interview

Ejo #142 – Words With Chryss (Volume 3)

Do you place any meaning in life, either for you or for our species, and what philosophy do you apply to living your life?
Funnily enough, I do have some Words With Chryss® brand ideas of what life is about.  What it means to be alive, why we are here.  And what happens when we die.  My philosophy about life (and death) has evolved in recent years, and is still evolving.  An ongoing search for my life’s “purpose” has led me to much introspection and internal deep-diving.  It has guided me towards meditation, therapy, yoga and lots of reading and learning.  And all of that has led me to the basic conclusion that life is a bizarre phenomenon that we cannot explain using the information that we are in currently in possession of.  Which goes some way towards explaining why the idea of a god that actually gives a shit about people has gained so much traction over the millennia.  So, god.  A fantastic being that isn’t just omniscient and omnipresent, but also (cue fireworks and harpsichords) omnipotent as well.  Seems a little convenient, don’t it?  Look, I just don’t buy into all that jazz.  It feels nonsensical to me, and in the absence of any evidence, I’m happy to risk eternal damnation for my disbelief. 

But hey, speaking of atheism, have you ever thought very deeply about something and formed a belief structure around your efforts only to discover that an olde worlde Dutch philosopher by the name of Bucher Spinoza came up with the same idea almost four hundred years ago?  LOL, me too.  Of course there are huge differences in the complexity of our ideas – mostly because he spent his entire life in deep, critical thought and I spend all my free time binging Netflix.  And yet… we still somehow landed on the same idea.  That the closest thing to “god” in physical, scientific reality is the universe that surrounds us.  The universe that is a part of us, and that we are a part of. 

When people think of the universe they think of galaxies and stars and black holes and the big bang and dark matter.  But everything on earth is composed of elements of the universe that existed billions of years ago.  We are literally all made of stardust.  If I did believe in a god, that would be it.  And I don’t mean to brag, but Einstein was totes on the same page.  He famously said, “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.” 

Everything that exists in the universe, everything, is a part of the universe.  Including us.  I think that sometimes we tend to identify as observers of the universe, rather than understanding that we are inextricably woven into its fabric.  Personally, I subscribe to the notion that human beings are expressions of the universe, and that the minutiae of our lives are absolutely irrelevant, serving only as distractions to our attention.  I believe that the true purpose of our existence is to shrug off those distractions in order to focus our attention on the present moment, and to be fully aware of ourselves and our own awareness.  And… to simply release everything else.  What do I mean by “distraction”?  I mean breaking your favourite mug, being hungover, your car breaking down, people gossiping about you, failing an exam, being bullied, running late, overdue bills, headaches, pulling a muscle at the gym, an argument with your partner, being overlooked for a promotion or getting mugged.  And if you want to level up, distractions can also include divorce, cancer, or being thrown in jail and tortured for your political beliefs.  I mean, sure, that’s some Mt. Everest shrugging, but it is possible. 

I believe that the universe breathes life into us, in the form of energy flowing through us.  And I believe that we die when that energy ceases to flow.  For the most part people tend to live their lives in a kind of weird denial of the fact that we are only here for a finite time.  Which is a shame because far from being a morbid preoccupation to think of your own death, it can actually serve to crystallise the fact that this moment (in potentially being your last) can be transformed into something extraordinary. 

How would I see the world around me, the room around me, the people around me, if I knew that my next breath would be my last.  I honestly think that right now, I could take a deep breath and look around and feel happy, knowing that I’ve lived an amazing, textured life.  Knowing that I’ve lived true to myself.  Knowing that I’ve been loved.  Knowing that I’ve loved others, and loved myself.  And even if I weren’t ready to die, if I did know that it was coming, I would be grateful for everything that came before.  Every moment is a beautiful gift.  And the gift is that we are here to receive it.  The gift is that we are here to experience it.  And I’ll say it again, because it bears repeating: the gift is that you are here. 

What do I think happens to us after we die?  I think that’s it.  The end.  Lights out.  We return to the place we were before we were born.  We return to oblivion.  Darkness.  Nothingness.  We simply cease to exist.  And after a significant amount of time passes, even the memory of us will disappear.  Nothing of us remains.  The universe is vast, it is powerful, it is everywhere, it is everything.  It is old.  It is beautiful.  The universe is us, and we are the universe. 

What do you dream of achieving? 
Transcendence.  That may seem like a flippant answer, but I promise you it’s not.  Apart from retirement, I don’t really have very many corporeal ambitions.  Every single day, however, I toil to break free from the binds of being “only human”.  This is going to sound pretty new-agey, but I feel like I’ve figured out what my purpose in life is.  In simple terms, it is to be present and aware of this moment, because that’s all I have.  The long version is that I aspire to rise above (transcend) the dramas and emotions, the ups and downs, the constant rollercoaster of the human condition, and to identify with the purest, most unadulterated version of myself – my consciousness.  My awareness.  My life force. 

So what does it mean to “be present”?  It simply means that while I am writing this, I know that I’m writing.  It means that when you’re reading it, you know that you’re reading, almost like you’re watching yourself doing it.  Being present doesn’t mean that you can’t think about anything else, it just means that when you’re doing that, you know you are doing it.  It means that you don’t lose yourself when you’re thinking about those other things.  You remain here, and now.  Being present means not leaning into the next moment, and not clinging to the last. 

