In times of strife and hardship where do we turn?
There is a pandemic going on. Times are changing. Uncertainty, anxiety, fear, worry - all these are ripe in our world at the moment. We live in stressful times. We are socially isolated from the family and friends that we love and we are being forced to connect in ways that seem unnatural to us. In a nutshell life is not as it used to be. And we are feeling it. It is hitting us hard.
How are we coping? How are we living? To what do we turn for strength, comfort, solace, hope?
It is interesting to see that when adversity strikes humanity turns quite naturally to the basic, elementary things of life. Guided by our elementary nature, our own innate natural self we begin to make a sort of pilgrimage back to basics, back to our fundamental selves. Here is what I have noticed.
We return to sharing/giving.
Perhaps we send out cards/letters to people we care about, seeking out inspiring words that might offer comfort, humour and support. We try to find words that show we care. Perhaps we share posts on social media that make us laugh or cry, or that uplift and inspire us.
Many of us find ourselves giving more readily to others whether this is in the form of food, money, gifts, cards or time.
We return to creativity.
I have noticed an upsurge of interest in baking, sewing, painting, gardening, cooking, crafting, singing and writing as we seek to fill our time with activities that feed us in an holistic sense.
We return to caring/kindness.
Many of us are shopping for family, friends and neighbours. We are phoning relatives, sending out letters, donating money to charities, supporting small businesses, listening to others. Small, random acts of kindness are on the increase. We are taking care of our homes and gardens by engaging in simple acts of maintenance - cleaning, sorting, tidying, tending to plants , mowing lawns and caring for wildlife.
We return to gratitude.
We are showing our appreciation, respect, gratitude and love for each other and for the key workers who are helping us to survive these challenging times. We are gathering on our doorsteps to clap for the NHS, to show our appreciation. We are appreciating the natural world more. Many of us are more mindful of saying thank you - to the postman, our friends, the refuge collectors, bus drivers, post office staff and supermarket staff.
We return to enjoyment.
We are seeking out and sharing jokes, brightening our days and the days of others with humour, fun and laughter. We are playing more games and seeking out pastimes that bring us pleasure and are enjoyable.
We return to beauty.
We naturally seek out the beauty in music, art and poetry - beauty that uplifts, inspires, soothes, comforts, calms and supports us.
We return to connection.
At a time when we are disconnected physically we are finding new ways to stay connected to each other. We use technology to see each other virtually on the screen, we write letters, make phone calls. We pray for each other.
We return to nature .
Those of us that can spend some time outdoors are reporting on how we are hearing the birds sing almost as if for the first time. We are stopping and admiring the trees and flowers, appreciating the beauty of the natural world and finding peace and rest in the quiet stillness and relative solitude of our daily walks. We are feeling more and more connected to the natural world.
When everything changes we turn to that which doesn’t change. That is we instinctively turn (return) to the ground of our being - our basic, fundamental, elementary Nature which is loving, giving, supportive, creative, expressive, kind, caring, loving, thankful, appreciative, joyful, playful, beautiful, supportive, connecting, inspiring,beauty, spacious, uncomplicated and simple.
We know deep within us that is the characteristics of our natural self that will best support us through these challenging times.
Returning to our fundamental nature is good for us. It is good for our health and good for the health of the planet.
Returning to our own basic, fundamental nature and making efforts to stay connected to the flow of our own innate goodness is something that is needed at all times - not just in the times we currently find ourselves in.
While we long for the ending of the lockdown may it not be the ending of all that we are learning.
May the great returning never end.
During difficult times it can be hard to stay positive and to keep a clear perspective on what is happening in our lives. Using creative visualisation is one way that we can help to calm our minds and bodies and encourage the activation of our parasympathetic nervous systems - the bodily system whose job it is to support our immune system and help us relax.
Keeping in our minds eye a place of beauty, serenity or peace is a useful way to help combat stress. You can visualise a place you know or an imaginary place - either is just fine. You can use creative writing as a way to help you visualise such a place - as I did in the piece of writing below which is taken from one of my journals.
