I first met Avis Mulhall a couple of years back through a close friend. When she came onto my radar I was aware she was battling months in hospital with a very debilitating disease, finally when we set a date to meet on a street corner in Bondi I came to know a really positive, smiley and socially conscious lady. I write ‘lady’ knowing she’ll chuckle because Avis has very colourful language that make her perhaps unconventionally lady-like, but she is passionate about what she does and how she lives her life, I think the blunt and creative expressions help emphasise the crystal clear determination she has – she’s memorable. After months of knowing one another, witnessing her health improve, seeing her venture into amazing business projects and inspiring a whirlpool of friends and followers to her Think. Act. Change. meet-up, I know Avis will never let a bit of hard work overtake her aspirations in life. When I pondered people to talk to about commitment she shot straight to mind. As you’ll read below the conversation unfolds across many tangents and topics, with Avis believing that commitment comprises many parts, and some interesting life experiences to share along the way… Do enjoy.
L: May I start by asking what was the first reaction you had when I asked you to be a willing interview participant on commitment?
A: A lot of people who know me would say I have dogged determination, I think to me commitment is very much around just not giving up. Some may call it blind faith, others stupidity – for me, if I set a goal that I want to achieve in life, and it’s usually about ‘how’ I want to live my life, then I am not going to compromise or give up on that, especially if faced with massive adversity. I have faced a lot of adversity in my life.
L: So ‘how’ do you want to live your life?
A: A long time ago I quit a corporate job and decided I wanted a life that was true to myself. It took me a lot of courage to quit and leave the security of a very large salary. As soon as I did it the fear melted away and I just knew that I wanted to do something bigger, better, and not give up on finding it. That said, the goals I set down haven’t necessarily turned out the way I thought, so trying not to become too attached to a particular outcome and accept circumstances as they unfold is something I’ve learned along the way, as long as I know I am going in the right direction.
L: Is going in the right direction about commitment to yourself, or being true to yourself?
A: Entirely. I trust my gut a lot. I don’t compromise my values. Like in my career choices, I get asked about doing all sorts of weird and wonderful projects, and sure they could be really easy, I could make money, sometimes quickly, but I always ask myself, ‘does it fit into the overall vision of what I want for my life?’ If it doesn’t then I’ll say no. The universe has a funny way, when you say no to something, of allowing an even better opportunity to come along – that does fit your values and vision, and it happens every time without fail. It just may take some time. If I have the courage to say no, and it becomes easier with practice, I trust something better will come along – in jobs, friendships, relationships, everything.
L: Do you have a value that you measure opportunities against?
A: I want to live a life that has a lot of freedom in it. I’m a bit rebellious and I don’t like to feel trapped. Particularly with business decisions, when opportunities come along I need to remind myself of my path. I don’t want to loose myself, get caught up in something that drags me in another direction, and sure it can be fun and interesting but then I’ll lose focus. So freedom is critical, to live the life I want to live and to remain true to myself.
L: What are your beliefs about freedom?
A: I literally say to myself on a daily if not weekly basis about each and everything I am doing, ‘is this what I want to be doing?’ I know in my gut if it is. I’ve found a lot of people don’t get what they want in life because they don’t believe they deserve it. I visualise a really beautiful life for myself with lots of freedom. People tell me I’m crazy, but it is possible – because I am living it now. It’s not easy all the time, but I believe I deserve it.
L: That’s a really nice point, that you have to believe you deserve it. So how did you learn about creating a desirable life?
A: After I quit my corporate job I went overseas and lived in a rainforest in Africa. I went over there very naively with assumptions that I was going to help people, and it was a journey that opened my eyes to what life is all about. The villagers taught me that life is all about food, family and community. If you have food on your table, a family that loves you and a community that supports you then you don’t need much else. They squeezed joy and passion into absolutely everything they did. If they were walking to town, they sang the entire way, supported the older ones, people they passed would bring them water, it was the camaraderie and feeling of being surrounded by people who would push you up the hill when you start to fall that opened my eyes. When you travel your eyes do open, but it’s very easy to slip back in to old ways when you return to the real world. I always remind myself that ‘that’ is the real world, and always say to myself that I don’t want to compromise again. There have been a few challenges along the way but I just keep going and trust it will all work out.
