Tag Archives | useful thinking

THE THEATRE OF THE ABSURD

Many years ago, I studied the theatre of the absurd. Now I am living in it! We have a prime minster who looks like a clown, sounds like an advert spouting slogans and leads like a drunkard who has a ‘good idea’ – a less extreme yet equally unimpressive version of ‘crazy uncle’ Trump. His cohort in government is no better – they all seem more like caricatures than real human beings, and seem to be driven by the belief that if they spout their nonsense often enough, we will all fit in to their story.

If we go out anywhere, most people have face-coverings – remember when that was weird? – and we attempt to stay away from other people as much as possible. And we are all under threat from something we can’t see and we don’t understand.

It’s amazing we are coping as well as we are!

In this live version of the theatre of the absurd, I find it helpful to re-focus on my own corner of this world, and do what I can to give myself a sense of meaning, purpose and enjoyment. Despite the restrictions and the nonsense, I can still have contact with friends, work on my garden, do my writing, and enjoy the natural world as it goes about its normal natural flow. I can maintain and build and enjoyable and purposeful daily life that feels real, rather than being caught up in the absurd melodrama.

Focussing on what we have, rather than what we don’t have, what we can do as opposed to what we can’t do, paying attention to the things that really matter to us, ensuring that we have enjoyable moments in the day, keeping ourselves as fit and healthy as we can – these are the things that will bring us through this period of absurdity, and maybe then we can reach a point where we are in the theatre of enlightenment instead of the theatre of the absurd.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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THANK GOD FOR A SENSE OF HUMOUR!

I wrote a while ago about how kindness is good for us, and how it is showing its face more and more as this crisis goes on. The other aspect of our characters that is really useful at this time is our sense of humour.

They say laughter is the best medicine, and science backs this up – laughing releases health-giving chemicals into our bodies, and also helps us to let go of stress.

And there are streams of funny memes, tweets and video clips doing the rounds, to bring a smile to our faces. The TV channels have picked out some old sitcoms to replay in the space created by programmes that can’t now happen – they will certainly make some people laugh at them again. All of this will help keep us sane and in perspective, when everything else seems so serious and worrying.

And we can all play our part. We can actively choose to watch or listen to things that make us laugh. And we can tell others of the funny or absurd or silly things we’ve done or experienced while staying at home – I’ve done some, haven’t you?

I covered myself in dark green paint when I dropped the can and tried to catch it before it spilt, while painting the fence. It took ages to get it off my skin and there is still some on the clothes I was wearing. And I was glad there was no-one there to see me and I didn’t have to go out in public!

At the very least, we can smile at each other and say hello, even from two metres away! We don’t have to avoid emotional contact, only physical, so let’s spread more smiles, which are the beginning of laughter, when we are out for exercise or shopping.

We are living in absurd times – lets recognise the absurdity as well as the less positive aspects of it.

Find a reason to laugh today.

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THE THINGS WE TAKE FOR GRANTED

It’s strange times we live in. Being asked to stay at home except for essential trips, and to maintain social distancing are great reminders of the normal things we take for granted.

A minor example: my watch stopped working, and I would usually pop into town and get a new battery inserted – but the places that do that are closed. No one is having their hair trimmed or their nails done. There are no yoga classes or gyms –and yes, you can find replacements to do it remotely on-line, but it’s not the same.

And the biggest gap in our normality is all those casual relationships that we don’t even think of – the everyday human contact, with shop assistants, people in the street, the postman or delivery person, the other people at the gym or class. They are only brief exchanges, and we may not even know their name, but they enliven our days and often give us reason to smile.

We are biologically designed to interconnect with others – it is a basic human drive. The upturn in the use of zoom, facetime, skype etc. is an indicator of that. People are making a big effort to keep in touch with those they are close to. But these other relationships are also really important – I’m certainly missing them.

So maybe in future, when we are able to go about our normal daily business, we will take a little more time to appreciate the simple human interactions we take for granted: speak to the bank clerk, the shop assistant, the people who smile on the street, the refuse collectors, the delivery person. They all contribute to our well-being and our need to be connected, to have human contact.

(By the way, since I wrote this, I have had a house fire – and it means I have had to move in with my son and daughter-in-law until the repairs can be done. I now have a greater sympathy with those who are not in their own home with those things we take for granted – so please appreciate your own bed, your own chairs etc. They also contribute to our wellbeing and make our home our own place of peace and refuge – so love being with them during this period!)

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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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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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