Once you have your place imagine yourself there and try to bring it alive by using your senses to engage with the place as if you were really there. Add sounds, smells, textures and even taste if you can. Make it as real as possible so your body reacts to what it is 'seeing' in your minds eye.
I travelled a long way, into the future perhaps or maybe it was the past? I went upwards through the clouds, whispy and white; translucent, misty, mysterious. Another land came in sight - a beautiful land of shining white shimmering in bright sunlight.
I saw a field of trees - a small forest, huge fir trees dusted in snow. Each tree was majestic, full of its own beauty and grandeur. They seemed to possess an almost magical quality. I let my arms wrap around one embracing its bark, its roughness. Although it was harsh to the touch it was strangely comforting too - like how I imagined embracing a smile would be. The tree had the glowing presence of a kindly stranger, offering a welcome to me. The scent of pine filled the air. Looking upwards I could see the tree reaching right up to the Heavens stretching onwards towards eternity.
All the while snow kept falling from the branches - bright, silver showers of miracles dusting me with tiny speckles of hope.
In the fairytale The Ugly Duckling a little duckling goes through life feeling that she doesn’t fit in anywhere, that there is something wrong with her and that she is odd in some way, an outsider and not like everyone else. Deep inside the little duckling believes that she is ugly and not worthy of love and affection. Believing this she begins to encounter situations that reinforce this belief.
Of course the delightful ending to the story is that the ugly duckling finally finds out that she wasn’t a duckling at all but rather she was a swan, adored and admired by many for her elegant beauty and grace. She had just been labouring under a false illusion that’s all.
I wonder how many of us can identify with that ugly duckling?
If we go through life believing that we are ugly ducklings then life will always feel challenging to us and we will always end up missing the true joy and exuberance that comes only through knowing what our true identity is.
I know about this first hand having battled with feelings of inadequacy most of my life. Even after realising that the lies I have been telling myself about myself (i.e. that I am not good enough etc) are just that - lies and not the truth - it can still be hard for me to switch mindsets and truly believe that I am the Swan and not the fictional ugly duckling I thought myself to be.
It is not always easy to see yourself as you truly are. This is when the help of a trusted friend can be beneficial. Often others see our true colours long before we do. If you are having a hard time seeing yourself in any positive, feel good way then it can be helpful to ask a good friend for their perspective on you. I guarantee that you will be surprised and warmed by what they see.
I have a lovely, dear friend who gifted me with a beautiful silver swan necklace as a reminder of who I truly am. As it hangs round my neck I touch it from time to time. In this way I am reminded of my true nature and value. I am eternally grateful for this precious gift and the friendship that accompanies it.
'This human being both
ugly duckling and silver
swan. Though we have mostly
forgotten our inner beauty, daily
silver wings pluck at
the heart strings of our
Learning to live from our Swan nature is an ongoing process and one in which we must be actively employed each day. We create our reality by what we give our attention to so it is up to each of us to develop ways in which we can attend to our Swan nature rather than the nature of the ugly duckling. Whichever nature we feed will grow and manifest in our lives. (Similar to the Navajo Indian story of the two wolves living inside us - only it’s two birds this time!!)
Oh and just as an aside - don’t think that we have to have all our drama’s and issues fixed before we can show up as swans. Remember that underneath the image of the serene swan floating on the surface of the lake are two legs paddling like crazy just to keep her there.
So a new decade is upon us and with it new opportunities. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed a certain feeling in the air? A feeling that is hard to put into words - a kind of blend of excitement, optimism, anticipation and hope? A feeling of empowerment almost?
To grasp this new feeling coming through demands that we can no longer do ‘business as usual’….especially where the environment and the future of our planet/humanity is concerned. As the old saying goes ‘If you always do what you’ve you’ve always done then you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’ It really is time for change!
And if we want things to change then we must change. If we want to see ourselves thrive, prosper and become the best that we can be then we must make some changes. If we want to see our planet thrive then we must treat it differently. There can be no more sitting on the shelf. No more procrastinating. No more moaning from the sidelines.
