Tag Archives | beliefs

PEACE ON EARTH, GOODWILL TO ALL

This blog is called Ways of Remembering. In our world today, I think it’s worth remembering what Christmas really stands for. The message that accompanies the birth of Christ is simple and profound: peace on earth, goodwill to all.

It isn’t Christmas trees or presents; it isn’t overindulgence in food and drink; it isn’t spending money, going into debt. Jesus set the example of a different mind-set, and whether we believe in him or not, it’s a great example that we can all attempt to follow.

He demonstrated by example that everyone has value and deserves kindness, no matter how different from you they may be. He used stories to remind people that it may be the outcast or stranger who actually lives the values we say we have, and those who claim the highest ground often use it to exclude or condemn others, rather than to help others to be in the same place. This is what goodwill to all looks like – inclusiveness and kindness.

Jesus also famously said, ‘Turn the other cheek’. This is often interpreted as weakness or submission, but I think it simply means: stand in your place, but don’t fight for it. If we truly believe we have got it right, we have no need to prove it to others, or try to force them to agree with us . We are more likely to influence another person by being our truth than by trying to convince them with words. This is peace on earth.

So this Christmas, let’s be kind and warm with others – (and ourselves!). Let’s be the best we can be, and let others be how they are without judgement. Let’s have some peace and goodwill, at least within our own sphere of influence!

May you have a peaceful, warm and joyous Christmas time..

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WHAT WE CAN ACCEPT

Recently, I’ve become acutely aware of how we all get sucked into accepting or ignoring things which go against our personal values, because of the selfish gains we have from doing so. We have some very astute organisations out there that create for themselves a place in our lives and become almost indispensable. And then they stretch the boundaries of decency to suit their own ends – usually good profit margins – and we go along with it because they do make our lives easier.

This can range from banks – ‘too big to fail’ – that helped cause the financial crisis ten years ago and still behave in similar ways, to companies that exploit their workers to offer us cheap products and services and avoid paying fair tax, and even to the organisations we work for – we have a job so accept the bullying, over-stretching, the drive for profit at all costs.

I don’t say this from a place of moral high ground. I still use Amazon, Sky, and no doubt other organisations whose behaviour I would object to if I found out more about it. I’m just raising the question, because it bothers me.

After long conversations around it, I have decided to delete my Facebook account, as has my son, and our company page as well. The description, in the TV programme Dispatches, of their acceptance of groups with extreme views, and those who post extreme cruelty and violence, because such things are supported by a lot of people who stay on for long enough to make the advertisers add to the company profit – that was a step too far for me. But it is relatively easy for me to do – they don’t have me pulled in as far as they have with many. I don’t have much of a presence there anyway. I don’t use it to advertise my wares, or to keep in touch with people.

So I’m left asking myself to what extent I am willing to do without the convenience of using organisations whose values I regard as unethical, in order to maintain my own values. At the least, I hope I can be conscious enough of the issue to avoid any more of them sneaking into my life and becoming too useful to let go of.

I want to play my part in helping to make this world we live in a better place and I’ll keep having a go. It’s all we can do I guess – take the steps we can to challenge the norm of accepting compromise on our values for the sake of convenience.

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THE CHRISTMAS STORY

Those who know me will know that I’m not much into Christmas – it’s surely not my favourite time of year. Yet each time it comes around, I appreciate the reminder that Christmas – and maybe life in general – is not really about presents and food – it’s to celebrate the birth of Jesus. And that story is a story about miracles, angels appearing, kings and shepherds being equally welcome, compassion, and love.

Whether we believe it or not, it is a story of the potential we have as humans, and calls out to us each time, to live up to our potential. It’s not difficult to be compassionate, to treat everyone equally, to love others – it comes naturally to us. And if we choose to, we can notice the ‘miracles’ in our world, the synchronicities and coincidences, the gentle touch of angels, and the fundamental call and support to the best in ourselves.

