An exercise in re-framing the past

This year has been an introspective one for me. A time of re-acquainting myself with “me”. A time to be a student of my own life. Lots of time alone.

I’ve done a lot of reading. A lot of personal growth courses. I’ve felt up and I’ve felt down. Recently, I decided it was time to halt the learning, and to start using the tools I have learnt about. To make them part of who I am going forward. One of the tools is ‘curiosity’.

I warn you that this is a long post, so maybe you want to save it to read later, or maybe grab a coffee and take a break.

Following my curiosities

Whenever I’ve been intrigued by something I’ve read, one thing I do is “follow my curiosities” (a phrase used by Liz Gilbert in Big Magic). People write about their own experiences and I wonder if the same ideas, tools, approach would work for me. So I try it, write about in in my journal, think about it – whatever seems right at the time. I’m learning to trust this nudge to be curious. It normally takes me somewhere I don’t expect. It’s a bit like being a Miss Marple, following and solving a mystery.

Sometimes, there isn’t an instant connection or shift with my own experiences. That’s OK. New ideas and habits take time to sink into our consciousness. If they resonate with me, I can take baby steps.  But other times, there’s an immediate Aha moment, like the one I had last week.

A recent Tiny Buddha post on Facebook called “Don’t Forget to Appreciate How Far You’ve Come” made me curious – curious enough to follow the mystery. The author invited us to think back to when we were kids and teenagers. To think about what we dreamt about, what we thought our lives would be like.

I paused.
This is kind of contradictory to what the whole “living in the present moment” movement says. You know, don’t get hung up on the past, don’t live in the future. Rose Nguyen, the author of the post addressed this.

“We often forget, though, that it’s possible to look at our past with love, not ruminating in it but appreciating it”.

She re-framed the whole issue by bringing in the idea of love and appreciation of where we have come from and who we currently are. Appreciation is another form of gratitude, right?

I was curious about Rose’s approach. Another tool I am trying to use every day is what the Buddhists call “beginners mind”. I’m so good at this in my academic work yet so crap at it in my personal learning. So I’m learning how to approach new ideas with an open mind, wonder, curiosity and no preconceived notions.

So, as Rose had kindly re-framed my reluctance to do this, I though it only polite to give it a go.

I sat down to write about my past with “beginners mind” as if I was talking to someone else about it and they respond. Except that the someone else is my more open-minded me.

With a big breath and appreciation, I dug deep into the past.

“Let’s do this”

I poked around for things that I have done but have forgotten about or taken for granted.
Things that were big for me when I did them.
Things that took courage (every day courage, not heroics you understand).

  • I was the first person in my family to do go to university, although one of my older sisters should have gone, but my father was a miser.
    Wow. Record breaking!
  • Surprising myself, I was elected as Head Student of my Residence in my third year. Realising that I was likeable!
    How affirming!
  • I left South Africa in my early twenties and went to Europe with very little money in my pocket. I just went. No family to stay with, nothing to fall back on.
    Did I do that?
  • I worked in Amsterdam and Corfu, earning enough to eat and pay rent. I did it on my own.
    That must’ve been fun!
  • After Corfu, I arrived in the UK with a few pounds in my pocket in 1986. The sum total of my food budget was 25p a day for a Mars Bar! When I left to come back to South Africa in 2001, I was earning a very decent salary, working in the IT industry.
    That’s incredible.
  • I finally decided to let my husband’s family into my heart after years of holding them at bay.
    Beyond grateful that I did!
  • Making the decision to learn photography. I took some City and Guilds courses in the UK, bought cameras and started a journey which continues to this day. Again, no family precedent to guide me along this path.
    Wow! So glad my creative urge made itself felt.. 
  • I changed my life again in coming back to Africa. This time I had a husband and a young baby.
    Wow. That was brave.
  • Without any under-graduate university degree, I studied for both my Masters and Doctorate, whilst working full time and with a young son.
    I would never have thought I’d end up doing academic stuff like that!

