How Long is Forever?

They say there is no such thing as coincidence, so that is why I am publishing this blog again that I first published in 2016. Yesterday we visited Claydon House, a country house near Aylesbury, now owned by the National Trust. It is a place I love to visit, partly because of its connection with Florence Nightingale. Sir Harry Verney owned Claydon House and in 1857 came to know the Nightingale family. He married Florence’s sister and following the match, Florence became a regular visitor. She spent many years at Claydon, particularly in the summer. Walking through the gardens I noticed a sundial and took a picture of it for my Instagram page. Underneath I wrote a quote by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Then, looking through this old post I noticed I’d written the same quote before. It got me thinking again about the passing of time …….

We have just returned home from five days in Devon. We seemed to pack a lot into those five days; travelling, walking and revisiting old haunts. The days were very full, both with a variety of winds and weathers, varying accommodation and, for me, very mixed emotions.

My parents moved to Devon when I was eight years old and we lived there until I was fourteen, so these were possibly the years that had a strong influence on my adult life; my formative years. It was in the early sixties, the era where the country saw a dramatic change. The first teenage generation to be free of conscription emerged in Britain, and young people were given a voice and a certain amount of freedom. I don’t think that freedom had quite filtered down to me though; I was shy, and had been an only child until I was thirteen when my lovely sister was born. But boy did I like the music of the era. I have just been looking at the top 100 most popular hits of 1963. They include The Beatles with ‘She Loves You’ and ‘From Me To You,’ ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone,’ Gerry and The Pacemakers, ‘Summer Holiday.’ Cliff Richard, and ‘In Dreams’ Roy Orbison. Also on there are Billy Fury, Elvis, The Shadows, I could go on and on ……Who could ever regret being a ‘baby boomer’ with that pedigree of music in the background? Later in the sixties came ‘flower power’ and I remember wafting around Torquay harbour with bare feet wearing a dress with a psychedelic print and feeling like a ‘flower child,’ and a little bit hippie. ( If I am honest, I have always had mild hippie leanings ever since).

Himself was very patient and drove me round all the places I remembered from those long lost days. I found our old house and stood outside the drive and looked up to my old bedroom window. I was pleased to see the house looked loved and well cared for. At the bottom of the road, I stared at the field where I used to go sledging after school on my dad’s old wooden surf board, in the long frozen winter of 1962. How could this now be a mild slope? In my mind it was a tremendously steep hill that I whizzed down with my eyes closed in exhilarating terror.

I tried to remember the directions to my old school; I was sure I knew how to find it but called in at the local shop to check the directions. I was a bit upset to see this was housed in what was formerly the village hall where I had both attended Girl Guides and ballet classes. Gone was the old wooden floor and the pretty sash windows. Only the old pitched roof remained the same. It was now a rather hideously fronted mini supermarket. The guy inside was friendly and gave me directions. He talked about the area and said it had gone downhill, in fact, he called the town ‘feral’, which was sad to hear.

The way to school soon became familiar to me and before long I was standing outside the railings looking at the playground. It had hardly changed and I could almost hear the clang of the school bell calling us in to class. I remembered my stern teacher; ramrod straight, dressed in severe grey with hair in a tight bun, admonishing me for letting my brain ‘go to rust, Lynda!’ Later, though, she must have seen something in me, for she made me a prefect. I guess she was strict, but fair.

We drove around a bit and inevitably some parts of the place I knew so well had changed beyond recognition. The sweet little cafe on the slope up from the harbour and which my mother loved was long gone, and replaced by a betting shop. The small nursing home where my sister was born was now a private residence and the town had a more than shabby appearance.

Does our mind play tricks on us? Do we sometimes remember things differently than they really were? I once heard someone say we should never go back. Maybe I won’t again. But I wondered about my mother. I wondered what she was thinking on the days when she sat in the little cafe by the harbour. She was in her late thirties then. Full of life, full of plans. Really not knowing that before long our family would move and make a new life somewhere else. And then somewhere else again. I looked back and felt a huge wistfulness.

And what is it about time? Why is it that we can sit on a bench looking out to sea and look at the horizon and feel that we last sat there yesterday, when in reality it was fifty years ago? Where do all the thoughts and dreams from all those years ago really, really go? I know someone wise would say treasure every day. And I know that.We all say it so often. It rolls off the tongue every time we hear a bit of bad news. But time still passes, with the good times and the bad. There is more than just going back. There is remembering and taking time to remember. Time to think about what and who has gone before. Time to think about the times, the memories and the people who helped make us who we are. Time to reflect on the old ways that sometimes are lost with the new ways but have a funny way of being repackaged and becoming the next big thing!

