KINDNESS IS THE WAY

We are all of us affected by what’s going on with Covid 19, and it is something which can bring out the worst in us. There is panic buying, flouting of the social distancing guidelines and other forms of selfish or mean behaviour. All of this is driven by fear – an understandable emotion right now.

However, fear, anxiety, stress, are the emotions that will make us more vulnerable to the infection, because they release chemicals into our bodies that suppress the immune system.

Kindness is the way, and there are more and more examples of kindness being reported:

  • People helping each other out
  • Strangers offering to help anyone who needs it in their community
  • Postmen who check that those they deliver to are OK
  • And the amazing response when the National Health Service in the UK asked for 250,00 volunteers, and got 405,00 in less than 24 hours.
  • Then there are those who are videoing concerts for people, or activities to occupy small children at home, or virtual classes for exercise – and the list goes on.

People the world over are showing their appreciation for those on the front line, continuing to maintain services, and the health workers who are caring for those who have caught the infection. And more and more people are coming up with creative ways to help each other out.

This is the best of human behaviour, and it is also a really good way to stay healthy. Kindness releases all the health-giving chemicals into our bodies, and helps us to build our immunity.

And kindness is also highly infectious! We see an example of kindness, or we experience someone being kind to us, and we get prompted to be kinder ourselves.

This time will change our societies. Let’s make sure it’s a change for the better, and spread the infection of kindness, to the point where it’s habitual rather than occasional. We can all do something: a phone call to a friend; a bit of food shopping for a self-isolating neighbour; a big smile and thank you to those who are working to deliver things to keep us going and to care for the vulnerable and sick.

Let’s infect as many as we can with kindness!!

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KNOWING STUFF IS NOT ENOUGH

I know lots of things: some facts – although it’s not my speciality to remember facts! ; how to do a variety of things; how to behave well; what to do in different situations. Over the years I’ve collected a lot of knowledge of one sort or another.

However, that’s not enough. I also need to know how and when to use my knowledge – and that’s our wisdom.

We have a name for those who use their knowledge to put others down, or make them look stupid – a know-it-all. This is not wisdom because it’s using knowledge to the detriment of others.

We have also probably all ‘known better’ at different times in our lives, when we have not used what we know to improve a situation. For example: ‘I should have known better than to shout at the shop assistant when he couldn’t find my order.’

Another example of knowing without wisdom is running rife at the moment – taking ideas or opinions or misinformation as facts/truth. We accumulate knowledge by checking its truth before we accept it fully, if we are wise, and we learn how to discriminate.

Knowledge is all the stuff we collect, while wisdom is knowing how to sort it, relate different aspects to each other, and when and how to use it.

I know I’ve collected a lot of knowledge. I hope I’m continuing to become better at being wise, don’t you?

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ACTIVE AND PASSIVE CHOICES

‘You always have a choice, and you always make a choice.’

When John Grinder said this, I was sure he was wrong. After all, we sometimes have things imposed on us, and sometimes we have no control over what happens, and sometimes there seems to be no alternative, and sometimes others make decisions and we just go along with them.

It took me years to realise that he was right! The distinction isn’t between whether we have a choice or not, it’s between whether we make an active choice or a passive choice – bummer!!

Once you get this, it takes away all our excuses for being a victim of circumstance, and places the responsibility squarely on our own shoulders. And at the same time, this gives us the opportunity to be in full control of our own story.

We are all aware of our active choices, because we make them consciously. We decide to act or react in a situation in the way that feels right for us.

Passive choices are harder to spot, but symptoms include feeling like you have no control, or you can do nothing about it, or not speaking up when you know it would make a difference, or just feeling powerless. And in those circumstances, we can just take a moment to consider: what would make me feel better about this?

As soon as we ask the question, we are becoming active in our choice, even if we choose to do nothing. A simple example would be dealing with the weather – very relevant for me right now! We can bemoan the fact that it’s raining, the river is flooding, travel is difficult, or we can decide to dress for the weather and go out anyway, or to do something useful or fun at home. The weather doesn’t change, but our reaction to it does.

I have never felt comfortable with being a victim of circumstance – I’m obviously a control freak!  And I certainly prefer the feeling of making an active choice – don’t you?

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CLEANING UP YOUR ACT

We so often launch into things without stopping to consider what our intention is. And that’s OK a lot of the time.

Sometimes, though, it is useful to stop for a moment. It is those situations where you are ambivalent that benefit from that moment’s thought – otherwise we may find that we get caught in our ambivalence and end up doing it badly or resentfully.

I know that there are times when I am unclear about why I’m dong something. It may be a task: am I doing this ironing because it’s piled up and I should, or because I want to clear it and I’m in the mood? Once I’ve identified my own contradictory thoughts about it, I can choose which version of my intention to follow – or to leave the task until I’m genuinely ready to approach it in a positive way.

