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Advent Reflections for Single Parents & Other Rare Species 22

Conflict & Separation

December 22

Conflict and Separation – It comes as no surprise that January is the month of the highest number of divorce petitions. This time of year, far from being festive and joyful, is the most contentious time for many couples and families. Frequently, what has been festering unspoken for the rest of the year, and maybe years before, is brought to the surface through the demands we place on ourselves and each other at Christmas.

Problems brewing

I remember with crystal clarity, the agonising months and years of trying to decide just how long it was reasonable to stay in a marriage where I was so lonely. Eight years, on and off, of couples’ counselling, no intimacy and no movement, long walks where I begged for connection, the time I was yelled at by one of the villagers for startling her when I was wailing like a banshee on the hill outside the village, thinking I was alone and in despair.

And yet, we had a small child..I had failed once before…my friends were (apparently) all happily married..what would anyone think of me? How could I do this to my daughter?

The questions swirled round and round for literally years. I did a coaching course. We had to find subjects on which to be coached. I tried desperately to find things that were manageable and not related to possible separation. I failed miserably.

Facing ourselves honestly

 

Perhaps the most difficult thing to face in considering sundering an important relationship, and particularly a marriage, is what we have wanted to believe about ourself, and what we have wanted others to believe about us. If we are the one who is choosing to walk away, we potentially face the wrath and judgment of society, of friends, of family. Our place in the fabric of life.

 

Avoiding making the decision

It took probably four years for me to find the courage to separate. And I will acknowledge that at some point in those four years, I made a conscious decision to have an affair to try and meet some of my needs and keep my marriage together. I have worked with people for decades now, and I am aware of how many different (and frequently unhelpful) things that people do to try and stay in unhappy marriages. And they all have consequences.

Facing the Consequences

One of the biggest consequences of my prevarication was the collapse of the housing market and the subsequent financial insecurity I have faced since. Yet I also know that I did not have the necessary resolve until I did. Some of that comes with the accumulation of a thousand daily proofs, that at some point becomes sufficient evidence to act. Like the straw that broke the camel’s back, the final tipping point may seem, of itself, strangely insignificant.

Unexpected Outcomes

Things do not turn out as you may expect. For years, one of the things holding me back was concern for my husband’s emotional state of wellbeing. He had experienced significant loss and difficulty in his childhood, and I feared for his ability to survive this one. Yet he was dating again within a few months, and had found ‘the one’, in less than six. Whereas I have lived alone for many years, lacking the courage to face further heartbreak.

However, the judgment I experienced, was far less than I had feared. Mostly it came from those who, for whatever reason, felt themselves trapped in an unhappy marriage and unable to break free. My experience has been far more, that friends, colleagues and clients have felt free to unburden themselves to me, knowing what I have faced in myself and in my life.

Experiment with Changing your beliefs

I am fortunate in that, despite the fact that my life has not turned out as I may have hoped or expected at the time, I have never regretted my decision. But often it is not our situation that needs to change. It is our beliefs and our attitude. I would strongly advocate that you explore all possible avenues before making any irreversible decisions. A practical application of this would be to ask yourself the following question when debating what to do in particular situation: “If I did not feel trapped/stuck, what would I do in this situation?’ Sometimes the answer may surprise you.

 

If any of this resonates with you, I highly recommend finding professional support. Friends and family are good, but will often have their own agendas in advice they may feel impelled to offer. Of far greater assistance, is a non-judgmental ear which will allow you to plumb the depths of your understanding of yourself and your situation, allowing you to find your own internal resolve for movement or for staying.

If reading is something you find helpful, I can highly recommend Esther Perel. She has written two deeply insightful books, ‘Mating in Captivity’, and ‘The State of Affairs’, she has numerous YouTube videos and a podcast that examines these complex human relationships with empathy, warmth and understanding. https://www.estherperel.com/. If you want to get in touch with me, I offer online and in person coaching. https://www.creativetransformation.org.uk/

Whatever you are experiencing, you are not alone. I wish you courage, patience, determination and compassion for both yourself and those with whom you have lost the way.

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Advent Reflections for Single Parents & Other Rare Species 11

December 11th

Lifeline Lessons from Lockdown

Lifeline lessons from Lockdown: The image of a lifesaving ring floating on the flooded river Ouse today reminded me of my survival tactics from lockdown.

Each day I would try and get out for a walk, and ideally with a friend, so that I could maintain some form of human contact at a time when most of our support systems (and crutches) were unavailable to us. This was quite a challenge in the Christmas lockdown, as wet weather and darkness often made that intention quite challenging.

Today, a watery winter sun appeared after a weekend of wild storms, lashing rain and thrashing wind – the calm after the storm. My usual riverside walk was 6’ under water, so my walk took me to our nearby allotments and a time of noticing small details. And a cosy coffee and conversation with a good friend added to my sense of well-being and feeling of connection.

In this lead up to Christmas, when many people are becoming more and more frantic in the completion of tasks, take time to get out into nature when you can, notice small details, and connect with your support systems.