L: Sounds like those three core concepts – food, family and community – were really important for you?
A: They are. I know a lot of people don’t know what they want and I think that is the difficulty they encounter. Or they think they don’t think they know what they want! If you really take the time to separate yourself from your everyday and the ‘doing’ and take a moment to ‘be’ it’ll soon unfold. Give yourself time to be free of distractions. It was finding something bigger than me, the community aspect. Everything I do involves giving back, helping others, or helping others achieve their dreams, making the world a little bit better. If what you’re striving for is bigger than yourself once you get a glimpse of that you won’t turn back.
L: Sounds like committing to others helps with commitment to you?
A: Yeah for sure, it’s way more joyful. And you do get way more back when you give – I know it sounds cheesy and corny, but it’s so entirely true. When you have that moment of need, you’ll be blown away with the amounts of people who step in to help you. It surprises me every day how many people I have to support me, in good times and when I am down, because I’ve spent my life helping others without want or expecting anything in return.
L: I totally agree about having a supportive network.
A: Surrounding yourself with people who think like you is crucial. I remember sitting on the sofa one day and had been incredibly sick, my sister came over from Ireland to visit, and she asked me what was on the wall behind me, she was pointing at it but it was blank so I was confused. I said I couldn’t see anything…and then she said, ‘it says get your head out of the fucking clouds Avis, come home and get a real job and give up on these stupid dreams of yours!’ I was blown away, more about that being the way people actually think. If you have a dream as a kid its good, but if you have a dream as an adult then you’re flaky. I say no, have big fuck off audacious goals and dream big. If people think you’re crazy I reckon you’re already half way there. That’s what life is all about.
L: How do you stick with these big fuck off audacious dreams?!
A: By finding the things that make you feel alive everyday. Mindfulness has been incredibly important in appreciating the everyday and small things. I often walk around in my bare feet, as I like to be aware of everything, feel everything. There was a long time when I couldn’t walk around, so I guess I appreciate it more now. When I’m having a bad day, or doubting myself, getting into the negative mind space we can all fall into, I take the time to look at or swim in the ocean, look at the sky, and remember how beautiful everything is, that you are a very small part of the world, but completely important too. Being close to nature helps immensely.
L: People can also commit to being in a negative mind space, blocking those dreams?
A: People do. Having suffered from depression before I know, people can get into a negative mind space and somewhat thrive on being there. You commit to being miserable and you stay there because in some weird way you almost enjoy being miserable and it’s a negative spiral that keeps going down. If you get to that point, you need self awareness to recognise that things are starting to go awry – then talk to your friends about it, find people who you can have conversations with. It’s the easiest and also the toughest thing to have a life where you’re true to yourself, the right people will support you, you just need to find those people. It’s vital. Put it out there. Talk about your dreams, hopes and aspirations, people will gravitate towards that, and it will happen, because it’s supposed to happen and you have to trust. Commitment and trust go hand in hand.
L: Is that your experience?
A: Sure is, when the shit hits the fan, and everything goes wrong, I don’t get stressed out about it anymore. Some people may look at my life and think it’s a bit of a cluster fuck, but I know I am on the right path. It is never going to be easy. It is not about the cards you’re dealt, it is what you chose to do with them. That’s where happiness comes from.
L: Sounds like you agree with me, that happiness is a choice, not the goal?
A: Exactly. Happiness is a choice. If you’ve got meaning, dreams and ways of staying mindful in your life, plus the commitment to following that, then you’ll find happiness even during the toughest of times. Happiness isn’t something to strive for in the future. It’s already there under the surface in small, surprising everyday things. You just have to be present enough to see, experience and appreciate it.
L: How would you say you motivate yourself to not give up?
