In this Haiku series, I describe my surroundings on a short hike down Pace road in the Paluma range. Here, I compare the unconscious mind to the occupants of the forest. The plants, like our thoughts, are endlessly competing for light above (our attention). What we pay attention to grows and can be dangerous or suffocating. When we soar above the forest in the sky overhead, we find peace when we forget our thoughts and breathe.

Halifax forest by Tiani Dun

Slow creeping death takes;
Inching plant’s eternal fight.
Leaves reflecting light.

In darkness damp drops:
Palm shades on the overgrown,
Dark light deprived rocks.

Bright spots reflecting
Through breaks of pondering blue
Meditate their hue.

Light above shaded
Cold within the recesses
A neglected mind.

Preoccupied thoughts
Are like forest underlay
Fighting each other.

Peace is only found
Above the canopy top
Where vines don’t persist.

By Tiani Dun

On a solo camping trip down Cape Hillsborough way, I am woken by the birds to a magnificent sunrise. Here, over 50 people gather to watch the spectacle and photograph the kangaroos being fed by the park rangers. In the city, we turn to our devices for entertainment and often forget to watch the shows that nature displays. Yet this morning, the sky is magenta, and I am reminded of the magic of being here on this planet. 

Sunrise at Cape Hillsborough by Tiani

When the painted coloured start of morning smiles
For miles and miles.
When the patterned waves roll over sand
Sea to land.
When the kookaburras sing to us awake
With all at stake.
Is when the silent show is due to start
Us a part.

The islands drift, the sky alive 
It’s half past five. 
The light that opens up her face
A peaceful pace.
Outside the gates stand all the sheep,
Fast asleep.
They see the signs and don’t proceed
A sight indeed.

When treading east on the stretch of beach
All thoughts at peace. 
When the silver water covers dark rocks 
Forget the clocks. 
Where the sea is still, and sight is broader 
Out of order. 
We escape the highways and backed-up cars
To see the stars.

By Tiani Dun

Kidaman Creek on Film

“Hold wonderful pictures in your mind’s eye” – Robin Sharma

Caring for our mental health has never been more vital. In fact, mindfulness is becoming trendy -it’s everywhere. People are meditating all the time -at home, in the garden, on buses, trains, in lectures, in the library -it appears to me that no time nor place is unfit for a little introspection.  

But in all seriousness, mindfulness is a way we can survive in this new world of social separation. So here’s a couple of reasons why you should get out your yoga mats and sit with yourself, alone, for a few minutes per day:

Did you know: That the average person thinks around 60,000 thoughts per day?

Did you know: That around 95% of these are the same thoughts as yesterday’s?

This slight glitch in human functioning has led to the great, widespread impoverished thinking in our new world. Look around you. We sit inside boxes, separated from the natural world we were born into. We wear clothes and shoes on our feet which further shield ourselves from our environment -the Earth, our home. And now I’m starting to sound like a hippie, but can you see where I’m coming from?

A majority of people still think that they need to live by these “rules” imbedded into our minds by society. These rules advocate mindless consumption -of clothes, food, alcohol, cigarettes, and where have these social norms led us? To forests cleared faster than they can ever be restored, to mountains of rubbish in our oceans, rivers, and freshwater streams.

Even more worrisome, is that an uncannily large proportion of humans still act as though “global warming” were a myth, like a deity we can either choose to or choose not to believe in.

We have polluted our minds just as we have contaminated our seas and our atmosphere. Of 60,000 thoughts per day, a large proportion of these can be unproductive or negative, particularly when faced with dire circumstances. With around 57,000 of the same thoughts as yesterday’s, it’s almost too easy for our attentions to cascade downhill. What may begin as a bad Monday may shortly develop into a Friday of wallowing in a deep pool of grief and self-pity.

We are captives of our own minds, and if we don’t stimulate them, they act as a broken record replaying the same loops. And these cycles can certainly lead us to some dangerous places.

But imagine if everybody took 10 minutes per day to reflect upon their actions. To think about what made them feel good, and what made them feel not so good. We may start to notice that what makes us feel good is often fresh food, fresh air and fresh sunshine. We may also notice that indulging in unnecessary gossip, or binge watching that new show ’90 Day Fiancé’ didn’t feel quite so fulfilling.    

