I was looking at an apple tree in our garden which we planted about eighteen months ago. The first year after planting it didn’t blossom and we were worried that it would never be pollenated. This year, however, we were pleased to see buds forming in early spring. As I wandered into the garden last night for some air, I looked at the rosy apples on the little tree – shiny, healthy and covered with raindrops, and I realised that the span of time from the early buds, to the now almost mature apple harvest, was the same as that of the start of lockdown to now – a time when we are seeing the loosening of lockdown and the re-opening of hospitality services. Apart from thinking about the quiet confidence and constancy of Mother Nature, it made me think about time.
Does time pass differently during times of great change or worry? If we think of the first day of quarantine, does it seem like yesterday, or a lifetime ago? I have heard many people say that during the coronavirus crisis they have noticed time passing more strangely than normal. Some complain of days dragging on and on, yet others feel the past months have passed eerily quickly. In can feel in our minds that time ‘warps’ very easily. Perhaps this is to do with our worlds shrinking and being kept between our four walls. We have stayed at home for the majority of the day, with the highlight of the day being a walk or a visit to the supermarket. We haven’t been performing many memorable activities, necessarily, although that is beginning to change now. We have missed travelling, missed going out for dinner, and days have blended into one, with weekdays feeling the same as weekends.
Perhaps, because we haven’t made so many new memories or been on holidays, we perceive time has passed swiftly.
Key workers who haven’t had the opportunity or luxury to stay at home and isolate may look at time entirely differently. It may seem as though the period of time lasted longer than normal. Many people have been busier than ever, whether working on the front lines or at home balancing a full work schedule while trying to home school their children.
When we eventually emerge from this time of immense challenge and isolation, perhaps some of the more mundane routines we have had to follow will turn out to hold more memories than we think. We have been challenged to spend time alone or with others in our household and have been given a chance to learn how to cope with boredom and isolation. We have learnt how to set goals, however small, taken time to read, or engage in other quarantine-friendly activities in very tough times. Perhaps we have found the time to engage in those important conversations we have put off for too long. Perhaps we have found time to look inside ourselves and even look at life through fresh eyes. Perhaps we have taken the time to really think about others and rediscover compassion that sometimes can take a back seat during busy lives, no matter how well-meaning we are.
We don’t always realise how much time has passed, until we look back. And we are going to look back on so much. Heartbreak and fear have walked hand in hand with just trying to ‘get by’. We have seen fear take over and people lash out, and we have seen staggeringly good deeds carried out by those who have put themselves on the line. We have seen human nature pushed to its limits. We have all been hurting – everyone of us, for others and ourselves. Thank goodness for the small things.
Most of us have been living in a lockdown situation now for about three months. We have got used to every inch, every nook and cranny, every quiet corner of the place we call home! Perhaps we have got to the stage where we may be taking it for granted, and yet in another way, nervous to take those new, tentative steps out again and reconnect with the world. Some of us are starting to venture out now, but more than ever before, we have needed the safety and the anchor of home, and the roofs that cover the place where we truly have the space to be ourselves. Sometimes I, and perhaps many of us, have a fantasy which involves roaming free and letting go of all the restrictions handed out to us that hold us back. But no matter (in normal times) where we may travel, it doesn’t take much – a familiar smell, the sound of a distant lawnmower, or a warm light shining through a chink in the curtains of an unknown house, to fell us with a surge of homesickness.
The structures of our homes are more than just bricks and mortar, for within our walls are the people we love and care about, and where we share our hospitality with those we hold dear. It is interesting that the bond we share when we have lived in the same home with family members never leaves us. My beautiful sister was only five when I left home as a teenager, yet the times of being together under one roof has bonded us in a circle of love that can never be broken. Of course the family ties bind us, but the familiarity of homes we have shared stays forever too. It is the feeling of connectedness to others that home symbolises.
‘Home is where hearts are sure of each other; a place where you know your way in the darkness.’
I think of those people who do not have a home, now more than ever. For those who are homeless through no deliberate choice, I cannot imagine what living through these times without the comfort of home must be like. Somehow, there must better ways of supporting those who would love to have a more permanent place to call home.
