I don’t usually write a blog on a Sunday. Apparently, the best time to post a blog is about 7pm on a Tuesday. But now? Now is different. It doesn’t seem to matter what day it is when you are on lockdown! Maybe more people will spend time reading during the day now and if my words are interesting or thought provoking that is pleasing. However, the main reason I am writing now is that it really helps to get my thoughts down. It is not about finding clarity as that is quite hard at the moment, it is more about being creative and finding comfort. There is something very soothing about writing down whatever is in my head.
So what am I thinking today and what do I want to write about? Just some random thoughts I guess:
I was laying in bed this morning with no particular agenda mapped out. I thought about how the world has changed so quickly; in some ways it feels as though the rug has been pulled out from under my feet. From under all of our feet in fact, for we are all in this together, literally in all four corners of the world. The only thing is, we can’t be together physically. A lot of us can’t be with our families and loved ones. We can’t go out and hug someone who needs it, can’t do many of the everyday things we have always taken for granted. And that is hard, especially as there is no way of knowing yet when things will return to normal. And for some, it’s far, far worse.
I was thinking about the uncertainty. The lack of being able to plan. Yet there are rules we are being told we must adhere to. Most things are now out of our hands. Even shopping.
One thing I have always tried to remember in life is never to assume anything because life has a funny way of turning everything on its head.
History shows us that monumental and unfathomable changes happen, but we are never ready. Then again, perhaps we cannot ever be truly ready for unthinkable and unimaginable occurrences. For most of us, it is our natural way to strive and look forward and be ready for the next day, with all its plans and routines. We have an inbuilt optimism, together with expectation and a deep assurance that things are in place and will happen. We don’t often question if things will change.
But they do and they have.
Now we have had to listen to unwelcome and often sad news daily; it has taken a while for us to come to terms with the enormity of what is going on, but now we are beginning to realise we have to look to ourselves; to find resilience and new ways of adapting, like our long gone ancestors did in times of greats disturbances. We can, and have to set new and important tasks, and reset our compasses, so that we can navigate our ways through unchartered territory.
We can create new routines, new working spaces, let go of expectations and bake. We can walk in quiet, empty spaces. We can really enjoy our homes. Enjoy silence.
We can use some of our spare time doing a little reminiscing. Sift through some of our keepsakes. Remind ourselves of good times spent and good times still to come.
Nothing good is ever lost.
I remember my little grandson putting his hand on the window of the car a few weeks ago when he was leaving to go home. I put my hand on the other side. We were reaching out to each other in a loving way even though we weren’t physically touching.
We are all linked together, even when we are apart.
You may have already read this piece but I felt I wanted to add it here:
‘And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal. And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.’
Attributed to Kitty O’Meara
The above words are wise, thought provoking and beautiful.
But how do we steady ourselves today? The news is factual but dramatic. Of course we need to be informed but it is hard not to feel unsettled and anxious, even frightened.
At the moment we have to listen to the advice we are given and try and keep calm.
Here are a few things helping me feel calmer:
I have been watching the rooks building their nest for a while now. High in the trees and way above the rooftops, they are going about their business. Whatever the weather they come and go on a regular basis – dipping into our garden to help themselves to the bread on our lawn and flying backwards and forwards with twigs in their beaks to bolster up the nest. No matter what is happening on the ground onwards they go…
A selection of houseplants are arranged on my kitchen windowsill and whenever I look at the perky green leaves and tendrils I feel better. There is a softness in the natural colour. Above hangs a crystal which catches the sun and throws a rainbow of colours round the room and spreads healing energy.
Photographs are arranged on the shelf and I look at pictures of my wonderful sons, their beautiful wives and all nine of our adored grandchildren. I can imagine my hands on theirs. My arms around their shoulders. I can send them love, and love knows no boundaries.
As I write this I am listening to some music recommended by my daughter-in-law in America. She plays this to our youngest granddaughter every night. The music is peaceful, spiritual, harmonious . It helps to think that even when we are all apart, we can still share beautiful things.*
My husband is in the garden. I can hear him turning the soil with the fork, preparing the garden for the next season. The smell of newly mown grass is drifting in through the door. Tending the land is good for the soul and connects us to the earth.
I have been cooking. Chopping, blending, seasoning and then filling and shaping Cornish pasties just like my mother and grandmother before me. Home cooked food nourishes the soul as well as the body.