We are either limited by our thoughts, or we can harness them in a way to set us free. Meditation is a way we can train our minds to focus on being present and reflect upon our feelings. We may begin to see that our moods do not necessarily need to govern our actions, that we can gain control over our minds -as a rider does his horse.

A good rider will train his horse each day, will care for it and patiently watch it grow. Similarly, our minds are our horses that carry us through our realities. Through quiet contemplation, we can take the reins over our horse rather than let it run free or trample all over us.  

Further, we can recount upsetting events and feel uncomfortable feelings from a safe distance. Instead of being inside the feelings, watch them come, and watch them go. Moods are often like clouds passing. Sometimes it’s stormy, and sometimes it’s sunny. But the sky is always there.  

Stradbroke Island on Film

Your mind is like your garden. Imagine that good thoughts, supported by good people, are like spreading water and sunshine over your plants. Meanwhile, negative thoughts are like throwing a bucket of toxic waste over your precious garden bed.

Gatekeep your garden from negative thoughts. Have the courage to delete the negativity in your life, and surround yourself with humans who will help you to learn and grow into the best version of yourself. Surround yourself with people who lift you up and make you think.

Do you want your garden to be full of weeds, or do you want it to blossom with flowers?

A marine scientist and creative writer

By Tiani Dun

Aliya Siddiqi

Aliya Siddiqi is a bubbly, artistic soul who shares her inspiration with all who are blessed to be in her presence.

Often one can spot Aliya working in her natural habitat –at JCU, in The Science Place. But when she isn’t doing research for her master’s degree Aliya often writes free verses to help her to express her desire to change the narrative that Western society has written for our planet. She is often inspired to write about nature and her experiences within it. Here, she can create a space where she can delve into the deep recesses of her mind.

Poem by Aliya Siddiqi

Aliya has been writing poetry since she was 12 and finds it a perfect way to put the thoughts in her head onto another medium. She uses her writing as her creative outlet -particularly when things aren’t going well, to release her thoughts and reflect upon her present mood.

“I like to just sit and write and see what comes out. Then I can get a better understanding of how I’m feeling in that moment,” she says.

Brain Coral by Aliya Siddiqi

While we often use the logical and analytical part of our minds when working or studying, Aliya encourages everybody to tap into their creative mediums in their spare time. This helps open space for the expression and acceptance of oneself and may encourage us to look beyond our immediate surroundings for deeper connections. For Aliya, it enhances her connection and appreciation of the natural world and her place in it. This connection is deeply important to Aliya, and she explains how it is often lost in translation with many people in Western society.

Poem by Aliya Siddiqi

Recently, Aliya has been focusing her writing about our disconnect with nature in the Western world, one that is reflected in the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are manipulating nature and it is responding,” Aliya says. “COVID is a symptom of human activities: a net result of the mindless destruction we are leaving on our planet.”

We are a part of the system – things that happen to it are reflected back in us.

“We need to redevelop our relationship with nature,” Aliya continued. “Rather than to look at our resources and think, ‘What can I gain from this?’ We need to recognise that we are a part of it –not separate from it, above it, or in complete control of it –and that’s what is truly important.”

COVID-19 gave Aliya the opportunity to write more, and to reflect on what is happening to the planet on a global scale. “I’ve been writing more about our current society. Growing up in a landlocked city in the USA, I’ve seen how many of us are shut off from nature, so the monopolization and commodification of nature is not something most people even recognize. We’re stuck in a neoliberal narrative.”

As marine biologists, we are taught to quantify the values of ecosystem services and our natural resources. This is a part of what we study –how much money we can make from nature. How much is a coral reef worth to us as a fishery or through tourism? And how can we profit from this ‘free’ resource? But it is here, in our focus on perpetual advancements in capital, that we are wholeheartedly missing the point.

Coral Gardens by Aliya Siddiqi

“Many people get lost in the symptoms of the problem,” Aliya says, “but we are missing the root of the problem. We need to decrease carbon emissions –it’s true. But the actual problem lies in the norms and values of western society, in our drive for the constant accumulation of wealth. Every day we use more, waste more, and exploit more of our planet.”