Ghandi is famous for saying that we must ‘Be the change we want to see in the world’. This change, I believe, goes beyond the usual round of new year resolutions that we tend to make in January and then forget by the end of the month. The change that is needed goes deeper than that. And it is not just change for the sake of change because we feel a bit bored with the ways things are. The change that is needed is radical. It is change with a very real purpose - that of helping ourselves, humanity and our planet to thrive.
For me the beginning of this new decade is sounding forth a voice calling me to action. I feel called to step things up a little, become more visible, more active, more proactive. Activism is something that I have almost always shied away from. My internal script has demanded that I stay below the radar, that I’m not seen, that I don’t step out of my comfort zone for fear of being hurt, laughed at, ridiculed or being found out to be inadequate in some way.
But my inner voice says differently. I want to make this decade count on many levels. I don’t feel I can any longer live in the shadows, playing small.
However change can feel scary and if we’re not careful we can become paralysed by fear. So I am not going to jump straight in with a list of things that need doing and place undue stress on myself. I am going to process things slowly and take time to feel into what is being asked of me. I want to be able to take inspired action - action that uplifts me and makes me feel good - not fatigued and weighed down with the burdens of the world. I don’t want to live with a sense of heavy obligation but with a sense of joy and excitement about what I am doing.
I have heard it said that rather that asking ‘What does the world need?’ we should ask ‘What brings me alive?’ because what the world needs is more people who are alive, passionate and feeling good about themselves.
This feels like good news to me.
‘Being the change’ can sound rather grandiose and theatrical but it doesn’t need to be. Change doesn’t have to be a big thing that sends us into overwhelm. We don’t have to change drastically overnight. We can start small. Every action we take to show up in a loving way whether this be for ourselves, for others or for our planet ultimately contributes to the over all good for everyone.
So where does all this leave me?
At the moment my heart is busy contemplating a few ideas. I want whatever I do to feel right for me at this moment in my life, to feel empowering and to light up my soul.Then when I step out I know that I will be bringing that light and sense of empowerment to the world.
Rumi said that there are ‘100 ways to kneel and kiss the ground’. That is, there are 100 (and more!) ways to love and honour the earth and each other. Finding what speaks to us is all that is needed ….. that and finding the courage to take the first step.
No, I wouldn’t do that if i where you. No, best not to wear your heart on your sleeve, it may be broken. Hide it away, keep it safe.
No, please keep your opinions to yourself, no-one wants to hear them, they wouldn’t listen anyway. Best to stay quiet, keep out the way, keep yourself to yourself.
No, don’t dream too big that way you’ll avoid disappointment. BIG dreams aren’t for the likes of us, they have no place here. Stay small. Stay safe.
No, don’t do that! Good girls don’t behave that way or speak that way.
No, don’t stray from the path I’ve laid down for you. Follow the narrow way. Be good.
No, I wouldn’t laugh too loud, get too enthusiastic, make a fuss….don’t draw attention to yourself, you might meet with disapproval.
No don’t brag or boast, no-one likes a show off. Don’t blow your own trumpet. Stay under the radar, please! For your own safety. There that’s better. Be a good girl now.
No, don’t aim too high you might fall. You might hurt yourself.
No, don’t trust those people. Don’t show you care. You may be trampled on, overlooked, taken for granted, taken advantage of.
No, don’t stray too far away. You might get lost. Stay close. It’s a big, bad world out there, stay close to home. Stay safe at all costs.
I have listened to these voices for so long they have almost become who I am ……yet when I am tucked up nicely in the bed of my life, comfortable, quiet and warm, with all the lights turned off ….then, somewhere in the depths of me I hear another voice speaking….. “Let me tell you a story” it says.
“ It begins like this. Once upon a time there was a little girl who dreamed of the day her ‘Yes’ would be heard…..”
The poet Rumi says this:
‘Today like every other day we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument……let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.’
Surely this is an invitation to ignore the warning voices that shout ‘No’ into our lives and instead embrace the music in our hearts and go out and live our yes.
Looking through some old journals I came across this entry written about a year ago. I thought straight away that I would like to share it as a blog.