People are funny.  We spend so much of our time engrossed in thought about things that aren’t even in front of us, things that may never happen, or things that have happened that we can’t change.  We spend a lot of time responding and reacting to the world around us when, in fact, nothing is ever actually happening to us.  Things are just happening.  Ooooh yeah, let that sink in for a second.  Nothing is happening to me, things are just happening.  Taking that to the highest level, (as much as it may have felt like it) my Mum’s death didn’t happen to me.  It was something that happened, but it didn’t happen to me.  (Fuck yeah, and if you want to get into some ninja-level shit, it didn’t even happen to her; it was just something that happened).

The concept that nothing is happening to *you* can be difficult to grasp.  You are the centre of your universe and it takes a bit of work to mentally shift your framework away from that sole point of reference.  It’s only when you are able to see yourself as being part of something bigger that your reference point can change.  Usually the “something bigger” is religion, right?  Because it’s organised, and actually designed to provide us with comfort and a sense of belonging.  It makes sense, to some degree.  But where it falls apart for me, personally, is that it’s all based on fantasy.  I totally get that seeing yourself as an expression of the universe is far weirder than imagining you are somehow descended from Adam and Eve, because we know very little about the mechanism behind how the universe works.  There’s no handbook.  Is the universe alive?  Is it conscious?  Is it self-designing?  Is it chaos?  Is it exerting a will?  If we are part of the universe, is our will our own, or are we just puppets being controlled by it?  If I am an expression of the universe, then….. shit, am I the universe?  These are big, scary questions for which we do not have answers.  My journey has taken me on a path that doesn’t even need answers.  I don’t need to make up stories to comfort myself.  I’m OK with the discomfort of not knowing.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m anywhere near achieving my goal of transcendence, but I’ve definitely seen some personal growth in my ability to just let shit go.  My progress is hardly linear though (as I’m sure David would attest).  Some days are more difficult than others, and I always do better after I’ve had a cleansing session with Zimmy.  I always do better when I lay off the booze.  But, I am no longer searching for my purpose.  I know my purpose, so I have a head start.  I just need to keep on trying.  Transcendence seems a long way off, but I am prepared to spend the rest of my life trying. 

What makes you angry? 
This was (hands down) the most difficult question anyone asked me.  I pondered this question almost every single day for months, trying to come up with what felt like the right answer.  It became a Gordian knot that I was driven to untangle. 

On a global scale, I’m angry at capitalism, I’m angry at massive, inscrutable corporations making zillions of dollars at humanity’s expense, I’m angry at governments for allowing it, and I’m angry at the injustice of it all.  I am angry that a handful of people benefit (obscenely) from the abject destruction of our beautiful earth.  The climate crisis is not the people’s fault.  It is capitalism which allows a very small number of people to gain everything, as the rest of us helplessly watch our home burn (and flood, and shake, and freeze, and fall apart).  I am angry about the information recently published in the Pandora Papers, exposing the billions of dollars of cash and assets hidden from public view by billionaires and government officials including kings, presidents and prime ministers from countries like Jordan, the Czech Republic, Kenya, Hong Kong, UAE, Chile, Sri Lanka and Ukraine.  Countries in which the divide between the rich and the poor isn’t just vast, it’s incalculable.  I’m angry that billionaires even exist.  Because to make a billionaire, millions of people must live below the poverty line.  I’m angry that capitalism lauds religion to soothe the poor and hungry masses, when it is the capitalists themselves who keep them poor and hungry.  I’m angry that despite it being a very broken system, we all cling to it because we believe that without it we may be stripped of all the nice, shiny things we’ve surrounded ourselves with under the illusion that they’ll make us happy.  I’m angry at Musk and Bezos for squandering billions in their small-dick race to colonise the planet Mars, our inhospitably dusty, red neighbour, when people are starving to death in muddy slums.  On this planet. 

WTF!

So yeah, I’m angry about a few things.  But these angers don’t burn red-hot in the pit of my stomach.  I feel them more as a dull, heavy weight, compressing me whenever I think about the state of the world.  It feels overwhelming, and hopeless, and I see no potential resolution for any of it.  I actually envisage it becoming worse.  If I allowed my anger to burn about these things, I would flame out and die. 

But hey, if we’re talking about anger on a personal level, that is something I have worked on a lot.  Holocaust survivor and psychologist Edith Eger mentions in her book, “The Gift” that anger is often caused when there’s a gap between our expectations and reality.  And I believe this to be the root cause of all anger.  Whether you are angry because you’ve lost your patience with someone, or you’re being disrespected, or you’ve suffered an injustice, it all boils down to reality not meeting the expectations that you had.  So, the easiest way to solve that problem is to not have any expectations.  Right? Well, actually it’s not easy at all; it’s extremely bloody hard.  It also happens to be one of the tenets of Buddhism. 

The Buddha considered “craving” to be the single greatest fetter (shackle, or chain) to achieving happiness and enlightenment.  Aspiring to something (a possession, a relationship, a state of being) is fine.  But as soon as you start to expect a desired outcome, it becomes a condition that can prevent you from being happy and at peace in your life. I want to be happy and at peace. Letting go of expectations doesn’t mean that you don’t give a shit about things or people. It just means that you can experience it all without gripping onto it for survival.  When you can learn to do that, you’ll be able to experience negative emotions, like anger, without reacting to them; and you will no longer be defined by these transient flows of energy.  You’ll be able to step off the rollercoaster.  And that’s a beautiful state to be in.

