The Way We Were…

I was out walking this week through the sodden November fields. The air was damp and misty, the tacky soil clung to my wellies and the brambles in the hedges were shrouded in sodden dead leaves, the luscious blackberries of autumn already a distant memory. It didn’t really feel like the best day to embark on a five mile walk. But I continued on enjoying the faint smell of woodsmoke drifting lazily across the fields, and a feeling in the air that promised of glittering frosts to come.

Walking on the edge of the field I could see the tracks left by a tractor, the soil ploughed and turned leaving deep furrows and ridges, old crop residue buried beneath the fresh soil and left to feed the new crops in the spring. This made me think about the circle of life – and my mother, who always loved the sight of freshly turned soil in a garden.

I thought about remembering and looking back, how we see things, and I realised that most of the time we think of a person as we see them now, or, if we have lost elderly parents as I have, as they were in their latter days. The wise gurus advise us to ‘live in the now’ and I agree that is important for now is what we have.  Just this very minute is all we have for sure. But that doesn’t need to stop us remembering once in a while, remembering the past and our people; our family and friends who have made us who we are today, for better or worse.

We, and those around us change over the years, it’s inevitable. But it is interesting to note that when we are with someone regularly we often don’t notice any subtle differences until they are completely obvious – perhaps due to illness or dementia. Dementia is a huge and heartbreaking illness when it strikes and is sadly becoming more prevalent, but what do we make of the gradual changes, the natural ageing process that creeps up on us and those we love unannounced ?

It is easy to put people into compartments; perhaps refer to stereotypes, label people. When you hear someone referred to as a pensioner what vision does that conjure up in your mind? Not someone energetic and vibrant that’s for sure. And yet many people at pensionable age are certainly more nimble and sparky than the word suggests! Even if someone doesn’t have the energy any more to hop around the place or run marathons it doesn’t mean their thoughts and wishes are necessarily slowing down. They are still the same people inside that they always were.

At the end of her days, my mother had never really lost her determination, or her interest in her family, her cooking and her home, but it is hard for me as her daughter to shake off the memory of her fragility and frailty towards the end. It wasn’t until recently when I was going through an old suitcase full of her old photos and keepsakes that I began thinking about her as a young woman, full of hopes and dreams. She had kept so much through the years, from 21st birthday cards, my dad’s letters to her, full of love and care, wedding telegrams, cards and letters celebrating the births of my sister and me, and much more. There is a picture of her at the age of 21; she had a tiny waist, lustrous dark hair, styled with waves that were the fashion of the day, and was wearing a classic pencil skirt, a twinset and pearls, and staggeringly high heals. She looked the height of the fashion of the time, beautiful and stylish. What did she do that day? Did she have a party? Paint the town red? I wish I could ask her. To us she was mum and granny and she loved being that, but once in a while she liked to remind us about the glamorous young girl she once was.

But this isn’t so much of a trip down memory lane. It is more about looking at life and those around us with more than a passing glance or an assuming manner. It’s about looking beyond what is in front of us. Sometimes all is not what it seems, or once upon a time things were different; life was different. There is a lot of information and guidance hidden within our lives and experiences . When you turn a light on in a dark place you illuminate the things that were there all along but you didn’t see. To ‘see’ takes time. Life moves fast and we move fast through it. We see the normal everyday things but not always the incredible richness that is there. If we look more closely, there are patterns , textures, edges and roundness. And if we engage our intuitive awareness beyond the patterns, we can sense energies. And if we look at a person with fresh eyes and listen with renewed awakening we can reach below the surface. In turn we can engage more with those we love and reach a better understanding. And sometimes it is worth remembering that looking at the past helps us to understand each other better, and helps us see more clearly when we look at those we love.

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Embracing the Lead-up to Christmas.

How do we deal with the pre-Christmas rush?

