my full attention right now. I am also spending A LOT more time thinking, questioning, researching and developing than I am broadcasting at the moment – refining my own beliefs, ideas, and vision. But this the first in a return to regular posting on Just the Messenger. For real.

So here we go. The revamped, thicker Stella Magazine Issue 15 is currently on sale! I was honoured to write the cover feature story for this one, ‘Conscious Entrepreneur‘, on the courageous and indomitable Grace Dlabik – parent, humanitarian, boss lady at GiDi Creative and Global Creative Director of Empire star Malik Yoba’s iconic32 (page 47-60). This is a fantastic, content-rich edition and, as always, an aesthetic feast for the eyes. I am so proud to be involved with this outstanding publication. And we have an app now (see below!)

Stella Issue 15

List of stockists here.

As mentioned, Stella magazine is now also available digitally through our brand new app! 

Available on the iTunes app store here.

And on GooglePlay here.

Online subscriptions are available for residents in PNG, Australia, New Zealand, Asia/Pacific and the Rest of the World.

Subscribe here for your chance to WIN a prize!


Stay in the loop by liking Stella Magazine on Facebook here. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

And sign up to our newsletter to get blog posts from yours truly and the Editor via our website (pop in your email address in the ‘subscribe to newsletter’ box on the right hand side).

Pic by cafe, wholesaler, market stall and caterer Mama Coco!

Photo by cafe, wholesaler, market stall and caterer Mama Coco!

EPIC view of the Earth.


suzuki quote planet

Photo above was released by NASA recently. It was taken by a NASA EPIC (Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera) aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft on July 6th, 2015. The photo shows the Earth, lit by the Sun, from a distance of one million miles. The EPIC will be taking daily photos of the Earth.

New post in three days. Hope you are well🙂

Stella Mag Blog.

A few of my posts so far up on the Stella Mag blog:

Jennifer Food Show

Café Niugini

Jennifer Baing-Waiko has channelled her passion for preserving traditional food systems knowledge into a fantastic new show ‘Cafe Niugini’.

Julia tatu

Reviving & Protecting Melanesian Tattoo

Julia Mage’au Gray reflects on the joys & challenges of reviving & protecting traditional tattoo designs in a globalised world.

Ella Mask

Afrobetty Mask Making Workshops

PNG-Australian artist & educator Ella Benore Rowe invites you to explore identity & healing through her mask making workshops.

Mothers Day post

Giving life to those who give life

Childbirth death is still alarmingly high in PNG. Today we look at one way we can improve maternal care for our mothers.

Grace Dlabik

Grace Dlabik & The Social Studio

As Managing Director of GiDi Creative, Papua New Guinean-Austrian entrepreneur Grace Dlabik is using her talents for social good.


Read these and other interesting posts on the Stella Mag blog HERE. Subscribe to the print magazine HERE. It’s really, really good🙂

I will post some substantial essays here on ‘Just the Messenger‘ soon. Nothing much to report right now: writing, screenwriting, learning and living simply, as usual.

I hope you are well.

‘Giving life to those who give life: Mothers of PNG’

Happy Mothers Day to all the great mamas out there🙂

New blog post up over at Stella Magazine on one simple but seemingly effective way to help reduce the number of childbirth related deaths in Papua New Guinea.

And how you can support efforts to do just that.

John Oliver highlights how you can exercise your power to choose better

John Oliver rips garment industry

HERE is a brilliant clip of the latest edition of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. In it, John breaks down just how the business of cheap mass fashion works – why it’s cheap. why it’s profitable, how they get the masses (mostly women) to keep buying the stuff, and why all of this is so gross and damaging. This show is so darn quotable!

Watch the entertaining clip in its entirety… and consider the possibility of taking responsibility for the apparel purchasing choices you make.  You can stop supporting child labour and virtual slavery via supporting hugely profitable, ethically bankrupt apparel companies – and instead support ethical companies and efforts to compel bad ones to change their business practices. You can live well (and dress well) without buying their stuff.

A lot of insane, dreadful and potentially world-ruining things happen on this planet everyday – issues so big and beyond our control. I am continuously heartbroken by it all. But in the face of this, it’s good to remember the things we DO have control over. Where and how we choose to spend our money is one of them.

Please choose wisely, and kindly.


Speaking of choosing kindly, you can donate to life saving relief efforts in Nepal (following the devastating April 25th 7.8-magnitude earthquake) and Pacific Island nations including Vanuatu  (following the March category five Tropical Cyclone Pam).

Here is how you can help out Nepal:

Nepal earthquake: How you can help

Here is how you can help out Vanuatu, Pacific Islands affected by Cyclone Pam:

ABC Appeals – Australia is #withVanuatu



Previous related posts:

‘Fashion Victims’: Hideously Unethical Outsourcing in Clothing Industry

Fashion Month, ethical, local design: special event!

Equal access in store: big retailer in violation of Disabilities Act

Live simply.

“Dating in a wheelchair: Your problem, not mine”



I almost never read articles about dating as I don’t find them particular helpful, interesting or applicable to my own life. So many articles on dating discuss trends in online dating I have zero interest in, or discuss the “science” of game – offering grotesque or just plain dodgy advice on how to up your chances of landing a mate or securing a shag (and these aren’t just articles targeting men). No relationship I have ever embarked upon has ever started with “game”, or even effort, so those discussions repel me. The cynicism of it all… repels me.

But THIS article is actually pretty damn amazing.

Now 57, Anne Thomas was 18 when she became paralysed from the chest down – in the midst of an era of eugenics and widespread human rights abuses of disabled people. In this deeply honest piece, she discusses her experience of navigating her sexual and romantic life – and life in general – in the face of a fairly fucked up world that discouraged (and in many ways, continues to discourage) her from acknowledging or satiating a fundamental part of her humanity – the need for intimacy.

Dating in a wheelchair: Your problem, not mine

This article is an educational read for non-disabled people who want to enlighten themselves about diverse experiences.

Though Anne’s life is radically different from mine, I relate to many aspects of her experience – having to overcome ingrained fear of physical difference, coming to terms with your body, allowing others to know that body, dealing with stupid and rude questions about being disabled (sometimes from members of the medical profession), coming up against physical barriers, finding love but then experiencing social barriers (like unsupportive friends, family), unwanted attention from creeps/people who want to treat you badly… it goes on, and on.

I know of people who are transgender and gay who can relate to these experiences too. It is the experience of having a body and/or sexual orientation that is severely stigmatised by society, and trying to find the courage to live fully and openly in spite of it. In describing specific events in her own life, Anne touched on so many universal elements of that experience of stigma, and I just have to tip my hat to her for this refreshingly frank article.

Seriously. I relate to this passage so hard – about the tension of being physically vulnerable, exposed, completely engaged, but wanting to protect your emotions too:

“The man invited me for a drink. The only way out of the building for me was a metal wheelchair lift. I cringed as it clanged and banged on the way down. I felt like the Goddess of Thunder (not in a good way). Side by side, we made it to the sidewalk. It was hard for me to push the chair because of the cross slope for rain run off, but I didn’t want to ask for help and appear weak or needy. We talked until two in the morning and he never asked me anything about my disability. He didn’t see it, and it felt as if I’d known him forever. And yet years of rejection stopped me from showing him how much I liked him.”