Do you dwell on the past, live for today, or do you look to the future? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Alice: How long is forever?

White Rabbit: Just one second.

Lewis Carroll Alice In Wonderland

 

Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind.

Nathaniel Hawthorn

Blessings to you ….

 

Hope

Do you ever have times when your faith wavers and the monsters creep in from the shadows? Me too. This is for you.

 

Hope

Hope is in the sunlight
That filters through the soul,
And carries the scent of roses
That never fades at all.
And brightest – amongst the cloud – it seems –
And fierce could be the storm –
That could drown with a thousand tears
The sun that keeps us warm.

(With a little bit of inspiration from Emily Dickinson)

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Listening As a Kindness …

If Only You Could Listen….

Yes, we listen to music, podcasts, telephones, and televisions. We have headphones so no one has to hear what we listen to but us. These things all have a place. But the face-to-face act of human listening between people is diminishing with each generation. The world hurries and people have trouble keeping pace, especially our children, even though they can’t always see it. Perhaps we should take some time out occasionally and listen in the old-fashioned way. Ear to ear, heart- to- heart.

To be kind is more important than to be right. Many times what people need is not a brilliant mind that speaks up a special heart that listens.’        F.Scott Fitzgerald

These days it is hard to be heard by others or, in turn, to listen when someone is trying to articulate their problem. Often we have our own agenda and the need to ‘fix’ things without really getting to the root of what is bothering us or someone near to us. How many times do we find ourselves glazing over when someone recounts their story to us and how many times do we feel the need to jump in with answers or ‘yes I knows’ before someone has finished speaking?

The art of listening really means just that. Listening. Taking time to really focus on the person talking to us and engaging. Listening is one of the most important skills we can have so how can we become better listeners? For me, I try to remove distractions; it is hard to concentrate with the television on for instance, or the laptop whirring. I put away what I am doing if possible, or, if it is difficult to talk because of circumstances, I suggest a time and space where we can soon talk properly.

Sometimes it is easier to talk outdoors; deep conversations can seem easier in the park or sitting under a tree!

Most importantly, be warm. Good body language and being focused means good communication in a non-verbal way.

Try not to appear self-conscious. This may sound silly but sometimes it is hard to concentrate if you aren’t happy with your appearance for instance, or if you feel a little daunted by the other person. It’s good to remember that if someone is pouring out their thoughts to you they aren’t likely to be judging you at the same time. Endeavour to put your own insecurities to one side…(we all have them however wise we may feel).

Put yourself in the other persons shoes. Really try to imagine how you would feel in their situation. True communication happens when people understand each other. Try to find common ground but at the same time don’t say you know how they feel. You don’t, but you are trying to see things from their point of view.

Don’t just listen. Really hear. Develop your sense of interpreting sound as a way of understanding people – tone of voice can indicate whether someone is joyful or depressed, angry or scared.

There is a need to be honest if someone is going through a hard time, and the truth as you see it put forward in a kind and gentle way can be helpful. Be thoughtful though; it is natural to try to put forward solutions when you want to help, but often talking things through with an understanding person who cares can lead a person to find their own answers.

If you are listening to a loved one it is hard not to judge at times, but it is important not to. Often it is easier for people to discuss their worries with strangers rather than people they don’t know well – then any shared history doesn’t play a part. If you are listening to a loved one and they are saying something you may not wish to hear it can be difficult and that is the time to remind yourself how much you love them.

This isn’t meant to be a lesson in counselling – drilling down to details and summarising a persons problems – I should leave that to the experts. This is about listening as a friend. Being there in the first instance.

Listening is not always about being there to offer tea and sympathy. There are other ways to listen; small things like catching someone’s name and remembering it when introduced to them for the first time. Making an effort to pick up on the little things. Kindly exchanges with the street sellers and shopkeepers. Allowing each and every person from diverse cultures to have a voice and speak their truth. Listening with a kind heart.

How loved do you feel when someone takes the time to listen to you? It makes you feel good. It provides you with a support system and it creates bonds of friendship that can strengthen over time.

Not everyone needs a therapist although of course sometimes they are necessary. Sometimes a friendly listener can help put cares and woes into perspective. Quite often the best thing about an exchange between two people is just that. The exchange. There is not necessarily any pressure to find a solution. The exchange of ideas and the experience of being ‘heard’ can be completely satisfying in itself.

The greatest gift you can offer to another person is your attention.’ Thich Nhat Hanh.

A good listener will listen not only to what is being said, but also to what is left unsaid.’  Anon …     

Resolve each day to take time to listen to someone. It can change their lives and change your own.

