An unusually early start to my day allowed time for reflection, and I wanted to share this journal entry from last summer. It reminds me of the ebb and flow of life, and how despair can turn to joy. I am so happy to be able to report that practising the strategies I refer to in this journal has allowed meaningful and helpful change in my way of thinking and being, which in turn has opened wonderful new connections, work opportunities and ways of dealing with conflict! I am reminded of a card I bought 10 years ago when I was finding my life particularly difficult:
NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP!
MINDFULNESS COURSE JOURNAL SEPTEMBER 2018
What matters to me?
To connect to beauty, kindness and love. To be able to be meaningfully with myself and others without judgement and constant criticism. To know joy viscerally and find a community and sense of belonging, which is not possible without the above. To be able to fully support my daughter, Which is also not possible without the above. To have meaning and purpose. To help others. To nourish myself and others without depleting the world and its resources. To create. Art and words and something lasting. To leave an imprint on the world of something that brings joy and peace and meaning to others. To be able to handle conflict in such a way that allows me to be intimate with at least one other human being, and to be connected to many others. To allow myself to be fully myself and fully human so that I can allow others to be the same. To live from the heart and courage and not from fear.
What drew me to this work?
The knowledge that my inner critic is so powerful and keeps on destroying my ability to pause, to be present, to be kind and loving to myself and others. Understanding that I need a daily practice to help me change this long term.
I see clearly how my own thoughts shape and determine my life. I see how, without anything changing externally, what I tell myself about myself or my life or my worth or my relationships with others sets the tone for my day, my week, my life.
I see clearly that when I judge and criticise, I effectively paralyse myself, I throw a black blanket over my inner light, I create a self fulfilling prophecy of misery and worthlessness. I become someone nobody wants to spend time with, least of all me, who is stuck with myself, and can only get away by numbing, avoiding, sleep, tv, games or smoking. And I see how this can become a perpetuating cycle.
I understand how difficult it is to press the pause button. After all, that is one of the basic tenets of Alexander Technique and I managed to avoid it entirely for all my three year training and beyond, and now I know about it, but spend huge quantities of time without actually pressing it. And I know and see clearly that the first step is awareness and the second step is to press pause, and without that step, my life continues to hurtle along the trajectory of habitual pattern that is seemingly locked into my system.
I also see and have practical experience of how using that pause button can allow real and practical change – can alter the trajectory of my direction and life.
And it has taken me all summer of internal wrestling and wrangling, despite the best efforts of friends to remind me that it is not the way, to arrive at this Sunday morning prepared to stop and pause. It has taken terror, and hopelessness and despair and frustration and listlessness and overwhelm for me to arrive at this place.
But I am here, and I am grateful. And I commit to coming back to this place each day to practise pausing and connecting……
It’s Spring and I’m emerging from a winter of not being very visible! Having re-read my last blog, written while being ill and still processing the departure of my daughter to University, I am happy to report that much has been going on underground this winter, and Spring has brought all that growth to the surface!
Still, I realise that when one gets out of the habit of doing things – (for me this winter, that has been rowing and blogging), there is a great deal of inertia to overcome in beginning the process once more. I have written many blogs in my head, but have somehow felt I needed to have something profound to say after such a long break.
I am delighted that I can leave that job to my guest blogger, Marc Yeats, PhD candidate, artist and composer extraordinaire.
One of the many flowerings this spring, has been the realisation of a long-held dream of running a retreat in the Lake District mountains! I dared to book an amazing house a year ago, and then bottled planning it for quite a while.
I invite you to join Marc on a journey to the wilds of the Lake District and the wilds of the self!
Dalemain Bungalow, Martindale, Cumbria May 7–10, 2019.
Arriving at a wet Penrith train station on a dark and cold day in May ready to spend four days in a remote Cumbrian valley without electricity, WiFi or mobile phone signal with a group of unfamiliar people to talk about personal PhD concerns wouldn’t be everyone’s idea of fun or a useful thing to do, not least when PhD life is so busy and time so precious.
We (the assembled group of five participants) were driven from the station deep into the Lake District until we reached a track that took us to the Dalemain Bungalow (the higher building in the photo below) that is situated on a small spur near the head of Martindale away from any habitation, the road, shops or any signs of civilisation apart from numerous sheep. The Bungalow was impressive and imposing. During the 10-minute walk up from the road we felt dwarfed by the scale of the surrounding landscape, an immensity of valleys, mountains, rivers and sky culminating in a location that was isolated from all twenty-first century distractions. Our excitement and expectation were palpable.
