Last week, my son took me to Winchester for an overnight stay. We had a lovely time, looking round a different city, and spending enjoyable time together. It reminded me that doing something different really livens up your life.
It is so easy to fall into habits of doing the same old thing: cook the same meals; do laundry on the same day; visit the same places; spend the weekend doing the same routine – the list goes on and on.
There’s nothing wrong with having habitual pattens. They often allow us some time on automatic pilot, no great effort required. It can be almost restful, with no need to think about it.
And once in a while, it’s really good for us to do something different. It livens up our day, stimulates our mind and energy.
This doesn’t have to be something momentous, just something different in the normal week. Examples might be: buying or growing a different plant for the garden; choosing to make a different meal or buying something you don’t usually have from the supermarket; arranging to meet a friend at a coffee shop instead of at home; watching a tv programme you wouldn’t normally choose; phoning someone you haven’t spoken to for ages.
This is a great way to keep life interesting, so you’re not stuck in a rut. Sometimes the experiment doesn’t work out, but that’s OK – it still broke the spell of habit for a while. And often it’s a way of adding in something different to your everyday that may even become another useful habit!
We all experience fear, but we rarely stop and think about what it is about. It can be an acronym for False Events Appearing Real – which gives us a clue: most of our fear is of something in the future that hasn’t happened yet.
While we’re in fear, we are incapable of being rational about it: we’re in fight or flight mode, and our logic shuts down. However, we could look at the evidence after the predicted event, and if we do, we begin to realise how often our fears are unfounded. Sometimes the event doesn’t happen at all, sometimes it is much better than we had expected, and yes, occasionally we were right. So the first way of counteracting our tendency to fear is to begin to check up how many times it was inaccurate.
And when our fear was justified? It is worth reviewing our own actions and reactions when we could see it coming true. Sometimes we ‘cause’ the fear to be real by the way we approach the situation. We are in the fight or flight mode and we give off the vibes of someone in fear. This can make us combatant or wary or anxious. Others involved may pick up on that unconsciously and so react accordingly. And even when there is no-one else involved, we can be clumsy or a bit stupid. Fearing slipping over in the snow almost inevitably makes me mis-step and fall over!
Of course, it is right to feel fear sometimes, but mostly it just makes things worse. It is bad for our health and makes life harder. We can counteract it, we can teach ourselves to stop it before it gets a hold, and our lives will be better for it.
As a child, I didn’t understand why spring was linked with cleaning and clearing. My mum always did a spring clean: cupboards were cleared out, skirting boards were wiped down, windows and mirrors were polished, and she did it all with vigour and enthusiasm.
Now I understand more. There is something in the air when spring gets underway. It is warmer, there is more daylight, and everywhere you look there are fresh greens: leaves, shoots and buds. There whole world feels as if it is bursting into life again, after the dormancy of winter.
It infuses us with energy if we spend any time in nature. Our sap rises as well, so to speak, and it reminds us that everything can be refreshed and renewed. We somehow want to match the way nature regenerates itself, which prompts us to refresh our homes, our lives.
I love playing my part in making it happen, planting seeds and watching them germinate and grow into the vegetables and flowers I will enjoy all year. And I also get the urge to clear out that cupboard I’ve been ignoring, throw out some old clothes, remove some clutter – do a bit of a spring clean!
Nature tells us it’s a time of renewal. Let’s follow her example and refresh some aspect of our lives, using that spring energy to make life better in some way.
It seems right to remind ourselves at this time of year that there is a lot of kindness in people. The news is full of disaster, woes, hardship, and it is easy to feel that that is all there is.
Yet every day I experience or witness acts of kindness – it is a constant. It may be something apparently small: someone reaching a tin from the top shelves of a supermarket for another who can’t reach there; or it may be a big act of generosity and thoughtfulness, like funding free school meals for a year, so children get at least one hot meal a day.
It doesn’t matter. They all add up to a lot of kindness in the world and it is important to remember this, and put it into the balance against the incompetence, cruelty and difficulties so many face.
So let’s play our part. Whenever we can, let us add our small acts of kindness to the balance. And when others show us kindness, let us fully appreciate it and not take it for granted.
It will help us all to feel better and keep our faith that things can improve. May you have a joyous peaceful Christmas, and may 2023 bring better times, with even more kindness and compassion.
WHAT ARE THE UNIVERSAL VALUES – PART ONE
I want to start by looking at the values which are about how we think and react, whether to others, situations or just internally.
I’ll begin with being honest. This means more than just being truthful. It also implies not committing the sin of omission: hoping no-one will realise if we don’t tell them. If you’re honest, you own up if you have made a mistake or done something wrong, you say if you don’t agree with something (without being unpleasant), you don’t try to hide either weaknesses or strengths.
This links to integrity which really means being true to yourself. It implies being clear about your values, and not compromising them, but it also means being aligned: your heart and your mind being in accord with each other.
Then when we look at how we think and react, three more strong principles come into play. Firstly there is learning. As humans we constantly learn if we want to continue to develop[ ourselves to be at our best. This means that we do our best not to repeat mistakes form the past, and look at how we might handle things better this time.
Secondly there is the principle of looking forward as well as backward. This means considering the consequences of our actions and reactions before we do anything. It implies avoiding knee-jerk reactions and short-termism.
Thirdly there is the principle of applying common sense to a situation. (I often think common sense is anything but common!) It means distinguishing between what matters and when you’ve just got a bee in your bonnet. It requires stepping back and gaining perspective. It also means being practical: we may want to change the world but we can only do it one step at a time.
Now you may already have thought of something in this category that I have missed – these are only my thoughts, gleaned from working with people over the years. Yet, oh my God, the world would change immediately if we all consistently lived to these values and principles.. and we can choose to do so, if we wish.