As well as learning to let go of anger mentally, and emotionally, I’m also learning to let go of it physically.  Last year, during the early months of COVID, I took up yoga as a way to keep my body moving, and I’ve been practising nearly every day since then.  At the end of every session there is a pose called savasana, also known as corpse pose, where you lie on the ground with your legs apart and your arms by your side.  Believe it or not, this is the single most important pose in yoga.  It is the pose in which we learn to relax our body on command, and I can’t stress enough what a gift that is.  Whenever I’m having trouble sleeping, I harness the power of savasana to assist my body and mind to just let go.  It has also helped me in moments of anger.  I might feel the anger rising up in my body, as a physical reaction, a tightness in my chest, but I am able to neutralise it, simply by relaxing my body, taking a deep breath and letting go of the tightness.  This is not the same as pushing the anger down or denying it.  I actually allow myself to feel the emotion, to honour it.  But then I just let it go. 

OK, so it’s not always as neat as I’m making it sound, and sometimes it’s extremely fucking messy.  Sometimes it just doesn’t work at all, and the anger erupts and I snap or yell or tense up.  Despite all my efforts, I am still only human.  But I’m working on it.

Do you lash out or project your anger onto others? 
This is something that I definitely make a huge effort not to do.  You know, I think I used to be a much angrier young woman than I am now.  I think I used to stomp around feeling like I wasn’t getting mine, or whatever.  I don’t feel that way anymore.  I no longer feel like I’m owed anything.  By anyone, not even the universe.  And so, with effort I have learned to manage urges to lash out.  I have learned to view the world as neutral, something to be observed.  Remember; nothing is happening to me, things are just happening.  And so there is no need for me to ever feel targeted or victimised by anything that happens.  Ever.  Instead of being personally affronted by things that would have made me angry in the past, I try to see them as an opportunity for growth.  A chance to practise letting go, almost like a game.  Of course it doesn’t always work, and yes, things happen that might be a hassle, or annoying, but it no longer ruins my day.  I can shrug it off and even choose to be happy!  And therein lies the freedom of being able to transcend all the bullshit, rather than getting mired in it.  All day long, regardless of what’s going on around me, I can make the choice to be happy. 

Are you angry with yourself for being taken in?
I am usually less angry with myself and more disappointed if that happens. 

And ultimately can you let it go and move on? 
I am always letting go.  I wake up every morning with the intention of releasing everything, and not holding onto anything.  I don’t need to be right.  I don’t need to be understood.  I don’t need to have my way, and I don’t need to prove anything.  I just need to be happy, and I make that my priority. 

Are you pissed off that you weren’t taught how to spot the flags of abusers?
No.  What I’ve come to realise is that someone can teach you to spot all the flags, and in the end it still doesn’t stop abuse.  My Mum was always a bit of a worry wort.  She instilled in us the very real knowledge that there are bad people out there in the world and to never really trust anyone.  It didn’t prevent abuse. 

At whose feet do you lay the blame for that?
I blame nobody but the abuser. 

Ejo #141 – Words With Chryss (Volume 2)

Continuing on from last month’s 50th birthday bonanza free-for-all, here are some more fun, interesting, silly, thoughtful and intriguing questions. And of course, my answers. Enjoy.

Would you have sex with someone else for a million bucks?
Well, good morning to you too, Doug!  As you know, I’m already happily married to the sexiest man in the world.  Also, I can’t imagine having sex with someone I wasn’t attracted to, so I’d have to say no. (Now ask me if I’d have sex with someone else for a billion dollars.  😉 )

Which would be harder for you to give up, coffee or alcohol?
The timing of this question is impeccable because I’ve actually recently given up both.  Crazy, right??  I’ve “given up” alcohol a few times before and never had too much trouble with that (though I do keep going back to it so, maybe the trouble lies there).  Coffee on the other hand is something that I’ve drunk copious amounts of, almost daily, for over 20 years.  I’ve never even tried to give up coffee before so I had no idea what to expect. 

So, what was it like?  Absolutely fucking horrendous.  Firstly, I really missed the ritual of having an espresso with David to start our day together.  Secondly, we shift workers have coffee running through our veins.  (We think) we need that shit to stay awake and function at a relatively high level at work, keeping the world spinning while the rest of you babes are tucked away in bed, fast asleep. But worst of all, the physical symptoms of caffeine withdrawal are absolutely no joke.  Some people have a hard time going cold turkey like I did, preferring to wean off it over a period of weeks (which shows you how hardcore it is). 

So, why??  A couple of months ago I decided to go on a very intense elimination diet which meant not eating any vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, beans, nightshades, nuts, seeds, dairy, eggs, coffee or alcohol.  Phew!  This basically left me with just meat and water.  Which has been fine, I’m OK with that.  In fact I’ve been thriving on it and have never felt better (shoutout carnivore!!). 

I can now reintroduce foods if I want to, but I’m debating whether or not to go back to them, especially coffee.  Why would I go back to a highly processed substance that I know is addictive, and which I’ve learned to live without just fine.  Yeah, I miss it sometimes, but do I need it?  I don’t think so.  I’m even breezing through night shifts without my customary two to five cups of joe to help me through.  I’m not saying I’ll give up coffee forever, but I’m OK without it right now. 

Alcohol is a completely different, and very interesting, beast.  It was our fifteen year wedding anniversary last week so David and I took a break from not drinking and cracked open a bottle of champagne to celebrate.  Even though I’d been looking forward to it, I have to say I didn’t really love it, and I certainly didn’t enjoy the hangover the next day.  I was more than happy to go back to not drinking, and it no longer feels like I’m giving something up anymore to not have booze. 