“Sometimes You’re A Caterpillar” – on mutual understanding & privilege.

Two YouTube-rs I enjoy have teamed up to produce this fantastic, gentle, adorable animated short on understanding and privilege.

Written by chescaleighShe also has a website, it’s here.

Animated by Kat Blaque. She also has a tumblr, it’s here.

Cover story in Issue 13 of Stella & Entrepreneurs at CPAF

Hey look at this – the first post of the year! Hope you are well🙂

Just writing, screenwriting and working in (arts) communications & publishing this year – which affords me time to tinker with organic and simple living (really my main hobby, other than ‘Whatsapp’-ing with my enormous family in PNG) and to prioritise nurturing my health. I am also now considering pursuing a gender research opportunity – specifically, I am considering whether I can bring something of worth to this particular task.

Anyway. Just wanted to share a couple of things to kick off this blogging thing for 2015.


As mentioned late last year, I wrote a 6-page feature article on Nattali Rize, Petra Rumwaropen and Lea Rumwaropen for the latest Entertainment‘ issue of Stella Magazine (it’s the cover story for this issue) – which features fantastic articles on some amazing talent coming out of the Pacific! Here are some words from the Editor:

“If we’ve learnt anything from this issue, it’s that we love to entertain. And with the region brimming with so much talent, we are excited to share the stories of some of the most flexible, resilient and inspiring entertainers of 2014.

In this issue, meet the artists who’ve established unique voices in Australia, New York City, Israel, Fiji, and Tahiti. Working in music, film, literature, fashion, and dance, these artists share an interest, not in fame and fortune, but for social reform and social justice.

As much as we like to be a source of positive media for the Pacific Islands, injustice and exploitation is an ongoing challenge for us as we strive to decolonise our lands and our minds.

With our Pacific Youth being anything but pacified, we are excited to announce the launch of the Stella Pacific Writing Prize, a chance to make some noise about something you care about.”

There is also within this issue a little contributor profile on me, in which I admit to enjoying Katy Perry. If all this doesn’t convince you to SUBSCRIBE TO THE MAGAZINE BY CLICKING HERE, I don’t know what will.

Check out the strong cover for Issue 13 HERE.


The Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival (CPAF) this year will be held from 9-11th April 2015, with workshops being run during March and visual arts exhibitions running until May!

CPAF 2015 will explore the spiritual, physical, cultural and political dimensions of contemporary Pacific identity – situated in the present, the medium between honouring the past and authoring the future. Oceania Now. A space of pure potentiality and agency.

Stay tuned to the CPAF site for updates and ticketing information for workshops and the Symposium. This years festival will include:

5 different Art and Creative Workshops. Including Pacific Photobook Project, Bilum Weaving with Vicki Kinai, Pacific Bling Weaving Workshops, Pacific Fashion Runway Workshop, and Hula Fitness Workshops.

Community Day. Featuring a FREE concert headlined by Radical Son, Children’s Area (a creative village for children and young people with workshops and activities running throughout the day), face painting with artist Ella Benore Rowe, the Craft and Weaving Tent (with Sounds of Polynesia), Interactive Art with Naup Waup (Naup will create work and display his own creations, as well as cultural artefacts from Papua New Guinea), and the Pasifika Fashion Parade featuring participants from the two day Pacific Fashion Runway workshop. There will also be a marketplace with stalls selling a variety of goods.

Traditional Tattooing with Julia Megeau Gray. She’ll be an artist in residence over the three days of CPAF (including Community Day) to demonstrate live tattooing. Julia will be working on individual pieces, and will be available to work on people at FCAC on the 9-11 April.

Woodcarving demonstration with Fono McCarthy. This carver and multi-disciplinary Samoan artist will create an 8ft free standing responsive sculptural work made of native wood titled ‘Gafa Fa’avae’ over 3 days of the CPAF festivities – the work will be completed during the CPAF Community Day.

‘Resonance’ Exhibition. Curated by Chuck Feesago, and featuring work by Naup Waup, Cecilia Kavara Verran, Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Kirsten Lyttle, Chantal Fraser, Chuck Feesago, Leuli Eshraghi, Anna Crawley, Eric Bridgeman.

‘Construction Piece Scores’ ExhibitionCPAF Artist in Residence Ann Fuata will collaboratively develop a work based on ancient intercontinental ocean floor highways that are thought to stretch across the entire Pacific Ocean.

Fiafia Bar – The Festival Bar. 6pm-10pm for the three days of the festival. Step into the Fiafia Festival Bar and witness a Pacific collision of island culture, dance, song, circus and all flavours of contemporary entertainment.

CPAF Symposium. 9-10th April. 25 speakers, 6 chair persons, the PK-CPAF presenters and our keynote speaker Ema Tavola will be progressing a lively and focused discussion on issues relevant to contemporary Pacific arts practice in both an Australian and international context.

We’ve just released the Symposium line-up HERE and HERE.

I’m looking forward to seeing Stella Magazine Editor Amanda Donigi chair the panel ‘Entrepreneurialism in Pacific Arts’.

A two-day pass or one-day passes are available. To book your place in the audience, CLICK HERE.

Stay tuned to the CPAF website and CPAF Symposium website for further announcements, booking information, and the full festival program (yet to be released).

“Climbing the secret staircase.”

I recently watched Jonathan Haidt’s 2012 TED talk called ‘Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence‘ – have a look:

In it, he talks about how seeking transcendence is a part of being human:

“Most people long to overcome pettiness, and become part of something larger. And this explains the extraordinary resonance of this simple metaphor, conjured up nearly 400 years ago: no man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

And it reminded me of these words I wrote on the “My Philosophy” page of this blog in 2010:

“There are many who are already transcending the old divisions of the past and shackles of tradition, forging new identities based not on gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or political factions, but, instead, rooted in a higher awareness and understanding of themselves as unique and powerful individuals that are part of a greater interconnected whole.”

The words on that page remain true for me. I wrote about the necessity of moving “past tribal dependency towards individualised awareness”. But this does not mean that I think one has to renounce all “tribal” loyalties. And if what Haidt contends in the video above is correct, for most people this is actually impossible to do. Even individualists “circle” around a sacred value, a sacred cause… liberty.

In contrast to the pure individualism I was into in my mid 20s, today, I nourish my roots to place and my kin/group in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. I am concerned about the conservation of our traditional lands and healthy development. But I also know that the safety and well-being of my kin is deeply and inextricably connected with the well-being of us as individuals, the well-being and survival of all of humanity, and the health of the ecosystems that sustain us. This – these linked concerns – are the highest priority. And they are linked to my love and concern for the country in which I was raised and am grateful to live, Australia.

So here is my broad contention: we face multiple global threats as a species. Given this, it is the people pursuing a form of self-transcendence that allows them to perceive beyond loyalties to tribes (subcultures, cultures, nations, religions, ideologies, “people like them”) who will lead the way to safety. This is because their self-transcendence will enable them to fully comprehend that our survival depends upon a global consciousness, the ability to see how our localised realities and concerns do connect to one shared human destiny.