This Christmas, let’s remember that love comes first, that miracles can happen, that there is more to being human than the news would suggest.

May your Christmas be joyous and loving!

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THE SPIRIT OF THE PLACE

Whilst on holiday I was reminded of how significant the spirit of a place really is. There are some ancient buildings that just feel good to be in, and others that you don’t want to linger in. there are streets that feel tranquil, others feel vibrant, and some that just provide a passageway to something else, or even feel hostile.

We don’t usually take the time to notice these differences consciously, yet we are all affected by them to some extent. And it is the human imprint that makes these differences: the activity, general mood, attitude, of those who have been there over time. Each one of us leaves a little of ourselves in wherever we visit.

A clear example of this is a church or temple. Many of them (although not all) have a feeling of tranquillity, of calm, and have a quietening effect on us. We sit for a little while, and add our own moment of stillness to their atmosphere, as people have done since they were built, even if we are not religious.

And this made me think about how we imprint our own homes. All the perfect décor and beautiful objects you can buy don’t make a home. It becomes a home when we express our individuality, our history, our attitude, in some of the things we choose to have round us. And then its spirit grows from the imprint of us and how we live there`; how much love, how much laughter, how much warmth, how much calm, how much care – OK, I know you’ve got what I’m saying now!

Now sometimes I’m frustrated, fed up, irritable, upset, in my home. That taints its spirit for a while. So from now on, I intend to burn a little sage or incense, or open up all the windows and doors, to ‘freshen it up’ more quickly. I know the general spirit of my place is lovey, warm and welcoming – and I can make it even better, by paying it more attention.

What about you??

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THE POWER OF LOVE

Sometimes we forget something that we all know in our hearts – that love is the most powerful, all-pervasive feeling in our universe.

We don’t generally talk much about love; we keep it down at a smaller level: like, quite fond of, pretty good. It’s almost as if we are wary of the bigness of it, protecting ourselves from having such a strong emotion, perceiving it as a bit risky to open ourselves up that much.

And that’s understandable. Loving is often a place of vulnerability; if we open our hearts for love, we are also open for hurt or rejection, or sadness. And yet if we keep our hearts closed, we miss the joy, the passion, the power of loving – and these are what feed our soul.

They are also the emotions that keep us physically healthy. Science has shown that positive emotions create chemicals in our bodies that boost our immune system, keep our organs healthy, and help us to fight off illness.

In my experience the positives of love far outweigh the risks. Our hearts can recover from heartbreak, but they wither when kept closed.

And we can practise lots of our loving without any fear of rejection. Nature never says no thank you to love and thrives on loving attention. A delicious meal, a wonderful perfume, a warm fluffy sweater, a beautiful piece of art, an inspiring piece of music – let’s love them rather than limiting them to quite nice, and feed our souls with that feeling. When we do, the world seems brighter, more benevolent, prejudices are overcome, fear is dissipated.

And maybe we can then love other people in the same way – not as a tit for tat kind of thing: ‘I’ll love you some, if you show you love me some’ – but just because they are fellow human beings. They will have the free gift of our loving warmth towards them, which they will feel even if they don’t know it. And we will have big warm hearts because giving love feeds us too.

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ARE YOUR PREJUDICES USEFUL?

In our culture, prejudice has become a dirty word, suggesting that we are not ‘politically correct’, and that we are prejudiced for superficial reasons. Yet we do all have prejudices – we couldn’t manage without them.

A prejudice is simply a pre-formed assumption we make about the person or situation ahead of us, which sets the tone for how we approach it. It is based partly on our cultural upbringing, and partly on our own previous experience

Without our prejudices, we would find life almost impossible, having to assess the situation at hand afresh every time. It would be as if all our memory and experience were erased after each action we took, and we had to build the story from scratch each time.

