Tag Archives | improving life

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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FRIENDSHIP

It’s the growing season for us gardeners. I have little plants making their way in the garden, in my conservatory, and I do my best to nurture them, so they can grow strong and healthy. I water them, feed them, and check on them regularly. If they’re not doing very well, I try to find a way to help them recover themselves. My reward will be some lovely vegetables to eat, and some beautiful flowers filling my garden with scent and colour.

What has this to do with friendship? Well, it’s made me think about how we need to nurture our friendships as well, if we want the benefits of those strong, healthy relationships.

I am very lucky: I have a number of really good friends. They are valuable to me, and have been a saving grace for me over the last year or so particularly. And I don’t take them for granted.

Nurturing friendships means checking in regularly – that phone call to say how are you doing when they cross your mind. It means accepting and taking notice if friends are going through a rough patch, and offering the sympathy that makes them feel heard. It means encouraging the change of perspective that shared laughter can bring. It means celebrating with them when things go well for them.

Real friendships also need honesty about our ups and downs. If I don’t ever admit to bad moods, being upset, or just ‘off’ for no good reason, nor can my friends with me. If I don’t say how I’m over the moon about something daft like finishing a hard jigsaw, they can’t tell me about the perfect loaf of bread they made and how chuffed they are.

And when you know that you can be just however you are that day with a friend, it allows us to relax into the moment, allow bad moods to pass, enjoy the good moods, and look forward to each other’s company no matter what.

My friends are fab – thank you! And I hope I am a good friend most of the time, but there is always more we can do to nurture those relationships. It’s worth it, the rewards are great.

So, who’s crossing your mind as you read this? Give them a call, ask them how they’re doing, bring a little extra sunshine into their life today – they deserve it for being a friend.

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LIFE IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT

As we begin to work our way out of lockdown, it would be easy to resume our ‘normal’ way of life. But we have had an opportunity to assess that normality during this period, and it seems to me vital that we use that assessment to make our lives better.

I have re-evaluated my priorities, learnt to pay more attention to the simple pleasures of life, and realised that ‘got to’s’ and ‘should’s’ never lead to a satisfying conclusion – as a starter!

There are few things that I have really missed during lockdown: mostly, hugs and face-to face contact, and going to the hairdresser!

For me, the piece I have objected to most is not being able to decide for myself what I can and can’t do, so I don’t want to go back to an automatic programming of my previous behaviour either – that is another form of following rules rather than choosing. I want to be conscious of what I do and don’t engage with again.

I am looking forward to taking back control of my life and deciding for myself what I keep in it that I have gained from lockdown, and what I re-introduce from before that time. And I’d encourage you to do the same.

So come on, let’s make it a better normal this time round, both individually and collectively, in every way we can. Isn’t that what it’s all been about, really – a wake-up call to re-assess how we live our lives?

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SPRING FORWARD

When I was young and the clocks changed, my mum always used to say: ‘Spring forward, fall back’, to remind us which way they went. Well, we’ve just had ‘spring forward’ and I thought it was a good metaphor for where we are now.

The lockdown is gradually easing, more of us are now vaccinated and given some protection from the virus, the days are longer and milder – all forward movement.

And let’s continue to move forward, not backwards. I don’t want to ‘go back to normal’ – that’s not moving forward. Let’s take this opportunity that’s been given to us to evolve the way we live our lives.

I want to continue to appreciate the simple delights of life that became so obvious during this period: a new flower blooming in the garden; someone phoning unexpectedly for a chat; a bird singing its heart out; a good movie.

And I want to continue and expand upon my appreciation of the company and support of friends, without whom this period would have been unbearable.

We have all been reminded that life is unpredictable, so let’s live our lives to the full, and give those we love the heartfelt hugs we have missed so much.

Let’s work less and love more. Let’s moan less and laugh more. Lets’ ignore less and care more. Let’s spring forward.

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JUST ONE SMALL ACT OF KINDNESS

The other day three different people were kind to me. It wasn’t ‘big stuff’ – just small acts of kindness and thoughtfulness. I wasn’t having a great day, and it transformed the feel of the day. I felt cared for, appreciated, loved. And it made me think about how powerful kindness is.

We don’t have to become saints to be kind. It comes naturally to human beings, particularly when we switch on our caring button – the part of us that listens to and cares about other human beings. It is an important element of our inter-connectedness, and we gain almost as much from being kind to others as we do from them being kind to us.

Physically the act of kindness produces the same chemicals in both parties – and even in those who just observe an act of kindness – the ‘happy’ hormones. And these create that feeling of worth, gratitude, appreciation, thus enhancing our mood.

Right now, we all need kindness – it has been a tough year for most. So make that small effort: phone someone and say something of your appreciation of them to make them glow; give a stranger a compliment as you pass them on the street; offer to help a friend with a chore; move something heavy for someone who isn’t as strong as you – the possibilities are endless.  

And really show your appreciation for the small, everyday acts of kindness that others offer you. Let them know that it helped to make your day a good day.

And of course, don’t forget to be kind to yourself as well. When we ‘let ourselves off’, give ourselves a break, we make ourselves feel better.

If we all just did one small act of kindness every day, we could transform the world!

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CAN YOU STILL SMILE?

My friend Rebecca and I were talking a short while ago, discussing, as we all do, the effects of the pandemic. We got into the subject of masks and how they affect our interactions.

Not only do glasses steam up when we wear them, and our verbal communication become less clear, but they also significantly affect our non-verbal communication. We all express our emotions most strongly through our body language and our facial expressions – but half our faces are now covered a lot of the time in our interactions.

So we don’t see each other smile or grimace in that unconscious way we used to, giving us feedback about others’ reactions. It requires us to be conscious, if we want to come past that barrier to making friendly contact with others.

If I really want to smile at someone, I have to make sure that I take that smile beyond my mouth and put it into my eyes and into the tone of my voice. And I need to look at others directly, and notice their voice tone, what their eyes are saying.

We have learnt almost to do the opposite: we look away from people so we don’t breathe the same air, and we are already feeling isolated from others because of the mask, so often we will retreat into our own world.

Yet we also all miss that human contact – with loved ones of course, but also all the peripheral relationships we have, with people in shops, on the street, in transport.

So let’s make a real effort to show our friendly smiles and provoke others into smiling too. Light your eyes up, soften your voice tone, smile at people despite the masks.

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