The Bungalow itself is charming and rustic, with gas lighting, heating, cooking and gas fridges. Most bedrooms and bathrooms are shared and there is a large kitchen and communal lounge/dining area. The building is pine-panelled throughout making for a slightly dark buy cosy feel within. There are windows in all the rooms that look out onto the hills – the views are simply stunning – and the building has a veranda on three sides. External sounds comprise sheep – always sheep – the many rivers and rivulets, the rustling of trees and bird song. That’s it. No traffic, just natural sounds. Living is a little like glamping and largely communal. If you need en suite bathrooms and fitted carpets, this location isn’t for you.
Cooking, prep and washing up were communal activities. There was more food than we could eat and plenty to freely snack on in between meals if you so wished. The days were structured thus: silent breakfast (much more fun than it sounds), morning stretch and meditation (meditation and stretching anyone can participate in), voice work (always fun and often profoundly surprising) pre and post lunch Action Learning Sets (concentrated and powerful), individual Alexander Technique and natural voice-work sessions followed by free time and food preparation and more free time. There were also guided walks on offer
I hadn’t ever participated in something like this before – a retreat – and always avoided anything labelled as such for fear of communes, dodgy spiritual leaders and endless New Age rhetoric with crystals. Although I had attended an Action Learning taster workshop in London a few months earlier, the whole Action Learning experience was still a new and relatively unfamiliar concept. Combining a ‘retreat’ with Action Learning was an activity I hadn’t envisaged engaging with but when I saw what was proposed and the location in which the retreat was based, I realised it was something I ought to try, not least because the outcomes looked very useful in relation to my PhD life. Overall, I was more concerned about being without social media and connectivity, something I always had access to. As it transpired, I didn’t miss connectivity for that period of time and without the distraction found myself listening more deeply to my own thoughts and particularly what others were saying. This was part of active listening. It changed how I felt.
The retreat objectives stated that by the end of the experience, participants would be able to question the veracity of their thoughts and beliefs in order to make more informed choices about behaviour; use their bodies to check on the impact of beliefs and emotions; use these strategies to improve their well-being and performance on their PhD journeys; use vocal and movement exercises to shift unhelpful moods; and call on support from the connections formed within the cohort to ease the sense of isolation often reported in Action Learning groups.
The Action Learning Retreat is the brainchild of Julie Parker, BSc, MSTAT. Julie facilitates the Action Learning Sets and offers individual Alexander Technique sessions and Natacha Dauphin, Julie’s co-workshop leader offers voice-work sessions. Julie describes Action Learning in her Action Learning Sets Handbook, quoting from Action Learning Handbook, McGill and Brockbank 2004 as: “[…] a continuous process of learning and reflection that happens with the support of a group or ‘set’ […] working on real issues, with the intention of getting things done. She continues: “The collaborative process, which recognises set members’ social context, helps people take an active stance towards life [and] overcome the pressures of life and work […]”.
Getting things done, as mentioned above, is important to me. Knowing that I faced inevitable and identified challenges in my PhD journey, especially from factors outside my control, and knowing too that the way I dealt with those challenges would contribute to my sense of well-being, I decided to invest four days away from my PhD routine to equip myself for the PhD challenges ahead in a productive and informed way. I made this investment because I appreciated that it is easy to slip into a range of familiar and often self-defeating patterns of behaviour and thought, especially when busy and stressed and things are not going to plan. These thoughts can become embedded if not challenged and increase levels of anxiety that in turn decreases clear-thinking, productivity and a sense of well-being. As I discovered, Action Learning processes along with the Alexander Technique and natural voice work exercises helped participants (and me) to open up, examine and discuss these thoughts and processes of behaviour in a safe, trustful and friendly group setting. This opening up and sharing of thoughts helped clarify why such patterns of behaviour occur and help the individual to take a different, more balanced perspective on their situations and what to do about them, leading to more informed choices and a greater sense of well-being.
