NOTHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO?

I didn’t realise how important it was to me to have things to look forward to: holidays and concerts booked for sometime in the future. I didn’t consciously think about them much, once they were booked, but cancelling the last one in the diary definitely hit hard. They obviously gave me a sense of movement, direction, and a form of landmark.

So now what, in these times when everything is uncertain, and none of us know for how long we will be restricted in our movement and our social activity? One of my friends gave me the clue: she said she was planning in visits with people she loves, which included me, I’m glad to say! (We can still do that, at this point in time).

I’ve always enjoyed that, and I realised that it was a reminder about two things. The first is how much our relationships with others matter. We all realised that when it was taken away from us during the full lockdown – let’s not forget it or take it for granted again. Instead, let’s delight in our friendships and fully appreciate them.

The second reminder was that, even in ‘ordinary’ times, the only real certainty is right now, the present moment. Getting through our everyday with occasional highlights to look forward to is not living our lives, and if the highlight is disappointing, that’s even worse!

So what can I appreciate about today, how can I make today a good day? Taking the time to notice the autumn sunshine, the flowers still blooming in the garden; paying attention to my cats and their sweetness; laughing with a friend at the absurdity of it all; making a tasty dinner; watching a good movie – there are so many ways we can enliven our day.

I may not have anything to look forward to at the moment but I do have today. Let’s make it a good one!

1

EVERYDAY RITUALS

Over the years my mornings have changed considerably. Once upon a time the morning routine consisted of a quick shower, a gulped cup of coffee, and putting my face on (that’s how I thought of putting make-up on!). Nowadays, there is quiet time with lemon tea, a coffee with journal writing, a check through any plans for the day, and eventually the actual getting ready for the day – wash, clothes etc.

I was remembering how it felt to rush off to work, and wondering if my mornings are simply an indulgence, now that I don’t have to rush.

But I think there is a bigger distinction between those mornings than just time taken. I used to have a routine – etymologically that means an automatic, mechanical way of doing things – and it got me out of the house on time. Now I have everyday rituals – etymologically rituals are a sacred act, with intention.

This distinction between routine and ritual is important because it is about choosing to imbue an activity with meaning rather than just doing it automatically. For example, your shower can be just what you do to clean yourself, or it can be a way of refreshing yourself ready for a new day.

Having everyday rituals helps us to punctuate our days with ways of refreshing, re-energising, or allowing ourselves to rest, and consciously using them for that purpose enriches their effect.

‘This is my wake-up cup of coffee.’

‘That spritz of perfume/cologne means I’m ready for what comes next.’

’The 5 minute walk round the garden is my time to re-energise.’

‘Reading a few pages of my book gets me ready to sleep.’

By connecting particular activities with an effect and saying so to ourselves, we give ourselves an easy way of achieving that effect.

So don’t have routines – they’re boring – but do have everyday rituals – they enrich your life.

1

ONE THING TOO MANY

I’ve spent the last month or so gradually unpacking the contents of my home and sorting them. And in that period I have become aware of a bad habit I have.

Have you ever tripped over your own feet? Lost your temper when something you were fixing seemed to get worse not better? Dropped that pile of things you had carefully piled up in your arms so you only had to make one trip? If so, you may have this bad habit sometimes too…

I call it the one thing too many syndrome. It’s when you know in your guts that it’s time to stop, at least for a while, but your head says, ‘ I’ll just finish this, or move that or put the other away.’ It’s not only a denial of your own awareness, it’s also almost always a mistake! That extra task is when you drop something or break it, or when you can’t find what you’re looking for, or when you can’t get something to fit together, or when the right words won’t come to mind.

My impatience to get things done has led to frustration and more things to rectify rather than extra progress. So I am retraining myself to listen to my guts, and to assess what I can do against my own energy and enthusiasm levels rather than some external measure that says I could do more.

I know this really – I preach it to others. I know that we don’t have consistent energy or focus levels. I know we are not robots and we work more effectively in short bursts. I know that a bit of a break can make all the difference. And I know that overall I am far more productive when I work with myself rather than despite myself.