They will lead the way – and are leading the way – by being able to speak to and mobilise their tribes, their groups, to safeguard humanity’s common destiny, and in turn the destiny of their group. They will lead (the individuals in) their groups to progress towards more holistic, healthier ways of living and working together. And they will mobilise (the individuals in) their groups to connect with, cooperate with, and care for others who are doing the same. I have discussed such leaders in the past. In posts to come, I will discuss more.

Personal responsibility & compassion – finding a balance.

Whilst visiting the International Aids Conference’s Global Village back in July, I was given a pamphlet advising media about correct and incorrect language to use when discussing and reporting on issues related to HIV/AIDS. Prepared by AFAO, the pamphlet contains a great checklist to help communicators avoid using terms that are derogatory, or that perpetuate myths or stereotypes about HIV. These were some of its suggestions:

USE person living with HIV; DON’T use HIV sufferer”.

USE street-based sex worker; DON’T use street walker.”

USE person who uses drugs; DON’T use junkie, drug addict.”

USE affected communities; DON’T use high risk group.”

USE children with HIV; DON’T use innocent victims.”

Innocent victims. Such an odd term. The AFAO caution against using it, as its use contributes to the stigma around and discrimination against people living with HIV. Let us, for the sake of the discussion in this post, entertain the notion that such a category does exist. If there is such a class, what are we to refer to other victims as … “guilty victims”?

These binary judgments sound ridiculous, and arguably are. Nonetheless, a significant percentage of the world’s population believe in the existence of such categories. Implicit within the terms above is the perception that some victims of – well, anything, really – have taken some action or done something wrong, to deserve (or at least facilitate) whatever it is that has happened (or is happening) to them.

From this point of view, the predicaments people experience in life are a consequence of the choices they make and actions they take. In the case of HIV, adults who contract it from voluntary unprotected sex with someone likely living with the virus, are said to have brought it upon themselves. A child who contracts HIV from their parent, in contrast, is absolved of any “guilt” in the creation of their life predicament – they had no choice. They are innocent.

You might expect someone to the right of the political spectrum to endorse such a karmic view of the world – one in which adults are responsible, and reap what they sow. Not too long ago, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who studies the intuitive foundations of morality, conducted a study in which Americans were asked questions to ascertain their moral values. Over 350,000 people were surveyed, and the sample group were asked to endorse or reject the following two statements, among others:

1) “Compassion is the most important virtue.”

2) “The world would be a better place if we let unsuccessful people fail and suffer the consequences.”

Haidt’s research found that conservatives endorsed both statements mildly, and equally. It is a predictable finding. People who lean right tend to emphasise the idea of “personal responsibility”. Beyond cleaning up the fallout of ones own errors, this seems to involve encouraging (sometimes forcing) people into what could be described as conservative lifestyles. Setting aside religion-based notions of propriety and worthiness, these lifestyles are seen to afford the individual a measure of protection against all manner of undesirable things.

In contrast, the response of liberals to those same statements above was stronger – the liberals in the sample group strongly endorsed the compassion statement, and strongly rejected the failure statement. They wanted compassion to be the foundational virtue of their society (evidence of bleeding hearts). Haidt said the liberals surveyed were more likely to give people further chances – and more likely to endorse the idea that mercy is better than revenge.

Of course, many liberals also espouse notions of moral “personal responsibility” and “natural” karmic law. I recall dissident feminist Camille Paglia’s (controversial) assertion that the AIDS crisis that killed so many gay men in the 1980s, was directly connected to out-of-balance promiscuous excesses – although she attached no moral judgment to this assertion. In contrast, sex positive advice columnist/activist Dan Savage scolded some men in his community living with HIV, for endangering the lives of others through what he saw as wilfully irresponsible behaviour.

It is easy to see how both the “karmic” and “compassion” perspectives could be wrong – and how they could be right. On the one hand, many of us have a choice as to how we live our lives – we can mitigate risks to ourselves, and others, through these choices. Whilst apportioning blame to HIV-positive people is both cruel and unconstructive, providing people with resources, reliable information, and encouraging everyone (through incentives and disincentives) to responsibly self-care can be empowering for both individuals and communities.

On the other hand, we are inherently flawed beings; we make mistakes. We must navigate complex environments with familial, social, cultural, economic, legal, political and psychological pressures, using whatever knowledge and resources we’ve been able to accumulate at any point in time. We have different levels of access to information, different life experiences, different temperaments and abilities, different inner and outer struggles. We are not always able to foresee the consequences of the choices we make. A large number of us do not have many choices at all.

This is why it is important to balance an understanding of personality responsibility with an understanding of – and compassion for – the complexity of the human experience. We are all frequently victims of human frailty, both our own and others. Simultaneously, we contend with larger social forces in an unconscious world that powerfully shape our behaviour. Given this volatile, uneven and unfair world we all have been born into, compassion seems to be the only reasonable response.

Strolling around the International Aids Conference Global Village, visiting information stalls from over 30 countries representing all demographics affected by HIV, I was once again reminded of the necessity of that compassion – and just how (unnecessarily) complicated the world we have created is. How societies shame people living with the virus, whilst enacting policies and enforcing social mores that unintentionally raise the likelihood of high-risk behaviour, and prevent people from seeking, or even having access to, medical care.

In  many societies today, the tension between a conservative “karmic” view of those affected by HIV, and those advocating a “compassion” response – with a greater emphasis on removing the burden and barrier of stigma – rages on. Stigmatisation inevitably accompanies the conservative view of morality, of cause and effect. Not only does this adversely affect HIV-positive people – babies, children, teenagers, adults, the elderly – but the stigmatisation can actually put a society as a whole at risk.

Consider the advent of “AIDS denialism” in South Africa, famously propagated by its former president Thabo Mbeki, under the influence of maverick (pseudo) scientists. The country faces hugely complex problems surrounding containment/treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Whilst sexuality is very much a part of being human, our species historically has had a profoundly tortured relationship with its own – in many cultures and religious traditions, sexuality has been stigmatised, and attributed to mankind’s lower “animal” nature. Such notions accompanied Christian-European settlement of South Africa.

Adding to this deep, toxic shaming of a basic human impulse, Black South Africans contended with a history of racist characterisation regarding their sexual behaviour – they were regarded by many whites as rampantly promiscuous, and thus less moral or worthy. In a country where these interrelated, shame-inducing bad ideas about sexuality and race were long embedded, the susceptibility of some towards wanting to believe that a disease spreading quickly in a majority black population was not transmitted through sexual contact, was foreseeable.

The consequences, sadly, were utterly devastating. By the late 1990s, Thabo Mbeki had started to question the scientific consensus on AIDS, that the syndrome is caused by a viral infection that can be treated (not cured) with life saving/extending medical drugs. In 2000, Mbeki publicly rejected that consensus, declaring AIDS was not brought about by a virus, but by the collapse of the immune system – which he said was caused by poverty, bad nourishment and general ill-health. Alleviation of poverty was thus the answer – not expensive medications.

The ensuing policies enacted by his government were responsible for the avoidable deaths of more than a third of a million people, according to Pride Chigwedere and colleagues from the Harvard school of public health in Boston. They estimated that more than 330,000 people died unnecessarily over the period 2000-2005, and that 35,000 HIV-positive babies were born who could have been protected from the virus. Culturally embedded stigma, shame, and denial thus contributed significantly to the massive spread of HIV not just at a community level, but also at the highest, legislative level.