Today I am alive. Today I live. Today I have a life. Today I am here, now. Today I breathe, I move, I feel, I think. Today I get to explore what it means to have the gift of life, to be alive, to be a living thing. I get to feel warmth and cold, the texture of my clothes, the feel of a pen in my hand. I get to see words appearing on paper as I write, I get to experience yawns and sighs, a stuffed nose, the sound of traffic in a nearby street, the taste of a lemon and honey drink. I get to hear the sound of my oil diffuser quietly humming away in the background and to smell the scent of lavender as it fills the room.
Today I live with the man I love, the man I chose to be there for. Today I will talk with him, walk with him, laugh with him, smile with him, be irritated by him, will wonder why I chose him.....but I will share this space with him and be a witness to his life as he will be a witness to mine.
Today I get to read interesting things. I get to plan ahead for Christmas. I get to make gifts and write poetry. Today I get to live and learn; to give love and receive love.
Today a million, trillion cells work for me, to keep me alive. Today I am blessed. Today I live abundantly. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
OPENED BY INNOCENCE
Recently I was arrested by a photograph that a friend shared on Facebook. The photo was of two small children sitting on a park bench together and I don’t know what it was but something grabbed my attention and I feel my heart being pulled open.
I sat looking at the picture. I gazed at it. I asked it, ‘What have you got to tell me?”
The answer came surprisingly easy. It turned out that that simple picture had a message for me about innocence. The picture was an icon into a forgotten world. A world that was calling to me,
“Come back! Come back! Return!”
When you gaze at the image of innocent children what does it evoke in you? A sense of wonder? Of joy? Of pure delight? Perhaps a longing for a simpler time? Or an inner urge to protect their vulnerability? Perhaps a tenderness arises in you that softens your heart a little or has you reaching out for the hankies as you grieve for the lost times of your own childhood?
None of this is surprising for it is the consequence of our own innocence calling out to us. Our own innocence is the ‘inner- sense’ of who we are, the ‘inner-sense’ of our own presence. It is the ‘inner-sense’ that the world is a good, wonderful, joyful and delightful place to live in. All this has been long hidden in the folds of our adult living. It has been tucked away, consigned to the archives of time and covered over with the responsibilities of being a grown up.
But does living as a grown up mean we have to lose our ‘inner-sense’ of who we are as pure innocent beings filled with beauty, joy and delight? Do we have to grow up and away from the truth we knew as children? Does that truth simply disappear as we grow older or does it just get hidden from view, covered up, masked in some way? If this is so then, if we are willing, can we can embark on a journey of unmasking the truth and letting it shine in our hearts again?
Surely to do this is to fulfil our purpose here on earth?
'Where can you go with your sadness except to the joy that holds it?'
This is the question that I pose in one of my poems, 'Sadness'.
It seems to me that the world is like a hurting or a frightened child. The world is in pain and most of us are worried about that pain, or at least a little bit concerned about it and most of us would like to know what we can do to ease things a little, for ourselves and for others. The problem though, as I see it, is that we aim to ease the problems of the world with the same mindset that created them. That is a mindset that is weary and heavy burdened with fear, confusion, grief, pain, guilt, shame, worry, anxiety and an inherited 'tribal mentality'' of 'us' versus 'them'.
As humans we attempt to solve pain and distress by meeting it with more pain and distress. We are like the proverbial hamster on the wheel always trying hard to solve problems, putting a lot of effort into things and yet ending up going round and round and never getting anywhere. Even if we do manage to get to grips with one problem it is just as likely that another problem will erupt somewhere else sending us off again on another wild goose chase trying to come up with more solutions that in the end will never fully alleviate the difficulties we face. It's as if no matter how many battles we win the war never ends.
I have always loved the words of Jesus, 'Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest.' These words have resonated deep within me and have offered me great sustenance over the years but I am only just beginning to see what they truly mean.
I am inspired this morning by an article I read about Manoj Bhargava, a multi billionaire philanthropist who has decided that with great wealth comes great responsibility. This man is using his wealth to make a difference in the world investing his money (apparently 90% of his income) into, for example, the design of renewable energy sources, ways of bringing fresh water to drought stricken places and innovative ways of improving health care.