I’m convinced from my own
experiences and the experiences discussed and observed among others in the
group that different people, different personalities, respond in varied ways to
body, voice or cognitive interventions and processes employed to positively
rebalance mental well-being. For example, the body through its stresses, strains
and posture exhibits, often unconsciously, an externalisation of one’s inner
emotional world. Inversely, the body (and voice) can be used to access that
inner emotional world without recourse to cognitive gateways such as reasoning,
conversation or intellectual understanding to bypass various levels of
cognition to reach subconscious levels of disharmony through changing posture
and using vocal sounds and movement. There is something visceral and primal
about vocal and movement work that accesses the inner self at a profound level
that can affect change of mood with little conscious attention. It is this
direct access to our emotional core that makes voice and movement work so
potent and when combined with Action Learning and Alexander Techniques give
participants a range of tools and approaches to maintain well-being that best
suits them as individuals. Such opportunities to take stock, to have the
undivided attention of a supportive group of individuals where attention and
care is, for a time at least, focused on one’s needs and circumstances are rare
indeed. This focus is amplified by the location and conditions of the retreat
where all external distractions are unavailable and people have to communicate
and listen to one another and crucially, listen to ourselves in profoundly deep
ways that are difficult to achieve within the hurly-burly of daily lives and
particularly the pressures of PhD life.
Great care was taken by Julie and Natacha to support us all as individuals. Nothing was ever forced, and no one made to participate in any activity at any time if they felt they did not wish to. All activities and all aspects of communal living were undertaken with flexibility and mutual respect for others, their needs and wishes. Everything about the retreat and its activities were geared around the individual: this was particularly evident within the Action Learning sessions where everything moved forwards at the pace set by the participants and within the individual Alexander Technique and voice work sessions, every effort was made to support the subjects in ways most appropriate to them.
Challenges around PhDs are legion and shared by us all at some time. I speculate that for every person that openly discusses these issues many more do not speak of them or disguise their difficulties and have no idea how to best manage their stresses and strains. Knowing that I am not alone in experiencing PhD-related anxieties is a comfort and this comfort is amplified by the honest and candid discussion of PhD challenges shared by others in the retreat Action Learning group, most of whom I did not previously know or know to any great extent. The very close, personal and honest communication shared by members of the Action Learning group has established as a set of people whom I can rely on and communicate with as and when is necessary.
The same applies to Julie Parker and Natacha Dauphin workshop leaders (Natacha above with me and cake), as firm, supportive friendships have been established. It is difficult to come away from an experience like the retreat having shared such personal and significant information with others and not feel a profound sense of connection to those with whom the process and journey was shared. These are people I know I can reach out to at any time.
I came away from the retreat feeling refreshed and renewed on many different levels. I also felt positive about my ability to manage the inevitable stresses that were coming my way as well as managing how I reacted to the situations that I had no control over within the PhD process where these situations are the primary causes of stress. I gained strategies through the Action Learning group sessions, their interactions, suggestions and outcomes and also through the Alexander Technique sessions and natural voice workshops where all three areas of communication and investigation relate easily and seamlessly to one another to generate an overarching environment that provides the tools and the understanding around how to use them that together will help improve my performance on the PhD journey. The retreat delivered on its proposed outcomes completely.
If you have the opportunity to participate in a retreat like this, do take it, you won’t regret investing time in yourself and your well-being and if you feel you’re just too busy to take part, you’re probably most in need of the experience.
There is nothing like getting ill for raising the feeling of Vulnerability when you’re self employed! Especially when it comes out of nowhere and you think your immune system is rock solid.
The interesting thing about this week of not working and not feeling up to much though, is that it has made me think about one of my favourite enemies – SHOULD.
It’s a word I ban in my teaching room, yet being solitary and incapable made me realise just how much space I still allow it in my own life, and particularly since my daughter left for University.
I think any big change in life circumstances calls us to take stock, and with good reason, but here is (some of) my list of ‘shoulds’ that have been sharing my bed and head since she left and I have reviewed the 7 years since we came to York:
I SHOULD HAVE …..
made more money
been more successful
cooked better food
taken more care of the planet
kept the house tidier
been a better role model to my daughter
dared to try and have another relationship
practised the piano more
helped her practise her music
encouraged her to play more sport
encouraged her to act
helped the needy
complained less about poor service in restaurants (🙄 really??)
OMG no wonder my immune system was under attack with all that lot going on. And what a relief to have to let go of it all and just sleep, and almost feed myself and definitely not tidy the house! Talk about physician heal thyself! Because of course it became blindingly obvious to me that I much preferred being with this gentler, more tolerant me than the me with the big stick and long list, and for sure the big stick didn’t make me achieve very much more, just made me and I bet my poor daughter, fearful and miserable and bowed down and unwilling to try, to take risks, or as my wise Safari guide friend says, to Dance with Life.
