IT’S WHAT YOU’RE LIKE THAT MATTERS

A friend I was very fond of died recently. I’m sad that there will be no more of those stimulating conversations with him, but glad that he is no longer suffering. And talking with his widow reminded me that the only real lasting achievement we have is who we are, what we’re like as a person.

It has nothing to do with our status or wealth or education. They are not what people will remember us fondly for. It is our kindness, thoughtfulness, helpfulness, our sense of humour, our ability to relate to others, our curiosity about life and the world – all those characteristics that we can all have, no matter what our circumstances.

Our legacy is not the stuff we leave behind. It is the effect we have had on others who have encountered us. We live on in people’s hearts, not their heads.

Tom was a lovely man, full of life. He enjoyed talking ‘big stuff’, and had strong opinions, but also listened and showed care for others’ worlds. He would turn his hand to anything and help in any way he could, without a second thought. His heart was always in the right place.

I want to leave behind that sort of legacy, don’t you? Let’s nurture what we’re likeand the positive effect we can have on others. It’s the most important thing we’ll do if we want to make a difference in the world, and leave a lasting legacy in people’s hearts.

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THE PATH TO POSITIVE THINKING

It’s many years since I first came across the concept of positive thinking, and I was reminded of it again recently, reading a book by Wayne Dyer. As with so many things, it’s easy to forget, and important to remember!

When we get caught in those negative cycles where our emotions make us miserable and colour everything, we are literally weakening ourselves. It affects our immune system, our physical strength, and our energy levels adversely.

On the other hand, our positive moods improve our health, our strength and our energy, which is great. The problem is, we can’t force ourselves into positivity – that just doesn’t work. Nor can we pretend everything’s okay and put on a positive face – that doesn’t have the same effect.

So what can we do when we hit the difficult times, when things upset us in some way?

Well, firstly, we can acknowledge it. When we recognise that we are feeling negative in some way, we have to step to one side of the feeling a bit, and observe it. This gives us the first step towards doing something about it.

Then we can identify whether we have a good reason for our feelings or if we have got something out of proportion. To do this, we need to weigh up the good and bad things in our lives, or our behaviour, or that of others.

For example, I may be miserable because I have a stinking cold, but when I consider it, it’s not my usual state – I’m relatively healthy – and it won’t last for long. Or I may feel bad because I snapped at someone unnecessarily, but this isn’t my habitual behaviour with them or anybody else, and I can just say sorry. Or someone may have been unpleasant with me, but they are not someone whom I count as a close friend, so sod them! These are all examples of getting it out of proportion, and we can reduce their effect just by noticing.

On the other hand, we may realise that there is something which we have been pushing to one side in our thoughts, yet which does have a negative effect on our lives. Examples might be: we’ve gradually developed bad eating habits, or we’ve become rather critical of others, or that friend or relative is always putting us down. In these cases, we need to do something about it.

Firstly, we need to imagine how we will be when this is no longer part of the story. It’s not enough to go: ‘I’d be feeling better without this.’ We need to make it a really good picture with lots of ideas about how it would have a better effect on us, on our relationships, our energy and our actions – all the knock-on positive effects. This gives us a compelling reason to make a move.

Often we haven’t tackled it because it looked too big or difficult to handle. If this is the case, we need to identify some simple small first steps we can take towards rectifying it. For example, I may decide to make my own fresh healthy dinner once a week, or buy one less chocolate bar. Then we can feel a sense of achievement, however small. This leads on to another small step, and helps us to gradually work our way through the issue.

Sometimes what we really need, in order to do something about the negative effect, is an ally – someone to encourage us, praise us for the small steps we make, someone to help us keep going. This is why people go to that gym session or painting class with a friend. And most people love playing this role of ally – it’s positive for them too.

Life is too valuable to waste on negativity. You are too! If something is bringing you down, it’s time to turn it around, and make your life feel good again.

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AS YE SOW, SO SHALL YE REAP

I was picking beans and tomatoes yesterday. I have had a good harvest, although there are always some things that don’t work, and some that I forget to pick until they’re past their best.