I first wrote this blog a few years ago. Re-reading it, I realised it is probably even more relevant today when there are many anxiety inducing factors around. Unstable political parties, global warming, over-stretched health systems…I could go on…. More than ever, we need to stay grounded, to remember that most of us just want to do our best; to be peaceful, calm and happy, and go with the flow. Peace is high on my list for sure. I am determined to switch off regularly, to step out into the frosty clear night and look up at the stars. Somewhere out there in our amazing universe lies the answer to all our questions and fears if only we could trust in that….

It’s the time of year when there is a lot to think about. Perhaps more than usual. If you are prone to anxiety, the thought of coping with Christmas plans can add to your anxious feelings or to the feelings of someone you love. While for many, Christmas is nothing but exciting, this is not always the case for those who suffer from anxiety, depression and conditions such as OCD.

Do you find yourself caught up with the stress of the pre – Christmas rush? The build up seems to start earlier each year and before we know it we are bombarded with all sorts of smart advertising containing supposedly endearing stories and mini films with the ‘ahhh’ factor, that are really there to entice us into spending money in the big, well- known stores.  The media paints a picture of wonderment and happiness; we would all love this of course, but for some people this is not how Christmas is for them. The world is not perfect all of the time and we need to hold on to that thought and remember we are not the only ones who get anxious this time of year. For some, loneliness can be a real problem, perhaps because of the loss of a loved one, and the sadness of loss can certainly feel desperately raw at this time of year.

Christmas parties, whether it is with colleagues or old friends can be hard to cope with at the best of times, but add anxiety to this and before you know it you may dread the social scene. You can be out of your comfort zone having to speak to people you don’t know well and worried about having to impress – maybe a new boss or confident looking colleagues. With parties closer to home, it may be a case of meeting new neighbours or friends you haven’t seen in a while.

Food shopping is something else to negotiate – for some reason we feel the need to buy massive amounts of extra food this time of year; ok we may have people coming to stay or extra mouths to feed at Christmas Day, but even if not we tend to buy stuff we wouldn’t normally buy – think big tins of biscuits, the Turkish delight, the boxes of dates and the mountains of Yule logs and mince pies. I know it is good to have a treat this time of the year, but perhaps we do get tempted to buy too much. Then there is the alcohol too – would we dream of drinking chocolate liqueurs and mulled wine (often not even worth drinking) or egg nog any other time of year?

Apart from the fact we end up spending a lot more money on food and wine this time of the year resulting in a negative effect on our bank balance; eating and drinking extra calories and rich food this time of year can make anxiety levels worse and again have a negative effect on us, this time on our health.

Buying presents is something most of us get concerned about. Of course, we want our loved ones to have something they like to open on Christmas Day , especially the children, but for an anxious person, the results of spending a lot of money in a short space of time can seem very scary and worrying. Money aside, the crowds, loud jarring music and queues can make Christmas shopping seem unbearable.

So okay, the above situations are those which most of us have encountered at sometime in our lives and I am painting quite a grim picture of what should and can be a magical and completely enjoyable time of year. Because it really doesn’t have to be such a stressful time of year. Who makes it that way? And why?

Going back to the advertising, we are taught from quite an early age what we can expect Christmas to be like. But it cannot apply to us all. We are not all the same. And we are all coping with our own personal situations. What may be wonderful for one person may not be right for another. What do most of us remember when we look back down the years? Piles of presents around the tree, huge amounts of food and big parties? Or do we remember the excitement of hanging the stockings at the end of the bed and the thrill of opening the small gifts in the early hours, so lovingly and haphazardly wrapped by a caring parent.  Or sadly, there may be memories that are not quite as happy, and that may be another reason Christmas evokes pain and stress.