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A Bit About Wisdom and a Note From Provence

Take time to wonder…

We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom. Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace.

I am away from Dove Lane this week. Holidays are all about change really. Change from routine, change from our normal location and surroundings, change of diet, change of normal attire even. It can be a time to do things a bit differently and to break out. Most of all, it can be a change of thought patterns.

Travel and being a passenger gives me time to think; gazing out of the car window watching the foreign countryside roll past in an unfamiliar blur, my mind drifts from the present delights of the journey and the destination that awaits us, to half remembered conversations and abstract thoughts of just about anything. It’s a little like the moments before you drift off to sleep when reality gives way to the complexity and transience of dreaming.

Holidays give us time to take stock –  and I sit quietly in the peaceful garden overlooking the lavender field here in Provence as I have done many times before, silently feeling the embrace of the surroundings that manage to bring an intangible feeling of both happiness and wistfulness. And although being on holiday brings a change of scene there is a feeling here of timelessness too. We were last here three years ago, and yet the path to the house is unchanged; the wisteria may have wound its way a little more up the worn stone walls, but otherwise everything is the same.  For most of the time we are hundreds of miles away from here, going about our daily lives, busy with the ups and downs of daily life, the hubbub, the crazy politics, the going out, the staying in, good days, bad days and yet we return when we can, and expect to see everything just as we left it; the old, tetchy gentleman sitting in the little village square platting the lavender stems, the same lady at the boulangerie providing us with our daily breakfast of delicious croissants, the lavender growing as robustly as ever. Perhaps this place we love is suspended in time.

My mind can wander here thats for sure, because I have time to sit and think. Interestingly enough I have done this many times before because with each visit I find I have new thoughts and new concerns running through my head. This should tell me something – worries from previous years may not totally lie forgotten but certainly have eased and even been sorted with time.

And yet I sit in this beautiful place and ponder; ponder about life about home and about my loved ones, and the concerns of everyone’s trials. As always I don’t have all the answers. But do we ever really know the answers to the deep questions about our lives and the lives of those we love? I guess we just do our best to find our way.

I have to remember the world is full of mystery; It is always a mystery – we do not know why, and we do not understand why. There are things beyond our grasp that we cannot fathom. And yet there is balance. We see it in nature. I see it here in the bees and the butterflies as they buzz and fly about fertilizing the flowers. They are so many things on this planet that work perfectly together.

We have many books and articles that give us thousands of facts as we search for answers. We can google anything – hmm…not always a good thing but useful sometimes. But we still can’t answer everything.

Sometimes we need to just ‘be’ and I should remind myself of that as I sit in the shade of the ancient oak tree. The great thinkers and writers seem to agree. To quote Socrates ‘The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.’

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If You Want to Change the World Stop Trying to Change the World!

Just look around at the moment. Here in the UK it is difficult to make any sense of the current politics and the behaviour of some of the politicians does not fill me with confidence and certainly not any admiration. I have followed various parties in my time time but I have come to realise that we can never be satisfactorily governed, or certainly not governed in a way which keeps everyone happy.

Many points of views are bandied about. I imagine those people who become politicians set out with the wish to change things – to make a difference and create change for the better. We see up and coming politicians come to our attention, fresh faced and full of hope and wise ideas. We are impressed if they support our cause, and we gather and discuss them at length, ever hopeful that the state of ‘things’ will improve.

But so many theories are put forward and so many theories are rubbished. Criticism hails from every corner. Praise is rarely given. Instead, people who put themselves forward to govern are often ridiculed or knocked off their shaky and newly acquired pedestals. They are heckled when giving a speech even if they dare to cough. They are laughed at when they half-heartedly attempt to join in and dance with some visiting children in an attempt to appear approachable.  Their private lives are scrutinised. They keep going, they may climb the political ladder and find power, but rarely, if ever, do they have a straightforward path.

But I have digressed. Because I am not here to write about politics. I do wonder what make us all tick though. And I wonder where genuine kindness and politeness has gone when I see how those in the public eye are treated and treat each other.

How do we change things? How do we try and change the world?

Perhaps we shouldn’t wait for others to change. They won’t. It is no good waiting for others to take responsibility for our future. Do we make the change ourselves? We can increase our awareness, read and listen to wiser people. But old habits are hard to change. And it is easy to say “No one else is changing so why should I?” And we may not want to change the beliefs we feel are important to us. They are part of who we are. The main thing to avoid is resistance. Being an immovable object. If we resist something or someone we are in conflict. That makes us and those around us unhappy. Many people make themselves unhappy every day.