Our prejudices give us a starting point for any given situation, based on what we already know. For example, we assume our friends want to spend time with us, care about what happens to us, and wish us well. So we look forward to seeing them or speaking with them, and expect sympathy if we have a problem and tell them about it. What these prejudices give us is a form of lens through which we view what happens: we notice all the evidence that these assumptions are true, and build our prejudices further.

So the question isn’t whether we have any prejudices; it is whether our prejudices are useful. For sure, being prejudiced towards expecting our friends to behave in certain ways is useful to us. Making the assumption that a meeting is bound to be difficult or boring may be less so!

Our prejudices are not set in stone, so we can choose to keep or discard the prejudices we have, and to create new ones that could serve us well, once we are aware of how they affect the way we see situations and people.

For me, a useful way to consider our prejudices is to distinguish between the ones we have for something and the ones we have against something. Many of those we have against something are not based on our experience primarily – they tend to be about things or people we don’t really know much about. On the other hand prejudices towards certain things tends to be based on our experience of it being useful to us.

An example would be how as children most of us are told not to speak to strangers. This may be a useful prejudice for a child – although possibly not to be applied to everyone they don’t know! – but as a grown-up the residue of this prejudice against strangers can be a real handicap. It would mean that we are wary of anyone we don’t know and approach interaction with them with some trepidation – that is a severe limitation on us as social animals. And of course, the alternative is to make the assumption that most strangers are good people who could be friends and will probably be helpful and pleasant – a much nicer way to be in the world!

A prejudice colours how we approach our everyday lives, so let’s make these colours bright and enjoy how that makes the world a brighter place. I find my prejudices are generally pretty useful to me – how about you?

 

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THE SECRET TO LIVING TO A RIPE OLD AGE

Sometimes you meet someone who inspires you in the most unexpected way. My friend Jean and I go to the silver screen cinema showings on Wednesdays and always have a cup of coffee in the nearby coffee shop beforehand. A woman who also goes to those screenings has begun to stop and have a chat when she sees us sat outside in the sunshine.

She surprised us the first time she stopped – in Britain we don’t usually engage with strangers! And she just said, ‘You two look happy!’ We laughed and said there were plenty of reasons to be happy that morning: sunshine and warmth, good coffee and company, and a movie to look forward to. She agreed and added some of her own: being healthy, enjoying life, being lucky enough to be able to do something fun on a Wednesday morning.

Over the weeks, we have gradually built that conversation, and each time she reminds me that it is the simple things in life that make the most difference.

How you choose to view the world

The big picture of how you view the world sets the context. Believing that this world of ours is there to delight us, not horrify us, that it is full of lovely things designed to please and support us – this provides the framework for everything else.

It is a big golden assumption: that life on earth is intended to be a good experience.

Noticing the good things

We often pay most attention to the things that upset or offend us. Instead we can actively notice the good things: it is a bit of a grey day, but it is warm enough not to have to wear a coat; I was feeling a little bit fed up, but then a friend phoned me and we ended up laughing.

This links to the idea behind a gratitude journal: to just write down 5-10 things that you can be thankful for today.

Looking for reasons to be happy

This is about actively adding in small things that make you happy, to consciously change your mood: buying yourself a good cup of coffee; calling a friend for a chat; wearing a favourite piece of clothing or jewellery.

Appreciating the simple things in life

This links to the previous point. We don’t need to spend lots of money or have lots of stuff to be happy – the best things in life are free! If we care to look around we can easily find things that make us feel good: a nice dinner we have cooked; flowers looking and smelling beautiful; birds singing for us; a favourite perfume or cologne; the feel of a lovely fresh warm bed.

Expecting people to be friendly

As our new friend has said: ‘I’m 85 years old, and in my life, I have found that most people are friendly.’ Most people respond to how we expect them to be, and life is much more pleasant if we expect them to be friendly and helpful. This means that we make lots of connections with people, which is good for our health, because friendly contact with others automatically raises our oxytocin level – one of our natural health-giving chemicals.

