How Do We Stay Calm During a Crisis?

What do we think about when fears are heightened ? ….

 

Up in our attic room with the wind howling, seemingly day after day, and the rain beating against the window, it is easy to question things and wonder if there is something out there conspiring to shake our stability.

The outbreak of the Coronavirus has taken us into uncharted waters and for many it feels unsettling to say the least.

During scary times what do we do? We all have our own ways of coping with worrying times, but when we are bombarded with unsettling news it can be easy to lose focus and panic.

Many of us have to accept that situations we had planned so perfectly go left instead of right when the universe has other plans!

Here are just a few of my thoughts on coping during times when normal living may be temporarily (hopefully!) restricted.

Aiming to disconnect from our concerns – if only for a while, gives us time to process a dilemma and the surrounding emotions, and then we are able to approach a situation with fresh perspective.

It makes sense to eat a healthy, balanced diet and get plenty of sleep – well rested people are better at fighting off viruses.

It’s good to take a walk in the fresh air and look at the spring flowers – the banks are starry with beautiful yellow primroses and the blue crocuses are peaking out in clumps in gardens everywhere. That must make us feel hopeful. Nature always finds a way and Mother Nature is on our side.

If we can develop a ritual we enjoy – perhaps some meditation or some exercises we enjoy, we can increase our stamina. These simple routines can help us feel more empowered to handle trying situations.

It’s good to talk! When we call our friends and have a chat, we can tell each other how we feel. This helps us avoid feeling too isolated. Personal relationships are crucial in maintaining perspective, elevating mood and allowing distraction, taking us away from concerns that trouble us. Even in imposed isolation, it is important to combat loneliness and keep talking – for example, via video chats.

Continuing normal activities where possible and maintaining perspective will help us reduce unnecessary stress and is the key to psychological survival.

Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset’.   Saint Francis de Sales

I am going to try and make the most of it if I have unexpected time on my hands. I might get out my favourite books and re-read them. Perhaps I will start a journal and write down my daily thoughts – this is something I have been meaning to do for ages. I have a simple hardback book with unlined pages ready for me to decorate, write and doodle in! I also have a glue stick so I can paste in things of interest I have found.  Writing and being creative is marvellous for channeling our concentration. In fact, I think creativity is medicine. Since way back in time, humans have been soothed by making things with their hands.

Something I love doing when I write is to play some well-loved music in the background – I browse Spotify and listen to stuff I haven’t heard in a while. It’s good to go back in time a bit and reminisce!

Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us’.  Martin Luther

I am regularly going to remind myself that things are happening that we couldn’t have imagined but that we are all in it together.

Man is Not Free From Conditions’ – Victor Frankl.

We are dealing with this virus as one world. Draw strength from loved ones, and in turn, stay positive and support your family and others around you. There will certainly be light at the end of the tunnel. And maybe, allow yourself to listen to the news, once, or twice a day at the most. It is good to give our brains time to rest and avoid overthinking what we have watched or read. Watch other shows apart from news, and talk to people about other topics.

If you don’t know the guy on the other side of the world, love him anyway because he’s just like you. He has the same dreams, the same hopes and fears. It’s one world, pal. We’re all neighbours.

                                                                                            Frank Sinatra.

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Being Realistic With Self-Help

Do you feel bombarded with good and well intentioned advice?

Are you like me and have a veritable library of self-help books? Do you listen to speakers on podcasts and hope they will say something that will help change your life and your view of it? If you are anything like me you will always be open to the next bit of illuminating advice. There are many wonderful people out there who lead by example; perhaps they have turned their lives around after adversity, or perhaps they have found a way of ‘ordering’ what they desire from the universe, and that is truly amazing. However, sometimes we feel we must constantly think positive thoughts – any negative thoughts that creep in means things will take a down turn. Oh dear.

But what if we need the odd negative thought now and again? There are times when we have to face the fact that there are still surprises in our lives, even after extensive visualisation and the use of our minds to focus on what we want to appear. Sometimes a negative thought gives us valuable information about what is going on with us. We cannot always run from negative thoughts. We can work with them though; be brave and acknowledge negative thoughts. If you keep ignoring them they can build until you reach a crisis and hit a bump in the road. It is important to acknowledge that sometimes bad things happen. And it is important not to blame yourself when they do. By having negative thoughts you haven’t racked up a sort of self bad karma. At the same time – there is a positive side to just about everything, it’s just harder to see sometimes. Don’t be afraid to say ‘This is grim’. Say it loudly. But then force yourself to look for the good.

To reassess during doubtful moments, try this:

Sit down in a quiet space and list your goals. After each goal, ask yourself why you want what you have written. Is it going to make you happy and more fulfilled? Are you likely to progress towards it?

List all things you think you should* be. Happier? More fit? Successful or wealthier ?

*Where did the ‘should’s’ come from? Why are they even there?  (I try to eliminate the word should from my thinking and my vocabulary). However, look at what you have written. It becomes real when you see it in black and white. If anything doesn’t sit comfortably, get rid of it. If there is something you know in your heart would work for you, then act upon it.

We are all different. What suits me may not suit you. My idea of talking to the trees may seem loony. But I like it. I may not see the point of meditating every morning but you might, and that’s good.  What helps I think, is to create our own ideals rather than take on someone else’s. You can only ‘do’ yourself perfectly, you can’t ‘do’ anyone else, and they can’t change you – in fact you are already complete just as you are. You may want to tweak things occasionally but you always were and always will be whole and complete.