This is the time to express gratitude for home. Our homes have probably taken a bit of a battering lately but they don’t complain! Perhaps we should give them a bit of TLC! A good spring clean may be on the agenda, some new leafy green plants to freshen the air and a change around of the furniture. It all helps us to see our refuge with fresh eyes and give us a sense of achievement and a sense of progress. And as I get out my warm blanket, folded to sit on for my yoga practice, and light a candle, I can feel a sense of appreciation that I am home, and comfortable, and that warms my soul.
‘Home is the nicest word there is.’ – Laura Ingalls Wilder
‘If you go anywhere, even paradise, you will miss your home.’ – Malala Yousafzai
‘A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.’ – George A. Moore.
The place we call home needs to keep peace within its boundaries, welcome within its walls, shelter for its friends, and a cake in the larder.
So when you feel unsettled, remember that home is where you and your loved ones are – it is not dependent on fancy fixtures and fittings, palaces and mansions, but on you and the people you love, and in the cosy place where you gather together.
From a distance that seems safe, I wave ‘hello’ to a neighbour. ‘How are you?’ we ask each other. We both say ‘fine’. These days, ‘fine’ is what we want to hear. Small, daily interactions are not meaningless these days. We have all been stuck behind closed doors and isolated during lockdown, with upsetting and frightening news seemingly assailing us hourly. Heartbreaking scenes have played out before our eyes via the media. So when we hear ‘fine’ we relax a bit and feel thankful because we care. We care because life has become so fragile all of a sudden. And when we hear someone isn’t fine, we feel concerned for them, and also for the risk it poses generally.
Strangely, when things are easing a little, and we can get out and about a bit more, I have found the enormity of things hitting me again. Seeing the garden centre looking, well -different. It seems strange and unintentionally neglected, with its slightly straggly plants, and rather unkempt appearance, so different from normal years, and feels slightly eerie with fewer people who have to keep their distance. People look wary and nervous, not wishing to step in the wrong place, or do the wrong thing (mostly).
It may take us all a while to adapt again; to do things we once did without a second thought. Lockdown has given us a certain security, a knowing that being in our own homes brings safety and freedom. It is familiar and comfortable. When we know that our loved ones are in lockdown too, we feel relief because we know where they are.
But now we are starting to take the very first small steps towards a less restrictive way of living. Deprivation has hurt us. Uncertainty and scarcity, fear and , in some cases, separation, have taken their toll, but perhaps soon we can tap into some of the precious parts of life we knew.
Who knows what will happen over the coming weeks? There are so many who long to heal, so many who grieve and so many who long for life to be as it was before.
We think of cancelled holidays, cancelled weddings, jobs lost and so much more. Many people’s lives have been broken. Who knows how long it will be for lives to heal, physically, mentally and financially?
All I can say for some comfort, is that this has been a time to listen to every bird singing its heart out in the beautiful spring sunshine, a time to examine every bud on the rosebush, every sunbeam and every shadow. A time to cook up imaginative meals, read books we may not have read. I have experienced lovely acts of kindness, such as a friend sending little gifts and notes in the post. We have learned some things we may not have learned. Learned to say how much we miss each other. Learned to say ‘I love you’ more often.
Hopefully, we are now edging to a post-pandemic situation and a time when we feel more ‘normal’ again. Can we stay as we are in some ways I wonder, even though we move forward? Can we remain flexible, keep the ‘gung ho’ spirit even when we are anxious, and remain resourceful? Let’s hope so.
Lifting Our Mood in Challenging Times …reposting a blog from last spring , with a few changes …..
Now more than ever, the benefits of getting out into the countryside are immense. The allotted hour in the green fields manages to lift the spirits for a while at least. Pathways are lined with burgeoning cow parsley and the gentle scent of lilac and hawthorn fills the air as nature carries on regardless. No need here for a ticking clock to hasten the plants and trees to blossom – they know when the conditions are right.