Saying ‘Oh well – never mind’

All this sounds very ‘rose-tinted spectacles’, only noticing the good bits. And we all know that sometimes things feel shitty! It’s about keeping it in perspective. We often let the shitty bits take over our perspective and taint our point of view.

Instead, life will go better if we acknowledge them, then let them go: ‘ I fell over this morning and bruised myself badly. Oh well, never mind.’ ‘Someone upset me with what they said yesterday. Oh well, never mind – it’s a new day today.’

Recalling good memories

When things don’t feel so good, we always have available to us a treasure trove of stored good memories. When we recall them or recount them to someone else, they help us to re-live those good times and perk us up. Old photos will prompt them, or old treasured objects, or particular music.

So the secret is…

Above all, find reasons to be happy and make your life enjoyable. This is not la-la-land; it is how we keep the health-giving chemicals running through our bodies. Research has shown that those who make connection with others, those who appreciate nature, those who have a positive outlook, stay healthier, live longer, and enjoy their lives.

None of this is difficult to achieve. The things that make the difference are available to all of us, regardless of our circumstances. The only thing that stops us is our way of thinking about things.

So what are your 10 reasons to be happy today?

 

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WHEN CHAOS REIGNS, WHAT DO WE DO?

Living in Britain right now is not a pleasant experience. More of our taken-for-granted’s have been turned upside down than most people realise yet, as a result of power politics, fabrications and fear-mongering. At a time like this, it is hard to see a way through that will lead to anything good.

It is tempting to despair, to feel powerless, to give in to the fear. And yes, I have had my rants about corrupt politics, false democracy, short-sightedness and provoking the worst of people’s fears and prejudices.

And now it is time to take stock. We cannot undo what is done; we can only let the dust settle and see what we can do to make a positive difference to what we now have.

This level of chaos can happen to all of us personally during our lifetimes: we lose our job, or our home; our relationship breaks up or a loved one dies; we become seriously ill. Any of these will turn our world upside down and leave us in despair. Let’s apply the wisdom of learning from our personal experience to what’s going on at a national level.

What happens when we deal with a crisis well?

Firstly we need to step back and lick our wounds. That means allowing emotions to run their course and become more manageable, whilst treating ourselves gently to help ourselves to recover from the shock.

By stepping back, we are able to see what is left that we can use or salvage. So the next step is to take those things out of the chaos and identify what we can now create with them to use as our starting point. It will not be the same as before, but the chaos does tend to reveal some things we had forgotten about or taken for granted that can help us to deal with the situation. For example, friends rally round and offer support, and we re-discover our own passion and determination that had got buried in routine and habitual behaviour.

Now we have a foundation on which to create a revised version of our life that works better for us. Through the chaos, we discover what is really important to us, and what is just window-dressing. We realise which of our personal characteristics are most helpful to us, and which are just conditioned responses. And we recognise the genuine support we have from others and can let go of the ‘fair weather’ friends who are only there when everything is going well for us.

For most of us, when we look back at times of chaos in our lives, we can see that the chaos led to a better version of who we are and how our life is.

For now, chaos reigns in Britain. Let’s all play our part by letting the dust settle, allowing ourselves to recover, and then using our personal ability to create something better. Our government has been questionable, our financial institutions have been shaky, our social values have been corroded for a while. Maybe now we can help to ensure that we don’t have the same story in a slightly different form, but insist on upholding the things that really matter, and create a new and improved version of this world of ours.

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WHO DO YOU TELL YOURSELF YOU ARE?

I remember being told when I was at school that first impressions count, and I needed to be aware that people would make an instant judgement about me when they met me. (I was told this because I was not behaving ‘properly enough’ for a Queen’s School girl, as far as the headmistress was concerned, and would let the school’s reputation down!)

We all know we do that instant judgement: how someone is dressed, their manner towards us, the way they speak – these things all do give us an instant impression of the person, and we tend to react to them on the basis of this information.