So I’m back n this learning curve – wouldn’t it be great if we got the message the first time around!! – doing half a task well instead of a whole task badly. It’s been a useful reminder to me – and if you recognise any of this, I hope it’s a useful reminder to you. As Winnie the Pooh suggests, if you allow yourself to stop and have a think, or a little honey, things do get done and you don’t wear yourself out.

1

HOW CAN I HELP?

I do like to be helpful! When someone is finding life hard, I love to be able to suggest ways of making it easier. But it’s important to remember that we all walk our own path. I might think I know what will help, but I’m not living their life, with their lessons, their approaches, their beliefs. My view is only my view, from my perspective.

So how do we help others? I have had a to of help from friends over the last few months, so it’s obviously possible!

To begin with, we need to be in a good state ourselves. If we are OK in ourselves, we remind others at an unconscious level that there is that space to be OK, that it exists. We’re like the light at the end of the tunnel, saying: ‘You can come through this.’

Also, if we’re OK, we don’t need them to make us feel better by taking on our suggestions, our solutions. We’re not so invested in sorting it out for them, in order to make ourselves feel like a good person.

Then we probably help most by just being there to listen. By allowing someone to talk about their issues without judging or interrupting, whilst paying them proper attention, we give them the space to express it for themselves. This both relieves the pressure of it going round and round in their head, and often helps them to unravel it a bit for themselves. We call this being a witness – someone who is just there with you, supporting without interfering.

Now, as a witness, you have a different perspective from the person who is caught up in their story. You may notice that they have the problem out of proportion, or that a possible resolution is sitting there in their description, or that, if they looked at it from a different angle, it would feel different. Telling them what you notice can be helpful, but remember, they may not be ready to accept what you’re observing, and that’s OK.

Similarly, you may have ideas about what might help from your own experience of similar situations. And it’s good to offer them up as possibilities, but again, you have to accept that they may reject them – your ideas may not resonate with them in their story.

Finally, practical simple help can make a big difference. You may not be able to help with the problem, but you could read through that document they can’t make sense of, or get that thing from the shops for them so they’ve one less thing to think about, or just take them out for a coffee so they are literally in a different space for a little while.

When it comes down to it, being helpful is all about creating some space where someone has the possibility to sort it out for themselves. We can’t do it for them, but we can give them the room to begin to find their own way through.

And thank you to all my friends who have been so helpful to me in a time of turbulence!

1

MAKING A HOME

I have moved back into my house after nearly four months – wonderful!! – and I’ve been gradually re-establishing it as my home.

I was given a clean slate – all my contents moved out, the whole place re-decorated – so in some ways I was starting from scratch. What it’s made me realise is that making it my home again is about creating the right feel to the place, enabling it to reflect me and how I am now.

First priorities were books and cd’s properly on shelves, music set up, wine on the rack – if you know me, you’ll understand! Then it’s about taking things out of boxes, deciding if they’re still ‘me’, and if so, choosing where they go. Some are as they were before, some are in different places, and many are in the bin or the charity shop box.

It is both exciting and challenging to ask the question: ‘ Is this me?’ It makes you think about your own evolution, and how you influence your own development by what you decide to have around you. And it helps to create a home rather than a house – it puts the heart back into the place.

I have had the benefit of being able to completely reset my home, and I would encourage you to just consider whether your home reflects who you are now, gives you that feeling of being who you want to be.

Even small differences – an ornament moved; new cushion covers; a different photo displayed; fresh flowers in a vase; three books taken out and sent to the charity shop – can change the feel of your home to reflect you, so your home is even more where the heart of you resides.

4

JUST BE YOURSELF!

When I was younger, I used to try quite hard to fit in: not be too quick at answering when I was at school, so others didn’t think I was being a clever clogs; pretending to like other people’s musical tastes so I was ‘up-to-date’; dressing properly when I was a teacher; not saying anything when people were being racist. And I found it difficult because it didn’t fit me, and sometimes it was downright impossible.

By the time I got to my 30’s, I gave up on trying to fit in, and began to just be myself. Although sometimes it gives me difficult situations to deal with, generally it made my life a whole lot easier, because I don’t have to pretend or compromise my own values most of the time.

So what do I mean by ‘just be yourself’? I mean accept your characteristics, live by your own values, act in a way that matches your natural way of being, whether they fit with the norm or not. We are all individuals, unique and special, with our own particular quirks, and we need to nurture that in ourselves, even if it means we don’t please everyone else.