As I was doing it, I was thinking about the biblical quote I’ve put as the title. It’s a useful analogy in many ways.

Firstly, it’s about the process of sowing. As any gardener knows, you put care into the sowing of seeds and nurturing of young plants, with the knowledge that not all of them will grow and thrive. It doesn’t matter, you still do it, and have another go if it doesn’t work. Similarly, we do kind things and treat others well without the expectation of reward.

Then we have the process of growing to fruition. It takes a long time with most plants, and requires attention: watering, weeding etc. Again, our relationships are built when we make the effort to keep in touch, show care.

And the harvest is a lovely reward. We are given something delicious which delights us. It’s not guaranteed, so it always feels special when it happens. And when it doesn’t, we shrug our shoulders, and say we’ll have another go next year, and maybe try a different approach. Or else we conclude that our soil is just not right for that particular plant and take it off our ‘menu’. Doesn’t that sound like what happens with relationships as well?

Of course, if I’d chosen to sow weeds, or even just let them run riot, it would be a different matter. They spread like mad, and use up all the goodness in the soil, starving the other plants, and I would have very little harvest at all. Again, being neglectful of our relationship with others, or scattering our negativity around us is a great way to kill off any fondness people may have for us!

And for me, one of the other ways in which the analogy works so well is in the unexpected lovely bits. If you take care of your plants, nature often gives you extra treats. You find tomato plants or flowers that have seeded themselves and grown without you trying. Or something you thought had died off despite your care comes back to life the following year. Similarly, when your overall intention is to show kindness, you often receive kindness from unexpected sources or from people you thought had moved out of your life.

Now we all sow weeds sometimes, or neglect our relationships with others. Do something about it, so it doesn’t spread. And we all feel disappointed sometimes because we have made an effort and it doesn’t seem to be appreciated or reciprocated. Just let it go, and delight in the ones that do grow. Just by having the intention to care for others, we are enriching our own lives – being kind always feels good – and we also receive delightful surprises where we receive kindness we weren’t expecting.

Be aware of what you are sowing in your life, and appreciate whatever harvest you receive.

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A BIT OF PEACE AND QUIET

When we were kids, I remember my mum shouting at us every so often: ‘Can I just have a bit of peace and quiet!’ We got to know that it was the warning that she was reaching the end of her tether with our noisy play, so we’d better get out of earshot.

Now I realise that it was more than that – we were just the icing on the cake, so to speak. We all need some peace and quiet, both from external stimuli, like children playing noisily, and from our internal emotions and thoughts.

Since then, the external disturbances have increased significantly. Mobile phones, tv, cars and lorries, are all much more prevalent. Once upon a time, someone walking down the road talking to themselves was a bit disturbing. Now it’s normal, and it’s loud, so that the person at the other end of the phone can hear them over everything else around them!

And 24-hour news and social media constantly bombarding us add to the stress of our own emotions and thoughts, as we try to get through our busy lives.

If we don’t stop and give ourselves a bit of peace and quiet, we become overwhelmed with all that’s going on, and can easily end up in a negative frame of mind that affects everything we do or say.

Notice that peace and quiet doesn’t mean silence. Its implication is that we can just be calm and regain perspective by having a quiet mind. We can find peace and quiet through a lovely piece of music, or by being in the garden, or a park or woodland. Sometimes reading something inspirational or gentle can have the same effect.

However you find your peace and quiet, it needs to be a vital part of your day. Just 15 minutes is enough to reset the buttons and enable you to reduce the effects of modern-day living.

Make your life a bit easier – give yourself a bit of peace and quiet.

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ARE YOU BEING SELFISH ENOUGH?

We are taught from a young age that being selfish is bad. We are supposed to share what we have and to put others first. If we follow this precept to the nth degree, we would be selfless – that can’t be right, can it? It would imply that there was nothing left of us.

Of course, most of us don’t ‘stick to the rule’ to that degree – we just feel guilty if we think we might be being selfish!!

