Tag Archives: Lip Mag

Have an authentic Christmas why don’t you

Hey tipsters (tippies, tiperifics, tiptantulors), here is my tip from Christmas. Now that it’s the middle of January it’s more of a reflection on the past. However, the best time to really think about what Christmas means is probably not two weeks before (or, as my mum said on Christmas Day, “NOT TODAY SARAH!”)

99 tips for a better world: have an authentic Christmas (11 of 99)


I’m going to take a guess that you feel ambivalent towards Christmas.

I certainly do. Deep, wide-ranging, conflicting ambivalence that is harder to unravel than just getting through the season without asking too many questions. So I don’t.

I struck it lucky in the personality and preferences lottery for this time of year. I love wandering through a supermarket listening to the Beach Boys sing Blue Christmas. I think Christmas decorations are fun and anything can be improved by draping a string of flashing lights over it.

Yet, I feel conflicted by the rampant consumerism of Christmas. I also feel conflicted by the overuse of the cliché ‘rampant consumerism’. I feel confused about the secularisation of a religious holiday – I am less bothered by the secularisation than I am the meaning-vacuum left behind. In practical terms Christmas Day tends to be more about recovering at my mum’s place from a frantic December than a celebration of anything much at all.

I am also ambivalent about Christmas naysayers. There is an abundance of people highlighting all that is wrong with Christmas. I understand the compulsion to express your concerns about the wall-to-wall advertising binge that starts in October. But there also seems something counterintuitive about it – “this-is-a-holiday-about-kindness-and-love-and-you’re-all-crap-and-doing-it-wrong!”

Despite my ambivalence, or perhaps because of it, all I know is that I would rather be topping up the reserves of Christmas cheer than pulling out the plug and letting it drain. So I get into “the Christmas spirit” and give presents and share food and decorate a Christmas tree. I put aside those niggling thoughts and get through to the 26th of December with a smile on my face.

But what if my ambivalence is part of the problem? I’m bothered by the mindless way we plough through this period, and yet my current survival technique is to mindlessly plough through this period.

This year I will strive to unravel some of my ambivalence and cut through the noise. I will ask myself what Christmas means to me and try to celebrate accordingly. An authentic celebration of Christmas will be unique to each one of us – a representation of our histories and our values and the family and friends we celebrate with (or don’t). For some of us it will be bells and whistles, for others quiet reflection. But I think we will instinctively know it when we see it.

In my search for meaning I will do my best to avoid Christmas clichés about “the true meaning of Christmas” (what exactly would that be then?).

I will also be wary of “true meaning of Christmas” clichés about volunteering at soup kitchens (do we even have soup kitchens in Australia?) While I question the advertising and shopping I will also question the imagery I’ve been fed through American movies and Christmas catalogues since the day I was born.

I’m not sure yet what Christmas does mean to me. Although, I heard a great quote last night that struck me might encapsulate the whole thing:

Well, I mean, you know, the longer I work and live the simpler my theology gets. And there’s many, many things I’m willing to entertain and think about and talk about, but fundamentally it still comes back to that God is love. And I mean that pretty literally, that God is, if nothing else, and that’s a big if, but if nothing else, God is that force that drives us to really see each other and to really behold each other and care for each other and respond to each other. And for me, that is actually enough.*

*from the podcast, “Presence in the Wild” with Kate Braestrup, On Being, December 13 2012 (listen to it at http://www.onbeing.org)

(Image credit)

Celebrate milestones (and moustaches)

It’s tip day at Lip. Tip number 10!

Sarah and Angus

99 tips for a better world: celebrate milestones (10 of 99)

Today’s tip will be so obvious to many of you that you will wonder why I bothered writing it down. ‘Of course you should celebrate milestones!’ I hear you say, as you decorate a cupcake or write in a fancy card with a calligraphy pen.

Take this opportunity to revel in your success at making the world a better place!

For some of us, however, this is a skill that needs developing.

Whether you don’t like making a fuss, or the milestones fly past without you noticing, I would like to make the case for changing your ways.