I like this way of looking at my life!

Not with regret or bitterness, but from a perspective of what an adventure it has been. And really appreciating the adventure. I survived it after all.

And the best bit? There is still more ahead!

Turning on a light



The universe turned on a light.
A massive spotlight!
Or maybe I did?
I see my past like I’ve never done before!

I feel myself looking at the old (my default “stories”) with new eyes, in new ways.
I see loads of new connections.





Here’s what I realised


I felt an immediate shift in my energies. I tend to look at my past with dread and angst, it makes me feel heavy, sad, dark. Yet, here I was feeling lighter. Buzzing inside. I wrote “I feel like a mixture of bicarb and vinegar. Fizzing over. Even when the fizzing settles I continue to feel cleansed.” I felt like I’d done something incredible for myself!


I can be a “glass half empty” type of person – my thoughts are often based on fear, more often than not negative, of not being enough, of being trapped and stuck.

Where have those thoughts have come from? My thoughts and beliefs have been in absolute contrast to what I’ve done with my life! What I’ve actually done is taken action, been curious and adaptive, been courageous and resilient, and there has always been enough – I have been enough.”

My thoughts and beliefs have not been aligned with my reality, with the things I have done and achieved. My mind told me they were my reality but they have been a massive illusion that have clouded my mind for too many years. My thoughts have controlled me for so many years. It’s been the voice of my ego telling me “you can’t do that, you mustn’t go there…”, making me think I’m useless, a victim without any personal power – trying to keep me safe.

Yet, she (my fear-based ego) has been miraculously unsuccessful.
How is that?
Have I somehow, unwittingly listened to my inner voice all this time?
Yes, Debbie, maybe you have…


Somehow that shy, withdrawn, lonely, frightened child broke free.  On some level that child must’ve had some kind of faith that everything would be alright, in spite of taking big leaps into the unknown. She was certainly courageous.

This exercise shows me that I have these in bucket loads! If I think about it, my upcoming move back to the UK is the 4th time I have moved to the other side of the world and made a success of the move!

Which amazes me.
I never considered myself a risk taker or particularly courageous.
I do not come from a family who have faith.

Brene Brown writes: “Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty”.


Every time I’ve made a leap or done something big, it has been OK. More then OK. Of course, there have been times when I have felt scared and out of my comfort zone but I have stuck with it. I have been determined not to give up. I realise that I also adapt to change quickly. So not only have I lived in different countries but I also adapt to different work situations. As an example, I moved from working in the commercial world to academia.


I am resilient too. My ability to bounce back is strong. After my divorce for example, I was determined to move forward with positivity and to make my own life, to not let it define who I was. I did not want to be thought of as “the rejected one”, “the divorced one”. In fact, now that I think about it, when asked about my marital status on forms, I always put single, not divorced.


I’m realising that if I approach something with a “I know it all” or “I am right” attitude, there is no personal learning or growth. When I approach things with a closed mind, everything feels hard and bumpy, like is pushing against me, blocked. But if I let myself approach with a beginners mind, the most wonderful realisations and things happen. Like shining a light on a dark place, illuminating different ways to see things.

The American writer, Cynthia Ozick said that “we often take for granted the very thing that most deserves our gratitude”. I hope she won’t mind if I change that to say “we often take for granted the very thing that most deserves our appreciation”.

All this from one Tiny Buddha post! Read it and see what you think. I would love to hear your thoughts!

8 thoughts on “An exercise in re-framing the past

  1. scr4pl80 says:

    Very interesting, Debbie. I’ve been feeling the “it’s time to halt the learning and start using the tools.” It is amazing what we can discover about ourselves if we stop and actually look at where we are. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. wanderessence1025 says:

    This is a very interesting and introspective exercise, Debs. I know I do feel so often that I’m not where I should be, that I’m not good enough, that I’m falling short. And I like the idea of halting the learning and using the tools, but I don’t think I’m there yet. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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