Personal Growth, Recent Stories, Transformation

The Power of a Peaceful Woman – Jen’s Story

It’s 19 May, 2016. Tomorrow, I’ll be 50.

And here I am, alone, sleeping on a mattress on the floor.

I’m in the spare room of the house I own. Across the hallway in the master bedroom, my ex-husband and his fiancée are sleeping peacefully.

In my bed.

As I look up at the ceiling, I can’t wipe the smile off my face.

I realise with every cell of my body that I’ve genuinely never been happier, more peaceful, and more certain of myself and who I am than in this very moment.

Truth be told, if present-day me had travelled back in time and told 39-year-old me that this was how I’d spend the eve of such a major milestone birthday, I’d probably have punched her in the face. Followed closely by shouting, “WTF?! How did we screw THAT up?”

Back on my mattress, my smile widens to an open-mouthed grin at that thought.

I’m so ridiculously delighted and filled with joy at the life I now truly live, the ‘modern’ family that I am surrounded by and my ability to live fully and openheartedly in the moment. But it wasn’t always this way. Let me take you back to where my quest began.

It’s 2005, and I’m sitting at my desk in the childcare centre where I work as a childcare coordinator.

I’m gasping for air. It feels like someone is standing on my chest wearing size-13 steel cap boots. It’s like a giant hand has reached into my chest and squeezed my heart in a vice-like grip. My heartbeat is racing as I desperately try to breathe.

I want to cry but the tears just won’t come. Why can’t I cry? Tears would be so much easier than this! Had it really just been a few weeks earlier that I was ‘living the dream’ (at least from the outside)?

I was married with two beautiful children – a boy and a girl – and living in a wonderful home on the Sunshine Coast. We were the perfect family: a mum, dad and two kids with successful careers and a lovingly renovated home.

From the outside looking in, it truly looked like we had it all.

However, beneath the surface, things weren’t so perfect. Cracks in our relationship that had started as microfissures in the early days of our marriage had just kept deepening. Destructive behaviours, past experiences, old habits and our ‘stories’ would repeatedly reveal themselves.

And as time went on, as so often happens, we both changed.

Now, just before I would turn 40, I’d made the decision to end my marriage. And there at my desk, I was experiencing what I’d later discover was my first ever panic attack.

At the time, I just wondered how I could arrive at 39 years of age and suddenly feel so sure and yet so lost.

How could I feel so certain and yet so off course?

Remember the 1984 box office success The Karate Kid? Everyone needs a ‘Mr Miyagi’ in their life.

If you’ve never seen it, the movie tells the story of a boy called Daniel who is bullied by members of a karate club. Mr Miyagi is the janitor in Daniel’s building who – after much coercion – agrees to help train Daniel in karate. As he does, and as the movie goes on to reveal, what’s far more impactful for Daniel is Mr Miyagi’s shared wisdom, practices, culture and friendship.

Well, as it turned out, my very own Mr Miyagi (or perhaps I should call her ‘Mrs Miyagi’) would appear.

Her name was Fran and she was, at that point in my life, the wisest person I’d ever met.

She was kind, funny, peaceful, generous, compassionate and empathetic. She carried a heart and soul that held so much wisdom about life that I’d often ask her how she knew what she knew. Much of it, she’d tell me, she’d learnt from her grandmother.

The wisdom Fran shared with me began as conversations during morning tea and lunch breaks.

On many days, I’d arrive at work feeling anxious, angry, sad or afraid. And Fran would always share just the right words with me to help access my inner reason and return to a sense of peace.

Some days, I’d only be able to momentarily absorb Fran’s words and fleetingly see the situation from a different perspective. Remarkably, on other days I could feel my new-found wisdom physically shift something within me.

One day, I arrived at work to find a notebook on my desk. The notebook cover was colourful and it read ‘Recipe for Life’.

Tied to the front of the book with maroon ribbon was a wooden spoon. Inside the book, Fran had written, “Good morning, Sunshine. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

The rest of the notebook was empty.

At morning tea, I caught up with Fran and asked her about the mysterious notebook. She told me that the book would be on my desk every day with a new piece of wisdom in it for me to practise.

The only rule was that the book had to remain on my desk: I wasn’t to take it home.

As the days rolled on, my ‘Recipe for Life’ notebook gradually filled up with new quotes, pearls of wisdom, reminders, colourful drawings and short anecdotes from Fran.

Each daily entry was always perfectly aligned to whatever I was experiencing in my world. Regardless of whether I was navigating being a solo mum, a divorced woman or my first new relationship, it was always relevant.

The days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months. I read my entry each morning and we’d chat about it over morning tea and lunch.

We talked about where Fran learnt it, how she applied it to her life and what triggers reminded her of it. And then it was my turn to do the same.

What I came to learn is that wisdom alone is useless. We can intellectually understand something, but only when we apply action to the wisdom can it permeate and change our lives.

Applying Fran’s wisdom to my life and then creating a reminder to practise it was the foundation – and the beginning – of my profound transformation.

But, like with anything in life, mastery comes with constant practice.

(Of course, your very own Mr Miyagi helps too.)

At the end of the year, my ‘Recipe for Life’ notebook was full.