Of course, the same applies to interactions with others. We’ve all had those times where we’ve arranged to meet someone and then, as the time got nearer, wished we hadn’t. If we go into that situation without cleaning up our intention, we will be half-hearted in our connection and both sides will be dissatisfied.

Unclean intentions always result in muddied communication – a little sharpness in the voice tone, a lacklustre response, a misunderstood comment – which in turn can lead easily into disagreement or disappointment.

This doesn’t mean that we have to always approach everything in a positive way – it just means we think about what will work best for us, what outcome we want from the situation, which thread of our possibilities to follow, so it’s not accidental.

Those few moments asking myself what outcome I intend from anything I engage in can make my life easier and more enjoyable – and that’s always my intention!!

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TALKING STORY

In Hawaiian tradition, there is something beyond normal conversation. It is called talking story. It means creating a meaningful conversation with others by sharing stories from your life and their importance to you, or discussing things that really matter to you in a truthful and open way.

It is an exposure of aspects of who you really are, an intimate form of relating to others.

I love it – I have always preferred ‘big talk’, and this is big talk, with a built-in respect for each other’s points of view and differences.  When someone talks story with you, there is an understanding that their openness and honesty is received as a gift and the listener is non-judgemental, respectful and reciprocating, sharing their stories too.

During my recent visit to Maui, I was honoured in this way by Normand, a friend who lives there. He sat with me to talk story before dinner one evening, and chose to trust me with the stories of some very significant events in his life, ones that had changed his view of what life is about, and who we really are. The stories fascinated me, delighted me, moved me, and expanded my view of Normand to the fullness of what a lovely man he is – and I already thought he was lovely!

As I responded to his stories, so he took me further into them, showing me ‘treasures’ associated with them, and showing me his soul. It was genuinely heart connection: a sharing of our human-ness, our divinity, our uniqueness and our commonality.

This experience reminded me again that when we open our true selves to others, we share a richness that ordinary conversation just doesn’t give us. Talking story connects us to others in a loving, compassionate, honest way, and helps us to appreciate the wonder of human beings.

I received a gift beyond any price, and it will stay with me as a significant moment in my life, something to treasure. Thank you, Normand!

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THE INTELLECT IS A GREAT SERVANT BUT A POOR MASTER

 I was blessed and cursed with a strong intellect. The blessing is that I am bright and can learn quickly, and I can usually find a good argument for almost anything. The curse is that it can lead me to ignore my intuition and my heart.

I have had to cultivate and consciously grow my awareness of my true emotions – my heart – and my inner knowing – my intuition. I did this over the years, not because I am clever but because my cleverness didn’t bring me a happy and contented life.

We may have the ability to be logical and analytical, and this can be very useful. We can ‘work things out’ and do the pro’s and con’s on situations. But this is only using one part of our brain – the conscious mind – and it is a small percentage of who we are.

When it comes down to it, our decisions are usually based on emotion, not logic, so we need to understand and allow our emotions, and listen to our intuition. A great example of this is finding a home. We work out what we need, what we afford, but our final choice is, more often than not, based on how we feel about places we look at. The intellect gives us some parameters, but it cannot calibrate our feelings, and they are what will lead us to a real home as opposed to just somewhere to live.

In fact, as the master of the situation, our intellect can often lead us to indecision, fear, or even paralysis. It can tie us up in knots with its ability to analyse the situation, and we can end up not acting at all to make any change.

So, cultivate your emotions, ask your heart not your mind, to make final decisions. We may have a bright mind, but we all have an even brighter intuition, and it is the gift that leads us into happier, more enjoyable lives.

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20-20 VISION

Nobody knows yet what this year holds in store for us, so we have the opportunity to create at least our part of the vision of 2020.

I chose to call this 20-20 vision because it has the implication of perfect or ideal – and we all need to shoot for the stars in creating our story. If we aim to make things a bit better – or, even worse, not so bad – we are setting a very low bar. Better to set a high bar and not quite reach it – it’ll still be closer to that ideal.

So, the first question is: how do you want to be in 2020? This sets the tone for the other aspects of your creation of your story. Your answers will be descriptions of how you want to feel as you go thrugh the year. Examples might be: happy; healthy; calm; active; kind.

Then we can go on to the next question: what can you do to help yourself to be like that? Notice that this question emphasises the actions you can take for yourself. If the way you want to be depends on external influences, such as other people, or a good job, or a change of government, you will have already made yourself a victim of circumstance, rather than the creator of your own story.