Most of us lack a deep relationship with nature that is seen in the cultures of indigenous and First Nation’s people.

Poem by Aliya Siddiqi

We have a vast impact on the earth that often, we don’t even acknowledge. In the prevailing issues that we see today, it becomes all the more necessary to deconstruct how this has happened. Most of the “goods” and “natural resources” that are being exploited only benefit a minority of people on the planet, and most of the individuals that make significant gains from exploitation of the Earth and human labor are wealthy individuals who have no real need to use those resources, except to accumulate more wealth.

In the video she made below, Aliya infers that we do not require much to make us truly happy. We don’t need an excess of material items – just a few, small things that have good quality and use. Ultimately, Aliya contends that it is our experiences with nature and other people that are what makes life worth living.

Heaven on Earth: By Aliya Siddiqi

And Aliya is far from finished –she is only just beginning to leave her positive impact on the Earth. In the future, Aliya hopes to aid those in developing countries, and ultimately to leave this world in a better place than which she found it.

For those of you interested in helping Aliya out in spreading awareness and understanding, here are her top 3 tips in making a change:

1) Disconnect from your phone/technology

Social media, in particular, is a brainwashing tool designed to maintain your attention and steal your time. These apps are designed to keep you addicted, so that advertisers can gain maximum profits from your views on their ads.

Your social media feed is tailored to suit your “user profile,” which has kept track of every click you’ve ever made, every photo you’ve ever “liked” and every location you’ve ever checked in. This narrows your view of the world and can create a bubble of misinformation tailored specifically to you. Just think –all of the time you spend staring at your screen is time you are selling yourself to these companies –missing the magic that could be found in creative outlets, time with friends, or experiences out in nature…to benefit corporations and marketers.

Poem by Aliya Siddiqi

Aliya encourages everybody to get out and spend some time in nature each day. “When people are forced to sit in silence they get uncomfortable –but once we get past the initial discomfort we can learn so much about ourselves.”

Stingray Stack by Aliya Siddiqi

2) Put pressure on political systems

Aliya knows that many scientists would prefer to stay neutral in political debate. Yet in order for positive changes to occur, there is a pressing need to express an opinion. academics are more protected from political and corporate influence, and therefore have an obligation to go beyond the fundamentals and encourage critical thinking about how people view and use the world around them, and how it will influence future generations. We should all use any privilege we may have to stand up for what is right and advocate for changes to be made in our local communities.

Octopus by Aliya Siddiqi

3) Expand your knowledge

There is an endless supply of knowledge out there –most of it for free. Yet educating oneself is not often promoted in our misguided system, as knowledge does not necessarily make you rich. It does, however, empower individuals to the world a better place, and lead to much fuller, richer lives. Therefore, Aliya encourages everybody to read widely –and not just about the things you are interested in. Read about the things you like, sure, but also read about the things you don’t like. Try to understand things from as many different perspectives as possible, to think outside the matrix of society. Travel, and have constructive conversations with others, listen to what they have to teach you and share what you learned along your own journey. It’s okay to have disagreements, but it is important to gain empathy for other perspectives.

Question everything. Stay awake to the organized chaos. 

Aliya in her natural element (aka the ocean)

By Tiani Dun

Film: Ayla Woolley in Belgian Gardens

Life is weird to think about sometimes.

All the struggles, all of our hardships, the stress of work, studying, phone bills, $400 seatbelt fines, and what’s the point? What’s it all for?

I’m here to tell you that it’s all for nothing. Scientists and philosophers have debated about it for centuries, and most have come to the general consensus that there’s absolutely no point in life, whatsoever.

People may provide you with the illusion that life is meant to be filled with purposeful, meaningful work. And it’s certainly true that work in the service of others will make you feel as though you have a purpose.

But in reality, everything we ever do will eventually be forgotten or destroyed. The difference between the beginning of your life and the end will likely be engraved on a slab of stone as a single dashed line.

“–“ will be all that remains of your story once you pass onto your next life. And this notion, while harsh for some to contemplate, is liberating for others.

Think about it. Nothing that you can or will do will have very much significance, in the grand scheme of things that is.