If we pretend to be something we’re not, it shows, because we slip up sometimes and show our true colours, or we come across as false.

Some of us are tidy, some of us aren’t; some of us like to dress up, some of us prefer to dress down; some of us prefer routine, some of us prefer variety; some of us are chatty, some of us are quiet. Whatever we’re like, there are others who are similar to us, if not the same, and we will find our ‘tribe’ if we are being who we really are.

And this doesn’t mean that we don’t bother to enhance our characteristics or behaviour. If we behave in ways that make us uncomfortable, then we want to improve that – not to please others or fit in, but to make ourselves feel better about ourselves.

I believe that our innate nature is good – we’re not born selfish or unpleasant or mean. But we are born as a unique individual, so just be yourself…

2

GOOD ENOUGH

Most of us have a really mean streak in us – it is mean to us much more than others. I’m referring to that tendency we have to judge ourselves against an impossibly high set of standards. We don’t usually realise that we’re even doing it – we just feel like we should have done better: been more caring; expressed it better; finished it more quickly; done it more thoroughly – you get my drift?

The questions we need to ask ourselves are: whom are we comparing ourselves to? And what standard exactly are we expecting ourselves to achieve?

In terms of whom we are comparing ourselves to, it seems to me that it’s generally in the realms of those who are much better at whatever it is than we are – not a bit better, which might spur us on to enhance our performance, but a lot better, presently unachievable for us – now that’s mean!

In terms of standards we are expecting of ourselves, well, it’s usually a level of perfection isn’t it! I know I have a tendency to expect my behaviour to be saintly in its compassion, forgiveness, kindness, equanimity, even though I know perfectly well that I’m no saint!

I am reminded of Robert Holden’s statement that there is no such thing as a happy perfectionist, and that is definitely true, because no matter how well we do, we are unlikely to hit perfection, so always have a reason to castigate ourselves rather than be pleased with ourselves.

Now these standards and expectations we set ourselves are largely unconscious, so a useful way to counteract their effect is to consciously decide what standard or expectation you will have about any particular aspect of your life where you tend to beat yourself up for not being good enough.

If we assess where we are now, and then set ourselves a small step further on, then we can have an assessment of our own progress which is fair, instead of another reason to be mean to ourselves. By doing this beforehand, we give ourselves motivation and encouragement before the event, instead of beating ourselves up after the event.

For example, if you tend to be impatient, see if you can take a deep breath and walk away from whatever is making you impatient the next time you feel it. If you’d like to be fitter, just set yourself to walk round the block once a day. Give yourself a sense of success and improvement rather than a sense of failure.

And remember, sometimes good enough is good enough. We aren’t here to be perfect, we’re here to be human.

0

SOCIAL ACTION

I have taken my time to say something about the worldwide protests about inequality that were prompted by the death of George Floyd in the USA, because I wanted to reflect on the bigger picture of what’s happening. This is only my thoughts, of course, and I’d welcome any other ideas you may have that add to my thinking.

This felt like more than just a protest about a particular event, however horrifying that may be.

It seems to me that the lockdown we’ve all experienced has brought with it a greater awareness of some of the other things that are not right about our world. Our governments lie and bluster – they may claim that they’re doing things for the good of all, but it’s blatantly obvious that’s not true. Our way of managing economics means that some have money and some don’t, that businesses won’t survive this setback because of running a debt model, and that those people who will lose out the most are those who can least afford it. And our social policies have left vital areas of our public services unable to fulfil their intention.

I think that the time, for many, to reflect on what their lives are like, combined with daily briefings and covid-related news that serve to highlight some of the wrongs, have brought about a greater awareness of how our world isn’t working for the majority, and how prevalent the building of fear is.

We have massive redundancies and people losing their jobs; we have under-staffed care homes and hospitals; we rely on low-paid, often migrant workers to keep our economy going yet have policies to keep them out; and there are far more deaths from this disease in the ethnic minority communities. On top of that, most people were already under stress, working too long hours, trying to do more than is humanly possible, or struggling to maintain some dignity in poverty – food banks were already over-stretched, before the pandemic made it worse.