What body features would you change about yourself?
I’d have smaller boobs, better posture and big, dark, bushy eyebrows.

What is your worst emotional/personality trait?
The need for approval from others.  I hadn’t realised, before moving to Dubai, how much I relied on the approval of my family and friends to validate me.  I never realised how much my sense of self was dependent on those external sources.  Sources that were completely taken away from me when we moved here. And which I tried to replace with unsuitable substitutes.

Through my work with Zimmy, I had a breakthrough a couple of years ago, connecting this craving for approval to my strong desire to make my Dad proud of me when I was a kid.  Always striving to impress him, and then basking in the glow of his praise.  My father was loving, but strict, and he had high expectations of me growing up.  Expectations that I thrilled in achieving, thriving on the challenge.  So it all stems from my relationship to my Dad, but this thirst bled to my primary school teachers, and then, later in life, to my adult friendship group.  When David and I moved abroad, it insidiously radiated to people I didn’t even know (or particularly like) at my work in Dubai.  People whose opinion of me I didn’t actually care about at all.  And yet, subconsciously I was grovelling for their approval, thinking that if I could get them to “like” me, I would feel better about myself.  Ugh.

After having this epiphany of understanding the root cause of my unhappiness, I literally shed the need overnight.  It truly felt like a great weight and darkness was lifted from me.  It’s been so liberating to be released from the need for universal acceptance.  I still get off on approval, but now I know whom I need it from – my sisters, and other people that I love and respect.  As a result, my worst emotional trait has been rendered far less powerful than it once was. 

What is your biggest weakness?
Laziness.  I am, at heart, stupendously fucking lazy. 

What will never be the same for you after COVID?
The startling realisation that, as a species, we are so dreadfully divided.  I honestly had no idea how bad humanity’s polarisation was. I mean Trump gave me an inkling, but that felt like “America’s problem”, right?  COVID has brought into sharp relief that this division has always existed, bubbling away under the surface.  And now, it feels like an eruption.

I wonder if you remember, as vividly as I do, the first few weeks of the pandemic.  Do you remember that feeling of unity, of togetherness, of everyone being on the same side.  The funny videos, the breadmaking, the jokes, the collective fear and hope?  The daily applause to thank our doctors and nurses?  That shit was elating and uplifting, and it bonded us all together on a global scale.  I no longer feel like that.  We are not all in it together.  We are not united, and I find that so very sad. 

What are you really bad at?
I’m really bad at putting my phone down when I’m at home.  I’m great at putting it aside when we’re out or when I’m at work, but at home it’s a different story.  I am working on it, but I need to do better. 

What are you really good at?
I like to think that I’m very good at nurturing my relationships.  I haven’t always been.  It’s something that has matured and developed since moving to Dubai.  I like to stay in touch with the people that I care about, and so I make a real effort. And I do take pride in doing that well.  I’m also good at being on time and following through.

You’ve achieved so much and travelled the world.  I prefer to think of 50 as only half way through, so what do you want the second half of your life to be about?
I’ll tell you something.  My parents had this plan (it was their dream) of retiring, and then travelling around Australia in a campervan.  But they never got to do that because my Dad got sick and died.  We all have dreams for our future, but what I learned from my parents is that if we wait, we may end up missing out.  So I want the rest of my life, from this moment forward, to be about doing.  Doing the things that I want to do.  And not waiting anymore.  And the only thing stopping me is my obligation to work. 

I have lived a charmed life.  Landing a job in ATC completely altered my trajectory, and I am so grateful for that.  I really love being an air traffic controller, I love my job and I know I’ll miss it when it’s over, but to be honest, I would retire tomorrow if I could afford it.  For me, retirement will not mean replacing work with something new.  It will be everything else in my life naturally expanding to fill the space that work leaves behind.  I want the second half of my life to continue exactly as it is now, minus work.  I want to travel even more, I want to read more books, I want to swim naked in the waters of secluded Greek island beaches, I want to write a book, I want to learn the lyrics to my favourite rap songs and I want to perfect my downward dog.  I want to eat more, cook more and learn more.  I want to potter around, learn how to pick locks, volunteer, do some gardening and play lots more backgammon.  I want to spend more time with loved ones and I want to live and experience life, without the albatross of employment around my neck.  And I want to do that as soon as possible.  I want to do that now!

At what age did you lose your virginity?
Short answer: 19. 

Long answer: Always the late bloomer, I didn’t pop my cherry until the end of my first year at university.  It’s not that I didn’t want it!  I was a horny little teenager and the only reason I waited so long was because I was so cripplingly shy.  I was a huge nerd in high school, so it was never going to happen there, but I thought for sure I’d get laid when I started going to uni.  Wouldn’t you know it, the very first day, a guy called Ian claimed me and just like that I had a boyfriend.  I thought I was set!  But nope, Ian was a good boy and he wanted to wait. 

Ian was a real catch.  In addition to being precious about his purity, he also openly flirted with other girls, toyed with my feelings, lied to me, gaslighted me, played passive-aggressive mind games, put me down in front of other people and was often quite rough with me, “good-naturedly” pushing me around or expressing his disapproval physically (he once dropped a piece of dry ice into a hole in my jeans, causing a cryogenic burn, also known as frostbite, on my inner thigh).  Every now and again he would make up for all this shitfuckery with a Grand Romantic Gesture™ like covering my car with hundreds of flowers in the middle of the night.  Very normal.  My self esteem was so low, and I was so desperate to have a boyfriend, that despite him being quite the asshole, I didn’t break up with him, and I just put up with it. 