To connect with me, look here: https://www.creativetransformation.org.uk/contact-me-2/

and please share this post with anyone you know who is struggling at this time. 

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Advent Reflections for Single Parents & Other Rare Species 10

December 10th

From Gloom to Glory!

 

 

From Gloom to Glory! What it is about Sunday mornings? Maybe it’s my punishment for not going to church anymore, but my demons are always sitting on the end of my bed on a Sunday morning.

The weather was fit for the launching of Noah’s Ark, which didn’t help. And of course I was late getting up. And of course, despite the fact that I had lovely plans for the day – preparation for a late afternoon International gathering to enjoy some English Christmas customs – those voices were singing in the choir of my head. “You’re late. You won’t be ready. You always leave things til the last minute. You may be full of good ideas, but you hardly ever give yourself enough time to make them happen with any grace…”

”Oh, and what about this blog you set yourself to write daily? You know you haven’t left time to do that either, don’t you? And you do realise that you are so superficial, that just getting it done is no good! You haven’t researched how to do all the correct tags, or formatting so all the effort you go to is largely wasted, because nobody is reading them…”

“Maybe that’s lucky though, because they are so rushed and so meaningless..”

It took me a good hour to change my mind with a coffee and meditation and Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto.

Finally I got myself going – pork and apricot casserole into the slow cooker, washing in the machine, dishes in the dishwasher…

And the day looked up… The annual pilgrimage to the cemetery with my lovely neighbour to go and collect greenery for the wreaths I had promised my alumni we would make – with the rain kindly pausing for the event.

Collecting my Christmas tree – the first time ever I hadn’t chosen it with my daughter. So I called her in Cambodia and begged her for a 2 minute video call. Hmmmm! Very grumpy (shorthand for hungover I have a feeling) and a refusal until guilt got the better of her 5 mins later. 

Armed with the tree and pots of deliciously scented hyacinths I collected the first of my guests…

I’m not sure they were really enthralled with the idea of making wreaths, but with the inducement of chocolate orange panettone washed down my mulled wine/mulled fruit punch, we all set to work, and soon a concentrated silence settled over the room as we re-discovered the joy of making things with one’s hands, of handling scented rosemary, vibrant holly berries, delicate pine cones and dried orange slices.

Supper was a sharing of customs from round the globe – from Iran to Indonesia, Estonia to Afghanistan and all the way to the foot of Africa.

And after, a sharing of music and song around the fire.

What a glorious end to the gloomy start to the day.

This week I invite you to connect with others – who may have different ideas and different cultures, but with whom we can share nature, food, music and joy.

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Advent Reflections for Single Parents & Other Rare Species 9

December 9th

Thinking of Others

Today I am late writing because I have been thinking of others. Tomorrow I am hosting an English advent day of making Christmas Wreaths and decorating the Christmas tree for some of my foreign alumni. So I have been scouring the shops for all I need. Certainly thinking of others is a really good way to avoid falling into an advent funk! There are almost always others who have less than we do, or have more reason to suffer.

This poem about #kindness resonated with me today:

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

 

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.

 

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

 

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.

 

– Naomi Shihab Nye https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naomi_Shihab_Nye

Until I looked her up to include this link, I hadn’t realised that her father was Palestinian. It seems especially pertinent and poignant to include it under the circumstances….

To connect with me, look here: https://www.creativetransformation.org.uk/contact-me-2/

 

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Advent Reflections for Single Parents & Other Rare Species 8

December 8th

The Difficult Art of Forgiveness

 

The Difficult Art of Forgiveness..

I am a firm believer that Nelson Mandela would not have been able to lead the country without that 27 year stint in prison..https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nelson_Mandela

So often great art, music and literature is born out of great pain. However, it would seem that great art can still be made without its creator dealing with his/her demons.

I don’t think the same is true of the task that Mandela undertook of uniting and leading a country that was riven by decades of hatred, oppression and war. A task like that requires a depth of demon slaying that few people ever achieve. The key, it seems to me, was his ability to forgive. And his understanding that without the ability to leave his bitterness and hatred behind him as he left prison, meant that he would still effectively be there.

Why is it so hard to be able to truly leave bitterness behind and embrace forgiveness, even when we know that bitterness imprisons us?

It was my choice to eventually leave my marriage after many years of joint counselling and more of despair. So I have not had to deal with the incredible difficulty of being left, when I wanted something to continue. However, the process of our divorce felt very unjust to me, and I have lived for many years with a level of financial insecurity that has been challenging. (I write ‘a level of..’ deliberately, because I am aware that I am still much better off than many who have faced divorce – and all sorts of other injustices.)

There is an awareness in me, that had I made a greater financial success of these post-divorce years, I would have found it easier to release any sense of injustice, and that is down to me (and various life events, including a little thing called covid). But none of the apparent injustices I experienced even make it onto the light end of the scale of those faced by Mandela and the millions of South Africans who happened to be a different colour from those in power. Yet he managed it, and that stands as a challenge to me, and to all who have suffered injustice.

