JOY – Century old wisdom for Current times

There is a saying – ‘When the pupil is ready, the teacher appears’.

I already have a weekly battery charging session with the wonderful Natacha Dauphin https://www.natachadauphin.com/

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 JOYBluebell wood

”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!

HEADS UP!

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!

NOTICING NATURETree branches

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.

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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.”
Herman Hesse

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!

Surreptitious Growth

Spring Flowers

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.

Terracotta Pot

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.

Spring Bulbs

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..

Hyacinths in GrowthAnd 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…

The 3 Illusions on which many of us build our lives

Many years ago I came across the book ‘The Heart Aroused’ by David Whyte – a book about bringing Heart into the Business world and found it inspiring.

Last week I came across one of his talks, where he propounded the theory of my title. These are the 3 illusions of which he speaks:

  1. That we can somehow construct a life where we are not vulnerable
  2. That we can somehow construct a life where our hearts do not get broken
  3. That we wish to see to the end of our life from where we stand right now

1. He talked of how we hope to avoid the pain of loss and illness. Yet just as nature is cyclical – an unavoidable cycle of birth, growth, decay and death, so too are many aspects of our lives. In wishing to only relate to the first half of that cycle, we find ourselves at war with ourselves and nature for 50% of the time.

That struck a chord. I am no lover of vulnerability, and have spent a great deal of time and energy from time to time, attempting to avoid it. Yet as Brené Brown so succinctly puts it:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

Oh heck……

2. It goes without saying then, that if we are going to live a life imbued with any of these qualities, that at some point, we will get our hearts broken. David Whyte argues that if we love the work we do, we will get our hearts broken professionally as well as personally.

Rock and a hard place then, folks. It’s that full cycle thing again. Most of us (all of us?) want to love, to belong, to experience joy and to connect. So apparently the choice is, allow yourself to be heartbroken at some point, to feel pain, sadness, rejection, or be alone, disconnected, numb and half dead while alive.

Oh heck…..

3. The recent spate of terrorist attacks on innocent people eating in restaurants or walking across the wrong bridge at the wrong moment, and the floods sweeping Africa, Asia and America are a stark reminder that we have no guarantee of safety in this lifetime. (Interestingly, reports of Hurricane Harvey flood my newsfeed – 9 dead, 30,000 homeless. I have to search harder to find the 1,200 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless in the recent monsoons, but that is a rant for another time).

Last December my father, though 88 and suffering from dementia, was hale and hearty. I stood in the shower one Saturday morning and suddenly remembered my passport was about to expire and I would not be allowed into South Africa until I had renewed it. That lunchtime I had a text from my mother to say my father had fallen and was in hospital, but seemed OK. He died at 4am the following morning…

I mentioned at the beginning of this month that the blogs I would write were a way of reflecting on issues that troubled me. If they help anyone else, great, but at bottom I am finding ways of pausing to consider the ramifications of the choices that I make in my life, to think consciously about them, and to try and change them if I find them unhelpful. The principles espoused in this last sentence are of course also the basic tenets of the Alexander Technique. They say you teach best what you most need to learn…..

http://www.davidwhyte.com/

On Demons, Compassion, Choice and the Interconnectedness of Life

Yesterday I was blessed and privileged to have a long  Facetime conversation with Lindsay Kyte – she just waking in Halifax Canada, and I just returning from a day out in nature in Yorkshire, UK.

Lindsay was one of my MA students about 8 years ago at LIPA (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts). She is now an award winning play-write, TEDx speaker, and editor of The Lion’s Roar – the premier Buddhist magazine in N America.

When Lindsay first returned to Canada, she turned to me for some long distance life coaching and now I have been able to turn to her for for help with the re-writing of my website.

But yesterday we were reflecting deeply on our shared demons, and the need for compassion – in particular self compassion.

For the last couple of years, this month of August, when clients and daughter are away, has seen the rearing heads of my ‘not enough’ demons: ‘Not good enough, not hardworking enough, not published enough, not known enough, not rich enough, not spiritual enough, not kind enough…..’ My ‘not enough’ demons are legion.