A: A couple of ways. The goals I have in life are to help others and I know if I don’t do it, then it won’t get done. I have a very big vision for the business I am currently working on, to help eradicate disease overseas, if anything is going to motivate me to get out of bed in the morning then that is it. I’ve made work fun, I’ve surrounded myself with people who are in it because they believe in it, so the project is not like working – because we believe in the mission I don’t feel like it’s a struggle to commit to something when I know it’s so worthwhile. Actually going into the city also motivates me, I don’t want to end up back on the hamster wheel of unconscious thinking, so it’s a constant reminder of living this life I call mine. If it comes with a whole bunch of disasters along the way, it also comes with a whole bunch of adventures. I’d rather a whole bunch of ‘oh wells’ rather than ‘if onlys’. I’ve had a whole bunch of ‘oh wells’ – and fuck it, they are heaps of fun!
L: What about other areas of your life?
A: My life is like one big whole, I don’t separate work from everything else as I’ve made the work part of who I am, but not in the way that I allow it to consume me…more in the way that I’ve made the things I love to do – my passions – into my work. Actually when I think about it motivation also stays if I have commitment without attachment. Not getting so attached to an outcome that it will affect you negatively if it doesn’t happen how you had hoped. Like in personal relationships, I’ve learned happiness doesn’t come from others, but they do enter your life for a reason and maybe you haven’t quite worked out why yet. So you have to just let go if something doesn’t work out the way you want. Perhaps in a week, a month, or two years time you will understand why. If you stay too attached you may miss something amazing or not learn the lesson. That’s where trust comes in, listen to your gut and constantly remind yourself to detach.
L: Would you say that sitting with disappointment is part of the process, how do you trust through that?
A: It’s self-discovery – you’ll learn something about yourself. It happened to me – the second day I was in Mozambique I broke my foot. I rang my mother and she ordered me home fearing I couldn’t move around and would run out of money. I was like, ‘why on earth would I leave?’ and knew I’d figure it out. Sure enough, I ran out of money pretty fast, then one night I was sitting in a bar and asked if there was any work going. I ended up living in Mozambique and running a surf and yoga lodge. If I hadn’t have broken my foot, I never would have done that, and whilst doing that I met my business partner, and if I hadn’t have met my business partner then I wouldn’t have moved to Australia, and if I hadn’t have moved here I wouldn’t be in the business I am in now, living the wonderful life I’m leading. So breaking my foot was the best fucking thing that ever happened to me. Know what I mean!? Someone else may have gone home, but that one tiny moment changed the course of my life – and I am only just realising that now! Wow!
L: Loving that little moment you just had!
A: Breaking my foot was awesome! Proof that looking back without noticing how much of an impact breaking my foot was. Fuck knows where I’d be!
L: Back in Ireland wishing you’d climbed Kilimanjaro?
A: Well I was supposed to climb Kilimanjaro, but I got malaria…
L: What?! Where did the malaria lead you?
A: Ha ha, I ended up travelling overland through Africa where I met a guy and fell in love. We were together for a couple of years. It was wonderful. Everything does happen for a reason, that sounds so god damn fucking cheesy. It’s so hard to understand but I do believe it.
L: Sometimes it’s hard to conquer our fears or challenges to get where we want to be.
A: I’ve had so many of those moments, but I just don’t fucking give up, I stick with it, even when it comes to the money. I find a way. That’s one thing I never let stop me, money. It is the biggest excuse. I don’t worry about money anymore, even though others think I should. I could have a whole lot more money and I used to think my security was attached to having money. If what you’re doing is true to yourself, good for the people around you, good for the world then money will come later. Of all the things I look back on in my life that I have enjoyed the most and learnt from the most, they are the things I shouldn’t have done, couldn’t afford, or things people told me I was mad to do. Quit worrying and just do it.
L: Perhaps the mindfulness helps you understand things a little bit better?