I am expertly qualified to make this case, as I am a reformed milestone ignorer. I would happily skip birthdays and graduated in absentia (twice). A few years ago I saw the error of my ways and vowed to begin celebrating milestones.

This week has been a big one for milestones. Not only is this the tenth tip (I’ve come so far!) I also celebrated my sister’s 40th birthday and the arrival of my friend’s baby. Furthermore, I am about to celebrate the 600th post on my blog (OK, so not all milestones are created equal).

Please excuse the cheesy use of a dictionary definition…But check this out:

mile•stone [?ma?l?st??n]

1. A stone set up beside a road to mark the distance in miles to a particular place.
2. An action or event marking a significant change or stage in development.

A stone to mark the distance. Isn’t that a conveniently poetic literal meaning?

If that dictionary meaning didn’t stop you dead in your tracks, here a few more good reasons to celebrate milestones.

1. Milestones help you live in the moment
It seems to me that around about 50 per cent of the internet is dedicated to blogs appealing to readers to live in the moment. Indeed, it is a worthy aspiration…and easier said than done. A wild party to celebrate your birthday or drinks with colleagues at the end of an epic project allow you to stop everything and focus on enjoying yourself right now. If you tend to suffer from guilt about what else you should be doing, a milestone helps you justify the extravagance. If you tend to suffer from working 24/7, a milestone is scheduled into your calendar.

2. Milestones remind you to enjoy the journey
Sometimes we get so caught up in what’s next instead of celebrating what already is. We assume the next project/year/house will be the one that catapults us into the life we’ve always dreamed of. Making it a priority to stop, celebrate and reflect on what’s been achieved already helps us realise that the life we’ve always dreamed of – or a few key elements at least – is already here.

3. Milestones are like tap on the shoulder from the grim reaper
I gave my sister a watch for her 40th birthday. When I bragged about how awesome it was to my work colleague, he told me that Chinese custom dictates that one should never give a gift of a watch, as it is a symbol of death. Rather than taking the wind out of my gift-giving sails, I embraced the opportunity to offer a symbol of mortality. I am a firm believer in being aware of our mortality because…well, duh, we are all going to die. Better to get used to it now rather than later and live a life you will be proud of as you take your last gasp.

4. Milestones provide excellent social cues
If expressing our affection for one another was left up to chance, the world would be a miserable place. Even if you are not the type to express loudly and publicly in the middle of a wedding or work Christmas party that you love your brother or boss, showing up, writing a nice card, and maybe even giving a thoughtful gift are all ways to express those hidden warm fuzzy feelings.

5. Milestones give you the perfect excuse for awesomeness
The photo above is of me and a sensational little guy named Angus (taken by Meaghan Cook of course). In addition to being a blessing for his family and all of us who are glad he could join us, he was also a grateful recipient of a moustache dummy. Which I am sure you will all agree has already made the world a better place.

Know what you believe in

Tip day at Lip!


99 tips for a better world: know what you believe in (9 of 99)

I am a contemplative type. While some people are primarily doers, I am primarily a thinker. This has its advantages (I rarely get bored standing in a queue) but also notable disadvantages (I rarely find myself standing in queues because that would require doing something like running an errand).

Knowing this about myself, I thought I had my beliefs all sorted out. Ponderings about the world and my place in it and how to make it better are on repeat inside my head. If I had to fill in a survey with the question: ‘Do you know what you believe in?’ I would have ticked the YES box.

Earlier this year I heard about the death of a friend of my friends via Facebook. As people shared memories of him and linked back to his blog, it revealed a man who was a deep thinker with strong beliefs, who committed very seriously to living by them. He died while climbing in the Peruvian Andes, an activity that was, by all accounts, an important part of a life lived in harmony with belief.

I contemplated this and paused to ask myself whether I was living according to my beliefs. Only, I came up blank when I tried to express what those beliefs are. I was especially surprised to discover a reluctance to commit anything more specific than ‘do unto others…’

As someone with an interest in politics, with a history of activism, who has dedicated my career to social justice issues, I’ve always just assumed that I’ve ticked the box when it comes to believing in something. But somewhere along the line I seemed to switch over to autopilot. I got on with life assuming that my actions were aligned with my values…some unnamed set of values.