I have cleaned and tidied the house. There is something comforting in making our surroundings as pleasant as possible, especially if we have to stay in for while!
Looking for the silver lining helps – we may be frustrated because we cannot do a lot of the things we normally do without a second thought, but we are being given the gift of time. Time to have conversations with loved ones, time to reach out to neighbours who are grateful for our help, time to catch up on chores we have been putting off. Time to remember who and what is really dear to us. Time to put trivia aside and concentrate on what really matters. This is the time we wouldn’t have had if we were rushing around meeting deadlines.
I end by saying let’s encourage each other. Let us not isolate ourselves emotionally even if we have to physically. Find ways to relax. Stress does more damage than anything. Love and kindness matters. Let’s get through this scary time together.
*Hidden in My heart (A Lullaby Journey Through Scripture)
I was thinking of my beloved dad today especially in the wake of storm Dennis – he was a Dennis too but a much gentler version! He passed away two years ago this week and I miss him and think of him every day. A lot of things comfort me though; the fact I can hear his voice when I am doing something that would worry him, or when I myself am bowed with worry. I hear his laughter when I watch a programme on television that I know he would have found funny, and then I have his amazing collection of books which I have been looking through and which have taught me much about his character. Of course I knew him well; we spent so much time together and talked of many things, and yet I have found a new side of his character, or maybe a new way of understanding what contributed to his loving and interesting character. One book I have been reading is entitled ‘In Tune with The Infinite’ by Ralph Waldo Trine, which was first published in 1897 and which I have found to be full of profound and valuable teachings. It was enlightening, not least because it led me to realise that there are no new observations or astounding revelations ready to be unveiled in this life – they have always been there and are part of our being. So why do we forget this?
In life, if we are not careful we can be led by old negative thoughts and ideas about ageing, and cling on to old perceptions laid down over the years; perhaps we find it easier to accept a doctors pessimistic diagnosis than to fight to change it, or work at changing our body’s chemistry so that we can renew ourselves. But the moment we come into a realisation of our true selves, and so of the tremendous powers and forces within – the powers and forces of the mind and spirit, hereditary traits and influences that are harmful in nature will begin to lessen.
When we are re-introduced to the wisdom that has been in our soul since time began and runs through our DNA we can draw from the intrinsic and deep-rooted strength that is at our core.
‘There is a golden thread,’ writes Trine, ‘that runs through every religion in the world. There is a golden thread that runs through the lives and the teachings of the prophets, seers, sages, and saviours in the world’s history, through the lives of all men and women of truly great and lasting power.’
It is interesting that Trine opens the book with a message for us – one that would be every bit as fitting today as it was in 1897. He notes that (then) we were born into a strange time – a time that tries men’s souls. Also, he states that bewilderment and fear hold many and that change and uncertainty stalk through the land – all lands. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
So many times we are bombarded with disturbing news from the media. We are staggered by the dreadful events that unfold in front of our eyes on our television screens. We wonder if these things can really be happening. Perhaps in our darkest moments we try to apportion blame, or divert our attention elsewhere. But deep down we know there must be a better way. And we are not alone. Between us, we have the enormous potential to bring about change, both in businesses, our own lives, and all around the world. We may think we cannot make a difference – but we can. When you throw a small pebble into a lake, the ripples spread out and reach further than you could imagine, and so acts of positivity, however small in your eyes, will make a difference.
Stephen Hawking who also died two years ago, was one of the greatest scientists of modern times; at the age of 21 when he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease he is quoted as saying:
‘My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.’ Just think of what he achieved is his lifetime and the amazing legacy he left behind.
We all cope with life’s trials and tribulations in different ways. Some of us take smaller steps than others but it doesn’t mean we can’t get there in the end – we may just take a little longer, and that is not a problem – we may meet others along the way who help us find our feet! We don’t need to be perfect either – to quote Stephen Hawking again: ‘Without imperfection, you or I would not exist.’
I am still going through my dad’s book collection. It may take some time, but I feel all these books and words have been left to show me the way forward; perhaps my dad is finding a new way to help me now that he is not here in person. I have always loved books, and these books tell more than just one story. I have been amused and touched by the amount of self-help books I have found and I realise now where my own interest in self-development has come from.