A: Being present helps evaluate what is right or wrong for you. You’ll realise there is nothing to be scared of, fearful of, anxious about. What makes you anxious or scared is the past or in the future, and neither of those really exist, so if you’re living in the moment and doing things that make you happy there is nothing to be scared of. It’s not going to be easy and know that. Easy doesn’t necessarily mean rewarding. The tough bits are what you’ll remember, learn from and laugh about afterwards. You just have to accept the present moment as it is. If it’s hard, it’s hard, if it’s easy it’s easy, just learn to go with it.
L: Which is kind of what you were describing to me about the tattoo on your arm earlier?
A: Indeed. It’s a Sanskrit tattoo and it says, ishvara pranidhana which is a yoga sutra, it’s described as being one of the key routes to peace of mind, to your centre, to your heart or soul (or God) whatever it is that you call it – I call it the Universe.
Here is a lengthened ishvara pranidhana meaning; surrender to that which is bigger than you; feeling your connection to everyone else and to every other living thing; letting go of the idea that you can control anything at all and learning instead to meet life where you find it and how you find it; where you find yourself and how you find yourself. If your life is a river, then invoking ishvara pranidhana is learning to go with the flow of it: staying steady through the choppy bits, learning to allow yourself to love and enjoy the easy-flowing bits, being patient through seeming stagnation, knowing that a river never truly stops moving. It is understanding that you do not – cannot – control the way the river flows. Ishvara pranidhana is feeling yourself as an inextricable part of something much bigger than your small individual self: you are simultaneously small and insignificant in the midst of its vastness and yet an absolutely crucial, invaluable part of it. Your yoga practice is, and will continue to be, a conscious turning back to love; a deliberate move towards silence, that you might hear all that the universe, your heart and the love of God has to tell you. Ishvara pranidhana.
Life unfolds. Let it. Don’t push. Learn how to wait, watch and be alert; learn to trust that unfolding. There is a rightness to it that you, with all your intellect, effort and knowingness, could never have achieved.
It is so true of life, in every possible way, so much so that I wrote it on my arm! I love it.
L: What part of the verse do you connect with at the moment?
A: The line about ‘don’t push and let things unfold’. At the moment there are many things in my life that feel a bit stagnant, or haven’t worked out the way I’d hoped. I just need to accept that and learn to not push, to persevere without force. Like I said earlier about detaching, that is what I am focusing on at the moment and learning to wait and trust the unfolding. It’s not easy sometimes. But I do believe it.
L: Which is interesting given we started the conversation about commitment being associated with dogged determination!
A: Exactly, it’s about being fiercely determined to achieving your goals but not being too attached to the precise outcomes along the way. Just keep going in the right direction. That sums up commitment for me.
L: There are so many pearls of wisdom in those words.
A: It is huge! On any given day you could read it and take something different from it. And anyone can learn something from it, it’s so valuable and I love it.
L: What a great way to wrap it all up!
A: I do have one more point to make! I do feel very lucky that I figured out what I want for my life sooner rather than later and for that I am very grateful. Gratitude is so incredibly important, for everything, all the time, even when the shit hits the fan, it brings you down to earth.
L: Now I have one more question, what advice would you give to people about commitment to self?
A: Whenever you’re making a decision ask yourself, ‘why?’ Will it lead to the life that you dream of? Is it what you really want? The life that you dream of is possible, if you believe that it is and that you deserve it. Learn to trust your gut and give yourself enough silence to listen to it – try not to be so busy. I can’t stress that enough. When you are still is when you figure out what you really want, this is why people have revelations when they are on holidays. So give yourself a little holiday each week even if it’s just a walk on the beach. Be kind to yourself, give yourself time to simply be.
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In doing what she loves, and without labelling her (I’ve gotta keep her freedom firmly intact) Avis’ latest business venture is Looloo Paper. Looloo sells toilet paper and then uses it’s profits to improve sanitation conditions in developing countries. Sign up to find out more here.
If you’d like to stay in touch with Avis and her adventurous life connect with her on twitter @avismulhall.