This year, I am facing those demons down by deliberate choices based on compassion and recognition of the interconnectedness of life.

I love this image of the impact of single droplets into water – how individually they create expanding concentric circles, and how each of those interact with others to create differing patterns, impacts, stories and lives.

And it gave me great joy in talking to Lindsay, in hearing her talk of strategies that I had offered her all those years ago, and how they impacted on the choices she has made in her life, and how those choices impact on so many others with whom she comes into contact, both through her life and through her work. It helps me to reconnect to choices I often find hard to make. It helps me to give value to each individual interaction I have and gives me a sense of meaning and purpose.

We spoke too, of how often we each give energy to things that are not essential, and neglect the things we know will deeply nourish us. While we often give much thought and energy to finding compassion for others, the practice of self compassion is a more elusive one – especially for someone like me, brought up on the tenet of ‘think of others before yourself’.

Lindsay sent this link to Tara Brach’s 10 minute process she calls the RAIN of Compassion:

R -Recognise

A – Accept

I – Investigate

N – Nourish

Tara’s voice is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have found her Mindfulness exercises valuable at times when I have felt unable to quiet my own anxieties.

Here is the link:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=

If you are interested in reading more about Lindsay and Lion’s Roar, here are the links to the magazine, and also Lindsay’s website

http://www.lindsaykyte.com/

https://www.lionsroar.com/

 

VALUABLE USE OF TIME?

I was doing my coaching training at the time when I knew deep down that I had tried everything I could to keep my marriage alive and that I needed to leave. I was also too terrified to deal with the mayhem I knew would result.

We had to practise coaching one another, and to that end, had to think up scenarios which we could use. Whatever ‘safe’ scenario I dreamt up, I invariably found myself being drawn into the one big question I didn’t really want to face.

My idea of writing a ‘thought for the day’ was to give myself both rhythm and inspiration briefly, so I could ‘get on’ with my day.

However, it seems to me, that whatever I think about, I keep coming back to this rather enormous question:

WHAT CONSTITUTES A VALUABLE USE OF OUR (MY ) TIME?

I am wrestling with this in a major way at the moment. If anyone has any thoughts they would like to share, I would be delighted to hear. Meanwhile, because this is only meant to be a thought, and the answer is going to take a lot of wrestling, I am going for the immediately simple one of cooking right now! More on this anon…..

THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY – SUMMER 2017

SUMMER THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY


It’s August, and ‘everyone’ is away on holiday and all classes have stopped. It’s the month for whiling away the hours in lazy sunshine…

Except that I can’t afford to do that, and besides, it seems that Yorkshire was not made aware that ‘lazy sunshine’ was supposed to be the order of the day.

So I am giving notice to anyone who happens to read my blog, that I have made a covenant with myself to put in some sort of thought for the day for the next month – whether that be one of mine, or just one that inspires me.

I would be delighted if this helps/interests/entertains anyone else, but I just want to make it clear that this is something I am doing for myself:

  • To face down my morning demons
  • To practise my 20 minute rule of keeping at things steadily, rather than hoping for the grand inspiration (am much in need of this practice)
  • To practise gratitude
  • To find the lessons in situations I might otherwise be tempted to call problematic
  • To allow myself to write without feeling that I have to be saying something original, important, erudite or anything else deeply meaningful, because I realise that I decided 20 years ago I wanted to write every morning, and I have allowed all these reasons (and more) to stop me, and that seems very sad

  • Because I know in my heart that if I keep paying attention to inspiration and creative thought, that eventually all those little somethings will help me to experience meaning and purpose and that’s something I have been struggling with and allowing me to give free reign to my inner critic.

REFLECTIONS ON MOTHERS’ DAY

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REFLECTIONS ON MOTHERS DAY

My parents, though British, have lived all my life in Africa. I am the divorced mother of an only daughter. Her father’s family have always got together at Christmas and celebrated lavishly. If I loved my daughter, it seemed obvious to let her spend Christmas Day with them, and I learned to hold the day lightly, and to celebrate whenever I was able to get together with what family I had here in the UK. But I also learned to dread the familiar question (as early as September) –‘What are you doing for Christmas?’