Now I am not a multi billionaire or anywhere near close but the article got my attention and asked me the question - do I make a difference in the world…..and if so what kind of difference?
It can be so easy to be overwhelmed by the problems in the world that we forget that we can all make a difference. All to often we can be guilty of leaving change up to the policy makers, the government or others who we perceive to be more influential than we are.
However we all have a part to play in this. Everything that we experience internally is reflected in the external world and is then mirrored back to us. If we don’t like what we see ‘out there’ then we can begin to make changes inside us that will positively impact the world we live in. Remember the famous words by Ghandi ‘Be the change you want to see in the world”?
Everything we do, say, think, believe and feel all has its own vibration that is sent out into the world and has a direct impact on the life going on’around us’. Further more the quality of the vibration we send out will be directly influenced by the intention and motivation we place behind it.
Do we intend to be loving or hostile?Open or closed? Accepting or withholding?
What motivates us - love or fear? Protection or connection? Distance or intimacy?
So the questions for me are:
“What have I done today to make a difference in the world?”
“How does how I spend my time contribute to this?”
“How does my thinking affect this?”
“How does my ability (or lack of) to fully feel and process my emotions affect my desire to make a difference?”
“How much of a priority is this for me and how conscious do I stay of my intention throughout the day?”
Sometimes we can fall foul of thinking that to make a difference we have to do and achieve great things but so far I am finding that this doesn’t always have to be the case. Small things can matter just as much as big things especially when they are done consciously and purposefully.
My morning meditations count.
Sharing a positive article on Facebook counts.
Writing this blog counts.
Phoning my Dad counts.
Eating mindfully counts.
Practising gratitude counts.
Pausing throughout the day to breathe deeply counts.
Immersing myself in doing something creative counts.
Listening with compassion to others counts.
How about you? How do you spend your day? You may be surprised by how much you can influence the world around you simply by being mindful of the ways you radiate love into the world and by making this the top priority in your life.
In the end I am convinced that we will all come to the realisation that this is the only thing that ever truly matters.
Today while engaged in the routine cleaning of the house a great opportunity presented itself to me - the opportunity to practise being grateful. Rather than mindlessly doing my chores in my normal, half hearted way I found myself slowing down and being mindful of all the thing that I had to be grateful. Rather than being a little (or a lot!) resentful of the fact that I had to do the cleaning in the first place I began to find that I was expressing gratitude for the simple fact that I had a house to attend to.
As I moved my familiar ornaments and pictures in order dust and polish my furniture I found that my heart was opening to the memories of so many people whose presence in my life had enriched it in so many ways.
There was the plant bought for me by my friend Edna, the photo frame my niece bought for me on my wedding day, the little african bowl that was given to me as a thank you present by my neighbours daughter, the painting of Durham cathedral and the associations of home, prayer and sanctuary which it offers me, the mother's day cards lovingly picked and given to me by my two daughters, the family photographs scattered around the place.
Rather than just simply letting myself be reminded of these people and places today I made time to stand in stillness for a while and to feel from the heart the energy of their presence in my life and to offer a silent "Thank you" to them. This doesn't have to take too long - a few seconds can be enough to make a difference.
By actually savouring and enjoying the routine task of cleaning rather than rushing through it in order to get on to the next, possibly more pleasurable task, today I actually found that my chores had uplifted me rather than drained me.
Taking time to be appreciative ( to remind ourselves of the preciousness of life) is definitely beneficial to us and a practise worth cultivating.
Who knows perhaps we may be able to find it within us to become grateful and appreciative for the simple fact that we are alive and living.For surely we don't have to wait for things to materialise for us before we say "Thank you" for them. We can after all simply say "Thank you" for the generous gift of life itself.
The opinions I express here are my own. However I offer them with the word 'syat' next to them. 'Syat' is a word used by the Jain Tribe in India which means 'To the best of my knowledge SO FAR.' In the spirit of openness I invite comments from anyone whether you agree with my point of view or not. In this way we can all learn and grow together. Thank you.