Maybe this year  – with still some time ahead before Christmas is really upon us, we can decide to take a different view and look at what is really important. One thing that always strikes me every year, and I always comment on to my husband without fail every year, is that the build up to Christmas is huge; we all rush around trying to get things done, caught up in the whole rush and excitement and then suddenly we arrive at Boxing Day and hear murmurs and mutterings of: ‘well that’s that for another year’, and: ‘where are you going for your holiday this year?’ It seems to be indicative of the society we have become: always looking for the next thrill, the next celebration or occasion before we have had time to enjoy and digest what has just occurred. So this year how about making a decision not to get too ‘wrapped up in Christmas’? Have a year where you do not make too many commitments. Be honest with people and say no in the nicest possible way if you don’t want to do something. Do most of your present shopping online and do it in your own time. Book an online food shop well in advance if it suits you, and apart from the convenience you won’t be so tempted to buy lots of unnecessary goodies (which aren’t really goodies at all). Also, explain to everyone that your Christmas this year may be a little more low key and that includes your present giving. Offer loved ones time instead. Time is the most valuable gift of all.

Decide a few things in advance to help keep your anxiety at bay. Plan to eat healthily and avoid too many stimulants like caffeine and alcohol. Have plenty of rest and not too many late nights. Cortisol is the body’s most powerful stress hormone. It causes a number of changes in the body, including increasing stimulation and the perception of fright. Getting regular good rest and sleep can keep cortisol production to a minimum and reduce the feelings of dread.

If you reduce your expectations about the holidays you will not be disappointed when things don’t always go according to plan; likewise if you are feeling calm you will be more able to enjoy things and ‘go with the flow’. Good things that do occur can be received with joy and thankfulness. Do things you like to do too, like walks in the clear, crisp night when the stars are out and the world is peaceful. Spending time doing the things you love and want to do is a great way to celebrate the Christmas season and you will feel better for it. This isn’t being selfish but just being your true self. Having healthy boundaries is essential when you are prone to anxiety.

A good tip is to think and act a bit more like a child at Christmas – have you noticed how children don’t run around getting stressed about Christmas? Far from it! They just enjoy the time while it is there.

So now that the lead up to Christmas has started remember that every day is special and also has it’s own challenges and delights. When the events of the holiday season threaten to overwhelm you, breathe deeply, take time out until you feel calmer, and look forward. Look forward to celebrating in your own way and until then remind yourself there are no rules to follow for a good Christmas break!

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Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Finding Strength

For those days when the worry monster lurks in the shadows….

 

There is no doubt that we live in a time of doubt, fear for the future, uncertainty and economic frustration. I worry about the state of the world and indeed our country. But most of the time I can cope with worry from outside because although it gives concern  (and is even totally baffling at times when one sees the behaviour exhibited by those who are supposed to lead us!) it is possible to shrug my shoulders, offer a few expletives, close my door, light the fire and feel secure in my own patch.

Sometimes, though, the sands shift beneath my feet. When someone close to me is suffering and I can’t find a way to make things better, I experience doubt on a gut level – the kind that can punch hard and bring me down. So one thing I have to remember is when I ache to my very bones with stress, I have to find a way forward. Negativity is contagious but I have to remember that we cannot take care of others if we don’t look after ourselves and look forward.

Remembering we have love and we have hope is so important, especially when things seem a bit grim. When we are consciously keeping a loving heart we can share it with others and help make both theirs and our own immediate world better.

These are some guideline I try and follow when things are getting me down. Hopefully, they can help you too:

Keep Trying

If you make yourself keep going, even when it is the last thing you feel like, you will eventually get stronger and closer to where you are heading.

Be Grateful

Remember what you have. We all have something or someone to love. Even when I am fearful I know I have wonderful things in my life. You do too I am sure. Write down tonight all the things you feel grateful for.

Think Differently

Change your words. It is easy do be dispirited and make remarks like  ‘ I knew this would go wrong’; instead, how about saying ‘ah well, maybe that wasn’t the best result but next time will be better’.

Take Care

Be kind to yourself. Don’t blame yourself when things go wrong. You have tried your best and you will continue doing your best. If you do make a mistake, own up to it, learn from it but then put it behind you. Very few of us actually want to treat anyone or anything badly and those that do can’t be our concern. Continue doing your best.