On 11th September 1990, about seven months into the relationship, I wrote this in my diary: “I’m hanging out to go skiing with Ian this/next week, but I need $255 minimum for three days. Unless I can get it off Dad, I doubt I’m going.

I couldn’t get the cash for the ski trip, so Ian and his family took off to their Falls Creek lodge without me.  While they were gone I went to their house to do some ironing (don’t ask, just… please don’t) and ran into Ian’s flirty 17 year old neighbour, Alex. Turns out that Ian had secretly taken someone else skiing with his family.  Oh yeah, my dickhead boyfriend was gallivanting around the ski fields of Falls Creek with our mutual friend (and his future ex-wife), Irena, while I was stuck at home ironing his goddamn underpants. 

Alex told me ALL about it.  I lost my virginity to Alex. Yep, that little freak gave me exactly what I wanted, and rocked my world with an earth-shattering orgasm to boot. Suck on that, Ian!

Do you think we are all bisexual, but just may not know it?
How strange (and wonderful) that you would ask me this, because this is exactly what I believe – that all humans are bisexual, on a spectrum.  So sure, some people may be less bisexual than others (i.e. have a strong affinity for the opposite sex), and other people may have a stronger affinity for their own sex, but it’s just a matter of having an open mind. And I understand that it might be more difficult for some people to accept, than others. But at the end of the day, your body is physically capable of being aroused by anyone (or anything) that is skillful enough. It’s just your mind that needs to be persuaded about it.

I want to be crystal clear here that having an “affinity” for either sex doesn’t imply that we have a choice about who we’re attracted to.  We are all born with our affinities and I’m super respectful of an individual’s sexuality and how they identify.  And I am particularly sensitive to members of the LGBTQI community because they’ve had to fight for the right to express who they are in a world which is cis heteronormative by default. 

Personally, I’ve never had a relationship with a woman, and I don’t make a big deal about it, but I do identify as bisexual, and I have done since I was a kid.  My attraction to girls started way before I was attracted to boys.  My first crush was a girl in primary school.  My first love letter was to a girl.  Most of my current crushes are women.  If we want to delve even deeper, I’ve lately been exploring the idea that I am actually pansexual, defined as being capable of loving a person regardless of their biological sex, gender, or gender identity.  Obviously this is difficult to determine as I am committed to one person and not prepared to do the research required to confirm or deny the hypothesis.  Nevertheless, I do think it’s wonderful to talk about the fluidity of sexuality and to move away from a cis and heteronormative paradigm.  I think the younger generations are doing a wonderful job with that so I’ll leave it in their trusty hands to keep up the good work. 

Which pop culture song/book/art/movie influenced you the most growing up?
I’m not sure I can select an example of a particular piece of pop culture, but the artist that influenced me the most growing up was Madonna.  Oh man, I wanted to be her so bad.  I styled my hair like hers (hairsprayed, teased to the max and tied up with big raggy bows), I wore the same clothes (including, of course, the rubber bracelets, the crucifixes and the fishnet crop tops).  I even bought coloured contact lenses and bleached my hair with lemon juice and Sun-In.  Her MTV music video premiers were major events in our house, and I bought all her albums and learned all the lyrics.  Her posters adorned the four walls of my bedroom, and I knew absolutely everything about her. 

I was fifteen years old.

Eighties Madonna was a really cool role model because she showed a dorky, shy bookworm like me that it was OK (nay, it was fucking awesome) to just be your own damn self and do your own damn thing and to not give a flying fuck what other people thought about you.  She gave me the courage to put my true self out there.  My true self was not always very well received, but it was transformative to realise that it was an option for me to step outside the little box I found myself in as a teen.  That I could actually exist outside of that box was mindblowing stuff, and she gave me the courage to do that. 

I still have the hots for eighties Madonna.

But OK, if I did have to pick a song/book/art/movie that influenced me growing up, I’d have to say Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  My sisters and I watched it so often I’m pretty sure that between the three of us, we know the words to the entire movie off by heart, even after 35 years.

Have you had any traits or behaviours which you have not liked and which you have managed to overcome? If you have, what did it take to resolve these? Is there something that remains with you that you are frustrated to not be able to resolve, or do you accept that it cannot be changed?
Over the years I’ve been able to release my competitiveness, my need to win (it used to be pretty full-on).  Along those same lines, I feel like I’ve (mostly) overcome the need to be right.  I am far more willing now to listen to the other side, and to take other perspectives on board.  I know some people would say I’ve “gone soft” because of this, but I like myself much better this way.  The pursuit of truth is far more interesting to me than stubbornly holding onto ideas that are rooted in nothing more solid than my fragile ego. 

Something that does remain with me though, a behaviour which I really dislike in myself, is my reaction to a certain type of stress.  I’m usually pretty good at dealing with most stressors, but when I place a time based stress on myself (e.g. I’m running late for an appointment, or I’m running out of time to write my ejo, etc.) I turn into a fucking monster.  I become super anxious, hyper-sensitive and extremely reactive.  And I hate that.  I hate how out of control it makes me feel.  And no, I’m not prepared to just accept it.  Through my daily practices of meditation, yoga, and consciously “letting go” of energies that do not serve me, I have become aware of, and familiar with, an abiding inner peace that resides within me, which I would like to be able to harness in moments of great stress. I think we can change whatever we like about ourselves, if we put in the work, so for me, this is something that I will actively work on until I’ve mastered it. 