We are all a mix of so many things – much more than we could ever possibly know. Take heart when you feel low or anxious – you are made up of miraculous things and you will find them reflected in unexpected places.
Oh and I especially like ‘Mr. Thrifty’s How to Save Money On Absolutely Everything, but that’s probably another side to my dad’s character, as is ‘The Pocket Pal of Magic Tricks, which I will take time to study one day! Who knows, maybe I could be an undiscovered magician! Then again, I have always believed in magic.
‘Your outlook on life is a direct reflection on how much you like yourself.’ Lululemon
Why is it when we have anxious or sad days the whole world around us seems to look grey? We seem not to notice the colours around us – the vibrancy seems to be gone, or maybe we just don’t notice it.
A while back I was noticed a mother and her little girl walking in the park. Actually, the mother was walking and the little girl was bouncing. She had a pair of sunglasses on – and they were pink and glittery. As she bounced along she kept taking the glasses off and on. She was laughing to herself and I heard her mother ask her why. ‘The world looks different when I look through my pink glasses,’ she said. ‘It’s fun.’
That was just a small moment in time – I had stepped out for some air in the middle of a busy day, but it was actually a good lesson for me and one which has stuck with me. The little girl was right and in a simple and fun way had shown me that when you look at things differently they change.
Maybe it’s why we put our heads in our hands sometimes during stress – if we peek out through our fingers we don’t have to view the whole picture in front of us – just a few slithers of light that we can cope with.
Sometimes it takes getting farther away from something to see it for what it really is too. How many times do we get bogged down with work and sit grimly in front of a screen trying to figure something out that is taxing us? We feel compelled to keep going – surely we can get this right! But inspiration and answers don’t come. Yet often if we walk away, have a cup of tea and return half an hour later with renewed energy we can make much better headway.
It’s an old cliché but it is true that sometimes ‘a change is as good as a rest’; when troubles or anxieties mount up a change of scene can help us re-focus.
At times we need to have the courage to go our own way – realise we are unique. Seeing what everyone else is seeing is one thing – seeing things differently from others is something else and seeing things differently from others can produce new ideas and new results. If you look at something from a new angle you may come up with a brilliant idea no one else has thought of!
Many of us struggle with seeing things from a different perspective. We need to nurture ourselves and view our own selves in a good light. We are worth it! Give yourself good feed-back today and see yourself in a positive light. And perhaps have a go with the rose tinted specs!
‘We can’t change anything until we get some fresh ideas, until we begin to see things differently’.
Sometimes all it takes to change things is a shift in perspective.
As I was out walking today I looked at the trees as I often tend to do. I thought about time and how long some of the old oak trees must have been growing there. I noticed that the old and gnarled trees had a certain beauty and graciousness about them; they had stood the test of time.
Beauty is a concept that is often revered for the wrong reasons – the reasons why it matters and what it means. Often parts of life aren’t beautiful – they are marred by anguish, trauma or pain. When we think of beauty we may visualise glossy magazines, fabulous homes with perfect interiors or top models gracing the catwalk. We think of something that can be prized or given awards.
But I have learned not to see beauty that way. I have learned to accept my scars and even see beauty in them. Just like my trees they show I have survived my various battles.
Some scars are visible and some are not. We all carry them in one way or another. We have emotional triggers, maybe faded injuries, broken bones or broken hearts. However our scars manifest we should embrace them.
There was a time when I felt sad to look in the mirror; I felt the world could see that I was going through a deeply stressful time. I piled on the makeup and tried to cover how I felt. I was afraid that people could see I was struggling to cope with life’s trials. Now I view these emotional scars as life’s stories. A life lived and traumas survived.
There are happy scars too. I remember when we as a family were preparing for a wedding. It was a special time and we were in the midst of dressing ourselves and the children. My lovely daughter- in-law was trying to do ten things at once and left the hot curling tongs on my dressing table, scorching the surface. She was mortified but I wasn’t – these things happen, and now, whenever I sit at my dressing table and look at the indelible mark, it reminds me of a wonderful day, full of love and new beginnings. I wouldn’t want it to be polished out. Another scar I look at with pride is the scar I wear on my body from a Caesarean section. Without that scar, my baby who has brought me so much joy may not have been born safely in his haste to enter the world.