Avoid Ideals

Let misconceptions go. Look at things differently. Try not to be governed by past ideals or be ruled by others who want you to continually fit into their expectations of you. I really struggle with this one. It is natural to want to please people but sometimes you just have to be yourself, and that takes courage.

Be Proud!

Celebrate your accomplishments. Think of all the good things you have achieved. Trust me, it is a lot, and often it is the smaller things, the gentle kindnesses or actions that don’t always propel you into the limelight, but are more important than anything famous and showy.

Speak Carefully

Remember how words affect others. Sometimes when we talk, less is more. Listen, then choose your words carefully when advising others.

Exercise

As usual I will mention the outdoors. Any worry will lessen slightly when you are outside and at one with nature. Breathe deeply. Look at the trees standing strong and firm. Shred the anxiety of the day, even just for a while. There is a natural world out there which can take us away from the laptop for an hour or more.

There is always a but….

As I am writing this I think there are times when any advice can seem trite. So many times we hear well-meaning phrases trotted out. We are supposed to nod sagely and take heed. It isn’t always what we want or need.  I am aware that there are days when sorrow gathers round like a heavy cloak or fear takes over. Those are the times we may just need a hug or just to sit quietly with someone we feel really understands. I do not want to make light of anyone’s pain and how can we ever know entirely what another person is going through? All I can add is that somehow, at least for me, onwards and upwards is the the only way. And the odd bit of advice may just be enough to allow a little glimmer of light in.

Whatever you are going through, you are deserving of love and care. Take it easy out there. In the never ending love of this universe, you are a small, yet very precious thing. You are worth everything.

With love …

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time To Embrace Autumn….

Finding ways to welcome the shorter days….

Some things worth thinking about now that Autumn is here. Darker days can sometimes make anxiety worse so I have written down some new habits/ ways of thinking, I will try to embrace….perhaps you would like to try them too! (Some may be easier than others!)

Try to get into the habit of getting up a bit earlier – start with 7am, then 6am, then 5:30am. Go for a walk with a big coat, and a warm scarf and watch the sun rise.

Likewise, at the end of the day try to go to bed earlier. The sleep you have before midnight is very beneficial. Put some restful essential oils in the burner for half an hour while you read, then turn off all electronics and make sure the room is as dark as possible to aid melatonin levels. Wake up in the morning feeling rested and ready to face the day.

Get into the habit of cooking yourself a hearty breakfast. Make some creamy porridge on the stove – forget the microwave! Add a dollop of organic thick cream, sprinkle with cinnamon and a little coconut sugar. Sit and eat it and do nothing else.

Stretch out and take some gentle exercise or practice some yoga. Maybe put some favourite music on.

Buy a good quality water bottle. Try to drink the whole thing in a day, then try drinking it twice. ( I really struggle with this one).

Get into the habit of writing. Write down your thoughts. Writing is so beneficial. Perhaps buy a new diary or journal.

Strip your bed of your sheets. Make your bed in full. Sprinkle with lavender. Finish with cosy throws and leave some warm bed-socks tucked under the end of the covers.

Dig your fingers into the earth, plant some bulbs ready to awaken next spring.

Organise your room. Fold away all your summer clothes (and bag what you don’t want), clean your mirror, your laptop, vacuum the floor. Light your favourite candle every day.

Breath. Practice your deep breathing. Ground yourself.

Have a luxurious bath. Maybe add some Epsom salts. Wash your hair, and take your time. Lather your whole body in moisturiser. Spray yourself with scent.

Take some time to get out into the fresh air. Put  your headphones, go to the beach or the nearest park and walk. Smile at strangers walking the other way and be surprised how many smile back.

Reach out to friends. Have a chat with old acquaintances. Arrange to catch up soon.

Think long and hard about what interests you. Poetry? Art? Literature? Curl up with a good book by the fire.

Be the person you would ideally like to be. Let some things go. Be generous with your time. Listen. Compliment people and be kind. Walk with a straight posture. Look people in the eye. Ask people about their story. Talk to acquaintances so they become friends. Give to the local food bank whenever you can. Be willing.