And speaking of mastering undesirable traits and behaviours, next month will be the conclusion of this series of Words With Chryss, in which I answer your final questions and talk about my ongoing quest for spiritual growth and enlightenment.  Shit’s about to get real, yo!

Ejo #139 – The Extraordinary People I Know: Zimmy Khan

TW//suicide

I met Zimmy in 2011, nearly ten and a half years ago.  I had just experienced two of the darkest years of my life and desperately needed help getting out of the deep, pitch-black hole I was in.  I’d consulted a couple of psychologists in Dubai, who had not been able to help me.  It’s the only time in my life I remember feeling such hopelessness, darkness, loneliness and desperation.  And then one day, I read an article in Time Out Dubai about a very special therapist called Zimmy Khan.  It felt like a dim light shining in the distance, and I ran towards it.  I checked out her website and wrote her an email. The subject header was “I Need Your Help”. 

Not only did Zimmy help me through that bleak phase of my life, she has, over the years, equipped me with tools that have allowed me to survive and navigate another decade in a city that drains my life force, being away from my family and friends, relationship ups and downs, career dilemmas, sometimes crippling social anxiety, and the devastating grief of losing my beloved Mum.  She taught me resilience, and she taught me how to have faith (a word I’d previously considered a profanity).   

I immediately fell in love with Zimmy as a therapist, and later, when it dawned on us both that we were spending the first 45 minutes of our sessions just chatting, I fell in love with her as a friend.  David calls her my guru because she helped transform me from someone who saw the world as an adversary, to be fought and challenged, into the woman I am now.  I am (mostly) at peace, I know who I am, I love myself, I am grounded, I am happy and I am open to receiving all of life’s possibilities.  I no longer feel alone, and I am no longer afraid.  Zimmy saved my life and I know it sounds like a cliché, but I am truly blessed to have met her and I am eternally grateful that she is my friend. 

Zimmy and me

It’s my great honour to introduce you all to Zimmy. 

Thank you so much Zimmy, for taking the time to (virtually) sit down with me and have a chat.  I appreciate it and I’m absolutely certain that my readers will enjoy it too. So, I started this post with an excerpt from an anthology you contributed to called “How The Phoenix Rose” in which you talk about your experience of severe physical and mental debilitation after suddenly developing a brain lesion in 2004.  Can you tell us about it?
I’d been working at JWT, one of the top global advertising agencies, in Dubai.  I’d been there for two years and was doing very well when I was suddenly hit with paralysis, and diagnosed with a brain lesion.  My mind has always been my savior and north star.  But the medications they gave me made me so weak, mentally, that I was not able to access my north star, my inner guidance, my mind’s ability to analyse and find solutions for me to heal myself; and that was the scariest part of the whole experience for me. More than the physical paralysis, it was the mental shutdown that made me feel alone and weak and hopeless. My superpower was taken away by the medications, and that’s why I stopped taking them, to see if I could still access my inner guidance. When that connection came back, I was able to heal myself through love and gratitude affirmations.

That sounds terrifying. Do you remember that time clearly, or has it faded with time?
Not as clearly as you would expect, because I live mainly in the present.  I remember things as a story, with minimal emotions.  I think I dissociate very reflexively from painful things, as a deep rooted trauma response – my analytical mind switches on to keep me safe and to protect me from feeling too deeply, and to just focus on what needs to be done to fix it, solve it or get out of it. I do remember the immense despair and fear that I went through, and also the great love and faith and peace that I felt for myself while saying the affirmations that healed me.  I really did feel like I went from wanting to kill myself, to everything will be alright, in a matter of only weeks.

Every hero has an origin story, and I wonder if that episode in your life is yours. 
The lesion did help me to honour my inner guidance more, and I will always feel fortunate about that.  But Chryss, I don’t see the lesion as my origin story, or even the catalyst.  It feels more like a very important fork in the road, but no, not the origin.

Are you happy to share your origin story with us?
I lost my mother suddenly and traumatically when I was only one and a half years old.  She had run away from her family to be with my dad while he was married to someone else. My parents married in secret, and for three years she lived as his second wife, whom no-one knew about; until his first wife found out.  Her brother murdered my mother to avenge his sister’s betrayal.  

Five month old Zimmy, with her mum and dad.

It was only then that my dad’s family learned about the whole situation, and of course they were in no position to care for me because the first wife had their loyalty.  My dad was also unable to care for me, and my mum’s family felt that she got what she deserved for disgracing them.  They wanted nothing to do with me as I was a reminder of their shame and loss.

Zimmy at six months.

Since the options were limited and my dad was concerned for my safety, he had to make quick decisions, and I was passed onto a childless couple who were our neighbours and family friends.  I was already quite comfortable around them and moved with them to Saudi Arabia soon after. Within a year my dad divorced his first wife, remarried, found a job in Saudi Arabia and moved there too. 

Zimmy at the age of four, with her biological paternal grandparents.

Between the ages of three and 15, I’d be with my foster parents during the week and spend the weekends with my dad and his new wife. I grew up knowing that my mum had died and that I now had two sets of parents. Both sets had their own baggage and issues and insecurities and wounds. I’m sure they all did their best to raise me as a team, but most of the time I felt alone, scared and unwanted, like a burden. I remember always being worried about something bad happening and feeling like I couldn’t trust or control life. I always needed to be on the alert and ready to fight. I never truly felt safe, or able to trust anyone, or have an irrefutable sense of belonging. So I became my own little unit – me, myself and I.  I always had the ability to talk to myself, to be there for myself and help guide myself through abusive experiences (physical, mental and emotional) in both homes, as well as feeling different at school.  