It is beautiful to have lived and survived some traumas along the way, and to have the marks to prove it. It takes nothing to dress up in a fabulous outfit, but to face the world looking less than perfect, that is indeed beautiful.
Sometimes when we are struggling with emotional trauma or anxiety we lose our sparkle. If we stop feeling beautiful inside it shows on the outside however we try and hide how we feel. To look beautiful we need to feel good inside. Once we accept our scars and take the power away from negative emotions, accept that we cannot change our past and instead, look forward, we can be beautiful again.
I think of Kintsugi, which is the Japanese art of precious scars. By repairing ceramics with precious metal like liquid gold or silver, it’s possible to give a new lease of life to pottery that becomes even more refined thanks to its ‘scars’. It teaches that broken objects are not something to hind but to display with pride. Now that is beautiful.
‘Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars’. Khalil Gibran
This is a blog I wrote a few years ago and I thought it was worth posting again….
If you were washed up on a desert island and desperate to survive, I wonder what survival technique would serve you best? No matter how fit and strong you were, if you weren’t mentally strong you would find it difficult to keep going. Bulging muscles and gym enhanced fitness might help you bounce around the sand for a while but without mental fitness you would soon start to panic or go into ‘freeze’ mode. You would only be able to run around searching for ships on the horizon, and an immediate solution, for so long. While it is certainly good to keep physically fit, there is much more to survival than that. Often the person with hidden strengths survives against the odds.
Just as we would find it hard to cope alone on a desert island, this time of year especially, with all the extra stresses and strains, we may feel we need to go into survival mode. We may not be lost on that desert island but we may feel just as stranded and panicked. It may not only be the stresses of Christmas that bring us down; there could be more serious worries in our lives; worries about finances, health, relationships or body image may become more pressing during the festive period. There is something about Christmas that heightens our emotions and makes us feel things, both good and bad, more deeply.
The strongest survival skill comes from managing the mind. Everything you do and experience comes from your mind after all. It is hard at times I know, but there are some basic tips to help you settle your mind and feel more in control. Just as when trapped on that island, if you worry too much you may panic in stressful situations. In times like this just STOP. Stop and find a quiet space and take a breather. Pause and do nothing and think about your situation and what is really bothering you. Think carefully about what to do next. Are you stressed by loud music and crowds in a shopping centre for instance? Can the shopping wait to another day? Is it really that important? Think about finding a quieter area to regain some calm. Remember most things aren’t as crucial to get done as you think.
If you were stranded somewhere you would probably make yourself a base camp – somewhere where you felt safe and could shelter from the storm. In the same way so it is also needed in normal life – make sure your surroundings at home are peaceful and comfortable – create your own safe haven and your own ‘go to’ place. Escape to this place from time to time and especially during frantic days, and feel the calmness there. If you work in an office keep your own space uncluttered and perhaps keep a photo on your desk of loved ones or have a framed positive quote that you like. Have a little corner that is just yours and rest your eyes on a scene that is tranquil. If you can go for a walk at lunchtime and play some peaceful music on your headphones you will feel more able to cope with the day.
Make a plan – in the desert you would formulate a plan so that you could attract help and the possibility of rescue. Do the same in your mind to help you ease your worries. Think of who may be able to help you in your current situation, whatever it may be. Be open to advice. Put out feelers – you will be surprised where help may come from.
Work out your everyday survival techniques. Have an imaginary compass in your mind – picture it pointing you in the right direction – the calm and happy direction. If you have a problem that is really worrying you, picture your compass rotating until it points you to a place where you can work out your problems. Picture it pointing you to a friend who is ready to receive you with kind and open arms. Imagine it sending you towards your own personal North Star where peace and contentment abounds. It is amazing how this can help you find a way forward and calm your mind.
Every time you leave your own particular safe place, your ‘base camp’, and venture out in a calm and peaceful way and can cope with what ever is outside you will be building confidence and more able to take control of different and even anxious feelings. Also, knowing you have a place to retreat to and recharge your batteries will help, even if you just go there in your mind when you are in a chaotic place.
So next time you feel you are anxious or jittery, put your mind to survival and find the path you lost.
Post Script :
Lately I have heard of so many sad situations , especially those people suffering loss,..I hope this quote from J.K.Rowling may lend some comfort –
‘To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection for ever.’
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!