Perhaps the autopilot happened as more of my daily life was spent negotiating and communicating the missions of organisations I worked for rather than expressing my own unadulterated opinions. Perhaps the more I understood the complexity of issues and implicit grey areas it became harder and harder to come down on one side.

Maybe autopilot is a fine way to live. It feels quite zen-like to move through life unburdened by a pre-committed belief system. But it also feels strange to identify as someone who lives a conscientious life without really knowing what barrow I’m pushing.

So I challenged myself to name one thing I distinctly believe in that shapes the way I live my life. Here it is:

I believe in humankind and our collective ability to improve ourselves and our world.

I can’t articulate it very well – I have no quotes from great thinkers at the ready to help me. But I do believe it, even when there is much evidence around to suggest that we are actively trying to destroy our world. Sometimes I find it hard to maintain this belief, but if I push myself to commit, I think we have great potential as a species.

Which is also why I believe in personal development – I believe in trying to be better versions of ourselves in ways that feel real and personally meaningful.

That’s probably why, as I write 99 tips for a better world, so many of them relate to how we live our own lives.

Have you checked out This I Believe?

What do you believe in?


Find some time for healing

With a new week comes a new tip over at Lip!

This time, I went to a Balinese healer.

99 tips for a better world: find some time for healing (8 of 99)

I started writing today’s tip curled up on a rattan chair in a gorgeous Balinese villa, surrounded by lush greenery and the clicking tails of geckos. Peace was in abundance.

I, however, was unable to enjoy it. It was 3am and I couldn’t sleep. I’d made it to Ubud but was still running on Melbourne time. Not just the three-hour time difference, but the brutally early mornings, the relentless brain activity, the familiar feeling that something wasn’t done, that someone was waiting for something I hadn’t delivered.

I usually strive (read: try with limited success) to maintain a balanced life, but the last month or so I was a poster child for the insanity of modern life. I rushed everywhere, said yes to everything I was asked and, to accommodate the busy schedule, said no to sleep and exercise.

I allowed myself to work and work and work with disregard for anything else because I knew a glorious relaxing week in Bali was on the horizon. How better, I thought, to reconnect with my long lost sweet inner life than lie in a hammock surrounded by lush tropical growth. It was also efficient! A year of stress and sleep deprivation would be erased by a week of relaxation…right?

At 3am I faced facts – you can’t shift from harried office worker to Zen master yogi just by hopping on a plane.

That night I wrote:

So I’m awake at 3am. My stomach has that low-level churning stressed feeling that doesn’t seem to go away anymore. I’m on my fourth night of holiday sleeping (no alarm!) so the pure exhaustion appears to have receded and now I am left to contend with the bruised and depleted self left over.

I was pretty fed up. I wanted to begin a revolution against modern living.

A revolution, however, seemed like something that should wait until after my holiday, so instead I decided to get proactive about my personal wellbeing and visit a Balinese healer.

This morning, fully equipped with traditional Balinese offerings, my travelling companions and I drove out to a village and into a grand but run down family compound. We were ushered onto a rattan mat by a leathery old man who looked somewhere between serene and uninterested.

The healer sat in a chair and I sat down in front, with my back to him. He poked and prodded my ears, head, face and neck and ran through a list: ‘Balance, OK; stomach, not bad – wait does that hurt? Yes, could be better; intelligence, OK; mind, oh dear; lymph nodes, not good.’

Then his mobile phone rang.

As he answered it, he instructed me to lie down on a dais. When he hung up he took a long wooden implement that looked like something you would use to fasten a bun in your hair and pressed the insides of my toes. He pressed the first couple of toes and when they didn’t hurt he said, ‘See, OK’ as if confirming his diagnosis. As he got to my third toe he pressed the wooden implement with what appeared to be a glint in his eye. The pain as he pressed was breathtaking. ‘See, problem!’

‘Your mind is a problem! Too much worry. You need to relax. You have stomach problems? This is why.’

My companions laughed and nodded as if to say, ‘It’s true! Her mind is a problem!’ I looked forward to them having a turn on the dais.