I think it is useful to look at the different aspects of yourself in this next set of answers. Firstly, what can you do to help your mind stay in a positive, constructive attitude? Then, what can you do to help your body feel good? And finally, what can you do to keep your spirits good – ways of feeding your soul?

At this point it is useful to consider how others can help you to help yourself. Not depending on others actions doesn’t mean we have to do it all by ourselves.  We can ask for practical and/or moral support from others. Examples might be finding a ‘buddy’ to do some physical activity with, or asking a friend or partner to encourage you by noticing when you’ve done well in your intentions.

All of this is about making your everyday life closer to the story you want to have, because that’s what makes the most difference to how we feel. A wish list is all very well, but it’s every day that we create the story of our lies most consistently.

So come on, set a 2020 vision for yourself and decide to make it a good year for you, no matter what happens!

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GIFTS WE ARE GIVEN

At this time of year, everyone seems to be thinking about Christmas gifts. Today I am thinking about the real gifts we are offered, should we choose to take them.

My beloved teacher, and latterly friend and soul brother, Ram Dass died yesterday. I am sad that I will never see him in the flesh again, but glad that he is freed from the constraints of his body and his soul is soaring.

He lives in my heart and in my way of being in the world, as he does for many others, because he showered us with gifts. These are the most valuable gifts we are given: the example of how to live life well, how to care for others, how to be compassionate, how to be a real human being and not pretend. Above all he showed every day in every way how to love.

Ram Dass was a storyteller, using stories from his life to remind us of the necessary fallibility of being human, and the possibility of truly loving without prejudice. He was also a constant living example of what that means in practice.

I remember one time he told me that he loved his mug of tea, his wheelchair, and me. I laughed and said I didn’t think I could love a mug as much as him – and he said, ‘And when you do, you will really have got love. It is universal, not particular.’

He was a teacher who had a great sense of humour – he loved teasing and being teased, and enjoyed the thought of being a rascal. Life was too important to be taken seriously, to paraphrase a friend of his! It was fun to be around him and he appreciated those who would laugh with him.

And above all he was a human being – being here and now, always present with you, with whatever was going on. He taught me so much about how to be, and that will live on, in me, in others. I don’t need any other gifts – thank you, my beloved Ram Dass…

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WHAT GIVES US HOPE

My dad died recently, of old age – 97 – and I was lucky enough to be with him for his final days. Through this experience, I have had a grand dose of the incredible kindness of other people.

I had loving support and kindness from friends and family, but also from the doctor, the district nurses – thanks to our NHS! – the funeral director, the minister who took the service for his funeral, his neighbours, the lovely lady who cleaned for him, and then those people who deal with all the paperwork and processes post-death.

Everyone I’ve encountered has been helpful, considerate and supportive, and between them they have made the whole business easier to deal with.

I am sometimes questioned on my belief in the essential goodness of human beings, but yet again I have been reminded of just how lovely people can be, and not just those closest to you, but also complete strangers who have no emotional attachment.

It gives me hope for our world in the midst of the noisy surface chaos and mess and lack of care, because lying just beneath that surface is compassion and warmth. When we relate to each other from our hearts, we remind each other that we may have created the mess, but we can also create the solutions between us, because we are essentially caring beings.

Yet again I am reminded to stay with my optimism that we can create a better world.

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BE A LEARNER

My daddy loved to learn. He thrived at school and at college. As a small boy, he taught himself to make model aeroplanes. When in the RAF, he took up fencing, horse riding, sailing and ballroom dancing, as well as doing the day job.

When he got married and had a family, he learned how to do DIY, service his own car, grow fruit and veg, and do dressmaking. When computers first became available, he had one of the earliest models and even taught himself how to programme it as well as use it.

And in his later years, he decided to train as a reiki master, and researched not just that, but also nutrition, meditation and Wiccan.

The result, besides being multi-talented and able to turn his hand to anything, was that in his 90’s, he was still as bright as a button, with all his mental faculties. Even 2 days before he died, he was still giving me instructions on what to do with his things, and explaining how to make the perfect gin and tonic!

He was a great role model for the benefits of keeping the mind active and exercising its plasticity.

And it meant that he would constantly surprise me. He was set in his ways as far as habits were concerned and liked his routines, but mentally he expanded his horizons. For example, when Brexit came along, my dad – a conservative all his life – extolled the benefits of being in the EU, with more cogent reasons than any politician. I also got a full lecture on herbal supplements and their uses when I kept getting colds!

Staying active mentally, being curious about other possible points of view or approaches, exploring anything that interests you – these all give us not just knowledge, but also a level of wisdom, and enable us to be truly alive.

So let’s keep learning..

Dedicated to my beloved daddy, who died on 10th November 2019 of just old age,

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