On my desk that day was a note telling me I was ready. I was ready to take this precious chronicle of wisdom home. This was the start of my relentless quest to transform my life. The wisdom in that notebook had opened a part of my mind that was previously closed.

My awareness had been nudged and had awoken. I now knew stuff I couldn’t ‘unknow’.

And I realised that, with practice, I could create the peaceful, happy and fun-filled life I’d always dreamed of. I could fill it with wholehearted connections and relationships, and live from a space of complete peace and calm. I could recognise when fear and ego were taking me off course and how love would always guide me home.

Or I could choose not to. And as it would turn out, often did.

I eventually left my job at the childcare centre.

A little while later, Fran moved interstate – and without the assistance of social media, which we’re all so familiar with today, we lost contact. It’s crazy to realise this, given the profound impact she had on my life.

I tried searching for her, but could never track her down.

Then, over a decade later, I was scrolling Facebook, and my attention was caught by the cleverness of a dancing realtor.

The guy was busting out some seriously funky dance moves, and I recognised him instantly. It was Fran’s son. So I immediately messaged him and asked if he could put me in contact with his mum. He did, and we arranged to meet.

I was so excited to reunite with my old friend and mentor. The day finally arrived and just as I was about to leave to meet her, I remembered my notebook.

I made it to lunch only slightly late and burst into tears when I saw Fran!

She looked exactly the same. My heart overflowed with love for this beautiful woman who’d so profoundly impacted my life. And completely consumed with catching up, I forgot about the notebook.

We began with me. I shared everything that had happened to me in the decade since I’d seen her. I told her what my kids were doing and about my new-found, peaceful relationship with their dad and his beautiful fiancée (now stepmum to our kids).

I told her about my transition out of an 11-year relationship that had taught me so much about love, heartbreak and, most of all, myself. And, of course, I told her about the incredible career opportunities that had come my way.

My life was amazing, and Fran had been such a role model for me at a critical and pivotal point in my journey of self-exploration and transformation. So I chatted on and on madly with complete exuberance as I held her hands.

Then I sat back, smiled and sighed happily as I asked her about her life. What had she been up to over the past decade?

Her first words were, “Jen, where do I begin?”

She told me about her marriage ending and then shared the most crushing news that she’d buried her youngest son 18 months earlier. I had no words in those next moments, just more tears.

We both cried together.

Then I remembered the notebook

I looked at her and squeezed her hands again. Smiling through my tears, I said, “I have something for you, something that I know will bring you comfort. And I know this because that’s what it did for me when you wrote it!”

I pulled out the notebook and she just stared at it with shocked disbelief.

Together we pored over the pages.

We both remembered the wisdom, love, guidance and practices that Fran herself had lovingly written on those pages.

I wanted her to have the notebook but she declined. Seeing it had been impact enough to remind her of what she already knew.

She did ask me to send her photos of random pages from it from time to time as a gentle reminder though.

That notebook had just been the beginning

Lying on that mattress in my spare room, I realised the life lessons that had brought me to this moment had indeed started with that notebook.

However, it was my relentless curiosity to hone my awareness, embrace acceptance, let go of what I couldn’t control and actualise it all into my life that had created the life I wanted. That was what had changed me from the woman who’d had that very first panic attack to the powerfully peaceful woman on that mattress.

In the decade after Fran had moved away, I met many more teachers, guides, friends and mentors. I read countless books, attended numerous workshops and seminars, studied self-development and eventually worked in the field of fitness and coaching.

But that notebook had been pivotal in my quest for the peaceful, happy, fun-filled life I wanted. And when I reconnected with Fran, I came to understand that wisdom alone is powerless without daily practice.

So as I approached my major birthday milestone, something in me knew I needed to create a notebook of my own.

I wanted to create something that I too could pass on to another woman who might also be at a pivotal point in her life.

The next day, I started brainstorming all the life lessons I’d learnt, unlearnt and relearnt. I started documenting how I’d learnt them and the daily practices I’d implemented to bring them into my life.

I created practical steps to transform any conflict and chaos into peaceful, open hearted relationships, using, what I refer to as the four stages of experiential transformation.

My mission is to connect women globally to the power of their own inner peace which is the access point to happiness, open hearted relationships, prosperous careers and purpose-filled, abundant lives.

My life was never the same again after receiving my notebook from Fran. It is my hope that by creating my own ‘notebook’ it may also become a pivotal point in another woman’s life too.

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Jennifer Forster

On the eve of turning 40, I walked away from my ‘perfect’ life. A decision not inspired by tragedy or trauma, but a decision that, nevertheless, catapulted me into a quest that would change my life forever. What I would discover transformed the way I work, parent, love and live.

This unintentional quest, along with a voracious curiosity about what it truly means to live openheartedly, despite the pressure, chaos and stress that even the most ordinary life can deal, is what inspired my new book, The Power of a Peaceful Woman: 49 Ways to drop the armour and defuse the drama.

In the more than a decade that has passed, since making that life changing decision, I have navigated entrepreneurial plains as a multiple business owner, solo parented two children, pioneered change for women abroad, succeeded as a competitive sportsperson and adventured globally.

But like a lot of hard won wisdom, it is only in a state of reflection that I could truly know how far I had come and how much I had learned, unlearned and relearned along the way.

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