The Spirals of Life
Do you ever get the feeling that you’ve ‘been here before’? You find yourself caught up in the same emotional state - living through the same mess over and over? The number of times I hear someone say “I always seem to attract the wrong type of man/woman”; or “Why do I keep ending up in the wrong job?” or “All women/men are the same - you can’t trust them”. It can sometimes seem as though we go through the same situations again and again; round and round in circles.
The picture above was taken looking up through the middle of a column I was climbing in London, I had been going round and round for some time and decided to pause and gasp for a while and take a picture. Being a bit scared of heights looking up seemed the better option - even though it was still a way to go. The image got me thinking about the feeling of going round in circles;
I have come to realise 2 things about this situation in life recently -
I am not actually going in circles because each time it happens it starts and ends slightly differently.
There must be a reason for this!
There is a famous saying (attributed to a variety of sources) that;
“Insanity is repeating the same action over and over and expecting different results”
Basically doing what you always do is just going to land you in the same mess again! This brings me to my second realisation so I will start there...There must be a reason for this. I have always had a belief that things happen for a reason. It has not always been an easy or comfortable belief to hold, especially when people we love die, or when friendships that we had thought would last a lifetime end. Yet when I look back at the things that have happened in my life and how they have lead to where I am now I can see the pattern in the good and the bad and how they have woven together and made sense. Sometimes, it’s worth noting, the ‘reason’ has not been for me. Maybe I was in someone’s life because they needed to learn something too...
So the whole idea of coming back to the same place must mean that there was something I was supposed to learn the first time I was in that situation and I didn’t. It reminds me of when I was learning to play the piano - I hated practising my scales. Up and down the keyboard note by note from different starting points trying to go faster did not really inspire me. So I tended to avoid practising them and instead focussed on my actual pieces. Each week I would go to my lesson and play the piece of music and somewhere a short section would catch me out. My teacher would say “let’s just play that scale of notes on its own”, and I would dutifully fumble my way through the scale. She would be unimpressed and would remind me to practise. The next week would roll round and I would make a different mistake - the same advice would be given. It was a number of years before I realised that unless I practised my scales I would not get better at playing the increasingly complex pieces of music I was learning. I had to keep arriving at the same point before I finally learned my lesson.
Life will keep throwing similar situations or types of people at us until we learn how to respond. It is part of our inner growth to go through this process, realise when it is happening and understand our reactions to it.
Despite all this there is no need to give up hope!! This brings me to my number 1 idea that these are not actually circles. The more awareness we have of the different situations that seem to repeat the more we can look within ourselves for the lessons we need to learn. Each situation teaches us something, no matter now small, so that the next time around we can bring a little more experience into the situation. Maybe it means that we recognise a mistake more quickly; maybe we recover from painful events more easily; maybe we develop skills that build up each time; maybe we realise that this time we really do need to ask for help; most importantly of all maybe we spot the bigger lesson within us this time. We haven’t come back to the same point we are moving forward, even if the steps seem small. Even ‘two steps forward, one step back’ means that we have a net gain in the direction we are going!
This is a lesson that gives us hope on our inner journeys - an assurance we can rest in that things will get better, that we will learn and grow. We can only see our growth as we look backwards at life and reflect on who we used to be or how we used to think or act. It is impossible for us to see into the future, but we have to acknowledge that we will be different again, we will be nearer to who we truely are - nearer to our souls perfection - nearer to home. I lost count of the steps and spirals in that tower - but I got to the top and the view was amazing!!
Self Love is not Selfish!
What would be your response to the question, ‘How much do you love yourself?’
Would it be a slightly embarrassed internal chuckle before thinking of something else? Would you think it is a silly question which you haven’t got time for? Maybe an awkward sense that loving yourself is a rather selfish thing to do or maybe even an outright ‘I don’t love me, I’m a mess. why would anyone love me?’
It may have been a bit of a mixture of all those or something entirely different, but in truth our love for our self is the most important start we can make in improving how we experience life and other people.