The intensification of that feeling of ‘It’s not right’ was given a particular focus by the killing of George Floyd – it gave people a reason to protest against injustice and inequality and they came out in their thousands – and yes, there were some fringe elements that caused problems, looting and fighting, but the majority were peacefully asserting everyone’s right to a decent and respected life.

It is more than a protest about inequality and injustice for black people, although that is undoubtedly a just cause, it is a protest about a world where that inequality and injustice is still a big part of the story, a world where respect and care for other human beings is lacking, where there are many versions of ‘them and us’, where basic support and care are lacking.

And if that is to change, we all need to make our voices heard. We need to move beyond the feeling of ‘it’s not right’ and begin to define what ‘right’ would be. Then we can stand up for what is right, rather than protest against what is wrong.

And please, let’s stand up. It is us that our governments, our policy makers, represent. Most of us are caring and believe in fairness. We need to ensure that those who represent us demonstrate our values in their actions and push them to listen to what we really want in our world.

1

ACCEPTING THINGS AS THEY ARE

The other evening I was listening to an old album by Cat Stevens, and I’ve always loved the song ‘Moon Shadow’ (If you don’t know it, look it up – and listen to the lyrics as well as the beautiful melody). As I heard it again, it resonated even more with me than before, because it is about accepting things as they are, rather than fighting against your circumstances, and it was certainly a useful reminder for me!

At present I can’t be in my own home because it needs some big repair work after the fire I had, and I also recently tripped and cracked a rib which is very painful. So I’ve been feeling quite sorry for myself and railing against my bad luck. And what has that done for me? Just made me feel worse!

Wishing things were different never made it so, and in fact just emphasises whatever it is that we don’t want in our lives. On the other hand, accepting things as they are frees up our energy to look for ways of making it feel better.

It isn’t a passive giving in to the circumstances – that ‘poor me’ syndrome is caused by the contrast between how you’d like things to be and how they are. It is a simple ‘Well, this is how it is’, which leaves us room to actively begin to make the best of it, and space to begin to think about how we can adapt to make it work.

Once we say yes to how things are, we can start to be creative again, and help ourselves to improve the circumstances. I may have particular things to rail against at the moment, but this too will pass. And all of us have been suffering the restrictions due to the virus at a minimum, without anything extra to wish away.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t ever moan abut our circumstances and wish it were different – that would be denying our own feelings – but let’s keep it to a minimum, not in order to be ‘positive’ or a good person, but to keep our energy for something more useful.

After all, I may not be able to be as accepting as the song suggest, but a cracked rib means that I can’t do the hoovering, and I can choose new colours for the rooms in my house because they will be redecorating for me.

0

‘MY COMMITMENT IS TO TRUTH, NOT CONSISTENCY’ – GHANDI

I first came across this quote many years ago, in a talk by Ram Dass. It resonated with me then, and changed the way I did things, and it seems very appropriate to now.

As we all try to cope with the times we’re in, where we don’t have our old normal to guide the way we live our lives, it is vital that we take the opportunity to listen to our own truth.

This can mean something quite simple, like admitting that we have good and bad days, or we are not all exercising like mad and getting fit, or coming up with new creative ideas. How we are reacting doesn’t have a logic to it, and I don’t know about you, but I find it a relief when friends say that some days they are really pissed off with the situation, and have no motivation to do anything. It’s good to know I’m not alone!!

In a wider context, a commitment to truth leads us to reflect on the way we have been leading our lives, and check out whether something is just habit or really fits with who we are.

I know many people are questioning the long hours they would normally put in at the office, or how little time they usually give to their family and friends.

When circumstances change so much, we have the chance to ask ourselves what really matters to us, what does make us feel fulfilled, good, happy. I think almost all of us, for example, have realised that hugs really matter, and that, good as technology is for helping us to keep in touch, it’s not the same as physical, face-to-face contact.

So please, don’t let’s just revert to our old normal when that looks possible. Let’s all be a little more true to ourselves and what makes a difference to us, and thereby gain something really valuable from this experience.

Oh, and by the way, just so you know, yesterday was a shitty day for me, but today feels better already, and both reactions are for no good reason except my truth!!

1