It’s always a comfort to see the same trees along the way standing stoically strong; their trunks immovable and their roots firmly planted alongside the fields where we often walk deep in thought. I am particularly fond of a tree I have yet to identify (possibly beech, though the leaves appear to be heart shaped) which I pass on my newly favourite walk, (having moved here eighteen months ago, its taken a while to find a regular walk I really enjoy and have settled on), the sound of the wind rustling through the leaves sounds just like a fall of gentle rain, and high on the trunk is a hole where you can imagine a friendly, wise old owl holding court. How many footsteps must have passed by this ancient tree over hundreds of years and how many more still will? 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 know why things are happening the way they are, and we may have many questions in our minds left unanswered, but we can, at least for a while, soak up the healing powers of nature. I can’t recall a time the countryside has ever looked more beautiful, or the birdsong more prolific, 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.
In some ways, it feels as though we can breathe in new life from the abundance around us and renew our hope for the future, and that has never been more important than now.
So when we are being a scaredy cat – and that’s probably quite a lot of us at the moment I don’t doubt, it is good to look at all the signs around us and take the reassurance that everything turns and moves and goes full circle. When I was out striding about, I could almost hear 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.
And even if we are walking alone at the present time, remember that love knows no distance; when you think of those you love, and those who love you, it is almost as though they are there beside you.
‘To know you are loved or have been loved is more than uplifting, it is at the core of everything.’
Life for all of us has been put on hold except for all but the most necessary of tasks and the most basic needs. Time seems to be suspended and yet the days pass quickly; the world is unusually quiet but the morning light still shines through the window and throws shafts of sunlight across the floor every morning. Perhaps we appreciate it more today than we did a few weeks ago.
Going through the motions of a different daily life, we are coming to know more about love and kindness than ever before. When we are in a ‘normal’ state; on an even keel and just following routine, we don’t always stop to notice the small but profound things that are ever present yet not on our radar during the bustle of everyday life. But in a state of great, and sometimes frightening change, normal and trivial irritations lie unnoticed; worries about work deadlines, so important last month, stay in the ‘in-tray’ because we can’t do much about them even if we want to, and the cloak of regularity falls from our shoulders. We are having to view our lives with a much different perspective. We do have time now to notice the small but important things, after all these are the things that are essential now.
Most of us are lucky enough to have friends and family that love us; maybe we have taken that fact a little for grated at times; sometimes complacency can come with familiarity, but perhaps when we are sad, worried or in pain, even if we are not always vocalising what we feel or are going through, our vulnerability opens us up to others and their natural and inbuilt ability to reach out, even across the airwaves. And if we do open up, more often than not, we are treated with a compassion we needed just at the right time, and we can also show the same in return.
There cannot be many times in our day that are not touched by love in one form or another; it may not always be obvious but it is there. It is waiting in the wings – an unceasing energy and in limitless supply. Even when doing a mundane job like housework, chances are you will have the radio on in the background and before long you will be humming along to a love song. At the moment, happy memories evoked by music serve us well.
When we love deeply there are no boundaries. The heart finds a way to love no matter what the circumstances and the heart knows that love reaches us even when we are in isolation. We need courage today, and when we send love out we are rewarded a thousandfold. Love can be gentle when it needs to be; it can be held in a reassuring smile on FaceTime or in a virtual hug. It can be there in a row of emojis sent to our children in a text. And when we think in a loving rather than fearful way, the good vibration is felt across the miles, the fields, the oceans and beyond, just like the gentle flapping of a butterfly’s wings can be sensed across continents ( The ‘butterfly effect’ is an idea more commonly used in chaos theory. It shows that a small change can make much bigger changes happen; that one small incident can have a big impact). Love is borderless.
Love crosses realms. In fact, it never leaves us; it sits in our memories, it stirs us when we least expect it and again, when we need it. It appears in our dreams and runs through our veins. It is part of us.
‘Only from the heart can you touch the sky’. Rumi
We need to dig deep at the moment and find those inner resources that will get us through. Our moods may dip from time to time, but when we remember what we have – who we have, and who we love and have loved, we can find our way through.
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.
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.
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