When I was little I was taken to church regularly each Sunday. As I grew old enough to sit quietly through the sermon I would be in a pew with my friends listening with half an ear to the preacher whilst contemplating my Sunday roast dinner, and one bible verse used to stick in my mind. Jesus told his disciples to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. This was one I really struggled with. Not because I didn’t think loving others was a good thing but because I thought loving myself was rather selfish. It implied that I would think I was wonderful and beautiful and important and precious and all that was very prideful and conceited. In reality I didn’t love myself very much at all - I hated my bitten nails; I hated that I wore glasses; I hated that I was not fashionable and didn’t ‘fit in’ with people...the list went on - but you get the idea. If I was only going to love others that much then I was not going to be very good at it!!
In the business of day to day life you may well think that you don’t have time to love yourself. You may be too busy with work, looking after family (young or old), keeping in touch with friends, doing DIY, shopping, cooking. The list is endless. How often do you even have time to think about yourself kindly, let alone to spend time on you? Life just gets in the way... But you know, the lower down the list you put yourself the lower you feel; the more of yourself you give out, the more depleted you become.
There is a saying - ‘You cannot pour from an empty vessel’. How many times have you felt that? Empty! Exhausted! All used up and as if you are only hanging on by a thread...If one more thing goes wrong you are going to fall apart and you are scared that you might not be able to put yourself back together again.
It is a horrifying and terrifying place to be and yet many people get to just that point!
There comes a time when you have to stop and make time to look after you.
I can almost hear some of you now - about to start your response with an excuse...’but the children....’ ‘but work...’
We have to make time in our lives to learn to love ourselves. It can start small - an uninterrupted bath or shower (can be a miracle in some busy lives); 5 minutes of peace and silence; a 20 minute walk in fresh air. All little steps to help you to recharge you batteries.
Ultimately though, these things are tiny steps on a journey where you learn to treat yourself with kindness. Not listening to that critical voice in your mind that tells you you are not good enough; cutting yourself some slack in your busy life; realising that you really are wonderful and beautiful and important and precious. If in doubt in a situation ask yourself what you would say to a friend and then say it to yourself. It is unlikely that you would tell them they are useless or stupid or deserve to struggle! No, you would be encouraging, offer help, be gentle, support them...so do the same for yourself.
Take a moment today to write yourself a list of things you could do to show yourself some love, a self-love menu - it could be anything from a quiet cup of tea to half an hour with a favourite book; a relaxing bubble bath, time to do a guided meditation or listen to your favourite music. Then having written the list try to do one thing from the list each day for a week. Learn to show yourself some love - allow yourself time to get past feeling awkward or selfish for doing something just for you. You will be surprised how much easier it becomes to love others too, how much more peace comes into your life and how much less time you will have to spend worrying.
You really are wonderful, beautiful, important and precious...just look and see...
Hanging on to the Dream
Sometimes life can seem as though it is a real struggle. Those mornings when you wake up tired and feel as though you are moving through treacle; the days when a dream that seemed so clear becomes foggy and impossible to attain; the days when nothing seems to flow or go right. We all have them...
A few days ago my husband and I decided it would be a good idea to climb a mountain, so early in the morning we set off to Wales to climb Snowdon. Anticipation was high, the day was beautiful, we had our boots on and plenty of sun cream applied and Snowdon looked wonderful!
It was not to be an easy goal however. There were a few hiccups before we were on a small bus (packed tightly with hopeful climbers) heading to the start of the climb.
I gazed up at the distant peak of the mountain and suddenly realised just what a challenge it was going to be. This was the point at which the real work began...trying to transfer the dream into reality was going to require effort! A lot of effort! Initially the path was winding, uneven and a bit scrambly. It was fun really, we were full of energy and enthusiasm and managed the first section well, climbing over a stile and arriving at a long fairly gentle section of the mountain trail. We still had to be careful and my eyes were focused on the path to ensure that I did not trip or twist an ankle. Occasional peeks towards the summit showed it rising ahead against a beautiful clear blue sky, looking beautiful and majestic.
I began to think about life’s journey and how much it is like climbing a mountain. We often have an idea in our minds of what we would like life to look like. A sort of dream or vision of what we would like to do; what we would like or relationships to be like; our ideal house; ideal job... The list goes on. But getting there - that is a different story.
We watch each step we take to make sure we don’t make any mistakes, we don’t want to fall, or fail, or trip; we definitely don’t want to have to ask to be rescued. At the start of the journey we have energy and enthusiasm. We have prepared as best we can and there ahead of us is our vision. Then we have to do the work. At some point anything worth fighting for requires work. We focus more closely on each step...each step is hard...no time to look up at the mountain tops now, only the inches in front of our boots.