I found ways to work with my “defects” rather than allow them to defeat me. I used to analyse the other kids and try to figure out how to achieve the “desired result”, but in my own way. I created my own strategies on how to fit in and study better and focus better.  Things like doodling rather than taking notes in class, having music play while I did my homework and sleeping with books under my pillow. I always managed to get through with mostly As and Bs. School was very important to me as it felt like the only safe space in my life, and I wanted to do well and keep having that as my refuge.

By the time I became a teenager, with all the hormonal changes and bigger emotions, I was feeling very overwhelmed and suicidal. Even then it was my mind, my inner voice, my higher self that was my strength and got me through each day. I would have a pep talk with myself every morning: “Let’s do our best today, and if it’s not enough and things get too heavy, we can go to the top of that 15 storey building and just jump off. Don’t worry, we’ve got this, one way or the other. Just focus on one thing at a time and the day will pass”.  It was always “we” because that created a sense of belonging and connection, like someone had my back.  It is still “we” today.

I came to Dubai in 1997 to complete my bachelor’s degree in Business Management, with the intention of returning to Saudi Arabia to enroll in a Master’s program, and to wed in an arranged marriage.  And I was happy with that.  I was just so thrilled to have the opportunity to escape an oppressive family situation, to be independent, and get a higher education and live in a more open environment for a while.  During my studies, I was offered an internship at JWT, and after I graduated they offered me a job.  So I just stayed in Dubai. 

Well, I, for one, am very happy that you decided to stay. And thankfully (and miraculously) you fully healed from the brain lesion.  How did that whole experience lead to your evolution from high-flying advertising executive to life-saving healer and therapist?
I was so consumed with the miraculous outcome that I moved very quickly into delving into how the mind and body work together, how to be more than we’re taught we are, and how to access the superpowers that we all have. It was a rebirth for me, and a huge push towards my calling.  

I became keenly inter­ested in everything to do with “mind over matter”, “the power of thoughts” and “the attitude of gratitude”. Concepts that I had no prior awareness of, but that very naturally flowed through me and helped me to get my life back to its full glory. I made it my priority to study all that I could about these transformative powers that we all carry within us, and yet look for outside of ourselves.  It was this quest that trans­formed me from a hardcore, corporate intellectually-driven executive into a full-time therapist and healer. And it’s that exceptional and life-changing learning that I share with my clients in my sessions and workshops, reminding them to acknowledge all that they have to be thankful for, rather than focussing on the things that are missing.

There’s absolutely no question that you are special, that you do possess a superpower.  I attest to that and I happily recommend you to anyone that even drops a hint that they might benefit from your very special skillset. You have helped a lot of people. Do you think you were born with your superpower, or do you think that all the hardships you endured in your life helped to shape you that way? 
I think we are all born with these superpowers, and that is the real hallmark of being at the top of the food chain. We are the only beings that have the gifts of thought and analysis, and with that comes the ability to choose differently and to create different outcomes, to be better, to evolve. That is the superpower we all have. I don’t feel special in this respect, just really proud of myself for recognising the choices, and for choosing to be a better version of myself daily.

Life is bigger than us, and gives us both good experiences and challenging ones so that we can choose which ones we want to grow from. Some of us respond more to the painful push, and some of us thrive more when things are good.  So yes, my superpowers came to light due to adversity.  I wish I’d realised that I could have accessed them without the struggle!  But I think that learning so much about self-love, and finding these navigation methods, perhaps makes me a better therapist, and has helped me to create resources like The Happiness Project.  I’d sure like to think so. 

The other day when you were at our place for dinner you said something along the lines of, “I’m becoming mortal”.  What did you mean by that? 
I think that’s about progressively becoming a more feeling person than the mostly analytical one I used to be. I guess that comes with softening my armour and letting down my guard and starting to trust life and people, and allowing myself to connect, belong, love and live more fully. So yes when I allow myself to feel more, I do feel more human.  Vulnerable, but also more intuitive and alive. And I’m OK with that, I’m actually happy with that.  But sometimes I do become nostalgic about how in control I used to be.

Do you mind please listing the modalities you specialise in, for our readers, and what each one entails?  How can people benefit from them??  
Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) go hand in hand as they are both related to learning how to direct our mind more consciously, rather than being directed by it and then feeling not in control of our thoughts and behaviours. So these are practical tips and techniques on how to reply to our negative, self-limiting thoughts, beliefs and programs by firstly becoming aware of them, secondly not fighting them but kindly and patiently shifting them to what would serve us better, and thirdly being consistent with the practice. This leads to a gradual but sustainable improvement in our mental, emotional and physical state of being, and gives us more energy and ability to be better versions of ourselves and to create a better life experience for ourselves. It also helps us to be more accepting and empathetic towards others.