Whole is an interesting thought. Whereas complete feels like finding a missing piece and becoming something, wholeness is being what you already are. Look at yourself as a whole, not just the shiny, glossy parts, which isn’t always easy – sometimes we see bits of ourselves we would rather not see.  But when we see perfection and imperfection, hurting and healing, fear and courage as one and the same we can make a shift towards new understanding. It’s like letting the light in. It means you accept yourself, not in spite of your flaws, but including your flaws. There is nothing to hide or change when you are focused on wholeness. It is simply a matter of being.

You can learn to look at yourself from the most loving perspective and to look inside yourself for your answers.

To look at things without attaching labels and stories to them and feel we have acquired a state of being that offers internal peace, happiness and joy and the satisfaction of all needs and wants is sometime most of us yearn for. Enlightenment as a word can be misleading, because it is sometimes perceived and communicated as a ‘higher’ state of being that feels like it is out of reach for the ‘normal’ person. However, the reality is, enlightenment is a natural state. It is inside of every one of us, and we can all get there, even if we stumble along the way. We just really need to be ourselves and not try to act as someone we are not.

Even if you sometimes doubt it, you are the exact and perfect combination of experiences, insights, strengths and imperfections that make a person whole – show yourself to the world just as you are –  after all, isn’t going out and living your best life the most important thing?

Always engage in the quest for life’s meaning, which is inner peace.’ – Longchenpa 

 

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Looking For the Golden Thread..

You are made up of miraculous things…

 

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.

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When We Look at Things Differently…Letting the Light IN

‘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!

 

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‘We can’t change anything until we get some fresh ideas, until we begin to see things differently’.

                                                   Jame Hillman

 

 

 

 

Remembrance with Tears – The Darkest of Times…

‘Tell me there’s a heaven
Where all those people go
Tell me they’re all happy now,
Papa tell me that it’s so.’
Chris Rea

Holocaust survivors have returned to Auschwitz to lay wreaths to commemorate the 1.1 million people who died there during the second world war.

Ninety percent of those murdered at Auschwitz were Jewish.

This year Holocaust Memorial Day marked 75 years since the mass murder camp was liberated by Soviet troops and 7,000 prisoners were freed. However, almost half of these people would die as they were too ill, starving or exhausted to survive.

Ahead of the liberation, the Nazis blew up the last of the furnaces/gas chambers they had used so monstrously at Auschwitz. They then moved 60,000 prisoners westwards to other camps. Many of them died on these Death Marches. The Nazis knew that the arrival of the Russian Army was imminent and were trying to destroy evidence of their heinous crimes.

Last night I watched the UK Holocaust Memorial Day commemorative ceremony which took place at Westminster Abbey and was televised.

No matter how many times I read or hear about the atrocities that occurred during the holocaust I cannot comprehend how people could commit such evil deeds. And it is right that I cannot understand. No one who loves their fellow man ever could.

Survivors now are in small numbers. But last night I watched and listened as some of them who were able to attend the service spoke so movingly. One particular reading from a Second World War Veteran broke my heart. He spoke about a young boy of eleven years old who arrived at the camp, was separated from his family and left amongst unknown prisoners in that most terrible place. One night, he lay in a bunk with only a stranger’s feet to cuddle. In the morning it was found he had died in the night. As a mother and a grandmother, hearing this was almost too hard to listen to and the tears poured down my cheeks. But how could those who witnessed losses such as this cope with such unimaginable pain? We cannot know of all the individual suffering, the desperate fear and hardships, the hunger and illness, the waking and wondering if this would be the last day they would glimpse the sky.

Today, I CAN go outside, I CAN look up and glimpse the sky. I can breath the fresh air, smell the newly mown grass. But I can’t guarantee life will be like this forever. I can be hopeful and even assume I will be able to live out my days in safety, without fear of invasion or worse. But how can we know for sure? Nobody really knows what developments could be around the corner.

We have to rely on our memories so that we can try and protect our world and question our leaders. Just because we have supposedly intelligent leaders it doesn’t mean they always get things right as we all know. But what is memory? It is an empathetic mingling with other people’s stories, where you allow their stories to affect you in such a way that you are changed; your mind , your heart, your nervous system. You are changed in such a way that you cannot ignore the suffering of others. And because you cannot ignore the suffering of others, both from the past and in the present day, you can learn to educate people in a positive way.

Time and time again, when hearing the stories from survivors, their pleas are that we move forward but that we never forget. No matter how hard it is to be reminded of man’s inhumanity to man, and even writing about it is hard, we must never forget. Yet in the Jewish tradition, mourning death really takes place in the service of  choosing and celebrating life. There is a place for mourning and grief and a place for encountering dark places in history, but that place always returns to life – that is human nature – what we do to celebrate life helps ourselves and helps others. We need to think about how we can make the world a better place for today. Our lives are better made up of the small things that really are the big things – being free to watch the sunset, dance in the rain, to bake a cake, to laugh out loud. Life is made of moments and choices we share with our beautiful families, our friends and communities. We need to make our choices good choices.

I have never met any holocaust survivors but I have listened to many of them being interviewed and listened to many telling their own individual stories. It seems to me that there is a strong thread that connects them. They have encountered unimaginable evil, they had walked through the valley of the shadow of death, yet they have had an incredibly tenacious hold on life.

As people who have seen the dark side of humanity they are an example of the human spirit’s ability to adapt, rebuild and recover.

So if any of us encounter dark or traumatic times, we can learn to keep going, to draw a sense of hope when all seems bleak, and reach out to those who need us. Most of all, we can remember, and comfort those who are alone.

 

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Learning To Love Your Scars…

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.

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‘Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars’.   Khalil Gibran