At this time of midwinter and the turning of the year, I invite you (and me) to take time to reflect on what you have allowed to imprison you. Is the difficulty of letting go hatred, bitterness, anger, frustration, and powerlessness greater than the cost of remaining in prison?

What is the key that would open your prison door?

To find out more about me and my work, look here: https://www.creativetransformation.org.uk/about-2/ or to get in touch to tell me your story, or for help unpicking the knots in your life, look here: https://www.creativetransformation.org.uk/contact-me-2/

And please feel free to share this post with anyone you know who may be struggling at this time. See you tomorrow!

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Advent Reflections for Single Parents & Other Rare Species 4

December 4th

 

Difficult Days

At this time of advent, both highs and lows can feel more intense. Some intelligent person (I can’t remember who), said that we should expect at least one or two difficult days each week. With the plethora of self help news and views of social media these days, it may seem that we should miraculously be able to manifest all we truly desire every day, if we just follow their 4 simple steps. Well, I have news for you people – Life doesn’t work like that.

Some days are difficult days, whether you like it or not. Today has been one of those days for me. The weather here doesn’t help – endlessly grey skies spilling mid-winter tears so that it never really gets light…

But for me, today was supposed to be a good day. I was due to start a new creative process that I have been putting off for literally years. Instead, I got news that I couldn’t start it today, and what’s more, the person I was supposed to start it with has backed out, and I don’t know where I will find another one. And it was important for my future….

I wish I could say that I applied all the principles I teach to breathe into this situation, recalibrate and get to work anyway. 

Actually, I have sat crushed for most of the day, achieving almost nothing other than clearing my kitchen, and managing somehow to stick to my commitment to write this blog. And consoling myself with the fact that it’s only about midday on the west coast of America.

Actually, my real consolation has come from a few really good friends, who have either listened to my woes (and really listened, and not handed out unrequested advice), or just sent me texts letting me know they were thinking of me.

We all need support systems, and no more so than on difficult days and at difficult times. So today and in these next few weeks, reach out to your support systems when you need them, and ask yourself who might need your help, comfort and support at this time. Sometimes we get so involved in our busyness or our problems, that we fail to notice that others are struggling. Keep checking your peripheral vision…

Art with grateful thanks today from the amazing Jenny Reyneke, whose work can be found at https://reynekeart.wixsite.com/artist-portfolio/works-2016

 

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Advent Reflections for Single Parents & Other Rare Species 3

December 3rd

 

The Advent of the Festive Season is both a time for reflection, and often a time for old triggers to resurface, unwanted.

Yesterday I reflected that making decisions required intention, will and commitment. In the past, my habitual response to difficult circumstances, was to either grit my teeth and power through with grim determination, or to collapse. I have slowly been learning the power of gentleness. (And for those of you who know me well, I did mention the words slowly, and learning). My default position when I am frightened has definitely been ‘the best form of defence is attack’. And when I am triggered, it is still one of those unwanted reactions that I deal with sometimes better than others. 

Sometimes we find it easier to be gentle with others than ourselves. Today I would invite you to be gentle with yourself, as you keep your own candle lit and your flame alive in this time of darkness. And also that gentleness shares much with compassion

With thanks to my lovely friend Natacha Dauphin for the image and words from her books. Find her, and them at https://www.natachadauphin.com/

For over 6 years I have been leading a Monday morning meditation – until lockdown, in person, and thereafter, online. Here is a recording of an in-person meditation from Winter 2019 on the theme of Gentleness.

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Advent Reflections for Single Parents & Other Rare Species

December 1st

I have been a single mother for more years than I care to think about, so I am well accustomed to the feeling of dread which arises at the advent of the ‘festive’ season when people start asking me what I am doing for Christmas. Moreover, this year will be the first where I don’t see my daughter – she graduated last year and is off travelling the world.

A few weeks ago I went to visit my nephew and family at their new house, and I found this fun snowman advent calendar for his young daughters.

In the few days that he sat smiling at me before my trip, I rather fell in love with his cheerful face, and so when I discovered a fellow snowman on my next trip to the shop, I bought one for myself.

I was communing with him the other morning, and had an idea. This year I am going to make Advent a positive time. I am going to write a daily blog with something inspirational – mostly things I’ve collected from other people (thank you @Robyn Gordon). Occasionally I might add something personal, or one of my photos, and maybe even a meditation or two. 

I don’t want to put pressure on myself. But I do want you to know that if you find this time of year difficult, sad, lonely, don’t suffer alone, and there are ways to change your mind and perhaps allow yourself some joy.

Loss can feel more acute at this time of year, financial hardship more difficult. But research shows that we can find as much happiness in small, daily interactions, as with what people would term ‘real relationships. So this Advent, I encourage you to make as much as possible of what daily interactions you might have with others – and also to go out and make some! And if you have none, feel free to write to me on here, and I will do my best to respond.

Please feel free to share this with anyone who you think might be struggling at this time of year.