I mean, perhaps your family will remember you for some time to come. Perhaps, if you are exceptionally significant, then other humans will remember you for some centuries even. But eventually, the earth will collapse in supernova and the human race will go extinct, so nothing we ever do will ever really matter, anyway.

Therefore, in logical succession I come to the conclusion that life is meant to be lived. If you look at your life now, and you’re not living it exactly how you’d like it to be, then why aren’t you doing something about it?

Why not do whatever the hell you want?

Now, I’m not advising you to go and rob a bank, or take revenge on your ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. In fact, you may not have to do anything at all. But if you’re currently feeling down or stuck, then I am encouraging you to do a self-audit. Ask yourself – what skillset do I use when I am feeling most inspired? Follow what feels good and have the courage to take action for your life.

Film: Ayla Woolley at Rowes Bay

If you aren’t living your life, then live it. If you don’t like something, then change it. Be a little selfish, and make decisions based on whatever you want to do. We live in a time when we all have the power to live in the most extraordinary way that we deserve.

So go out and enjoy your time while you have it. Enjoy the warm sunshine outside, the smell of the flowers on your street and the breeze in your face the next time you’re out for a walk.

Enjoy the view from the hill and the stars at night. (When stargazing, you can expect to see a shooting star every 10-15 minutes).

Enjoy the perfect moments and the imperfect ones too. If you feel sad, experience it, let it consume you, and know that it too, shall pass. 

Enjoy your meaningless, fruitless, and completely pointless life. You might not live for very much longer, anyway.

Why is it hard to be by yourself?

By Tiani Dun

Yannis in the Paperbark forest by Tiani

I had the house to myself last night, and let me tell you -things were quiet. Personally, I relish these rare moments of peace in my busy household, but there have been many a times when I have been afraid to be left alone -afraid mostly, of where my thoughts would run to.

We spend all our time together, that when we are alone we aren’t sure what to do with ourselves. We often don’t stop to look around, to wonder. In moments of stillness, we play music to drown out the sounds of our own thoughts.

This is what has become of our generation, so consumed by our consumption of things, that we are conditioned to never be happy with where we are, now.

Not only do we over consume foods, clothing, and everyday items, but we are forever in an unconscious drive for more -one that is accelerated by advertising and our social media accounts.

We are flooded with images of things we don’t have that we should buy -new clothes, a better car, expensive bags, shoes. And when we have a moment of down time, we spend it scrolling through images of others -living their lives to their fullest (or so their Instagram posts suggest).

In fact, we are so connected to one another, that we are becoming disconnected.

Today, I’m challenging you to spend a day free from all this “connection.” When you have a spare moment, notice how you may instinctively reach for your phone for comfort. Notice this, and instead, sit with your thoughts. Ponder with them. Embrace them. Relish them.

Notice the amount of time you spend using technology unnecessarily. Notice this, and then embrace the copious amount of free time that you are suddenly blessed with when you give yourself a day off.

Maybe you have time to read that book you’ve been meaning to -or paint a new masterpiece. Maybe you’ll learn a new language, practice some music, or do some exercise. If you find you have absolutely nothing to do, then go for a walk down by the river or the beach.

I’m challenging you to find solace in the peace and quiet. Spend time with yourself, because you need it and you deserve it.  

“I once read that people who study others are wise but those who study themselves are enlightened”.”
― Robin S. Sharma 

Most importantly, remember to spend time in nature. The vastness of your surroundings will humble your soul. Even the contemplation of the smallest flower may bring you back to your inherent connectedness with the earth.

It was the many indigenous tribes who initially recognized this connectedness, who lived fully immersed with their environment. Yet today, we live dangerously far away from this life. We are so out of touch with nature, that we often forgive time outdoors to sit inside and instead stare at small screens. We watch movies or documentaries about people or animals in the natural world instead of actually living in it.

We forget that everything is interconnected, and that we are nothing without the plants and animals we consume, or the soils that provide them with nutrients.

We forget that the wind drives the currents, which drives the waves that we ride. We forget we are connected to the worms which fertilise our soils, the bees which create our honey and the birds which pollenate our plants. We forget that without all creatures on Earth play an integral role in supplying our food, medicines and shelter, and that without them, we would not survive.

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
― Albert Einstein