There is clearly much to be said for taking responsibility for ones actions – for enacting policies that encourage people to do so, and guide social behaviour in order to protect both individuals and a whole population. But the unfortunate example of South Africa under Mbeki shows that rigid moral judgments – particularly when unexamined – coupled with a denial of human nature, can cause as much needless suffering, if not more, than individual poor choices. In that case, moral judgments (and the fear of them) actually prevented policies that would have facilitated healthier behaviour and saved lives.

And so, when it comes to assisting people living with HIV, a virus that does not discriminate, morality-based notions of “innocent” and “guilty” victimhood are entirely redundant and unhelpful. But we do need to get the balance right. Coming up with policies that encourage and empower people to make wise choices in regards to their lives and health, whilst working zealously to eliminate stigma as something that is both inhumane and dangerous for society as a whole, is the middle way forward.


Yes, that was another epic absence from here. I meant to post this back in July but, ya know, life.

Transcending the (modular) mind.

“What would it feel like if there were no one in control? And I think the answer to that question is that it would sort of feel like what it is to be human”

Kurzban on ‘All in The Mind’, ABC Radio National, 6/11/2010.

Not being in control has been a constant theme in my life.

More recently, it is what compelled me to take an impromptu blogging sabbatical back in March (er, sorry about that). Not that I was out of control. But life has a way of forcing me – in dramatically messed up ways – to pass through certain doors of awareness in order to progress, step-by-step, to what I intuit is some metaphorical plateau of illumination.

I am not complaining. I have been told by people with deep insights in this area that I am “evolving quickly” – and for this, I am grateful. Part of this progress has been realising that my life process does, and will likely always, involve sudden stops, followed by periods of emptiness, during which my only desire is to isolate, rest – followed by some spectacular realisation or enlightenment.

Much of this has to do with the fact that I am an INFJ – the bulk of my “thinking” happens outside of my ‘conscious’ awareness, and I often use intuition, before logic, to ascertain what is what, in a given situation. The reason for this is simple and frustrating – I can function in no other way. This is just how it is, for me. I have no control over that. It is what it is.

So I navigate life with this inner sense, refined by logic and reason. And this means that I sometimes make decisions, or create things, or pursue a course of action that I know will yield a particular result that needs to occur. But here is the kicker – I do not know the specifics of what that result will be. Nor do I know when what I create will reveal it’s purpose to me – I only know I need to play my part. All will be revealed later.

Crazy, right? Yet I have consistently found this to be true for me – especially this year. Pictures in my head converted to pictures on my wall, revealing their meaning to me weeks and months later with startling literal clarity. Things have been falling apart and falling away all around me, and yet the inner vision is somehow becoming clearer. Twelve things written as a list on a piece of paper, many years ago, now revealed to me.

I know now the broad outline of the story, my little story – I just need to play my part. But the specifics of each scene are always improvised. I’m only in control of my reactions and responses, moment to moment. I perceive I am here merely to perform a function – something else is in control. This notion, of being a mere conduit for “something else”, some higher force – whole, holistic, clear-sighted, loving – to emerge through, is central to many spiritual teachings.

And it is probably the part of pursuing such teachings that juvenile seekers (egos seduced by the popular new-agey selling point of being able to be tiny masters of the universe, magically in control of and conjuring their lives like magicians) find the hardest to understand or even accept as a thing. Not being in control, being a servant or tool, is not as sexy as being a man-god, is it?

But the notion that we are just performing a collection of functions, necessary from an evolutionary perspective, and driven by an evolutionary impulse, is likely just as true in terms of the physical mind. In the physical mind, however, the multitude of different functions our “selves” perform – particularly when that “self” is disconnected from any higher consciousness – leads to contradictions, self-delusion, hypocrisy, dualities.

The evolutionary psychologist Robert Kurzban contends that our minds are, in fact, “modular”, rather than something unitary. This means that human minds have different components – each of these components are functionally specialized. An analogy Kurzban has used is that our minds are like smart phones – they have different applications, or modules, that perform different functions.

Evolutionary analysis focuses on the notion of function – if something exists, it is (or has) served some kind of evolutionary purpose. Thus, a mind module exists because it is fulfilling a particular function. This function, in physical terms, is to contribute to the reproductive success of the individual. The thing about these modular functions, though, is that sometimes the outcome of those functions – and the functions themselves – seem to contradict each other.

One problematic outcome of this conflict, is rank hypocrisy. Think of the politician, who knows that in order to win votes, he must take a firm moral stand on a particular issue – for example, the sanctity of marriage, including his own. His political success app knows this is necessary, and he may even believe his own moralising. But this politician has another app – one that compels him to chase skirt of reproductive age like a son-of-a-bitch.

A bit of a conflict there, I think it is safe to say. The hypothetical politician is pursuing self-interest in both cases – both things individually provide worldly benefits to him, but they also contradict each other (and any exposure of this contradiction to the community, is arguably a reproductive liability). Kurzban has been careful to emphasise, though, that he does not see the modular view as obviating responsibility for ones actions.

It merely explains a lot of dodgy, harmful, and hurtful human behaviour. But we are still responsible for that behaviour. Keeping this in mind, note that the modular view inherently points to something that many, many people find quite disturbing – the idea that we are not in control of our minds, in a bigger sense. Natasha Mitchell asked Kurzban about this back in 2010, when he was a guest on ABC Radio National’s “All In The Mind” (one of my faves).

The philosopher Jerry Fodor had said that “If there is a community of computers in my head there had also better be somebody in charge, and by God that had better be me”. When reminded of this quote, Kurzban said:

“there’s this really powerful intuition that there’s someone in your head that’s sort of in charge: the I, the me, what Freud would have called the ego or something like that. And my view would be that that’s just an illusion, that we just feel as though there’s this unitary eye in there, but in fact we’re just this network of lots of different systems. And that idea is somehow frightening, and yet it explains a lot of these sorts of inconsistencies.”

The ego – just an illusion. He continued:

“So when Jerry wants there to be someone in control, my view of that is that well what if there’s not? What would it feel like if there were no one in control? And I think the answer to that question is that it would sort of feel like what it is to be human, to feel conflicted and to feel like there’s a different sort of system in charge depending on if I’m hungry or not, and what situation I’m in, what my recent past has been and so on. So I think that whereas there’s this really strong intuition of selfhood, the modular view suggests that maybe that’s not necessarily going to turn out to be right.”

In contrast to Fodor, I feel pretty comfortable with not being in control – all the more so because “reproductive success” is no longer of any interest to me. It is a different kind of evolution I am after.


Thank you for understanding my need to take a break from blogging. I will post the follow up to my last post – ‘Brandis’ fight for the right to SPREAD FALSEHOODS to further bigoted agendas – S18C repeal’ – tomorrow🙂 Such a pretty day today, isn’t it?

Writing for courage.

Anne Frank quote

“Her poignant account of the greatest evil imaginable revealed a gifted writer and profound thinker who humanised the inhumane”, writes Anne Frank. One of my eternal heroes. She is believed to have died in early March, 1945, along with her sister Margot Frank, whilst imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Get a copy of her diary, read excerpts of her diary, read about her, watch, and never forget.