Clinical hypnotherapy is used when there are deep subconscious wounds, fears, traumas or addictions that are creating pain in our lives. Sometimes we know what they are but we feel powerless to change or heal them; and sometimes we don’t even really know the root cause, but we know that no matter what we do cognitively, it just doesn’t seem to help for too long. So with this modality we connect with the subconscious mind, which has all the answers and solutions, and we heal the root causes from the past, so that they become disarmed and unable to create the pain in the present.  This is such a magical process and I am still in awe of how the mind takes us directly to the source, even when the client or myself have no idea what it is.  The healing that happens is so profound and long lasting, it still blows my mind. While hypnosis is still widely seen as just something to help with addictions and phobias, it really is much more than that and helps with healing traumas, PTSD, relationship issues, mental, emotional and physical illnesses too.

For energy healing I use a combination of the basics of reiki and pranic healing, plus my own intuitive interpretation. Energy healing modalities are based on the premise that we are all made up of energy and that everything that has form has an energy field.  How is my methodology unique?  I am able to get a sense of, and verbalise, the emotions that are creating the blocks in a client’s energy flow, and with their permission we work on allowing them to be released. This helps people to become more empowered and aware, and to be able to choose different thoughts and create lighter emotions so they can keep their energy system flowing better.

Akashic records reading helps us to connect to the client’s Super consciousness, the infinite essence.  Not just the conscious thinking mind or subconscious feeling mind that are limited to our bodily experience of life, but something bigger, wiser, made of love and connected to all that is. Through this modality, we access a “soup” of information that transcends time and space, and is made of our higher self (the part that knows our purpose in this life, and is a distillation of all the learnings from previous existences), collective consciousness, ancestral consciousness and so much more. The benefit is access to incredible love, wisdom, guidance and connection to something much larger and more powerful and comforting than we have ever known.  People also receive answers, solutions and healings during this process, giving permission to the therapist to access these through the client’s energy field, and to verbalise things that they may have been receiving through dreams, signs, gut feelings etc. but have not had the chance to really listen to, or interpret fully.

This is the newest modality in my portfolio, and the one that has truly challenged me to accept that I really am quite intuitive, and that I should trust and own this superpower rather than doubt or feel embarrassed by it. Since I come from such an analytical background, it’s been the most fascinating journey for me, first with energy healing and now with this. I know I heavily rely on my intuition, even when working with clinical hypnotherapy, but this really throws you in the deep end as there is almost no science to give you a sense of security. I used to be very hesitant, and actually avoided delving into it until the “call” became really strong and I decided to do a course, just to quell my curiosity.

During the course, my readings were really accurate and intuitive, and the teacher and students all wanted to work with me! So it’s almost like I had no choice but to embrace this facet of myself.  I slowly started doing readings, for close friends at first, and only after I felt more comfortable with this strange free-falling did I start offering it to clients.  It is a beautiful experience, not just for clients, but for me too, and I have never had a session in which I wasn’t touched so deeply that it led me to tears. The unconditional love, acceptance, encouragement and wisdom that comes through is really something special, and each client leaves feeling uplifted, happy, peaceful and more whole.  

Over the years, you and I have tried most of these therapies, plus some other, more experimental stuff.  Our hypnotherapy sessions helped me tremendously when we first started seeing each other and I was at a very low point, holding onto lots of shit.  I really enjoyed the Akashic reading you did for me in 2018, as it connected me to my yiayia, who died a year later at the age of 103.  My least favourite therapy was the past life regression (sorry!).  I didn’t really feel like I got much out of it (though it did inspire a short story, so perhaps that’s not quite accurate). 
The past life regression was your fifth session, and the objective was for you to have more discipline with your writing, and to enjoy it more. So we accessed a past life in which you had done that, to remind your cells, your consciousness, of how it feels to be that way again. Maybe it’s just me, but I do feel the past life session was more impactful than you may have realised.  I believe that it served the purpose of getting you to be more regular and disciplined with your ejos, and over the past few years I feel your writing has become deeper, and more open and honest.

Thank you so much!  You’ve definitely helped me become a better writer, and a better person.  After all these years, it’s still a wondrous experience for me to come to you feeling stale or blocked or stuck in some way, and walk away feeling like I’ve been fixed.  And for that reason, my absolute favourite therapy of all is your energy cleanse. 
Energy cleanses work really well with you as you are truly open and trusting with me and that’s all it takes to set things right, or to position them better, to create an easier flow. And thankfully you are aware of, and good at, self-regulating and you use your mind well, so we haven’t really needed extensive hypnotherapy etc. Would you please tell me what you like about it, and how it helps you and how you think it works?  I’m curious to hear your take on it.

To be honest, it all feels a little bit like magic.  And because we have worked together for so long I definitely feel that I can completely trust you, and trust the process, and let go and have faith that you’ll guide me in the direction I need to go.  Hypnotherapy is similar, but it feels like I need to do a little more delving into my own consciousness, and sometimes that feels clunky to me, like too much hard work (LOL, I’m so lazy).  When we do an energy cleanse, I just open the door to my sub-conscious and let you in, and let you do all the work.  I always leave your house walking on air, buoyant and buzzing but very clear-minded, and very happy. I want to thank you so much for all that you’ve done for me, over the years. I’m so grateful that the journey you took to overcome all the trauma and pain in your life led you to helping others overcome theirs. I’m so grateful that it led us to each other.
That really has been my driving force towards actively participating in life. Being there for others, and allowing them to use some of my learnings to heal themselves. So what you say makes me feel like I have been of service, and of love, and that you have helped me to fulfill my purpose. I really do love my work

If you feel that a session with Zimmy might help you in some way, you can get in touch with her at zimmy@epiphany-zk.com, or just let me know and I’ll set it up for you. She does in-person sessions in Dubai, as well as video sessions for clients all over the world.