Tag Archives | values

APPRECIATING OR JUDGING?

I was listening to a talk by Ram Dass, my teacher, the other day, and he said something that I found really challenging, about appreciating difference. He was proposing that we needed to learn how to simply appreciate the difference between different people who weren’t like us, rather than judging them as better or worse. He compared it to how we are with plants: we appreciate their diverse beauty and distinctiveness rather than judge them.

My initial reaction was to agree with him and castigate myself because I certainly judge other people some of the time.

As I thought about it more, I began to wish that he were here in the flesh, so I could debate it with him! I am good at appreciating our differences to a certain level: different histories, cultures, skin colour, shape, interests talents. I enjoy meeting people who are different from me because it is an opportunity to widen my own horizons.

The sticking point comes when they demonstrate values or behaviours which are at odds with my core values. I cannot accept cruelty, abuse, manipulation, misuse of power, to name a few. These go against values which are fundamental in every religion.

I then went back to the plants! I love my diverse mix of plants, I love woodland, but there are some plants which are definitely thugs! They may look attractive in the first place, but they take over the space, bullying other plants and using up the goodness of the soil. These ones I have to take out.

Now I know Ram Dass well enough to know that he would say that we should look past the behaviour and see that the soul of that person who’s behaving badly is either a ‘young soul’ that we could feel sorry for, that it has this incarnation, or that it has come to each us a lesson by being a nasty person, so we can remember what goodness and kindness is.

He was an amazing being, who could do that a lot of the time. I’m not there yet. I do judge some people for their behaviour and find it unacceptable at a fundamental level. I believe that kindness and consideration for others are crucial in this world and we need to stand up and speak out against those who offend these values.

What do you think?

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JUST BE YOURSELF!

When I was younger, I used to try quite hard to fit in: not be too quick at answering when I was at school, so others didn’t think I was being a clever clogs; pretending to like other people’s musical tastes so I was ‘up-to-date’; dressing properly when I was a teacher; not saying anything when people were being racist. And I found it difficult because it didn’t fit me, and sometimes it was downright impossible.

By the time I got to my 30’s, I gave up on trying to fit in, and began to just be myself. Although sometimes it gives me difficult situations to deal with, generally it made my life a whole lot easier, because I don’t have to pretend or compromise my own values most of the time.

So what do I mean by ‘just be yourself’? I mean accept your characteristics, live by your own values, act in a way that matches your natural way of being, whether they fit with the norm or not. We are all individuals, unique and special, with our own particular quirks, and we need to nurture that in ourselves, even if it means we don’t please everyone else.

If we pretend to be something we’re not, it shows, because we slip up sometimes and show our true colours, or we come across as false.

Some of us are tidy, some of us aren’t; some of us like to dress up, some of us prefer to dress down; some of us prefer routine, some of us prefer variety; some of us are chatty, some of us are quiet. Whatever we’re like, there are others who are similar to us, if not the same, and we will find our ‘tribe’ if we are being who we really are.

And this doesn’t mean that we don’t bother to enhance our characteristics or behaviour. If we behave in ways that make us uncomfortable, then we want to improve that – not to please others or fit in, but to make ourselves feel better about ourselves.

I believe that our innate nature is good – we’re not born selfish or unpleasant or mean. But we are born as a unique individual, so just be yourself…

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‘MY COMMITMENT IS TO TRUTH, NOT CONSISTENCY’ – GHANDI

I first came across this quote many years ago, in a talk by Ram Dass. It resonated with me then, and changed the way I did things, and it seems very appropriate to now.

As we all try to cope with the times we’re in, where we don’t have our old normal to guide the way we live our lives, it is vital that we take the opportunity to listen to our own truth.

This can mean something quite simple, like admitting that we have good and bad days, or we are not all exercising like mad and getting fit, or coming up with new creative ideas. How we are reacting doesn’t have a logic to it, and I don’t know about you, but I find it a relief when friends say that some days they are really pissed off with the situation, and have no motivation to do anything. It’s good to know I’m not alone!!

In a wider context, a commitment to truth leads us to reflect on the way we have been leading our lives, and check out whether something is just habit or really fits with who we are.

I know many people are questioning the long hours they would normally put in at the office, or how little time they usually give to their family and friends.

