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)
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
‘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.’
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
Remember how words affect others. Sometimes when we talk, less is more. Listen, then choose your words carefully when advising others.
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.
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…..
We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom. Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace.
I am away from Dove Lane this week. Holidays are all about change really. Change from routine, change from our normal location and surroundings, change of diet, change of normal attire even. It can be a time to do things a bit differently and to break out. Most of all, it can be a change of thought patterns.
Travel and being a passenger gives me time to think; gazing out of the car window watching the foreign countryside roll past in an unfamiliar blur, my mind drifts from the present delights of the journey and the destination that awaits us, to half remembered conversations and abstract thoughts of just about anything. It’s a little like the moments before you drift off to sleep when reality gives way to the complexity and transience of dreaming.
Holidays give us time to take stock – and I sit quietly in the peaceful garden overlooking the lavender field here in Provence as I have done many times before, silently feeling the embrace of the surroundings that manage to bring an intangible feeling of both happiness and wistfulness. And although being on holiday brings a change of scene there is a feeling here of timelessness too. We were last here three years ago, and yet the path to the house is unchanged; the wisteria may have wound its way a little more up the worn stone walls, but otherwise everything is the same. For most of the time we are hundreds of miles away from here, going about our daily lives, busy with the ups and downs of daily life, the hubbub, the crazy politics, the going out, the staying in, good days, bad days and yet we return when we can, and expect to see everything just as we left it; the old, tetchy gentleman sitting in the little village square platting the lavender stems, the same lady at the boulangerie providing us with our daily breakfast of delicious croissants, the lavender growing as robustly as ever. Perhaps this place we love is suspended in time.
My mind can wander here thats for sure, because I have time to sit and think. Interestingly enough I have done this many times before because with each visit I find I have new thoughts and new concerns running through my head. This should tell me something – worries from previous years may not totally lie forgotten but certainly have eased and even been sorted with time.
And yet I sit in this beautiful place and ponder; ponder about life about home and about my loved ones, and the concerns of everyone’s trials. As always I don’t have all the answers. But do we ever really know the answers to the deep questions about our lives and the lives of those we love? I guess we just do our best to find our way.
I have to remember the world is full of mystery; It is always a mystery – we do not know why, and we do not understand why. There are things beyond our grasp that we cannot fathom. And yet there is balance. We see it in nature. I see it here in the bees and the butterflies as they buzz and fly about fertilizing the flowers. They are so many things on this planet that work perfectly together.
We have many books and articles that give us thousands of facts as we search for answers. We can google anything – hmm…not always a good thing but useful sometimes. But we still can’t answer everything.
Sometimes we need to just ‘be’ and I should remind myself of that as I sit in the shade of the ancient oak tree. The great thinkers and writers seem to agree. To quote Socrates ‘The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.’