Turn your face to the sunshine. Daydream about all the things you still want to do.

Take small steps to make it happen for you….remember it is the little things that really are the big things…..

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Being Your Own Composer In the Music of Life…

When the notes in your life seem wrong turn them into your own unique song.

September is here again and walking out from Dove Lane this morning I could sense a wistfulness in the air – a glimpse of change. The air is still warm enough to pop out without a coat and the grass is still a little dry from the long, summer days, but the blackberries are ripe in the hedges and there are some dry leaves crunching beneath my feet. Autumn waits in the wings and cooler air may soon whisper through the trees. We still have a few warm days to enjoy and but that summer holiday feeling is fading and we notice the gradual shortening of the days.

For some of us, any change, even a change in the seasons can encourage feelings of unrest if we are prone to anxious feelings. Sometimes it isn’t always easy to walk forward and embrace the next stage of our lives. Perhaps we feel events are looming we would rather not think about or we find it hard to be positive and look at the bigger picture. Maybe we are worried about past mistakes or imagined difficulties. Maybe we feel fearful because we hear and read so much in the media that unsettles us – especially lately! Most of us have days where we feel everything seems to be against us, or perhaps we can’t seem to focus or get things right. Just like a composer writing a song – sometimes the notes just come out wrong.

So there can be times when we feel out of tune with our surroundings. Maybe we are not in the right frame of mind to listen to or appreciate what we are seeing or hearing. I guess life is a bit like that – we can be swamped with worries or negative emotions at times, or even just the chaos of a busy day, so that all the good sights and sounds around us are smothered or blurred around the edges. But if we manage to take some time out – perhaps go and have a walk in the woods or just take ten minutes out of a busy day to have some quiet time – then we can often find we can enjoy the very things we previously felt out of kilter with.

In unhappy or muddled times, remember the clouds will one day pass. And the sooner you welcome the sun the sooner it appears. I find that remembering what I am grateful for helps me get through jittery times. I have learned through past experiences what supportive friends I have and also, how self-reliant I can be when I have to. I remind myself how limited our time on this planet truly is and that every second counts.

We are all connected and even if you feel you are struggling, remind yourself there is someone somewhere going through the same thing as you, and they are getting through it just like you will. You can dwell on what isn’t going your way or you can focus on what you have within your power to change.

If you think about what would happen if you just allowed yourself to live in the moment and not think about your current situation, how might that feel? Sometimes life is not about dreams coming true but what we learn when we take our path through life. There are times when we need to let go of our expectations and actually just concentrate on what is happening today. And remember, those past experiences or perceived missed opportunities we dwell on have actually made us stronger and given us our character.

So lets think again about a composer writing a song and this time the composer is you; even if your notes seem to sound wrong, they are your notes and you can turn them into the best song of all. Your song.

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Be Faithful in Small Things

Never forget the people who take time out of their day to check up on you…

Recently I was listening to a hospital chaplain talking about life and death situations and how people pull together during times of crisis. He noticed that various loved ones waiting for news or maintaining vigils in the intensive care unit of the hospital all did what they could to support each other and surround each other with kindness and compassion. Sharing a cup of tea and listening to each other helped them in small ways to cope a little bit better in sometimes dire situations. Suddenly all the normal everyday worries and stresses were forgotten and nothing really mattered except the well-being of those they loved and those they knew who were hurting.

It made me think about the importance of small things and the things we often take for granted. Very often, it is the small things in life that matter the most. We read so much about self-improvement, learning to love ourselves, how to manifest more of this or that, and how to reach for the sun, moon and stars etc, etc, which is all well and good, but do we really learn how to just let go, be at peace with the world and face the day? After all, today may be all we have.

How do we make the most of today?

What if we made it a habit to embrace and celebrate the small things? Real life is happening all around us while we’re waiting for the big thing we hope is going to give us some sort of inner peace, contentment or joy.