When circumstances change so much, we have the chance to ask ourselves what really matters to us, what does make us feel fulfilled, good, happy. I think almost all of us, for example, have realised that hugs really matter, and that, good as technology is for helping us to keep in touch, it’s not the same as physical, face-to-face contact.

So please, don’t let’s just revert to our old normal when that looks possible. Let’s all be a little more true to ourselves and what makes a difference to us, and thereby gain something really valuable from this experience.

Oh, and by the way, just so you know, yesterday was a shitty day for me, but today feels better already, and both reactions are for no good reason except my truth!!

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WHAT HAPPENED TO DECENCY?

I have watched the unfolding story of our British politics over the last months and weeks with a mixture of horror and fascination. In our so-called democracy we have ended up with a Prime Minister who was elected to the position by a very small minority of the country, and who behaves like an overgrown and naughty spoilt schoolboy.

He is a known philanderer, deceitful, boastful, and a downright liar. He expects to be able to bluff and bluster his way through any situation and come up trumps. How can this be acceptable?

I know there is a precedent: Trump is an even worse example of similar behaviour gaining and keeping power.

And I believe that the majority of us are shocked by how they seem to be getting away with it. We need to hold on to and use that shock. We cannot allow this sort of behaviour to become the new normal, to be what represents us as people and as countries. These men are on the same path as those we have learnt to condemn as pernicious dictators: Kim Jong Un; Putin; Hitler. We have to stop them and refind decency, moderation, our values, and leaders who are grown-ups.

Our parliament has stood up to Johnson, and stopped him from just going headlong into crisis for the country – and MP’s have done that at cost to themselves, putting the greater good of the country before self-interest.

Now it is up to us.

There will be an election in the UK, as there will in the US. We have to make our voices heard, the decent majority, and elect politicians who genuinely represent us. If all of us vote, we can make a difference. If all of us persuade another few people to vote, we will make even more of a difference.

Whatever our ‘normal’ political leanings may be, whatever we think about Brexit, we need to look for candidates who represent our decent, humane society – the way most of us really are. This is not a time for blind party politics: our democracy is at stake. It’s time to stand up for decency.

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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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TAKING TIME TO REFLECT

It is easy in our busy world to just keep going, with that feeling that we never quite catch up. Yet taking time to reflect can help to make that constant activity more purposeful and productive.

The first thing that some time for reflection can give us is a reminder that we are doing some things well/right. We often don’t notice when we’ve set a ‘new normal’ for ourselves, because we haven’t perfected it.

I may be better at giving myself a break, even though I don’t always do it. I may be good at noticing the little everyday pleasures, and forget that I didn’t used to do that very much. I may occasionally go for a walk in the fresh air, and just criticise myself for not doing it more often.

Noticing our own progress in improving our lives matters. We are always developing and growing, even if sometimes the pace of it seems slow. By acknowledging our progress to ourselves, we encourage ourselves to do more of it.

The second part of reflecting is to set some intentions for the next period of time. Rather than beating ourselves up for not getting to where we wanted to in some areas of our lives, we can choose what we want to pay attention to, to take it to the next stage.

For example, I may want to pay more attention to eating good food, or I may want to focus on doing more things that make me feel good, or I may want to get better at stopping when I’ve run out of energy. By setting ourselves four or five intentions, we give ourselves a good chance of applying them, and thereby enhancing our own development. It also reminds us of what’s really important to us, so that we adjust our busyness to include things that really matter, and feel OK about not doing some of the stuff we just do habitually.

Most of us have a bit of time over the Christmas period, where we could allow ourselves to reflect. Why not have a go at it, and see what comes up for you?

(I’ve put some beginnings of sentences below that you may find helpful in this.)

my progress                                    My intentions

I’m better at…                                           I want to pay attention to…

I’m good at…                                              I want to focus on…

I’ve started…                                             I want to get better at…

I now sometimes…                                       I’ll have a go at…

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THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY

So much in our world at the moment seems to be doom and gloom: our politics, our ‘news’, the lack of compassion for others. It is hard to break out of the predominant zeitgeist sometimes, and remember that this isn’t the only human condition.

Yet in amongst this, there are always reminders that there is so much more to being human. I was reminded this week in a way I wasn’t really expecting. I went to see “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again”. I don’t really like musicals or Abba’s music, but I sat and soaked up the atmosphere it created: warm, funny and joyful. It made me laugh and cry, engaged me totally, and left me with a feeling of hope and optimism. Why? It told the other side of the story of being human.