We eventually reached that part on the mountain! The incredibly steep, zig-zag slog to the summit. Bits that needed both hands to hang onto rocks. The path became harder to make out and in some spots we had to pick the best way we could over piles of rocks and boulders. Breathing was a challenge and my face was so red I began to look like a tomato! Stops were frequent and drinks needed often. Looking up at the dream of the summit just seemed to make it look further away.
When life gets like this we want to stop - to give up. It is so hard to keep going! We have to pick our way round obstacles and problems and we long for just a few steps that are easy. It was at this point where it was the hardest, that I realised that I had no choice but to keep going. I had come so far, worked so hard. If I could just keep putting one foot ahead of the other - no matter how slow - I would get to the top.
I was reminded of difficult times I have had in life where there has been no choice but to keep going. One painful day at a time. One set back after another. Moving forward in a world focused only on the next step where the dream seems too far away.
But I did it!! The joy of reaching the summit - of seeing everything laid out before me - mountains, rivers, sea, made up for every second of the journey. In the end, the struggle is worth it, the dark days help us appreciate the light ones and the sense of achievement when we overcome all the set backs is so worth it.
So if you are struggling, if you are trapped in that part of the journey when the dream has gone and there is only the pain and the struggle - just keep going. One day - one step at a time. As long as you don’t give up you will come through, it may take a while but it WILL happen.
It’s all going wrong! 5 steps to help you get back on track.
Do you ever have days when it seems as though you can’t do anything right? No matter how well laid your plans are things just aren’t going the way they should?
It is surprising how quickly that negative voice in our heads speaks up isn’t it?
“What is everyone going to think of you?... You should have got up straight away instead of snoozing the alarm!... You are stupid - fancy not remembering to plug your phone in to charge!...What a numpty leaving your purse at home like that!..I can’t believe you forgot your coat...”
On and on it goes until a simple mistake defines you as a complete failure! We end up feeling so stressed that there is no way we can redeem the situation in our minds and we just feel as though we need a complete do-over. In fact can we just roll back time and do the whole day again please?
So - here are some steps to help you get through...
Step 1 - Breathe!
Yes, I know you ‘haven’t got time for that’. But is rushing around, stressed, impatient, shoulders up by your ears and a tense expression really going to achieve anything apart from a major headache and bad temper? NO...So take a moment to take 3 really deep slow belly breaths, on each exhale roll and lower your shoulders and let go of the tension. Focus your whole mind on those breaths and now on to...
Step 2 - Say No!
All those stressed and unkind things you are saying to yourself about how stupid you are for forgetting x,y or z. All those angry things you may be thinking about another person who you think might have caused these problem. Anything about how this always happens to you and your life is terrible...Stop! You might even need to say ‘NO’ out loud and hold up a hand to break into that noise in your head. If you are going to get back on track you haven’t got time or energy for beating yourself up or blaming others, there are better and more positive things to think about.
Step 3 - Back to reality.
Ok, so now it is time to see reality. Not the rubbish your thoughts have been throwing at you, but reality. Accept what is real; you may have missed a train; got stuck on the motorway; got an injury that stops you going to the gym; forgotten to take your purse with you; lost your phone. The list is endless, but this is just the way it is. Getting flustered and frustrated is not going to turn back time. Once you look at the real situation, then you can think about an action plan of what to do next. You can think positively and calmly. There is space between what has happened and what your action will be...space to think and breath, to plan and to make good decisions based on thought and not panic.
Step 4 - Be kind!
So now you are breathing, calmer, quieter in your mind, be kind to yourself. If your friend was in the situation that you are in would you tell them how stupid they are? Would you tell them they are useless? Would you refuse to help? I’m guessing your answer to those has been ‘no’. You would be only too willing to help out in any way you could. Remember that people around you are willing to help - they are just waiting for you to ask. From time to time teachers that I worked with would get stuck on the motorway on the way to work...Did the rest of us give them a hard time when they arrived? Laugh at them? Leave them to struggle? No! We looked after their class for them, made sure they were ok, gave them time to get organised, maybe make a cup of tea, told them not to worry. So remember to be just as kind to yourself. Ask for the help you need and trust that others are happy to be there for you what ever the problem, just as you would be there for them.