I believe there is a distinction between being narcissistic – I only care about me and ignore the needs and wants of others – and being properly selfish.

The bible says: ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ – not instead of yourself. We need to take care of our own needs and feelings to the same level as we do those of others.

When we really care about others, we make sure that we are able to give to them from the heart, not out of duty or obligation. This requires that we have filled our own fuel tank first. As they say when you take a flight: ‘put on your own mask first, before you help others to do so.’ You can’t help someone else to breathe if you can’t breathe!

So don’t say yes when you know you’re running on empty – you will only end up resenting it.

And do give yourself room to be properly selfish – allowing yourself to top up your energy, your good mood. Others will appreciate what you have to give them so much more, because it will be done with a good heart. And the giving will top up your positive feelings even more, because making others feel good is one of the ways we can add to our own good feelings.

We are all sources of happiness and love when we have allowed ourselves to ‘indulge’ our selfishness without guilt. Isn’t that a better way to be in the world?

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LOVE IS…

I was lucky enough to be invited to be the celebrant at a blessing last weekend, held to celebrate the marriage of friends, with their family and friends, who weren’t able to be at the actual wedding.

I took as the theme, for my brief part in it, love, and it turned out to be even more appropriate than I thought it was.

I didn’t know many of the people there, but was welcomed in like an old friend. And I heard and witnessed so many examples of love in action, a microcosm of how our world could be if we all came from a place of love rather than fear.

It wasn’t about big declarations of love; it was about simple actions and reactions: laughing together, holding hands, stopping conversation for a moment to welcome someone new to the table, keeping an eye on each other’s children, talking with affection about each other.

It all created an atmosphere of joy and positivity, and I felt privileged to be included in it – I really got that old saying: ‘being taken into the bosom of the family.’

And it was still there in the morning, even with the requisite hangovers and tiredness.!

What a great reminder of how we can be, and, I believe, how we inherently are as human beings.

Let’s just do more of those simple acts of love, and spread it around, especially to those who rarely feel it. It changes the world.

And thank you, Marie and Merch, for inviting me to be a part of such a special experience.

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WHAT IS YOUR SUCCESS?

Have you ever met a ‘successful’ person? You know what I mean: good job, big house, nice car etc. I have met quite a few in my time, but very few of them were happy or content.

It makes me wonder whether we need to look at our own definition of success rather than that imposed by society. After all, if so-called success doesn’t make us happy, what’s the point in all that striving? It’s a bit like struggling to climb a high hill and then finding the view is disappointing and wasn’t worth the effort.

I think that at different stages if our life, we may have different definitions of success, but wherever you are up to, you need to check out that you’ve chosen the right hill to climb for you.

It is good to continue to work at being better at whatever it is: becoming complacent leads to entropy, and we slip and slide instead of making progress. We just need to ensure were making our effort in the right direction.

At this stage in my life, the hill I’m climbing is all about feeling good. For me, that means looking after my physical, mental and emotional state.

My success is when I have balanced my differing needs well: been creative, active, kept calm, felt happy. Obviously, I haven’t achieved this 100%! And sometimes it is really hard to even get close to it, when something throws me off balance. I suspect I’m going to be climbing this particular hill for the rest of my life, but that’s OK – it’s an enjoyable climb most of the time!

So just reflect on your own story. How would you define success for you at this point in your life? There are no wrong answers, but do make sure that you’re climbing the right hill for you, and that the climb itself is mostly enjoyable.

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WHAT IS YOUR DEFAULT EMOTION?

I read a great quote in the book ‘Greenlight’ by Matthew McConnaughey: ‘If we all made sense of humour our default emotion, we’d all get along better’. I hadn’t thought about what my default emotion was before – where do I reset my reactions to? And can we really choose what emotions are our go-to place?

And I realised that, when I was a young woman, my default emotion tended to be anxiety. I worried about money, about not being a good enough mother or a good enough teacher, about getting everything done – the list went on and on. I even worried when I didn’t seem to have anything to worry about, because I thought something was bound to go wrong! It was a hard way to live, and probably hard for those around me as well, and it prompted me to look for an easier way through life.