ESSENTIAL viewing for contemporary peace: 12 Years A Slave

There’s a good reason this film won Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay at the 86th Academy Awards, as well as the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Lupita Nyong’o, and a Best Actor nomination for Chiwetel Ejiofor:


12 Years A Slave is a devastating portrayal of the story of Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), an adaptation of his 1853 memoir ‘Twelve Years a Slave’.  Northup was a New York State-born free African American man, an accomplished violinist and farmer, a husband and father, who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery.

Other cast members include Adepero Oduye, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Liza J. Bennett, Brad Pitt, and Paul Dano. This motion picture was directed by the brilliant Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) from an adapted screenplay written with John Ridley, and shot by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt – who worked with McQueen on Hunger and Shame. It was produced by Plan B, Brad Pitt’s production company.


I cannot quite put into words the power of this movie. The story will stay with me forever. So I will just say this: 12 Years A Slave is not merely an historical picture. It is much more than a biographical drama, more than a faithful adaptation of an autobiographical novel. And it is much, much more than an unflinching look at one of the ugliest manifestations of human evil in known history.

Yes, this film is all of those things, and for this I feel grateful to all who made it a reality. But let us not make the mistake of resting in the anaesthetising assumption that that warped consciousness – such that would lead a human to think it not only okay, but justifiable, to torture, own, or exploit another being – is essentially dead in the developed world. It is not.

I see this film as having contemporary parallels. For 12 Years A Slave highlights one of the most disturbing and insidious aspects of the human mind – the ability to desensitise ourselves from the suffering of others, in favour of our own comfort, pleasure, wealth, aesthetic preferences.

Perhaps unintentionally, the film is rich in metaphors for the justifications we in the modern, supposedly “enlightened” and civilised world make for purchasing products, supporting governments, hoarding wealth or simply turning away from the suffering of others, in favour of base and corrupt self-interest.

One such example: A slave owners wife, Mrs Ford, who is disturbed by the anguished wailing of a Mother (who happens to be a slave, Eliza) for her children, a young boy and little girl, taken from her and sold to other slave owners. “I cannot have that kind of depression about”, she whispers. The grieving Mother is removed, permanently.

Out of sight, out of mind… the oppressor’s comfort is conserved. The victim’s pain and vocal suffering was disturbing the comfortable, civilised peace. The victim’s pain – not the evil, vile acts that caused her pain – was seen as the problem.  (Mrs Ford had earlier, for a brief moment, entertained sympathy for Eliza’s plight, before telling Eliza it would be okay, as she would soon forget her children).

So then. What is evil?

Evil is not just abject cruelty and extreme violence. It has been said that evil thrives when good men do nothing. Evil also thrives when those perpetrating and supporting evil indirectly, fail to see – or wilfully refuse to see – how their actions (or inactions) are part of that evil.

When we allow our governments to torture, mistreat, imprison. When we punish people for fighting for their freedom. When we simply turn away from the suffering of others. We are Mrs Ford. We are the person who claims to be compassionate, to be good, whilst simultaneously supporting systems literally sanctioning the harm of others.

When you see this film – and you must – think about the hidden cruelty and inhumanity built into our global economic system today. Think about how we tell people fighting to merely be free that they should be less “angry”, and consider them less worthy of sympathy when they have the audacity to show the desperate emotions that come with the struggle to survive.

Think about how easily and happily we remain ignorant of the suffering that may have gone into almost everything we consume. Slavery is not dead, and nor is the moral blindness that enabled it. It is incumbent upon everyone who truly believes in freedom – and I hope that you do, as I do – to open our eyes.


“The last word: everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live. This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup. I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery. And the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today.” – Steve McQueen, Director, 12 Years A Slave.

Inspired change on International Women’s Day.

It’s International Women’s Day (IWD) today – read the backstory here. This year’s theme is ‘INSPIRING CHANGE’. The official page for this day implores us: “So make a difference, think globally and act locally !! Make everyday International Women’s Day. Do your bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.” 

I’m currently making tea and about to tune in this morning to Brekkie With Kulja Coulston And Sara Savage (Producer Elizabeth McCarthy) on 102.7FM RRR at 7-10am. This broadcast is a part of ‘Girls to the Mic’,  a 24-hour IWD presentation of radio made by women from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia’s Digital Radio Project and Community Radio Network (the first time this has been done here). Here’s some info on what the Brekkie broadcast will entail – I’m looking forward to it🙂

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what women, lucky enough to be able to spend time and money on anything other than the essentials (and have multiple choices in regards to where we purchase those essentials from), can do daily to ensure that we are not contributing negatively to the well being of women and girls, and positively contributing towards a more peaceful, humane and equitable world for everyone.

Seriously. What is something we can do daily? And what do we all currently do daily that impacts not only on our own bodies/wellbeing/life situations, but the bodies/wellbeing/life situations of others? Perhaps people we will never know or meet? Women? Children? Men? Families? And animals and the Earth too?

The answer is obvious. We CONSUME. We spend money. We buy stuff. Food and household products, transportation products, beauty products, entertainment products. We buy products of necessity and products of vanity. We buy products to help us get from A to B and products for sheer pleasure. We buy products to enlighten ourselves, and products to distract ourselves.

We buy things for our families, other loved ones, and for us. Occasionally, we might buy things to assist people we don’t actually know, or have a personal connection with. Whatever we choose to direct our money towards, we make these decisions, daily – and these decisions, collectively, are shaping the planet we live on.

Numerous articles published in the last few years have described the phenomenal “purchasing power” of the developed world’s women – at least women, in the US. In one example, The National Times cites a study that said women spend more than 70 per cent of consumer dollars worldwide. Other articles challenge these figures – like this one in the Wall Street Journal.  But whether women control most of it, or half of it, middle class (and above) women do spend a lot.

As a woman living in the West, just another bozo on the bus who has the ability to spend a small amount of money on non-essential products if I so choose, and who claims to value principles such as universal compassion, mercy, justice and empathy, I fully realise that an absolutely essential component of holding these principles is actually living them.

Part of living them, is ensuring that the consumer decisions I make on a daily basis (or every other day, rather), are in line with the values that compel me to take note of something like International Women’s Day. This includes opening my eyes to where the products I use are coming from. It means making choices that support businesses that treat their employees with dignity, and the earth with respect.

And it’s tough. It is impossible to live in this society and be “pure”. I am obviously using a computer right now, a computer I need to work, stay connected with community,  and survive. My computer has enabled me to learn about the world, make a living, seek specialised medical advice, receive and offer comfort from and to loved ones, and connect with opportunities that have directly improved the quality of my life situation.

But there is a good chance that this computer was made by ill-treated workers under duress in a factory overseas, out of non-biodegradable materials created with the help of thousands of metric tons of carbon emissions, and resource extraction methods that may well have caused environmental damage. The world humans have created is messy, and cruel.

Still … there are choices I can make, about what I consume, and it is my responsibility to make them. I can join collective efforts to try to force corporations who make these products to behave ethically. I can choose to investigate where the products I do purchase come from, and alter my choices depending on what information I find. I can think about the way animals are treated, and whether I am okay with supporting industries that exploit and torture them.