Step 5 - Take time to remember who you are...
The final step is often forgotten. It is just such a relief to have ‘caught up’ or got through the situation in one piece that we fall into bed glad it is over. This final step is the key to calming the negative voices and panic more quickly next time. Take a moment to look inside at who you really are; a good way to do this is to think about all those little things that you are grateful for. The people you love, a roof over your head, food, that you got through the day. Take a moment to be silent and focus on the feeling of love. Love is a powerful tool for showing us who we really are, it can be a gateway to our inner mind, the us within. The self that is constant...
Finally - if you think of someone you love or care about...Do you love them less or care for them less if they make a mistake? I’m guessing not - because you know that they are not that mistake, they are so much more.
The same is true of us all.
5 Mini Moments of Mindfulness
Yesterday a friend mentioned how often we hear people around us but don’t really listen and it set me thinking...
Our experience of the physical world around us comes to us through our five senses; the things we see; conversations with our friends and listening to what they say; the food that we eat and drink; the smell of the neighbour’s barbecue and the things we touch. All these send information to our brain - we mix in our own interpretations and meanings, emotions are generated and our reality is created.
I love the smell of smoke on bonfire night as it brings back happy memories from childhood of watching a display in a local park and going home to eat jacket potatoes and mounds of cheese. Another person may hate the smell - for them unhappy memories may be triggered. It is not the smell that is different, just the realities we each create.
So, if our reality is created from our physical senses what sort of reality are we creating? How many times have you been so busy thinking of what response to give to someone in a conversation that you don’t actually hear what they say? How many times today have you looked at something and not actually seen it...properly seen it? Have you eaten of drunk something today without really noticing the flavours? Have you registered a scent in the air and appreciated what the source might be? Have you touched something - maybe even held a hand and really felt it?
How much of life are we really experiencing and how much are we missing because our minds are otherwise occupied? Is our reality really based on reality, or just on the chatter in our heads?
I have far too many days when I drive somewhere and suddenly realise that part of the journey is a blank. I was physically driving, looking at the road, handling the controls, but my mind had taken me off somewhere else. You know - round the supermarket thinking about what might be nice for dinner, or when I was teaching, into my classroom thinking about what the children might enjoy doing. Our minds, with their endless chatter and distraction can take us far away from what we are actually looking at, touching etc.
Mindfulness is about being ‘in the moment’, here, now, in this instant, and this one. Listening to a friend and not just hearing them; savouring a mouthful not just eating in a rush; taking a moment to hear the birdsong, smell the flowers and really feel the hand we hold. So why not try these 5 Mini Moments of Mindfulness today, maybe everyday and see if your experience of reality changes?
1. A Moment to Taste
Make yourself a cup of tea or another drink. Smell the tea in its container first, note its intensity is it sweet? Citrus? Floral? Be deliberate as you make it focusing on the movements of your hands and the scent of the vapour as you pour the hot water in. Watch it change colour as you add milk or lemon. Feel the warmth of the cup in your hands. You might blow on it to cool it - watch the patterns and ripples on the surface, the way they catch the light. Take a tiny sip and hold it in your mouth a second before you swallow and feel the warmth inside you
2. A Moment to Listen
Next time you have a conversation with someone really focus on what they are saying. Try not to be thinking about forming a reply; not looking at your phone or the TV; not comparing their experience or viewpoint to your own but instead focusing on them. Allowing a moment of silence before your rush to reply - they may be trying to say more than they can articulate in words.
3. A Moment to See
This works well in nature, choosing a flower, tree, butterfly, blue sky (or grey) spend a few moments really looking at it in detail, the colours, textures, movements, shape. Breathe deeply and feel yourself relax into the experience. You might be gazing at your sleeping child, looking into someones eyes, but take time to really see.
4. A Moment to Feel
For this you just need anything to hold or touch. A dog, a hand, a cuddly toy, a flower, a crystal or stone, anything. Focus all your attention on your hands, your finger tips, your palm and the sensations of the object you are touching. You may find closing your eyes helps the concentration so that you can really feel.