One of my other wise friends asked how I was doing with vulnerability because he didn’t think I was going to make much progress until I was willing to embrace it a bit more. Interestingly I couldn’t really answer the question, because I have been so busy hiding from it that it hadn’t really come up!
Of course I have had the excuse of having to make a living in a small place where everyone knows pretty much everything and I couldn’t afford to make mistakes because it could cost my reputation and my job, etc etc. Doesn’t mean I have managed to avoid making mistakes anyway, interestingly- just haven’t deliberately put myself in their way.
So now I find myself looking back on 7 years where I started out enthusiastically with high hopes thinking I could crack this and make a wonderful new life for me and my daughter, and realising that 7 years have gone by, and I have done some stuff, and we’re still afloat, which is something, considering, but in the major life choices department, I have not danced with my life, more like hobbled on crutches, and then I have got angry with myself for hobbling, and knocked the crutches out of my hands….
Hmmmmm. …..Old habits die hard, and as I regain my strength, I can see that the voice of SHOULD is waiting for air time and the slightest opportunity.
So this next little while is going to be interesting as I see if I can find a different way of being with myself, talking to myself, and flexing the muscles of compassion instead of self judgment….
There is a national realisation that mental ill-health is on the increase and needs our attention. This is true. But should we be talking about Mental Health per se? Here is why I am asking the question:
A new University student who is perhaps introverted and does not enjoy drunkenness may sit alone in her room feeling lonely and anxious. Another may go out ‘socialising’ each night and binge drink. Does it mean that the mental health of the first student is more in question than that of the second? What about the work colleague who has started to come in a bit late sometimes or isn’t paying so much attention to her appearance? Do we equate this to laziness or to mental health? Are we truly paying attention to ourselves and to those around us?
Up until recently if you went to the doctor with an ache or pain, and the diagnosis was ‘psychosomatic’, the underlying assumption was that it wasn’t real. Nowadays there is a much greater understanding of the interaction of mind, body and emotions. The physical pain is extremely real, although caused or aggravated by psychological factors. Psychosomatic is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as ‘caused or aggravated by a mental factor such as internal conflict or stress’ and ‘relating to the interaction of mind and body’.
I trained to teach the Alexander Technique (AT), which is based on the premise that the use of the whole self (body, mind and emotions) affects function. It is taught using gentle manual guidance with verbal instruction to help the person understand and work with unhelpful habits, be those physical, mental or emotional.
I have been working as an Associate at The University of York for six years now but prior to this I worked for several years in the NHS at the practice of a forward thinking GP, Dr Gavin Young. The doctors would often refer the patients with physical ailments who were not responding to conventional treatment. I discovered that many of the patients whom they had referred with intractable neck pain had lost a parent in the preceding year. This was a surprise to them, though not to me.
In the nearly 30 years that I have worked with AT, I have seen time and again, that people who suppress or repress mental and emotional pain, often manifest psychological issues in physical symptoms. The English are well known for their stiff upper lip and ‘keep calm and carry on approach’. It is easier to call in sick because you have excruciating neck pain and headaches than to tell your manager that you can’t come in to work because you are grieving the death of your mother.
I worked with another person at the GP surgery who was in great physical pain, but described herself as a hugely positive person. Over a period of months, we worked physically to relieve the pain, with little success, and at the same time, I probed gently into the incongruencies of positivity and pain. Eventually this person was able to tell me something she had never been able to share before, or even truly admit to herself, that she had been abused.
Once she was able to access and acknowledge this memory, true healing was able to begin, both in her body, and through counselling support offered by the GP practice. It is my contention that purely physical therapy alone would never have worked for this patient, because her pain was so deeply rooted in emotional trauma. However, I very much doubt that she would have been able to acknowledge the abuse without the body work and gentle questioning, for the simple reason that she could only acknowledge the physical pain, and was not presenting with a ‘mental health’ problem.
Professor Nickolaas Tinbergen was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1973. He devoted half of his acceptance speech to extolling the virtues of the Alexander Technique and its impact on his life. He said ‘this story of perceptiveness, intelligence and persistence shown by a man without medical training [Frederick Alexander’s], is one of the great epics of medical research and practice.’ He described how he and his family had decided to test some of the seemingly fantastical claims. They found, after only a few months, ‘striking improvements in such diverse things as oedema due to high blood pressure, breathing, depth of sleep, overall cheerfulness and mental alertness, resilience against outside pressures and also in such a refined skill as playing a stringed instrument.’