I’ve started a spin-off blog, Live Simply, to kind of document my own gradual shift towards – as much as is humanly possible (given my disability and media-related profession) – a lifestyle based on conscious consumer choices, that are in line with the humane and holistic principles I firmly believe are essential to the survival of our messy, crazy, wonderful human race and, to the esoteric minded, our evolution.

Remember the words of MLK: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” This is as true in relation to our economic system as it is to ecosystems. Everything is interconnected. So the CHANGE I’m inspired to make this International Women’s Day – or recommit to – is to live, and consume, increasingly consciously.

On Pop Feminism.

This is an interesting critique of what the author describes as “pop feminism” – from Claire Lehmann, whose writing (when I come across it) I always find thought provoking:

It’s interesting to read this essay now, particular the passage: “Pop feminist articles are generally put together wholly from second-hand material – stories about studies – not the studies themselves. Not only is this bad feminist critique; it is bad journalism.”

Perhaps this only applies to feminists when they attempt to disagree with studies, or put forth an argument the author does not agree with, as I recall Lehmann tweeted support for Mia Freedman’s editorial on the link between girls drinking and girls being sexually assaulted – a piece that caused a stir on social media late last year.

Much like the pop feminist article Lehmann generally characterises in her essay, Freedman’s editorial linked to another op ed as evidence for her position. That other op ed does refer to a reputable cross-sectional, US Web-based survey conducted on college students about their experiences of sexual assault on campus, and their consumption of alcohol.

But for Australia-based evidence, Freedman’s editorial presented stats that pertain to the perpetrators of physical assault as if they were stats relating to victims of sexual assault:

“Victims of sexual assault were more likely to believe alcohol and/or any other substance contributed to the most recent incident they experienced if the offender was a friend (76%). This was significantly higher than the overall proportion of victims of physical assault who believed alcohol and/or any other substance contributed to their most recent incident (59%).”

This quote, in the editorial, is not contained in the document linked to in it – which is actually this Australian Institute Of Criminology document. The passage does appear almost verbatim in this ABS report called ‘Contribution Of Alcohol And/Or Any Other Substance To Assault’, under the heading ‘CHARACTERISTICS OF THE OFFENDER’. Only, instead of “victims of sexual assault” it says “victims of physical assault.”

And the first paragraph in the report is this: “Research has indicated that the consumption of alcohol is associated with acts of violence, although there is no clear relationship between the level of alcohol consumed and the likelihood of becoming either a victim or perpetrator of violence (AIC 2000).”

I am not taking a shot at Lehmann here – I appreciate the clarity of her writing. What I take from this is rather a note to myself that when we are reading an article putting forth a position that we are partial to, we should probably consciously attempt to apply the same standard of analysis to it, as we would to an article putting forth a position we are hostile to (or written by an author we are not particular fond of. In Lehmann’s case this is undoubtably Daily Life columnist Clementine Ford).

On a related note, this here is a great essay from Lehmann published in the SMH last December – about hyperbolic opinion pieces and the creation (or worsening) of division. Here’s a taste: “Reinforcing bitterness between groups of people by invoking indignant outrage may be a good business strategy for online news outlets but it is terrible for encouraging the social cohesion required to address problems facing the community as a whole.”


P.S. My criticism of that sexual assault piece is about the way Freedman presented her evidence in that editorial, as a journalist – I certainly don’t think binge drinking is benign. As someone with a disability I often wonder how healthy people can do that shit to their bodies.

P.P.S. I heard Clementine Ford speak once about writing online, and she admitted that often the pieces that get the most traffic are not the ones that are carefully researched and nuanced, but the ones that are most incendiary, or take the firmest stance in one particular direction. Of course, it’s a thing.

P.P.P.S I’ve read things written by Freedman and by Ford before that I have enjoyed. Any critique here from me does not equal blanket “hate”.

One love, people🙂 How cool is it to have so many influential women writers to discuss on International Women’s Day?

The prime directive of consciousness: The health of the WHOLE.


“In other words, most of the work that needs to be done is work to make the lower (and foundational) waves more healthy in their own terms. The major reforms do not involve how to get a handful of boomers into second tier, but how to feed the starving millions at the most basic waves; how to house the homeless millions at the simplest of levels; how to bring health care to the millions who do not possess it. An integral vision is one of the least pressing issues on the face of the planet.”


“I believe that the real revolutions facing today’s world involve, not glorious collective move into transpersonal domains, but the simple, fundamental changes that can be brought to the magic, mythic and rational waves of existence.


“All of those waves have important tasks and functions; all of them are taken up and included in subsequent waves; none of them can be bypassed; and none of them can be demeaned without grave consequences to self and society. The health of the entire spiral is the prime directive, not preferential treatment for any one level.” 

– From ‘A Theory of Everything’ by Ken Wilber



Consciousness is not cutting yourself off from the suffering of others.

Consciousness is choosing not to participate in, support, contribute to the suffering of other bodies, and beings.

Consciousness is global concern, compassion, justice, mercy, empathic understanding.

Consciousness is not being a dick😉


A brief, late post from a very, very tired lady. I hope you had a good day today.

Here in Australia, it was Australia Day, the country’s official day of celebration of nationhood. January the 26th is the day in 1788 when the First Fleet of British settlers arrived on Australian shores. Because of this, many Aboriginal people regard this day as “Invasion Day” or Survival Day. I am sympathetic to the term Survival Day, and the sentiment behind it. I would support changing the date of celebration, although that is highly unlikely in the forseeable future.

Nonetheless, I am immensely grateful to be a citizen of Australia. For my entire life, this has been my home. Modern Australia is an evolving and beautiful country, with many generous and kind people. Perhaps my favourite part of the day’s official celebrations is seeing the Australia Day honours, as these honours often reflect a diversity of thought and background – and character – that I am glad exists alongside, ahem, the rougher edged elements here.

What is not so honourable is the broad scale ignorance of what actually happened from 1788and the extent of the violent, repugnant subjugation of Indigenous people here, perpetrated by the European colonizers. Racism towards Indigenous people still stains the soul of this nation. Ignorance, and denial, of the Indigenous resistance to colonization prevails. Ignorance of Indigenous culture and cultural groups is also pretty thin – how many people, I wonder, would be familiar with this map? [click to enlarge]:


Map of Aboriginal Australia, via ABC Online:

The failure to fully acknowledge the darker aspects of the Australian psyche and modern Australian history is just that – a failureIt is unfortunate that many don’t want to acknowledge what can be called, in spiritual terms, Australia’s “shadow”.

Australia doesn’t want to think of itself as *that*.

Yet, full recognition of that shadow is essential to healing what are deep wounds that Indigenous Australia has carried the burden of. Wounds that, it seems, non-Indigenous Australians have enjoyed the privilege of willfully ignoring or being ignorant of. Recognising what we love about this beautiful country today, and, in particular, celebrating the best of its character, is wonderful. But good character also means acknowledging wrongdoing in the past, promoting healing, and genuine respect for our diverse Indigenous population.