Once diagnosed, it was time for healing. Still lying down I put my arms beside my head, leaving myself open for the healer’s medicine. He took a small brush and ‘painted’ me with air in an elaborate pattern down the length of my torso. Then he brought my hands together against my heart as if to pray. ‘Now, pray to your God.’ He continued to run the brush over me and then declared, ‘OK, you’re fine now.’

I got up off the dais and sat back down with my group. I felt a strange tingling sensation in my stomach. The low-level churning had disappeared. I couldn’t stop smiling.

At 3am this tip was going to be: ‘reexamine the insanity of modern life’. But these 99 tips for a better world are supposed to be small, and there is nothing small (or very original) about that.

So instead, today’s tip is to find some time for healing. If you’re troubled, or worn out, or just have that sense that you could feel better, visit a healer of whichever variety you choose, or clear your schedule and go to bed early. Go for a walk, pick up the instrument you love to play, or put on some music while you make dinner.

As for me, I’m off to enjoy the rest of my holiday in a hammock surrounded by lush tropical growth. Low-level churning not included.

(Image credit)

99 tips for a better world: buy fairtrade coffee (1 of 99)

Cross posted on the glorious Lip Mag – over here.

Also on Lip today:

modern ms manners: a note on office etiquette

small screen sirens: on nudity

healthy bytes: should you drink coffee?

I had planned to write a column today espousing the value of Fairtrade coffee. I was going to fill the page with encouraging words to invite you to make a conscientious choice when buying your next flat white. Then I thought about Lipreaders, and decided against it. I don’t need to convince you to buy Fairtrade coffee, right?

Buying Faitrade is one of the easiest things you can do to redress the inequality of the global supply chain.

If your regular cafe doesn’t serve Fairtrade (or another reputable ethical certification), go to another cafe. Even better, ask them to switch. If they tell you Fairtrade beans are more expensive, point out that the cost of a caffé latte is influenced by many factors – you can easily find a good Fairtrade coffee for the same price or less than an unfair one.

If they tell you Fairtrade coffee doesn’t taste as good, remind them that Fairtrade has come a long way since the 1990s and that some of the best coffee in Melbourne is Fairtrade certified or at least consciously grown and purchased.

If they don’t take seriously the impact of their business on the lives of poor farmers and workers in the developing world, go to another cafe. If you’re like me and not a huge fan of confrontation, write them a note, or use social media to inquire about the origins of their coffee beans.

The thing about coffee is that it embodies so perfectly the inequity of global trade. I pay three or four dollars for a lovingly-curated coffee experience each morning, noting whether it was too hot, too cold, too bitter, too weak or myriad other sins. The barista invests skill and passion into the creation of my drink and can tell me more about the history of the beans than I know about some members of my extended family.

Often, at the other end of the supply chain is a farmer who struggles in the way that so many food producers struggle against the vagaries of nature, insecure environments, corruption, illness, competition against mega farmers with access to more advanced farming techniques. The farmer also struggles against powerful buyers who do whatever they can to reduce the price they pay for a product. Also part of this system is low-paid workers, harvesting and packaging beans for shipping to distant lands.

The other thing about coffee is that all of the above is so well known and efforts to address those problems are all over the place. Fairtrade and other ethical certification systems aim to address the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. How effective these efforts are is debated in the industry and by academics, but for my money the evidence favours Fairtrade. So I will hedge my bets and make sure my coffee is certified. It’s too easy.

I mean that literally. It’s too easy to choose the more ethical option, so there is no reason not to. Don’t pat yourself on the back for buying Fairtrade — just buy it in the same way that you buy dolphin-free tuna.

In my job, I just spent the last year ushering in a system whereby the organisation I work for has committed to using Fairtrade products more often. My colleagues and I avoid telling people they have to buy Fairtrade coffee; we just make it easier for them to do it, and convince them that it’s a good idea.

Here, on these pages, I don’t have to be so diplomatic. If you don’t know where your coffee beans are coming from, find out. It’s just too easy.

Find out more about Fairtrade at www.fairtrade.com.au