We are living in tough times. There is far more bad news than good – one thing after another seems to pile on the agony, in the world, in our country, even in our own lives.
It is easy to feel despair, but that doesn’t help anything. We need to look for the chinks of light. And in the midst of all this, they do still shine through.
In the world, the West is still supporting Ukraine, which may be politically motivated, but is better than has been managed in the past, when countries under attack have not been helped in any significant way. And the problems with gas supply have pushed many countries to move more quickly on installing renewable energy, which will help our planet.
In this country, the government is doing some terrible things, but at least it has stepped in to help with the cost of living crisis. We may not agree with their method or their philosophy, but it will help people to have more of a chance of paying their bills.
And above all, individual people bring chinks of light into our lives, with their kindness and thoughtfulness, their sense of humour despite everything, their warmth and affection.
Let’s keep looking for these chinks of light, and giving them to others whenever we can. It’s what will bring us through
I am in the midst of disruption in my personal life – having a new kitchen fitted! It has made me think about what disruption is. The word originally means something that breaks you away from your normal patterns and routines.
I am not good at dealing with disruption, and I don’t know anyone who is, but on reflection, I realise with hindsight that often a disruption in my everyday life has had some positive outcomes, breaking some of my less useful patterns and making me reconsider what really matters.
A good example of this would be the lockdowns during the pandemic, when all our lives were disrupted. At the time it was difficult for most people, but it certainly made us aware of how important our connections with others are, and of the simple things in life we can get pleasure from.
On the other hand, there is distraction. I have been using distractions to help me cope with the disruption. Distraction means originally something that pulls you away from whatever is going on.
I have done jigsaws, worked on the garden, watched movies, because they all take up my attention and give me space from my busy mind. So distractions can be very useful for alleviating the effects of disruption and it is worth having that list of what works for you.
And of course, they can also have a downside. Sometimes we use distractions to avoid things we know we need to confront or get on with.
At present I am using distractions to help, and I hope to find the positive outcomes – besides a new kitchen! – in the coming weeks. I also hope that I will remember the plus’s and minuses of disruption and distraction so that I use them well in the future.
What about you? How do you manage disruption and use distraction?
I listened to a talk by a man called Rupert Shira a little while ago – a recommendation from a friend. He was talking about the difference between focussed seeing and what he calls seeing awareness, and it really struck home.
In this talk, he also described thinking as a form of focussed seeing, where we are pulled this way and that by our thoughts. Most of the time, we are following our thoughts about something and getting distracted from the essence of our experience by the thoughts.
As he said: ‘No-one says to themselves, I wish I could think more”’. We wish we could be happier, more at peace – the opposite of what our thinking does for us most of the time.
Of course, there are moments when a thought comes to us that is inspired – how to sort something, how to begin to tackle something, what something is really about. We call these thoughts inspired, or an epiphany, because they come out of the blue and resolve something for us, or make us feel as if we are moving forward.
And if you notice, they are not the result of a serious thinking through – they come when we’re relaxed, feeling calm, just being. Our serious thinking through may sometimes lead to a logical conclusion, but it doesn’t encompass the holistic needs we have for a really good resolution for us at the time.
I want a happy and fulfilling life, and thinking is definitely over-rated in terms of helping to achieve that. So let’s think less, not more, and let’s find the quiet places in us that allow inspiration to come to us.
It is a vital part of our lives to be in relationship with others – we need that connection with friends and family, and even strangers. And at the same time, we all need some time on our own, when we can just relate to ourselves and our own needs and feelings.
I love having people drop by to spend time with me, and I also really enjoy having days to myself, where I don’t need to consider anyone else’s needs and can just be however I am. Often, people fill that time on their own, so as not to feel lonely: going shopping, doing household chores, making phone calls, and generally keeping busy. I recognise this – I used to do the same.
But now I find that being alone is different from being lonely, and I think it is important to take advantage of ‘me time’ and celebrate the joys of being alone. It’s an opportunity to gather yourself, listen to yourself, and follow how you feel instead of how you ought to be.
You can eat and drink what you want, when you want. You can stop halfway through doing something and decide that’s enough for today. You can choose to make it a good day, whatever that means to you at the time, without having to explain or justify to anyone else. You can do little or a lot, depending on your mood, not the circumstances.
And you can relax for a little while into being however you are, giving yourself permission to move away from the drives of convention and habit.
So make sure you get some time every week where you’re on your own, and make it ‘me time’, not ‘catch-up time’. It’s good for your soul.
In amongst all the depressing news last week, the UN gave an award to David Attenborough – Champion of the Earth. It was a lovely recognition of all that he has done to advocate caring for our environment, and in his acceptance speech, he talked about the resurgence of whales, as an illustration of the value of continuing to campaign to reverse the damage we have previously done.
He pointed out that the population of whales had been devastated by hunting, yet now there are more than there have ever been in our lifetime.
It reminded me that we need to find reasons to be optimistic, and that things change for the better over a long period – it doesn’t happen overnight as a rule.
So, reasons to be optimistic:
- We have all got better at recycling and re-using
- Many have reduced their meat eating and turned to vegetarian options
- The war in Ukraine is forcing countries to look at becoming more self-sufficient in energy, and work harder on developing green energy options
- Younger generations are more aware of environmental concerns than most of us were when I was young
- And on a different note, our governments may not be good, but their behaviour is now exposed for all to know
And I know there are more!
So let’s keep doing what we can to keep these trends going, and encourage others to do the same, because change for the better does happen.
When so many dire things are happening right now, it’s vital to find reasons to be optimistic.