What I hadn’t realised quite so clearly before is that the personal development that I did helped me to change that default emotion. Of course, I still worry sometimes, but my default emotion, I think, is more like acceptance, which leaves space to consider what I can do about the circumstance.

And now, Matthew McConnaughey has prompted me to wonder if I can reset a bit more, because being able to laugh about it is even better! And again, I do it sometimes, but it isn’t yet my default emotion.

So I’ve decided to deliberately cultivate my ability to see the funny side of things, the absurdity of so many things that can send us into negativity. I’ll ‘use’ the friends I have who help me to laugh at situations to encourage me. I’ll ask myself how this could be viewed from a humorous perspective. And I’ll find more reasons to laugh.

So how about you? Has your default emotion changed over the years? Would you like to practise having one that makes life even easier?

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OUR COMMON SENSE

I like the expression ‘common sense’. It says two things:

  1. We have it in common – it’s a shared knowing.
  2. It’s about sense, which is a word used for our awareness, not our head-centred ideas or rules.

What I find sad is that we’re generally not either taught or encouraged to use it or develop it.

I think the confusion and frustration about our ‘rules and guidelines’ for the pandemic illustrates this perfectly. Our common sense tells us that they don’t make sense. For example, if it’s not ok to be in our homes with more than a certain number of friends and family, why is it ok for us to be in a store with many more strangers?

There is an assumption that we don’t use our common sense written into all the guidance we’ve been given. Either they assume we have none, or they assume we won’t use it to question the rules.

And this is not the only way in which our common sense is ignored or repressed, by any stretch of the imagination. We all know we’re not robots, that we have a natural flow to our energy, and it isn’t consistent. Yet we are taught to work past this knowing and to be consistently busy and productive, resulting in burn-out for many people. (By the way, burn-out as an expression comes from machines that are pushed beyond their capacity – a telling metaphor).

Over the years, we learn how to habitually ignore our common sense. We stop listening to the inner voice that says, ‘This is not right.’ And each time we do this, we are repressing our own wisdom.

So come on, let’s start encouraging our own common sense instead. Begin to hear the ‘this is not right’, and take notice of it, act on it, whenever we feel we can. And let’s encourage others to follow this common sense as well. Talk about it. challenge the nonsense. Open the conversations about our knowing, our shared sense of right and wrong.

Maybe then we would have governments we could respect, better relationships with others, and enjoy our lives more.

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DON’T PUSH THE RIVER

Do you ever have one of those days where even simple tasks seem to get complicated? Or where your plans start to go awry? Or where you think you’ll just do a bit more of whatever it is, but it goes wrong/you break something/you mess it up somehow?

These are all symptoms of pushing the river, and in my experience, it never works. And the worst thing is, we know when we’re attempting to do it! it happens when we override our inner knowing with our heads. We have all those pop-up messages that say, ‘That’s enough for now’, or ‘It’s not the right time for this’, or ‘You need to stop for a little while’. Yet we counteract them with ‘yes, but’s’:

‘Yes, but I wanted to get this done.’

‘Yes, but I haven’t done much today’.

‘Yes, but I might not have time later in the week’.

And then we bash on, and the person we need to speak to is not available, we can’t get the two parts to fit together, our door key has mysteriously gone missing, the cake we made doesn’t rise properly, and it all gets more difficult and frustrating.

What’s the solution? Don’t push the river! When you get that pop-up message, take notice and walk away. Sit down for a five-minute break, have a cup of coffee, just stop for a minute.

Sometimes all it needs is a short break, and we can be back in the flow. Sometimes the short break enables us to realise that it’s not vital to do that now. And sometimes the break allows us to acknowledge that we’re just not in the right state of mind for whatever it is.

We all know that when we give up on just trying to bash on with something, it usually goes much more easily when we have another go tomorrow. So listen to your own wisdom and stop trying to push the river.

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