Full acknowledgement of past (and the legacies of that past still thriving today, as frequent incidences of racism and statistical disparities indicate), and embracing a positive today, and future, are not antithetical. A genuinely positive future is, in fact, dependent upon such an acknowledgment.

I envision a day where the celebration of one’s country does not involve the white-washing, sanctioning, or denial of the wrongs of history. An Australian Unity Day that acknowledges all facets of who we are.


Here is a piece published in The Guardian, written by Nakkiah Lui, that sheds some light on Australia’s shadow: 

Here is a piece on some tangible reasons to thoroughly love modern Australia:

And here – Australia Day Honours List. People honoured for positively affecting the lives of those around them:

“Dear Father Christmas”

My Mum found this the other day – a letter I wrote to Father Christmas at the age of 5. I have always insisted that I never believed in Santa, so this was amusing proof to the contrary. Equally amusing – I cut out a catalogue photo of the item I desired, and, seemingly concerned about Santa’s budget, advised him the item was on sale at KMart🙂

I also promised “to be good forever”. A promise I suspect was broken about fifteen minutes after this letter was written😉


Issue 8 of Stella Magazine on sale now!

HOT OF THE PRESS:  current issue of Stella MagazineList of stockists here.

Online subscriptions available for residents in PNG, Australia, New Zealand, Asia/Pacific and the Rest of the World.

Subscribe here for your chance to WIN!

And stay in the loop by liking Stella Magazine on Facebook here.

Working on some new articles and projects! Evolution continues in 2014🙂

New Just the Messenger posts on Mandela, Deep Sea Mining, changes to the Racial Discrimination Laws and Violence Against Women coming up. As well as long overdue instalments of ethical consumption, bathroom detox, and conscious living. Stay tuned.



Two month ago, a fellow left a comment on this blog and tweeted me some words of critique and encouragement I genuinely appreciated.

His name was Father Kevin Lee – a former Catholic Priest who gained a public profile after he admitted to having secretly married a woman, love of his life, Josefina. For this “sin”, he was dismissed from the priesthood of his church. He also blew the whistle on what he called the widespread covering up of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, and argued strongly for the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse.

It was reported on Sunday that the 50-year-old Kevin Lee had died, claimed by Typhoon Haiyan whilst swimming in the Philippines. This was confirmed by further reports yesterday. Kevin is survived by his wife Josefina and 2-month old daughter, Michelle, whom he wrote about lovingly  on his blog. His last post is titled, If I had not broken my vows, Michelle Lucilla Lee would not exist. It is a lovely reflection on the complexity of “morality”.

Roughly two weeks ago a young family friend, William, died suddenly. He is survived by his partner and 3 month-old son Liam. Whilst all family grieve in these circumstances, I feel especially sorry for the little ones left behind, and the parent who must now raise them without the other. People leave a legacy when their physical lives come to an end, and nobody’s is perfect.

With William, despite his troubles in life, he did leave a legacy of generosity and friendship, good deeds done in private, without fanfare. Part of Kevin’s legacy was lending his voice and testimony towards the cause of reform of the church he still believed in, and the cause of justice for victims of a heinous crime. Here is a clip of Father Kevin Lee’s 2012 interview on Lateline, discussing this.

But it can’t hurt to think about what you want to leave behind… not in terms of a song, but in terms of a legacy. And not necessarily a material legacy, but perhaps an emotional legacy, an energetic legacy… that you affected someone or something in a positive way… that you mattered to somebody.”

From my previous post, Seven Songs to Leave Behind’



Follow up: basic research, & the art of the *indirect* strawman argument

I meant to post this ages ago but WordPress ‘schedule’ tech error, then life distractions, oh dear. A word of WARNING: this post discusses, and links to posts, about the crime of sexual assault.

So back on the 23/10 I took a spontaneous detour to write about how the OpEd Mia Freedman wrote (in which she argued in favour of advising young women to drink less in order to reduce their chances of being sexually assaulted) presented stats that pertain to the perpetrators of physical assault as if they were stats relating to victims of sexual assault (it’s all in that post – scroll down to “Inaccurate & Irresponsible Use Of Statistics”).

This was the biggest problem with the article. It is not unreasonable to expect editorial writers (and writers in general) to not misrepresent data in order to back up their opinions – no matter what the publication. Just because Mia will occasionally dedicate an OpEd to seriously attacking a Kim Kardashian ‘selfie’, doesn’t mean the public can’t expect some standards. Any media platform that reaches a lot of people can and should be called out if they peddle falsehoods – either deliberately or accidentally.

Following the “sexual assault and alcohol” topic, Mia wrote an editorial that insinuated the mainstream media, The Greens, and a number of diversity organisations were “silent” in the aftermath of an anti-Semetic attack in Bondi (which is inaccurate, and ironic, given the attack was not reported by MamaMia in their own round-up of Saturday news). She even suggested that if the victims were Muslim they would have received more coverage. Was this just click-bait or sincere(ly misguided)?

MamaMia had to publish a correction regarding the Greens, who in fact had spoken up about the attack, and many people pointed out that the story was prominent all over media. The site Jews Downunder documented some of this (the author of whom left a comment quite disgusted with Mia’s post/site and its moderation of comments). The Referral also documented some of this, and the diversity orgs that did speak up to condemn the attack. Clearly, a quick fact-checking exercise could have been helpful there.

As it would have with the alcohol and sexual assault piece. A quick google search could have helped locate a University of Wollongong study useful to Mia’s argument. I believe this study is the one Susie O’Brien was referring to in her OpEd on the same thing. The study’s focus is completely on sexually “risky” behaviour of a sample group of women under the influence of alcohol at an Australian University. Looking at gathering data to help inform women how they can use their agency to best protect their interests.

And the report says “This research is needed because public health intervention programs aimed at reducing alcohol consumption and associated risk behaviours generally focus on predominantly male oriented behaviours such as speeding and drink driving (Keane 2009).” (Perhaps they’ll be investigating the sexually risky behaviours of young males too, down the track? Assuming the women aren’t having sex only amongst themselves).

So. There really is no excuse for obfuscating data – I think it is widely understood now that binge drinking is a serious public health and safety issue for women and men (and minors), for numerous reasons. Everyone needs to wise up about it, and research is suggesting sexual health education too needs to address the role of alcohol in affecting choices that can be harmful to ones own health/well being.

The Opposing Arguments…

Mia did cite a US study that found alcohol to be present in a substantial number of sexual assaults of undergraduates in that country. But it is worth noting that another study, “The Role of Rape Myth Acceptance in the Social Norms Regarding Sexual Behavior Among College Students”, found that, in a sample group with a majority of females, 41% believed that a woman who was raped while drunk was responsible, whilst men had higher rape myth acceptance. The less sexual knowledge the men had, the more they accepted the rape myths.

This is one of the reasons the feminists Mia indirectly criticised in her piece want the focus of public discourse about sexual assault to be on the perpetrators of this crime and combating rape myths, as opposed to “female responsibility”. For despite efforts to reinforce the message that it is never the victims fault, some victim blaming persists. Which is why focusing predominantly on what potential victims should do to make themselves safer will continue to draw fierce criticism.