There is a paradox in all this. When you stop trying to change things, you will often find things WILL change. Both in your world of your inner consciousness and in the world around you.  If you go about your business being kind, peaceful, loving and happy you will make a difference just by being you.

“Ah yes” I hear you say, “That’s all very well. But it smacks of laziness. Someone has to take responsibility and run the country/business/health centre.” It is true that we may not look like we are doing much, but when we act from a natural state, good thoughts and acts happen. We are not interfering with anyone else. If we could all come from a place of peace and goodwill, we will interact well together and THEN we will make headway.

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The Importance of Sleep – the role it plays in your physical and mental health.

I wrote the following words for an article a while back. Having read something again yesterday about the importance of sleep to health, I thought it worth putting out again. I have added a bit more regarding  the possible protective role it plays in breast cancer.

Good quality sleep is so important. Ideally we should get eight hours a night. With families to look after and demanding jobs or even a thriving social life, we often do not get that peaceful night’s sleep that we should. Sleep plays a big role in your physical health and mental health. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repairing your body and supporting good brain function. In children and teenagers, sleep also helps support growth and development so perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on our teenagers when we have trouble getting them out of bed! Lack of sleep can impact on us in many ways and even cause harm over time; deficiency can raise your risk of some chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, and can also affect how well you think, react, work, learn and get along with others. It can affect our safety too; if we are tired when performing important tasks such as driving or operating machinery we can be prone to accidents. Children who lack sleep may struggle with school work and examinations.

Sleep helps your brain work properly. While you are sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day; it is forming new pathways to help you learn and take in information. It may be that sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain , so if you are sleep deficient you may have trouble making decisions or controlling your emotions and behaviour. It will also play a part in anxiety and depression.

Sleep is important in regulating the hormones in your body such as insulin which controls your blood sugar, and important growth hormones in children. Another interesting point is that lack of sleep makes you hungry, so if you battle with your weight and controlling your eating it may be worth thinking about a few early nights!

Melatonin and sleep

The pattern of waking up naturally when it is light and sleeping at night when it is dark is a natural part of human life. A key factor in how we sleep is regulated by exposure to light or darkness. You may say this is obvious, but in modern times we do not really sleep in the way our ancestors did or indeed as animals do. Melatonin is a natural and beneficial hormone produced by the pineal gland in your brain. During the day this gland is inactive. When the sun goes down and darkness occurs, the pineal gland starts to function and releases melatonin. This has the effect of naturally slowing the body down and preparing us for sleep. When we sleep melatonin levels stay elevated in the body and then fall again with the light of the new day. So we see that light affects how much melatonin the body produces. During the shorter days of winter, your body may produce melatonin either earlier or later in the day than usual and this change can have an effect on mood, often called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Most of us know that the hormone melatonin helps regulate our sleep. But it also seems to play another role – suppressing cancer growth. Think of melatonin as helping to put cancer cells to sleep at night. Various studies have shown that women who interrupt their melatonin production by working night shifts appear to be at increased risk. Even living on a brightly-lit street may increase risk. Therefore, it’s probably best to sleep in a room with heavy curtains or black-out blinds and no lights. There is also something else you can do! Yes, eat more vegetables. Higher vegetable intake seems to increase levels of melatonin.

 All appliances should be switched off and try not to have a television in the room! Leave your mobile out of immediate range too! (It can be done!) All electronic devices can interfere with your sleep. One thing I try and do (and often find it hard to stick to) is to have a ‘wind down’ spell after 8pm. This means staying away from the computer and leaving unfinished work until the next day. Most emails can wait until the morning! Also, I try to avoid listening to late night news so that I don’t go to bed feeling troubled.

In the dark night hours, there is nothing much worse than laying awake tossing and turning. Every minor problem and worry about tomorrow becomes magnified and before you know it you have a whole list of possible bad scenarios bubbling up in your mind. The best thing to do in this situation is to get up. Instead of staying in bed worrying about how many hours sleep you will be missing and fearing you will be a wreck the next day, go and make a warm drink and try and clear your mind with some calm thoughts. Do something else for thirty minutes until you feel really tired. Just be sure it’s not something too stimulating or involving bright light.

When laying in bed, try relaxing all the muscles in your body from head to toe. This is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation and is a good way of winding down when you get into bed at night. Once you are laying quietly, work through your muscle groups from head to toe. Start with your face: lift your eyebrows and wrinkle the forehead, then close your eyes tightly before opening them and relaxing. Tense your lips, cheeks, and jaw muscles by grimacing, then feel the serenity come over you as you relax all your facial muscles. Work down through the body, tensing and then relaxing the shoulders and arms, the chest and abdomen, (breathing deeply and exhaling as you relax), the back muscles, hips and buttocks, and lastly, the legs and feet. After you have systematically tightened and relaxed all the muscle groups in your body, you should feel more relaxed and calm. You may even fall asleep half way through!