Interestingly, 45 years on, terms such as mental alertness and resilience are widely used in discussion and approaches to mental health.
Tinbergen confirmed from personal experience that ‘many types of underperformance and even ailments, both mental and physical, can be alleviated, sometimes to a surprising extent, by teaching the body musculature to function differently.’ Advances in neuroscience since this time have elucidated further how the brain and body interact positively in this process to explain the ‘surprising extent’ of these improvements. My practice has reflected Tinbergen’s experience. Follow-up questionnaires, immediately after a 10 week treatment plan and 1 year post-treatment, indicated that the majority of patients from my work in the GP surgery found AT to be of ‘considerable help’ or ‘totally sorted’ their problems. Anecdotally, most patients reported to me that if it had not sorted their original presenting problem, it had helped them manage their lives more effectively.
As a result of this work, I realised that what I was doing via AT could also be understood to include, what is now called, Life Coaching. I trained in Relational Dynamic Life Coaching, and have found this to be a powerful synthesis with AT. (Relational Dynamics- the art of interaction with self and others www.relationaldynamics.co.uk)
My understanding based on experience is that the mind and body either act to support or to destabilise the other. Changing thoughts and beliefs can have a powerful effect on the body, just as releasing physical tension and improving physical functioning can free up the mind and give self-empowerment. Being able to work with people via these two techniques has enabled me to enhance overall well-being, not just ‘mental health’ or ‘physical health’. We can approach well-being via either working with the body (physical therapies) or mind (psychological ‘talking’ therapies). My conviction is that a combination of the two can be most powerful.
But, to return to my title, should we even be talking about mental health? In making a distinction between mental health and other health issues, we risk falsely attributing some issues to the purely mental sphere, and the stigma which is commonly associated with mental ill-health. We are all people comprised of bodies and minds, which are deeply affected by our emotions. Are we not missing a trick by failing to approach health as a synthesis of body and mind states?
If we understand that health and ill-health is a matter of the whole person, we can better identify these people and offer appropriate help. But if we separate the ‘mental’ from the ‘physical’ we are likely only to treat the symptoms and not the cause, or at the very least a contributing factor. In this I think we are failing to provide healthcare that meets the needs of the population.
We need a healthcare service that acknowledges how the body and mind impact each other and makes better use of the whole of ourselves to prevent and treat ill-health.
In my opinion, this means dropping the ‘mental health’ label and ensuring our conversations, concerns and treatments are about Health.
” Think of it like the sea – there will always be another wave and another high tide – sometimes you just have to wait”
When I was growing up in Africa, we used to go on holiday to the seaside for 3-6 weeks. Apart from anything else, it used to take a week of 8 hour a day driving to get there and back, so it didn’t seem worth it to go for less!
My brother and I were avid body surfers, and we spent hours and hours in the ocean, much of it waiting for the next perfect wave to surf
The first ‘wave’ of excitement is over, exhaustion has set in, and the real hard work of study has begun. It’s easy to feel discouraged, homesick and missing one’s special friends. But the next wave will come if you are patient….
I stopped at one of the services on the M4 on last, wet, grey Sunday morning en route to taking my daughter to Uni in Bristol.
The queue at Costa Coffee was 11 deep, but I noticed that there was another Costa coffee round the corner. Taking the decision that the queue round the corner was likely to be shorter, I slipped out of my place in the queue and found myself behind just one man, who looked strangely familiar…
My Facebook friends will know that the Carpe Diem bit of this story was to sidle up and ask if I was talking to a Stanley Tucci lookalike or the real deal. It was the real deal (‘A’ List Hollywood movie star), and turns out he was also taking his daughter to University and we had a convivial chat. My daughter was dead impressed and will carry that as a particular memory of her trip to Uni.
Now I realise this is all terribly shallow, but I think there are two important lessons I took away from the encounter.
1. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX
If I wasn’t keeping my mind and eyes open, I would not have spotted that there was an alternative to the queue I was standing in, nor taken the decision to move
2. CARPE DIEM
I could have been backwards in coming forwards, and missed an opportunity to create a fun and unique memory for my daughter.
Although the outcome of taking these decisions in this case was not earth shattering, like many simple principles, these are profound in their possibilities.