5. A Moment to Smell
This could be time for another cup of tea, or glass of wine, alternatively a spritz of scent, a wander into a flower shop or even a bowl of soup. Take a moment to close you eyes again and really focus on the scent. Is it sweet, citrus, smokey, floral? What do you notice about how it makes you feel? What associations does it bring?
If we can take a moment to really experience our world fully through each of our senses our whole experience of life will be richer, slower, more vivid, more empathic and we will be able to find a space within that we can step into more easily to calm the chatter in our minds and build a more real and mindful experience. We can really experience life rather than drive through it going through the motions but missing the joy of the journey.
Clouds and Blue Sky
Do you ever have those days when everything just feels 'bleh'..? Hate using words like that, but some days that's how it feels.
Nothing is really wrong, but nothing is really right either. It is as though someone just threw a heavy blanket over your feelings; your get up and go has got up and gone off somewhere more exciting and you are left in a hole. Today was a day like that until a few minutes ago when I sat outside on the garden bench and looked up. Where clouds have lingered all day there is now a beautiful, blue sky; heavy white blossoms cover a tree in my small garden and as the sun shone on the flowers they were so bright against the blue. I also have a bit of a thing for daffodils at the moment they seem so full of joy.
All this reminded me that within me, within all of us, is a well of being that we can't always see. That part of you that appreciates flowers, blossom and blue sky; that seems to bubble up on a beautiful day...That well of being that shares laughter with a friend; relishes a long hug; rejoices in a win for your team or smiles at a baby's chuckle is there all the time. Like the blue sky behind the clouds.
I was struggling to remember that this morning - my world was grey but after a few minutes outside now I can see the blue sky above my worries. The life in all things that I can tap into to find my inner well of being...wellbeing. It is not some mystical place or thing outside of us. It is inside us all waiting to be discovered and set free, waiting to wash away our fears, worries and burdens and show us a way to breathe.
The funny thing is that just knowing it is there helps...
Troubles don’t seem so big once we know they will not be here for ever. We can watch them drift past like the inevitable clouds. I guess the same could even be said of a thunderstorm! They are fierce, loud, terrifying and spectacular events. I love to stand out in them and marvel at the lightning. But they pass too. Even the most difficult events in life will pass eventually, we remember them but we don’t have to stand in them for ever. So I am going to focus on the blue, acknowledge the clouds of today and allow them to drift away..
Last Christmas I gave up my job. Twenty years of teaching ended, just like that. I think a few of my friends were surprised and shocked by the decision; in honesty so was I! I have always had a strong work ethic. As soon as my children were both at school it was time for me to get back out there and my career change into teaching was an absolute joy.
I can't say that every day was filled with joy - especially not in the first couple of years but then I found Cherry Tree and it was like coming home. I became part of the 'family' in this wonderful school and saw many pupils come and go through it's doors. They all still hold little pieces of my heart. I think children do that; they give you their trust, their hopes and dreams, their best and their worst. We laughed, cried and learned together.
I did not leave my job because I didn't like it I left because I had become increasingly aware of a sense of unease within me. A feeling that I wasn't in the right place any more. I wasn't doing what I was meant to be doing.
A niggling thought...
In the end, after a couple of years of mulling this over and trying to avoid the truth I had to take action. People would ask me, "What are you going to do next?" I had no answer for them; no idea of what the future would bring. Just the certain knowledge that it would bring something because I was ready for it. I have to confess that I had an identity crisis when I left! Who was I? What was my purpose? What value did I have without my title of teacher? I hoped that no one would ask me about my 'job'.
One of my dear friends at Cherry Tree gave e a card when I left with the following quote on the front:
'One day, she decided to go on a new adventure despite her fears,she knew in her heart that the world was her oyster and that she was born to shine'. I must have looked at that card every day for weeks! Some days I took it down of the shelf and held it to my heart like a talisman against the fears and uncertainties that lay ahead; in the hope that I could live up to its promise...Maybe even shine a little!
Since those early days I have been on a remarkable journey. An inner journey, that gives me not only a new job and role but a deeper and more profound understanding of who I am; why I was in the wrong place; and who I can be to shine. I am overcoming fears on my new adventure and beginning to believe that the world really can be my oyster if I hold fast to what I have learned and stay true to who I am.
So, here's to new adventures and being brave. More is to come!