Today, having the gift of a daughter here, but a mother on the other side of the world, I have been aware both of the joy of having a child, and the sadness of those who do not have, or are not able to be, a mother; of those who have had a child but no longer are with them for whatever reason, for those who are not able to be with their mothers.

These days of supposed celebration, much touted by the media, are often for many, a reason to feel disenfranchised, on the periphery, lonely and not part of something which feels important.

Because I know that pain, I wanted to write something to let those people know that they are being thought of, and reached out to, even if only in writing.

My training in Alexander Technique taught me the importance of peripheral vision. On days like this, this translates for me into being aware of those of our friends and acquaintances who may be feeling isolated, and finding ways to connect with them.

As someone who faced the very real threat of losing a child in the process of divorce, I also wish to encourage everyone who knows of someone in that situation to do as much as they can for any parent (mother or father) to help them bear that excruciating loss, and further to help prevent it if at all possible.

I have been pondering what it means to be a mother:
• Motherhood is a lifelong commitment, whether one outlives one’s offspring or not
• It is a gift that demands one’s utmost – in creativity, resolve, patience, selflessness, energy, time, fierceness, and longevity of commitment.
• It is way of loving which transcends dislike, exhaustion, frustration and pain
• One can leave country, city, town, village, job, lover or husband, but for me the bond with my daughter is the one constant that it would be unthinkable or impossible to sever. Even as I write this, I am aware that for some, because of fear, illness, pain, or addiction, this may not be true, and the children of those mothers carry the excruciating pain of rejection – whether or not that rejection was deliberate or unconscious.

And those who have not been granted the gift of motherhood have to find other ways to express their creativity, resolve, patience, energy, time and commitment without the daily reminder that children offer. It is therefore a harder task, and I honour those who manage it.
So while I rejoice in this ‘Mothers’ Day, for what it is worth, I send love and good wishes to all those women for whom this day would otherwise be one of sadness, loss or isolation. And to those who have chosen otherwise, I wish them a very happy ‘in-Mothers’ Day!

Brief Thoughts from International Women’s Day Conference

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I spent the day with about 800 women at the ‘Be Inspired’ Conference today celebrating International Women’s Day – and was truly inspired.

Some thoughts:
Unity through Diversity:
The speakers came from very different walks of life and there were some common themes as to why we would count them ‘successful’. We can all learn from them!

1. PASSION
These women followed their passions. They had a dream, and made that dream work for them.

2. ENERGY & DEDICATION
The proliferation of Reality TV shows, and the attention garnered through social media can lead us to believe that success is quickly and easily achievable. But each of these women had dedicated time, energy, intelligence, grit and determination to become leaders in their fields.

3. WILLINGNESS TO STAND UP AND BE COUNTED
Many of the women had become leaders in fields often thought of as bastions of the male sex. They had suffered contempt, criticism, humiliation and condescension on their way to the top. Nevertheless they had stood their ground, fought the fight, and stood out as beacons of hope and role models for those of us less willing to be seen and heard.

4. COLLABORATION, KINDNESS AND GENEROSITY
Not only had these women fought for themselves, they had all freely and generously given of their time and talents to foster talent, to mentor younger women, and to reach out to those less fortunate or skilled. They all realised that although we can strive to stand out and be different, ultimately collaboration is the way forward.

A common theme was the difficulty that many women face in trying to ‘have it all’ – i.e have a family and career. It is interesting (and somewhat dispiriting) that men seldom face this question.

So I have this challenge – how do we join together to change social norms, change attitudes and ultimately government policy. We have much to learn from our Scandinavian counterparts. In 2020, Finland will change its entire schooling system, no longer teaching by subject, but by phenomenon. Paternity leave is not only offered, but encouraged and supported, in most Scandinavian countries. If they can make such radical changes, why can’t we, and what do we need to do to make it happen?

And now, having attended the Conference, been to work afterwards, cooked a roast dinner for my daughter and cleared it up, written a couple of articles, tweeted and emailed, I need to go to bed!