As the object of such assessment on an everyday basis, what message are you giving about yourself? We can choose how we present ourselves to the world, although if we try to be something that doesn’t fit us, it is hard work for us and unconvincing for others.

However there is one person whom you are telling about who you are all the time, and that’s you! You are most influenced by how you choose to present yourself, and this is a gift, because it gives us an opportunity to easily help ourselves to be who we really want to be, in a way that fits us.

Every day you tell yourself who you are by what you choose to wear, what possessions you have in your home, how you treat yourself, how you treat others, what you give your attention to.

None of us are really a set personality, despite what those personality tests tell us! We are a mixture of characteristics, some obvious, some latent, and none of it is set in stone. I know – I was one of the shyest girls in my class at school, until the headmistress insisted that I read in assembly, because I was good at reading out loud. I got used to doing this, and found that big audiences didn’t hold any fear for me any more, and also that others in my school were so grateful that I did this job that they became more friendly towards me – it was the beginning of becoming the bold extrovert I am now!! (And clearly that headmistress did me some favours, as well as telling me off frequently for not being ‘proper’ enough!)

We can develop that mixture of who we are however we want to. And an easy way to break out of the spell of how we’ve been brought up to be is to represent a ‘hidden’ part of ourselves in how we dress, or what we decide to buy for our living room, or through an activity we experiment with.

Do you wish you could be more light-hearted? Buy a quirky tie to go with that grey suit, or an outrageous pair of earrings to wear for work! Do you wish you could be more outgoing? Smile at everyone you pass in the street for a day – actually catch their eye when possible and smile. Do you wish you could be more at peace? Find colours, music, objects, that help you to calm down, and fill your living room with such things.

Every time we put something on, do something, look at something in our immediate surroundings that we have put there, we are telling ourselves who we are. If we want to grow into our full beautiful selves, we can help the process by surrounding ourselves with the richest possible expression of who we are.

Don’t limit who you think you are to the version you thought you ought to be or were told you were. You are a wonderful rich tapestry of characteristics – be who you really are in all its glory!

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HAVE YOU GOT A SACRED SPACE?

We all know what someone means when they describe somewhere as a hellhole, yet I don’t think we are as clear about what it means to have a sacred space. We get it muddled with religious things instead of recognising sacred spaces as essential to our well-being.

Sacred means holy or blessed. It has come to be associated with churches and temples, yet there are so many more sacred spaces than that – and not all those spaces designated as sacred have the real feeling of a truly sacred space.

For me, a sacred space has the immediate effect of calming and quieting me. It has an atmosphere imbued with peace and comfort, where we can settle and re-centre ourselves. It is by this effect that I would say we recognise the sacred spaces.

They may be old churches or cathedrals, they may be Buddhist or Hindu temples, they may be a synagogue or a mosque – any such buildings that seem to have the air and stones filled with peace and goodwill.

On the other hand, a sacred space could be out in nature – maybe a site of ancient worship, or maybe just a place blessed by being allowed to maintain its natural state of grace, calm and perspective. There are meadows, woodlands, hilltops, valleys, riverbanks, beaches, that just elicit an ‘Aaah!’ from us when we reach that space and sit in it for a moment.

These sacred spaces are important for our well-being. When life is busy, hectic, turbulent, we all benefit from a little while in a place that exudes calm.

So recognise and take advantage of the ones that work for you, and seek them out, to soothe your soul.

And consider the possibility of creating a sacred space of your own. I created a labyrinth in one of my gardens – you don’t need to go that far!! Just dedicate a small part of your garden, or of an indoors room, as a sacred space for you. Put beautiful, peace-provoking things in it to look at or feel, and make it easy to sit there for a while. Give it your own blessing, in your own way.

We all deserve moments of peace and calm in our lives, and sacred spaces give us that for free, so use them and add your moment of peace to the sacred atmosphere there.

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