As for the response to the (needlessly personal) Twitter storm. I like to observe how public figures handle media stoushes and controversy in general, so it was interesting to see how Mia responded to the broad spectrum of critical responses she received over the piece. She wrote a follow up editorial, in which she asserts “I don’t want to make this about me”, but that is in fact a piece solely about the more insane things said about her on social media.

In it, she reproduces a series of the most inflammatory, unreasonable and outlandish statements (it is not stated precisely where these statements were made) and comprehensively responds to each of them – kicking their butts, so to speak. Which is, as it happens, a great way to make your own position seem sane and sensible in comparison. On many people, this is an effective method of persuasion. An ironic response to strawman arguments that is itself a kind of indirect strawman – pick out the stupidest arguments against your position, then rebut them (easily – and thus “win” the argument).

After the nasty Twitter hate-fest that occurred, I don’t fault her for doing this at all. When people talk shit at/about you, it is natural to want to serve it back to them. And Mia does have her share of “haters” (as does every opinionated person in the media, regardless of their politics). I just wish Mia had, instead, used her significant platform to respond to, and maybe even counter, some of the serious, civil and sensible critiques of – and concerns raised about – her OpEd.

But, unlike the obviously crazy statements she reproduced to rebut, she doesn’t mention what these critiques are. Here are just some of them:

1) Georgia Dent’s editorial, on Womens Agenda.

2) Maddy Grace’s feminist response addresses the Herald Sun’s Susie O’Brien and Mia – ‘How to avoid rape according to Emily Yoffe, Mia Freedman, Susie O’Brien et al’. (Note: Susie defended Mia. Unlike Mia though, she has  made remarks about a 14 year-old victim to the effect of “she chose to be there”. This upset quite a few people, because the victim was denied justice due to her perceived culpability in the disgusting violation of her body).

3) This post claims to cover some of the anti-rape education campaigns that do work in making “our daughters” safer. Quote: “as campaigns in Canada and Scotland have shown in recent years, there are information campaigns that actually do make a difference in lowering the rate of sexual assault on people who are drunk, and they do it by using messages targeting potential rapists rather than potential victims”.

4) Karen Pickering tweeted this very personal 2012 post she wrote to explain her involvement in SlutWalk, which illustrates the emotional and psychological complexity of being a victim of this crime – particularly when the victim believes there are things they could have done to avoid it. Many of the emotional and angry responses to Mia’s piece relate to concerns about this complexity.

5) And THIS article from Amy Gray, about the Victorian Liberal Government’s proposed overhaul of rape law in the state,  touches on another reason some people were so against Mia’s argument. It has to do with concerns about how public conversations, and public approval of certain views, can potentially reinforce the prejudices of future jurors and law makers – as well as further discourage victims from reporting crimes.

The Australian Institute of Criminology paper “Juror attitudes and biases in sexual assault cases” articulates this difficulty:
“two recent studies […] show that juror judgements in rape trials are influenced more by the attitudes, beliefs and biases about rape which jurors bring with them into the courtroom than by the objective facts presented, and that stereotypical beliefs about rape and victims of it still exist within the community.”

Note that Table 1, “Community beliefs about rape (percent)”, suggests that a majority of both men and women do not think sexual assault can be excused if the victim is heavily affected by alcohol. Good. However, the paper also discusses how alcohol consumption by both alleged victim and perpetrator adds an extra dimension of ambiguity and difficulty in achieving anything resembling justice in the courts.

You can probably guess why that is.

All of the above are things Mia could have responded to, to advance the real, civil discussion she wanted to have about the topic she chose to raise on her very successful platform. Mia has the ability to guide that discussion by putting forth well researched, civil arguments and engaging/responding to other civil arguments (and flatly ignoring the purveyors of nutbag statements like “you’re a rapist sympathiser”).

It wouldn’t take that much longer to prepare, but given how serious the issue it, it’s probably worth taking some extra time anyway. If Mia decides to write about this again in future, doing so with a careful consideration of the context she is launching her opinion into (highlighted by all the pages I link to above), might help her make her argument. Or, she can write something else inflammatory, controversial, hastily put together, and still get heaps of traffic on site.

What approach one takes depends on what the real end goal is, I guess.

RETRO POST: The Divided Brain – Iain McGilchrist | Dr Jill Bolte Taylor

Okay… another re-post! I’ll have some new ones up very soon… until then, this was my 105th blog post, first published 29/11/11. [I really MUST emphasise that the reference to left and right “hemispheres” of the brain, used below, serves as metaphor only.]

“It is my suggestion to you that in the history of Western Culture, things started, in the 6th century B.C in the Augustan Era, the 15th/16th century in Europe, with a wonderful balance of these hemispheres. but in each case it drifted further to the left hemispheres point of view.”

Iain McGilchrist 

This is a quite remarkable and fascinating RSAnimate lecture excerpt from renowned psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist, in which he explains how our ‘divided brain’ has profoundly altered human behaviour, politics, culture and society. Taken from a lecture given by Iain McGilchrist as part of the RSA’s free public events programme. To view the full lecture, go to  Thankyou anonymous for sending this to me. You’ve succeeded in making my morning.

What I really appreciate about this clip is that Mr McGilchrist touches on the links between brain function and the metaphor of right and left brain thinking, the lack of balance between the two, and the correlation between brain function and the problems of democracy and modern life. The link between brain function, perception and politics is a key area of interest for me.

McGilchrist makes clear what those of us interested in brain function know already: that for both imagination and reason, you need both hemispheres. He gives a clearer summation of what we can described metaphorically as left brain and right brain functions:

The left hemisphere, dependent on denotative language and abstraction, yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are known, fixed, static, isolated, de-contextualised, explicit, general in nature, but ultimately lifeless.

The right hemisphere, by contrast, yields a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate living beings within the context of the lived world, but in the nature of things never fully graspable, never perfectly known. And to this world, it exists, a certain relationship.

He goes on to describe these two hemispheres as “two worlds” that we combine in different ways all the time. We need to rely on certain things to manipulate the world (left), but for a broad understanding of it we need to use the right hemisphere. We need both. Problems arise when we deny one of them, when we embrace the “values” of one to the detriment of the other. Ideally, they should be in balance.

Make no mistake: McGilchrist is passionate about both language and reason. But he also appreciates the value of ‘right brain’ perceptions. The clip ends with an Einstein quote I’d never heard before:

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

If I had a dinner party, and I could invite anyone from history……


To continue on a theme, I recently discovered Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor (years after the rest of the world did). She is a Harvard-trained and published neuroanatomist who experienced a severe hemorrhage in the left hemisphere of her brain in 1996, and remained aware the whole time. So, as a neuroanatomist, she got to observe, with utter fascination, what it is to be totally inside the “right brain”. Her perceptions gained during that time are incredible. I just borrowed a copy of her book, My Stroke of Insight.

This a short, sharp, sweet interview:

She articulates more detailed descriptions in this interview with Charlie Rose. I could not stop giggling at the lost/skeptical expression on his face. But Bolte Taylor’s presentation style is crystal clear and engaging:

The purpose of my art.

“Become an alchemist. Transmute base metal into gold, suffering into consciousness, disaster into enlightenment.”

~ Eckhart Tolle


via @rupikaurpoetry

via @rupikaurpoetry



Rupi Kaur speaks my soul with such brevity, over and over again…

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