I love to listen to soothing music at night. It’s great for helping you drift off. There are many relaxation CD’s available online or you can listen via youtube.com. Also, there is now a brilliant App called Calm which you can download and listen to some brilliant bedtime stories! I challenge you to stay awake and listen til the end!

Sleep is very important in helping put away the thoughts from yesterday; with good restful sleep the brain can organise and sort the good thoughts from the bad and do away with ‘mind chatter’ so you can awake refreshed and ready to face a new day with new mental awareness. During the day and often the evening too, especially this time of the year, I have a Himalayan salt lamp plugged in. I have read various reports about their possible health benefits, such as cleansing the air, helping to reduce allergies, increasing energy levels, helping with sleep, treating Seasonal Affective Disorder, and producing an environmentally friendly light source. Whatever their benefits, I do know they certainly lighten up any room with their friendly warm glow and seem to freshen the air too. You can place them on a desk, in your living room, next to the bed or anywhere you choose.

When you are awake at night and feel the darkness closing in, remember that everything will feel better in the morning. Ok not everything perhaps, especially if you have any ongoing troubles, but you will be able to put things more into perspective when you are up and about, have opened the curtains, and chased away the night. And if you do lay awake worrying, remember also, that there is nothing at all you can do about anything in the night time hours, so you may as well get to sleep and think about it again another time!

As the sun sets, fold away your cares of the day and leave them outside your door. Then, wait to glimpse the moon and stars and know the Universe is wiser then we can ever be’.

Sleep Well!

 

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A Walk in Springtime

Lifting Our Mood and The Rhythm of Life

I often talk about the benefits of getting out into the countryside; the green fields and the chirpy birdsong usually manage to lift the spirits for a while at least. It’s always a comfort somehow to see the same old trees in the woods standing stoically strong; their trunks immovable and their roots firmly planted alongside the path where we often walk deep in thought. How many footsteps must have passed their way over perhaps hundreds of years and how many more still will? I can look at the trunk of my favourite tree in wonder. I can sense a benevolent charm in its being and almost see a kindly expression in the depths of its bark. And then I can look up and see its lofty branches reaching for the light. It knows what to do, my tree, it doesn’t need a set of rules or list of suggested requirements for better tree development.

I am a bit of a scaredy cat – I have even written a book about a scaredy cat. I am a person who has to cling on tight to the things I hold dear in times of strain and here is where I find nature has a way of literally grounding me. We may not find the solution to all our problems, but we sure can get them more into perspective after a walk in our favourite part of the countryside.

Recently I spent a long weekend in Devon. I can’t recall a time the countryside had ever looked more beautiful but maybe the spring has a way of renewing our outlook and refreshing our surroundings so that every time we revisit it is like the first time.

Walking through an apple orchard it was as though I could breathe life from the abundance around me and win hope from all the promise; I could listen to the music of the birds and see the beauty of the surrounding colours. A million petals gleamed and the air was fragrant with blossom as the bees were busy in each open flower preparing for the vital matter of making honey. Beneath my feet there was a carpet woven of many shades of green, shot through with vibrant threads of sunlight, and spiky spring flowers. The bluebells lowered their heads where the ferns were uncurling beside them. Trunks of old apple trees leaned at random angles, blotched with the lichen that Mother Nature inscribed on their ancient barks. From beyond a curtain of apple blossom I could hear a blackbird – who alone of all birds can put imagination into song like him?

Some trees still held their buds tightly clenched, as though half a hundred Springs had taught them to fear the oncoming of summer, yet Mother Nature gently commands, and soon every reluctant bud would open to fulfil its destiny.

So when we are being a scaredy cat – when we have those days when we can’t conjure up much effort to stride forward – it is good to look at all the signs around us and take the reassurance that everything turns and moves and goes full circle. I could almost imagine Pamona the wood nymph who was reputed to be the goddess of fruitful abundance talking to me with all her ancient and modern wisdom. I certainly felt she was making me welcome – her light laugh mingling with the surrounding sounds.

I think she was saying “I do love this time of year best, although I shouldn’t have favourites; it is dear to me because it is all about life – and the promise of good things to come later. And remember, dear one, no winter lasts forever.”

And that is what I feel we need to remember – good things will come.

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