Meeting Myself with Compassion and Kindness vs Running Away

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It is said that we teach best what we most need to learn. I am a pretty good teacher on a number of things, but particularly on self acceptance!

I am embarking tomorrow on a 7 week online mindfulness course. I am doing this for a number of reasons.

  • I realise that more often than I would wish, I run away from being kindly present with myself and I wish to change that.
  • I am a single parent with an only child and parents who live on the other side of the world. As such, I find this run up to the ‘Festive Season of Love and Light’ challenging.
  • It is also said that ‘We are what we habitually do.’ I know that I often have great intuition, insight and sensitivity, and I also know that I find it difficult to maintain those qualities on a habitual day to day basis and I need help with achieving a daily nourishing reminder.

Compassionate Presence vs Running Away

I have worked long enough with people to know that I am not alone in this. What I know is that when I scratch below the surface, almost everyone has a place where they face the challenge of themselves, more or less successfully. And I think it might help me and others for me to articulate some of the challenges I face in myself and seek to overcome.

In many ways, I love my life. I row, play tennis, sing, hike, camp, body surf when I get the chance, and much too little dance and play music. I have a job I love and a wonderful daughter and good friends.

How is it, that with all that, I can run away from myself? Well, I do. I notice that when left to myself, if I am not careful, and certainly if I am not thriving for any reason, I run away from myself, tune out, self numb or whatever you like to call it. Occasionally I tell myself I am not so bad, because the activities I choose are relatively innocuous – I watch other people live life on film instead of living it myself (under the heading of chilling out), I play rather a frightening amount of sudoku and free cell (under the heading of keeping my brain active), and rather less innocuously, from time to time,  I smoke (under the heading of, well, it only harms me, and I don’t have vices like getting drunk or having loads of sex with random people, and I need some form of sensual outlet).

One of my favourite authors, Salley Vickers, talks in her book, ‘The Other Side of You’, about what passes for love often being a decidedly mixed bag: lust, anxiety, lack of self-worth, sadism, masochism, cowardice, fear, recklessness, self-glory, simple brutality, the need to control, the urge to be looked after; most dangerous of all, the desire to save. There are other, happier, ingredients: kindness, compassion, honour, friendship, sympathy, the wish to help, the attendant wish to be good, though these finer impulses can often wreak more havoc then the more blackguardly ones.

I cite this, because I think it is worth looking at in terms of relationship to others, but also because I think that ‘innocuous’ ways of running away from ourselves can also wreak more havoc than more blackguardly ones. We can convince ourselves that we are doing really important work that needs our time and attention, we can do charitable works or do sport, music or other things that are good in themselves, but can equally masquerade as ways of avoiding being quietly and compassionately present with ourselves.

‘Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.’
—Carl Gustav Jung

As a parent, I am painfully aware of the truth of this statement. If for no other reason than to enable my daughter to live a full and happy life, I would like to truly live my life. And I have done enough work on self awareness to know that those ways I have of trying to escape myself, whether seemingly innocuous or not, will have, and have had, and impact on her. So I am doing my best to find strategies for facing myself, acknowledging my vulnerabilities and giving myself the love and compassion that I need to thrive.

We are what we habitually do

I also know from my work, that it takes 300 repetitions to create a new neural pathway, and 3000 to repetitions to break an old one! 

I see it as no accident that all the major religions have about 5 calls a day to prayer. It seems that we all need help and reminding to come back to ourselves, to loving presence, and the means to live fully.

In my work I have developed a great sensitivity which enables me to tune into the pain of others, be that physical, mental, emotional, spiritual or energetic. But as Brene Brown says, we cannot selectively numb. I have told many of my clients who are deeply sensitive that sensitivity brings many riches, but if we don’t pay it attention, care for it and manage it well, it can wreak havoc.

I am a person who feels the highs and lows of life, and do not naturally flow along on an even keel, so I need to take care, and to develop the daily management of my sensitivity.

I am going to pay it attention in the next 7 weeks, and will report back on my progress!

 

Living with Courage and Intention