In my life, some of the biggest changes have come about because I was prepared to do one or both of the above. Sometimes the risks have been much greater than they were here, and yet often the rewards way outweigh the risks we are asked to take in living life more fully, whatever that may mean to each of us….
I would love to hear about your ‘Carpe Diem’ moments, seized or lost!
Last week I went rowing after nearly a whole summer off.
Our new ‘head’ of our Rowing group, who knows how my mind works, kindly offered to take me out in a double, so I could ease back into things without stressing that I was holding others up because I had got unfit.
We soon realised that I was causing us to row to the right. I was dropping my right shoulder and doing something that created more power on my left. Neither of us were quite sure exactly what it was I was doing, or why – it could be that I think my let leg is longer than my right so it was putting down more power, or it could be that I am left handed, though interestingly I use my right hand for most things that require power rather than dexterity (like tennis).
The point is though, that I knew how to sort it out, using my Alexander Technique Principles:
1. I needed to make sure I had my competitive ‘power at any price’ switch in my brain switched off.
2. I needed to use Conscious Mental Instruction to tell my body what I wanted from it, which was this:
Centred body and shoulders
Maintaining this stance throughout the drive of the stroke
I was able to achieve this fairly easily! One of the reasons being that I have practised for many years giving my body conscious instructions, and the other that my rowing partner gave me permission to ease off on the power so I could concentrate on technique. So I had no pressure of expectation, or particular fear, both of which generally override any conscious instruction I might give myself.
These principles of changing attitude/thinking, combined with relaxation and conscious thinking, can be applied to all sorts of problem solving!
And PS, thanks Darren for being such a great rowing partner and understanding coach!
And PPS no it’s not that cold yet – these are photos from last winter!
It is the time of year for transitions and new beginnings – new class, new school, new University. A time for looking forward to the new and letting go of the old.
For some, it will be exciting, and for others terrifying, and for most of us, a mixture of the two.
For me it is a time of contemplating the opportunities and sadness that comes with an emptying nest, as my daughter makes her way to a new beginning at University.
This last summer I took her for the first time, back to my roots – to Zimbabwe, where one of our adventures was to raft the mighty Zambezi – the toughest one day white water in the world.
I’ve done it before and know what can go wrong, which actually only makes it doubly terrifying! Coupled with that, my daughter’s father had sent me a news clip of a woman being taken by a crocodile not so long ago on the same venture. He was convinced I was taking my daughter to her death…..
We survived, but the pictures show how rough it was, how I came out of the boat in the roughest rapid, but managed to cling on…unlike the Ozzie in the neighbouring raft, which flipped, and he got sucked into a whirlpool and nearly drowned..
The unknown is so often scary, and these days it is always possible to find horror stories of the dangers that lie ahead. I have been anxious, contemplating this next phase of my life, even though I know it could be a great adventure.
I have been grateful to a friend who has sent me good thoughts each morning and I thought that for the rest of this month I will do a short ‘thought for the day’. Maybe it will help some of you who are navigating new and possibly choppy waters. At least it will set me daily on a positive path
So here is my thought for today:
“It is not required that we know all of the details about every stretch of the river. Indeed, were we to know, it would not be an adventure, and I wonder if there would be much point in the journey.”
― Jeffrey R. Anderson
And this week I set an Intention for living more joyfully. The teacher who appeared, via some extraordinary kindness and generosity from some of my clients and Maria Popova’s Brainpickings, was Herman Hesse, on just exactly that subject, and I am quoting those thoughts here. They have as much, if not more relevance to today, as they did when he wrote them, and I am grateful for the reminder at a time when I had temporarily forgotten that productivity and success do not necessarily equate to joy.
HURRY- HURRY – THE ENEMY OF JOY
”Great masses of people these days live out their lives in a dull and loveless stupor. Sensitive persons find our inartistic manner of existence oppressive and painful, and they withdraw from sight… I believe what we lack is joy. The ardor that a heightened awareness imparts to life, the conception of life as a happy thing, as a festival… But the high value put upon every minute of time, the idea of hurry-hurry as the most important objective of living, is unquestionably the most dangerous enemy of joy.
AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE – AS FAST AS POSSIBLE??
Our ways of enjoying ourselves are hardly less irritating and nerve-racking than the pressure of our work. “As much as possible, as fast as possible” is the motto. And so there is more and more entertainment and less and less joy… This morbid pursuit of enjoyment [is] spurred on by constant dissatisfaction and yet perpetually satiated.
I would simply like to reclaim an old and, alas, quite unfashionable private formula: Moderate enjoyment is double enjoyment. And: Do not overlook the little joys!
Our eyes, above all those misused, overstrained eyes of modern man, can be, if only we are willing, an inexhaustible source of pleasure. When I walk to work in the morning I see many workers who have just crawled sleepily out of bed, hurrying in both directions, shivering along the streets. Most of them walk fast and keep their eyes on the pavement, or at most on the clothes and faces of the passers-by. Heads up, dear friends!
Just try it once — a tree, or at least a considerable section of sky, is to be seen anywhere. It does not even have to be blue sky; in some way or another the light of the sun always makes itself felt. Accustom yourself every morning to look for a moment at the sky and suddenly you will be aware of the air around you, the scent of morning freshness that is bestowed on you between sleep and labor. You will find every day that the gable of every house has its own particular look, its own special lighting. Pay it some heed if you will have for the rest of the day a remnant of satisfaction and a touch of coexistence with nature. Gradually and without effort the eye trains itself to transmit many small delights, to contemplate nature and the city streets, to appreciate the inexhaustible fun of daily life. From there on to the fully trained artistic eye is the smaller half of the journey; the principal thing is the beginning, the opening of the eyes.
A stretch of sky, a garden wall overhung by green branches, a strong horse, a handsome dog, a group of children, a beautiful face — why should we be willing to be robbed of all this? Whoever has acquired the knack can in the space of a block see precious things without losing a minute’s time… All things have their vivid aspects, even the uninteresting or ugly; one must only want to see.
And with seeing come cheerfulness and love and poesy. The man who for the first time picks a small flower so that he can have it near him while he works has taken a step toward joy in life.
USE ALL YOUR SENSES
(There are) many other small joys, perhaps the especially delightful one of smelling a flower or a piece of fruit, of listening to one’s own or others’ voices, of hearkening to the prattle of children. And a tune being hummed or whistled in the distance, and a thousand other tiny things from which one can weave a bright necklace of little pleasures for one’s life.
SEEK OUT THE SMALL JOYS
My advice to the person suffering from lack of time and from apathy is this: Seek out each day as many as possible of the small joys, and thriftily save up the larger, more demanding pleasures for holidays and appropriate hours. It is the small joys first of all that are granted us for recreation, for daily relief and disburdenment, not the great ones.”
My ’small’ joy of today has been the delight of smelling my fresh herbs of basil, coriander and rosemary. You are very welcome to comment and share yours. I am building a library of Inspriational sayings – we could start a library of Small Joys here!
It’s a ‘dead’ February Sunday morning – a sunless, muted chilled day. The kind where it is easy to descend into melancholy and retreat into oneself. I am sitting on my patio in socks, pyjamas and winter coat drinking my morning coffee, listening to Janis Ian and contemplating.
My gaze lights on the terracotta pot that one of Anna’s friends accidentally broke, which now looks sad and dilapidated.
And my gaze softens and widens and instead of the broken pot I allow myself to see what’s in it and in the mass of winter dead leaves in the bed beyond.
And I realise that I have not really been paying attention in the last few weeks of morning coffee drinking, because there in the ground are the first signs of Spring.
I’ve been talking to clients a lots recently about growth, and about spring bulbs – how we plant them in Autumn and then see nothing for months – but how in that dark, hard ground, something is happening. That without that time of winter – of darkness, of bare-ness, of hibernation, the bulbs don’t have the necessary strength and energy to find their way through the earth and up to the light in order to blossom..
And I realise that wherever I look in my tiny garden, the signs of growth are everywhere – I just haven’t been really looking. And like the hyacinths that are budding in the safety of their leaf nests, my flowers of creativity are budding and ready to bloom.
I have been doing some work on website recently and came across quite a few blogs that I started and never published. I notice that for years I have been having ideas about things I want to write, to offer as workshops, and I have got some way to making them happen and then they have sat dormant. And just as I had the idea of this blog and walked inside and made it happen, so I realise that I am making all sorts of other plans, dreams and schemes happen organically – with energy but without forcing, and I notice by paying attention, that my creativity is budding and in the process of blossoming, because of all the surreptitious growing that has been going on in the dark.
And I realise that it no longer bothers me if I can’t see the sun because the light is inside me, and I am deeply happy…