Most of the people I know and meet are kind and friendly. They are not selfish or greedy. They may worry about things, but they find their way through it. It’s time we boosted these aspects of being human and began to offset that unpleasant version that seems to infect everything.

If we’re going to change the zeitgeist, we have to start with ourselves. We can be the role modes and demonstrate the best of the human condition.

So let’s start by refusing to take on the story:

  • Let’s find the reasons to be optimistic rather than despairing
  • Let’s notice the good in people rather than what’s wrong
  • Let’s be kind and compassionate rather than critical
  • Let’s find reasons to laugh rather than be miserable
  • Lets appreciate what we have rather than wish we had more
  • And let’s enjoy all the good moments in our lives

It’s time we all told the other side of the story by how we live our lives, and that way we can remind even more people that life can be good.

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WHAT HAVE WE LOST?

I’ve just been staying in France, and noticed, amongst other things, how it is normal there to have a local market on a regular basis, where people go to buy their fruit, veg, cheese, meat etc.

In England ‘locally sourced’ is the boast of a few restaurants and cafes, who can thereby hoist their prices, and farmers markets are very much a middle class domain where they exist. Most of us don’t have easy access to local produce – and most places don’t have much local produce any more anyway!

Does it matter? I think so! We have lost so much in our gradual move to convenience and choice, and the takeover of small producers by the biggies..

In the French market, the fruit and veg have come from local farms. It’s as fresh as it can be, and tastes delicious. Local farms provide cheese, meat – again, fresh and tasty, following years of traditional production. If there are condiments – oils, flavours – they are from nearby. The wine is the wine of the region. You are literally getting a regional flavour of France.

What’s more, you are buying from the grower, the producer. They know their products and are proud of them. I find they are delighted to tell you about them: how to use them keep them etc. It’s a direct line from grower or producer to consumer that feels healthy and guarantees a quality that is lost when it all becomes anonymous, packaged, preserved.

Now I know that once upon a time this would have been normal in England too. If you watched ‘Poldark’ on TV, they bought from local markets, or produced their own, and when I was a child, it was still certainly more possible to buy local.

Why did we let it disappear while France kept the tradition? Maybe it is as the French would say: we don’t care enough about what we eat and drink to care when local produce gets lost in the conglomerates who produce for profit rather than taste. We may have more choice – strawberries all year round! – and it may be quicker to buy everything in one place, but we have lost the soul of the food we eat, and with it some of our own soul.

I am not someone who normally delights in food, but in France, I feel as if I’m being fed properly, and enjoy every mouthful. There’s an added extra in the tomato, that cheese, that bread, that wine, which feeds my soul as well as my body – thank you France!!

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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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SHARING YOUR EXPERTISE

There are some things I’m really good at, and lots of areas where I still have a lot to learn. This week, I’ve been reminded that we all have a different range of expertise and that we can use that to enhance our own awareness. Giving away your own expertise is a lovey gift to give.

This doesn’t mean using it in a one-upmanship way, where we impose it on others to impress them. It means working out what aspects of your expertise might be useful and relevant to someone, and how to offer it in a way that helps them.

I had examples of both approaches at a gardening show last weekend. One exhibitor had a plant I didn’t recognise. I asked her what it was and she said ixia. I was no wiser, and asked her how to care for it. She told me it needed full sun and good drainage, and you could almost hear her unspoken words – ‘but you have to know what you’re doing and be a specialist like me.’

At the other extreme was a man selling alstroemeria plants. I said that I already had some of a different colour and asked him if these spread in the same way. He said that his variety clumped up, and then told me how to ensure that they ‘took’ when planted out, how to make the plant strong, even how to pick the flowers so the plant produced more. He shared his expertise so that I would be able to care for the plant better and have the best chance of enjoying its beauty.

We are taught that ‘ knowledge is power’. This implies that you need to hold on to it to be powerful. Yet the real power comes when you can use your knowledge to make a difference in someone else’s life as well. Give away what you know about, and paradoxically, you lose nothing – you still have all that knowledge. In fact, you gain, because someone else appreciates the gift you have given them, and that knowledge is now being used even more in the world.

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