Sometimes the best way to remember the value of small things is to look for random acts of kindness you can do for others. Don’t underestimate the power of taking time to phone a friend you are concerned about, or inviting someone who’s had a bad day for an impromptu afternoon tea, volunteering a few hours a week at a charity shop or offering to drive someone for an appointment if they are struggling.

Forget about the need to be noticed.

It’s so easy to feel like we are being overlooked at home, at work or in our community when we are doing the small, faithful things, because they are usually not the glamorous things. It can feel more gratifying to be the loudest voice in the room, but we need to remember that just because a voice is the loudest doesn’t mean it’s the one making the biggest difference. When we can get to a point where we find value in our contributions, no matter how small, it helps us be secure in who we are and eliminates the need to be constantly noticed.

Take some time out.

Our daily lives move so fast. A hectic lifestyle can cause us to overlook all the little joys life has to offer. Don’t be afraid to make time to (literally) stop and smell the roses. Listen to the sound of your children or grandchildren laughing and actually getting along in the back seat; enjoy the cool, crisp air of the first day of autumn, or take a walk around the block to clear your mind and give yourself a mental break. Work and responsibilities will still be there when you return.

Practice gratitude – gratitude does bring happiness.

Yes, I know, I know, you probably just rolled your eyes at this because it is something you hear so often, but it is true. The more thankful we are for what we have, the less inclined we are to focus on what we don’t have. Gratitude helps us value the small things we often take for granted because we start paying attention to the good things in life. Some days, it can be as exciting as getting rewarded for doing something well, and some days it might just be that your coffee tasted good that morning. I’ve found that my overall attitude toward life in general is better if I make myself think of three things I’m thankful for at the end of each day. I often write them down and put them in a little gratitude jar a kind friend made for me.

There are times in life when we yearn for big moments. Perhaps we hope for events that will propel us into the limelight, even for a short while. But, strangely enough, life has a funny way of teaching us as we go along in ways we didn’t expect, and looking back down the years it’s not necessarily the big moments that made our lives as such, but the everyday commitment to all the things we held dear.

When there is sadness in our lives the world keeps on turning but we don’t notice it. People still go about their daily lives and we may wonder why this can be when our own world is upside down. We wonder why we ever got upset about a petty argument yesterday. What really matters to us? Not the political situations that endlessly play out in front of us. Not the state of the world economy or the latest escapades of those claiming their moment of fame on reality television. What matters to most of us is chatting to our loved ones at the end of the day, sharing a meal with friends around the kitchen table, the light in our partners eyes when they look at us from across a crowded room, and the sound of our children’s laughter. What matters to us is all the small things that add up to the biggest things. What matters to us is love.

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that you find your strength…

Why I Like Sunsets

 

Sunset, also known as sundown, is the daily disappearance of the Sun below the horizon due to Earth’s rotation. As viewed from the Equator, the equinox Sun sets exactly due west in both Spring and Autumn.

Someone once noticed that I have many pictures of sunsets in my photography collection and I must admit, I can never resist stopping to look at a beautiful sunset wherever I am.

I was looking through my photographs recently and realised I had hundreds of pictures relating to sunsets. I think the stunning beauty nature brings us is always awe inspiring but why do I find myself so moved by sunsets?

You know, when one is sad, one can get to love a sunset’      Antoine De Saint 

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I believe it is because it takes me beyond my physical dimension. There is peace and silence. I sense that time stops and maybe there is even an understanding of eternity. Dormant spirituality is awakened. How can such beauty be transient? I can feel the  enormity of creation, and see the breath-taking colour palette laid before me.

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Peace above the chimney tops..

When we stand in peace and stillness , we can let go of any pain, anger, fear or sadness, at least for a while. We can take a breath, renew our thoughts and know that the sun will rise again tomorrow.

  ‘Every sunset brings the promise of a new dawn’.      Ralph Waldo Emerson 

When you’ve had a challenging day look outward instead of inwards….

 

And just to show the sun does rise again…a beautiful sunrise taken from my back garden: